Monday, December 24, 2012

Muggy Christmas

 It's Christmas Eve and Cristmas trees of various persuasions are blooming:
And after wreaking havoc in Samoa and Fiji, what's left of Cyclone Evan gave us a couple of early christmas presents in the form of yesterdays humid fogpocalypse (of which there is an awesome pic on facebook here), which wasn't altogether welcome:
 And a 30+ degree day today (seen here at my place at 4pm in the shade), which was.
 So from Wellington, Happy Christmas wherever you are :)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Music for the Mall

Much as you try and put it off, inevitably at this time of year you might find yourself at a mall, or a supermarket. These can be bad enough year round, but at Christmas they are boss-level.  To get through this while finding that perfect something and remaining sane, you need planning. The best way is to figure out what you are trying to get beforehand, exactly where you might find, get in, and get out. But, there will still be distractions. To get around those, you need:

-An MP3 player

I found this a good track for the purpose at this time last year (not that you’d actually want to paint the mall walls black or anything. That might make the experience worse than it already is.)

You want to start while you’re still in the carpark (not getting to the carpark or in the car itself, you kind of want the opposite effect there, unless you drive a bumper car and have a very good relationship with both your insurer and local law enforcement). That way the track builds with your anticipation as you approach the entrance and you enter the building before the beat kicks in. That also gives you time to pause and survey the melee (action movie style, while the camera does a slow crab around you), steely of eye and grim of jaw, while deciding your course of action. Experience with sports that require dodging and blocking is a plus; you need to be able to keep a good pace while automatically moving around people without flattening them. Once the BPM goes up, you're off.

Having got amped up with the drum and bass, you want to keep the vibe flowing. Anything will do, as long as it is driven and loud, like so (some NSFW):


Do this right, and you can shut out almost all distractions, including shop assistants, and particularly sales reps with stands you have to walk past. Whether or not you turn it down when actually purchasing is up to you, although it is useful to remember that if someone is staring at you while smiling politely they have probably asked you a question.

Do this right, and your shopping can be done before you know it, and you can play something like this in triumph as you drive away.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Summer Sunsets

Are the best, especially on a warm calm evening like last night

Monday, November 19, 2012

Not the Genie you want to dream of

A belated response to this video which did the rounds back in July, starting here it seems. I actually composed most of this IN July, but never got around to posting it until now.

The main reaction seems to have been "ZOMG they're standing under an A-bomb! That's CRAZY!".

I've had an odd interest in nuclear weapons and warfare since childhood (by-product of being terrified by them in the 80's), and from that perspective, there's crazy, and then there's crazy.

While it looks (and well, is to an extent) crazy, it isn't as crazy as it looks. For my money it definitely isn't as crazy as say advancing through ground zero, atomic interperative dance, or guys walking around with nuclear bombs on their backs, or even a nuclear powered aircraft (what could possibly go wrong?!).

The Bad Astronomer gives a good explanation of the technical aspects of why it wasn't so dangerous as it looked here, but the short version is it was a little bomb and they were a long way away from it due to the detonation altitude. How little? A teeny 1.5 kilotons, equivalent to 1500 tons of TNT (the NPR blog figure of 2kt is wrong, among other detail errors). There have been bigger man-made explosions that were non-nuclear. Thanks to the curious but slightly creepy Nukemap app, this can be represented graphically using the effects on poor old yardstick-of-doom Hiroshima. The effects of the 1945 bomb are here, and the bomb in the video here. See? Tiny.

As an aside, just for comparison/perspective this is what would have happened had Hiroshima been bombed using the strategies and weapons of the early 60's (sliiight overkill), and what a medium size strategic warhead would do to the place now (you need to adjust the scale a bit). Not so tiny.

So that's one bit of crazy. Another is that this was an era when nuclear weapons were openly tested above ground, by the dozens around the world. There are some who would argue that perhaps we should go back to the occasional above-ground demonstration, just to remind the powers that be what they are dealing with (many of those who witnessed tests maintained it was the only way to truly appreciate the power involved).

