Saturday, 3 December 2011

Kepler Challenge

Early in December my project manager Lester and myself travelled to my home town of Te Anau to compete in a mountain run on the Kepler Track. Being one of New Zealand’s Great Walks it is a very well formed track and has stunning views out across Lake Te Anau and deep into Fiordland. Lester did the gruelling “Luxmore Grunt” a 27km trip up Mount Luxmore and back. Having survived the grunt before ,I was slightly more crazy and signed up for the full Monty - the 60km round circuit!

Being an engineer I did a bit of thinking on efficient running and optimal race strategies. I read somewhere that below about 2m/s (7.2km/h) it is more energy efficient to walk. So when I’m going slowly ideally I’ll speed back up (duh) or stop pretending to run and walk for a bit. I planned to use this on any steep hills! If we ignore the moving legs and think of the runner as a rigid body we should try to minimise the acceleration to save energy - so when speeding up and slowing down it makes more sense to do it gradually. The rate of heat generated by a runner must be proportional to their muscle volume. The rate of heat loss must be proportional to their surface area. Hence runners with a lean build will stay cooler at a given ambient temperature... hmm not much I can do about this - hopefully it will be cold? It might be intuitive to keep a constant work output over the whole course. However imagine a course with three sections of 10km each, a runner who can run 10km/h constantly can finish the course in 3 hours. If there is one uphill section and one downhill section most runners will slow down on the uphill and speed up on the downhill. Lets assume that the difference in speed is 3km/h. The uphill section therefore is run at 7km/h and takes 85.7 minutes (25 minutes longer), the downhill section is run at 13km/h and takes 46.2m (13 minutes quicker). So there is a larger effect of not slowing down too much when going uphill than by speeding up for the downhill.

What do you mean I should have gone training more instead of thinking about race strategies? I was discussing this with a phd student working with the NZ cycling team while out running!

Anyhow 6am race day came far to quickly and I was off! I should mention that I had some family competition - both my mother and younger brother were entered in the challenge. My goals were very clear and simple: finish, ahead of Mum. If possible I wanted to cross the line in under 8 hours still able to cartwheel. After being running for a few hours and starting to feel a bit tired it was terrifying to see a sign saying “Only a marathon to go”! Getting off the mountain down to Iris Burn was a relief, until the cramp struck. Apparently my muscles just like staying in their rhythm, I found my steps getting smaller and smaller as the day went on and on. By the end although I could have walked faster than I was running the fear of not being able to start again kept me jogging along.

The drinks stations were amazing, all run by friendly dressed up volunteers. Leppin, oranges and jelly beans were my staples for the day with the occasional bit of chocolate or muesli bar from my bag.

Somehow I made it to the final 10km stretch up the river and that’s when the going really got unpleasant. I was seizing up every few steps and stumbling from tree to tree at points. I couldn’t help but question the motives for finishing, somehow I came to the conclusion that to continue to the finish would allow me to stop moving quicker. I did manage to suck it up and start running for the last few km and yes I did cartwheel over the finish line well ahead of my mother.

So will I do it again? You bet, 6 hours here we come! If you are up for a physical challenge and can devote some time to training I recommend you give it a go!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Come on Irene

One of the most excellent tramps I've done was into the Murchison Mountains across from Lake Te Anau in Fiordland. I had the pleasure of going with two good friends Giselle Clarkson and Matt Halverson. Since we were all studying at the University of Canterbury we had a fairly long drive south to my Mum's house in Te Anau. Our original plan - walk from the most eastern point in NZ back to civilisation was much more ambitious than the final route we took. We had investigated a boat drop but settled on a helicopter flight into the depths of Fiordland.

View Fiordland Mission in a larger map.

We were forced to change location because the helicopter company in Tuatapere was going into receivership! Kim Hollows, one of the helicopter pilots in Te Anau agreed to take us into the Murchison Mountains at a reasonable rate. The thing you really have to appreciate about Fiordland is that the weather can be suboptimal for quite some time. We were stuck in Te Anau for three days waiting for a nice window so that we could fly. On the third morning our daily call from the pilot finally contained the positive news that we could fly.

