Monday, 21 December 2009

Makara Peak shuttle day by unicycle

Makara Peak had a shuttle day on Wednesday 16th, to which I took my 29er unicycle - finally got round to posting about it.

4WD lifts to the summit allow you to do as many downhill runs as you have time and energy for. Due to a slow puncture which I wasted a lot of time messing with, the warmth of the day, the exhaustingness of mountain unicycling, and my general beginnerness, I had time and energy for only two. (Some of the fearless speedy downhill mountain bikers did dozens.)

First I tried out some of the tracks on the back of the hill - Zac's track, Varley's, and down through the woods via Wahine (at least, I think it was Wahine) to Karori Park.

Zac's was a bit narrow and slippy-sandy for me at the moment, and hard work in the heat - no shade - but should be increasingly fun as I get better.


Zac's Track


View towards Makara Cemetery and the wind farm

Varley's endless switchbacks were a bit overgrown with long grass, resulting in an interesting dismount into a spiky tree (barberry probably) as the slowly deflating tyre, the grass-hidden side of the track and my steering conspired to send me flying off the downhill side, scraping up my upper arm nicely. I was glad of the elbow pads. I actually managed quite a few of the switchbacks though - starting to get the hang of them.

Wahine was pretty steep through the woods, but an interesting change from the trails on Makara Peak itself. Lots of dismounts. Fortunately today was dry - I think this could be too slippery for one wheel when wet.

Once at the bottom I headed to the nearby bike shop to get my second spare inner tube of the day (long story) as a precaution against the worsening slow puncture. Then at Karori Park I refilled my nearly-empty 3-litre camelbak (that's a lot of water for just a few kilometres), rested a while and ate sandwiches.

Recovered, I decided to ride up Koru before going for a second shuttle run - after chatting to some folks by the BBQ at the bottom.

This time down Aratihi (by far my favourite downhill at the moment) and Missing Link (rode the whole rocky downhill part this time, but still walking the uphill). Then after surprising an upward-bound 4WD, I had another go at Ridgeline Extension. Getting better, I can do the woodland parts well enough, but still defeated by some bare rocky bits - when I'm not dodging hurtling downhill bikers!

Finally down Lazy Fern (favourite finish), then I had to struggle up to St Alban's Avenue where I'd left the car near the shuttle pickup.

See the gallery for more pictures, and captions.

Send in the clowns

This has to be my laugh of the week.

This is due mainly to the presence of the phrase "preoperative medically trained clowns".

Friday, 18 December 2009

Someone breaks a leg while unicycling on Mount Vic!

Snapped femur. Ouch. Can't believe he actually has video of it happening!

Muni Leg Break from Boffy Da Unicyclist on Vimeo.

I've yet to do worse than a sprained ankle - hopefully there are no broken bones in my future.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Quite the funniest chat transcript ever

doesnt look like stars to me

International Backup Awareness Day

Whoops. Jeff Atwood loses most of his blog and has to rebuild it from stuff scavenged from around the web: International Backup Awareness Day Time to review and test my own various backups, I reckon.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Quote of the day

When a co-worker said he didn't want his kids getting the H1N1 vaccine because it was too new and "they haven't tested it enough", I blurted out something like, "So you'd rather test a new and poorly understood virus on them instead?"
- Commenter on Bruce Schneier's blog

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Unicycling Makara Peak - summit

I've been on a few more weekend unicycling trips to Makara Peak since the ankle incident, now kitted out with ankle braces, and this week with some elbow pads as well following some scrapes and bruises last week. Ankle is mostly recovered now despite continued weekend abuse.

Last Sunday and yesterday I managed to reach the summit, via the very rocky Missing Link, and the long uphill Aratihi track.

The uphill rocky parts of Missing Link are still a bit much for me, though I can manage most of the downhill.

Though mostly not very steep, Aratihi is quite a long climb, and it's still well beyond my current endurance to ride the whole of it without stopping. Yesterday though I managed to ride intermittently for maybe 2/3 of it, and tried to keep walking up during the recovery periods in between, rather than stopping completely.

After a quick rest at the cloudy and windy summit, I came back down Aratihi and found it to be just right for my current skill level - an interesting and fast downhill route, but not too tricky even when I'm really tired from the uphill. (Last week I tried to go down Ridgeline instead, and had to walk it - much too hard at the moment.) Then back along Missing Link; the downhill first half is fun, but the climb back out of the valley is the disadvantage to this route: had to walk it. Then down the 4WD track and Lazy Fern - still a favourite. By the time I reached Lazy Fern my back was aching and I was glad to reach the bottom!

I took the camera along this time - there are only a few pictures because mostly I just kept riding / falling!


Here is the gallery with the rest, and captions.

The park will have been very busy today with the Makara Peak Rally, so I'm guessing it will be pretty torn up next weekend (as if I needed any more obstacles). Next year I hope to be good enough to enter the rally on a unicycle - would be an interesting challenge. At the moment though I would just be a semi-stationary obstacle in the way of the mountain bikers!

In a week or so there is a shuttle day (4WD lifts to the summit, so you can repeatedly ride the downhills) - I'm taking the day off work to go along if the weather is decent.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Unicon XV schedule and race routes

The schedule has been posted for Wellington's upcoming Unicycle World Championships & Convention. Less than a month to go.