Another bit of crazy involves the reason for the test itself. It was for a defensive weapon (ponder for a minute the sort of situation where using nuclear weapons over your own territory becomes not only acceptable, but a good idea. . . ). In an era when accurate guided air-to-air missiles were in their infancy, someone reasoned there would be more return with a bigger bang. The weapon that resulted was the AIR-2 Genie, basically an unguided atomic skyrocket that would go off a certain amount of time after launch, hopefully somewhere near its intended target. US and Canadian interceptor aircraft would carry one or two of these should the need ever arise to knock incoming bombers out of the sky as quickly as possible (the Genie wasn't the only weapon built to this philosophy; defensive nuclear armed surface to air missiles were developed and deployed by both East and West in the Cold War).

Part of the reasoning behind placing the volunteers at ground zero was to demonstrate it was safe to use over friendly places, since inadvertently nuking your own cities in the process of preventing others from nuking them isn't that great a defensive strategy. You also want to keep the interceptor crews actually launching the thing alive as well though, which places another limit on the warhead size. While it's easy to think such a weapon might have been quickly rendered obsolete (perhaps by something that could actually be guided rather than aimed) and remained in the 50's and 60's, it actually stayed in frontline service until the mid 80's.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Partially eclipsed

 Image credit NASA, Nov 14 NZ Time, click to enlarge

The partial eclipse today was AWESOME. We didn't get treated to the full total thing like Cairns, but even at 76% obscuration like we had in Wellington it was spectacular. Which is good, because it will be 2025 before we get another one here anything like it :).
 Image credit Stardome

The further south you went the less eclipse you got, but to make up for it we had a perfect day, the only clear sunny day I can remember seeing an eclipse on, and this was the best I've ever seen. As not quite totality approached, there was a distinct sudden chill in the air to go with the eerie not-quite-right light level for a bright sunny day. Being able to both see and feel the eclipse was amazing.

Since direct observation with the naked eye is not an option with these things (unless you want to risk permanent eye damage, can't stress that enough), indirect viewing was in order. Around the science establishment I work at there were a few methods being demonstrated.

My attempt at making a pinhole viewer using a piece of paper on a clipboard and a piece of cardboard was successful, but unspectacular (although still cool since it was my first glimpse of the eclipse):
A colleague made a more effective one (I think the key might have been a thinner piece of cardboard to act as a lens).
Failing that you could always just use your hand, making the "OK" sign and allowing the sunlight to pass through the gap between your thumb and forefinger.
Or just find a tree, where the gaps between the leaves can be just as effective as pinhole lenses,  a phenomenon I'd heard about but never seen before today:
Pinhole viewer using just a tree (evergreen preferred) and a piece of paper:
A slightly more elaborate setup involving bigger cardboard, a tripod and binoculars also yielded good results:
Nothing was quite as good though as (safely) looking right at the sun and moon through a suitable filter, in this case a handy piece of mylar film that another colleague had thoughtfully prepared:
And this was the icing on the day for me, since when I put the mylar in front of my telephoto camera lens the result was spectacular (disclaimer, be very, very careful when you do this. Never ever look at the sun directly through unfiltered optics like telescopes, binoculars or camera lenses). With the settings adjusted you could even see sunspots (the little dots) and mountain ranges silhouetted on the moon.

One of the coolest things I've ever seen, let alone been able to photograph

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mosquito Spectacular

 The Mosquito Launch Spectacular the weekend before last was, well, spectacular.

-First display of a flying Mosquito in NZ since the 50's.
-The only display in NZ for this particular Mosquito after it's first much anticipated post restoration flight in 60-odd years a few days beforehand.
-The only flying Mosquito anywhere in the world.