The flight was truly fantastic, try picture flying in the sun beside the majestic mountains draped in clouds that rise up steeply from the lake...

We dropped a huge box of food at Robin Saddle Hut and did a flyby of the gnarliest ridges we would have to traverse before getting dropped off in the middle of nowhere! Watching the helicopter fly away was a terrific (and slightly terrifying) feeling and we were all grinning like idiots.

After spotting a Tarr we dumped our packs (which were far too heavy) and went for a walk up a hill in the opposite direction to frolic in the snow. Eventually we got away properly. Later that evening we were scrambling up some steep rocky outcrops surrounded by fog when we got a touch bluffed out. It wasn't a great start, and we temporarily lost a Giselle as Matt and I ascended a steep gully. Since we couldn't see anything we decided to stop and set up our first camp.

Luckily the way was much clearer in the morning and when we pulled ourselves out of bed at sparrow's fart (10am actually) we found our way through the rocky outcrops along the ridge. It seemed to get even steeper for the descent down to Robin Saddle and we gingerly picked our path - occasionally having to back track around.

It wasn't too long before we got to Robin Saddle Hut, without a doubt this is now my favourite hut. It was this tiny old hut beside an alpine lake and a very impressive mountain - Mount Irene.

We had planned to stay at Robin Saddle hut for at least a day and I think we all fell in love with it immediately. Not just because of our food drop of fresh oranges, apples, cauliflower etc was here.

The hut book went back to the '70s and my father featured many times, we found quite a few novels and magazines from the '60s and '70s and over the next few days became enlightened on how to "train your housewife" and other very sexist topics.

One fine day we tried to climb Mount Irene but we got to a point where the going was so steep we wished we had ropes. It was rock climbing at about grade 13 and we had been told there is a route up that should be relatively straight forward. After gingerly soloing up 10 or 15m above the already steep slope we decided we were being dumb. We found a ledge to eat lunch on before bravely turning back.

Giselle had a brilliant quote regarding Catholic school girls on our return journey: "There's nothing pure about oral sex and handjobs".

Back at the hut we carefully read all the descriptions in the hut book and found the magic advice from my Dad written 20 years earlier - the trick was to traverse around far lower than we were. 1250m was quoted as the secret sidle height - essentially not to climb before hitting the western ridge which might seem rather obviously looking at the mountain.

After another day of lying in the sun, scrubbing the mouldy mattresses and going for secretive skinny dips in the freezing lake we went for attempt two. We got up for an early alpine start at 1, no not 1am, 1pm! This time we clearly were on the right path and before long we were well towards the summit. It is worth pointing out the rock was pretty loose and broken. Because next to nobody has travelled there we felt like explorers picking our route up the rock buttress at the top. The going got steeper and steeper, we were loving scrambling up the rocks in the hot sun.

Ice axes came out for the summit cap of snow and we plugged steps across to the radio transmitter up there. It was a small building about the size of a toilet cubical and curiously was unlocked. Obviously we had a nosy inside and I was proud to see all the Tait radio equipment dutifully repeating radio signals from remote Fiordland and Doubtful Sound to Te Anau. We hung out on the summit at around 6pm enjoying the vista.

On the descent Giselle seemed to delight in sending speights of rocks down on Matt and I. We were very lucky to escape unharmed! We got back just before it got dark at around 9pm - got to love summer!

Somehow the weather decided to turn sour so we were forced to spend even more time at Robin Saddle. After reading EVERYTHING in the hut we started to get the itch to leave. With the weather preventing us from straying too far we kept up a brave front on the food eating effort. We still had far too much to carry but we decided to leave as much non-perishables as we could. We decide to "bust a move" if the rain eases before 3pm which it doesn't. Finished Solomons Song and an Asimov book.

The next day was much the same until at 3:30pm we could see Robin Saddle from the hut - still raining cats and dogs but it was good enough for us. On our way to Te Au saddle!

The crux wasn't as bad as it looked or as bad as was described in the guide book. Giselle and I went the hard way up and then found a much much easier route up a gully that we directed Matt to. After a bit of climbing we got onto the snowy tops. I had an epic glissade down and we set up camp at the gorgeous Te Au Saddle.

