A new beginning

Starting a new project for the old jonesnz site. The site was most recently providing information and allowing queries about Karapiro Accommodation but that no longer exists (at least we don’t run a place of that name anymore).

Over here in Pirongia we are in lockdown for 4 weeks so let’s see what we can find to occupy ourselves. Fair warning, it may be less than riveting.

There will be some Minecraft and many walks to see the goats. beyond that we’ll see.

On this, the day before we started lockdown I worked on a site for Pirongia Heritage and Information Centre:

If you want to comment or contribute to the blog, let me know via richard who resides at jonesnz and com.

Education Memories

From Punched Cards to eLearning

This post is edited from a piece submitted for a course on the internet, probably Coursera.

My educational background was maths and science-based and at school I developed a fascination with Physical Geography and later Geology.  When I graduated in 1974 computers were, generally speaking, room-sized units or at least wardrobe-sized units although some mini-computers were certainly beginning to appear by then.

Early brushes with computing

In my mid 20’s I worked as a geophysicist on marine seismic surveys using some of the earliest “portable” computers then available, the DEC PDP-8 [1], this was used for real-time navigational calculations based on early implementations of the satnav system (which was pretty crude at the time with accuracies from 50 to 1500 metres depending on getting the right satellites in view for tri-angulating positions).

Over the next few years, such is the pace of change, these refrigerator sized 12-bit machines with teletypes for input/output were steadily replaced by desktop sized units with more power and actual screens and keyboards.  The HP 98xx series, for example, featured a nice red 256 character one-line display.  Later they graduated to green screens, in-built printers and digital tape storage.

In 1976 I quit this work and went back to college at University College London.  At that time they had a requirement that all post-grad students had to do an introductory 2-week course on programming in FORTRAN IV.  Having taught myself a bit of BASIC on those HP machines I was up for the challenge and wrote my first program on punched cards.  It printed a graph of a profile of the magnetic field over an undersea structure we surveyed in the English Channel and took a week or so to debug.

My next serious encounter with computers was in 1982 when I moved with my family to Portugal to take up geophysical consulting there and the company had bought a DEC VAX II machine to which I could connect via a terminal.  At this time I also purchased my first home computer, a BBC Micro 8-bit machine, which cost over GBP 1000 and even more expensive twin 800Kb floppy disk drives – state of the art.

Subsequently I worked at an engineering laboratory and developed software on Zilog and VAX VMS machines – including connecting to a VAX VMS using Windows 2.5.  Mostly we didn’t bother, it was really clunky back in 1988 and played a pretty lousy game of Othello.

Computers and Education

In 1989 I joined the local school to help them introduce computing across the board, they were already running Pascal programming.  We had access to a lab of Amstrad 8256 [2] word processors running CP/M as the operating system.  The code had to be written in the Word Processor, saved to tape, then the Pascal Compiler loaded to compile the program to a CP/M executable.  This tedious chore made our students very good at desk-checking code.

Later we graduated to Amstrad 1512’s [3] with twin floppy disk drives and running MS-DOS and GEM an early graphical user interface.  I vividly remember looking at a 20 Mb (yes, not a typo) hard-drive with my colleague and wondering how on earth we would ever use all that space.  Of course, all our documents then were in WordPerfect with the only diagrams made up of the character line shapes.  I still have the 125-page manual we wrote (in WordPerfect) for our teacher training workshops.

It was with these machines that we first connected to the outside world using the CIS (Compuserve Information Service).  This was the company that brought you the RLE [4] and GIF image standards, for better or for worse.

Compuserve was a “walled garden” with email service and access to many different support forums for its own services and services offered by other companies.  If memory serves, we could also access Gopher (text-based tool) that permitted searching internet connected servers and examine their public contents.  This was how much of my early educational research was carried out.

A Gopher screen looks something like this [5]

To give a flavour of these times, it was already being recognised that the internet was a big treasure trove (albeit mainly text-based):

 “But now that the Net has become a rich repository of information, people are looking at ways to make it far easier to find all that data. Gophers and Wide-Area Information Servers (WAISs) are two programs that could ultimately make the Internet as easy to navigate as commercial networks like CompuServe or Prodigy.” [6]

This was an exciting and frustrating time for educators.  As I wrote myself, looking back [7]

“I knew technology could change the classroom but I still didn’t know how to achieve it in a conventional school where technology was just another subject and maybe one or two teachers were savvy enough to incorporate some of it into their teaching.”

By the time I left Portugal for Singapore in 1998, the web had become commonplace – a few companies had even started to put their URL’s into their advertisements.  While Tim Berner’s Lee started the web back in 1989 [8], it was a little while before it began to take off.

I started my first website at around this time ( and it was a crude but effective resource which only grew as other teachers and students began to visit it.  It became the #1 site on Google (or possibly Alta Vista) for the International Baccalaureate Computer Science course and eventually led to a text book.  I still sometimes get requests for the site from teachers which I retain in zipped form.  It had some interactivity based around early offerings of Macromedia, later swallowed by Adobe.