So rare type, public debut, never seen before for a lot of people and attracting worldwide interest. This event was the most anticipated show I can ever recall among the NZ aviation community; if it were a concert it would be the sort of gig people would want to say they were at years afterward. Being held up at Ardmore aerodrome in Auckland meant a bit of travel for my lifelong airshow companion father and I, but it wasn't something we were going to miss.

The de Havilland Mosquito was a world war two legend, gaining notoriety for being a hugely successful despite the anomaly for it's era of being made of wood, in an effort to conserve strategic alloys. The resulting design was light, fast and lethally effective. While designed as a light bomber, the twin merlin engines allied to a slick airframe resulted in a top speed equal to or faster than many contemporary fighters (as well as making it sound awesome), and it went on to excell in a number of other roles. Being made of wood though didn't make for good preservation, so there are only around 30 left of the nearly 8,000 built.

The Mosquito is a significant type for New Zealand as well. They were flown with distinction by NZ aircrew during the war, including the movie-script spectacular (again) Operation Jericho, and a squadron of them were flown at home by the RNZAF after the war before being retired in the 1950's.

The only Mosquitos I had ever seen before were in museums. I'd never seen one fly, and given none had flown in NZ since the 50's, and none anywhere since the 90's, neither had most of the people at the event. It was an exciting prospect (if you don't get why, well, you just don't get it :) ) And it didn't let me down.  Having ditched the car due to the traffic jam of likeminded people we were still walking toward the airfield when it took off for its first flight of the day. At first a slim but recognisable silhouette disappearing into the distance it returned to flash between the trees ahead of us, presenting a plan view as it flew low across the road and creating both a lifetime memory and a grin from the buzz. For its second flight of the day we were on the field and another wow moment in a day full of them, the Mosquito flying straight at us from a moody sky, with the distinctive merlin growl suddenly increasing as the pilot throttled up before passing right over our heads. Awesome.
Later the Mosquito was joined aloft by a cousin in the form of a de Havilland Vampire from the same manfacturer. While one is a jet fighter (that replaced the Mosquito in the RNZAF at least) and the other a piston twin that look radically different from each other, they are actually a lot closer than they appear. They are only about five years apart chronologically, the Vampire has a significant amount of wood in it's construction, some of the same armament, and in the trainer version here even the same basic design for a couple of elements.
Another cool moment was when the Mosquito was joined by the other WWII fighters at the show, a Spitfire, Mustang and Kittyhawk, four Merlins and one Allison making beautiful noise.
The three Merlin bearers shown here were all in NZ or NZ related markings too.
 A section of unrestored fuselage was on show, both do demonstrate how it was put together and just how much work was needed to make it airworthy again. The entire fuselage wound up being built from new.
At the end of the day's flying an unusual thing happened. After all the VIP photos were taken, the barriers were dropped, and the crowd allowed to inspect the machine at close quarters. It's a rare privilege, and the crowd respected it. In a few months it will be in the US with it's owner (he put up the money for the restoration, NZ warbird restoration company Avspecs provided the skills), likely never to return here, and this was the only planned public outing for the aircraft.

It was a fitting end to a great day. I've been to a lot of airshows, and seen a lot of cool stuff, but this was right up there.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I had toyed with posting on this, but the excellent post at friend of this blogger From the Morgue today prompted me to add to the noise.

Right now in NZ, British American Tobacco is running a hugely expensive, verging on defending-the-indefensible-gonzo attempted saturation TV, print and street campaign against the proposed plain-packaging of cigarette packets, centred around their branding designs being intellectual property. More specifically they are framing it around the right to "own" and use that intellectual property (or more correctly, the profits that result from it), and whether or not you agree or disagree with them.

