2019 summary

  • Started my fourth career – back in the private sector helping to stand up a ClimateTech private equity fund. This is basically my dream job, even if part-time for now.
  • Got through some major wins in my third career with $18 million for the Bioresource Processing Alliance and Product Accelerator, and increases for the Commercialisation Partner Network and PreSeed Accelerator Fund. Investment in research for the circular economy and for high-value manufacturing is where New Zealand’s long-term wealth will come from.
  • Spent a lot of time asking myself “What would Mariana Mazzucato do?”
  • KnowYourStuffNZ continue to step up our work – lots of great new volunteers and people taking more responsibility, lots of support from festivals and festival-goers, found new drugs before Customs found them, and I eye-rolled my way through my first live TV interview, gaining the nickname “Dr Jez the Fact Cannon”.
  • Made Chlöe Swarbrick cry, in a good way of course.
  • KnowYourStuffNZ made serious political progress with Young NZ First & Young Nats unexpectedly on board and “overwhelming” public support.
  • Wendy & I managed to remain polite with a certain Member of Parliament. It was close though.
  • Enjoyed being in a position to direct some career opportunities towards a few very bright younger people.
  • Went to too many festivals.
  • Went to Ignition without my usual crew… and had a great time because lots of people were looking out for me.
  • Billy christened my new bike the “magic future bike“, coz it really is.
  • Planted more, although not as many plants as Andrea.
  • Was complimented on the quality of my banter by Police officers. I was not expecting this.
  • Actually had fun in Auckland, with the help of several friends.
  • Didn’t do The Goat, again.
  • Did shear sheep, badly.

New Year’s resolution:
To stop being polite to people equivocating about the climate emergency because, to quote someone else working on the climate fund, “I’m done fucking around”.

First new bike in twenty years – a Zerode Taniwha Trail

Since 1999, I’ve been riding a GT STS. It was second-hand when I got it and definitely the best bike of 1996 – carbon thermoplastic frame, four whole inches of travel, and a weird shock placement that didn’t catch on. Plus Pace triple clamps, for UK cred.

So thrashed this all over the place – UK, Japan, NZ. Three Karapotis and the Bridge to Nowhere, amongst pretty continuous riding. Admittedly, with eleven pivots it required increasing amounts of attention and the rebound was too slow but it had serious retro cool. Like, people would double-take and say “wow, haven’t seen one of those in years, I thought they’d all snapped by now”.

The thermoplastic carbon tube had a habit of cracking. To be different, I managed to crack the aluminium.

Four cracks, in fact, in the bottom bracket shell. Any excuse for a dye penetration test – I did used to be a metallurgist.

One reason I’d put off upgrading for so long is that, as an engineer, derailleur gears offend me. They’re a fundamentally terrible idea, of benefit only to racers and bike component companies. So I’d been following bike gearbox developments closely and Zerode in particular. Their Taniwha Trail is pretty much the idea bike for me – carbon, gearbox, and made in NZ. I demoed one in Rotorua in January and couldn’t stop smiling.

So, here it is:

Should be good for another twenty years.

And the GT is off to a good home – to hang on the retro wall of a bike shop in Rotorua.

Voronoi shoe rack

“this whole thing is a shoe rack…but not a real shoe rack, more like a freaky shoe rack”

We had a pile of shoes that needed sorting out.

So I made a shoe rack. I wanted some kind of lattice cut-outs in the shelves and back for easy airflow around wet and muddy shoes, but Fusion 360 isn’t the best for making such patterns. As I can’t draw for crap, I wanted a space-filling algorithm to draw a pattern for me. So, yeah, Voronoi. I know it’s a computational cliche and over-used, but wtf, it’s easy and there’s a plug-in for Fusion 360.

The material was going to be okume ply, but I ended up with okume skins on poplar ply. This has very lightly coloured edges which really showed any burning from an overheated tool. The solution was a single flute compression bit which stayed much cooler than a two flute. Top is two flute, bottom is single.

