Monthly Archives: January 2014

Gareth Shute: Airships

The plan of an airship for Auckland, patented by John Crook of Ponsonby in 1886. Auckland Weekly News, 10 July 1902, p. 001. Ref: AWNS-19020710-1-2. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Auckland, New Zealand.

During the late 1880s, it looked certain that the airship would be the mode of transport of the future. Even down in New Zealand, visions of seeing them against skyline inspired painters to put pencil to paper. The fanciful nature of this future-that-wasn’t is what seems to make it appealing to steampunks everywhere — it’s as absurd as ray-guns and the idea that a species of humanoid Martians could actually live on the toxic surface of the planet Mars. By the early 1900s, children were creating their own toy airships…

“Who says we can’t fly?” Young New Zealanders off for an afternoon cruise in their airship. F.B. Ross, Auckland Weekly News, 12 May 1910, p. 007. Ref: AWNS-19100512-7-1. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Auckland, New Zealand.

All the best science of the time seemed to point to airships as the easiest way to achieve flight and these craft may have had a more enduring impact if it wasn’t for a quirk of geology — the majority of the naturally occurring helium in the world happened to be in the US, so European airship designers were forced to use flammable hydrogen instead. It took a while to appreciate how catastrophic this choice of fuel would be.

Initially, the Germans led the field in pushing forward the design of their airships and the company Zeppelin became a source of awe and, later, fear in countries nearby. It was believed that the airships might be able to undertake massive bombing raids, but targeting a bomb from an airship proved trickier than first anticipated. Instead, they were used as ultra-silent spy planes during the first World War, though the English soon learnt to retaliate with incendiary bullets, causing them to burst into flames.

How an invasion by air would appear. Auckland Weekly News, 10 April 1913, p. 001. Ref: AWNS-19130410-1-2. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, Auckland, New Zealand.

After the war, airships began to be used as a means of transport by the general public, though this service was eventually put to rest by the shocking footage of the Hindenburg going down in flames — a news item that circled the world and scared any would-be passengers away. Airships eventually became an emblem of technology’s foibles, as when the most well-known progenitors of heavy metal were predicted to “sink like a lead zeppelin.” One lesson to be drawn is that the future can be hard to predict. Think of all those early sci-fi movies in which the characters were shown talking on video phones, even though it turns out that now we have the technology to see each other during phone calls, hardly anyone can actually be bothered to do so. Another lesson is that technology can take us down fruitless by-roads and it is hard to judge the value of our route until we’ve reached our destination. In answer to the utopian visions of technology, it is always possible to present a more dystopian reply, which draws equally strongly from the science.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if the worst predictions of the peak oil campaigners and global warming pessimists are correct. Perhaps air-travel would once again become unaffordable for the average person, as it was a century ago. Many airports would be left to fall into ruin, located as they often are at the edge of the city. This future vision is not one that many people would seriously envisage taking place, but picturing this type of world does help to re-iterate the unpredictability of what may lie ahead. So when we look back at images of airships dramatically ruling the skies, we shouldn’t marvel at the naiveté of past dreamers, but cast a light on ourselves. What zeppelins do we believe in? Could they come crashing down in flames?


GARETH SHUTE is a writer and musician based in Auckland, New Zealand. His books include Hip Hop Music in Aotearoa (2004), Making Music in New Zealand (2005), Insights: New Zealand Artists Talk About Creativity (2006), NZ Rock: 1987-2007 (2008) and Concept Albums (2012). He works at Auckland Libraries and is currently a member of three bands: the Conjurors, the Cosbys and the Investigations.

Marly Youmans: The Wish for Roses

Hazel Tuttle

“This is, regrettably, the only picture I have of my great-aunt Hazel Tuttle, who committed suicide in 1919. She is shown trimming the great bush of rambling roses at the hotel her mother operated in Wolf Lake, Indiana.” — Fredric Koeppel