Beyond the "why" questions that Morgue astutely raises, I've never seen a campaign that evoked such instant visceral disgust in me once I realised what it was for, and the angle it was taking. I hope the ad-creatives that came up with it feel good about managing their impossible brief, a brief you'd expect to see as a joke on a comedy show. "We know our product is harmful, but we want to retain the ability to make it attractive to you anyway". Every part of it reads like some amoral black-comedy movie script; I'd laugh but it's already beyond satire. Their arguments aren't all that strong, especially the ones about plain packaging other products (ironically using the example of wine in one ad. Evidently they have never heard of cleanskins). BAT wants to own what it creates? How about owning addiction, emphysema and cancer?

Not content to leave BAT to it's WTF-ery, Imperial Tobacco right here in my home town has been giving away free cigarettes to it's factory workers under the guise of 'quality control'. I work in quality assurance, and this is so far from being valid as part of a robust quality system that again it would be funny if only it were a joke. It isn't a quality system I would want to be any professional part of, beyond my pondering it a little while ago, and not being able to think of any reason I'd knowingly work for a tobacco company.

I know I'm not supposed to be biased, but this is personal. I watched my father-in-law die a long and drawn out death, literally watched him take his last breath, from a smoking related illness. My daughters will never meet him, or know him beyond stories about what a good man he was. I've never smoked, or even wanted to besides a few puffs in my late teens in a failed attempt to discern what the attraction was. People have a right to choose to smoke, just I I have a right to choose to hate smoking and the way it is marketed. BAT can take their intellectual property, Imperial their free cigarettes, and fuck right off.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Compare and contrast

Interesting and historic night in parliament last night, revealing which eras some of our politicians are fond of.

Twenty-First Century New Zealand:
Bill to legalise gay marriage passes first reading

Twentieth Century New Zealand:
Talking suit calls for referendum

Nineteenth Century New Zealand:
Gay marriage conscience vote a failure of democracy apparently

I'm for the bill in case anyone is wondering. I'm old enough to remember when if you were a male it was actually illegal to be a practising homosexual in NZ, and I'm only 36. The bill is still a long way from being law, and there will no doubt be hurdles, but it is long past time that some of my friends enjoyed the same basic rights as I do. Their being able to marry affects my marriage and morals (and the morals of my children by extension) not one iota. And let's face it, straight people have been fucking up the "sanctity of marriage as an institution" for as long as marriage has been around. Letting gay people join in just adds to the flavour :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stuff of Legend

The other week it occurred to me that an Olympic medal may be one of the few things that render people close to immortal. Then I remembered that about 384,000 kilometers away there are some tangible human artifacts that effectively are immortal:
 Buzz Aldrin boot and lunar footprint, Apollo 11, image via NASA

The footprints and other artifacts that twelve men from Earth left on the Moon will remain recognisable for millenia at least if left undisturbed. The news today of the death of the first man to leave them reminded me of this.

Coincidentally I was reading my now well-worn copy of A Man On The Moon the other day, and came across a passage that resonated in a way I hadn't felt the umpteen times I've read it before:

"everything he did, even casual speech, seemed to be the result of a great deal of thought . . . Armstrong often kept people at arm's length. He rarely engaged in idle conversation, and steadfastly guarded his privacy.
"In time, the NACA pilots realised that Armstrong wasn't aloof; he was shy. Once they got past his great reserve, they found warmth. Once he became a friend, he was a good friend . . . If he could be reticent, then he could also become so involved in conversation while driving that his passengers nervously eyed the road. "

It's obviously describing Neil Armstrong, but I suddenly recognised a few of those personality traits in myself, especially shyness being mistaken for aloofness. That's about as close as I'll ever get to what he achieved (and the end of any self aggrandising comparisons), but it is nice to know there were aspects to him I could relate to. His modesty would mean he would even downplay his own significance at being the first moonwalker, claiming that the landing itself was the real achievement, and that was something that he and Buzz Aldrin (who made a nice statement today here) had done simultaneously. Even without Apollo 11, his combat flying career with the US Navy, his test flying career with NACA/NASA (including flying what is still the fastest manned aircraft ever), and his previous spaceflight on Gemini 8 (which he personally saved from disaster under difficult circumstances when a system malfunction occurred) would have been worthy of note. It makes me respect him and his withdrawal from publicity even more - he could have been the celebrity of celebrities had he chosen to.