Also the details of most of the race routes, which are right on my doorstep.

The 10km race (pdf) is on the flat, all along the waterfront round some favourite places from my rides to work, and my first ventures out and about after I learned to ride: Queens Wharf, Frank Kitts Park, Te Papa, round the Overseas Terminal, then back to the start - 3 laps.

The 44km marathon road race (pdf) is around Scorching Bay, Shelly Bay, up the hill to the prison, over the hill to Scorching Bay again - 4 laps, with a fair bit of up and down.

The trials competition will be right behind where I work, at Odlins Plaza.

The muni crosscountry course is all over Mount Victoria, looks really steep. Here's the map:
Full size original is here. Uphill and downhill tracks still to come.

It includes some of the tracks I've been riding up recently, but some that are steeper - and 3 laps! On my 29er, at my current strength and fitness I wouldn't finish even one lap without a few rest stops.

These events should be impressive to watch.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Quote of the day

Over-engineering is poison. It's not like doing extra work for extra credit. It's more like telling a lie that you then have to remember so you don't contradict it.
Paul Graham

Terrorists sneak up on Homeland Security

Nice work.

I wonder if they came after him as he walked away? That would be particularly amusing.

Update: apparently the front of the shirt says "Not A", and apparently he survived the attack.

Offset your Bad Code footprint today

Twisting the much-abused concept of "offsetting" carbon dioxide emissions (your "carbon footprint") by buying "carbon credits", now you can "offset" your footprint of badly-written software by buying Bad Code Offsets.

Donations go to the widely-used open source projects jQuery, PostgreSQL, and the Apache Software Foundation.

Nice idea, but that last one is enough to trigger my rant mode:

Perhaps this will help Apache Commons to actually finish and maintain a project for once!

Apache may have, according to their home page, "a desire to create high quality software that leads the way in its field", and be "celebrating a decade of open source leadership", but the part I have experience with - the Commons java libraries - are, despite being very widely used, hardly a shining beacon of what open source can achieve in terms of Good Code!

Over the last few years I have spent a lot of time with several of these, using them in a large java project in my day job. This has proven a very time-consuming and frustrating experience. Without exception, I have found them to be incomplete, buggy and poorly written, and often essentially orphaned, with no releases in several years despite numerous reported critical bugs. I have had to build custom versions of four of them to fix basic failures - typically things that have already been reported with submitted patches, and often things severe enough to break my production installations. Fixes contributed back to the projects generally just sit in the issue tracker, unreleased! Why even bother contributing?

Bad open source code which is free, I can tolerate, if it admits its limitations and its completely unsupported status. After all, I can (and do) fix it myself, given the permissive license.

Bad open source code which makes a lot of noise about community, claims to strive for high quality and to lead its field, provides an issue tracker and release plan, yet doesn't release contributed critical bugfixes even after several years - this I have much less tolerance for.

More than most projects, I blame the Apache Foundation and its process for this. As Paul Graham points out, process (especially ease of releasing, and hence frequency) has a lot to do with software quality and currency. Apache places a big emphasis on their community consensus process, committees, the process of gaining project committer status etc, so they should be blamed when that process fails dismally and still hasn't released known, already-implemented fixes after several years.

via Coding Horror

Friday, 20 November 2009

Unicycling Mount Victoria, visit 3

Ankle still sore after 6 days of resting it, but my ankle braces (SixSixOne Race Brace Pro) arrived today, so I decided to risk riding to work.

That went well enough, so after work I headed up to Mount Vic again. Up the usual route from Pirie Street, then over the top and round this loop on the south part of the hill, which I hadn't tried before.

I found the hill climbing quite tough today - lack of practice? The ankle braces, although they certainly prevent twisting and rolling pretty well, also restrict front-to-back flexing a little; that caused a few falls at first, as my feet kept losing contact with the pedals.

The new track was fun though, if rather hard work - lots of climbing to get back up from the velodrome.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Munisano's muni video

Munisano has a new video showing some fun-looking muni action - and the obligatory fail reel at the end!

I'm jealous because I'm still waiting for my ankle to recover so I can get out there myself. I was able to walk to work on it today, but it's still a bit sore and swollen. Maybe by the weekend...

LHC doomed by hamster-in-tutu manifestations

Beautiful:

Hamster in Tutu Shuts Down Large Hadron Collider

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Ouch - Unicycling Makara Peak, visit 3

So it seems I need ankle braces.

My third muni trip to Makara Peak went really well, apart from when I badly twisted my ankle in one of my more spectacular falls about half-way through. (And this even despite wearing high-sided hiking boots which provide reasonable ankle support. Might have broken it otherwise.)

Thanks to a couple of mid-week trips to Mount Victoria, I'd improved my hill-climbing a bit, and managed to do much longer segments of the Koru track without rest or dismounts.

Next, I had a go at Sally Alley, the next track up from the top of Koru - this was a lot of fun; it had some rocky and steep bits I had trouble with, but I managed most of it, albeit with a good few falls including the ankle-wrenching one.

Though I still had plenty of energy, the light was fading, so I started heading back down - first to a new (to me) track, Ridgeline Extension. This was a bit beyond my current skill level - I could manage some parts, but I need to work on my hopping to get over some of the rocky areas, and I had to walk several downhill sections due to the steepness and the loose dry surface, on which my tyre (WTB Exiwolf) felt too slippery to brake confidently.

