The Android Invasion Has Begun

The Herald has reprinted a story run in The Independent (UK) about Android: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/technology/news/article.cfm?c_id=5&objectid=10586401&pnum=0

Forget the iPhone – Google is on a mission to take over the mobile world.

Hehe, and I hope it succeeds.

With four billion handsets in the world – more than twice the number of internet users, and two and half a billion more than the number of televisions – it’s safe to describe the mobile phone as the most successful technology of our generation.

I didn’t actually realise that cellphones were that popular but those are some impressive stats.

Android, in case the news has passed you by, is billed as the mobile phone operating system that will change the way we use mobiles. Where traditionally, phones have all worked differently, with usability ranging from the passable to the infuriating, Android’s mission is to simplify, partially by devising a more intuitive interface, and also by making it so widely available that it becomes a standard.

What really differentiates it from its competitors is that it is built on the Linux operating system beloved of geeks worldwide, and almost entirely distributed “open source”, meaning anyone with the relevant technological know-how can contribute to its development by suggesting and creating improvements.

I am even doing a paper on it at uni.

“Given how complicated phones are getting and how hard and expensive software is to write, there seems little reason to persevere on a customised solution when you can just use one customers already know and like,” says Stephen Charman, an Android developer.

With any discussion of mobile phones, the elephant in the room is always going to be Apple’s iPhone, which has been a huge critical and commercial success.

Android phones and the iPhone might appear to be in direct competition; they are both high-spec, and similarly priced. But Al Sutton, a UK-based Android developer, thinks the situation may develop along similar lines to the home computing market: “I can see the iPhone and Android co-existing in the future in a similar way that Macs and Windows PCs do at the moment”, he says. “Apple is focused on being a premium brand, whereas Android’s focus is ubiquity.”

In other words Android will rule the world and the iPhone will be the cool little cousin in the corner that is cool but doesn’t do much other than acts cool.

Although Android phones are only rarely to be spotted in the wild in Britain right now, the groundswell of support for the system from manufacturers may well see a number of devices launched at once in the coming year.

I have one in the wild… And I love it.

Even though they have much in common, the philosophy of the iPhone and the Android phones about to hit the market could hardly differ more. The iPhone is, in a sense, a dictatorship – the applications which make it what it is are all vetted by Apple’s often draconian censors, and those that are made live must pay a hefty price for their inclusion in the App Store.

In contrast, phones running on Android have access to a market for applications which are posted directly by their developers, the majority of which are free, and, of those you do have pay for, the profits go straight to the developers. While some developers are unhappy about shortcomings like the lack of an adequate online interface, Google insists problems will be ironed out in time.

And Android programs in Java, while Apple is trying to make Objective C cool again.

It isn’t just Silicon Valley that is the centre of innovation – people are building cool things all over the world, and then some people are just building things for a local market.”

This global focus is part of what makes Android in tune with the technological zeitgeist. It is open-source, non-proprietary, cross-platform, and, focussing on mutual success over the exclusive technologies of the iPhone, and with the mighty Google in its corner, few would bet against this robot army taking over the world.

Let the phone wars begin.

Ski Helmet use rising

Twitter is indeed a powerful tool for getting interesting news articles that are otherwise not reported in NZ.

Got this tweet through a few minute ago:

snowreportsnzRT @SkiingExaminer: The ski helmet saga continues. Jackson Hole vs OSHA http://tr.im/txmm // 48% of skiers now use them. Well done.

Naturally being interested in snow sports I clicked though on the link to find out more. The 48% figure seems to be based on the US not on NZ. However the number of people now with helmets is something I did notice when I was up on the slopes a few weeks ago.

This article here highlights some more of the stats: http://www.examiner.com/x-4364-Skiing-Examiner~y2009m6d4-Survey-reports-continued-upward-trend-in-ski-helmet-use

The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) released its 2008-09 National Demographic Study that showed helmet usage at 48 percent of all skiers and snowboarders. The figure represented a 12 percent increase over last season’s percentage of 43 percent. The annual Demographic Study is compiled from more than 130,000 interviews of skiers and riders nationwide.

That is a big jump for just one year, and on the back of a sample size of 130,000 that is some decent stats too.

Percentage of ski helmet wearers by demographic group

* 48 percent: All skiers and riders
* 77 percent: 9 years old or younger
* 66 percent: 10-14 years old
* 32 percent: 18-24 years old

Interesting enough young adults seem to think that helmets are not cool.

I got my helmet earlier this year and have used it on two days, one pea soup and the other a bluebird. And it is really good, lightweight but at the same time having that protection on your head and around your upper neck does give you confidence to try things that otherwise you may be a little to scared to with risk of hurting yourself.