Dr Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has written a nice piece on Armstrong's passing today, and says "we can divide all of history into two parts: before humans landed on the Moon, and after". I was born 7 years after Apollo 11; I have never known a world where we haven't walked on the moon, and I'm grateful to Armstrong and all of his peers for making it that way. I have never grown out of that childlike wonder of seeing images and accounts of people walking on another world apart from our own. There are more famous images of Armstrong, but this is my favourite, taken on the Moon just after the first moonwalk concluded, and it sums up that feeling for me.
Image via NASA
There are now eight living moonwalkers of the original twelve. Hopefully there will be more before that number drops to zero.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tongariro Cross

When Mount Tongariro decided to remind everyone it is still an active volcano two weeks ago, it was interesting to see the effect on the some of the parts of it I visited when I did the Tongariro Crossing walk at the beginning of last year. The eruption was centred around the Te Maari craters, which aren't on the crossing trail itself, but close enough to ensure it was in the firing line.

Here's how the trail near Ketetahi Hut looked in 2011, with the hut in the middle distance:
And how the place looked after being ash-bombed. The hut has holes in the roof that go all the way through the floorboards apparently
 Both pics NZ Police via Stuff

Monday, August 13, 2012

And now, Brian Page

Just wondering if I was the only one who thought Brian May was doing his best Jimmy Page impersonation at the Olympic closing ceremony. . .

Page, Beijing 2008

May, London 2012

Maybe he was just being sympathetic to Page not being involved in London at all, or maybe the organisers thought Page was dead or something (as opposed to say, Keith Moon).

Friday, August 10, 2012

Box unticked

Or how to turn an honest mistake into a complete debacle

Loving the Olympics, and more regular bloggage will resume after they are done, but I was a bit surprised this week to find as aspect of it I can actually professionally comment on. I figure its as close as I'll get to ever competing so I'm running with it anyway :)

The whole fiasco of Valerie Adams turning up to her event to find out she wasn't entered due to a paperwork botch got my interest, because a big part of my job is making sure documentation practice is up to snuff, whether it's creating docs, completing them or reviewing them. My company can't manufacture or sell our materials without it (those materials being cGMP pharmaceutical ingredients), and if I was teaching a QA course I’d use this as a relatable example of what can happen if you don’t do it right.

So how does an athlete (including a current Olympic title holder) turn up to the Olympics, a moment they have been anticipating for years, only to find they aren’t actually entered in their event?

From my outsiders perspective going by what has been related in the media, it sounds like little failures compounding each other to make a big one. A step got missed, maybe because it wasn't prominent enough, or just got forgotten about, it didn't get checked, and no-one noticed until it was almost too late to do anything about it (technically it actually was).

The whole situation apparently arising because a box wasn't ticked is interesting, because from a good documentation practice point of view, that possibility shouldn't be there, or at least minimised as much as practicable. Bad form design is a great enabler of muck-ups, and if not ticking a single box as claimed can have this kind of outcome (and I’d think “is your representative planning to compete?” would be a pretty fundamental aspect), then barring incompetence or misunderstanding from the person filling it out, it might be a bit flawed. 

I’d love to see the document in question and confirm if that hunch is correct or not (it's sad, but after years of being in the industry, form design is a pet obsession :) ). Single answer tick boxes aren’t great for these kind of things since you can’t tell if it wasn’t ticked on purpose, or just forgotten. In my line of work a big no-no is to leave spaces blank, for exactly this reason; it's ambiguous. What’s better is something that requires a definite action, like using “YES / NO” and requiring one to be circled and the other crossed out. If neither has been circled or crossed you know that section has been missed when you review it. Another way to help prevent this kind of thing would be to remove the question: assume the person IS competing, and require a declaration if they aren’t, or use a form specifically for competitors only. You can’t make documentation that requires user input completely foolproof, but there are ways to engineer out traps, and make sure the information you really need to be recorded is. It's all about minimising ambiguity and room for misinterpretation.