By 2006 I was already teaching other teachers using Moodle – a Learning Management System then just beginning to take off.  In that year I also took up a post in Beijing, China where some modest success was achieved with some teachers making extensive use of Moodle to supplement and enhance their teaching.

The key barriers then, and probably now, were the complete failure of Senior Management to see the possibilities of educational computing.

In 2010 I was offered a position at The Southport School in Queensland to set up and introduce Moodle there as a way to improve academic attainment.  This was very successful and you can read more here:

Looking forward

Today we see the possibilities of education in a tech-saturated environment, where all learners have 24/7 access both to resources and to teachers (not only their own but via MOOC’s to some of the best teachers on the planet).

Finally, we can change teaching to become truly learner-centred and largely autonomous but, especially for young people, teachers as mentors to guide them through the perils it also brings.  Especially relevant is the ability (lacking in many adults it seems) to evaluate sources of internet information for credibility, authority and reliability.

I’ve grown up first with computing machines, with the internet, finally with mobile and social computing.  To see what technology has achieved over 50 years of my professional life is truly staggering. 

As an eternal optimist, the future looks bright to me.

Thanks for reading.


Around & about Travel

Quick Getaway Time

We are out of Level 3 so nearly back to normal. 89% vaccinated in Waikato and just a few restrictions like masks in public places indoors, social distancing and scanning in. We both have our vaccine passes as well.

Our anniversary rolls around again and it’ s time to get away for a few days. We headed out for Hahei Beach with no booking knowing that most places would have capacity. The beach resort wasn’ t quite what we wanted and didn’ t have the particular apartment we were after so we headed on up to Flaxmill just past Cooks Beach.

More of Captain James Cook at Cooks Landing near Thames where we stopped for a quick snack.

Then, over the range to the Coromandel.

We liked the look of Flaxmill Accommodation and they have some nice houses and this one bedroom unit with ensuite is just right for a couple. The house seems like a good deal at 300 for a 3-bedroom house, well-equipped and with a nice big deck but this will do and saved us a few hundred.

We crossed to Whitianga on the ferry and went early to Blue Ginger, surely the best place in town.

Someone enjoying the food at BG.

Hania had a great-looking stir-fry with prawns and me a Beef Rendang that was very authentic with whole spices, peanuts and heaps of chillis.

A nice day all in all.

Probably the earliest settlements, Maori (Kupe) and subsequently Pakeha were established here.

The ferry dock on the Maramaratotara Bay side where we are still stands as solid today as when it was built in 1834. It is just off to the right of the picture though.

Around & about

Week 2 of Lockdown 2

Well, once again, the strategy seems to be working with case numbers declining now from a high point of 80 per day.

We survive, Ana has morning classes via zoom and entertains us in the afternoon.

Spring comes to Pirongia.

Lots of people taking exercise in the village now but at least most of them have the sense to social distance. There are always an odd one or two that just don’t quite get it or are blissfully unaware that other people are trying to avoid them.

Good session in the garden today with the whole whanau involved.

Head Gardener
End of the day.

Week 1 of lockdown 2

Here we are again in week 1 with a few hundred cases of Covid 19 – more than we had in lockdown 1 so delta shows its teeth. However, looks like we are not having exponential growth at this point.

Also all of the cases reported today are in Auckland and the total case load elsewhere is 14 (Wellington). So as long as everyone does the right thing it should not spread further.

Whatever overseas commentators may think 70% or more of Kiwis are happy with the government’s strategy. We don’t want to kill our citizens and our economy is still doing well.

Yesterday there was a call for protest in Queen Street, Auckland. One person showed up and the Police sent him home with a quiet word.

In our bubble we are walking regularly and there are new things in the neighbourhood, such as people working on their sections and growing animals.

Matakitaki Pá lies at the confluence of the Waipa River and the Mangapiko Stream.

Some people like to jump about.

I have the video in case I need it for TikTok.

With some rare foresight I ordered a few new jigsaw puzzles last month. Ana chose Jelly Bean Hill by Darlene Kulig (love Pomegranite).

We also baked this week and made a robot arm. Ana has schoolwork in the mornings via Zoom.

A move to Level 3 probable next week and if no community spread in this part of the country maybe Level 2 by next weekend.

Very satisfying aesthetic, only 500-pieces but it was fun just the same.
Around & about Travel

South (no, North) Day 17

On our way at 06:30 AM. Roads are icy (its -4C outside) so slow going over the passes.

Ferry called to ask why we need to travel during lockdown (as 72 hour grace period has expired). We explain and are asked to get documentation.

Made it to Kaikoura and re-fuelled. On the trip we talk to Vicky and she gets Mike and herself to send emails explaining that we are needed at home for child care as both parents are working essential services full time (which is true I hasten to add).

