2013-11-28

That's Snow Tyre, Boy

After 29 years of not owning a vehicle, nor anything above a leaner's license (must be accompanied by a full license holder), I now drive a Mazda Axela on my restricted license.

The motivation was quite simply impending fatherhood.  The thought of relying on other people or public transport to haul a screaming ball of flesh around was extremely unappealing.  Not to mention it's about time.

Those from outside of Wellington are astonished when I would mention to them I couldn't drive (I was capable, just not legal).  But for those around the region, it's pretty easy to see why.  While don't have the most amazing public transport, it's pretty extensive - probably made easier by the fact that the suburbs are slotted into the surrounding hills instead of a huge sprawl.  On that note, our city has a relatively small footprint as well, making car ownership and maintenance more hassle than it is often worth.

The only regret I have about not graduating through the license system earlier, is missed opportunities for travel back to Taranaki.

So with my first car purchase, and little real driving experience, it was going to be a fair amount of research, part heart, and the rest a game of eeney-meeny-miney-mo.  It took me a while to find the Axela / Mazda 3 since I was, for a while, looking at the ugliest, cheapest people-movers around.  Ultimately, it was the deep blue colour and the shape that cinched the deal.  However, while I had done some research on the vehicle, decided on buying from a dealer, I was completely unaware that the tyres were, in fact, Snow tyres.

Six months down the road when I took it into my local garage for it's warrant of fitness, it was rejected for being only just 4mm of tread depth. 4mm?  The minimum's 1.5 millimetres!  Not so for these snow tyres.  In fact, Consumer warns about mis-use and there's a pamphlet from the NZTA as well.  The mechanic himself was also very concerned about them, advising me to remove from the vehicle.  The key fact being their operating temperature is 7 degrees Celcius and below - we generally don't get that anywhere but in the South Island.  I don't believe the dealer was trying anything sneaky, the reason my Mazda wielded such wheels is because it was imported from Japan where it's quite common in northern territories to switch over to winter tyres during the season.

There are plenty of authorities and individuals pushing for a ban on these tyres as they have been attributed to some pretty horrific crashes.  The actual performance of the tyres outside of their recommended conditions is reflected by the pre-purchase inspection report - I started with 6mm of tread depth.  That means over 5000km of around-Wellington driving, two trips to Taranaki and one to the Manawatu, I had used 2mm of tread in six months.

So, six months in and I had to purchase a whole new set of tyres.  Well, the good news is, the dealer came to the party and we compromised on half the cost.  Thanks guys!

It has only been a few days but I have immediately noticed the drop in road noise and gain in grip.  So why did I go through all of the trouble to write this post?  To advise car owners and those looking to purchase, to check what the tyres are.

2013-11-18

Design Challenge: Standing Desk

Since my standing desk testing last year, I have been keen to set up something more permanent.  In my current place, this is a bigger challenge as we barely have space for a standard desk.  Right now I have been using the kitchen table, monitor and keyboard stowed away until I connect my laptop to it.

However, my brother has some wood left over from a shop display.  His intention was simply to throw it away as firewood.  However, this has inspired me to think about how I can set up a standing desk.

I scoped out the wood and it's actually three hollow doors and 39 palings overlapping to give the appearance of weatherboards.  Prior to checking it out, I had hoped that the doors were constructed out of more sturdier framing so I could dismantle and use the framing for legs.

The measurements are:
  • 3 x 1980mm x 660mm x 35mm hollow core doors
  • 39 x 665mm x 148mm x 20mm untreated
It would be relatively easy to join the three doors in a 'H' configuration.  However, the width and depth would be unacceptable.

My loose criteria:
  1. When not in use, needs to be around half of the door depth (~330mm)
  2. To get the depth when in use, I will need to leverage a folding desk space
  3. The width will also need to be less than 1980
  4. I need a desk surface
  5. I need a shallow shelf for monitor or space for VESA mounting
  6. Would like a space for my Brother HL-3040CN laser printer to, but this might be a challenge
The final resting place will be a corner that has little space in my lounge so the less obtrusive, the better!

2012-05-21

What I Learned In Queensland

For all honesty, I'm not a seasoned traveller, I have been overseas four times, three to Australia and once to Japan.  The latest trip was for a belated honeymoon - seven nights in Broadbeach, Gold Coast and three in Brisbane.  But I learned a fair amount from travelling that I couldn't help but share...