That said, the documentation should have been checked both when it was completed, and when it was submitted. Designing a form well is no good if people don’t fill it out properly anyway (which happens surprisingly often, even when they are specifically trained to do it right). When important things are riding on the documentation process, you get someone other than the person filling it out to check it, both at the time, and when the process is complete. I find it weird that the documentation that you know, enables your athletes to actually register in the competition doesn’t seem to have been overseen.

The management says their document practice will be reviewed, and it should be, because at this level this is something that simply should not happen. No excuses. It’s arguable if it cost Adams the gold medal, but it certainly didn’t help.

Post Script:
Ultimately it didn't cost her the medal; the winner on the day failed drug testing and was stripped of the gold

More story and reaction from Adams here :).

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Thoughts on the Olympic Opening Ceremony

- It worked. Potentially difficult conceptually but it was brought off well, and I really enjoyed it. But then I am fully uncynical about the Olympics, so am a bit biased. It was a marked change from Beijing.

- That said bits of it were more effective if you knew your references than others.

- The hill  built in the stadium was cool, especially as it appeared in close ups to have real dirt and grass on it.

- Watching it free to air meant some context was missed, as well as some setpieces, due to ad breaks. I only found out afterward what the whole "Abide with Me" thing was about. although I thought it was a lovely rendition.

- The setpiece of forging the Olympic Ring in the stadium was awesome. And the doves on bikes.

- This is the first time I have watched one of these things with a child alongside who needs things explained to. Particularly why daddy found the pogo-ing punks on pogos so hilarious (that was just inspired).

- The music era thing was cool (and made me think that while Rock music was technically invented in the US, it took the British to make it properly kick arse).

- I love it when directors choose good popular music as soundtracks (and in this case some pretty alternatively informed selections) for big events. It is so much easier to engage with music you already know and love than some over-earnest, usually over produced and slightly cringy commissioned piece you will likely never hear again. Plus hearing relatively obscure album tracks and recognising them from albums you own always feels ego-stroking good.

- Using movies as well was cool.

- I liked that there was a feeling of a deliberate decision on the part of the producers to make the ceremony both non traditional, knowingly self deprecating, and more interesting for certain demographics. Namely mine :).

- The Queen gets kudos points for participating in the James Bond parody, but loses some for appearing totally disinterested in person at the ceremony itself. She might have been having a good time, but looked bored, most notably during the lingering close up of her checking her nails while the Great Britain team entered the stadium. You could almost hear the producer screaming "Get me another shot, any shot!".

- The Parade of Athletes is always fun, for the uniforms (especially the Czechs in gumboots) and seeing people buzzed to be there. Although according to the three year-old the Fijian flag bearer was naughty for not having a shirt on. I'm sure though that many interested viewers might disagree on that point

-I also noticed the out of uniform Indian at the time, and wondered what was up.

-Adding to the non-traditional aspects, both the lighting of the cauldron, and the cauldron design itself were brilliant. Simple but clever concept.

-Sir Paul McCartney at the end didn't quite work so well. Still, could have been worse, could have been Status Quo.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Not quite fifty

Prompted by a facebook conversation, a quick audit of my paint stash reveals only 31 shades of grey (there are a couple more I found when I put the paints back).

I do know all of them by sight though (along with probably a dozen more at least). Modelling camouflaged things tends to warp your colour palette descriptions a bit.

Friday, July 06, 2012


Mythbusters tried (when they shouldn't really have bothered, because it isn't a myth), but they really didn't do it right.

