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l'enfer du North Island

  on a red chariot Friday, 31 October 2008 link

Listening to a fair bit of the Puppini Sisters. Have you ever actually listened to the lyrics of "In the Mood"? It's filthy! Oh, it's coded, but it's filthy.

I have a new phone. One that can deal with MP3 ringtones. Ooh yes. Bye-bye Nokia Chorus, hello.... um... hang on.... and there's the problem. What do you use as a ringtone? OK, a song you like. But that's not all. The trouble is, you need something that comes out strong from the blocks, you know? A 30-second intro is all well and good, but chances are that you won't hear it before your voicemail cuts in. You need loud, fast. So it's restricted to songs that I like, but which don't have much of an intro. Heather's already got dibs on "Zvezda Rock'n'Rolla" by Leningrad, so that's out. I'm left thinking of something like "Let's Get Tattoos" by Carter USM, "Moaner" by My Bloody Valentine, or practically anything by Gogol Bordello. And then of course, there's the personalised ringtones for different callers..Of course, my account doesn't actually switch over to the new phone until next week.

Actually, I'm quite tempted to just get the Amen break really loud.

Roll on the end of the US presidential election. My pick: McCain. Why? Because the Republicans have stolen elections before, and they'll steal them again. There are already a few complaints from early voters about some of the voting systems. All the Republicans need is a plausible narrative, so they can dismiss any complaints about the election being stolen as the whinings of cranks and net conspiracy theorists. Say, John McCain came back from behind because voters identified more with his foreign policy initiatives, there was a Bradley effect, people always support an underdog, the Hockey Mom demographic really turned out, etc. Twin that with systematic attempts to remove people from the list of registered voters, insufficient polling stations in poor areas or around universities, and a moderate amount of simple fraud, and you could have enough to tip the balance. Remember, McCain doesn't need to win the popular vote - Al Gore did in 2000, and look how that worked out - all they need to do is get it to the point where the Electoral College can put the fix in. I'd like to be proved wrong, but I basically have a pretty jaundiced view of humanity.

Then again, we are a species that can build Buddhist templates out of beer bottles, so we can't be all bad.

  i wrote most of this a year ago, but haven't posted to avoid giving offence Thursday, 23 October 2008 link

I am an atheist. The polite kind. I have a number of religious friends, good people, to whom their religion is an inspiration and a source of joy and morality. I sit quietly when they mention their religious beliefs, and smile politely. I accept that their religion can be a powerful positive force in their lives, and that other people's belief systems aren't really any of my business.

I have more boorish atheist friends, who adopt a heavy-handed Dawkinsian approach to organised religion. I've sat at parties while they rail against Christianity, doing things like referring to god as someone's "imaginary friend", in front of people I know to be quietly devout. I wouldn't say such a thing myself in front of those people, because I know it would offend them and wouldn't achieve anything. But, when it comes right down to it, I believe the same thing. I actively believe there is no god, but I'm just too polite to mention it in front of my religious friends. I'm not about to say flat out to someone's face, "I think that one of the founding propositions on which you have built your life and your morality is false", but that's what I'm thinking. Does this make me a hypocrite? Or does it just mean that I'm too polite to rub my beliefs in people's faces?

I treat people's beliefs about their god's existence in the same spirit of lighthearted toleration I treat people's beliefs about their football team being the best, their child being the most talented, or their country the greatest in the world. You're entitled to feel like that, and I'm not going to be rude enough to argue with you about it unless you get obnoxious about trying to force your opinion on me.

In the end, it may well be the fact that I regard religious belief as being of a kin with these mundane things - that I do, in all honestly, regard which religion you belong to as basically the same as which football team you support, and with just as much empirical backing - that may be what's most offensive to theists.

This doesn't mean that I think religion is meaningless. Well, no more so than anything else. I believe quite firmly that there is no objective meaning to life or the universe, and that things are really what you make them: things have a meaning only insofar as we assign it to them. For a thing to be meaningful, just means that we think that it is. I'm basically a social contract theorist writ very large.

But I'd consider that large-scale advertising would fall under the aegis of "rubbing beliefs in my face", and I do find the more advertising-based evangelism that's popular with contemporary Christianity a bit annoying. Which is why I was immensely cheered to hear about the proposed advertising campaign on London busses. To counter campaigns that include assertions such as that anyone failing to accept jesus will spend eternity suffering in hell, a commentator on the Guardian's Comment is Free site mooted the idea of buying ad space on busses for atheist messages. Richard Dawkins volunteered to match any donations raised, up to £5,500. The proposed ad text is: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." That's a sentiment that I share, and what the hell - I've donated £10 to the cause. I would appear to not be alone in this: when I donated the money, about 48 hours after the appeal started, they had made £76,000. Donate here, if you've a mind.