1. Take Advantage of Public Transport

The AirTrainConnect, a train from the airport with connecting shuttle to our accommodation, is a great service.  At $50AUD per person, it was not cheap but it allowed us to get to our Gold Coast base in Broadbeach.  Once we figured out the public trainsport, it became clear that the Go Card was by far the best way.  By taking a bus trip from Pacific Fair (a short walk from the apartments) to the rail station and the fare for the train, it would cost $30AUD or $27 off-peak with the Go Card ($37 for cash) per person.

Most of the theme parks would have yielded at $21 return transfer - around $11 return with the Go Card.  Adding up two people's travels for a whole week and this saves a lot of money.  Of course, if you have a rental car it's a different story.

2. Know How Your Money Works

There are lots of money facilities available to travellers - in addition to the usual cash currency conversions and VISA/ATM withdrawls - there are VISA debit cards and travel VISA/Mastercard cards which makes it all easy to thrash the finances!  There are other interesting mechanisms that caught me off-guard when using my AirNZ OneSmart Mastercard: The OneSmart card has individual 'wallets' - each one representing a different currency and you can transfer between them easily.  The default one is NZD.  So I had some funds loaded in AUD - meaning any purchase in Australia will use these already-converted funds.  What happened in some places, was unexpected - particularly at ANZ eftpos machines - it prompted me to select their preferred currency rate.  Somewhere in the OneSmart information, it does mention some banks bypass the systems in place.  Something to be aware of.

3. Full Price is for Chumps - Check Your Loyalties

One thing I picked up on quickly is to always look around for discounts.  In these big holiday destinations, especially off-season, there's always a vouchers, coupons and packages to be found.  It almost turned into an attraction crawl as each one would have a voucher for another.  The timetable given to us at Dreamworld doubled as a discount for going to up the Q1 tower.  King Tut's Putt Putt had a coupon for adults at student prices for Ripley's Believe-it-or-not and so on.

The other big deal when it comes to taking advantage of savings is your loyalty cards.  Kathmandu Summit Club? Works over there.  Happen to work at a Progressive-owned store (DSE, Countdown, etc.)?  Works in Australia too (and even gives fuel discounts!) along with many more reward cards.  So, do a little bit of homework and see whether it will work overseas - chances are if they have the same scheme it will mean a few more dollars to spend large with.

Never, ever, pay full entry cost to a theme park - chances are your accommodation, travel agent, Entertainment Book card or big corporate cards will give you access to tickets at a severely reduced price.  While we were overseas we also found the theme parks offering half-price tickets online for certain off-season months!

4. Theme Parks: Off-Season is a Double-Edged Sword

The rewards are plenty for off-season visits - smaller queues, less crowds and... less rides?  Maintenance is usually scheduled for when the parks are less busy and those rides that operate seasonally (e.g. big patron rides such as boats and trains; water theme park rides.)  Probably the worst casualty of off-season visits is the food selection - a lot of the parks will be running only a handful of food stalls.

Check the website of the theme park you are visiting as most have a listing of rides not operating and often the upcoming maintenance windows.

5. Theme Parks: The Waiting Line and the Finish Line

I was told about Q4U from Dreamworld - the ability to hire a tamagotchi-sized device, and for up to six people, you select a ride on the Q4U and it places you in a queue.  When it goes off, you head to the attraction, and cheesily grin at those waiting in line as you pass them in the express lane.  Originally the plan was to hire it on our trip but after seeing how quiet it was, we decided to wing it.  If you get the rides done early in the morning, you usually have a shorter waiting time and in the case with some parks the queues die down again in the evening.

A lot of the thrill rides snap photos of the horror, glee or - god forbid - chunk holding cheeks.  After the experience you can purchase these mementos, usually in the ride-specific souvenir shop.  On this trip, I found all the theme parks now offer the choice of copying the image directly to a memory stick that you provide (or pay a ransom on the spot for).  The benefit being they are cheaper - $10AUD at most of the parks versus $16AUD for the smallest print, take up less space to haul around and forsake the lossy arduous process of scanning them in anyway, you can even upload these if you've got some device on your journeys.  Thusly satisfying our generations requirements for instant gratification (or humiliation if the photo is really that bad.)

