24 December, 2008

A senseless system graduates without honours

HDW (and presumably many others) made mention of it on her blog Paper Pools (go read it, but only after you're done here) and since I agree with the sentiment of the article; having seen the frenzied trading of academics when I was in the UK mid 2007, and seeing as NZ has followed the UK system with our PBRF or Performance-Based Fesearch Fund, I felt I should make some reference to the article too. Here it is then:

The 2008 university Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), whose results have been announced with a mixture of fear, loathing and exhaustion, is a classic example of the self-defeating performance-management drive that is overwhelming the public sector.

RAE results determine the research funding allocated to institutions by the Higher Education Funding Council, according to a formula that changes each time. The official line is that the assessment - 2008's is the sixth since 1986 - is a success. It is "important and valuable", to quote one vice-chancellor, in providing an accepted quality yardstick and a means of promoting UK universities abroad. Others argue that it helps to ensure accountability for £8bn of public funding, the largest single chunk of university income. That sounds plausible: but as usual it conveniently airbrushes out other costs and consequences.

The first and most obvious of these is colossal bureaucracy. Government blithely assumes that management is weightless; but the direct cost of writing detailed specifications and special software, and assembling 1,100 panellists to scrutinise submissions from 50,000 individuals in 2,500 submissions, high as it already is, is dwarfed by the indirect ones - in particular, the huge and ongoing management overheads in the universities themselves. As with any target exercise, the RAE has developed into a costly arms race between the participants, who quickly figure out how to work the rules to their advantage, and regulators trying to plug the loopholes by adjusting and elaborating them.

The result is an RAE rulebook of staggering complexity on one side and, on the other, the generation of an army of university managers, consultants and PR spinners whose de facto purpose is not to teach, nor make intellectual discoveries, but to manage RAE scores. As in previous assessments, a lively transfer market in prolific researchers developed before the submission cut-off date at the end of 2007, while, under the urging of their managers, many university departments have been drafting and redrafting their submissions for the past three years....

Curiously, NZ hasn't been put off by the experience in the UK (we started the PBRF/RAE game about 2003 once the UK were already well into the madness) and there is not indication, yet, that we will follow the UK in dropping the exercise. I still hear rumours that NZ will also begin some sort of teaching quality assessment fund too.

22 December, 2008

Beer Explosion

After a car ride from Wellington to Martinborough one of the bottles of beer of beer I brewed with Erich and Bruno exploded. It had been sitting still and inside for an hour or so (thankfully in a polystyrene box) since being in the car and then there was a bang and things were wetter and more beery than previously. It's impressive that the beer developed enough pressure by itself to destrow the bottle so completely.

16 December, 2008

Slacklining Video

Here's the link to the full resolution version of the slacklinging video below. It's about 30MB http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/412455/Slacking1.m4v

Slacking in Wellington's Central Park

Last weekend N. and I walked the long (Cross Creek to Maymorn) version of the Fell incline in the Rimutakas.

And, we got up to a little slacklining in Central Park under the Pohutukawas. It inspired me to make a first attempt at producing some video this go here. An SLR isn't best suited camera for such purposes but I muddled along with iMovie and was pretty happy with what I had after a couple of hours.

08-12 Fell Incline & Slacking

03 December, 2008

Join the (cycling) army

The RideStrong group/community/campaign was launched at the Taupo Cycle Challenge last Saturday, under the catch slogan "When the road is a battlefield, join an army." From the RideStrong brochure:

"With RideStrong you as a cyclist now have a voice.

Ride strong is a new cycling community run by BikeNZ, [A NZ cycling organisation whose focus was traditionally more on competitive cycling and organised events rather than advocacy. ] dedicated to promoting a safe and enjoyable environment for all cyclists.

It's about giving a voice and a presence to 1.2million cyclists. Cyclists, who have travelled at the whim of fast traffic but idle progress on the problems that affect their cycling environment. And who, for too long, have largely been ignored.

It's clear, if cyclists want to influence and shape the future of cycling then we need to join together out on the road."