The joints are all slightly hidden tenons into dogbone mortises. The intention was to make this self-jigging. It was close, but I put the tenons in the middle of pieces, so the corners needed some clamping to get them to behave. Lesson learnt – tenons at ends as well as centres of joints.

Danish oil and rubbing with non-steel steel wool pads to finish and shoes are now organised.

Routing an elevation map of the Sounds – Pipi & Ant’s wedding present

I wanted to make a wedding present for a couple of friends who live out in the Marlborough Sounds, like way out the back, beyond tarmac and electricity and plumbing. The Sounds make for interesting maps and I’d been playing with digital elevation maps and native woods, so I made them a map, with the land from tawa and the sea from tōtara.

Their family has been there for generations. Their own maps are not digital or geographic, but social. It’s all “turn at John’s house”, or “past the spot where the person did the thing”. So having a map that’s physical, that can be touched, seemed the way to balance the digital with the real world.

First problem was finding the wood. I wanted a light wood for the land to contrast with tōtara sea. Tawa is an ideal colour, fine-grained for detail, and good to carve but getting hold of some was a challenge. It is no longer produced commercially. I had hoped to use old floor boards, but round here building recycling places can do you kauri or matai and that’s it. In the end, asking around revealed some in a shed in Rotorua (thanks, Russell). This stock also set the size, 200 mm high, less a bit for squaring off.

The limited stock meant I also had to get it right, as I had enough for three tries. This took two trials on scrap wood, one screw-up with the good wood, and the second one came out good enough.

To get from digital map to carved wood, the tool chain goes:

  1. Get the digital elevation data
  2. Turn that into a greyscale image
  3. Prepare wooden blank
  4. Carve contours
  5. Finish


Get the digital elevation data

Koordinates have a great interface to the LINZ height map of NZ, with 15 metre resolution across all of NZ, courtesy of the School of Surveying. It’s not the 1 metre resolution that Wellington has, but the Sounds are steep enough that this gives sufficient relief.

I don’t have fancy GIS software, so I just exported the datasets as PDFs. The resolution of the export is way below that of the datasets, but the final piece is less than 200 mm high so I worked with files around 800 pixels high.

Turn height data into a greyscale image

In a simple world, I’ve have just taken the greyscale from the PDF, stretched the histogram so the highest point on the map was white, the lowest was black, sent that to PhotoVCarve and be done with it.

However, I wanted the carving to hit the tōtara for the sea and the tawa for the land and that needs a clear division in carved height between the land and sea. As the greyscale value sets the height, that means a clear division in value between land and sea. The sea is zero metres height (by definition) and the land ranges from +1 to +775 for Mount Shewell. That’s going to be physically mapped into 0..19 mm of wood. Getting the zero to +1 metre contour to line up with the interface between the two woods wouldn’t happen. So I cheated, to give a large physical height step between the sea and land by artificially setting up a large value step in the image file. That step gave me some leeway to get the heights right and line up the coastline with the interface between the wood.

Using a map as a mask, I pulled out the land and tweaked the value to run from 20..255.

Reversing that mask, I pulled out the sea and set the value to zero.

Combining the two gives the greyscale image to feed into PhotoVCarve.

You can see the height step in the histogram, it’s the gap between black and everything else.


Prepare wooden blank

To get a good flat interface between the tawa and tōtara, I faced both in the router then clamped up the stack. I really should get a vacuum table for this.

Using Fusion 360 to generate the toolpaths, I faced off the top and cut a slot around the outside of the carved area. This is really due to a limitation of PhotoVCarve – it carves the first column of image data just the same as all the rest. That means for fine deep work, the first cut will be blind and full depth, whereas all the rest will be flank cuts. If you’re starting at the edge of a piece of work, that’s fine, but if you want a carving in the middle of a piece, then you need to cut a surrounding groove. Yes, lining up facing, grooves, and carving cuts was a pain.


Carve contours

PhotoVCarve has it’s quirks, but it’s the software for this.

