the birds and the bees

Once again, spring returns, and once again our cherry tree fills with the neighbour’s bees. On calm days the tree is full of a active hum (of bees) and a sweet scent (of blossom).

a bee visits a cherry blossom

Occasionally, a kererū will drop by, quite tricky to spot sometimes in the sun-shaded side of the tree facing the house.

kererū in the blossoms

No doubt it will be back in November/December for the fruit.

Previous springtimes:

spring rain

I was just about to ride to work in the morning when I noticed that:

  1. The blossoms were looking pretty good;
  2. It had rained in the night; and
  3. There had been no wind.

Which meant that all the leaves and flowers had beautiful, soft, fat droplets all over them. I didn’t do a great job of capturing this with the iPhone (and how can I convey the delicate scent?) but at least there’s this.

spring rain on blossoms

And while we’re thinking of Spring Rain, I need to leave you with this gorgeous Aussie song:

Previous springtimes:

a mission

It had been a while since I’d had a decently long bike ride, so a couple months ago I conceived the notion of riding to Martinborough for lunch - but taking the day off work to do it. I’d avoid most of the vehicle traffic by using the Hutt River Trail and the Rimutaka Rail Trail; and I figured the roads on the other side of the mountains wouldn’t be too spooky, being wide and relatively unpopulated.

As this was about a 90km ride and my fitness levels aren’t really what they were, I asked R. if she’d come meet me for lunch (and not co-incidentally provide the sag-wagon for the return journey). She was keen, so I booked the leave.

Unfortunately, when the day rolled around the weather was looking a bit average. No actual rain was forecast, but it was damp and misty as I headed up the Hutt River Trail.

Hutt River Trail

It was nice to be travelling in the opposite direction to all the traffic heading into town though.

As I got further up the valley the mistiness turned to occasional showers. This was a bit of a problem as I had not packed my raincoat (why oh why did I believe the forecasts?). Luckily though, I got hold of R. and she brought my waterproof cycling jacket in the car with her; and we crossed over just before the start of the Rimutaka Rail Trail.

As always, this is a nice ride; and the showers mostly held off right up to the summit.

the Summit

Once I got through the tunnel and on to the downward Incline the rain turned into torrents and the wind was furious. This was the area where back when it was a working railway a locomotive was once blown off the tracks by a gust of wind and while it was nowhere near that windy it wasn’t exactly pleasant.

I sheltered in the entrance of one of the Incline’s tunnels, waiting for the rain to stop. Which it didn’t.

sheltering in a tunnel

Eventually, with the wind at my back, I popped out onto the plains. But now I had to turn left and north towards Featherston; and the crosswinds off the mountain were incredible. At times I had to hop off and push the bike, and at one point while I was doing this a gust of wind actually blew the wheels off the road and swung the bike away from me.

At least the rain was confined to the mountains; when I turned east again and got further away still the wind dropped too. The rest of the ride to Martinborough was fairly uneventful.

By this time though I was pretty much knackered, and in town R. was a welcome sight. I needed lunch badly but first I needed to buy some dry socks so that my feet, wet through from unexpectedly having to ford a creek back near Featherston, wouldn’t freeze.

But oh, what a lunch:


Afterwards we had a bit of a drive around. Looking back towards the Rimutaka Ranges you could see the cloud flowing over the tops and dropping their rain. I had ridden out from under all that apocalyptic looking weather and it felt pretty good.

looking back at the Rimutaka Ranges

I could definitely do with being a little fitter before I try something like that again though.


We had an offsite for work at a senior manager’s house in Normandale. I thought I’d take my bike so I could ride home the long way over Belmont Regional Park.

This was a great decision (even though it was a bit of a longer effort than I thought it would be).

There had been rain earlier in the day and everything had that late spring verdancy (here over-enhanced by ProCamera’s rather great HDR mode):

sparklehorse in the sun

We’re looking south east; over those immediate hills is the Hutt Valley and you can see the harbour in the distance.

I love my bike - it takes me to places I would never have thought to go otherwise.

light & shadow

I nearly forgot to do my annual spring thing. And once I remembered, I was in a bit of a rush to get a picture - here the blossom is spectacular against the dark but also unfocussed.

Must. Try. Better.

accidentally ok blossom shot

Previous springtimes:

spring visitor

It feels like spring comes around more quickly each year now. Even so, this visitor is perhaps a little early in the season:

a kererū visits

But hey, we’re happy to see you; always.