Update, here are some cropped photos from the other week

9 from 11 wearing helmets
9 from 11 wearing helmets
6 from 11 wearing helmets
6 from 11 wearing helmets
7 from 11 wearing helmets
7 from 11 wearing helmets

Do your own own bloody tax return

Okay, this is one of those rants that I have been planning for a while but have only now decided to piece it all together and type it out.

Firstly, check out this nonsense that appeared in the Sunday Star Times a week ago: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/2585853/Tax-windfall-awaits-thousands

It is blatant advertising for a tax agency not a real news story.

The tax refund season has begun and thousands of Kiwi workers could find themselves with a nice big present.

Now workers can check to see if they are owed any of the estimated $100 million in overpaid tax for the 2009 tax year. And it could be more likely than you’d think.

At this point the story is reading like a nice ad for ird.govt.nz, okay good.

TaxRefunds.co.nz, a business that helps people file refund applications online, has calculated the chance of getting money back from Inland Revenue (IRD). For example, the table shows a worker on the average wage of $48,000 has a 20 percent chance of getting a payout with the average payment close to $245.

What! Advertising some dodgy company… hmm…

The probability climbs or falls depending on how much was earned. TaxRefund director Geoff Matthews said those hovering around the different tax brackets scored highly with those on $38,000 having a 55 percent chance of getting money back from IRD.

This is probably true.

“It’s like having a lottery ticket at the bottom of your drawer of course you’re going to check it,” he said.

Since when did filing a tax return turn into playing lotto? Unless you spend all your refund on lotto tickets.

… (5 more paragraphs of dribble, go read it on the link above if you have to)
If someone decides to go ahead and file the claim with the IRD, the company charges 12.5 percent of the rebate amount, up to a maximum of $500. The minimum fee is $12.50 per return.

Is there any news at all in this story? I don’t see any. All I see is advertising for some dodgy company and lotto. And lets make one thing very clear. Go to www.ird.govt.nz and do your own tax return there. You will get it all back and not give up 12.5% to some dodgy internet site.

Speaking of dodgy sites taxrefunds.co.nz seems to be getting dozens of complaints as highlighted here: http://tvnz.co.nz/business-news/ird-warns-online-tax-return-services-2706304

The Inland Revenue Department is warning people to be wary of online companies offering free tax return services.

This follows a number of complaints from people who say they didn’t realise what they were getting themselves into.

It’s ads like the current tax refund ones that Donna DeCleene thinking she was in for a windfall.

“I thought I may as well register and see if I have any money owed,” DeCleene says.

She went to taxrefunds.co.nz and typed in her IRD number to find out more about claiming back taxes.

But she was surprised when she received a letter from the Inland Revenue informing her that taxrefunds.co.nz would act on her behalf on all future returns.

“They were telling you to apply for old refunds not saying that they would then act for you in future years for any tax refunds,” she says.

The IRD says its received dozens of similar complaints about tax refund companies

“Read the fine print so you know what you are committing to before you do it. Or alternatively come to our website directly and you can do it for yourself anyway,” says Charles Ronaldson, Inland revenue.

When logging onto taxrefunds.co.nz you can see in the fine print that the company takes 12.5% on any refund, a commission that is also paid on things like family assistance credits and they will continue acting as your tax agent until you tell the IRD otherwise.

“It tells you on the site and you have to tick a box that accepts the conditions that we will be your tax agent like any chartered accountancy,” says Geoff Matthews, taxrefunds.co.nz.

Taxrefunds.co.nz was set up seven months ago and has already processed $62 million worth of returns

“I know I get a tax return through family assistance si i know i didn’t need them helping me because it’s all automated through IRD,” says DeCleene.

However Matthews says, “if we weren’t in the market nobody would know that they were due tax refunds”.

Mr Matthews people have been getting tax returns for much longer than the nine months you have been in the market. All it appears is that you are a very cunning scam artist giving people a service that they already had access to for free. It isn’t very impressive.

Finally be aware that IRD do seem to be on a go slow at the moment as highlighted here: http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/ird-go-slow-tax-refunds-angers-firms-102459 and http://www.gpforums.co.nz/showthread.php?s=&postid=6194020

I filed my tax return for 08/09 on May 12 and it took 9 weeks for them to process it, however, eventually I did get a refund and a nice big one too. So go and do your own. You will get more money and not get into bed with a dodgy company trying to take your money for doing nothing.

I haz evidence from the Moon

Okay, enough LOL Cats for one evening, but this is cool.

NASA have released new photo graphs taken from their new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the original lunar landing sites, complete with pictures of what was left behind: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/multimedia/lroimages/apollosites.html

Bad Astronomy blog make some interesting points too: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/07/17/apollo-landing-sites-imaged-by-lro/

Apollo may seem like ancient history, but those artifacts on the Moon are still sitting there, in many ways as fresh as the day they were placed there.

