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l'enfer du North Island

  but there is one place we forgot to look - inside our own minds!!!! Thursday, 29 May 2008 link

Our life in two quotes.

FX knocking at bedroom door, footsteps as Heather goes to answer it.
Whispered conversation.
Heather: No, you're not to fake existential angst to get attention.

And, this afternoon:

Me: Hey, Rebecca, who's that a picture of?
Rebecca: You when you were younger!

No, pickle, that's Jesus Christ. But close. I didn't have the heart (or, indeed, inclination) to explain the full thing to her: I just said "It's the man whose birthday Christmas is", and left it at that.

Two more days until I can drink again. Roll on Sunday.

  bile and accounting errors Monday, 26 May 2008 link

Today's hate: "healthful/healthfully", as in "this is the more healthful option" or "the people ate more healtfully". Fucksake, people! Healthy! Healthily! Is it so hard? Speak the fucking language! Don't use these clumsy cack-handed neologisms that replace shorter, more comprehensible, and above all existing words! Tch!

Maggie had her first day at creche today. Now she's one, she's going to be going to creche one day a week so Heather can get some freelance work done. Plus, she gets to interact with lots of other babies in a supportive environment with lots of toys - what's not to like? She had a great time on her first day, carefully watched by her big sister. So that sounds like it's all going good.

Man, one person in my pedometer challenge group clocked up 17,000 steps in total last week. That's like the human equivalent of dealer mileage - I dunno, toilet and takeaway mileage? I swear, they're glued in place. I had racked up that step count by 9am Tuesday. It's just astonishing.

And to confirm this for people who'd been wondering: yes, I am going to be working at Weta Digital. I'll be doing something knowledge management-y for some of their inhouse bespoke tools. It'll be good to do something variable again; this should involve a variety of activities from low-level API documentation to end-user training. I'm looking forward to it.

  outta my mind on sugar and caffeine Sunday, 25 May 2008 link

I can't believe that it's been a year since Maggie was born. Happy birthday, love. We had a good party today; unfortunately, rain put the tin hat on our plans to throw the children out into the garden with a soccer ball and some sweeties, so it ended up being pretty crowded in the old place. All good though. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and we ate a heck of a lot of party food. Kranskies are the new saveloy as far as childrens' party food goes - you heard it here first. Maggie seemed to enjoy herself, insofar as she understood what was going on, and Rebecca did great at guiding the action (sample quote: "OK everybody, now we're going to throw our balloons into the air!") and handing out birthday cake. Good to see a lot of people there - one problem with having young children is that you kind of disappear down the baby hole, so it's good to get people over and actually have a chat. As much as you can have a chat while occasionally breaking off to intervene in plastic-truck-based territorial disputes.

Of course, the inevitable aftermath of a childrens' party is that you have far too much sugar-based food left over. Heather's off at rehearsal with the band, so I've spent the evening locked in a small room with a 1kg bag of chocolate fish, two cups of tea, and a mission to go through and reconcile our separate iTunes databases. We now have a consolidated view on our familial music, and I've got the shakes. Woo hoo!

One thing I've noticed: so the Ting Tings are the big thing right now. As I type this, "That's Not My Name" is the UK number 1 single. Fair enough, it's a good tune. The bloke at work who turned me onto them frowned and said "I suppose you'd call them alternative pop". Personally, I'd call it "power pop" - close your eyes and listen to "That's Not My Name". Mentally strip out the vocals. And what do you get? Yup, it's My Sharona with a hat on. This isn't a bad thing; My Sharona is an excellent tune, and it's nice to see it getting another airing. And after all, after electroclash revived the electro side of the early 80s, it's good to have power pop revived. Personally, I want a new version of "99 Red Balloons".