Previous springtimes:

a new flag for our wā kāinga

We get to select a new flag for New Zealand via two referenda: one later this year to select the best alternative; then a run-off referendum next year between this best alternative, and the current flag.

The government panel has come up with a list of 40 to consider out of the tens of thousands of designs submitted by the public. This will be whittled down to four by mid-September apparently, but how they do this is something of a mystery.

Yes, there are lots of criticisms of the process that could be made. But I’ve never liked our current flag and maybe this is a once in a generation chance to fix it. And now that the opposition parties, who up until now were supporters of a flag change, have lined up against it maybe we won’t get another crack at this for a very long time.

I guess the dispiriting thing for me is that I dislike almost all of the 40 shortlisted designs. Too many ferns (dead white trees); too many stars (boringly common aspirational marker for flags); too many koru (swirly whirly things).

Some designs provide an easily consumable and reusable brand-NZ logo (which is what our single-mindedly corporate Prime Minister prefers, it seems); while others mix some or all of these elements into a feel-good salad of signifiers.

Wā kāinga in 2:3 proportions

There are a small handful on the shortlist that are composed of simple, strong geometric shapes that tell a story and these are the ones that appeal to me the most.

My favourite among these is Wā Kāinga, a very elegant but striking design consisting of three identically sized but differently coloured triangles arranged on a white field. (Here it is, animated.)

I love the concept behind this flag. The official blurb says:

The white diagonal shape is representative of the Maihi (Māori meeting house). Symbolic of the coming together of all three influences Maori, Colonial past, multicultural future. The red triangle represents our Māori heritage. The use of red, black and white references Tino Rangatiratanga. The blue triangle represents our British heritage, bordering a white diagonal line symbolising the Union Jack. The black triangle is offering up strength and optimism in a national context as well as being symbolic of our mountainous landscape.

It’s also an extremely easy flag to draw and looks good at big and small sizes. However, I’m not 100% convinced about those shades of red and blue - I think they’re both a little too bright. When I played around with this I used the blue colour from current NZ flag, and as close as I could get to the red colour in the Tino Rangatiratanga flag. Both of these colours could be lightened up a bit without being as bright as the designed version.

The other interesting thing is that the Māori colours are on the left, which to me is a subtle nod to who was here first. Nice!

I find the shape of this flag intriguing. While the designers have put it into a handy, easy to use 2:3 proportioned rectangle, there is another, slightly narrower proportion for this flag that would likely be more preferable to obsessives everywhere.

The obsessive geometry bit

So, with our optimum flag variant I assume that each of the three triangles is right-angled with two equal-length sides extending from that right angle (i.e., an isosceles triangle). Then, I imagine that the white stripe also has (invisible) isosceles triangles placed at each end. Result: MOAR SYMMETRY! My eyes are immediately soothed.

You could diagram this like so:

diagramming the flag

If you do that, and get a pencil and paper and break out your exceedingly rusty 4th form algebra, you can work out what z is. Having spent the better part of an entire evening on it I can tell you z is this:

Algebraic representation of z

And while I was scribbling on bits of paper, I also worked out what the proportions of our “optimum” flag would be, which is this:

the actual ratio - it can't be expressed as the traction of two whole numbers

Or, expressed in decimals, a rather inconvenient—for-flag-manufacturers ratio of approximately 1:1.546918160678.


But to continue…

Fun though this has been to work out I suspect the designers purposely went for the 2:3 proportioned variant to make it easier to draw and manufacture. 2:3 is not an unusual flag proportion (87 countries’ flags are 2:3), whereas only a couple other countries have flag proportions that are irrational.

But I think people may also prefer a longer flag more in keeping with our current flag’s 1:2 proportions. I tried a few other variants to see how this would look, while keeping the basic structure of three identical triangles intact.

5:8, which 5 countries use, is super easy to make up in a vector drawing program. Not only am I missing those nicely symmetrical ends to the white stripe already, but it seems to me like the white stripe is almost little too thin:

Wā kāinga in 5:8 proportions

This is probably as about as wide as the design will go.

And, at 1:2 (the second most common flag proportion) the white stripe is obviously too narrow:

Wā kāinga in 1:2 proportions

Horrible. To fix it, the black triangle would need to be made smaller, thus breaking one of the nice design features of the flag. So, yeah, nah.