It's free to become a member of RideStrong but they do encourage you to take up one of the two paid membership options which give you perks like discounts on gear and perhaps voting rights at BikeNZ meetings --- whatever that entails.

It's nice to see some high profile promoting going on advocating benefits and facilities for cyclists but RideStronger isn't the only organisation advocating for cyclists. CAN --- the Cycling Advocates' Network --- and their various regional bodies such as CAW (Cycle Aware Wellington) have been "giving a voice to cyclists" for a while, turning up at council meetings, pushing for cycle paths and traffic flow improvements and running cycle safety training courses at schools (once the NZ police stopped doing so). So, I'm curious to know what the links are between RideStronger and CAN. It's important that the pro-cycling voice is clear and coherent when it comes to transport planning and advocating for cyclists. Let's hope that's what will happen with RideStronger. It would be great to see an even stronger lobby pushing to make the roads safe for cyclists.

01 December, 2008

Gecko Groove: Kawakawa bay in the sun

We were, perhaps understandably, a little tired on Sunday, so no climbing records were set at Kawakawa Bay. I was pleased to climb Gecko Groove though --- a very nice grade 16, and also the very first climb I ever made. It was a reminder of why I wanted to start climbing.

08-11 Taupo and Kawakawa Bay

Taupo Cycle Challange

Despite our lack of training the Massey Mauraders placed first in their category (mixed team of five riders for the dirt/tarmac relay) in the 2008 Lake Taupo Cycle Challange. We managed 7hrs and a couple of minutes for out course of 186km or so. Not too bad. Majomehi, also (predominately) from Massey placed 38th or so in the mixed tarmac relay with four riders and a time of 6 hours 6 minutes for 160km. I think everyone even enjoyed themselves despite, or perhaps even because of, the scorching sun. I was too busy cycling to take any photos on the day but Bruno managed one from the finsh-line with Erich visible in it somewhere.

24 November, 2008

NZMASP 2008: Or mathematicians in isolation

Phew! NZMASP08, and my role as one of its organisers, is over for the year. I think things went pretty darn well in the end, with no small part of this due to the tireless Howie and Alethea at Auckland. Here's the group photo from the conference. A couple more pictures are in a Picasa gallery. A fuller set will be put somewhere one day. If you were there you'll hear about it soon enough I guess.

08-11 NZMASP08

Whanganui Bay

Only a little late, a photo or two from Whanganui Bay --- where the quality of the slacklining was as good as the climbing. Bruno and Alex probably have more news from the same trip.

08-11 Whanganui Bay

13 November, 2008

Swiss Chocolate Arrives in NZ

Thanks Dude!

Ruapehu: Camping and Traversing

Just a quick post to put up a link to some photos from last weekend at Ruapehu. N., Erich, Bruno and I drove up to Whakapapa after work on Friday and headed up the mountain. The ski field on that side had been closed for a month or so and snow conditions were perfect. 20cm of fresh snow from earlier in the week, no tracks, no ice. We were a bit slower than expected and so camped at Knoll Ridge rather than on the summit plateau as we first planned. Woke on Saturday to bright sun with neither a breath of wind nor a cloud in the sky. Packed up, stashed the tents near the groomer shed and headed up to the summit plateau. Perfect snow conditions for walking most of the way. We didn't need crampons until going up the crater wall. We ate lunch on the crater wall above the plateau then had a quick look at Dome shelter and the crater lake before making a quick side trip to the summit of Pare-te-tai-taonga, the second highest peak on Ruapehu (I think). Bruno and I then traversed across to Turoa ski field, laughing at the ant trail of skiers and snowboarders sloooooowly inching their way up to the summit saddle (Turoa ski field had been open that day), while N. and Erich skied/snowboarded back down Whakapapa to the car, before meeting us at Turoa carpark. Anyway, here are the photos. The Picasa gallery features some from Erich and Bruno too.

08-11 Ruapehu Traverse

06 November, 2008

Wildlife Ward

A Tuatara!

A Kiwi!

And godwits!