Finally, down via SWIGG and Starfish, again new to me, and again too steep and tricky for me at the moment. I managed a reasonable amount of SWIGG, but it got worse towards the bottom, with the odd drop-off and steep curves. Next time I will probably go higher up the mountain, but stick to Lazy Fern for the final exit from the park - it's annoying to have to keep dismounting and walking.

So, the ankle. It hurt when I first did it, but after a minute or so, it didn't hurt to walk on or to ride, and I didn't notice it at all for the rest of the trip, except occasionally when I dismounted and landed hard.

By the time I got home though, it was a bit swollen under the outside of the ankle bone, though still not really painful. Once she discovered this, Sally made me sit down and put ice on it for a while, then strapped it up.

By this morning, it was uncomfortable even to stand on, and walking involves a painful and awkward hobbling motion - I can put weight only on the heel. It appears I've sprained it quite nicely. Not going to be riding for a while I guess, or even leaving the apartment much. Dammit.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Quote of the day

...he's so predictable that he probably wouldn't pass a Turing test
-- BK Drinkwater

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Unicycling Mount Victoria

Having recovered from Saturday's entertainment at Makara Peak, today after I finished working I decided to have a go at unicycling some tracks on Mount Victoria.

Starting from the top of Majoribanks St (which was itself a steep climb) I picked some random paths and found my way up to the summit near the lookout, then back down to where I started. Quite by accident it turned out that I'd more-or-less followed this circuit, though I managed to choose a steeper downhill route.

I did better than I expected on the rocky and rooty tracks. Most of my dismounts on the uphill were because I ran out of leg stamina on the steeper climbs and needed to rest, rather than loss of control - which I was very pleased about, since it feels like a further improvement over Saturday's Makara Peak effort. I also managed to ride down a path that was very steep by my previous standards, without plummeting to my doom or faceplanting into a tree or anything.

I amused some people, alarmed a few dogs, and one curious mountain biker stopped to chat for a bit while I recovered on the uphill bit.

This will become a favourite place to ride. The tracks are great, there are so many routes to explore, and it's only a few minutes from work. Pretty steep though!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Unicycling Makara Peak, visit 2

I went up to Makara Peak again today on the 29er unicycle.

Having bashed up my shins pretty well on the pedals last time, this time I was using my new leg armour, and also some new gloves which seemed a good idea after I hurt my wrist in a fall a week ago. Neither of these have been seriously tested yet, but I found they improved my confidence a bit!

I also had my new CamelBak Mule, and drank the entire 3 litres by the time I got home. This is thirsty work.

Today's track route: Koru (to the end instead of turning off at the Skills Area), then down Lazy Fern (where the sloping switchbacks still defeat me on occasion). I would have gone further up but I was running out of daylight. Next time I plan to try out Sally Alley (will be tricky as it has more uneven rocky bits than Koru) then come down Swigg / Starfish.

I did somewhat better than on my first visit. This is probably partly from being less tired due to not having just finished a 30km bike ride this time, and partly from the experience from the first visit, and partly because I've been starting to hop and jump the unicycle in the last couple of weeks, which has improved my balance noticeably.

I still fall off a lot, but am becoming smoother over the bumps, and my better balance lets me take most of the uphills at a slower, more maintainable pace, instead of trying to power through them.

Afterwards I decided to ride back down from Karori to the city, instead of getting the bus back, since I still had some energy left. This was about 8km on pavements, and mostly downhill, but was probably not such a great idea - though it started out easy, my legs were turning to jelly by the end, and I had to walk the last bit down the Terrace because I couldn't control it on the steep bits. Next time I'll make time to go a bit further at the Peak instead, and get the bus home.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Exhausting day, part 2 - Unicycling Makara Peak

Two epic cycle rides today: the first with two wheels and the second with one wheel. Here's part 2:

After a big lunch, I still had plenty of energy, so I took my 29-inch mountain unicycle and caught the bus up to Makara Peak mountain bike park. I've been up there once before on a mountain bike, and ridden to the summit, but this was the first time on a unicycle, and also my first 'real' offroad riding on a unicycle. I don't think riding around Waitangi Park (which I often do after work) really counts.

I went up the Koru track, had a look at the skills area and stopped to drink a lot of water and recover, then rode back down via the Lazy Fern track.

On a mountain bike this would be a pretty easy ride, since the average uphill gradient of Koru is quite gentle, it's easy to control your descent of Lazy Fern since you actually have brakes, and it's easy enough to balance when riding slowly down sloping switchbacks.

On a muni though, for a complete beginner at least, it's a real challenge! Many many falls and dismounts. Overall I guess I was pretty rubbish, but I had a lot of fun and got a bit better as I went on.

On the uphill part, my ability to retain balance and control at low speed over uneven uphill gradients and bumps is a bit of a work in progress, so instead I often end up relying on just standing up and powering through, trying to maintain enough speed and momentum to carry me over the bumps. This only works for short intervals, because it gets me seriously out of breath quite quickly. I gradually started to improve, focused on keeping more weight on the saddle, trying to maintain smooth wheel revolutions, and anticipating the changes in balance better, but I fell off a lot and had to stop and catch my breath frequently. After some weeks of hurtling home from work on the uni, up the steep hill of the Terrace (with shopping), my leg muscles can now mostly keep up with the demands, but my aerobic fitness doesn't yet.