In all of human history, there are many dividing lines we can arbitrarily assign. Before and after the use of atomic weapons, before and after the invention of the light bulb, before and after this war or that.

But there is one dividing line that can inspire us, fill us with wonder, make us dream of bigger goals, higher aspirations, better ways to live our lives for the future. And that is the dividing line between the time we were a race shackled to the ground, confined to a single planet… and the time a human being stepped foot on another world.

And there it is, in pictures and in fact. This is what these pictures mean. We humans spend a lot of time looking around, looking out, looking down. But sometimes, for just a brief moment, we look up. We did it once before, and it’s time to do it again.

It is like time is standing still and looking back at us. Some of us believe that the pyramids and other amazing structures were left behind to us by aliens from other lands. Now we have left evidence of our prior existance on another world and imagine if an alien lifeform came across it would they start an eagar search for life on that world?

Thoughts on Google Chrome OS

It was interesting returning to Auckland on Thursday night to find out that in the past few days the world has completely changed. Yes Google has finnaly let the cat out of the bag (but I think it actually escaped months ago) that it was developing an operating system to rival Windows.

Google Chrome OS is not planned to be released until late 2010 however the source will be released later this year (so in some ways you could start using it later this year). The full announcement is here: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/introducing-google-chrome-os.html

The points that I am most interested in are:

  • This is not Google’s first OS, in fact it is their third. In house they use Goobuntu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goobuntu) which is a modified version of Ubunutu Linux. And at the end of 2008 they released Android an open source operating system for cellphones, and it rocks.
  • Cloud Computing. The operating system is going to be very light weight on the end users system and plug directly into the internet. This is going to be a lot like the Android where it is always on and things are straight away at your finger tips. This works really well for a cellphone but I do wonder how much functionality it is going to have for more high end activities. Sure you may be able to edit a word document etc, but what about being able to do some coding, or playing a game. In those realms I think that a full desktop environment will still be a lot better.
  • It is free. Well being open source and based off linux they really didn’t have much more of a choice. Having said that it really gives Microsoft a kick up the pants with the cost of Windows even at OEM price being really expensive.
  • The number of companies involved: Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba. This shows that it has some major industry support and the chances of success are high.

I am excited about what it can deliver, but building a web browser that gets 30 million users in 9 months is one thing. Building a operating system that can deliver a smooth user experience without bugs or issues is a whole lot harder.

Playing with Magic

It is official; I am in love; with my new HTC Magic Google Phone.

I have now had my new toy for two weeks and in some ways I cannot remember what life was like before it, or how I survived without it. To put it simply this is more than a gadget or a toy that will bore you after a while, two weeks in and I am still finding things to do with it.

Firstly the specs:

  • 3.2in flat panel touch screen running at 320×480 resolution
  • 528Mhz CPU
  • 512MB ROM
  • 192MB RAM
  • 8GB MicroSD
  • Quad Band GSM
  • Bluetooth
  • Wifi
  • USB
  • 3.2 Megapixel camera
  • Android 1.5 (cupcake) operating system

This mobile phone has more power than my computer from 2003. You may go wow 2003 was a long time ago in technology terms, but in the space of six years to compact more power into a phone then what was in a computer is still really impressive.

Here is a quick highlight of my experience with it over the past two weeks:

Android – Android officially rocks. It is Google’s open source Operating System for mobile phones and it has more power built into it then one could ever expect. Normally you do not have to wait long for a mobile phone to turn on or off. Android is like a computer it must be booted or shutdown and it does take time.

3G Coverage – In NZ Vodafone run their mobile network on three different frequencies. Having just been away I have experienced the use of all three. And the phone handles all really well and having the use of all three means I can get the best possible coverage in any location I go. Take that iPhone which only operates on two. (so if you are in a coverage area with the one that iPhone does not operate on you will have no signal).

3.2 Megapixel Camera – The photos and the video from my snow trip earlier this week were almost all exclusively taken on the phone. The camera is really good, however I have yet to find out if it can zoom, and also it is slow to focus and actually take the photos so it is probably not much use for fast moving situations, plus no flash so you need some form of decent light to get a good photo.

USB connection to computer – Now this is cool, while connected to USB the phone can charge, you can use the phone like a flash drive accessing the 8GB MicroSD card inside it, you can also download all your photos and videos and stuff from the phone. But best of all through the use of PDANET you can tether internet off it. So if you are in a place where your laptop has no internet access you can plug in your phone and get access through the 3G network.

Powered by Google – I cannot begin to describe how awesome this is. Gmail at the touch of a button you can both read and send email. Google Talk on the go. YouTube built in, and the streaming of video through 3G is really quick and smooth too, you can also upload video to YouTube. Google Maps built in, and GPS to show you where you are. Oh and did I mention Google Gears built in too.

