Gathan Beaga

two birds

Back in May I took a day off for my birthday, and amongst other things I went for another look around Zealandia. There was not much new to report: deeper into late autumn there seemed a little less life around. It was cooler, and overcast, and the light made it even harder to snap the locals.

But all the usual suspects were in force, like this robin that came along while I was eating lunch:

A North Island Robin, at Zealandia; May 2012

The more I rucked up the leaves on the path, the more it hung about. Eventually I had to carry on as I wanted to walk up to the wind turbine to have a look from up there (also: I like climbing hills).

Turned out there was not much of a view from inside the fence, so back down I came, returning to photography.

This wasn’t hugely productive either. I had a better time just quietly waiting and observing. Down a dark gully there was a stitchbird, streaking from branch to branch below the path. Sometimes it would alight on a branch illuminated by a shaft of light from a break in the canopy. But I was never quite quick enough - this was the best I could do as it braced to take off:

Stitchbird, at Zealandia; May 2012

Well, that was that. Time to walk out to the café to meet R. and continue the rest of the day.

the summer that was

This awful weather we’re having. Well, it’s winter I suppose… but it makes me want to look back at this summer past.

And I remember now that I posted nothing here over that period. Clearly time to do something about that then. Lots of photos to follow…

happy trails in (roto-)vegas

School holidays… so last week we were up in the Rotorua area, sharing a lovely crib (sorry, “bach”) on the shores of Lake Tarawera with our cycling friends from back on the Rail Trail.

Clouds, Central North Island

This was our view.

Tarawera is pretty impressive, and always catches the light in interesting ways, especially in the evening. The lake was cold and clear, but that did not deter the kids who went for a swim anyway; and there were kayaks for everyone else (except me - I’m not really one for getting on the water, though I do like looking at it).

Maps, Rotorua Mountain Bike ParkWe also had our bikes with us and we’d heard that no trip to Rotorua is complete without a visit to the Mountain Bike Park right beside town. I hadn’t been on single track since my only disastrous visit to the Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park over two years ago - I have been riding instead around the open country 4WD trails west of the city, like the Skyline Trail.

I had collected some maps from the Redwoods Visitor Centre, including a rather cool microfibre cloth map handy for stuffing into a pocket, and so I plotted a roughly 15km route across the various logging roads from the Tikitapu (Blue Lake) side of the park through to the car parking area to get an idea of the lay of the land. Although I had been assured that the trail style in this park was more sweeping and “flowy” than Makara I didn’t want to take any chances.

I wish now that I did take some more chances.

Starting out in a cool frosty morning, we climbed hard to just about the highest point in the park, and I snapped a triumphal pic of a trail sign to email back to a co-worker trapped in the office back in Wellington.

Trail sign, Rotorua Mountain Bike Park

He sent back a dutifully envious email… but of course I hadn’t gone down any trails, I had just ridden past their entrances. Turns out that the joke was on me, as I later discovered that Split Enz was probably within my skill level.

While we were traversing the park on the logging roads, the others were ripping around the trails close to the main carpark, and once we all met up for lunch the others had had enough and it was time to go.

Luckily I did get to have another visit one morning a couple days later and that was when I had one of those little revelations when one finds one is actually a little bit better at something than one thinks.

On this visit, we started out on Tahi, then did the Dipper twice because it was so much fun, sweeping around banked-up turns through the trees. Then we headed further up, where we got a bit lost trying to find a way to the lookout overlooking town and had a couple of good frights on a trail called the Tickler. At the end of that trail we consulted a map board, where a friendly local rider advised us to try Be Rude Not 2: more fast downhill sweeps around bermed tracks. We’d seen people come down it and it did seem like the best option for the last trail of session before meeting the kids at the luge.

This last track was insanely good, even for my level of expertise and general timidity. My co-rider thought he was on the wrong trail, because I had gotten so far ahead of him he couldn’t see me anymore. I waited for him at an intersection, heart pounding, a stupid grin on my face.

“Yeah”, I thought, “I get this now”.

It seemed a little bit of a shame to get saddled up and head to the luge for some processed (and expensive) entertainment but family holidays are all about this sort of small compromise. There will be another chance.

Since I’ve been back home I’ve been scoping out new trips (Dun Mountain sounds great once the kids are a bit more confident) and new gear and jargon (a 29” hardtail with Shimano Alfine internally geared hub is the current fantasy bike) but what I really need to be doing is more riding… and a return to Makara Peak.

Not today though. Wellington wind, Wellington rain: Winter.

flyover country

The best bits of having to go to another city for a day trip are without doubt the flights themselves… if you can get a window seat.