On the downhill, I did better - still plenty of dismounts, but less frequently than on the uphill. The thing that repeatedly got me was the switchback turns, which are steep enough to make it hard to slow down on a muni, at least on a 29-inch wheel with 150mm cranks. (My unicycle doesn't have brakes, though they are certainly available. I have a long way to go in terms of balance and control before I could make practical use of them.) The trick then is to quickly plan the line you're going to take, and lean the right amount, riding round the corner smoothly while leg-braking as well as you can. This is going to take some more practice.

Something I did learn: it's worth paying for some leg armour, and I will be doing so shortly. I have several nice bruises, cuts and general pedal bites on my left shin from various falls and failed mounts - one of the downsides of grippy metal pedals. And that was through trousers. Nothing serious or painful, but it could easily have been worse.

One day I hope to be able to reach Makara Peak's summit on the uni, but besides improving fitness and balance, I will probably need to learn to hop / jump the unicycle too, since the trails to get there are a bit rougher.

Exhausting day, part 1 - Round and round the bays

Two epic cycle rides today: the first with two wheels and the second with one wheel. Here's part 1:

I joined Alex and Jaro from work, and 40 or so other people, for the "Round and round the bays" ride around the Wellington coastline, organized by Cycle Aware Wellington as part of the 350.org climate action movement.

Besides enjoying the beautiful scenery of the round-the-harbour route, the idea of the ride was to promote cycling in Wellington, raise awareness of the need for a more cycle-friendly road network, and provide a public and media-visible show of support for action on climate change, in advance of the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December.

There were some amusingly dressed folks along. We were supposed to dress colourfully, and someone took this to mean wearing a one-piece all-over white lycra body suit - it covered absolutely everything including hands and feet, head and face.

There was also a family that managed to fit all four on one cycle - a tandem with a child seat at the front and a child's bike attached with a "tow arm" at the back.

Here's a map:

View Larger Map

The ride started from Island Bay at the bottom left, followed the coast road around all the peninsulas to the right and top, and finished at the waterfront Odlins Plaza in the city centre at top left.

I'd considered doing this on the 29-inch unicycle just for entertainment value and for the benefit of the 350.org photos; but decided it would be too slow and too far, especially with my new 150mm cranks, and rode my mountain bike instead. I was right: it was about 30km by the time I'd ridden home afterwards, and even with small kids in the group, we (well, the front of the group at least) near-effortlessly averaged around 17kph for the time we were moving, which I would not have kept up with on the unicycle. We made 42kph on one downhill bit without really trying - a unicycle would be left way behind since it can't freewheel. Keeping up would probably be possible with a 36er though - except the 42kph bit; maintaining even 30kph on a unicycle (even a geared one) for any substantial period will get you a world record.

The weather was just perfect for this ride - comfortably cool, hardly any wind, and some sunshine relieved by patchy clouds.

On to Part 2...

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Using a laser to create false memories in flies

Philip K. Dick would have loved this.

I wonder if it is a pink laser?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Unicycle comment of the day

From some guys on the balcony at a bar in Oriental Bay:
Hey, disco one wheeler!
This was on Friday night as I went for an epic (by my beginner's standards) 15-20km ride around the Wellington coast past Evan's Bay then back over Mount Victoria. I was wearing my Exelite flashing light belt, so was very noticeable in the dark, much to their amusement.

They were still there and shouted much the same thing when I came back past nearly 2 hours later!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Amazingly fast and robust cockroach robot

DASH is nearly as indestructible as the real thing.

How many mechanical devices have you seen that still work after falling over 25 metres onto concrete? This one not only walks away from such a drop, it scuttles away.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Quote of the day

...if you want to please people who are mistaken, you can't simply tell the truth. You're always going to have to add some sort of padding to protect their misconceptions from bumping against reality.
Paul Graham

More iPredict My Portfolio tweaks - adding persistent Notes field

Following on from my previous hacks, I've made another addition to my Greasemonkey script to modify iPredict's My Portfolio page, this time inspired by a forum post by ORACLE.

He requested that iPredict should add an editable Notes column to the portfolio. I've wanted this feature myself, so I figured this would be a good time to experiment with DOM Storage, since this allows local persistence of data like this, without requiring support from the server.

My updated script now adds a 'Notes' column next to each line in the portfolio, which lets you enter freeform text which is stored permanently (in your Firefox local user profile) for when you come back to the page.

The DOM Storage API for globalStorage seems to work fine in Greasemonkey (in Firefox 3.0.14), providing you tunnel through the Greasemonkey wrapper using 'wrappedJSObject' to access the globalStorage object, like this:
window.wrappedJSObject.globalStorage[window.location.hostname].setItem(key, noteText)
(I've used the older, non-standard globalStorage object, rather than the HTML5-standardized localStorage, because I'm still running FF3.0 which doesn't implement localStorage; when I eventually switch to 3.5 I may change it.)

As before, to get the script, download the current ipredict-portfolio.js from my repository on github here, and install in Greasemonkey - then just use iPredict as normal and enjoy the new stuff. See the previous post for more info.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Police car makes its mark on tattoo parlour

A police car crashed into a tattoo parlour in Auckland.