Mike’s in particular is an outstanding literary work.

At Picton the ferry manager asks “What’s your story?” and then realises he had already spoken to us. We present the documentation, drivers’ licenses (and vaccination certificates) which are duly snapped with an iPad.

With that we are on the ferry. There are just a handful of people in our lounge area and no hot chips (but Hania made sandwiches so that’s OK).

Off the ferry and through Wellington. I refuse to stop the van before Otaki (!) where we fuel up again.

Now a longish trip to Pirongia with us sharing the driving every hour or so. Stop for a cuppa (never leaving the van) in Hunterville and to use the loos in Okahune.

Finally, 1AM Sunday morning and we’re home.

Sunday we spent sorting things out and Monday we returned the van without incident so we have a little credit to use for the next trip.

Around & about Travel

South Day 16

The day starts cold and damp, raining again but clearing later, they say. Time for a bit of house-keeping.

We are in limbo still and won t know if we can travel tomorrow until later today. So far no cases outside Auckland or Coromandel but is it just a matter of time given the large number of locations of interest involved.

Dog Stream Reserve Panoramic

So the Lockdown will continue for 4 more days and we have 48 hours now to get home or risk being stuck in Hanmer Springs indefinitely, given that from Level 4 we still go to Level 3 anyway.

Ferry booked for tomorrow, leave here at 7AM, get into Wellington at 6PM and likely will drive straight home getting in in the early hours.

Holiday hasn’ t worked out exactly as planned but things could be worse and we have had a good time.

Better get the van in good shape to travel!

Around & about Travel

South Day 15

Second lockdown day in Hanmer Springs. We went for a long walk in the Dog Stream Reserve just behind the motor camp. A pleasant wooded area.

We found all these little houses in the trees.

A quiet afternoon, weather remains sunny and cold. On our walk we also saw these animal carvings by Andrew Lyons.

The Anglican Church.

It is quiet in town, a couple of police cars in the main street but everyone behaving properly as far as we could see. Mask wearing in the supermarket, giving proper distancing on the footpaths and so on.

Most people still cheerful.

Around & about Travel

South day 14

Getting used to our new bubble. Today we had our own personal toilet and shower allocated so that’ s nice. This Top Ten camp is really quite luxurious, the showers are clean and modern with undefloor heating, hair dryers and fold-down benches in the “staging area”.

The first day of the snap lockdown didn’t go too badly. A bit of housekeeping in the morning and a walk in the afternoon Hania to the shop for some chicken, bread and coleslaw and me to the top of Conical Hill.

Snow-covered mountains and distant rain.

Around & about Travel

South day 13

We had a bad night, wind so strong the van was shaking and felt like it was drifting so after trying to sleep through the gale we decided to move it at about 00:30 AM.

That was better but still pretty noisy.

We headed south and over the Takaka Hill road which seems to take forever. We landed in Motueka where we found a fabulous French Patisserie – even the humble Kiwi Potato Top pie included onions caramelised in white wine. As for the raspberry tart, cheesecake and apple pie – out of this world.

We also found Toad Hall and the Townshend Brewery, makers of Blitzgreig a truly great West Coast IPA. Motueka and the Moutere Valley are the centre of hop-growing in NZ with many fine breweries.

The valley road took us through to SH6 and so to Murchison and, eventually the Lewis Pass.

Murchison had a 7.8 earthquake back in 1927 and left a 1 metre high scarp across much of the landscape which instantly brought into being the Maruia Falls. These falls have grown in height as they eroded back a large gully in the soft breccia.

We planned to stay at Maruia Hot Springs but they now close Tuesdays and Wednesdays so we were advised to head over the pass because snow was on the way.

Luckily we did otherwise we would surely be stuck in the middle of nowhere as the road out to the West Coast was also closed. We just about made it through flurries of snow and the temperature falling to 0.5C.

On the way down the other side we got the news about the lockdown so here we are in a motor camp in Hanmer Springs for at least 72 hours. At least it is a very modern motor camp.

Around & about Travel

South Day 12

Early start today at 05:30 to go to Farewell Spit on the eco tour.

Got there just after sunrise.

We drove out along the beach stopping frequently to identify bird life. As many as 90 species of bird visit the spit though most of them in summer.

Note the “red socks” painted in honour of Sir Peter Blake.

Originally there were 3 keepers here but over the years technology has made them redundant. The light is a set of tiny LEDs and remotely operated from Wellington.

The original trees were planted by keeper Robert Harwood who also brought in soil from Collingwood. It made life tolerable for the families who previously had to dig their homes out of the sand every day. Once the trees were established then came pasture and eventually vegetable gardens, cows, chickens and pigs.

The Spit is famous for mass whale strandings on the Tasman Bay side (usually Pilot whales) which occur every few years.


We also visited Cape Farewell.

By the time we got back it was high time for an afternoon nap, a quick dinner and then to bed. High winds and rain to end the day.