Interesting night; had an amazing sunset shining out over Fiordland then a very strong wind came in. More gorgeous tops the next day but incliment weather.

Unfortunately G wasn't all that so Matt and I helped to carry all her food and axe. Yup 10 days food for two people did weigh plenty thanks!

Camping between Lake Iona and Lake Eva our tent imploded the following night! Giselle and I both woke, sat up, and pushed the roof of the tent back up!

More wandering over sweet open tops, some more fairly steep descents and we finally reached bush line.

Fiordland bushbashing never fails to dissapoint. Lake Boomerang was particularly memorable. Wading through at one end and getting about a meter a minute through the bush at the other end. Matt lost his camelback's mouthpieceand somehow managed to find it again after ten minutes of crawling back through the undergrowth. I think he must have found a rubber tree and made a new one because that stuff was dense!

We had a few options from here, we had the food and time to continue bush bashing around to the Luxmore track where we could walk all the way to Te Anau; or we had a SPOT with a "Please send us a boat" message. Since G was not her usual self - actually rather sick we opted for the boat option. We didn't quite bank on the amount of sandflies that would keep us company as we waited on the lakefront - we had the tent up for protection and kept going for walks to escape.

Back in scary Te Anau with all these people ahhh!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Davis, California

The second stop on my holiday to the states was visiting my friend Matt in Davis. Now Matt is really really into his music; he performs in the University of California Davis Marching band (Cal Aggies) as sousaphone section leader, plays the tuba in a funk band, and plays great piano. Spending time on his turf meant exposure to more music than I'm accustomed, which was great!

Marching in a woollen hat in the sun with the rather heavy Sousaphone
I went along to a band practise and then to a couple of their gigs. It was really impressive how 100+ young musicians can be so disciplined and yet have such fun at the same time. They rocked out to a few modern pop songs like Lady Gaga's Bad Romance. Some of the moves were choreographed brilliantly; a line of trumbone players alternated between swinging sharply side to side and ducking down just in time.

Quite a 60th birthday surprise
One of the events that I was priviliged enough to see was for a senior band members parent. I believe they raffle off a few performances a year and someone managed to snag one for a 60th birthday celebration. The band started marching to the loud drums a few streets away and easily filled the culdesac with young musicians.  After performing the obligitory happy birthday they rocked out to lots of classic songs. The Sousies and Saxaphone players are shown below performing on the move.

I also went into the University of California, Davis campus a few times, it was so different from any other I have seen. Canterbury University has a good proportion of cyclists, it was the predominate form of transport at UCD by a large margin. Some students were slack-lining outside of their rec center so I joined them for a few hours trying to cartwheel off the line and jump into trees.

One of the weekends took me south to San Fransisco for the Save the Music festival. Another brilliant Californian day which I got to enjoy with some really good live music!

The funk band Matt featured in at the "Save the Music" festival

A battle of the bands - Berkley vs Davis

Without doubt the highlight was watching the battle of the bands between the Berkley and Davis marching bands. Davis was a lot more lively and had a much bigger turnout for this particular show.

On my way back to Los Angeles the train ahead of ours sadly hit someone. After waiting on the train in the desert for a few hours we disembarked and were picked up by bus for the remainder of the journey.

Double decker trains require multiple busses to carry equivalent number of passangers

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Texas Surprise

Well I'm off on an adventure to the states on my first annual leave from Dynamic Controls. I left home in Christchurch at 7am, got an hour in Sydney airport, then had the long haul across the pacific. I can't seem to sleep on these really long flights so I finished my Wheel of Time book, watched 5 episodes of Big Bang Theory, saw the movies Paul, thankyoumoreplease, Arthur, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and X-Men first class and eventually landed in Los Angeles. I had about five hours before my next flight so I walked from the airport in search of frozen yogurt and food. I fixed my food craving with a piece of almost every type of fruit for sale at a supermarket called Ralphs. Frozen yogurt goodness would have to wait until I returned to California. 