Anecdotally at Wet'n'Wild, you also had the option on most rides to scan the wrist-band barcode to record the photo for later scrutiny at the gift shop!  Oh technology, is there anything you can't improve?

2012-05-20

Home Brew #1 - Day 66

Today is the day I decided to open the brew.  This marks about four weeks since bottling so it should be not too bad.  Despite skipping the beer finings that were intended to make the Ale clear, the beer is not as cloudy as I had expected.  The result is a translucent golden-brown and tastes a bit sweeter than a normal ale.  However, the most important factor is: I like it.  I don't think it is an awesome drop, but considering my hiccups during the process, it is a drinkable beer!

I'm not sure when the next brew will be.  Given my wife's shift to dark porters like Mac's Black - I suspect that will be on the menu.

2012-04-19

Home Brew #1 - Day 35

The bottling process began at 19:00hrs last night.  A lot of excuses kept me from starting sooner: firstly, I needed a capper. Too cheap to buy one for my first batch, in the end my Brother and Sister in-law came to the rescue - along with three dozen swap-a-crate bottles to cover my unpreparedness.  After 35 days, we'll see how that long fermentation affected the quality (it tasted ok).

Rewind two weeks earlier - I planned on bottling the brew, counted the bottles and found myself lacking enough vessels to deal with the volume.

Bottle caps make up another important component of the bottling stage and so I picked up 100 (Coopers branded) crowns from the New World across from work. Handy!

So, with my Podcasts playing (The Giant Bomb Bombcast this week seredipitously had a PAX East and assorted specials in additon to their usual show so I was set), over 60 745ml and 650ml bottles to clean, sterilise, carbonate, fill and cap - I got to work.  Our laundry sink,  perfectly tucked away in the kitchen, makes a good place to do the bottle washing.  A quick wipe and then filled it with hot water and dishwashing liquid before tossing in as many bottles possible and assault with a bottle brush.  After the wash and de-labelling, the clean bottles were set to one side of the kitchen counter.

Sterilisation was simply a matter of using the No-Rinse Copper Tun Sterilizer with a sink full of water, dunking the bottles and coating the insides thoroughly before setting aside to drain on the other side of the bench.

Sounds like I had a straight forward process but my description belies the fact had taken me three hours to get this down.  The advice I give is to think beforehand what your workflow is going to be and focus on one task at a time - e.g. washing all the bottles before going onto sterilising all the bottles... unless you've enlisted a helper!

I filled the bottles by having the fermenter on the edge of the kitchen bench and the bottler valve attachment (from the Copper Tun starter kit), not to mention the carbonation drop payload.  Unfortunately, the bottler valve seemed to be malfunctioning so I had to keep turning the fermenter tap on and off but I was getting there, bottle by bottle.

Bottle after bottle, the crates were loading up.  Originally I was capping right after filling but that was nowhere near as efficient as later queuing up half a dozen filled vessels to cap all at once.  It was about this time I noticed something unexpected.  The liquid level in the fermenter had been dropping fast.  Why was this?  I had only bottled a dozen 745ml bottles so far and gingerly under filling them at best.  At this rate I would have nowhere near enough to fill the rest of the bottles.  Then I clicked.  Just as I did when pouring the original water in, I again mis-calculated how many litres the fermenter contained.  30 Litres!  30.  Not 40 or 50!  Suddenly my workload had been cut in half and I simply discounted all the surplus clean and sterlized bottles as less work next time (of course, I'll still wash and sterilize those again when the time comes).

I reviewed the bottles completed already.  Uh oh.  Mistake number 2 - one carbonation drop in the 745ml bottles instead of two.  Mercifully, re-capping 12 bottles to add the extra drop is a trivial task.

The capper was a two-handled "butterfly" capper.  Bright red and plastic.  I mention this because research tells me there are a some brewers that have difficulties securing a cap - sometimes even breaking the bottle necks.  The two tips to take from this is decent bottles.  Grab some swap-a-crates (apparently often purchasable from the bottle stores) and using even downward motion on the handles.  A colleague suggested capping with the bottle on the floor, overhead as opposed to on a bench and performing the action side-on.  I think this helped a lot and in the end, the only cap I was not happy with was the very first one I did.   I made an effort to inspect each capped bottle, checking that a simple tug wouldn't dislodge the cap and that it was evenly planted.