This took a while, about four hours. Admittedly, I was using a tiny step-over of 0.2 mm.

And then cut the outer edges and part off.



Straight off the router it looked pretty good. There was some minor fuzzing on some grain angles that tidied up with some scouring pad.

I used Danish oil to finish it off, but as I did, the beautiful contrast between the woods, the whole point of this palaver just vanished. The tawa turned the same colour as the tōtara. I was not happy to discover that tawa did this.

It turns out, however, that tawa is a joker. Over the next week, it turned back to that light colour. Thanks, tawa.

Final result:

And then we went to the Sounds to deliver it.

“He might have wanted to stop, but he didn’t have to, so he wasn’t going to.”

[Originally a post on Facebook, but I don’t want it buried there.]

Laurie Penny’s article “The Great Stink” reminded me how angry I am. It made me think about all the women who have stepped forward in the last year and said “I was raped” or “I was assaulted” or “I was abused”. Where are all the men who should say “I raped” or “I assaulted” or “I abused”?

I think about the men I know who are part of my life and the men who I have deliberately remove from my life. I think about the men who push boundaries, who don’t listen, who make a big deal of getting what they want. I think about the men who are not talking to their ex’s, who have a history of short relationships, who have few female friends. I think about the men who never seem to deal with women as equals, the men who seek out unbalanced relationships, whether that’s money or subcultural status or social power. I think about the men who get drunk and then blame the drink. I think about the men who always have an excuse, who work hard to avoid the consequences of their actions, or who seem to find it easy to blame their own actions on everyone else. I think about the men who don’t take responsibility for their own shit.

I don’t know how many of those men are rapists or abusers, but if you tell me the number is zero, I won’t believe you.

So how do we make sure that they have to stop, that they are going to stop? And if not, then how do we have a reckoning?

CNC routed cat tower

Andrea asked me to make a cat tower as a gift for her niece.

I might have got a bit carried away.

Version one failed user acceptance testing. This is version two.

I wanted this with no screws at all, just wood that slotted together and locked itself in place. I also wanted it to be easy and obvious to assemble correctly and impossible to assemble wrong. That part turned out ok.


Packs down for easy transport.

The cut-outs were generated using the Ready reaction-diffusion simulator and the Grey-Scott algorithm.


Ready has some weird glitches that left me scratching my head for a while but I worked out a suitable tool-path. Start with the component in Fusion 360.

Screenshot that and turn it into a bitmap mask.

Import the mask into Ready and run the simulation and tweak the parameters until it looks ok.

Take a screenshot into Gimp and simplify.

Take that image into Inkscape and trace bitmap to get paths. Save those paths as an SGV.

Insert that SVG into a sketch in Fusion 360.

Extrude to cut the component.

And then repeat for different parts with different parameters.



Andrea finished the raw ply with linseed oil to avoid anything toxic and old carpet cut out and stapled on. It was cut in cat shapes, in case anyone hasn’t worked out the theme yet.

Smoofy approves.

Plywood gifts for Chur

Chur is a sound system/theme camp/workshop centre/temporary community/group of awesomely inspiring people.

Designs by Simon Crook, routing by the Vertigotech router in my basement.






Allegedly, Islamic artists deliberately introduce mistakes into their art, as only God is perfect. Well, I screwed this one up without such an intention. Spot the bit I forgot to cut out.

Router-made signs for KnowYourStuffNZ, Kakariki and Sanctuary

I’ve been making a heap of signs with the router.

Turns out my favourite technique is to mask off, cut the signage through the mask, and then spray the cut areas. This gives coloured inlaid lettering which is resistant to getting scratched when bouncing around in the back of the ute on the way to festivals.

The best guide to this technique that I’ve found comes from totrand on Youtube:

For a mask I’ve been using the self adhesive film from Bunnings. I’ve been using spray on shellac to help the mask stick to the ply and to stop paint from bleeding from the cut areas along the grain.