  to hell with concealment Monday, 20 October 2008 link

Actually, heaven only knows why I'm trying to be circumspect. The 'art project' I've mentioned is my plan to get myself a new tattoo as a Christmas present. It was going to be a birthday present, but any decent tattooist has at least a two month waiting list for a full day's work. When I first wrote a "my body modifications" web page, back around 1995-ish, probably on the old SANS system at VUW, I commented that I wasn't going to rush into anything and would wait until I was at least 25 before getting my back tattooed, and 30 for my forearms. Well, I've haven't had any tattoos since I was 21, and I'm now 33, so I'm definitely not rushing into anything. And I'm not getting my back done, but as for my arms... The plan is to get my right arm fully sleeved from shoulder to wrist, with an abstract geometric flowing pacific-influenced piece - this sort of thing, basically. Looked at the stuff that Manu at Manu Tattoo does, put together a list of the sort of thing I'm after, went in for a chat. He had a look at the portfolio and suggested that I talk to Tim Hunt of Pacific Tattoo in Paekakariki. I wombled along to Tattoo City, where Tim is working at the moment, had a chat and made a booking. So in mid-January I'm going to take a day off work, head up the coast to Paekakariki, and work out a design for a sleeve (and, with luck, get it started). I'm really looking forward to it. I've been meaning to get a sleeve done for ages, I've had the basic ideas of what I want in my head since I was about 18, and it's good to be in a position where it's possible to get it done. All I have to do now is wait another three months.

  so far beyond buggered Sunday, 19 October 2008 link

Got four hours sleep last night. Couldn't sleep. Up at 6am. Weetbix, dressed, on the bike by 6:30. Met up for a ride at 7am. Then, a morning of fun riding, up from Chaffers Park in town through Ngaio, to Porirua, across to the Hutt, along up to Brown Owl, up through the Akatarawas to Waikanae, then back to Wellie via lunch in Paraparaumu and the Paekakariki Hill Road. I had a bad day. About 80k in, halfway through the Akatarawa Valley, I started to drop off the back. From then on, I just lost my pace. Towards the end I was basically going backwards on hills. Paekakariki Hill Road was particularly bad - I cracked about 200m into the climb, dropped into my granny ring and entered a very private world of pain as everyone else accelerated away. The last 2k, I could look up and see them at the lookout watching me grovel up the incline. Not fun. I honestly have no idea why I went so bad - I just had nothing in my legs today. I was hydrated, I kept eating, I didn't particularly overheat. Just nothing there when I tried to put the hard word on my legs. Towards the end, I was even having trouble keeping in contact with the bunch on relatively flat bits. Everyone was very nice about it, and gave me a good wheel to hold to, but I was just dying. Probably my worst day on a bike since the 200k audax where I was so fucked that I couldn't keep up a pace of 10kph on the flat and had to lie in the grass verge for about 10 minutes.

But still - I did 160k on the day, an imperial century (100 miles), and am still roughly alive (don't ask about my stomach). It's a victory on the table. Particularly since it tipped me over the 3500k mark since January - which means that today, on the 19th October, I've managed to knock my annual target mileage on the head. Excellent. Now I just have to see how much further I can manage in the next 2 1/2 months.

Incipient art project on the go. Having had some time to devote to sourcing the materials yesterday, it's now slightly on hold until January when a particular resource becomes available. So back to planning, and then it should be all systems go in the new year.

And in other news, two of the people I most like and admire in the world finally got married last week. Nice one.

  diagnostics Tuesday, 14 October 2008 link

Had a good weekend. Heather didn't; she was flat out in bed for most of it with a horrible cold/cough thing. So I got to spend the lovely weather marauding around the place with the girls. This forced a postponement of a couple of things I was after (not least a good thrashing around the Makara loop), but it meant a lot of running around in the sunshine. Result! 20 celsuis, a seaside, and the Botanic Gardens - what's not to like?

Saturday morning we were heading into Te Papa when we saw a sign for the annual Chinese Fair at the Chinese Community Church in Thorndon. These fairs were a staple of my childhood, because in Wellington in the 80s if you were into Chinese culture (as my dad was) your choices were pretty thin on the ground. Surprisingly, now our Chinese population has expanded significantly, the fair is actually a lot smaller than I remember. I guess that when they're not the only game in town, people don't feel the need to turn up and support the community... anyway, the girls enjoyed the food (both seemed very appreciative of steamed cupcakes, although they also turned their noses up at panfried jiaozi) and had fun looking at the stalls. Then we wandered over the road to the Bot Gardens and had a play around in the Rose Garden. I spent about ten minutes preventing Maggie from launching herself into the fountain, then we headed into the hothouses. I love the Begonia House; it's one of my favourite places on earth. And the kids love it too, largely because of the big pond full of feral tropical fish. Last time I took Maggie in there, the crumbs that fell off her caused a minor feeding frenzy and attracted the attention of some worrying large plecostoma (catfish). This time, it was a bit more mellow (no crumbs!). Maggie marauded around, attempting to fall into the pond, while Rebecca spent a careful ten minutes learning how to catch the baby guppies in her hands (the trick is to use both hands and sneak up on them, apparently). A thoroughly good time was had by all. And I even got to mow the lawn when we finally got home, which was a bonus.

