Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The NBA is big here - how many places do you see a kid in a Kyrie Irving All Star Game jersey?

I was in a building on campus where they had some old undergrad desktops on display:

And this caught my eye:

7' 2"!  More like 6' 10".  And he played center.  Still, it's nice to think that there was some kid on a rainy NZ day in the mid-90's thinking about the Houston Rockets rather than science class.

Friday, February 22, 2013

NZ: fieldwork (wind)

Went out on the peninsula to help Catherine with some fieldwork - and it was a bit windy:

Perfectly nice day in town, though.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

NZ: free rental car, Mt. Hutt, Rakaia Gorge, Christchurch

I was planning an elaborate backpacking trip, but all bets were off as soon as I found out about the free rental cars.  In New Zealand, it seems that too many rental cars end up in the southern part of the country, and they need to get back up to the northern part of the country.  Soon after I had my car and was heading for Christchurch:

No, that's not right - soon after I was heading for Christchurch in my Fairlady Z:

That's not true either - actually it was a nondescript Toyota Corolla hatchback:

I had a free tank of gas, 900 kilometers allowed, and had to have it in Christchurch in two days.  What to do?  (more photos here)  I thought about hiking the Mt. Somers Track, but it was raining and passed it by:

I randomly found the incredible Rakaia Gorge, which creates its own weather - it was raining all around, but dry down by the river.  I called it a night and camped.  It's a little club campground in an absolutely beautiful setting - this site calls it one of the best kept secrets in Canterbury, and I'd agree (although I have a whole two days of experience in Canterbury, so what do I know?):

The next day I drove up to Mt. Hutt.  The mountains go straight up from the Canterbury plains, and driving the road is like taking off in an airplane:

I hiked up to the top of the ski area, and then over to the North Peak:

And took some photos of cushion plants for Catherine:

On the North Peak:

Catherine said that she never expected to see a photo like that from New Zealand.  A common sport here is trying to figure out what other places NZ resembles - the correct answer is there is no place like NZ.

Looking down at the Rakaia River and up towards Lake Coleridge:

I'm still not used to alpine parrots:

Looking across to the Southern Alps:

Back on the road in Darfield:

Then it was down into Christchurch and the earthquake reconstruction:


There's a lot of tearing down still:

But some problems as well, with graffiti and break-ins:

And a lot of new construction, a lot of which looks a lot like what's being built in Denver:

Christchurch is big and crowded, and I gave up driving in lieu of just walking around to see what was going on.  It has a boomtown feel.  I ended up staying at a caravan park near the airport where a lot of people were living and working construction and driving jobs.  Someone arrived at 1:30 AM to set up camp, and at dawn guys were heading off to work.  I dropped off the car at the airport, where there were too many very nicely dressed men of a certain type, all here looking to make a certain kind of money.  Interesting, and I have no idea where it goes - bubble or long-term prosperity or other?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The joys of parenting: Looper, my trainer, and enjoying things I'm terrible at

-First, from the "things about New Zealand category," they still have video stores here - or at least in Dunedin (I'm also learning that writing about Dunedin as indicative of NZ as a whole would be like writing about Grand Junction as indicative of Colorado as a whole).  I miss video stores.  I can browse a bunch of actual physical movies and see what I've missed - in this case, Looper.

As the parent of a five-year-old, the most unrealistic part of Looper is the scene where we first learn about young Rainmaker's destructive telekinetic powers.  What sets him off?  Multiplication tables, that's what.  Duh!  Obviously Rian Johnson, Emily Blunt or anyone else involved with this movie has absolutely no experience with kids - any actual parent knows that the last thing on earth that you would do with your-easily-agitated-kid-with-dangerous-telekinetic-powers is math.  Never.  The kid would just grow up not knowing how to add.  I have an easier time believing in time-travel than that a mother would be doing math with young Rainmaker.  

-In every city I think the same thing: "Hey they're really late risers here.  Here it is 7 A.M. already and there's no one around."  No, again it's that I have a little personal trainer who likes to get up with the sunlight.  It's great.