The tool for most of these was a 1/8 inch down cutter. I had got up to 700 metres with the first one with no visible wear before I rammed it into a clamp and snapped it off.

KnowYourStuffNZ can’t have a sign that says “test your drugs”, so I made a heap of alternatives.

They ended up all over the place.


And some art, in the style of Gordon Walters.

One for the Sanctuary, with lettering from Melissa Mepham. This one I did in melamine-coated chipboard. This gave great sharp edges that looked good in sunshine. I thought it might have problems with humidity from being outside. Turns out it cracked horribly. Oops. Won’t do that again.

And some for Kakariki Brewing Company at Beers at the Basin.

…and now I’ve a few more to do.

SciBlogs articles digging into the how and why of pill testing

With KnowYourStuffNZ, I’m right in the middle of the summer season of pill testing at festivals. We’ve been getting lots of press about the results, so now’s a good time for some more in depth articles. I wrote these two for SciBlogs.

First, the technology of testing. Summary: reagents are good, IR spectroscopy is great, and it’s all very much better than taking drugs that haven’t been tested.

Sciblogs – Recreational drugs and the technology of pill testing

Secondly, why does pill testing change people’s behaviour and lead to safer decisions? We don’t judge, our clients trust us, the testing service is a gift, our clients are involved in the testing, and the results are immediate. That’s why our clients listen to us.

Sciblogs – The psychology of pill testing

Enclosure for a Vertigotech M2 CNC router – attempt 2

Made from the shipping crate and bits I had lying around, the first enclosure for the router did a good job of keeping down the noise and dust from the router. It was, however, too small and didn’t allow the router to use the full range of movement possible before the router started banging against the inside of the cabinet.

The second attempt works much better – 18 mm white melamine from Cut to Size in Lyall Bay joined with aluminium L section from Ullrich in Petone. Size internally is 1564 wide, 864 deep, and 582 high.

Shared Fusion 360 design, if you need: http://a360.co/2ldtj2Q



Cutting the window rebates was fun. The panel wouldn’t fit into the router, of course, so each end of the rebate on each side had to be cut with the panel sticking off the bed of the router. Four cuts, four setups, all to be lined up, and then the cut ends were joined by some careful work with a circular saw.

Turned out ok though, I just hope the glue I used to hold in the acrylic windows holds in the acrylic windows.


Overdoing it – drawers for the router bench

Routers need bits, not just cutting bits, but clamps, collets, spanners, t-bolts, feeler gauges, laptop, and other random crap. So I made some drawers for the crap, to fit under the router bench. This was a chance to explore relief carving, coz I’ve lots more of this to do.

Original image from Ashlyn’s dirty cup pour:

Relief carved drawer fronts:

The drawers are 1300 wide and the router will only do 1200, so the three long pieces were made up with lapped dovetail interlocking joints taken from Jochen Gross’ Fifty Digital Joints.

The other joints were simple finger tenons with dogbones for relief at the corners. I varied these enough so that all the pieces could only be assembled in the correct way. I tried a few blind mortises, but the outside of this piece is pretty hidden, so they weren’t really needed.

Tolerances. *humpf*

The goal was to have all of these pieces just push together. Testing finger joints on small pieces suggested that cutting each piece 0.2 mm undersize would do this. However, oops, small pieces are not large pieces, nor are they pieces made up of two bits of wood joined together. So yeah, there was lots of filing to make everything fit. I’d suggest 0.2 mm for small pieces, add an extra 0.1 mm for large pieces, an extra 0.1 mm for joined pieces, and an extra 0.1 mm where pieces are joining in three planes. Live and learn.

But got there in the end.

I was going to just glue these joints, but bottled it and put some screws in, just in case. It’s probably massively over-built.

I splashed out the NZ$ 200 on PhotoVCarve to turn images into toolpaths. Fusion 360 with the Image2Surface plugin will do this for free, but it’s really struggling – it can take over an hour to process. PhotoVCarve does it in seconds. Total carving time was about 13 hours, with 0.4 mm step-over and a 1/4 inch ball-nose carbide bit. The surface finish needed very mild touch-up with fine sand paper on the steepest relief, but overall, this is straight from the machine with nothing more than linseed-based priming oil.