The Wish for Roses
Marly Youmans

You were as graceful as a hazel wand —
A kind of magic spell, the arc of arm
Reaching to cut the roses from the wall,
The outward swing of your long, snowy skirt.
You were a hazel wand in that man’s hand;
He would make magic with your heart and bones.
He swept you off your little buttoned boots,
Made promises that love could hardly keep.
And so a world of roses slipped away,
Mother and sisters left to wave and sigh.
Who would have thought his warmth could be a trick,
His prairies as romantic as a plow?
What lies he told — you tied a sack with strings
Around your narrow waist and slowly bent
To enter dark, the soddie rank with fug
Of five unkempt children, their mother dead.
You dreamed of roses, dreamed of mother, too —
And wrote to ask if she would take you in.
But she said no, Hazel, that you must bend
And bend again to serve that family.
Look at the only photograph — the wand
Of you, the rose, the loveliness of hair
Light-kissed, and intricately wound and pinned.
Would it have been a sin to flee away,
To sink into the roses of your home,
Accepting thorn and fragrance equally,
Knowing yourself the briar and the rose —
Forgetting children, fleeing hoax and smoke,
The man so fleet to whisper words of love,
Forgetting crypt (the house made out of sod),
The apron tying you to fire and stone:
Poor child, I hope you dreamed a world of rose
That morning when you drank the lye and died.

    For Fredric Koeppel, in memory
    of his great-aunt, Hazel Tuttle


MARLY YOUMANS is a writer. Her recent books are an adventure in blank verse, Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Pubishing, 2012); several collections of poems, including The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012) and The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011); and a novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (Mercer, 2012 / The Ferrol Sams Award + Silver Award, ForeWord BOTYA.) Forthcoming novels include: Glimmerglass and a reprint of Catherwood in 2014 and Maze of Blood in 2015 (Mercer).

FREDRIC KOEPPEL is a an award-winning wine and food writer. Hazel Tuttle was his great-aunt. Hindsight is grateful to him for the opportunity to share her story and image. In his words: “I had the tale from my mother, who didn’t even know of the existence of her aunt Hazel until she found a photograph when she (my mother) was 16 and asked her mother, Hazel’s sister, about it. What happened was that sometime around the end of WWI, a man from Montana, traveling from the east, came through Wolf Lake, Indiana, and stayed at my great-grandmother’s hotel. He was a larger-than-life Westerner and swept Hazel off her feet and they quickly married. When she got out to the endless emptiness of the high plains, she discovered that her new husband was a widower with five children and that they lived in a sod house out in the middle of nowhere. After a few months of isolation and taking care of five kids, Hazel wrote to her mother asking if she could return to the family fold, and her mother wrote back and said, basically, that she should not even think about disgracing her family that way and she better stay with her husband and his children. So in 1919, Hazel Tuttle drank lye and died, horribly.”

Profile: Digital New Zealand

Each month Hindsight will feature an interview with one of the memory institutions making our cultural heritage more accessible. In January we’re turning our attention to the National Library of New Zealand, starting with Digital New Zealand. Many thanks to Thomasin Sleigh for her time and thoughtful responses.


Let’s begin with a matryoshka of a question: Can you tell me a bit about Digital New Zealand’s role within the National Library of New Zealand, and your role within DigitalNZ?

DigitalNZ is a project coordinated by the National Library of New Zealand (which is, in turn, part of the Department of Internal Affairs). A submission was made to Cabinet in 2007 called the ‘Digital Content Strategy’ and DigitalNZ was established in 2008 to contribute to the aims of this submission. DigitalNZ makes New Zealand digital content easier to find, share and use — whether it be about New Zealand or by New Zealanders, we want to get it discovered more easily.

My role is as Community Manager. I work with the online and offline communities of people who use DigitalNZ, and also try to reach other groups of people who may not know about what we are doing.

You have partnered with a range of memory institutions and other organizations. Tell me a little about their collections, and how you do justice to such a large, diverse group of artworks and artifacts. How do you make it easier for the people interested in these objects to connect with them?

We work with nearly 150 different content partners from around New Zealand, and this list is always growing. The types of collections we aggregate are very different from each other, but one thing they have in common is that they are all digital: TV shows, heritage photographs, maps and plans, artworks, research papers, and newspapers. In terms of how we do them justice, DigitalNZ aims to make these collections easily searchable and more accessible to everyone. Each item is clearly described using an augmented Dublin Core metadata schema, is easily searchable and scrollable via our website, and is connected to clear usage terms so people know what they can and can’t do with it.


Centennial Exhibitions – Wellington. Deste, Eileen, 1908-1986 :Collection of prints and negatives. Ref: 1/2-036190-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

How has usage of your website changed and grown over the past five years?