-In our first week here Will-J decided that he loves the ocean and makes us go there whenever he can.  So I end up out there with his little boogie board, and I'm trying to figure out how to put him on a wave.  He's watching the real surfers, I'm watching the waves, and slowly I'm learning something.  Then, when I find out the university rents surfboards for $20 a day, I get out there and after ten minutes I'm riding a wave.  Great.  But then I go out without him and feel like the middle-aged dork that I am.  Surfing is a Will-J thing, and if he wants to get into it I'm happy to oblige.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The New New (again) - writing without reference

Here's an older post about writing as though the past doesn't exist.  Target at the time was Chuck Klosterman, who is very good at recalling obscure-yet-relevant pop culture, but not so good at grounding his thoughts in any existing body of work.

I was thinking of this when, I went to the library to find the Nate Silver book.  Publication date 2012.  It had been set aside "for internal review" since we got to Dunedin, but now the computer told me it was on the shelf.  It was missing from the shelf, and the librarian said "that's not good" and frowned.

Next to where "The Signal and the Noise" should have been, I found a book on misleading statistics called "Calculated Risks."  Publication date 2003.  It was fairly interesting but somewhat difficult to read due to German being the author's native language (as well as specific axes to grind). 

Mr. Gigerenzer in turn referred to a classic book called "How to Lie with Statistics," which was pretty much the same book, but so well written that it appeared to have been authored by Strunk and White.  Publication date 1954.  Good reading.

Mr. Huff in turn refers to a classic book by Willard Cope Brinton.  Publication date 1939.  And from what I've seen so far, it's great.  

But Mr. Huff closes his book with a quote from Mark Twain, who had statistics completely sussed out...publication date 1874.  And so it goes.  I'm pretty sure I can get "The Signal and the Noise" from the university library, but now I may not need to.

Monday, February 4, 2013


In 2008 Will-J was an infant and we went to the local Glenwood Springs brewery to catch some of the Super Bowl.  I wanted to see the Pats match the Dolphins' perfect season, and after awhile it seemed like despite the Giants banging away on Tom Brady that's what would happen.  It was a boring game with little scoring, people were eyeing our table, and Will-J got fussy.  So we went home, missed the helmet catch and all the excitement, I wasn't really that sad I had missed said excitement, and the next four years I went skiing on Super Bowl Sunday instead.  This year I wanted to see how New Zealand deals with the big game:

5:45 AM - driving back from the airport after dropping Catherine off.  The DJ on the one station that our Caldina picks up says that the Super Bowl is being played today, but that maybe no one will really be into it.

8:30 AM - I drop Will-J off for his first day of school.  His teacher is completely relaxed despite having an international mixed bag of new students joining her multi-age (model) classroom.  She greets Will-J and packs him off to be occupied by a few of the older kids.  In the States the equivalent teacher would be a frantic disaster.

11:00 AM - I ponder that the Harbaugh-bowl is what I wanted last year, but instead we got the crap Giants/Pats game redux.  I also ponder how CBS broadcasts the Super Bowl at home, but ESPN has the rights in New Zealand - now those would have been some interesting contract negotiations.  Conclude that ESPN abroad is far better than ESPN at home.

12:00 PM - I realize that I still can't seem to convert between Dunedin and Denver time.  I also realize that 4:00 PM at home is when the coverage starts, not when the game starts.

3:15 PM - I check on the game before going to pick up Will-J after his first day of school.  It's in the second quarter and the Ravens are winning in a blowout.  I realize I really don't care, but instead am very curious how Will-J has done at school.  I also realize that the equivalent Kiwi parent would be completely relaxed about how his son has done at his first day of school.  Maybe we're on to something here.

3:45 PM - Will-J has done fine at school.  The highlight in our post-school discussion is that he compares school here to his awesome preschool and not to his crap kindergarten.  I've forgotten about the Super Bowl.  I do think it's quaint that Ray Lewis' PED use was a story over the last few weeks.  Outside of the States everyone knows that professional athletes are on drugs and are completely relaxed about it.  I think this relaxed thing may really be a trend.  I drive by The Baaa and see a herd of Kiwi kids watching the T.V.'s - remember that the game is on.

4:30 PM - Surprised to find that the game has been delayed due to a power outage.  Briefly realize that every sports fan in America has nebulously linked the outage to Katrina, but also realize that the chances of one of the announcers mentioning this are 1,000,000 to 1.