Sunday was mainly spent walking around the waterfront. There's a surprising number of rock pools, paddling beaches, and chances to immerse yourself in water before any parents notice, within ten minutes' walk of the City to Sea bridge. Highlight definitely had to be the new Our Space exhibit at Te Papa, which features a giant aerial photo/map of NZ on the floor. As you walk over it, the bits you're on light up and photos from it appear at the side. Not that we noticed the photos - we were too busy rampaging around. Rebecca got the idea immediately (she knows pretty well what a map of NZ looks like), and promptly lay down on the floor next to the model. "Daddy!" she yelled, "I'm in the sea!"

The other day Heather found out that her manager is, quite literally, the Witch-King of Angmar. Welcome to Wellington.

I mentioned that I don't blog about (my) work for a variety of reasons; at least one being, it could get me fired. But I can't resist mentioning two (comfortably non-specific) reasons why I enjoy working at Weta (apart from the fasctinating work, proximity to a nice cycling circuit and active lunchtime/weekend bunch rides):

  panniers ho! Wednesday, 8 October 2008 link

My day started at 6am with Rebecca standing by the bed and saying "Daddy, it's your birthday!". Well, actually it started at 5:30am with her yelling "Daddy! We're out of toilet paper!", but I didn't actually have to wake up much while resolving that one. I'm in favour of relatively quiet birthdays, but you can't tell that to a preschooler. Things Must Be Done Properly. So cakes must be made, party hats worn, etc. And lo, I did indeed have a lovely birthday - 21, before you ask. In hexidecimal.

There's a fine line as a bike commuter. On the one hand, you don't want to be a fair-weather cyclist. On the other hand, let's not go crazy out there. In that spirit, I quietly decided not to push the point and try riding to work in a spring gale on Tuesday. 150kph winds were registered at Mt Kaukau, about 4k from our house; probably not a good time to be au velo. Driving in took 50 minutes due to traffic, instead of the 40 it'd normally take on the bike. But I did pass two ambulances heading to accidents, so I think I made the right decision not to tempt fate. God knows it was hard enough on the lunchtime ride today; going into the headwind around the bays, doing through-and-off with a couple of blokes from work, I thought I was going to vomit from the effort of keeping up a decent pace into the northerly. And then you go around the corner and think to yourself "hey, the wind has suddenly died down and I feel really good again."

Fun: watching people who normally complain that there's nothing to do around Wellington, complaining that they've missed out on tickets to Toast Martinborough/the Sevens/etc.

Maggie has started doing this thing when she's eating. She reaches out for your hand, and cradles it around her own head and then leans into you. It's unutterably cute.

Hey kids! It's the Sims in live action! Well, actually it's a time-lapse video with a tilt-shift effect; it's still pretty cool. Yes, that's not a model.

  random art project Monday, 6 October 2008 link

Recently, the kids' creche has had a push on to improve the quality of the lunches provided. So now we're all getting individual feedback/hassle about the quality of our children's lunchboxes. Which means that the teachers wait until Heather's there, and then they take Heather aside and discuss the lunchboxes with her. Because, of course, she must make their lunches, because she's their mother.

In point of fact, it tends to be me making the kids' lunch. I enjoy it, and it's a good way to make sure they've got the appropriate nutrition. That said, it mainly started because I was making my own lunch and it's silly not to make the kids' lunches at the same time, right? So it's me that does it, and Heather who gets annoyed when people just assume that it's her doing it.

So this level of minor sexism is just amusing/annoying. Where it gets a bit trickier is when it's serious, important information that's being imported. On Thursday, we discovered that the "mysterious bug" Rebecca had had since Monday was in fact a kidney infection (it's since been confirmed as Staph A). Cue sudden rush to hospital, afternoon spent sitting around in various states of worry while being calming presence for daughter yet still adequate parent for other daughter, etc. All very stressful. Throughout, I got maybe two pieces of medical advice directly from the doctors. The rest of the time they talked to Heather. My role seemed to be to calm Rebecca down or to take Maggie for walks. The assumption from all parties seemed to be that Heather was the one to talk to, rather than me. I'm sure if I'd been more aggressive and gung ho about htings that I'd have had more direct feedback, but as it was I wasn't actually particularly impressed with that. I'd rather the default was to try to involve both parents in the discussion.

Which isn't to say that the standard of care was lacking: everyone seemed very compentent and helpful. Just that I had trouble getting them to make eye contact.


On the headphones: a shitload of Balkan Hot-step; see for example, the Typsy Gypsy mixes. And, of course, the Trans-Balkan Express: yes, it's a Klezmer-dub cover of Kraftwerk. Lovely.

Nice spring weather = increased mileage. More lunchtime rides around the peninsula, more cyclists out in the mornings, more sunlight in the evenings - it's all good.

Odd internet moment: recognising someone I used to know, on an online forum, from a description of their tattoos.

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unspoilt by progress

calm, peaceful, sweary

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