Monday, September 27, 2010

Human powered lawn mower

We all got bored with the earthquake in the end. To liven things up some snowflakes fell on a stadium in Invercargill and its roof collapsed
but we got bored with that too. Luckily it's Springtime, so we can all get back to the national obsession with short grass.

It's Spring and the lawn is growing like mad and our Flymo has died. Our Flymo was given to us as a cast-off by my father-in-law:
'Is will do.'
He was Hungarian and never fully mastered the language. It had already served him for 15 years; it has served us for 25, and now that the skirt has broken in two places, the wire cut in twelve, the blade worn to a sort of metal stick, and the bearings have totally gone, I felt it time for renewal.

Flymo are now owned by Husqvarna and make a light-weight push-mower, and when I spotted one in the junk shop almost new but at a third the price I promptly brought it home to convert into a pedal-powered mowing machine. Did you know 5% of all air pollution in America is caused by lawn mowers?

Besides, I thought Why go for a ride for exercise when you can be mowing the lawn by muscle power and not running the hazard of that woman on the main road with the concealed driveway pulling straight out onto the cyclepath while looking right for cars when you are approaching at 20 mph from the left and have only two yards to brake to a standstill in? (I dodged in front of her bumper. I hope she died of fright, cos I did. This is actually my ghost, writing.)

Lisa runs the junk shop: Lisa concisely said
'Good mower, that. Bloke bought it new but didn't know how to adjust the cutter, and my dad fixed it.'

Lisa was not lying. Her dad had fixed it. I tried pushing it out of curiosity and was sore amazed. I cut the back lawn in ten minutes. I cut the front off-side lawn in twelve minutes. I cut the big lawn in twenty, and the council's strip in front of the house, fifty yards long by five yards wide, in a mere six minutes.

Therefore if Flymo are watching and would care to send me a corrupt payment of, say, $168 (please) for a gratuitous endorsement, I shall recommend their H40 with considerable delight. It weighs next to nothing though there may be a catch in there because when I pulled the wheels off to have a look - as you do - I found that the wheels are plastic and the gears are nylon. So we shall see how long it lasts. Still, at about thirty quid, it's the price of the petrol to run the ride-on all summer, and quicker and quieter and I don't have to worry about the entire blade system falling off. The ride-on, American engineering at its throwaway worst, came with the house. The owners knew what it was like. It is a White Outdoor Product. If the Internet was a bit bigger I'd have a go at listing the faults of our ride-on, though if the financial crisis has any blessings, one will be the extinction of White Outdoor Products. If White Outdoor Products care to send me a corrupt payment to delete this negative publicity it will be $168,000 please. (Bit of luck that too will hasten their bankruptcy.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Yet more news from Christchurch, where the aftershocks continue, sometimes as many as four in a quarter of an hour, their magnitude varying from around 3.6 to 5.2. We're beginning to learn that a big earthquake is only the first bit; until the planet settles down again there's a lot of jostling for room among its components. If you're an obsessive like me you subscribe to and get an email for every decent-sized earthquake in the country, though at 178 since Saturday you have to be a True Nerd to maintain interest. Obv. Mr Knight is the office Nerd:

Sent: Monday, September 06, 2010 3:26 PM
Subject: earthquake
We're sitting here at work betting on the magnitude of the aftershocks. Where we are, we get to hear a very loud, low, "wump" and then you get the motion. 15 minutes later I get the email and inform everybody of the results. However it is now getting confusing because we've had 2 quakes inside the last 15 minutes, the last one of which was a real whopper. We seem to be getting a lot of them.
There is definitely a feeling of the Dunkirk spirit here although of course I wasn't there, I only imagine that's what it was like.
The old Waimakariri bridge is now shut until further notice, so it's the motorway bridge for me now unless that is going to be shut as well. That will mean a 150km detour through Oxford.

And Martin van den NeiwaalbotherIstillcan'tspellit is reporting hoarding and general shopemptiness. (Shopemptiness is a new word. One has to develop a lexicon to keep up with current events.)

Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 3:14 PM
Subject: Hamstereinkauf
Today I took a stroll and visited the local shops and supermarkets. I stood and watched someone at Pack N Save fill their empty trolley with the entire supply of bottled water on the shelf, leaving... well, none. As Hanna said, unless they are gathering supplies for their entire water-less neighbourhood (possible) .. ooh shakke!!! ooh.. OK, it's over.. Um, unless they are gathering supplies for their entire water-less neighbourhood there's no need to take all the water leaving others with none whatsoever. The supermarkets are doing very well - $$$. They were only down for one day (Saturday), but since then it's been flat out buy buy buy. I went to Countdown supermarket as well and they have signs up; 4 bottles of water per person, 2 packs of juice max .per person. The shelves are still largely empty for 'essentials' such as water, juice, tomatoes in cans, toilet paper, bread (though not as bad), and strangely potato chips.
In some ways I see this whole experience as a precursor to the effects of Peak Oil. I find it interesting to think about the things we rely on day to day, and how, when there is an interruption, a sudden discontinuity, how we can survive and maintain 'normality'. It's easy to survive a 'temporary interruption to broadcasting' by being prepared and stocking up on things. Bottled water, food etc. One thing that has been very useful here where the tap water is not yet safe for drinking, has been a bottle of no-water hand cleaner. It actually goes a long way. The small bottle we (two people) have is only 100mL or so and is still largely full after four days. Some kind of water jerry can with a piddly little tap would also be good (we don't have one), filled with boiled water/rain water. Of course, stockpiling is only good for so long. In a prolonged decline, Peak Oil scenario, the no-water hand cleaner will be used up after a couple of weeks, the store of rice will eventually be eaten, and the meths for boiling the questionable water will eventually run out. That will become the new normal and a real test of our survival skills.

Even with rationing, the Countdown supermarket stocks are slightly depleted (Pic: Martin van den Nieuwelaar)

Mr Knigght (another bad spelling day here) reports everyone is now getting a bit fed up. Apparently there's only so much fun to be had out of losing your water supply electricity job and sewerage system and having your house knocked down.

Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 10:19 AM
Subject: earthquake
I'm getting a little tired of these aftershocks now. We only tend to comment on the bigger (5+) ones. We are still getting these larger aftershocks regularly; I experienced a 5.1 this morning riding to work. I was stopped at traffic lights when I heard a very loud bang and then all the lights started swaying in unison, closely followed by the sound of falling masonry. Usually I'm sat at work and my monitor does a little dance across the desk so it made a nice change. The aftershocks are doing much damage to already weakened structures. The Lyttleton tunnel is now closed due to damage from one of the 5.4 yesterday.
My ride in this morning was cack - mild drizzle - but as the ECan website said the bridge was open I thought I'd ride anyway. Well ECan are a bunch of hairy fat liars and I got to the closed bridge with no signs of any shuttle "service" to take cyclists around so I had to ride down the motorway again. Fortunately going south only requires a short 2km hop. I'm not too sure what I'm going to do tonight coming home since all the roads that lead up to the bridge from the south are now all closed northbound due to damage. I'll have to ride on the motorway again, but this will be a much longer trip.

Anyway I know he did get home because he was very kind and posted all his photos, full-size, here: And we know they're going to be alright because the government have sent in 35 counsellors at the perky price of $2,500,000. I thought I might nip down and have a look myself, but John swiftly countermanded this decision:'Well it's a waste of fuel, and to be honest, we might as well wait till we get one here.'

Earthquake reports

The diligent reader will recall that I keep a German female violin-maker in Christchurch, for the twin purposes of recording earthquake damage and supplying me with A-strings. In fact Mrs Violinmaker only supplies the A-strings; it falls upon the shoulders of Mr Violinmaker to keep me abreast of earthquake damage in his partic'lar zone of Christchurch. The real spelling of Mr Violinmaker is of course Mr van den Nieuwelaar, according to that standard practice in English spelling by which a place called Hazebrur is actually spelt Happisburgh. Anyway I know of no keyboard in the history of computing that doesn't end up spelling Martin's surname as van der Neieiuweellieaarlaieu. So I don't even try. I expect he calls me Minndelont by way of vengeance. He rides recumbents and tandems, and so does Hanna. (Hanna is the violin-maker. See

Howsoever, here's his experience of this merry affair:

Sent: Monday, September 06, 2010 10:19 AM
Subject: Earthquake experience...
Saturday evening, Papanui 6km north-west of Christchurch centre.It has been a long day. 4:35am earthquake. Strongest I've been in. No power, no water. Luckily a fine warm day today.All shops closed. No fuel, no ATMs. Many (1 out of 3) chimneys down. Some local Papanui shops with big cracks that will probably be demolished. Heard it's worse in the city but we're told to stay out.Had BBQ lunch with the neighbours at 90B. Then power came back on. Water is back on, but needs to be boiled. Still getting significant aftershocks. One now!!!! eek... doors going, house shaking. OK, it has stopped. Minor damage here at home, cars rolled forwards and backwards in garage, broken reversing light, lounge furniture suffering gouges but everyone is OK which is the main thing. Not sure when the shops will sell food again, but we have supplies for a while.Monday morning.There is flooding in the Avonside/Bexley area (east side of city) I believe but haven't heard specific details on that. They have liquefaction problems there with people reporting geysers spouting from the ground in their back yards. Lots of silt and goop through houses, and combined with broken sewer and water mains (water is now back in 80% of houses in Christchurch)... Large cracks in roads (un-passable by cars), bent bridges, downed power lines.The water storage tank behind the supermarket here in Papanui burst sending a torrent through the car par area and into the streams. Kaiapoi township 15km north of city centre is very badly hit. In one street all the houses are condemned. Aftershocks are still going. 5:20 this morning a fairly big one, that's 48 hours later, almost to the hour! Most people have been ordered to stay home till Wednesday. There is 7pm-7am curfew in the central business district and the army is coming in to help. The local supermarket was open yesterday, and was very busy. After reading about the Chilean earthquake we were personally very well prepared. Others were not of course and I'm sure were surprised to find no ATMs working, nor petrol stations pumping.Our house is OK but one door doesn't close properly any more. 86 Proctor St lost a chimney. Harolds fabric shop in the Papanui shops has partially collapsed as has the Egyptian souvlaki shop. Edex toys opposite also has big cracks. Alvorados restaurant in town next to where I work is a write-off; you can see tables and chairs on the second level because the walls are gone! My building, Radio Network House (I hear) is habitable despite bits of concrete falling in the stair well. It's a hub for communications so is quite important.
Martin van den Nieuwelaar
Bicycle sizing and gearing software -
Internet backbone traffic visualisation -

For myself, of course, I'm thankful that I live in Motueka because we've suffered none of the above, though I don't know that being deprived of an Egyptian souvlaki shop would be too much of a hardship. The last time I needed to buy an Egyptian souvlaki - well of course I've not the faintest idea what one is, and don't look at me like that because you haven't either.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Woke on Saturday at 4.38 am with the bed swaying about, which it did for ten seconds before settling down, so I scribbled the time on a scrap of paper next to the alarm clock and went back to sleep.

But at breakfast there was an excited reporter telling the nation that Darfield had experienced the biggest earthquake since Inangahua in 1969. It struck at 4.35, and therefore took 3 minutes to travel the 260km to my house.
I had a look at a map: Darfield and Christchurch are two points of a triangle (obv.) and Mr Knight, member of the Diaspora, lives twenty miles away at the third point in Rangiora.

His phone was engaged so as a matter of course I dug out his sceptical email of last week

Sent: Monday, August 23, 2010 9:55 AM
Subject: Re: earthquake
I have yet to feel *any* earthquake here yet. I fear they are a myth, a bit like that global warming that those greenies started. Incidentally I hear that the Tasman glacier calved the biggest ever iceberg this weekend..

and replied

Sent: Saturday, September 04, 2010 8:46 AM
Subject: Re: earthquake
So... erm...

- La. - he promptly phoned, telling me that - inferring, that is to say, certain things about my parents' marital state.