Android Market – You can download apps on the go. This reminds me of a very old 8mb Palm Pilot I had many years ago, so far I have installed a weather app, a battery meter, a fuel mileage calculator, virtual bible software, wordpress blogging software, a notepad, and a voice recorder.

Full Internet Access – Android comes with a web browser built in, but it is a little slow and can’t quite handle all websites 100% right. Never fear just download Opera Mini through the Marketplace, it is really fast, the GUI is a little hard to use but the way it displays websites is really good. Only crashed badly once (through my own doing).

Touch-screen and Keyboard – this is my only annoyance. I have big fingers and even with the screen rotated the keyboard is still hard to use. Also a lack of stylus or any place to buy one and place it onto the phone.

Overall 10/10 this phone really does rock, and it just simply amazing.

What does a city on a hill look like?

A month ago I asked the question “What is the purpose of Church?” (http://www.brad.net.nz/blog/2009/06/what-is-the-purpose-of-church/) and at the end I stated that it was to be continued leaving the question “What does a city on a hill look like”?

I have been slow to continue it not just because I have been busy, but also because I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about it, and how to write down my various thoughts and views.

The question is derived from the well know verse of Matthew 5:14 NIV:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Now the verse in question is talking about Christians and the Church and how it should appear to the world.

The full set of scripture reads (Matthew 5:13-17 NIV):

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Now it is clear (I hope) from the scripture that Jesus is talking about how Christians should act and behave in the world. And plenty of people have gone out and preached that you should live this perfect life to make your light shine. But I am actually not sure if that is really what I take from this.

You see the city on the hill bit still gets me, and like my views on the church I am not sure if the city on a hill looks as shinning clean as some people make out. I don’t believe that a city on a hill is filled with people in pure white robes and not a speck of dust is to be found. And if I ever came across a city that was like that then I would have to wonder what they were hiding, what did they want you not to see?

It is like those people who appear to have it all perfect on the outside but on the inside are the complete opposites of that, a complete mess. Even myself, on the outside I am really organised and take extreme pride in what I do, but when you get to know me you know that my personal stuff is a mess, like my room is never tidy and never something to be proud of.

In fact I would go so far to say that a city on a hill is the complete opposite to roads without dust, in fact I think in a true city on a hill the roads will be really dusty and dirty with the amount of people travelling from afar to visit it, to find solace in it.

It is like when you are travelling to any city and you see the lights of it in the distance, it always looks great to the first glimpse of the eye, but as you get closer you start to spot the flaws, the cracks in the pavement, the homeless on the park bench, the regular traffic jams. So what makes the city on a hill that Jesus describes so different from any other city?

Well I don’t actually believe it is entirely who we are or the things that we do that makes the city shine. But rather it is deeper than that. It comes down to how we live our life and how God shines his light out through us. The light of the city on the hill is not visible light but spiritual light. It is love. It is accepting people as they are, not judging, not criticising, but loving people. It is accepting people as they come, and showing them the love and the grace of God.

Now that is not to say that some of the things that they do are acceptable things, but first we must show them the love of God, you need to build bridges and relationships with people, not create a pit of lions that you must cross first before you can be considered good enough.

So the city on the hill is actually and very messy and dirty place, it is filled with people who are in need of love and forgiveness. It is like the emergency department at a hospital, chaos, but organised chaos. It is like the church. And the light shinning out of it is the spiritual light of those Christians who are caring for the needy, for the sick. Those Christians who are not donating to the neediest aid agency, but those who will actually get their hands stuck in, those who will actually put on the armour of God and take their place as a foot soldier, a medic, or a counsellor.

TobyMac puts it this way on his “Alive and Transported” album:

You see it’s not our words. Our words aren’t going to be which stops the world in its tracks. Our words will not change the world. They’ve heard it all.

It is not normally our music. Normally we make our music for us, for the body, so that we can sharpen each other, edify the body, glorify our god. Once in a while one crosses over but it’s not typically the music that is going to stop the world it its tracks. Our music is not going to change the world more than likely.

It’s not our buildings, as grand and beautiful as some of our church buildings are. It’s not the architecture, that’s going to change the world.

But I believe what will change the world, is when we begin to love each other, and when we begin to love the world, and when we begin to reach out to the orphans, and the widows, and the lower income families in our communities. When the world sees that kind of love, I’m talking about undeniable love, I believe they will stop in their tracks and say “Yo, whatever you people have over there. I want some of that baby, I want some of that right there for me”.

When our houses are packed so full of love that we have gotta open up the back door to let it ooze out into the valleys and the suburbs and the city streets. When the world sees that kind of love, real love, they’re going to stop in their tracks baby. They’re going to say “Whatever homy, homy, yo homy, whatever you people have over there you Jesus freaks, I want some of that man, I want some that Jesus for me man if it is doing all that.”