So on the way, you could look to the East through the slightly grubby port, and see:

  • Ruckled low cloud in lines along Ruapehu;

Clouds, Central North Island

  • Fog following the line of the Waikato river from Taupo to Hamilton;

Fog following the Waikato River, Central North Island

  • Frost silvering the plains around Te Aroha;
  • Out in the Bay of Plenty, a fierce orange sun glow surrounding White Island.

Sun on the Bay of Plenty, with White Island

And then, below electronic device switchoff, the marks of surface transportation:

  • Green fields crossed with the desire lines of stock, gate to gate; trough to trough;
  • Giving way to the lifestyle blocks of the rich and famous and their long gravel driveways;
  • And on over the close-packed cubicle houses of new suburbia and their bin-speckled roadways;
  • Leading to thrombotic motorways
  • all converging on
  • The Smoak.

But then you’re down in it, and converging on The Smoak yourselves, the spot-hired vesicle filled with cheesy country music sung in Te Reo. Your grey-haired Pākehā driver checks to make sure you’re ok with the music. Yeah, nah, it’s OK.

You’re still nowhere other than in New Zealand.

And in the afternoon, you do it all over again, backwards.

Dusk over the Central North Island, from (literally) the Bus home

hotel disaster

So today, instead of caving to R₂’s request to watch some more TV, I suggested we do something creative together instead. I am not usually very good at making suggestions like this, sadly.

It was also about time we tried that copy of Frameographer I had bought in a moment a couple months ago. This is a rather nice app for making stop motion animation from the guys who created the Glif iPhone tripod clip thing.

R₂ came up with an idea for a movie; arranged the characters and set; took most of the photos; and after Frameographer did its stuff she sat beside me and dictated the choices of titles, music, and sound effects in iMovie.

Here’s the result:

A good couple hours of fun in there, and one very pleased small auteur at the end of it.

an autumn visit

The weather has suddenly gone all settled and warm. This is perhaps not unusual for autumn, but given the crap summer most parts of the country have had for the past few months this is somewhat unexpected. In fact the forecast for Easter was so dire that it played a reasonable part in us deciding to hunker down at home.

Anyway, yesterday being another in this run of fine, fine days, I thought we should all trek into the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, or Zealandia as it is now called. This, for those unfamiliar with it, is a large area of wooded valley not far from the centre of Wellington that has been enclosed by a rat/cat/possum/stoat-proof fence, with lots of fairly rare native species “liberated” inside. We’re members, but we never remember to visit often enough.

This time, I really wanted to get further up the valley into some areas I had not been to before, and also to see if I could spot and take photos of the resident falcons (Kārearea).

The first of these objectives was reached, but not the second. Lots of good exercise, and many not so good photos were taken…


Bear with me while I horribly and lengthily belabour an analogy.

The Magic Book Shop

Imagine a magic book shop that delivers. Imagine that if you want to read something, you just announce your request into the air, and the book appears on your bookshelf.

Of course, this still costs money, but the books are cheaper than those from your regular book shop, and the selection is an order of magnitude better.

Sounds great, doesn’t it. You’d quite like to live near a book shop like that.

But what if this book shop only sells books that are a certain shape? It’s a shape that is fitted to a little book case the shop has individually made and sold to you.

Well, you say, that’s OK: although I did have to pay quite a lot for my special book case, it is magically small and portable, and all these books can be with me all the time. So what if they are a special shape?

Well then… what if you wanted to lend your new favourite book to your friend? Great! Except that, while your friend also bought their own book case from the magic book shop, theirs had its own peculiar shape and your book wouldn’t fit on it.

So, no more lending your favourite books to them, nor they you. Everyone has to buy their own from this book shop. And don’t even think about going to a second hand book shop, or borrowing from the Public Library: their books won’t fit in your book case either.

Still like this book shop?

Worse, what if you buy a book from this book shop, only to find that at some point later the shop has reached into your house and removed the book from your special book case, casting it down the memory hole? It’s magic, right? Anything can happen.

A bit worrying though, eh.

Ignoring all that

So yeah, I figured it would be good to get a special book case Kindle.

so much kindling

I am a sad, sad gadget-loving geek. I knew the issues but I did it anyway.

I made excuses. I figured that it might be a good way to get hold of various textbooks I need for work; and also to provide a bit of convenient holiday reading and the occasional free classic from Project Gutenberg.

I got a no-ads Wifi Kindle 4, as per Marco’s review. And… I like it. A lot.

It turns out that the Kindle is simply superb for consumption of the linear narrative: any book that you can start on page one and read to the end without breaking out to refer to a map, an index, or some earlier passage, is well suited to the device.