5:30 PM - Decide to go for a run and maybe I'll swing by one of the bars to see if the game is still on - I'll finally have my New Zealand cultural experience of what they think of gridiron football.  I put on Simmons' pre-Super Bowl podcast.

5:45 PM - I run by the bars at the corner of Gladstone and North Roads.  None of them have a T.V.  I do see a white guy with dreads wearing sunglasses inside the Inch Bar drinking beer by himself and intensely bobbing his head to the music.  Basically this post exists so I could describe a white guy with dreads and sunglasses at the Inch Bar intensely bobbing his head to music.  

5:50 PM - I run towards The Baaa - the sky opens and starts pouring cold rain.  My ears fill with water and I can't hear Simmons anymore.  This place keeps reminding me of living in Alaska.

5:51 PM - A young person out for a jog easily passes me as if she is just walking past.  This happens to me pretty much every time I run.  I haven't felt so slow since I somehow barely made it into Boston and for various reasons never trained.  I may run a race while I'm here, and I expect to come in last.  Conclusion: Kiwis are good runners, but are absolutely relaxed about it.

5:53 PM - The Baaa is showing ATP 1000 highlights.  Maybe the game is over, they really just don't care about the Super Bowl here, or maybe they're just relaxed about it.

8:25 PM - Find out that the Ravens won and there was an awesome intentional safety at the end of the game.  Decide not to seek out the highlights.  Conclusion of New Zealand cultural Super Bowl experience.    

Sunday, February 3, 2013

NZ: Kepler Track

Sometimes you want a trip with loose ends, planning, an indefinite itinerary, difficult elements, etc.  Sometimes you want just a fun hike to a pretty place.  The Kepler Track was the latter.  I took a bus straight from Dunedin to the Fiordland National Park visitor center, camped that night at Brod Bay, then hiked over Mt. Luxmore and down to Lake Manapouri/Shallow Bay the next night, and then had an easy hike back to town.  Big fun.

Some photos here.

I don't really have a story to tell, but will offer a few things about the Kepler for those interested:

-Trampers here don't think much of the Kepler - it's too easy, too close to things, and isn't a "real" track.  One guy I talked to called it a "cheat" and noted that it doesn't actually go through the Kepler Mountains.  I respond that you need to get over yourselves and have a good time hiking the Kepler (in good weather).  There's a long beautiful stretch above treeline with endless views (in good weather).  It's relatively easy hiking so it's possible to mix up the itinerary with longer days (in good weather).  In bad weather, stay away - I can't imagine being up on that ridge all day in a storm.

-I didn't stay at the huts, and maybe that's a good thing:

DOC notice of norovirus outbreak in the Great Walk huts.

-The Kepler also has a reputation for being crowded, but both nights I had a long stretch of beach to myself.  The first night was at Brod Bay:

Very pretty, but home to absolute hordes of sandflies and mosquitoes.  After dinner I dove into my tent and spent half an hour killing bugs.  I fell asleep to a literal drone of insects.  I've read several accounts with the same story.

The next night I had a booking to camp at Iris Burn, but it was a similar story with the bugs.  Plus I was a bit annoyed by no less than four signs warning campers not to come in the hut:

Feeling unloved (and plus it was early afternoon), I tramped down to Shallow Bay where my hut pass is good as gold (as they say).  I had a nice stretch of beach to myself, and due to having a tent I didn't have to partake in the epic party going on at the hut nearby:

No bugs here, although I've heard there can be.

-The next day was quiet hiking on the silly-wide trail:

-I like Te Anau with its tidy mix of quiet tourism and normalcy.  I didn't comprehend last time around that in town you are only looking out at a little end of the lake - I walked out to the harbor for the windy view of how enormous the lake really is:

-Too bad I missed all the free beer, though:

-I'll (possibly) have a longer post at some point about backpacking abroad - important stuff like how people use backpack covers and wear head-to-toe Gore Tex in the sunshine.  But the big point is that most people like to carry light packs and hike straight from one hut to the next, whereupon they pull out a good book and call it a day.  If you don't follow that routine - skip past a hut, tent out, etc. - you can have even a busy place like the Kepler to yourself (if that's something you're looking for).