Well, this is probably all a bit academic. No doubt, unless there’s a sustained campaign for this flag, we’ll end up with one of the Kyle Lockwood fern and stars variants (which I hope are not actually copyrighted by him - how would that work for a national flag?).

It could be worse. But it could be so much better.

the fifteenth spring

Well, it turns out this is the fifteenth spring we’ve had in this house. Sometimes I get the feeling people look at us a bit strangely for staying so long in the same, modest little house.

But it’s all we need. I’m not keen on the idea of martyring personal and financial comfort to purchase a monstrous and ugly new place on the city’s fringe (and neither is R., for that matter) and nicer places closer by seem overpriced. So here we stay.

Anyway, spring is upon us, and so our cherry tree. I’ve been a little busy with the new toy to take much notice - this toy:

the new toy: a bike

I did finally snap a couple quick shots of the blossom today - just with the iPhone, which gets more capable with each iteration.


It’s such a nice time of year, before the endless rolling weather fronts of the equinoctials get stuck in until Christmas…

Previous springtimes:

a personal take on webstock 14

After each Webstock I return with the idea that I should be doing something better; starting of course with writing up my experiences there. It doesn’t happen (with my passive phrasing right there pretty much symptomatic).

This year I won a free ticket, which was very nice indeed. I resolved that because of this I should really really make the effort this year to write it up. Unfortunately good intentions didn’t really result in an epic write-up for each talk. I got partway through this and gave up.

Scott Berkun

The Year Without Pants: & The Future of Work

First up was Scott Berkun. I had not heard of him before. He’s spent a year working for famous blog software company Wordpress, and was asking the question: what value does Management have when all the creative challenges belong to the workers?

Good question, if you are in a narrow range of jobs for which that applies. The answer sounded like: workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your trousers!

You see, I get a feeling of dissonance about the whole pants-free thing. I don’t know about you, but when I think of pants I think of trousers and underpants. So pants-free working therefore implies some pretty horrific mental imagery when thinking about others taking up the practice, as well as a frisson of danger when applied to oneself (after all, laptops can get quite hot).

And sadly (as in, I am a very sad person) I haven’t quite yet put down my pitchfork after that time in 2005 when Matt Mullenweg stuffed the Wordpress site full of spam links for money. So I had a slightly unfair and cynical take on his talk. I started writing some random phrases down and they came out like a haiku:

Trousers optional
For privileged screen jockeys
Then blog ping chat skype

Well, I thought, that worked out quite good. I might do that again!

Josh Clark

Mind the Gap: Designing in the Space Between Devices

I should have heard of Josh Clark. I would have had I done any due diligence on the speakers. My bad: I’ve been busy. He seemed like a really nice chap though.

His issue was that our gadgets just don’t work together too well. Which is true; but the film of cynicism on my glasses had carried over from the last speaker and I couldn’t help feeling like this was a classic First World Problem.

It brings us sadness
Our gadgets don’t kōrero.
Bodge up with more tech!

A First World Problem that of course, people will make billions of dollars from.

Erika Hall

Beyond Measure

Aha! A speaker I had heard of - I knew that she is part of the same design firm as last year’s quite good speaker (but not really the star of the after-party) Mike Monteiro. Her talk was pretty cool: we have lots of data; we think it explains everything… but it doesn’t.

Meaning is tricky.
Stories have power. Data
Explains partially.

I was struck with the thought that we seem to have replaced our reliance on reductionist approaches to explaining the world with the opposite: a big-data statistical prediction of it. Neither tell human stories.

Aarron Walter

Connected UX

This chap came from MailChimp, which seems like another nice internet company. Carrying echoes of the other speakers he spoke of “designing for emotion”, and turning data into information into knowledge into wisdom. All good stuff.

Stories for business
Connect those points, cross those streams
Work your interns hard

Yeah, he lost me right when he mentioned his fantastic intern looking at 10,000 customer emails in a week, a performance that Got Him That Job! I wondered if he was a paid intern. I hoped so. And I hoped like hell that that unpaid intern cultural thing does not make it to New Zealand.

Dan Saffer

Designing with Details At my current place of work we’re building an app, so I was pretty interested in what Dan had to say.

