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l'enfer du North Island

  i can't remember if i'm punk or not Monday, 30 March 2009 link

Excellent stuff on a programmable camera motion rig here. This guy's built a computer-controlled camera motion/control rig for stop-motion film, which is being productised and used on set. They're using a basic modular construction architecture to facilitate speed of prototyping, with some components later being replaced by more solid equivalents once the design has settled down. The interesting bit about this is the hardware/software component system they're using to build the rig and develop the control software. Yup: lego.

I'm sure I shouldn't be as happy as I am that Lego's new range includes both Pirates and a farm set. Yes, it's definitely for the girls. Hey look! An octopus! And a cow!

For her birthday, Mike gave Rebecca a copy of the first season of Fraggle Rock on DVD. Man. I remember when that first came out; the fuss they made about getting it on TVNZ. Ah, the saturday mornings of my childhood. Over the weekend, we watched a bit of it with Rebecca (Maggie was slightly interested but was more intent on reading a Maisie flapbook).

As I was watching it, it occurred to me that children these days are quite able to repeat their parents' childhoods. DVDs mean that kids can watch the same TV as their parents; Fraggle Rock, the Muppets, ... Toys, too, are where they once were: I was at a birthday party a few weeks ago where the 3-year old birthday girl received about 20 My Little Ponies. My god, I thought, can't the little buggers have their own culture? Why do we feel the need to revisit our own childhoods?

Then again, when I was a kid my dad gave me a load of books to read. Just William, the Jennings books, sets of fairy stories he'd had as a kid. There's nothing new or unusual to this. I'm passing on some of the media I liked as a kid, while ignoring the vast swathes of crap that I also watched/read. Ditto toys: sure, some stuff has made a comeback, but there's a shedload of new stuff. And why worry too much about whether the injection-moulded plastic being aggressively marketed to your children is the same as the injection-moulded plastic that was aggressively marketed to you when you were young, or an entirely new media creation? And since one of Rebecca's favourite movies is Snow White, it's not just our childhoods she's repeating, it's potentially her great-grandparents (as Snow White was released in 1937).

So then I chilled out and took her out fishing with a bait trap. This was one of my favourite activities as a kid: you can catch and observe small fish, then release them. Plus, scrambling around on rocks! I picked up cheap bait trap (they're about $15) a few weeks ago, and now we occasionally go off and spend a bit of time catching cockabullies around the rockier bits of the waterfront. If you're stuck for stuff to do on a fine afternoon, give it a go. We haven't caught an octopus yet, but it's still early days.

Currently really enjoying various mix/remix albums by Diplo, who has an ear for a good beat. It's nice stuff. Also very happy that Golem! have their new album, Citizen Boris, on emusic. Ditto the revelation that the Klezmatics entire back catalogue is also on emusic - w00t, etc. Plus the most recent Solid Steel podcast is a stunning bit of work by Hexstatic, including vidcast elements. The mix is immaculate, and the visuals are very nice. Of course, I have to turn my iPod upside down on the desk if I actually want to get any bloody work done, but that's beside the point.

  you never have to wait long to have bad things confirmed Thursday, 26 March 2009 link

I was wondering how long it would take my somewhat pessimistic attitude about the national cycleway to be justified. I'd thought it would be longer than this. So the government is cutting the central government funding for alternative transport initiatives by 50%. And now we find out that rather than the proposed single Glorious People's Concrete Cycleway, we'll be getting a network of linked cycleways. Will they join up? Who knows. Will we be able to achieve that initial goal, Cape Reinga to Bluff on a dedicated cyclepath? I'd bet that the answer there will turn out to be no.

Actually, to be honest, I like the idea of a linked network of cyclepaths. But I'd like there to be at least one major "backbone" down the country. A man can dream.

I can confirm that it's surprisingly hard to corner a road bike on carpet. But on the plus side, if you go down, it's padded.

  this took a while to write Tuesday, 17 March 2009 link

Why I'm not running around shouting with happiness and tearing my clothes off at the prospect of a national cycle route.