Like most projects, we have been through various iterations. We started out with a strong focus on providing others with innovative tools, such as customisable search widgets, to encourage New Zealanders to discover, share and use digital content. We were one of the first content aggregators in the Galleries, Archives, Libraries and Museums sector to release a metadata API (Application Programming Interface, the magic software that holds all the metadata from our content partners) so developers could make new discovery experiences. We also provided best practice guidance and on how to digitise their collections. Those guides we developed are still regularly used, and remain an excellent resource for the community. However, we have moved a little bit away from this and now focus on our search service, and helping other people use our powerful API to build other search services. Recent examples of this include the new Jewish Online Museum.

In 2012 you implemented a sets feature that allows people to collect and share images from partner collections around the country. What expectations did you have for sets at the outset? How have they changed? What has surprised you about your audience and their creations? Please share some highlights!

The sets functionality was built so that people could click and collect items from DigitalNZ and keep them in one useful place. We now aggregate over 26 million pieces of digital content! This can be quite overwhelming. Sets allow people to build collections of items for geneaology, research, for creative purposes, or just for fun!

Now about a year and a half old, the sets have a dedicated following and are regularly being made by new people. There are lots of great set examples. Some recent highlights include this set about humidity in Auckland. This is a good example of sets being used for family history, and this is a nice example of clever patterning and creative use. Of course, your sets are always an absolute delight! This is a particular favourite.


The team at DigitalNZ is also responsible for the Mix & Mash competitions that have taken place over the past few years. Earlier incarnations seemed to focus more on exploring and visualizing datasets, while many of the award winners this year are students. Does this reflect a conscious shift on your part to advocate engagement with culture and history from a young age?

Mix & Mash shifted direction in 2013 to a more creative, narrative-driven focus with its theme, the ‘New Storytelling’. As you point out, prior to that, Mix & Mash was focussed on data mashups and visualisations. In both incarnations, the competition has always been about encouraging New Zealand to re-use openly licensed content.

The storytelling angle was a deliberate choice in order to encourage people to use content directly from DigitalNZ and to re-use it to tell a compelling story. We were delighted also to receive lots of entries of students! We work closely with the National Library’s Services to Schools team, who have digital literacy as one of their key objectives, and are able to use Mix & Mash as a useful tool.

What is your relationship with Creative Commons? What challenges have you faced in encouraging new creations incorporating or inspired by the old?

Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand are our organising partner for Mix & Mash, and we also regularly rely on their expertise for questions about copyright and licensing. Our organisations have similar aims when it comes to re-use and open cultural content.

There are often tricky issues (of course!) around licensing and we have to be very detailed when checking Mix & Mash references. A lot of people don’t think twice about reusing images from the Internet, so one of the main challenges is spreading the word about responsible re-use and open content, which is a new idea for many people.


Whalley and Co. Palmerston North, Group of Father Christmases (25 December 1918). Ref: 2007N_Char1_A&E_0303. Pataka Ipurangi, Manawatu Memory Online.

What other steps have you taken to get people involved with New Zealand’s heritage? What is in the pipeline for DigitalNZ?

DigitalNZ is always growing with more amazing content from organisations around New Zealand, so 2014 will mean the growth of the API. We are also looking forward to running some interesting public programmes around the Mix & Mash exhibition, which is showing on the ground floor of the National Library. In 2014 we will also be working closely with the National Library of Singapore to share our API technology, code-named ‘Supplejack’.


Check back later this month for more on New Zealand’s National Library. In the meantime, why not try your hand at some set-making?


J.F. Bryce, ‘Hydrabad,’ Waitarere, c. 1930. Ref: 1979.098.0028. Horowhenua Historical Society, Inc.

Chris McDowall: Hexagonal Maps of New Zealand’s Political Geography

In mid-December 2013, the British Library did something wonderful.

We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain.

“The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.”

In the weeks following the release, incredible images have surfaced on many of the blogs I follow. I was particularly taken with a set of odd hexagonal maps Ollie O’Brien posted on the Mapping London blog. One map in particular stood out to me.


This strange map comes from John Leighton’s 1885 book The Unification of London: The Need and the Remedy. O’Brien provides this concise overview:

“London is split up into neat hexagons, colour-coded according to their proximity to the centre of the metropolis (defined as St Paul’s Cathedral rather than the more normal Charing Cross.) […] It looks like John Leighton was proposing a wayfinding system for London based on each area’s “zone colour”. Lamp posts would be used, with one handle always pointing to the north to orientate people, and colours, numbers and letters to show the zone. Bus blinds would have multiple colours indicating the zones buses passed through, and taxis would use appropriately coloured lights to indicate where they were willing to go. In a way, the idea of a uniform signposting system across London, across multiple objects and devices, is kind like the London Legible project, only 110 years earlier.”