Reportedly their insurance may not cover this, because it's an act of plod.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Earthquake!

Another quake today that we felt at home - a jolt, then slight shaking of the building.

This one was magnitude 4.8 and just off the west coast of the Wellington area.

GeoNet report

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The ideal religious fanatic

Sarah Vowell on Jon Stewart... with bone dry delivery:
He believed that those who didn't share his Puritan beliefs would burn in hell for eternity, and he thought that was punishment enough... on Earth we could all live together.

If there were more religious fanatics like that, maybe there would be fewer car bombs.

Video (if it deigns to allow full episodes in your area... else there is currently a shorter excerpt on the front page)

Friday, 2 October 2009

Photos - World of Wearable Art Awards

Great photos from the Dominion Post of the World of Wearable Art Awards.

Unicycling seen from wheel level

This guy has a video of what offroad unicycling looks like from a camera mounted near the wheel.

I'm not quite sure why he has done this, but it's amusing to watch anyway.

He manages to go insanely fast because that machine has gears. Well, two gears anyway. that's not something I'm likely to be attempting, given the $2500 price tag for a geared hub (if you can even get one). Maybe they will become more commonly used in future, but so far I think I much prefer the smoother ride of my larger wheel anyway - wouldn't want to go back to the 24" even if it was faster.

Unicycle comment of the day

From some dude unlocking his bike near the library:
Hey, matey. Nice craft you've got there.
And that was my old 24" unicycle. New one is far more impressive.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Honda's U3-X electric unicycle

Here's another electric unicycle prototype, this time from Honda:



Unlike the Enicycle, or even Trevor Blackwell's Eunicycle or the Uno, this one seems to be pitched as an indoor mobility device, rather than as outdoor transportation. Top speed is an incredible 3.7 mph! No plans for production yet.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Quote of the day

prepBut nI vrbLike adjHungarian! qWhat's artThe adjBig nProblem?
- Forum post, The Daily WTF forums

(For the non-programmers: this is a neat proof of why Hungarian Notation is a really bad idea if you want your computer source code to be readable.)

A referendum to end all referendums

Baldock's going to do it, it seems. Muppet.

The question this time is, as he hinted before: Should Citizens Initiated Referenda seeking to repeal or amend a law be binding?

Maybe he regrets having such a loaded question last time. Had the previous one actually asked 'do you want the smacking law repealed', and still got a large vote, it might have have been taken seriously.

This one wouldn't be if it was held now, and I'm not convinced it will be if held in a year or two. It's a frivolous waste of everyone's time and money to take this to a referendum.

I propose a referendum question of my own. You must promise to answer truthfully, 'yes' or 'no'.

Will you either answer 'no' to this question or refuse to vote in future pointless referendums?

(This trick is known as Coercive Logic.)

Unicycle comment of the day

Some dudes drinking beer in Waitangi Park, surprised but highly entertained to encounter a nocturnal unicyclist:
- Is that hard?
(me) - Not really!
- That's the randomest thing ever!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

iGovt and the Identity Verification Service

This promises some entertainment: the IVS project is not dead yet. A few months ago it looked like it was, but now the government is trying to get people inspired about its world-changing revolutionaryness.

This iGovt thing is in two parts:
  • A logon service: basically you get a single username / password, plus maybe a physical token, that you can use whenever you have to log in to any application using the service. Like the key you get when you buy an apartment.
  • An identity verification service: this lets you prove who you are as a new user of an application. Like the address and passport credentials you show to open a bank account.
The logon part (formerly the Government Logon Service, then rebranded 'iGovt Logon' almost as soon as it was live) has been running for a while, with disappointing takeup - even though you have to get a special ministerial exemption to NOT use it for a new government project.

The IVS part has been in the design stage for ages.

The logon part has limited takeup because it gives an application nothing on its own - there's a big implementation cost without any gain. This is because it's only useful once your physical identity has been established, which needs to be done when you first use each application. iGovt Logon only tells the app that you have an iGovt logon, not who you are - it lets the app see that you are the same user as last time. The app still has to verify, outside the iGovt Logon service, which person the user ID corresponds to, and what access (if any) they should be allowed. In fact, the system is explicitly designed NOT to provide, say, the IRD with an identifier that it can correlate with the same user's account at Housing NZ.

In other words, you only benefit from using iGovt Logon if your users access multiple apps using it, and even then, the benefit is to the users (convenience and security of using a single login), rather than the implementors and maintainers of the apps.

IVS is supposed to solve part of the 'who is this account' problem - it will 'prove' who you are for the initial registration with a new application, and let you share some of your personal details. Annoyingly, it STILL doesn't help with the 'which people should have access and how much' problem: you still need your existing provisioning system for anything that isn't 'everyone in NZ'.

The interesting twist: every project that launches with iGovt Logon in the meantime has a big incentive NOT to use IVS when it becomes available. This is because those projects have already implemented their own alternatives to IVS - typically whatever local user-provisioning system and manual checks those agencies use already. Switching to IVS will require a load of new development effort and will be risky for already-live projects.