I mean, this is the sort of thing that you'd expect me to be all over. A national cycle path? Excellent. On paper it looks great. Basically, it looks like someone's had a good look at what the Otago Rail Trail brings to the regions it passes through. Specifically, a few bob when it was built, and then a nice steady trickle of tourist dollars afterwards. Except that I've got a few misgivings about it.

First off, what will actually be built? Cycle lanes on current streets, a purpose-built path, what? Are we talking about an area at the side of an existing road, or a completely separate track? And will it incorporate the existing cyclepaths? And then, what will it be built of?

The problem with this is that it's the sort of thing that's easy to do badly, but hard to do well.

One of the things that worries me is that the person who's proposed it is not actually a cyclist. One of the key problems with cycling infrastructure is that a lot of the people who build it aren't cyclists, and so don't actually know what sort of thing they should be doing. Cycle lanes are notorious for this: the government declares that each local council must make a certain length of cycle lanes, as part of a plan to encourage cycling. The usual result is that the local body either designates a footpath as a combined footpath/cycleway (one minor legal change and a couple of tins of paint), or paints some green lines on the side of a major arterial road that no-one in their right mind would cycle on. Job jobbed, we've installed 10m of cycle lanes in the last fiscal year - check that box on the budget form and move on to something more interesting. The actual needs of cyclists are seldom considered, because if you ask us, we tend to ask for annoying things like priority boxes at intersections, clearly marked cycle lanes through major intersections, or reduced speed limits on roads. These are a pain to design and implement, and it's much easier to just slap some green paint down and say "job done". Now, clearly I'm not saying this would necessarily apply in this case, but I do think that some parts of the path are likely to be designed by people who wouldn't know a derailleur if it bit them. And that does not fill me with confidence. And the fact that John Key has said that the cycle path would be made of concrete is a good example of this: concrete's a bad idea for a cycle path. If you're paving it, you want decent tarmac, just like a normal road. Concrete is hard to maintain and dangerous in the wet. He's also said that it might work in tandem with Te Araroa, the walking path that goes the length of the country - yet the head of the Te Araroa project says that the path would be a pretty technical mountainbike track in places. You've got to hope that they're going to get designers and project managers who know their stuff.

Plus, it's not just building a cycle path, it's maintaining it. Any cycle path next to a main road will collect broken glass - fact. It's just one of those things. Psychologically, we seem unable to break the compulsion some people have to hiff bottles out of the windows of passing cars. So if you want something reasonably maintainable you're going to have to either spend a fair bit of money on street sweeping, or locate it a distance away from roads, if that's practicable.

I mean, let's think about it. What we're really talking about here is mimicking the rail trail experience. These are bike trails for people who don't like cycling on the road (because if you do like cycling on the road, you just go ahead and do it). So why do people like cycling rail trails?

One suggestion that has been made is to build it as a separate path near major train lines. That takes care of the gradient and separation issues, but raises a couple of others. If you're not going near a major road, you're going to need to pass through towns relatively frequently (so people have somewhere to buy food/drink or to stay). Certainly at least every 50k or so, if you want it to be used by leisure tourists. Does that really apply to the main trunk line? Aren't there a few areas where you've got wall to wall stuff-all for quite a bit?

And there's a few other details to consider. For example, would this be all entirely new, or would the cyclepath utilise existing infrastructure where possible? In which case, the section from Featherston to the Wellington CBD is pretty much done already, thanks to the Rimutaka Rail Trail, the Hutt River Trail, and the cyclepath alongside SH2 from Petone to the Railway Station. So how much of a boost here are we going to get?

Who's paying for it? Is the money for construction going to come out of the "sustainable transport" bucket, or the "tourist facility" bucket? 'Cos as cool as a national cyclepath would be, I think it's at least as important to keep pressing ahead with building actual day-to-day usable cycle infrastructure around the country - the sort of thing that doesn't get people on bikes for holidays, but gets them on bikes for commuting to work. If the national cyclepath sucks up that funding, I think that would be a bad thing.

And one last question about the tourist consequences. Hands up everyone who knows that the UK has an excellent national cycling network of over 12,000 miles, covering the entire country? Hands up everyone who would go to the UK for such a thing?