I actually had made a third mistake.  The Copper Tun brewing guide instructed to put the beer finings into the fermenter before bottling.  I didn't have the manual on hand so I turned to the sachet instructions only to find that it actually needed to be placed in two days before bottling.  Oh well, sediment will just have to do for this Alpha Brew.

The guides recommend stashing the bottles somewhere warm for fermenting.  I'm certainly going to have to procure a simple heater for all this brewing but in the meantime the bathroom cupboard will be suffice and has good enough spill containment for any potential carbonation eruptions.

Time will tell and overall I enjoyed the bottling process.  For my first attempt, it had been a time-consuming four hours but all the fiddling and corrections (read: common sense prevailing) will certainly be marked up to inexperience making the next batch a more streamlined process.

A single, likely immature, bottle will be scrutinised two weeks down the track, just to get a better understanding for how this drop develops.

2012-03-18

Home Brew #1 - Day 4

The brew is coming along. I'd really like to see what it looks like but I'm avoiding opening it up before it's ready. Interestingly, since turning off the heating pad on Thursday night, the temperature has decreased slowly but remaining acceptable.

I've taken two readings on 1.012 in a row but since that's higher than the proscribed 1.008, I'm not convinced fermentation has finished. Wednesday evening marks 7 days of brewing and with any luck, bottling time!

2012-03-16

Home Brew #1 - Day 2

Fermentation is well under way.  Upon taking my latest specific gravity reading when I arrived home from work (1.022) I found the temperature was right up at 28 degrees Celcius so I disconnected the heating pad.  I found the temperature had only dropped to 26 by 11pm and even this morning the brew is sitting around 24 degrees.

The next step to give me some piece of mind is resume my arduino tinkering to sort out a networked temperature sensor and use an old APC MasterSwitch to turn on and off the 30 watt heating pad.  Yes, there are simpler and saner ways of accomplishing this but I always find it entertaining making Rube Goldberg machines out of technology, no matter how small!

2012-03-15

Homebrew #1 - Day 0

I purchased a Copper Tun Brew Kit from Newtown's The Brew House.  The included malts was a Munich Lager which appealed more than the Coopers' Starter Kit.  I held off brewing for a while while I played around with Arduino temperature sensors and found that ambient temperatures around the house weren't good levels for fermentation.  After borrowing a heating mat from a friend, I set to work preparing according to the instructions.

I made sure to clean and sterilise thoroughly - after reading many horror stories about ruined batches I wanted to minimise the potential for this as much as possible  - especially since human error is enough of a risk already.  One thing I forgot about until I was halfway through brewing was the automatic raid dispenser.  Hopefully the few spray particles don't affect it at all.

The second botch-up was filling the fermenter up to 25L instead of 23L because I misread the markings on the vessel - I guess I should have figured it would have been too convenient having a 23L mark.  I scooped one litre out (with a sanitised pyrex bowl) which was probably unnecessary.  Hopefully neither the extra litre, nor the scooping has tainted the brew.  Lesson learned: Scrutinise the markings more closely on the barrel!

The final error was accidentally filling up the air lock too much.  I knew to fill it up only half-way but I slipped up.

So, hopefully despite the various hiccups, I will have some tasty brew.  Worst case scenario, starting again!

The Original Gravity was measured at 1.048

2012-03-01

First!

So Blogger seemed like a good fit for the next iteration of my journeys into self-chronicling.  At this stage, I have had more blog changes than I have of actual posts.  Blogger is also a departure from self-hosting.  Being able to dabble with everything self-hosting provides was fun and rewarding but after a while it becomes a lot of work to maintain.

This goes for generic web hosting and mail servers.  Although I have contemplated moving my e-mail to the almighty Goggles, for now my company's mail servers - systems I am responsible for - are a case of eating my own dog food.

Whether I actually begin to post is yet to be seen - but perhaps now with some fun new Arduino hardware, could that all change?

Doubt it.

Feel free to hate on the design/template - I need to sit down and fiddle when I have the chance.