First proper stop was Houston, Texas to pay back a surprise I got a few years ago from Kim. It was gorgeous weather, well over 30 degrees centigrade, to be honest it was way too hot for me. I arrived at night - maybe 8pm or so I got out of the airport and rode a bus for 2 hours into downtown Houston. From there I knew the park where I could find Kim at 8 am the next morning, I didn't realize just how far away it was so I just started walking. I visited a gas station to get directions and buy a bottle of cooled water after about an hour, and had made decent progress towards my goal. It was so hot and muggy though, 11pm at night and I was in a tee shirt, sweating. Around midnight and I haven't seen a gas station for a while so I walk until I find a fairly major street and pull over a taxi to take me past the park and then find a "cheap" hotel nearby. I think we had different definitions of cheap but I parted with my money and finally got to sleep just around the corner from the Tour40 event location.

I spy with my little eye something beginning with a K

So despite that being my first sleep for around 30 hours getting up was rather easy. I had a quick complimentary breakfast (well actually I guess I was paying through the teeth for that orange juice). It was still really hot and the day was getting hotter and hotter. I left my bag at the hotel and went in search of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Reserve where I spied someone that looked rather familiar.

Turning up out of the blue is so much better when you've crossed an ocean first

I feel the surprise worked rather well. After the shock wore off somewhat, Kim showed me the bus she designed and had been living in for the last few months. Then we got into the conservation project they were here for, and what I had signed up for back in NZ. The summer in Houston had been particularly hot and dry so the project was to create a fire break around the buildings in this park. So we got a safety briefing about snakes(!), donned the thick leather gloves and put on helmets and safety glasses.

It was a really hot day so doing physical work was "interesting". We pulled all the logs and sticks out of a 100m section of forest around the buildings and then cleared all the forest litter and carted it away. There was a huge group of volunteers sweating it out in the forest including the CEO of Southwest airlines. We called it a day after about 3 hours, I must say it was very exciting that they had ice blocks for the volunteers!

So after surprising Kim and spending the morning catching up while working she had to leave with the Tour40 crew and I was going to meet them at their Hotel - "The Marriott near the airport". I picked up my stuff from the hotel I'd stayed in and caught a bus downtown. I went into a BBQ/grill place and got a turkey toasted sandwich - it was only $3 but I swear they used an entire turkey! It was massive! I couldn't help but notice the size of their cars were also rather extreme. I mean a Hilux would look small compared to most cars on the road in Houston. During the day it was painful to walk between buildings - even in the shade! I didn't spend very long in downtown because the heat was just so intense.

So I take the two hour bus ride back out to the airport (where I'd flown in to) only to find out there are 5 Marriott Hotels in Houston, and 2 major airports - unfortunately the one I wanted was at the other airport in the opposite direction way across the huge city. Way to waste six hours on a bus! That said it was a pretty good way to see the city and talk with some friendly locals.

Eventually (good 10 hours since I last saw them) I get to the right place and get some amazing Mexican food while the Tour40 crew has an award ceremony debrief thing. The Marriott was far to rich for my blood so I found a much better place not far down the road that was a third the price. Finally getting to talk to Kim was great, but sadly she was flying east to catch up with some friends that I didn't know the next day. I decided to head back to a climate more suited to me, and visit my friend Matt in Davis, California. This time Kim gave me a ride to the airport and we made plans to catch up in California in a week or so. I knew there was a fairly large risk that Kim would have immediate plans but I think it was worth it for the surprise - that said I won't be doing it again!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Kindle vs iPad

For the past few weeks I've been borrowing a first generation iPad, I've been using it everyday at home as my laptop was stolen. I also have my own kindle 3G. I just finished the book "The Fires of Heaven" by Robert Jordan; this is the sixth or seventh book I've read entirely on the kindle.