There's also a big bootstrapping problem. Unless IVS provides seriously improved fraud detection or financial guarantees (which I doubt), it will never make economic sense for a new project to use IVS until it is fully available and everyone has it. You don't want to implement TWO identity / use provisioning systems for your app just so that some initial-trial IVS users can use their new ID.

Therefore projects will only use IVS if they are compelled to (read: bankrolled from the IVS development budget), or if they are being done by whatever big contractor (IBM, EDS) gets the tender and has a vested interest in pushing it. It will get mandated for government projects if it gets far enough, although that mandate for iGovt Logon doesn't seem to work so well.

Unicycle comment of the day

From some oddly dispirited-looking skater types near the waterfront:
- Why don't you just get a bike.
- Yeah, that's so much harder?
(they needed help from Paul Graham on their intonation)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Quote of the day

One of the occupational hazards of living there is overhearing the conversations of people who use interrogative intonation in declarative sentences.
- Paul Graham

Don't feed the terrorists

So three of the UK's so-called 'liquid bombers' (though not the other five) got convicted last Monday in their second trial.

I think the way this case has been handled is somewhat questionable.

We have:
  • The scrapping of the UK's double-jeopardy law when there is 'new evidence'. The accused were allowed to be tried a second time after the first jury didn't find them guilty of attempted bombing, but only the lesser charges - which wasn't good enough for the prosecutors.
  • The second trial used surveillance evidence obtained by the NSA in the US. Despite a lot of ranting about this being part of the notorious illegal surveillance program, it looks like there actually were warrants for this in the US. However, evidence obtained by interception like this is apparently not legal in the UK, so they went back and retrospectively got a US court order to have Yahoo disclose the old emails, making the evidence legit. This seems a little sketchy. It makes the initial rule rather pointless for things like emails, which will usually still be there when you go back with your warrant. Also, as I understand it, this wasn't new evidence - the prosecution supposedly had it already, it's just that the NSA didn't want it published then.
  • Having two trials like this not only costs 135 million pounds (and we thought the David Bain case was an epic!), it also gives the defense a huge disadvantage. The prosecution gets to withhold evidence in the first trial, then if they don't get the conviction they want, they can introduce it later as 'new evidence' to prompt a second trial. Would you want the defense to be allowed to do that?
  • There's the question of whether these guys were ever going to get anywhere with their intended choice of bombing materials. The Register had an excellent article on this way back. Admittedly this may be irrelevant to a conspiracy charge, but it does put the nature and sophistication of the threat in perspective - and the hysteria of the overreactions. Not just the abandonment of long-held civil liberties and common sense, but also all the entertaining security theatre, such as banning shampoo and baby milk from aircraft, while mixing the deadly discarded liquids in the bin next to the busy security checkpoint.
  • Don't even get me started on the extension of the detention-without-charge period.

If it was all done within the law, at least it demonstrates that it's possible to convict for these crimes without security agencies needing special powers to spy on absolutely everyone. 'Terrorists' are not magical criminals in some special category that should cause us to abandon all the usual rules and react in panic. They are just criminals, and should be pursued as such.

I have no problem with the security services going after terrorists, but in the long term, the way to combat the mentality that leads people to these extremes is to pursue them with the high standards a policing and criminal justice system is supposed to uphold. Maintaining a rigid and very visible policy of equal justice, fairness and legality of investigation is the way to change things.

Panicking the populace, and bending all the rules to get the convictions you want - this is just feeding the us-and-them mentality, the disillusionment and the self-righteous thinking that leads people to act in mass-murderous ways. All you achieve is to breed more terrorists.

Just treat them like trolls. Don't feed them.

Unicycle comment of the day

From some girl in a group waiting near the lagoon for some sports thing or other:
(points) - Oooooh, a unicyclist!!!!!!!1!11!!
Like this was the most incredible thing ever to happen to her. I waved back, happy to help.

I worried that the rest of her day might be similarly exciting - there's a risk it could all prove too much.

Things I've learnt from Mythbusters

  1. You can get killed by someone else firing a gun into the air in a wild act of 4th-of-July glee. (Although not if they fire it straight up, because the bullets don't fall straight.)
  2. When you get convicted for this in San Francisco, it is called negligent celebratory gunfire.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Quote of the day

I bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork.
- Groucho Marx, At the Circus

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Quote of the day

You play cards the way you should live your life, and you live your life the way you should play cards.
- Poker player, Lucky You

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Quote of the day

When the tide goes out, that's when you find out who's been swimming naked.
- Warren Buffett

Friday, 11 September 2009

Quote of the day

If you stuck a lump of coal up his arse, you'd have a diamond in a fortnight.
Magnolia (2006)

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Quote of the day

- You're gonna look ridiculous.
- Yeah, well, when enough people look ridiculous, it starts to look normal.
I Could Never Be Your Woman

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Quote of the day

- Years ago you trusted my opinion.
- Years ago you were easier to trust.
A Love Song For Bobby Long

Medical board recommends stimulant addiction as a productivity measure

So the Queensland Health Department says doctors should overdose on caffeine so they can work insanely long shifts.

Apparently the Department toyed with recommending various other stimulants, but settled on caffeine, since it's so great for calm judgment and focus when consumed to excess.

Presumably these 'official guidelines' were written by somebody crazed by a 72-hour energy drink binge.