And remember: you can't make an omelette without "nom".

  sloth, indolence, and surprising data Tuesday, 20 May 2008 link

So we've got a pedometer challenge on at work. Yup, mandatory corporate jollity here we come, although in actual effect it's proving pretty popular. I've noticed two main - and mutually exclusive - effects on people. Firstly, some people are becoming very competitive. This is what happens as soon as you make something measurable: once people have a metric, they start playing with it. Cue a number of highly customised Excel spreadsheets to track daily progress, graph it against required levels/daily averages, etc. So half the office has become crazed step-junkies, deliberately scheduling meetings in separate offices so as to get the steps from the commute. Then there's a second group, those who are half-assedly participating. They're logging their steps but not making any particular effort. And looking at some of these people's records, I'm actually gobsmacked. The recommended daily step count is 10,000 steps, presumably because this is a nice round number. I would achieve this fairly easily. Indeed, without particularly changing my lifestyle I am averaging 15,000 per day. OK. What worries me is the totals other members of our team came up with. When you've got someone who's only taking 30,000 steps in a week, that's just odd. I mean, I can't think of how I could actually take that few steps. An average evening - cooking dinner, cleaning the house, mooching about the place complaining about the cold - racks up about 3,000 steps. How could someone average 4,000 steps per day? Do they just never move much? It's all very worrying. I now have visions of my coworkers arriving home, collapsing on the couch, and then just rocking gently from side to side for the entire evening.

For those who are wondering: the evil plan mentioned earlier is actually not particularly evil, and involves a fairly mundane change of employer. Secrecy was due to not wishing to jinx anything, but since I've now signed a contract it's all good to go. I am moving from being prohibited by common sense and the Electoral Finance Act from discussing my work, to being prohibited by common sense and a confidentiality clause in my contract. On the one hand, my commute is going to be increasing fairly drastically (basically, doubling); on the other hand, it's all good mileage. And I'll once again be working in a casual dress environment, and my contract actually stipulates that I can be credited in movies. So that's all good.

Bad things to admit: I spend a lot of my time riding visualising pies.

Mince and cheese, if you're curious.

  a brief moment of moral outrage Monday, 19 May 2008 link

I used to work in the New Zealand Immigration Service as a holiday job when I was a student. Nothing spectacular, mainly data entry, but it helped pay the rent. Mostly I was in the Beijing office (as that was where I was spending my summers at the time), during the mid 90s. There were a small number of people trying to do a very big job, but there was good cameraderie. I had a good time, did some very dull work, met some interesting people, and saw some corpses (that's another story). Two things stand out from that time.

Firstly, was my encounter with the notion of an "accredited institution". Basically, there are certifying bodies that assess educational institutions; if they meet certain criteria, they're given accreditation. This is basically the way to distinguish whether the qualifications given by a school you've never heard of are actually worth anything. One of the things we had to do with prospective migrants to New Zealand was to confirm that any educational qualifications they claimed (a) were from an accredited institution and not The University of My Uncle and His Mate, and (b) actually existed. During the time I worked there - three summers, about a calendar year all up - we saw plenty of unaccredited institutions, but only one applicant who'd submitted a forged degree. We knew it was forged because when we asked Shanghai University to confirm that it was accurate, they replied that it wasn't and asked for the person's full contact details so they could take action against them. Regretfully, we explained that NZ's privacy laws forbade us revealing this, and rejected the visa application.

Secondly, was one of the proudest moments in my public service career (such as it is). We're all working in the open plan part of the office. One of the visa officers comes out of his office and stands there looking awkward. "Um," he said, "I've just found 500 US dollars in cash tucked inside this person's passport. What do we do when this happens?" And that's why I was proud: this was so rare that we didn't even know what to do when someone tried to bribe us. In the end, we sent them the money back with a note that no additional processing fees were required. New Zealand is one of the least corrupt countries in the world, and I'm proud of that.