How many times have you heard someone actually say something like that? Why do we have to win people for God? Why aren’t they asking if they can come to church with us? Why are we the one inviting them, begging them? What makes church so unattractive? If those modern and megachurches are really so great then why are they (mostly) always struggling for money, or even if they are packed still packed with only Christians who have moved there from other churches? If they are so great then why is the rest of the community still not interested in attending? Why is church so unattractive in today’s world?

Maybe that will be the topic of the next blog on this subject. It is something that I am still wrestling with.

Snow 2009 Day Two Bluebird at Turoa

Getting up at 5.45am was a lot easier than 3.15am, the extra two and a half hours of night time really helps. I left my cousins place just after six in the morning to head back to the snow. The first mission of the day was to remove the ice that had formed on my car, my uncle hosed it off but while I was loading my gear into the car it refroze so it had to be hosed off a second time.

The trip up the Paraparas was good. At one point I come around a corner and ran over what I thought was a paper cup, only a little while further up the road I came around across another paper cup, only thing was this one was flat, and had guts sticking out, it turns out I hit a Hedgehog. I will add that to my road kill tally.

I was expecting the Paraparas to be quite icy however lucky for me they were not bad. Only on final corner close to Raetihi where as I approached I could see a lot of glare coming back off the road, I slowed down and took the corner very carefully and I was glad that I did it was covered in Ice. I managed to drive the Paraparas in a little over an hour and twenty minutes, I have figured if you drive it in the dark it is a whole lot less scary because you can’t see the steep drops on the edges of the road.

Once I got to Raetihi I got my first glimpse of the mountain and it was stunning. The road from Raetihi to Ohakune and then up the mountain was very icy but I took my time. Only once did I get myself in a spot of bother and that was around half way up the Ohakune Mountain Road where the car in front of me went around a corner and cut across into the oncoming lane before sliding slightly across the road back into their lane on ice. I thought to myself okay take care and don’t do the same thing, the very next second I did the same thing (lucky there was no oncoming traffic), it really tested your reactions to it.

I got to the top of the Mountain around 8am and headed off to get my rental equipment. There I asked for some good skis to do some nice carving both on trail and off, I said I didn’t want to go fast, that I wanted to go to the top of the High Noon Express and safely make it down without coming off. The girl on rental was really nice and gave me some sweet as Fischer Skis, instead of being narrow at the front to give you speed they are really wide so that you have more control. They were absolutely awesome to ski on.

Once I got outside I joined the queue to head up the Movenpick Chair which opened at 8.30am. It is by far the longest chairlift that I have ever been on, up and down, and through valleys and up some more, it took around 15 minutes for the ride but took you ages up the mountain (in some ways better than Whakapapa’s two shorter chairs where you have to get off and then back on).

At the top of the Movenpick I went to the base of the High Noon Express but they were still de-icing it, so instead of waiting like others were I headed down for my first run of the day down the aptly named “boneyard” to the base of the Giant Chair, back up to the top of that and then back down to the High Noon Express just as it opened, I managed to be one of the first people to the top of the mountain for the day.

The High Noon Express is an amazing chair, in places the towers are 60m high, it carries 6 people on each chair, loading is done by riding onto a magic carpet the puts you into a perfect position to get on, it has padded seats, and foot rests and goes so fast. The really bad downside is the queues (see previous blog).

Coming down the runs off the Highnoon I headed to the giant cafe for my morning hot chocolate and packet of hot chips. After that I did two runs down the terrain park before deciding I didn’t yet have enough confidence to go very high off the jumps (one time I slowed down so much I almost didn’t make it to the top of the jump). So instead I went back to the top of the High Noon and then ventured out west, the first time coming down a run near the unused T-Bar, and the second going off-trail even further west into the Backcountry area.

The snow in the backcountry was awesome, knee deep in places and just so much fun, as well as challenging. I was really glad that I had done a private lesson last year on Whakapapa so I knew how to turn in the deep stuff and not get myself stuck, hurt, or off the skis. In places you still had to dodge rocks and ice but that comes with the territory, I was also quite lucky that I kept my wits about me and figured out the perfect time to cut back across to the ski area right at the base of the Giant chair so no worrying about having to spend ages walking back up hill.

After all that fun I decided to head off to Snowflake Cafe for lunch, bad idea. It was only ten past twelve but the place was already packed, I had to wait 25 minutes just for a packet of hot chips, but the one really good thing there was the cheese burgers. At $9.50 they were on the expensive side however they had a beef paddy that was close to an inch thick and tasted great.