The results of that brainstorm - or indeed the doctor's work - might be termed red bull shift.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Paul Graham on writing

Essayist Paul Graham has an essay on styles of essays.

I've been eagerly awaiting each of his pieces for a while now. There's always an amazing level of insight, and he has a very concise, blunt and economical writing style which I find interesting.

I like that he sees the main purpose of writing essays as being a way to bring out new ideas during the process of writing. That's what I'm finding here, particularly with a couple of things I'm working on but haven't posted yet. It also makes it feel a little less useless to spend time writing when I don't have a lot of people to read it yet.

Quote of the day

You know what I hate most about being a public figure?

The public.
- Peter's Friends

Sunday, 6 September 2009

YikeBike

This folding electric bike was on the TV news here a couple of days back.

It's a very original design, and looks kind of fun, but I can't see it becoming widespread because the riding position is too novel. Because you're leaning back slightly and with handlebars beside and behind you, people won't feel safe enough.

Imagine riding it down a hill. That position is going to feel unstable and exposed without the subjective 'barrier' / 'protection' of handlebars in front of you, and with the perception that you'll be shifted forwards if you brake, rather than being in an already 'braced' position by having some of your weight on handlebars in front.

I'll stick to my unicycle I think - easier to fall off cleanly.

Liberty-as-means libertarianism allows restricting freedoms

Paradox of the day: libertarianism, considered as a tool for allowing society the freedom to adapt to new conditions, ought to include the freedom to impose local restrictions on freedom, because sometimes that's a good way to experiment with adaptations to local societal conditions.

Using Sullivan's terms from the linked article: I guess the paradox only really arises when you take a relatively absolute (!) view of how to apply liberty-as-means libertarianism in practice, and when you do that, you're actually closer to liberty-as-goal libertarianism anyway.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Meta-referendum

So it looks like we may have a referendum on referendums, timed to coincide with the next election and generally cause trouble - providing Larry Baldock can get enough support this time.

The last one got a lot of bad press for being such a huge waste of money, but I think voter turnout - though low - was sufficiently large that, if he campaigns hard enough, he'll probably get the required 10% of voters to sign the triggering petition for this one, since the majority vote was on the side likely to be annoyed that no law change happened.

He does a lot of whingeing in his press release about constitutional inadequacies. Some of that may be worth considering, but of all the ways to address this problem, he's chosen one very likely to get a lot of media attention and criticism and to cost the country a good bit of money, but not very likely at all to change anything substantial. It smacks (sorry) of self-publicity.

Also, as The Standard points out, he's not really in a great position for being self-righteous about fair democratic processes, since a good chunk of his funding for these theatrics appears to come from a hundred-million-a-year US fundamentalist christian group which spent nearly USD$600,000 on lobbying in 2007 alone.

iPredict My Portfolio customization

Following on from something I thought of yesterday and posted on the iPredict forums, I decided to have a go at customizing iPredict's My Portfolio page. I wanted to make it easier to see the information I'm interested in when placing limit orders to trade on stock movements.

To do this I've written a Greasemonkey script, which uses javascript to read some values from the tables on the page, and adds extra columns correlating the current stock holdings with the active orders and watchlist.

It works purely on the information already on the HTML page and visible in the page source - it doesn't make any requests to the server, so I think it should fall within iPredict's terms and conditions.

To get it, download the current ipredict-portfolio.js from my repository on github here.

To use it, see the comments at the top of the file. Basically:
  • Use Firefox (tested on 3.0.13, will probably work on 3.5 if Greasemonkey does)
  • Install the Greasemonkey firefox addon
  • Install ipredict-portfolio.js as a userscript in Greasemonkey, for URLs matching the pattern https://www.ipredict.co.nz/Main.php?do=portfolio* (the iPredict My Portfolio page).
  • The script will apply its changes whenever you view that page in iPredict.

This will probably break whenever iPredict change their site layout; I may provide an updated version at the above page if I am still using it myself.

Friday, 4 September 2009

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Thursday, 3 September 2009

Solar power stations in space

I'm not sure building solar panels in space and beaming it back down is the most efficient use of energy research funding right now, let alone the most efficient way (in terms of lifetime operating costs) to make energy originating from the sun available on the earth's surface.

Earth-bound solar, wind and tidal generation seem like a more obvious and immediately available way to get at it.

If you must do it in space, then all those research funds would be better spent now on space elevator development or similar launch technologies - at least then the eventual power plant might actually have reasonable launch costs, by the time the required solar and microwave tech is ready. Oh, and ultra-cheap launch tech might also have one or two spinoff benefits in the meantime...

Contact lens displays

Having read far too much science fiction, I've been eagerly awaiting progress in wearable computers and augmented reality over the next few decades - something rather more immersive than the current crop of mobile phones will be nice. There are already one-eye head-up-display overlays available, and chunky google-glasses, but what if you could have a near-invisible display with you all the time, right on your eyeball?

A research group at the University of Washington is working towards contact lens LED displays. They've already managed to make something with a (very) low-res grid of working LEDs. Nice.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Unicycle comment of the day

From two stoners in a car parked near the waterfront:
Uoh, Krusty the Clown!
Interesting viewpoint.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Vertical gardens

I hope city wall-gardens like this become more widespread - beats the usual glass and concrete facades.