Which is why I'm pretty incandescently pissed off at the fact that the most recent head of the Immigration Service turns out to have lied on her CV about having a doctorate from the LSE, and at allegations that members of the Immigration Service's Pacific Team were actively soliciting bribes from applicants. This is, simply, shameful. It is a complete and utter fucking disgrace. That someone managed to lie about such a major part of their education and rise to head a branch of the civil service is just evidence of incompetance in some major parts of the HR mechanism; that we have allegedly corrupt staff working in immigration is evidence of broader failings. Immigration is a key to how NZ grows, and to how people can live their lives (and I've seen the desperation of some of our would-be immigrants); it must be scrupulously honest and above suspicion.

  my brothers are protons Thursday, 15 May 2008 link

One of the great things about having kids is being able to misdirect them. As a result of this, Rebecca now thinks that "big fish, little fish, cardboard box" is a proper dance. I've caught her teaching it to Maggie. I've also tried to teach her that the correct response to a slightly worrying situation is to say "Oh noes!", but she's too grammatically savvy and corrects me. Still worth a try though.

So the other day, we were sitting there having dinner. Rebecca started idly slapping out a rhythm on her thighs. She'd slap her thighs twice, clap, wait a beat, and repeat. Thud, thud, clap, pause; thud, thud, clap, pause; thud, thud, clap, pause. After about ten seconds, I realised that his was the beat to a pretty familiar song, and so on the next bar, I sang it (all together now!): "We will, we will, rock you!". Rebecca's face lit up. "Sing it, papa!" she cried. OK, I thought, and started keeping the beat and singing the song. "Buddy you're a young man, hard man, playing in the streets...." "No!" she interrupted, "sing it properly!" "Er... that is properly." "No!!! Sing 'Little boy blue, come blow your horn...'". "Eh?" It turned out that one of the teachers at nursery had taught the children to sing (chant) nursery rhymes to the cadence of We Will Rock You, then drop into the chorus at the end of the rhyme. It's actually quite cunning: it's a 4/4 beat, so most nursery rhymes fit quite nicely. Of course, Rebecca now thinks that the last words of Little Boy Blue are "We will rock you", but you can't have everything.

Evil plan now finalised. Life is good. I am, at present, very happy with life.

  nefarious! Tuesday, 13 May 2008 link

Anyone else noticed that the new Portishead album has a red-hot ukulele number? And is it just me, or is Machinegun actually a track by Throbbing Gristle circa 1981? It certainly sounds like the sort of thing you'd see to put you on edge during arty zombie flick from the 80s (or, now someone mentions it, the wimbly bits from the soundtrack to the original Terminator movie). Not that that's a bad thing, mind - it's a pretty excellent track.

I ran into an old mate from varsity the other day, and commented that we watched a fair bit of kids TV now that we had children; they said "Yeah, I watch a lot of children's TV because I enjoy it." One thing about having children is that you end up having to spend a fair bit of time interacting with children's media. Reading them bedtime stories, taking them to the pictures, or putting on the Cathode Ray Babysitter to keep them quiet for a bit. You might think this is great, remembering with fondness the books, movies and telly that made such an impact on you as a kid. But here's the rub: the only reason they ended up seared across your forebrain is because they were good. You've filtered out the great, deep drifts of shite that you also absorbed as a child. For instance, I ran home from school every day to watch The Littlest Hobo when I was a child. Now, I can remember precisely one scene from it, and the only thing I can remember about it (two kids lost in the woods) is the sort of thing I'd have been able to guess anyway.

Which is all to say, a lot of kids' media is terrible. So most parents just sit on the nostalgia trip and feed the kids the stuff they remember as good from their childhood. But Where the Wild Things Are, Richard Scarry and the Church Mice books only go so far, and sooner or later you have to end up giving them something a bit more recent. So you end up wading through the swathes of childrens' literature in the library, or watching a variety of crappy kids TV and movies. I'm not talking about going to see the new Pixar movie when it comes out; I'm talking about having to sit through all the Curious George TV series (because although letting TV raise your child is Bad and Slovenly, letting them watch it unsupervised is Even Worse). Yes, there's a lot of good kids TV; but for every Muppet Show, there's an In the Night Garden. And I'm well past the days of being ironic (or, indeed, drunk) enough to sit through something I don't particularly enjoy just for humour value.