After lunch I gave myself the biggest challenge of the day going down Hamilton’s run out East, it goes around the top of a frozen waterfall and then down the side of a steep valley. Very much black diamond, no groomed trails here, no markers either, only signs saying margin snow conditions take care.

My route down the Frozen Waterfall is in black
My route down the Frozen Waterfall is in black

The run down was indeed a challenge but a very fun challenge, in the end I made it down safely and like out west the snow was awesome, however this time I did have to hike out of the bottom of the valley and even though it only took five minutes it was still so exhausting that I decided not to do it again and go back out west where I knew I could make it back without walking. After a few more runs I headed back to the Giant cafe for another hot chocolate.

For my final runs of the day I headed back to the terrain park where I had now built up enough confidence (partly because all the annoying snowboarders had moved onto another area that had opened) to go off the jumps. I didn’t go as high as others on the jumps but I was able to get a second or two of air off the ground and I landed every single jump I did. Very pleased with myself I headed back out west to find a creative way back to the base area to head home.

The drive back to Auckland was much better than the drive down two days earlier. To keep myself awake I had the cd player playing and I consumed lots of V, a One Square Meal Bar, Moro Bar, and Hot Chocolate. After leaving the top of the mountain at 4.30pm I made it home at exactly 9.30pm a perfect five hour drive.

My only annoyance on the drive was people who do not use their high beams as they should. On the drive from Taumarunui to Te Kuiti I got stuck behind a car. That road does not have many passing spots but there are some if the driver in front will let you through. However this twat (and that is the nice way of putting it), would not let you through, and to make matters worse would low his lights to dip on the straights so you could not see far enough ahead to safely make a pass. I used my GPS to be able to see where the next straights and corners were so I knew where I could potentially look. But the only issue with GPS is that you do not know the scale that you are looking at as the map dynamically zooms in on corners and out on straights.

I finally got past just before Te Kuiti where I knew I had a straight piece of road, but it was still a challenge because the fool sped up well past the speed limit to block me getting through. The second annoyance in this saga was one the cars behind me. When you are in a queue of cars do not run your lights on high beam. It is really annoying because it reflects in the rear view mirror and into your eyes when you are trying to drive in the dark. High beams are meant to be used where there are no other cars in front of you and you need them to see, if you have cars in front of you then you do not need high beam.

My final rant for now is on the time advertised to travel from Turoa to Auckland. Ruapehu Alpine Lifts advertise it as four and a half hours. Last night bar one twat I had a near perfect run, and it took exactly five hours. Sure if there is not a single other car on the road and you are at the speed limit the entire time and do not stop you could do it in a perfect 4 hours 30 minutes but that would be near impossible. They should advertise it as 5 hours, that way it does not become an expectation that you need to do it in an impossibly short and potentially dangerous time. It also explains why coming down on Tuesday I didn’t have a hope of making it in time.

When I left on Tuesday I left at 3.30am with the aim of getting their at 8.30am (I had already guessed that 4 hours 30 was impossible), the fact that I didn’t make it to Whakapapa until 8.45am shows how crazy the timing is if you have a bad run. The same applies for Whakapapa it is advertised as 4 hours. The best I have ever done is around 4 hours 10 minutes and that was flying in perfect conditions. On Tuesday it took 5 hours 15 minutes. End of Rants.

Final comments: This was the best day skiing I have ever had, and my very first bluebird. If I went again given the same conditions I would go to Turoa over Whakapapa, having said that I have never been up Whakapapa when the weather has not been cloudy at best, and snowing heavily at worse, and I have never been up when the Far West has been open.

Also if you are a parent and sending your kids to the snow for the holidays be smart in what you give them to wear, I saw people yesterday with no gloves (really dumb), woollen gloves (almost as dumb, when they get wet they get heavy and freeze), Hoodie (wear that under a jacket not as your outer layer), woollen jumper (probably even worse than woollen gloves you need to keep your core warm). Skiing can become an expensive sport, but use some common sense always take gloves, do not use wool unless it is merino and then only as a base layer, and always wear a jacket.

Snow 2009 Day One

Well I am off on my annual pilgrimage to the mountain.

The first day was very interesting, exciting, stressful and tiring.

The night before I left I went to bed around 8.30pm with the plan to get up and leave at 3.30am. As always trying to get to sleep when it is reality early and you are excited is always a challenge, I think I woke up every 40 minutes until midnight, before finally falling solidly asleep.

Also as always when your alarm goes at 3.15am in the morning it is always at the point where you are most asleep and absolutely do not want to get up. But I did, and had breakfast, put on my base snow gear, make sure I was fully awake, jumped in my car and headed for the mountain at 3.30am.

The drive out of Auckland was  very good. I managed to cover 92km in my first hour on the road, which was very good time and probably the fastest that I could go without breaking the speed limit. My first sign of trouble was when I got around an hour and a half out and started to use my high beam lights on the open road. The problem was when I flicked them from standard beam to high beam the car stereo would cut out and cut back in. This happened a few times before I decided to pull out the stereo for fear of a serious electrical problem.