Steph and the Knightlets, near Rangiora (All pics by Bob Knight)
He told me one of the fields next to the river has dropped a metre, and the river has dropped into it so it's now a lake. The bridge he cycles to Christchurch over has been damaged so they'll almost certainly close it, and he says it's likely the only contact with the city will be over the motorway bridge - not much use on a bicycle. - Otherwise he said they were fine; all the books fell off the shelves; kids very frightened, immense noise like a train going past, eight loud and shaking aftershocks of 4 - 5 on the Richter scale, but surprisingly no broken glass in his house and no visible damage, and his water supply was okay. He told me the sky was full of helicopters.

Later, I had an email:

Sent: Saturday, September 04, 2010 11:29 AM
Subject: Re: Earthquake
Now then, just got back from a walk into Rangiora town. No visible damage in the immediate area, however people are panic petrol buying - the queues are at least 10 vehicles long in either direction. This will mean that the petrol will run out which will trigger more panic buying elsewhere etc. exactly what happened in Ingerland some years ago: there wasn't actually a real shortage of petrol but the perception and the panic buying really did make a shortage. I witnessed one incident of mild petrol pump rage when somebody jumped the queue by manipulating the give way rules to jump ahead at the entrance.
More later

And indeed more did come later, a total (so far) of 64 aftershocks of about 4.6 - 5.2 on Mr Richter's scale:

Sent: Saturday, September 04, 2010 5:17 PM
Subject: earthquake

Ooh, just had another big after shock, just before 5pm. I went out for a ride at lunchtime to survey the local damage. Rangiora has got off exceedingly lightly. We have a few burst water mains, but we still have water and we still have electrickery. What we don't have is food in the shops or petrol after all the panic buying. I set off south east through Tuahiwi and towards Kaiapoi. Just through Tuahiwi I came upon the first crack in the road across a field through the road and into the other field, probably about half and inch wide and with about the same vertical deformation. I got very excited and stopped to examine it for some time. I then continued to Kaiapoi and began to understand the real damage that had happened. Kaiapoi has suffered very badly indeed. There are lots of fallen chimneys through roofs, lots of walls and a few complete structures down; there are many wide and deep fissures in the ground, some are wide open and some are closed, and high ridges have formed across roads. All the bridges across the Kaiapoi river have significant damage, it appears that the river is now slightly narrower than it was before and the bridges have buckled upwards or snapped completely. There is evidence of serious liquifaction everywhere. Kaiapoi sits at the junction of three rivers and has a high water table and there is silt and sand all through the town centre. Kaiapoi has no water or electricity. The largest vertical deformation I saw was about 1 metre and the widest fissure about the same. I continued south to see if the old Waimakariri bridge was open or not. This is the only way of (Ooh another big one just then) cycling to Christchurch and is my life line. It was open but now has a step to get up on to it. Either the bridge has gone up or the river bank has gone down. The railway line alongside now looks like spaghetti, what was once straight is now buckled and distorted beyond belief.I got home and grabbed Steph and the kids to go rubber necking in the car, I wanted them to see the mess before the cleanup starts. We took some amazing photos which I'll send on later. I don't have the camera here, Steph still has it around a friend's house.

More later

Footbridge, Kaiapoi

Naturally the politicians all came on air to tell everybody the obvious, and the police declared a curfew ostensibly to stop people wandering under unsafe buildings but quite possibly with a view to stopping them inserting their hands into unsafe shop windows and withdrawing souvenirs like plasma screen TVs.

This morning I phoned to see how they'd got through the night - there were 22 aftershocks of around 3.8 to 5.1 between 9 pm Saturday and 9 am Sunday - and demanded all the photos.

Uplift; Knightlets to show scale

As you see, the photos arrived, along with a note about the soil liquification.

Sent: Sunday, September 05, 2010 2:47 PM
Subject: liquefaction
I have been surprised by the amount of sand and silt that has bubbled up from the ground around most of the large cracks and fissures. I'm pretty sure that this is because of the wet nature of the ground that Kaiapoi is built upon, but I don't know if this has contributed to the extensive damage that Kaiapoi has suffered or not. Here's some photos of the silt that liquefaction has bubbled up. I also saw evidence of sewers that had been forced upwards by the same mechanism, the covers standing proud of the road surface by 200mm or so.

Silt volcanoes, result of soil liquification

This is of course mildly off-topic, so we shall try to return to the altogether more fascinating subject of how to make a bicycle go a fifth of a mile per hour faster.