Heck, even the good media are often a bit disappointing. Take, for instance, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. These are lovely looking, compelling stories, that are ultimately teaching my little girls to lie back and wait to be rescued. One of Rebecca's current favourite movies is Valiant (a basically forgettable British CGI number from a few years back about homing pigeons in World War II, some good voice work but you're not missing much). At one point, she dressed up as the "Evil Pigeon" (Tim Curry in rather a good turn as the chief Nazi falcon). But when I asked her which of the characters she wanted to be, expecting her to answer "Valiant" i.e. the protagonist (Ewen McGregor in a relatively understated and penis-free role), she told me she wanted to be the nurse, as that was the only girl in it. So that's why we often end up sitting next her on the sofa, with gritted teeth, discussing the movies as she's watching them and saying things like "the evil queen only cares about looking beautiful! That's not very good, is it?" etc.

So it's a bit of a treat to find a good bit of media that is fun to watch and has a decent message. One unexpected surprise recently has been Surf's Up, a film - and don't trample me if this capsule summary sets you so on fire that you must storm immediately to the video store - about a surfing penguin. Yup, the basic premise sounds awful. The movie itself, on the other hand, is surprisingly good. It's simultaneously a parody of reality TV and docudramas, a sly nod to surfing documentaries, and a good kids movie. It has Jeff Bridges playing a stoner penguin modelled after The Dude from the Big Lebowski. It's sharply written. And the moral is one of which I approve: don't get obsessed with winning, remember to hold on to the fun of things, friends are important. Seriously, it's a lot better than you might reasonably have assumed; to be honest, I enjoyed it a lot more than the last couple of Pixar movies I've seen.

But everything - everything - pales in comparison with the sheer tower of joy and genius that is Shaun the Sheep. It's easily the best thing I've seen on TV, of any kind, in the last decade or so. Really. If you've not seen it, do yourself a favour and check it out. It's broadcast in most countries and torrents are easy to find. Really - it's great.

Man. Has anyone else noticed that exists? Talk about your niche content, man.

As is the way of things, I have moved from having an annoying cold to a serious sinus infection. Antibiotics, ho.

If you spend any time in the Wellington CBD, you've probably seen that homeless guy who spends his days rummaging through the rubbish bins. One thing you may not realise is that he commutes. Yup - he sleeps rough somewhere near Ngauranga, I think, and I ride past him on the way in each morning. I'd have thought that one of the few advantages of sleeping rough would be that you could kip down close to where you get food, but apparantly not.

But my evil plan is proceeding apace. Progress good. Oh yes.

  i work hard for this family Sunday, 11 May 2008 link

I've spent a considerable portion of this morning punching a hole in a coconut, sawing it in half, and carefully excavating the flesh. I now have the traditional two half coconuts, as seen in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I make the classic "clip clop" sound with them, throw in a neigh or two for luck, and show them to Rebecca.

Me: Look, Rebecca! What do these sound like?
Rebecca, delightedly: Coconut halves!

  och och och Friday, 9 May 2008 link

No posting. Everyone sidelined by flu. Brief break from producing mucus to cough up lungs. Children recovered first. Parents left feeling like absolute death, entertaining bored, fractious preschoolers. Cunning strategy ("I don't have to feel guilty about using the TV as a babysitter if I put something improving on - say, anything art-house, in French, or both") backfires: Rebecca sits entranced through Monsters Inc in French, then decides that the way you speak French is by making nonsense noises and gesturing; this is followed by her deciding that The Triplets of Belleville is her favourite film and requesting it multiple times. It's a funny world.

So: no posting. Sickness. Side projects. Things happening. No time to write. Time to produce mucus.

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unspoilt by progress

calm, peaceful, sweary

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