This is how you break windows with a supersonic aircraft (in this case Brazilian Mirage 2000's about a week ago):

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Social Earthquake

(source unknown, I grabbed it from facebook)

One aspect of earthquakes these days that we never experienced as kids is the social media one. Within minutes of the earthquake the other night we were on-line, not so much to participate as to seek information. Who felt what, and where? Was this local, or something bigger somewhere else?

A friend of mine astutely pointed out the following:
There are 3 groups of people on FB this evening. The first are those who are commenting on the earthquake with a few Fbombs thrown in. The second group are those sharing articles and info re readings and depths etc. or quoting friends comments from other pages. And then there are those who are critiquing the speed at which one was able to gather data via various sources. 
I found myself in all three groups. I posted a "wow that was long" status on facebook then got down to the critiquing, even of my own observations (my allowance for time dilation in estimating the quake duration was way off ), and participated in a thread on who had and hadn't used twitter as an aggregator (I'm not on twitter, so no).

We didn't go as far as this guy who tweeted during the event itself, but were quickly on facebook and other forums while waiting for the official word from Geonet. That both the power and web access were still up to enable this was a good sign, and we found it a useful quick and dirty way of getting an idea of what was going on, before adding to the discussion ourselves. There was a "Me Too!" aspect (and if I'm honest a "First!" aspect as well :) ) as people informed and collectively reassured each other, but what was more interesting was the way the discussions broke down into comparison and analysis. This particular (anecdotally at least proven to be true) XKCD also came up: "Seismic Waves" .

It was both a "we really are living in the future" moment, and a great example of how web can really work.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

PS it's an Earthquake

So about this time last night, I'm sitting at my workbench in the study, Fi is pottering in the kitchen, and the kids are asleep upstairs. All is quiet when the model shelves beside me start rattling. They do that from time to time in response to low frequency noises like passing vehicles, the washing machine, or earthquakes. Whenever they start their noisemaking my earthquake spidey senses go all a-tingle, but they usually stop after a second or two and I go back to whatever I was doing. This time they don't stop.

After taking a second or two to tune in I notice that we are indeed rocking gently to and fro, and having an earthquake. After discussing this with friends later we'll figure out this was the P wave arriving and doing it's thing. The whole P and S wave (link) aspect of earthquakes is something I learned years ago but haven't thought about for a while and we're about to get a reminder of how they work.

I note the time for later reference, and that Fi hasn't said anything, so I calmly call out "earthquake" to the kitchen without leaving my seat. She doesn't hear me, so I call out again, and this time she responds by rushing to the doorway and urging me to do the same. That I have time to call out twice isn't something I notice at the time, but in hindsight it means the tremor has already gone on longer than usual. It hasn't got much worse yet and I'm thinking it's a pretty good nudge, (but not that bad) but it will probably end in a few seconds so I'll see what it does and ride it out. Fi is a little less blase, and getting insistent, so I get up and head to the doorway.

I've just gotten to the doorframe when the S waves start arriving and the shaking really kicks off, the worst we've ever experienced in this house. Fi suggests we head upstairs to get the kids, but I'm still thinking this will only go for a few more seconds (ignoring the fact that this is already one of the longest tremors I've ever experienced), so again suggest we ride it out. That's when the shaking kicks up another notch, we hear something glass fall over in the kitchen (later determined to be empty beer bottles in the recycling), the house starts creaking and we are both heading upstairs to rescue the little ones. Quite what we would do if the house started collapsing at this point I haven't figured out, especially having just left a spot of relative safety, but parental instinct is a great driver. We've just gotten to the top of the stairs and are about to go charging into the girl's bedroom to grab one each when the shaking eases and stops, followed by that wierd period when you aren't quite sure if the shaking really has stopped, or your adrenalised senses are tricking you into thinking it is still going.

Having determined that the land has returned to a state of quiescence, we look into the girl's room and immediately have to drop our voices as we calm each other down. The bebes slept through the whole thing. One of them may have rolled over, but that is all :).