The kindle does have a web browser, although you must access it from the experimental section of the menu. I tried using the kindle to check email and go on facebook but it really wasn't up to the task. The javascript seemed to kill the performance - some pages would render wacky. Visiting mobile only sites was better although I noticed many sites seemed optimized for touch. The kindle really shines when it is treated exactly like a book, it is about the same weight and size as a paperback and just about as versatile. Yes it does need power every now and then; I've found every three weeks or so I need to charge it for a night - but I have used it almost every night. The simple thing of taking it outside and reading a book in bright sunlight is hard to overstate. No back-light, and no glare makes reading a pleasure. The fact you can change the font size, and the typography itself is a clear win of digital technology - when reading while travelling I increase the size dramatically to avoid headaches.

Reading pdfs on the kindle is possible, I read one full book this way but it was far from ideal. The kindle uses a very good text layout algorithm when it has the raw text, this is impossible with the portable document format which results in either seeing the whole page in miniature on the kindle screen or seeing thirds of the page when viewing in landscape mode.

Buying books for the kindle is so painless. The 3G model that I have gives me access to the kindle store in places as remote as Arthurs Pass, and purchasing a book is but a few clicks away. On the off chance you have other ebooks in other formats the kindle has support for quite a range, or the software Calibre will convert between most formats. I had no trouble loading the books I had onto the kindle.

On the iPad front, I have to say I was a fan as soon as I saw Steve unveil the thing. As a news reading device, a map, a twitter front end, as a general web surfer, you-tube player, music player, and as a recipe book in the kitchen... it is absolutely superb. I haven't tried an android tablet and I imagine they are everything the iPad is without the apple lock in. The free app "Flipboard" is freaking fantastic. Now that I have my own laptop again... who knows where the iPad fits in. Something used to flick through the news in the morning, and the twitter/facebook feed over a coffee?

For reading technical reports, power-point presentations and the like; the iPad wins hands down. For reading novels with few pictures the kindle is a perfect book replacement. But be careful to charge either of them before going away, I had a brick of a kindle coming back from Kaikora when I forgot to charge the battery in about a month. Two very cool toys!

Saturday, 4 June 2011



  • 4 + 1/2 cups of flour (experiment with small proportions wholemeal and the majority high grade bread flour)
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1 + 1/2 cups of luke warm water
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoon of yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
Mix dry ingredients first, add wet ingredients and mix to form dough. Kneed for a few minutes, it should be just on the sticky side. Leave in a bowl under a warm wet tea towel for at least half an hour in a warm place. If you have the time leave it for a good few hours for the best result.
Punch the dough down, cut into thirds and kneed each third into a ball. Leave to rise again for at least 15 minutes. Then roll the dough and ideally put into a pizza tray.


For pizzas with a sauce topping the quality of the sauce varies a lot depending on how much time and how much fresh ingredients go into it. I have made some really nice pizza sauces that were derived mostly from my garden, and had others that simply combine onions, garlic and chopped tomatoes from a can.

 I have a pretend magic bullet which I just fill by going foraging - spring onion, basil, parsley, mint, onion and tomato (of course). I usually put a bit of oregano, salt and pepper as well. Blend it all up and apply straight to the rolled out pizza bases. On the other end of the spectrum I have occasionally made sauce by combining plain tomato sauce, sweet chilli sauce and bbq sauce.


There are many toppings I like, some combinations work better than others but just experiment with what you have. I grate cheese onto the sauce and then apply toppings, although some people swear by putting cheese on last. Mozzarella is best but I often just use whatever cheese we have. 
The main advice would be to apply toppings sparingly! Here are some of my favourites:
  • ham, mushroom, capsicum
  • ham, pineapple, mushroom
  • cranberry or apricot base, smoked chicken and brie


This part is easy. Put the pizza in the oven, take it out when it smells good enough to eat! If you have a pizza stone it should be preheated to 220 degrees. Place your pizza tray onto the stone and bake for around 20 minutes. Once the crust is nice and golden, take out, cut and serve.

A post at last

In the weeks following the February 22nd earthquake I wrote my thoughts and the days happenings into a diary. When I last saw the document it was over 10 000 words and went into great detail about Comfort for Christchurch, the Student Volunteer Army, and most everything that I got up to. I wrote about my car "Big Brown" being crashed into causing massive damage to four panels. I wrote about the fact the car was then stolen from outside my house, damaged and all. I didn't have theft insurance on my twenty four year old car and the insurance of other party who crashed into my car have refused to pay for the damage they caused.
Something I didn't get to write about was the burglary of my flat the week after that. In total we lost three laptops, a bag, and an iPod. Unfortunately it was a hard hitting reminder to back stuff up. My insurance doubled the excess to $500 because it was theft (?) and now today, two months later, I have a replacement laptop. It is very shiny so I hope it doesn't get stolen any-time soon.