You can see all scanned pages from The Unification of London: The Need and the Remedy on Flickr Commons — they are amazing.

I chose to use Leighton’s London Indexed in 2-Mile Hexagonals for my Hindsight inspiration because I have a long-held fascination with the mathematical properties of hexagons. I started playing with possibilities, unsure quite which direction I was heading in, but I knew that I wanted to make a hexagonal map of New Zealand.

After a few false starts, I landed on the idea of exploring the question, “How might we use hexagons to make better election result maps?” One of my frustrations with media reporting of election results is that, even though all the electoral areas are roughly the same size in terms of population, the maps tend to draw the eye to sparsely populated rural regions and de-emphasise dense urban areas. This can be partially mitigated by including breakout inset maps, but these fracture the map into many parts and make visual comparisons between regions difficult. Consider, for example, this New Zealand Herald map of 2011 general electorate vote results. Large rural and wilderness areas, such as the West Coast and Kaikoura electorates, dominate. Small but densely populated places like Hamilton and Tauranga are almost invisible. This is problematic because it gives a misleading impression of how people voted.

NZ Herald 2011

In considering these maps, I recalled some cartograms — maps that warp space by substituting a thematic variable for conventional distance and area — that the cartographer Daniel Dorling produced in his 1996 book, A New Social Atlas of Britain. Specifically, I remembered that Dorling had built some of his cartograms by dividing England into a set of tessellated hexagons.

I sat down with scissors, paper and a hex grid from a 1977 edition of War of the Ring, and began building a hexagonal cartogram map of the New Zealand 2011 general electorate regions. After finding a satisfying layout that roughly preserves neighbour adjacency, I downloaded the electorate vote data from and wrote a D3.js script to automate the creation of cartograms. I’ve made the final source code as a Github gist.


In the maps that follow, each hexagon represents one of the 63 general electorates. My first attempt simply coloured the electorates according to the colour of the winning candidate’s party:

  • Blue for a National Party victory;
  • Red for a winning Labour Party candidate; and
  • Dark grey for electorates won by a third party. (John Banks won the the Epsom seat for Act New Zealand and Peter Dunne took Ohariu for United Future.)


Overlooking the absence of labels (we’ll get to those in a bit), I already find this map useful insofar as it enables me visually to compare the rural and urban seats on equal terms.

Next I shaded the hexagons according to the share of the vote the winning candidate received.

  • > 60% of the vote results in a completely opaque hex.
  • 50 – 60% of the vote and the hex is 75% opaque.
  • 40 – 50% of the vote and the hex is 50% opaque.
  • < 40% of the vote and the hex is 25% opaque.


I noticed that, although the electorates have roughly similar populations, they vary considerably in turnout rates and the number of votes cast. Of the general electorates, Wellington Central has the largest turnout count (39,816 from an electoral population of 58,799 voters) and Manurewa had the smallest (26,457 from an electoral population of 54,662). Consequently, I scaled the area of each hexagon according to the count of people who cast a valid vote in the 2011 general election. I think the area-scaling needs a bit more work, but I am happy with the general direction.


I’m unable to fit the entire labelled map into this blog’s format, however, you can play with the entire map here. I’ve broken New Zealand into three parts for the detailed view. First, the upper North Island. Note how strongly Auckland dominates the country’s population, holding 21 of the 63 general electorates. Also observe the low voter turnouts in the Labour strongholds of Manukau, Manurewa and Mangere.


The second map shows central and lower North Island electorates, from Waikato through to Wellington. As one might expect, the largest voter turnouts are in and around our capital city.


The South Island is a significantly larger landmass than the North Island, but it has a far lower population. This is apparent in the cartogram.


The full visualisation is available on There are more things that I would like to do to improve the visualisation, including providing rollover interactions with detailed statistics, adding legends to explain the colour and size values, animating between years and applying a similar treatment to the party vote data. But I am happy with the experiment to date and surprised at where I got to from that initial strange hexagonal map inspiration image. I think this could turn into something genuinely useful.

… and I’m honoured to be the first Hindsight contributor!


CHRIS McDOWALL helps preserve and promote cultural heritage as Manager of DigitalNZ Systems at the National Library of New Zealand. Previously he worked as a researcher and cartographer at Landcare Research, and completed his PhD at the University of Auckland on the problem of representing vague, dynamic geographic phenomena. You can find him blogging, tweeting and otherwise making magic in various corners of the internet.