It turns out to have been a deep magnitude 7.0, which is starting to get up there in terms of destructive potential, but luckily the depth mitigated it a bit. A much lesser magnitude, but many times shallower tremor wrought all the havoc in Christchurch last year.

There's a Geonet backgrounder here, with the Geonet quake report proper here.

And if you want to hear what it sounded like in a Wellington church, the earthquake was captured during a recording session here (lasting a lot longer than I realised at the time).

It was a doozy.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


This event  in London a couple of days has finally brought some semi official recognition of the sacrifices made by the aircrew of RAF bomber command, after they were shunned at the the end of the war by a government trying to distance itself from the outcomes of it's own strategy. It brought to mind this graphic, which I came across a wee while ago (I can't remember where), and was saving for use one day. It shows in a way that numbers can't the sheer scale at which World War 2 was fought (click to enlarge).
Each Lancaster had a crew of seven, each Mosquito two, with thousands more needed to service, arm and organise the aircraft, and thousands more on the other side trying to stop them. On this raid losses among the attackers were light at only 9 aircraft, but on one occasion (Nuremberg in 1944) 96 bombers were downed in the space of a few hours. On the ground thousands were killed or de-housed.

It's a distraction that the particular raid chosen for the graphic was the notorious one on Dresden, since it might suggest that was a special effort. In fact the horrific result at Dresden was the atypical aspect; the resources used to achieve it were not. By the mid to latter stages of the war raids of this size were sent against Germany most nights practicable, with the USAAF doing the same by day. And this was only one aspect of one theatre of the war.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mug Tray Jenga

Slight interruption in the regular blogging thing at the moment, due to a combination of being busy with off-line stuff, and coming up with all kinds of stuff to post but ending up like that scene in The Matrix where Neo can only sit and stare at his computer screen when it comes to posting it. I need to coincide the inspiration with the times I can get it down on pixel. In the meantime, today some colleagues and I came up with a new game to play at work, after noticing that once the top tray of mugs empties people just go for the next one down without placing the empty tray to one side. We call it Mug Tray Jenga :)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Thoughts from the saddle

The hip problem that dogged my autumn has mostly gone away now, enough for me to carefully resume regular riding*. Just in time for winter.

Here is my gear drying out after riding home in the rain last night.
It has occurred to me that I must be turning into a 'true' cyclist or something, in that weather becomes less and less of a concern. As long as I have somewhere at the end of my ride to get changed and/or dry out as required I'm not bothered by the elements. Last evening was forecast for gale force winds and heavy rain and I didn't bat an eye before heading into the fray. I missed the wind but got the rain. Once you're acclimatised it can be kind of pleasant. Only my hands and legs wind up getting really wet, and at times I quite like being out in the rain.

After overnight heavy rain and thunderstorms, by dawn this morning local weather picture looked like this for my ride to work. This was about as warm as it got all day.

My stream of thought on this morning's ride went something like this (not untypically):

Wow it’s a bit bitter this morning. Lucky I’m riding a bike to keep me warm. Apart from my hands and feet.

The waterproofing I put on my jacket the other day seems to be holding up well.

Go on clouds, hail, I dare you.

Why is this song stuck in my head? Worst song they ever released.

Some more thunder and lightning would be fun right now.

Polypro's keep you warm even when they are wet. I’m not getting as wet as I thought I would be though.

Weather like this is great for thinning out traffic on the trails (unless you're an earthworm, in which case it seems to encourage you to rise from the depths and see if the grass is greener on the other side of the trail).

I must be getting fitter, since I’m not working as hard as I thought I would be.

Two lane roundabouts utterly do not work for bikes

You can sit in your cars and laugh but I’m having more fun than you are.

Why is it every time I ride over this narrow two lane bridge with no shoulder it coincides with a truck going the same direction?

Gas heated mains-pressure showers at work are ace

* as well as my other physical activities. Not quite back to normal yet ability wise but getting there. I seem to have lost a little bit of speed and power, but the fitness is coming back steadily.