Some of the sick animals currently in the care of the wonderful people at the Massey University Wildlife Ward.

08-11 Wildlife Ward

29 October, 2008

Wellington Transport Plan

I heard a very short (four minute) article/interview on Morning Report this morning [MP3 of interview here --- not permanent] concerning the Wellington Regional Transport Plan (WRTP) which has just been approved. In the interview, councillor Iona Pannet derided the report (maybe I've put that a little strongly) for its roading-heavy focus and for it not doing enough to help Wellington reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from transport (estimated to be 30% of total emissions in the city).

The long-term WRTP has a reported total budget of 600 million. In the scarce details I have so far, the funding for the next two years is split into 20M for public transport, 30M for bus lanes (like the one planned for Manners Mall, thought by some to be a cynical mechanism to allow more carparks.) and 30M for easing congestion at the Basin Reserve. I.e., for building the seemingly unpopular Basin Reserve Flyover.

I was hoping to hear something about plans to fund the construction of a cycle way to fix the gap between Petone and the City as part of the Great Harbour Way. (more info here.) N., do you know any more about this?

The Flyover is interesting for a couple of reasons, firstly because it is linked to the current pinnacle of idiocy in the (mis-)use of the word "terrorist" (and "fundamentalist too possibly"). As reported in the Dom-Post, a backer of the fly-over labeled one of its opponents (Cr Pannet from this mornings' interview no-less) a "terrorist" because of her opposition. Nice to know that without even being part of the "war on terror" a NZ individual (Wellington councillor Rob Goulden) leads the world in labeling as a terrorist anyone with an opinion other than his own. Wellington Mayor, Kerry Prendergast opted for a related jibe accusing Cr Pannet of "fundamentalism".

Aside from the name calling it induces from some of its backers, the flyover is curious for other reasons. It's part of the Ngauranga to Airport transport corridor plan. The "artist's" (mis-?)impression of the fly-over shown in the WRC draft plan looks quite nice --- as nice as dirty great concrete roading projects ever look I guess. The Basin Reserve Trust are however, not so optimistic about the aesthetics of the fly-over and what it might add to the park (apart from concrete and road noise) and plan to build a new stand to obscure it if/when it goes ahead.

Aesthetics aside, look again at that picture of the proposed fly-over, taking up most of the picture is a light-rail line with swish looking trains. Does this mean we are about to get some light rail in Wellington city? Nope! Well, not in the near future in any case. Section 1:2 of the GWRC Ngauranga to Airport draft plan states of light-rail options: "none were found to be feasible within the next 10 years.". Though there is at least a concession that light-rail might be a good idea some time in the future "The draft plan proposes to.... protect the option of developing a light rail network by developing a dedicated bus priority network (which could become the light rail or bus priority routes of the future)." That is, the immediate plan is to build more roads maybe with some green paint down one side of them to make a bus lane. It rather looks like the artist's impression we are being sold doesn't match up with the reality of the GWRC plan.

Just out of interest, this is what the Ngauranga to Airport plan says under the heading of Walking and Cycling:
"Region-wide walking and cycling plans are being developed. The plans aim to create, improve and better coordinate walking and cycling routes and facilities to make these means of transport safer, more convenient and more attractive."
Details? Nope, that's it. Just because the law requires cyclists to ride on the road doesn't mean they get considered as traffic when it comes to transport planning. And pedestrians, they're probably all fundamentalists or terrorists. (Sorry.)

Meanwhile, Wellington has rising numbers of cyclist deaths, rising fuel consumption and more traffic accidents per population than Auckland.

The fly-over will certainly come in handy eventually though. This rather crude Google Maps mash-up shows the effect of a 12m sea-level rise on the capital. A fly-over be one of the only ways to get across the depression that runs between the central city and Mt Vic, etc. Of course the airport would be underwater by then too, along with most of the other parts of the Ngauranga to Airport corridor.

24 October, 2008

Bicycles Locked to Poles

Just received this excellent photo from Kiwi Jen, who is traveling about Middle America at the moment.