Now, don't get me wrong. I would dearly, dearly love to see a decent cycle trail the length of the country - something so that in ten years' time we can take a week to cycle with the girls up to Auckland to see the grandparents. I'm just acutely aware that this could go wrong. My fear is that this will be done badly, in a jobsworth way, and that we'll end up with a cyclepath that looks good on paper but isn't actually particularly usable. And then people will go, "Well, we built you this nice cycle path and you're not using it..." And that won't do much good for cycling funding.

I'd just like to close with an example of the sort of thing that I'm worried about. Recently part of Wellington's cycling blackspot, Thorndon Quay, was upgraded. Part of this was to put in a road narrowing point and a dropped kerb cycle transition at the point where the cylepath runs out. The intent here is a good one: it's designed so that the road narrowing point gives "shelter" to the dropped kerb, so if you're riding along the cyclepath you can easily switch to the road at the end without worrying about traffic. Except that it's badly implemented: the transition between the kerb and the road is quite sharp, so at anything over 20kph you get quite a jarring impact. So half the cyclists ignore it, and choose to still use the dropped kerb 10m up the road, which is much shallower and lets you move easily and safely from the cyclepath to the road. If you actually used that cyclepath a couple of times, the problems would be pretty obvious - but it's pretty safe to assume that whoever put it in doesn't ride. So the designer's good intentions go to waste because the contractor didn't understand why a steep transition between cyclepath and road is a problem. And it's this kind of disconnect between intention and execution that I'm worried about for the proposed national cycleway.

I'd like to think that it'll go well. But I can't help being worried.

  busy busy busy Sunday, 15 March 2009 link

Heavy couple of weeks. Mainly because it's Rebecca's fifth birthday tomorrow, and we've been busy with the implications of that: namely, that she starts school tomorrow. This has lead to a frantic rush of activity: sorting out the details of her last day at creche, getting her sorted for school, and organising the birthday party. The last day at creche was emotional. For the party, we did the math and thought that 17 4-5 year olds at our place wasn't a go, so booked a party at Chipmunks in Tawa. Worth every penny for the ability to a) put the kids down and pretty much relax and chat to other parents as they tore around the place climbing stuff, and b) after the party itself, grab the presents and leave the debris for someone else to clean up. Rock.

For her birthday present, we got Rebecca her first bike. We popped off to Burkes Cycles and she test-rode a couple. Bucking convention, she didn't just try the pink ones - pink, purple, and red were all considered. Of course, in the end she got the pink one. After they'd put some training wheels on, we popped down to Lyall Bay. While Maggie got to grips with the climbing stuff at the play area, Rebecca rode up and down the parade with a parent in close step. Later this afternoon, when we got home, she had great fun riding around the back of the house. Then she stopped, leapt off the bike, and declared that she needed some real bike stuff in her bag. Before I could stop her, she'd grabbed a bottle of Finish Line Epic lubricant and bunged it in her frame bag, then she was agitating for a spanner. I handed her a 17mm box spanner and she went to work, going around the bike and adjusting anything she could. Like father, like daughter. New bike? Fettle!

I am terribly, terribly proud of both my daughters. I love the pair of you, and you both make me very happy.

  and now, a tip-off Wednesday, 4 March 2009 link

Things develop. The art project I mentioned in my last entry is definitely on for Monday the 9th May. I am reliably informed that the way to get into this art happening is to go up to the bloke himself, as he distributes tickets to get one of the tattoos.

So if you'd like to get a free tattoo of New Zealand, with the places important to you marked on as red dots, I strongly suggest hanging around the following places on Friday and approaching the bloke being filmed by a camera crew:

12-1pm, Midland Park (Lambton Quay)
2-3pm, Bucket Fountain (Cuba Mall)
4-5pm New World in Miramar

Before you ask: I was briefly tempted, but realised a couple of things. Firstly, and most importantly, I can't really think of where I'd put a tattoo of NZ, and it doesn't really fit with my non-representative theme. Plus, I'd rather be my own art project than part of someone else's (though I do have a fair bit of respect for everyone taking part in this). And finally, it's only free if you can take the time off without financial penalty - and I'm a contractor on an hourly rate now. But seriously, if you want a free tattoo, plus a free piece of NZ art - this is a pretty good chance.

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