This means that your holiday reading is well looked after; and the low power requirements of the e-ink display means you’ll almost never run out of battery when you need it. It’s the perfect travel companion. SOLD!

It’s not so good for those textbooks though. Mostly when I’m trying to learn something new I have to re-read chapters, jump back and forward to refer to facts and concepts mentioned earlier, and generally consume the thing in a non-linear fashion. You just can’t do that easily on a Kindle.

There are exceptions: the eBooks generated by Instapaper are wonderful examples and come with an easy-to-navigate table of contents and the ability to easily jump backwards and forwards between “articles” – but most electronic textbooks I’ve bought so far don’t use this kind of formatting. (Ironically, a very useful and completely free textbook does: Pro Git.)

Perhaps advances in technology will improve upon this aspect of current e-reader technology and make riffling, referring, and re-reading through an eBook just as simple and convenient as the paper version. But maybe not.

So what to do?

Thinking a bit wider, I am a little worried by where this eBook thing is going. The Amazon ecosystem is incredibly tempting, but it comes with real restrictions.

I have made a point of stripping the rights management off all the Amazon books I buy, so that they can be used on any other eBook reader I might purchase in future.

That’s good for me, but it doesn’t alter the bigger problem. By supporting the Amazon ecosystem with my cash, I am also reducing the viability of my friendly local paper book store. Over time, collectively me and all the other eBook buyers will affect the rest of the community through a reduced paper book availability as local book shops either disappear or stick to higher volume titles.

As more of the book market moves to electronic formats, the ability to read and gain new knowledge and enjoyment from books becomes dependent on being able to afford a proprietary book reader and the associated technologies required to access the electronic book shop.

And that’s a couple of gatekeepers that we don’t have now when we pick up a paperback, or buy a book for the kids’ birthdays.

So I’m definitely conflicted about the whole thing. It’s a great device. But I’m thinking I’ll just use the Kindle for the kind of shitty holiday fiction I’d be too ashamed to buy; reading the classics; occasional textbooks; and for Instapaper.

Books that I want to own and keep and re-read: those I’ll continue to buy on paper.

migrating from Textpattern to Octopress

Textpattern is a great PHP/MySQL based CMS for blogs and small websites. It’s small, elegant, fast, and well featured… and also sufficiently obscure that it does not attract the kind of black hat attention that Wordpress does. I’ve been using it on my website for over six years now.

Recently though I decided to switch my blog to possibly the most popular of the emerging “baked” blog solutions: Octopress. At the same time, I decided to switch domains, just to make things more interesting. (My other two Textpattern sites will remain as they are: it’s still a fantastic light-weight CMS solution for me.)

The following describes how I did it.

Here we are then.

…At a new URL, but with same old content.

I have lots of reasons, not all of them well-founded, for doing what amounts to a geographical from my old site.

But I’ve migrated everything over from the old place; most of the old postings (even the crap ones – and there’s lots of those); most of the comments (even some of the spam ones, I now notice); and wrapped it in a very purple variant of the default Octopress theme.

All that technical mucking about was quite fun. What now?

a new path

I know it wouldn’t be top of the list for most people, but I’m a bit pleased about the new walking route to work I figured out last week. (In case you haven’t noticed, I lead a quiet life.)

I live in the suburbia behind Te Ahumairangi Hill, and to get into town I must traverse the hill’s shoulders (over the top is doable, but not paved). For the last ten years I’ve walked around the southern end of the hill; and this has been from where I’ve taken this series of 211 photos over the past seven.

But it turns out that my new away, around the northern shoulder of the hill, is about 500m shorter, and quite a bit faster with a long shallow gradient that can be walked down at speed. And I get to look at a whole new bunch of things on the way.

This morning I had to go to work a little earlier than usual and the sun was just over the eastern rim of the harbour. I was rewarded with this photo down Wade Street:

The ship parked at the end of Wade Street…

And closer to town there was this rather large chap:

Urban fauna

It (probably a “she”, but I’m not sure) had been sitting on a pole beside the Molesworth Street overbridge most of last week, the only nearby cover a patch of low and likely inedible conifers, and I meant to shift it into the undergrowth before it got eaten or otherwise killed.

Each day I would note the beast but keep walking on, fixated on reaching work in time (why, I know not). Usually a couple hundred metres down Molesworth Street I’d think I should have rescued it but of course by then I was never going to circle back for it.

Even after the weekend’s storm I was surprised to see it was still there today, so I picked it off and carried it into the nearest patch of likely looking native plants, its legs slow windmilling until it found purchase on a broadleaf.

This was, I am pleased to report, the highlight of my working day.