It manages to capture the feel of the photos by John Glassie from his excellent book "Bicycles Locked to Poles", but with a more human touch.

The book by Glassie with it's somber photos from the NY city streets, is must for every coffee table, eliciting reviews such as
"Bicycles Locked to Poles is a rare treasury for anyone interested in bikes, poles, locks, or the forgotten artifacts of the urban landscape."

And once you've bought the book and it's piqued your interest in the whole bicycle/pole thing you can check out the even more somber ghost bike project; ghostly tributes to cyclists killed on the roads. Maybe if more of these cyclo-centric versions of the roadside white-cross were to be put up it would raise (driver) awareness of cyclists and perhaps encourage safer roads.

On a more positive note, it seems DKNY were out placing fluro-orange bicycles locked to poles about NY city in an attempt to promote cycling in the city (and presumably their own brand at the same time). I quite like the idea but I guess I can see that things could get a little messy, encouraging the police to remove the bikes. The story does sound a little bit like a good idea which was spoiled by bad communication.

21 October, 2008

Hello there!

Welcome to N who will make the occasional entry here now. The first one is this one right here.

The Great Harbour Way

I went to a meeting a couple of weeks ago organised by a bunch of people interested in improving recreational and commuting routes around Wellington harbour. The grand plan is called "The Great Harbour Way" and consists of a continuous, safe, signposted walkway and cycleway around the whole perimeter of Te Whanganui-a-Tara - Wellington Harbour from Fitzroy bay in the west to Sinclair Head in the east. That is a 72 kilometer continuous stretch of coastline. At the moment almost all of it is walkable and cycleable - with a notable exception being the stretch between Petone and Wellington, where cyclists can risk themselves on a very narrow and rough cycle lane down the side of SH2 (on the opposite side of the railway tracks from the harbour) but there is no route for walkers at all.
In addition to finding it a great idea in principle, I had the pleasure of discovering that the people who organised the meeting have a very serious plan for getting transport funding for this section of road. Some of the presentations from the meeting can be found here.
Some fun facts that I picked up along the way:
  • The health benefits of walking can be roughly costed at $1 per kilometre that you walk instead of driving/staying at home. Admittedly that is the benefit to council/government/society rather than money in your own pocket, but it still seems a pretty significant figure to me.
  • Cycling is apparently only worth 50 cents per kilometre - I am curious as to how much of the 'lost' 50 cents is due simply to the increased risk of cycling on NZ roads, and whether the figure would be higher elsewhere.
  • The cost of a 3.5m wide path for cyclists and pedestrians has been costed at $50 million. It was pointed out that this equates to 1km of Transmission Gully!
No word yet on how long this will take (it was pointed out that the project will require consent/support from at least 7 interested parties) but I will keep you posted.

20 October, 2008

Delights of the Manawatu, Tararua and Kapiti districts

Saturday: a little climbing at the Manawatu gorge, followed by secondhand shop browsing and coffees with neenish tart and similar delights in Woodville (I do recommend the secondhand shops there.)

08-10 Manawatu Gorge & Woodville

Sunday: A walk up Mt Hector with N. and some people from her work. Weather stayed nice the whole time --- barely a breath of wind, unlike last time when my sunglasses got blown off my head on the summit. Some gliders were out enjoying the calm conditions over the Tararuas too. One passed less than five meters above our heads.


08 October, 2008

Abel Tasman Coast Track Photos

Just a quick post to put up a few photos from the Abel Tasman coast track which I walked with Lorraine and N. last weekend. We took the ferry over Friday night after work and walked to Bark Bay hut on Saturday. Had we known how much faster we would be than the posted track times we could have carried on to Awaroa hut and avoided a 5am start the next morning, necessary to get to Awaroa inlet while it was still low tide (7:30am) in order to make it across easily. We made it to Whariwharangi hut (an excellent hut in a 110 year old farm homestead) mid-afternoon Sunday and enjoyed the last of the day's sun. Monday morning we had an hour to walk out to Wainui before driving back to Picton.

More photos in the Picasa gallery:
08-10 Abel Tasman