Turned out all right in the end.

Vertigotech router – Controlling noise and dust

Routers are painfully noisy and throw dust everywhere. If I wanted that, I’d go to Burning Man (again). So:

Step 1 – Dust Shoe

Vertigo do a dust shoe to stop chips flying everywhere. They were kind enough to give this to me for free, as the magnets aren’t perfectly aligned, but it still grips well enough.

Step 2 – Dust Extraction

Dust now gets pulled into a Triton dust collector bucket by an old Dyson vacuum.

This does a reasonable job, although fitting the hose into the dust shoe requires some surgery – the shoe has to be split into two parts so the hose can feed through the hole and then be clamped in place. The shoe is acrylic, so this isn’t hard.

The hoses do pop off the connectors too easily, but it takes twenty-odd litres of dust and chips that are now not spread throughout the workshop.

Step 3 – A Cabinet

It’s still loud, so I used melamine from the shipping box and some random ply to build an enclosure. Long hinge and a wide opening, spaced double layer of acrylic for a window, big handle for the opening lid, and a port for the dust hose. There’s an air filter to let air in when the vacuum pulls it out, but given that the box isn’t that well sealed, I’m not sure this is really needed

Much quieter and the dust is under control.

Best investment was $40 on an LED strip inside the box, for excellent work lighting.

Step 4 – Spoil Board

And a thick ply board to protect the router bed from the inevitable over-cuts, with slots for clamp bolts and shallow marks for aligning stock.

Step 5 – Route ALL the things

Design from Nathan McIntyre.

How easy is it to copy a physical object? Very easy (in this special case).

The Old Government Buildings in Wellington is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world. I’ve walked past it on a regular basis for fifteen years but it wasn’t until this morning that I noticed the beautiful cast iron grills over the ventilation holes to the sub-floor. So I thought – I want that.

You can just see one of the grills, at the bottom right half-hidden by trees.

Copying the design took nothing more than a quick photo, then tweaking the image in Gimp, getting Inkscape to trace the outline and make a vector file, import that file into Fusion 360 and make a solid body, and then messing about for too long making tool paths. Total time from uploading the picture to starting the router was an hour and I could have done it in half that if I hadn’t been messing about.

Cutting this out took four hours, but I expect I could get that down to under two with more CAM experience (I’m still a real novice at that part of the process). Turned out not too shabby.

So how easy is it to wander along, see something you like, and copy it? Pretty trivial, provided that what you want is a 2D shape that can be cut on the machine you have in your workshop and you’re not concerned with making it the same size.

Regarding intellectual property here – NZ allows architectural works to be copyright, which includes the exclusive right to copy that work. This building was originally built for the NZ civil service, so it either falls under Crown copyright or the copyright of the architect William Clayton. However, NZ copyright is only fifty years and this is from 1876, so I think anyone can copy this now.

New workshop addition – CNC router

I bought a CNC router, a Vertigo Tech M2 from down in Westport. Lead screws, 1200×600 bed, and a frame of pretty chunky aluminium extrusion. I thought about building one, but I’d rather buy it, plug it in, have it work, and put my time into building things with it.

Design shared from Fusion 360: Router Test Box 2

What I’ve learnt so far:

  • Plywood rules the world.
  • Up-cut bits give a really fluffy top edge. Straight bits are better, but compression bits ordered. Getting perfect edges on cuts isn’t easy.
  • Making it quieter is needed if I’m going to run this at night in the suburbs, so cabinet being designed.
  • Dust and chips go everywhere, so dust shoe on its way to me and the cabinet will help.
  • Fusion 360’s integrated design (CAD) and manufacturing (CAM) is just plain awesome. Being able to draw something up, have it work out toolpaths, and then simulate the cutting used to be $100k-worth of software. Now it’s free.
  • CAM is at least as hard as CAD, if you want to do it right.
  • Cutting to just above the base board (onion skins) results in lots of time breaking out the uncut material and cleaning edges. A proper spoil board is needed so I can cut all the way through the ply to avoid this.
  • Fusion 360 is great for generic CAD/CAM, but isn’t the best for a router. Nesting and layout you have to do manually and it barely does tabs for part holding (only for 2D contour toolpaths). It’s not VCarve Pro, but it’s also not NZ$1000.
  • The machine will cut big chips with lots of noise or fine shavings with lots of dust. Finding a happy medium is going to take a bit of tweaking.
  • If you cut interlocking ply parts 0.2 mm undersize, then all the pieces will slide together and hold without glue. If you cut at 0.1 mm oversize, you have to hammer the parts together. If you cut at 0.3 mm undersize, it all wobbles.
  • There’s a heap of fancy joints you could do, but finger tenons are simple, easy to draw, easy to cut, self-aligning, can be hidden, and are strong enough with glue.
  • T-track bolts need to be just the right size or they twist and stick.
  • If you are drawing finger tenons, then you need to relieve the sharp internal corners. Casey Crogers’ dogbone plugin draws these automatically and makes this much faster.
  • And if you want to do Voronoi patterns, coz you have a cnc router and you can, then Hans Kellner’s Voronoi sketch generator does the job.

Please ignore the plunge marks:

Tweaking feeds and speeds and checking accuracy like an old-school metal machinist:

KnowYourStuffNZ goes public

We’re going public today with KnowYourStuffNZ and the drug checking work that Wendy has led at festivals this summer.

It’s a Wendy on TV:


NZ’s PM agrees that drug checking at festivals is a good idea – ‘People can see what they’re taking is dangerous’ – legal festival drug testing could be a good idea, says PM Bill English
TV1 – Ryan Boswell has an exclusive story about a new tool that tells drug users what is really in their pill or powder, then an interview with Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne – does the drug testing kit win his support?, and then the discussion The panel on the drug testing kit
NZ Herald & Otago Daily Times – Covert drug testing reveals many Kiwi festival-goers consuming dodgy drugs
Russell Brown at Public Address – Know Your Stuff: getting real about drug-checking
NewsHub – Third of recreational drugs aren’t what buyers think they are
Radio NZ – Festival drug testing results prompt calls for law change
Probably the best overall summary comes from Russell Brown at Matters of Substance – the NSZ Drug Foundation journal – Taking a reading of the pills


If you want to help… our PledgeMe for a new FT-IR spectrometer: More free drug checking at NZ festivals

And you’ll be seeing us at more festivals next summer and possibly before then as well.

A living roof after five years

In 2010/11, we planted out the first living roof on a home in Wellington. It’s been just fine.

The initial plants were a mix of succulents, seddums, and native ground cover. The roof has enough variation of sun, wind, and shade that some did well in areas, some in others, and nothing died out. Since then, koromiko has self-seeded and grown up, just as it does all over Wellington. It’s growing so well that we’re trying some other, lower-growing hebes.

A few other native trees have found their way up there on their own, like taupata . We were originally told that the soil depth of only 100 mm was too shallow for tussock, but last winter we planted carex secta, flagellifera, and comans green and that’s doing just fine. There’ll be more this winter, though not the secta as that’s too sharp to weed around.

Maintenance has been weeding and the only real problem plant has been oxalis. The birds ignored the roof for a few years, but have started to tear the soil up to get at ants. We’re just planting hebe and tussock as that’s too large for the birds to damage and they give more variety to the height of the planting. The koromiko needs pruning at knee height – the thin soil means if they get too big they will fall over. And the random lancewood will need to be transplanted off the roof, coz that can grow to fifteen metres tall.





And the firewood shed roof is going great, with the panekenake trying to take over, more carex, and the hen & chicken fern hanging on in the most shaded corner.