Gathan Beaga

a new flag for our wā kāinga

We get to select a new flag for New Zealand via two referenda: one later this year to select the best alternative; then a run-off referendum next year between this best alternative, and the current flag.

The government panel has come up with a list of 40 to consider out of the tens of thousands of designs submitted by the public. This will be whittled down to four by mid-September apparently, but how they do this is something of a mystery.

Yes, there are lots of criticisms of the process that could be made. But I’ve never liked our current flag and maybe this is a once in a generation chance to fix it. And now that the opposition parties, who up until now were supporters of a flag change, have lined up against it maybe we won’t get another crack at this for a very long time.

I guess the dispiriting thing for me is that I dislike almost all of the 40 shortlisted designs. Too many ferns (dead white trees); too many stars (boringly common aspirational marker for flags); too many koru (swirly whirly things).

Some designs provide an easily consumable and reusable brand-NZ logo (which is what our single-mindedly corporate Prime Minister prefers, it seems); while others mix some or all of these elements into a feel-good salad of signifiers.

Wā kāinga in 2:3 proportions

There are a small handful on the shortlist that are composed of simple, strong geometric shapes that tell a story and these are the ones that appeal to me the most.

My favourite among these is Wā Kāinga, a very elegant but striking design consisting of three identically sized but differently coloured triangles arranged on a white field. (Here it is, animated.)

I love the concept behind this flag. The official blurb says:

The white diagonal shape is representative of the Maihi (Māori meeting house). Symbolic of the coming together of all three influences Maori, Colonial past, multicultural future. The red triangle represents our Māori heritage. The use of red, black and white references Tino Rangatiratanga. The blue triangle represents our British heritage, bordering a white diagonal line symbolising the Union Jack. The black triangle is offering up strength and optimism in a national context as well as being symbolic of our mountainous landscape.

It’s also an extremely easy flag to draw and looks good at big and small sizes. However, I’m not 100% convinced about those shades of red and blue - I think they’re both a little too bright. When I played around with this I used the blue colour from current NZ flag, and as close as I could get to the red colour in the Tino Rangatiratanga flag. Both of these colours could be lightened up a bit without being as bright as the designed version.

The other interesting thing is that the Māori colours are on the left, which to me is a subtle nod to who was here first. Nice!

I find the shape of this flag intriguing. While the designers have put it into a handy, easy to use 2:3 proportioned rectangle, there is another, slightly narrower proportion for this flag that would likely be more preferable to obsessives everywhere.

The obsessive geometry bit

So, with our optimum flag variant I assume that each of the three triangles is right-angled with two equal-length sides extending from that right angle (i.e., an isosceles triangle). Then, I imagine that the white stripe also has (invisible) isosceles triangles placed at each end. Result: MOAR SYMMETRY! My eyes are immediately soothed.

You could diagram this like so:

diagramming the flag

If you do that, and get a pencil and paper and break out your exceedingly rusty 4th form algebra, you can work out what z is. Having spent the better part of an entire evening on it I can tell you z is this:

Algebraic representation of z

And while I was scribbling on bits of paper, I also worked out what the proportions of our “optimum” flag would be, which is this:

the actual ratio - it can't be expressed as the traction of two whole numbers

Or, expressed in decimals, a rather inconvenient—for-flag-manufacturers ratio of approximately 1:1.546918160678.


But to continue…

Fun though this has been to work out I suspect the designers purposely went for the 2:3 proportioned variant to make it easier to draw and manufacture. 2:3 is not an unusual flag proportion (87 countries’ flags are 2:3), whereas only a couple other countries have flag proportions that are irrational.

But I think people may also prefer a longer flag more in keeping with our current flag’s 1:2 proportions. I tried a few other variants to see how this would look, while keeping the basic structure of three identical triangles intact.

5:8, which 5 countries use, is super easy to make up in a vector drawing program. Not only am I missing those nicely symmetrical ends to the white stripe already, but it seems to me like the white stripe is almost little too thin:

Wā kāinga in 5:8 proportions

This is probably as about as wide as the design will go.

And, at 1:2 (the second most common flag proportion) the white stripe is obviously too narrow:

Wā kāinga in 1:2 proportions

Horrible. To fix it, the black triangle would need to be made smaller, thus breaking one of the nice design features of the flag. So, yeah, nah.

Well, this is probably all a bit academic. No doubt, unless there’s a sustained campaign for this flag, we’ll end up with one of the Kyle Lockwood fern and stars variants (which I hope are not actually copyrighted by him - how would that work for a national flag?).

