two metres

With the government over the last weekend unveiling a new four-stage pandemic alert scale, and declaring we were on level 2, both R. & my places of work told us to start working from home for the foreseeable future.

So on Monday morning we started, with a renewed sense of being fortunate for what we have and being able to work through this and not suffer the uncertainty that so many others are carrying right now. In the 7am dark we went for a walk to get some small exercise and simulate the morning commute. We worked, not quite as normal, on the dining table: four screens and two laptops, keyboards, and mouses.

We established variants on the in-office rituals: R. starting a Zoom conference so that she and her colleagues could continue doing the newspaper quiz each morning; me and my workmates making a coffee and stepping outside into the sun for a FaceTime chat.

But then in early afternoon, it all changed again. The government made a new announcement: that we’d be going to level 3 for two days then level 4 from Wednesday at 11:59pm. Wherever you were on Wednesday night was where you were going to stay, in lockdown, for at least 28 days.

We hit the Air New Zealand website but we were too late to get B₂ on a flight back from Dunedin; they were all booked solid. She seemed ok with this and so did we seem to be. There was not a lot else R. and I could do in any case: it would not have been wise to send her to her grandparents on the farm an hour and a half away from Dunedin.

The next few days passed, busy with work and adjusting to this new normal. We would walk out before work, and again in the evening to end the working day: a 1.4km circuit where we would occasionally come across other people doing the same, and of course giving them all a 2m space (a lot easier now that the cars on the road had dwindled to almost nothing). The meme whereby people were to put teddy bears into their windows overlooking the street for the kids to spot seemed to be everywhere, and here and there Girl Guide troop members had chalked the pavements outside their homes with messages of support and encouragement.

B₂ and us decided that we weren’t that OK with being apart after all, but luckily for us on Wednesday the government announced an extension to the domestic travel rules allowing non-essential travel on internal flights, for people getting home, until Friday. We got B₂ on a very early direct flight from Dunedin, the better to avoid transiting a third airport and hopefully a quieter time. I bent the rules a little and went and picked her up; I felt that getting her in person, especially if she came to our car outside the terminal, was in total less risky both for us and the wider public than making her get a cab from the airport.

R. and I relaxed a little. The weekend rolled around, none too soon. Early school holidays started for R₂. With B₂ back our family was together again and she started doing some of her Uni work remotely. The weather packed up with the first vicious southerly of autumn and we had to put the fire on. We all helped build our remote island getaway.

On Sunday I went to the supermarket, which was a slightly weird experience. I picked one that had a large covered car park and sure enough, I could wait under cover from the rain, with 2m gaps between people in the queue marked with red tape. It was good to see the trolleys being cleaned between uses. I noticed that more people were starting to use masks and other protective gear; a very few were in N95 respirators and one cautious person was in surgical gear: hairnet, mask, goggles, and disposable outer overalls. I began to feel slightly under dressed; hopefully my new facemask will arrive in the coming week. (Yes, I know they are not considered essential by many authorities on the matter. But they also help prevent an infected person from spreading the virus, so from that point of view I don’t see them as useless.)

Overall this feels doable - at least for us in our lucky bubble. I don’t know if we will feel the same way after a month… but for now the pace of life has slowed dramatically in one sense while also becoming more anxious and frantic in another (limiting news intake is helpful here). The city is so quiet now and the traffic is gone; the birdsong seems more intense and when the sun shines, which earlier in the week it was almost continuously, we seem to have stumbled across great fortune.

We will need to hold onto this feeling in the days to come.

quick spring snap

It was a beautiful morning.

a bee visits a cherry blossom

Exactly a year to the day since my last spring posting here, I remembered I had a blog and snapped this fairly average picture of the cherry tree as I rushed out the door to work.

I think I need to try a wee bit harder next year.

Previous springtimes:

pīpīwharauroa

I have R₂ to thank for this one, possibly the bird photo I am most pleased with so far.

pīpīwharauroa in a kōwhai tree with a kōwhai tree moth caterpillar in its mouth

It was one of those warm-calm and overcast evenings. R₂ was looking out the window and alerted us to what she thought was a Pīpīwharauroa (Shining Cuckoo) on our kōwhai tree. She was right, of course, despite it being a bird none of us has ever actually seen before.

They are not uncommon - their distinctive call heralds spring as they make their way south down into New Zealand from New Caledonia to breed each year. But they are very cryptic and easily disturbed, and the closest I’d got in the past was spotting outlines of them high in the trees.

This one was systematically harvesting the tree for the kōwhai tree moth caterpillars – there’s one in its mouth in this photo – and seemed to be OK with me just 10 metres away snapping madly.

Now, if I could only get a photo of its larger and rarer cousin, the Koekoeā (Long-tailed Cuckoo), which I have seen in a blur overhead, but once.

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:

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.

offsite

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. MOAR SYMMETRY!

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.