I made it down to Ngaruawahia where I headed for the turn off for the alternative and faster route south to Otorohanga as I crossed State Highway One my entire car died. Not a good feeling. I rolled to a stop on the side of the road, shut off the car and then went to turn it over and restart, it worked, first time, a little concerned by this I pulled into the BP station, went to the loo and grab a fresh fruit mix for a second breakfast. I waited there for around 15 mins for my car to cool and then set off south. To be on the safe side I decided to turn off all non-essential electronics on my car to see if that would sort out the problem with the high beams.

Unfortunately it didn’t. Twice on the road to Otorohanga my car cut out switching to high beam, lucky for me it came back almost instantly but not without first turning off all my dash, brakes, lights and power steering for a second, which is not a good feeling at 100kmh. To make a bad situation even worse around Pirongia I hit fog that was so thick that you could in places see more than 1 cats-eye in front of the car, and at best around 3.

The fog made me even more concerned for my safety and I came very close to deciding to head back inland to Hamilton to see if I could find a service station or something to get it checked out. In the end I didn’t but I did do one thing that I normally don’t do in worrying circumstances, I prayed. I am one who normally doesn’t think that situations that you get yourself in warrant prayers, but on the spot, there and then I think I said something like “God, I don’t normally do this to me, but it is really early in the morning, it is really foggy, my car is failing, please don’t let me break down in the middle of nowhere, and at 100kmh, it would not be very fun.”

I also turned back on my GPS unit so if I did break down at least I would have an idea of where I was. The final drive into Otorohanga became a case of counting down every km I got closer on my GPS after that. Once there I pressed on to Te Kuiti where my car did break down… Yay… Not.

I pulled into Te Kuiti around 6.15am where I parked to let my car cool down and for me to take a leak, and let my parents know I was safely on the road. All was fine until I hopped back into my car to continue the journey south. I turned the key, and nothing, no battery, no electronics, no nothing, not even the clock. Lucky for me I had parked on the main street and there was the local courier in front of me delivering the morning newspaper to the dairy. I quickly asked her where the nearest service station was, or if they knew how I could get my car jump started. The Mobil Station was 500m down the road, so off for the walk in the dark I went. Getting there I asked if I could get a jump, they asked where my car was I told them 500m down the road, they said stuff them walking back with me, handed me jumper leads and a battery and off I walked back to my car.

The car started first time off the jump and I drove back to the Mobil Station dropped off the battery and decided to head for Taumarunui, this time I decided not to use my high beams at all, by the time I had been held up close to 30 minutes so it was nearing day break anyway. Fog, frost, and a huge big rig continued to delay me on the road, by the time I made it to Taumarunui I decided to press on to National Park where I would make the decision of going up Turoa or Whakapapa. Arriving at National Park just after 8am I text messaged my mum asking for the snow report. The whole point of going down on the Tuesday morning was that it was meant to be a nice sunny day. Instead I had anything but. The snow report came back with the upper mountain on hold at Turoa so I decided to head up Whakapapa.

Overall it took me just over five hours to drive to Whakapapa, it should have taken four. If I had decided to go to Turoa I would have been more than an hour and a half later than my planned timing, as it was it took 1 hour 20 minutes longer then the same trip did last year to get down to Whakapapa. Showing just how much the fog, ice, and failing car cost me in time.

Heading up the Bruce Road the electronic signs showed that the road was open and clear, and the ski field was open. Like all electronic signs the reality was anything but, within a few hundred metres of going through the gate it started snowing, and heavy snow too. I had two four wheel drive jeeps in front of me, and another two behind, one of the jeeps in front of me started to struggle as the road got very slick, me in my 2wd without chains was just laughing at my luck how much more crazy could this drive get? To ensure I made it to the top I deliberately left the slick groves that the vehicles in front where laying into the road and tried to pick up the grit on the road that had amassed on either side of the groves, it worked and five or so minutes later I was at the top of the road.

P1090861
Daypark 1 and 2, where those keen earlybirds park, right at the top of the mountain.

Getting out of my car I headed up to the top of the Bruce and got my passes and rentals and up the chairlifts I went. My timing could not have been better I managed to get to the top of the first chairlift just as the upper mountain Waterfall Express chairlift opened, straight onto that and higher still I went, off that and up the waterfall T-bar. Straight to the top of the mountain. Initially the trails down the mountain were very icy because the snow had melted slightly and then refrozen, a common issue on Ruapehu, however throughout the day this became less of an issue as more and more and more snow feel turning most of the mountain into a beautiful fresh powder paradise.

