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l'enfer du North Island

  formal welcome Monday 31 August 2009 link

A more formal welcome to my niece Lucy Genevieve Darlowe, born this morning and weighing about 3.3kg. She's a very cute wee thing.

  sadly not yet available on prescription Sunday 30 August 2009 link

How to get two small children to go to sleep:

  1. Take them to a gig by the Klezmer Rebs.
  2. Watch them dance energetically for an hour, occasionally singing along.
  3. Take them home and feed them sausages.
  4. Bath & bedtime.

Then sit back and watch them fall into a sound, deep sleep. Klezmer - faster than xanax, more legal than chloroform.

  dip dip dip Saturday 29 August 2009 link

This morning, Maggie made her intentions clear. "Swimming!" she told us, lugging the kit bag into our bedroom. So I ended up taking them out to Porirua swimming pool, which is excellent. Man, there's nothing like walking into the pool and seeing someone covered in gang tats to make you a bit careful about where you put your kit. It was fairly packed, but the kids had a great time. Maggie spent most of the time clinging to my back like a koala while Rebecca marauded. The hydroslide was once again a big hit. I did my typical impression of someone who can't see ten feet in front of his face without his glasses (AKA Mr Maggoo with tats), and it all more or less worked out.

We have, for various reasons, acquired about 4kg of premium coffee beans. This drove me to go out after the swim and buy a coffee grinder. I can't stand the taste of coffee, but I'm surprisingly snobbish about the coffee that I'm not drinking. Plus, anything that's basically designed to destroy things in a specific way has got to be an excellent addition to the modern kitchen.

I am going to write a best selling childrens book.

Working title: "Where Have You Little Bastards Hidden Daddy's iPod?"

The other day, Rebecca commented that I'd missed a bit on my arm. "Yeah, I'm going to get that bit filled in in October" I replied. "Good," she said, "you need that bit filled." She paused for a minute and then said, "And you should get the other arm tattooed too. And your legs."

  innovative title Wednesday 12 August 2009 link

A brief digression on vampires.

I should point out that I don't give two stuffs about vampires, media depictions of vampires, or the current resurgence of interest in them. I, quite frankly, don't care a damn either way. I don't watch Underworld, I never saw the point of Buffy, I don't read/watch Twilight, I never bothered with Anne Rice, and I couldn't give two stuffs about any of it. So it's with some amusement that I'm watching the snitfight in the fantasy/sf end of popular culture about Twilight. Now, it's coming in for a lot of fire from "real" fanboys for being too sparkly. Twilight fans are derided as being teenage girls. Which, in fact, many of them are.

As mentioned, I have no feelings either way about Twilight. But I'm interested to note the undercurrent in the criticisms here: it's just a bit misogynist. Because, you know, vampires are manly! And having them be sensitive and stuff is, like, so gay! And girls like the sparkly stuff! And whatever girls like must be awful!

Compare this to the approved images of vampires. Say, Kate Beckinsale. So a good vampire is a sexually suggestive young woman in tight clothing, but a bad vampire is a sexually suggestive young man with tousled hair. Um, yeah. It's really hard not to read all these reactions as the spoiled, petulant whining of an adolescent boy who is actually a bit scared of young women. It's also very annoying: one of the often-stated problems with fantasy/sf in contemporary culture is the overwhelmingly male component of it. So as soon as young women start getting more into it, watching them getting frantically slagged off by "proper" (male) fans is just cringeworthy. "Why aren't more girls into fantasy/sf? By which I of course mean REAL fantasy/sf, the stuff designed to titillate heterosexual males just like me, not that sparkly stuff that's just for girls..." See also the snobbish attitude a lot of people have to anime, one of the parts of fantasy/sf culture that tends to be more female-friendly and have lots of female fans.

On another level, I'm also finding this a bit amusing, as male homoeroticism has been a big feature of contemporary vampire culture. I knew a number of young women when I was at varsity who loved Interview with a Vampire specifically for the homoerotic byplay.

So don't expect me to join in in making denigrating comments about Twilight. No, Twilight's not my thing. But then, neither are any other vampire stories. And the undercurrents in the slagging it's getting put my teeth on edge.

Apparently one of the things that a "proper" blog should do is stick to one topic per post. Sod that.

A while ago, we triaged our bookshelves and had a book swap party. This worked remarkably well as a means to give away loads of books, but we still ended up with three large boxes of books at the end of things. Yesterday morning, I dropped them off at Arty Bees in town. Arty Bees are one of the best second-hand bookshops in NZ. One of the things I really like about them is their purchase policy. They buy books (obviously), and either give you cash or store credit (obviously, offering more store credit than cash). You can either take the store credit yourself, or choose to add it to someone else's account. We chose to donate the credit to an account for Refugee Migrant Services, so they can use it to buy books for refugees arriving in NZ. And the books the Arty Bees don't want, they drop off to the Downtown Community Mission for their annual book sale. So from our perspective, we've got rid of a couple of boxes of books we don't want, supported a local business, and helped out two separate charities. Not a bad morning, really.

  the face behind the mask Sunday 9 August 2009 link

You may have attended one of their gigs. You may have heard the CD. You may even have heard them on Radio New Zealand, talking about how they are librarians, public servants, IT wonks. They sound genteel, cultured, representing a long tradition of scholarship and musicianship.

But once you've seen the Klezmer Rebs playing in the living room of an anarchist squat, passing a bottle of buffalo grass vodka around whoever isn't actually playing a solo at that moment, you get the real picture. And as they sink red-eyed into the bacchanal, the strains of "Anarchia Total" ring out into the night.