It could be worse. But it could be so much better.

the fifteenth spring

Well, it turns out this is the fifteenth spring we’ve had in this house. Sometimes I get the feeling people look at us a bit strangely for staying so long in the same, modest little house.

But it’s all we need. I’m not keen on the idea of martyring personal and financial comfort to purchase a monstrous and ugly new place on the city’s fringe (and neither is R., for that matter) and nicer places closer by seem overpriced. So here we stay.

Anyway, spring is upon us, and so our cherry tree. I’ve been a little busy with the new toy to take much notice - this toy:

the new toy: a bike

I did finally snap a couple quick shots of the blossom today - just with the iPhone, which gets more capable with each iteration.


It’s such a nice time of year, before the endless rolling weather fronts of the equinoctials get stuck in until Christmas…

Previous springtimes:

a personal take on webstock 14

After each Webstock I return with the idea that I should be doing something better; starting of course with writing up my experiences there. It doesn’t happen (with my passive phrasing right there pretty much symptomatic).

This year I won a free ticket, which was very nice indeed. I resolved that because of this I should really really make the effort this year to write it up. Unfortunately good intentions didn’t really result in an epic write-up for each talk. I got partway through this and gave up.

damp and discarded

This year it’s been all upheaval around the house as we had to rebuild the deck, and at the same time, put in some nice double-glazed windows and a new burner to make future winters better.

So at the moment, instead of a clear view of our beloved (but increasingly out-of-control) cherry tree we have a large pile of building debris.

None of this stops the blossom though.

A petal lies on our new deck

Previous springtimes:

As the seas rise, so shall the hills uplift

After the passing of the mower, a tiny clump of grass emerged with ends frayed but still standing proud.


He stopped and knelt. A memory, and an identification. It looked like a small tussock.

Flood recall:

… afternoons of lying on his back sheltered between them and staring at the sky. Sounds of wind soughing through and the occasional skylark.

… their giant cousins, the snowgrasses, that when unburnt were taller than people. Playing hide and seek between them. Getting the four-wheeler at speed bellied on them.

… their dry smell. Cool air. Windburn. Long days in the sun.

He missed them. But here they were, more scattered through the lawn as he looked.

Maybe they’d come to bring him home.


I’m always a bit of a sucker for colourful animals of various kinds. It’s a failing. But not an uncommon human one.

Hacking away at our Bay tree the other day I came across two I hadn’t seen before: both visually quite colourful (as opposed to merely behaviourally colourful, like say a jumping spider).

The first was a tiny false scorpion: even smaller than the 5mm long and usually dark brown ones that I sometimes catch in our bathroom, this one was green with red pedipalps (their nippers). It had fallen onto my shirt and from there I was able to put it onto the deck railing for a shot or two:

false scorpion

Luckily it was so extremely slow moving. At about 3mm long it was at the limits of what I could capture with my current setup.

false scorpion

I suppose the colours would be good camouflage for an arboreal hunter. Apparently they wander about probing with their pedipalps for prey; and when they find it seize it and poison it before ripping it to bits and feeding themselves. Charming.

Not long afterwards I spotted a really quite pretty green spider running around on a branch. It proved hard to catch but I managed to get it into a plastic container and into the fridge overnight in the hope of slowing it down sufficiently for photography. (I have heard this is a common cheat amongst photographers of small beasts.)

The next day I spent five minutes trying to photograph it before it inevitably escaped:

Paradictyna spider

As you can see, this spider too, is very small, its body probably no more than 5mm long. According to Forster & Forster, the main reference book I use when checking out what spider I’ve caught, this would appear to be a spider of the Paradictyna genus, “undoubtably one of our most handsome spiders”1.

Paradictyna spider

Why yes, it is very handsome.

But also very sadly delicate, as I found out when it escaped from my hand and fell onto the sun-warmed barbecue, instantly dying.

I am not to be trusted with animals, it seems.

1 While looking for more information on these spiders I came across David Winter’s post on them, and from there, Ray Forster’s obituary. Forster was a guy so dedicated to his science that when he was stationed in the tropics in WW2 he built a still, not to to get boozed, but to have alcohol for preserving all the specimens he was catching!


This has turned into a bit of a twitchery bird-nerd posting.