At 10am I grabbed a hot chocolate at the new temporary knoll ridge cafe, it is very nice inside, but still is a complete shame about the arson of the old cafe.

Inside New Knoll Ridge Cafe
Inside New Knoll Ridge Cafe
Second shot of inside new Knoll Ridge Cafe
Second shot of inside new Knoll Ridge Cafe
2009-07-07 10.19.17
New Knoll Ridge Cafe from outside, as the snow falls.

While I was in the cafe a little bit of cabin fever set in an I decided to write an ode to snow:

Snow drops keep falling on my head
But that doesn’t mean my hands will soon be turning blue
Skiings just for me
Cause I’m never going to stop the snow by singing
Because I’m skiing
Nothings worrying me

The thing that amazed me the most about the day up the mountain was the lack of people. It is the middle of the school holidays and there was many kids about but very few other people, the lift lines were short and this means less people to crash into on the trails. The other thing that you learn very quickly is no matter how good you think that you are getting there will always be a six year old kid that is better than you.

The two most enjoyable runs of the day was going down the left hand side of the Waterfall T-Bar for the first time (the side nearest the Pinnacles), and going/falling down the Waterfall Black Diamond Trail around five times. The Waterfall T-Bar had some of the best powder on it, and was out of the wind for most of the day which made it great for carving up. The only issue was visibility at times down to only a few meters which meant hitting rocks and snow banks became a small issue at times. The Waterfall Express Trail was very popular and I found going down the Waterfall itself was the easiest way of avoiding the crowds but it still had a lot of rocks in it which made it a bit of a challenge, and after that heading straight down the waterfall near the chairlift towers rather than taking the “easy-way” down trail.

At around 3.30pm I decided to leave the mountain around 30 minutes earlier than closing because the visibility was becoming really poor, my goggles kept on icying up, and I was beginning to get quite tired and had to make it to Wanganui, on the last few runs of the day I managed to crash badly twice which are still hurting today (Wednesday), the first was hitting a small rock or drift on the Waterfall T-Bar and going face first into the snow and getting a frozen ear as well as my legs tangled in each other. The second was heading down the Rockgarden run to make it back to the base area and trying to avoid a fallen snowboarder where my evasive action caused me to fall very hard onto my shoulder and hand which is still hurting today. I have also managed to bruise my legs in a number of places (no idea how).

How fun would be it to ride one of these things...
How fun would be it to ride one of these things...
2009-07-07 10.19.08
Looking at the Valley T-Bar, this was probably the best visibility all day, and this has been lightened using Picasa
Helmet and Goggles the fresh snow on the top had fallen as the above two photos were taken, in total around 20cm fell during the day, that is a lot!
Helmet and Goggles the fresh snow on the top had fallen as the above two photos were taken, in total around 20cm fell during the day, that is a lot!
Snow in the front air dams of my car after being parked all day.
Snow in the front air dams of my car after being parked all day.
Self portait after skiing all day
Self portait after skiing all day

Today’s skiing was a good test for my new equipment and it all past beautifully. I was decked out in polypro thermals from Kathmandu (as always), and was for the first time using my Kathmandu Neptune long sleeve top, it is a blend of virgin wool (sports wool) and polyester and is very light weight, I was also using my Kathmandu Zinal mid-layer for the first time, and my Wild South Soft-Shell for the first time skiing. The four layers worked beautifully and at times I was so hot that I was sweating given that it was snowing all day it is a testament to the quality of the gear that these companies make. I was also using my Gyro Helmet and Outdoor Research Gore Windstopper facemask for the first time and these were also brilliant, almost everyone on the mountain was using helmets and facemasks, which was needed given the wind was making the apparent temperature close to -20C.

One car got a little too much of the good stuff I think
One car got a little too much of the good stuff I think
Snow Juggling, now that is talent.
Snow Juggling, now that is talent.

The trip from the Top of the Bruce down to Wanganui was a dream, I managed to make it in 1 hour and 45 minutes which is super quick for the Paraparas. Transit have done a lot of road works over summer near the Ratehi end of the road which has made it wider and a lot more smooth, there are still a number of really tight corners and steep bits, but it appears that some of the worst sections have been fixed. Other good news this morning is that my car appears to only have a lose alternator belt which cost $10 to tighten, thanks AMT Auto Electricians in Wanganui, so hopefully I will not have many dramas coming back to Auckland tomorrow.

Footnote: If anyone else has trouble with their car when switching to High-Beam it is probably the cars electronics overloading. I was right to turn off the stereo and air con and the like, but my mistake was to switch off my car completely when I stopped. Turn off all your electronics but leave your car running on the side of the road for a few minutes before turning it off, if your electronics are overloaded it will drain your battery and it will not be able to recharge, turning everything off will give the car a bit of time to recharge.