Good night last night, in case you can't tell.

  some more thoughts Monday 3 August 2009 link

A while ago, I wrote some thoughts on the proposed national cycleway and why I was a bit worried about it. Over the last couple of months, many of the points I made have been addressed. It's no longer a single national path from Cape Reinga to Bluff, it's a series of local routes that may - at some indeterminate point in the future - be joined up. Now, I think it's great that we're getting the local routes. However, I am a bit worried about the suggestion that the local councils foot part of the bills.

I'm partially worried by this because I think it'll annoy the local councils. It's like someone saying to me, "Hey, man, you should totally pimp out your car and you'll get loads of chicks. Like, it'd be awesome! Tell you what, I'll pay for it." And then they come back to you a month later with a quote to get some mag wheels and say "Yeah, but this turned out to be quite expensive, and I'll totally pay for some of it, but since you're like gonna be the one getting all the chicks, it's really only fair that you shell out too." And you end up shelling out your money for something that you may not have wanted anyway. Spending other people's budgets for them annoys people. And this may alienate local councillors, who could well not have particularly liked the idea of paying for cycle facilities in the first place.

But I'm more worried by the likely consequence of this. When the local councils accept that they're going to end up spending some of their cash on the cycleway, which budgetary pot is it likely to come from? The "improvements to local tourist attractions" budget? Or the "provision of cycling facilities" budget? I'm willing to bet that it'll be the latter. In this respect, the government will be effectively cutting the budgets for encouraging everyday cycle use, by forcing local councils to spend their cycling budgets on facilities aimed at touring and leisure riders. And that really worries me. Local cycling gets short enough shrift from most councils already; this strikes me as offering them a tailormade chance to just hand the cash over to someone else and call that their obligations to cyclists met.

It's not that I think the proposed routes don't look good. They look excellent; I really look forward to riding them when they're complete. It's just that I'm really worried that the law of unintended consequences is going to result in leisure cycling (occasional, definitely a recreational activity, geared towards attracting overseas tourists) being prioritised at the expense of everyday cycling (regular, part of normal life, used by average people). I really hope that doesn't happen, but the government's recent announcement makes me pretty worried.

That said, a gentle pootle down a bike path with the family is a good way to get people on two wheels. Look at all the families taking kids along the Hutt River Trail, or around Wellington's waterfront. So I don't think leisure cycling facilities are useless in terms of encouraging and normalising cycle use - they're an excellent gateway drug.

And as an aside: it turns out that John Key had the brilliant, revenue-generating idea to hold a race on the cycletrack (tentatively titled the Sir Edmund Hillary Explorator). That's a good indication that he doesn't have a single fucking clue what he's talking about. Let's put that in context: it's like suggesting that we hold an F1 Grand Prix on the road up the mountain from Ohakune to Turoa. The proosed bike path was a meandering, family-friendly route designed for cycle tourists. A bike race is fast, hard, and needs decent roads. Unless John Key was proposing a 1200-k re-enactment of the worst parts of Paris-Roubaix (which isn't just called the Hell of the North for the weather), I'm going to suspect that he just didn't know what he was talking about.


I got very annoyed with the Consumer magazine Rent vs Buy comparison page today. It takes a set of details from you and then tells you whether you'd be better off renting or buying a house, and by how much. There are so many things wrong with this page (say, the inability to set the mortgage term to anything other than 20 years) that it's hard to know where to start, but let's have a stab.

First, one of the things it asks you for is the real annual growth in house value, % per annum, averaged over the next 20 years. If you know that, go into the finance industry, you'll make a killing. The rest of us will just have a guess.

Then it asks you for the mortgage interest rate over the next 20 years. They assume 8%. In June 1987, the mortgage interest rate in NZ peaked at 20.5%pa. It's currently around 6.5%. See previous comments about your ability to predict this. So here we go guessing again...

It also asks you to estimate costs like rates, maintenance, etc. If you don't own a house already, you'll probably underestimate these. Have you seen how much it costs to repaint even a small house?

And finally, it assumes that "if you rent, you invest the money you would otherwise have spent on house buying - the deposit, insurance, ongoing mortgage payments (minus rent) etc". So if you're looking at the difference between paying, say, $400 per week rent or $450 per week mortgage, it's assuming that you're going to save that other $50 per week (*cough cough of course you are*). Plus all the money you had saved up for a deposit, etc. And then it asks you for the interest rate you'll be earning on those savings. So again, it's asking you to predict the interest rates for the next two decdates.

So basically, I'm saying that this mortgage calculator is no better than guessing. In fact, it's arguably worse, because it's giving you an unwarranted feeling of confidence about the numbers. In truth, they are no better than numbers you've pulled out of your arse - but since you'll pulled them out of the NZ Consumer's Institute's arse, you'll probably treat them as gospel. Just remember that they aren't.

Vintage Rebecca moment at the weekend. At the library, during Storytime (11am Saturdays in the kids' section, see you there), Stu (the reader/presenter) asks for a parent to help hold a book open. Rebecca leaps up, shouting "My dad! My dad! He'll do it!" and waving her arms.

And another VRM about ten minutes later. At the end of Storytime, after I'd held two books open while Stu played the ukulele and sang the songs of the books (Frog Went A-Courtin' and Don Gato), Stu was thanking everyone for coming and saying he'd see us all next week. Rebecca stood up and said, in a clarion voice, "Excuse me - my daddy has a sore arm, because he has lots of tattoos. Thank you."


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