So no thanks to the muppets who took advantage of the chaos around the earthquake, the looters and the thieves. At some stage I would really like to tell the "Comfort" story to thank the amazing people I had the pleasure of meeting through the ordeal.

For now I'd really like to improve my writing so I have decided to do a post-a-day. Random topics allowed, I might put some on instead of here and I might try queue one or two posts up. I wonder if I'll make it through the long weekend!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Oxfam Trailwalker 2010

In brief, I realize I forgot to write about doing the Trailwalker last year and it is coming up again. This post is my feeble attempt to right some wrong and promote this amazing event.

Every year teams of four descend on Lake Taupo to take on a decent team challenge, walking 100km in under 36 hours. Entries are now open for Oxfam Trailwalker 2011 (April 9-10), interested?

In the middle of March last year I got an email to president (at) that looked a little something like this:
Mariana and I have joined a team to do the Oxfam Trailwalker (, a fundraising event in Lake Taupo on April 10th. The goal for each team is to raise $2000 and walk 100 kms in 36hrs. It seems doable, but it will much easier with the help from the tramping club.
I was wondering if the club has sponsored teams like ours for this kind of events before. I'm not sure if the club as an organization can help directly with fundraising, but at least I was wondering if I can make announcements through the mailing list, forum, or meetings.
Also, we are looking for another walker (one of our teammates decided to get pregnant!) and people for the support team.
We really appreciate any help that the club can provide us.

Obviously the usual thing would have been to forward the email to the club as part of our weekly newsletter; being selfish though, I was far to eager to join the team myself so I jumped at the opportunity before someone else could. Yes I know, what an abuse of power!

We managed to raise lots of money from the generous people in the CUTC. We had lots of direct donations as well as organizing training/fundraising tramps where people would donate money in order to come along. R&R Sport jumped on board as well - giving us a brand spanking new pack to raffle off. 

I was luckily already going to be in the north island for a computer science conference the following week so I managed to change my university provided flights. A couple of weeks later we were meeting up in Wellington and squeezed into the NZEGA car - a tiny excuse of a vehicular device if ever I saw one. Here are a few photos from the event, I highly recommend reading the account on stuff I link to at the end.

The start line at 5am

The team above Huka Falls (yes I went and had a good look)

The north island is weird, half of it is on fire...

At a checkpoint - time for lots of food and drink

Meandering along with the hordes

Still going...

The sun rises and we are still going strong

At the 99th km marker, feeling good!

Walking the 100kms wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, not that I got blisters or anything, in fact I could still run at the end of it, but I was a touch stiff the next day! We were walking solidly for 28 hours. I'd like to do it again, but in a more competitive way - only a few teams tried running the entire thing, but it is clearly possible... just saying.

The team managed to raise just over $2500, thank you very much to all who donated! All up 1200 people walked it, raising over $600,000 for poverty relief! Our team's page is:

Advice for anyone doing the trailwalker: take plenty of pairs of socks, your feet will love you for it, stay hydrated and have fun.

Oh and someone I was walking with for a while was actually a reporter, her account is far more entertaining to read than my year late write up: - Note the reference to me: "I strike up a conversation with a 22-year-old engineering student from Canterbury, who doesn't look a day over 16. I'm convinced of this when he leaps a fence."

[Image: Oxfam Unwrapped: Change the present. Change a future.]Not entirely unrelated Oxfam Unwrapped is a far easier way to help out if you don't feel like walking 100kms! With Oxfam Unwrapped, you can give something special to friends and family, and something extra special to people who haven’t got much at all. So start shopping now and enjoy the ultimate stress-free, feel good, life-changing Christmas! (I'm told there is a Lama somewhere)
Change the present. Change a future.