Update: hmm, maybe they could get this gravity-defier to do the garden maintenance.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Problem gambling

...together we can beat the odds.

Instructions for fixing any conceivable computer problem

XKCD comes through for us again.

I'm going to refer all computer-related questions to that URL from now on.

Update: ok, here's a fallback if that one fails - no-one will ever return from that URL.

Pointless referendums

Oh no, not again!

This guy really knows how to waste everybody's time. Clearly he lacks the imagination to find a better way to get publicity for his cause.

It would be nice if he could at least settle on one that he has to pay for himself.

On the other hand, the last one was quite lucrative for me on iPredict...

Sunday, 30 August 2009

How to make a warning marker that will remain undisturbed and comprehensible for 10000 years

An interesting problem in security, engineering and anthropology: marking radioactive waste burial sites.

Don't ride things that make you look smug

Apparently people are annoyed by transportation devices that make it look too easy, like electric bikes and segways.

Unicycling does well out of this effect since it looks a lot harder than it actually is. Certainly most of the reactions I get from people are of amusement (often verging on hilarity), or just that's cool!

Meteor photos

Meteors from all over the place, including the current 2009 Perseids.

Programming editor wars

Yet another 'editor wars' discussion on Hacker News.

I'm always surprised by how many people come out in favour of Emacs and Vi in these debates. Despite their undoubted power in the hands of an experienced user, both feel to me like slightly stone-age tools, wilfully and perversely eschewing recent progress in GUIs, usability, learn-ability, intuitiveness, and unsurprisingness. Admittedly I haven't spent the time to become proficient in either, but with similarly powerful but infinitely more modern tools like jEdit and Eclipse available, why would I?

Powerful tools should have interfaces that empower the new user right away, not cripple them until they fortuitously discover the right tricks, or work through 10 tutorials, or digest the entire manual.

My contributions:
Eclipse
jEdit

Unicycle comments of the day

By the Overseas Passenger Terminal, which we rode around despite the wind:
Small child: Bikes!
Dad: Yes, bikes. Look, a single bike!
What the hell is a 'single bike'?


On the waterfront near Odlins Plaza:
Girl: Oh look, a tricycle!
Guy: It's a unicycle.
Girl: Could you fall off, so I can laugh at you?
Yes I could, since it was remarkably windy. But I managed not to, at least until we were out of sight - anyway I was too busy laughing myself at the 'tricycle' thing. We speculated that maybe she was counting both of us (Sally was with me on her 'double bike').


Kid near Queen's Wharf:
How do you know all that stuff?

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Unicycle comment of the day

In Californian accent, from some dudes with bikes down by the waterfront:
That's pretty gnarly, dude

Dual screen laptop

Now THIS is about the first new and useful feature in laptop design for quite a few years*:

I think I'll probably wait until the four-screen version comes out though.

*blue lights, pink cases and differently-shaped keys don't count

Friday, 28 August 2009

Next unicycle

I want one of these 29-inch-wheeled mountain unicycles:

I can't go fast enough on my current 24-inch unicycle:
...which I have had since I started learning in March, and which I now use to commute to work (a lot of fun) - it's capable only of a moderate jogging pace, limited by how fast you can pedal without wobbling.

Also the thin road tyre is not so great on uneven ground. The 29-er should be about 20% faster and make it easier to ride over bumps. It also has much better, grippier pedals.

I'm half considering this speedy 36-inch monster:
...which would be 50% faster than my 24-inch, and is quite capable of some offroad riding too. However, it's a much bigger step up in pedalling 'gearing', so I'm worried that I might not be able to get up the Wellington hills at first, or ride slowly enough to cope with pedestrians on the way to work.

Probably I will go for a 29er for now, until I'm a bit more experienced.

Earthquake!

Whoah! We just had a nice little earthquake here in Wellington.

It was not (at my location at least) strong enough to cause any damage - except maybe to my nerves. NZ apartment buildings bounce and vibrate and creak quite well.

It was a 5.2 - a respectable minor shake.

Details from GNS Science / GeoNet:
NZ Standard Time:Friday, 28 August 2009 at 2:10 am
Latitude, Longitude:41.44°S, 174.72°E
Location:20 km south of Wellington
Focal depth:30 km
Richter magnitude:5.2
Location map
Shaking reports

Update: there have been aftershocks, but none of it did any damage. More info

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Cruel names and other dangers

My girlfriend came across two kids from the same family, named 'Evie' and 'Flo'.

Who would name their kids Eve 'n' Flo?

NZ has lately been pretty good at producing kids cruelly inflicted with comedy names, guaranteeing them a hellish time growing up (there have even been some court cases where the parents were ordered to change the name), but this is the first I've come across where the comedy involves multiple names.

Wonder if it was deliberate. (Shirley they're not Sirius?)

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Buy a quad-core xeon server, get a free fishing rod!

Random special offer of the day (seen on acquire.co.nz) - I particularly like the product code:

Only in New Zealand...

Peano cruise

Fed up with endless TV adverts for P&O Cruises, I daydreamed about a competing service that would knock them out of the market.

Peano Cruises - they go on forever and visit absolutely everywhere.

First boot

I think it's about time I had somewhere to collect my rants, ramblings and randomness, so here it is.

Caution: this blog may eventually contain such disparate topics as software, science, prediction markets, and unicycling.