I love the sound of bellbirds. They remind me of two places that I don’t get to as often as I’d like these days: the family farm, where three or four bellbirds pass by many times each day on their circuits of the area; and around Lake Hawea, where outside of the Christmas and Easter holiday periods they’re just about the noisiest things in the whole sleepy township.

Bellbird in a beech tree, Central Otago, April 2011

For me bellbird song has come to represent holidays and relaxation. Every time I hear one my mood lightens and I just feel that little bit cheerier.

the admiral

The forecast did not prepare us for this morning. We had expected showers and grey… but what eventuated, at least for some of the day, was far nicer.

The unexpected sunshine, and unexpected lack of wind made for a warm, humid atmosphere. Breakfast on the deck for me then, overlooking the cherry tree in full blossom.

Breakfast on the deck

The only sounds were those of the birds (several tui flouncing about the trees, and high above, a falcon) and the bees (the neighbour’s hive is just over the fence and their bees were out in force, loving the blossom).

Until someone’s chainsaw started up. I’m not sure what it is about some people and their compulsive need to use their chainsaws on a Sunday morning.

Oh well. I didn’t let it destroy the mood. In fact I was so relaxed I forgot I was still in my pyjamas when our nice neighbour delivered our paper.

At the time, I was lurking on the lawn taking more photos. I had spotted a Red Admiral among the blossoms:

Red Admiral on Cherry Blossom

There are a few of them about all through the winter, even on the hilltops I ride.

Red Admiral on Cherry Blossom

You have to be quick to catch them with their wings spread - they’re open only for a couple seconds after the butterfly lands on a new flower. After that, they often close up their wings and show only the wings’ dull grey camouflaged undersides.

Later, the weather held and we had a little family group photoshoot among the blossoms (easier now, while the kids are yet young enough that their reluctance at such things has not hardened into the inevitable refusal).

Soon afterwards though, the clouds closed in, and with them came the rain. Typical spring day!

Previous springtimes:

at El Matador

It’s Awesome August in Wellington. Though we are in the depths of winter, there’s usually quite a bit going on: the Film Festival, for example, and in latter years the rather good Wellington on a Plate festival. We don’t typically overdo either event, choosing only the one or two most interesting looking things from each.

For this year’s food choice, we went for Cooking Over Fire, The Argentine Way, to be held at El Matador, a new “Café, Asador Grill & Bar” as yet unfinished at the time I made the booking (ever the risk-taker!).

Asador is the Argentine national dish, a way of slow-cooking whole animals over an open fire. This is supposed to result in a beautifully tender and juicy meat, with hints of smoke. The idea with the event was to show us how to setup and start barbequing a lamb in the morning, and then come back and eat it in the evening.

This sounded totally outstanding, so I decided to make a day of it and bail from work. That’s how R. and I, having dropped the kids off at school, ended up wandering along Cuba Street at 9am on a Monday morning.

in the clear

This weekend past, due to a slight scheduling mishap, the Film Festival film we were to take the kids to turned out to practically clash with a film I was quite keen to see. So R. took the girls to their film, and I thought I’d ride my bike over to Penthouse in Brooklyn to see mine.

I think it’s quite good to use my bike for such mundane city transportational activities - I feel strongly that I should be using it more on a day to day basis rather than just off-road as a weekend hobby - but I’m generally too chicken (though gaining in confidence a little) to go up against Wellington’s traffic and roads.

A Sunday afternoon though? That’s doable… especially as I could avoid dropping down to the centre of town by riding up alongside the Zealandia fence to where there’s a track down to the top of Brooklyn.

Anyway, getting to the theatre took less time that I thought, and it felt great.

The film was In the Fog, a really quite beautifully shot and formally constructed story about three people, their personalities and the choices they make in the face of a series of terrible situations. It was very Russian, and I liked it a lot.

Back out, and after some lunch I had a little more time to look about. It was such a nice day for August:

Wellington Harbour from Pol Hill, August 2012

There was not a breath of wind, even at the top of Polhill at about 300m above sea level. And also up here was something left behind by the ubiquitous Luna:

L is for Luna, Pol Hill gun emplacements, August 2012

Nice detail work in there.

The one-way downhill back along the Zealandia fence is called the Rollercoaster, and has lots of jumps which I took care to avoid. Luckily there was no-one behind me to be held up by my cautious descent. But going slow had benefits: over the fence I saw a saddleback in full sun on a bare branch.

Did I have my good camera with me? Of course not. But I suspect I’ll be back again before long - there are tracks in them thar hills leading all the way down to the South Coast…