Little things matter
Imbue feeling, quality
Humanise your work

This was the most conventionally useful talk for me. I’m now waiting for his book to arrive.

Liza Kindred

The Future of Commerce

Shopping is awesome
The revolution will be
Live on Kickstarter

I was not a fan of this talk at all - but others seemed to get more out of it.

Nelly Ben Hayoun

Crafting the impossible

Ben Hayoun was an incredibly charming French person who seems to have blagged her way into the most amazing jobs. Once again, it’s clear that talent gets you part way there; but self-confidence and risk-taking will take you to the end.

Discover futures
Extreme experiences
Hammer ooh la la

I have this feeling that she’d make the most amazing star of a documentary. But given that she had instructed that no recording be made of her talk I am guessing that it probably won’t happen.

Jen Bekman

Stick around and fix it - there’s no video of this one either.

Made Art a habit.
Business blew up. Held through with
Doge and the Right Thing.

Persist and fix your mistakes. This was an interesting contrast to a later talk about the value of quitting.

Anne-Helen Petersen

What we talk about when we talk about Brangelina

Through celebrity
Ideologies battle.
Mindfully read it.

I really liked this talk despite the apparently frothy title. Now, when stuck in the doctor’s waiting room, you can parse that stack of Women’s Weeklys in front of you. It’s OK.

Peterson has been popping up everywhere lately, even at my favourite magazine, The Baffler. This is great.

Jessica Hagy

New Zealanders explain the Internet

“…fleas of deception…”
“…you were never just yourself…”
“…culture is about you…”

Charlie Todd

Causing a Scene

In public spaces
People will be creative
Let them have a crack

Andy Baio

The Indiepocalypse

Keep Portland weird, by
Staying independent. It’s
Easy when famous.

Yeah, yeah. We can all be sustainably living indie techno-hipsters. But it helps if you’ve been struck by the lightning of techno-fame already, I thought.

Tom Loosemore

Institutions: An internet survival guide

Fixing government.
Civil Servants attending
Are envy-swooning.

A very genial chap whose talk was eagerly attended by the many government web people in the audience.

Spoek Mathambo

Internet Culture and the South African Electronic Music Scene

When the artists own
Their means of production then
A scene will explode

Later that evening he put on a pretty storming set as DJ. And you should really check out his version of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control.

Liz Danzico

The Fringe Benefits of quitting

Your project can change
Flexibility trumps plans
It’s ok to quit

Hannah Donovan

Sometimes You Need to Draw Animals

I was looking forward to this - I had heard of her before in a number of connections; most recently as a friend and collaborator of my favourite comic book duo, Gillen & McKelvie.

Yes, you keep making
Care for your abilities
Diversity good

Maciej Ceglowski

Our Comrade the Electron

This is going on
Your permanent record. You
Did this to yourself.

I think of this talk as We’re all going to die (pt. I).

Ceglowski is a wonderful writer. You should check out his blog right now.

Sha Hwang

The Future Happens So Much

Sha Hwang attended Webstock last year; this year he spoke at it! One Of Us.

Ask: are you building
Infrastructures for new crimes?
This is the System.

And this talk is We’re all going to die (pt. II).

This and the previous talk were my two favourites and reflected the slightly more down zeitgeist of Webstock lately. We have designed a monster, maybe by accident, but perhaps we can fix it.

Or not.

Paula Scher

All design is social

A voice of wisdom.
Taking the long perspective:
Be optimistic

Clive Thompson

The new literacies

Cheap ubiquity
Leads to weird usage. Then you
Use to talk to you.

Derek Sivers

The Meaning of Life

In a clown costume.
It’s as good as anyone’s,
This life’s meaning.

I didn’t really get this one.

Lame summation

So that was Webstock 2014. There’s always too much to think about at these events - which is no bad thing - but it does mean that a summary will never do it justice.

If there was one thing which this and recently past Webstocks have hammered home is that we have to be a bit more conscious of our actions as technologists. We’ve built great things, but also some very anti-human things too.


damp and discarded

This year it’s been all upheaval around the house as we had to rebuild the deck, and at the same time, put in some nice double-glazed windows and a new burner to make future winters better.

So at the moment, instead of a clear view of our beloved (but increasingly out-of-control) cherry tree we have a large pile of building debris.

None of this stops the blossom though.

A petal lies on our new deck

Previous springtimes: