Monthly Archives: June 2006

the first days (cont…)

I have to say I didn’t share FitzRoy’s courage – although I lacked his bold approach I was very excited by the thought of stepping on the surface. Everything would be new – so new, my head reels at the thought. What would be safe? Back home a sparrow is harmless – to us – by a deadly foe to a caterpillar. Would the same await us here?

I checked my scanner nervously, grabbed my tool bag, and stepped out into a thick fog. My companions were all silent – we stared around us – partly in fear, partly in wonder. I assumed/hoped our scanners were busily gathering data and the transmissions back to the orbiting crew, and back to Earth were all flowing at full speed. Who knows what valuable data had already been gathered by our initial moments – to be processed and teased out by generations of researchers.

FitzRoy made us check our comms and nav gear again, before we broke off into three teams – two to explore, the third to remain with Odonata for security, communications, and technical management. The teams would rotate, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I would come to appreciate the time on-craft for rest. Exploring in the heavier gravity is draining.

Of course, in a new country, one finds new species along with the familiar. Grass is grass as it were. Here, every species is a new species – everything is new. It is beyond our capacity in the time we have available to explore, discover, capture, classify, and document the overwhelmingly vast range of species we were already discovering here on Myco. Thankfully the scanners and recorders save us from this task and our mission – my mission, specifically, is to look at everything I can, as clearly as possible. The scanner is tuned to my eye, thus images of what I look at are captured and transmitted. I have two hand scopes – one for capturing greater magnifications of images; and one, more usefully, for sampling the contents of the item at hand. This will enable us to discover which species are edible, although it is unable to determine whether it will be palatable.

The image I’ve attached is of the first species we found which is edible. It’s like a large fungus or lichen. It has the red colour so typical of the species we have found here – red to capture every photon of light, including the residual rays reflected back from the surface the plant is growing on. We are calling them ‘plants’ – they do have chlorophyll-type compounds, but there appears to be some bacteria-like animals living in a possibly symbiotic relationship within the leathery membranes. The ‘weed’ as we’ve come to call it, is a common species in this area, and seems to cover most surfaces where the least and last beams of light fall. In darker places it grows a darker colour, away from the shadows it grows in a bright, cherry red colour.

The day remained dark. The fog finally lifted to the extent we were able to see the brooding clouds. I wondered what a bright summer’s day might be like here – I imagine a watery sunshine at best.

My darling, I would love to tell you all of the strange and wonderful sights we’ve seen in the first hours exploring this completely new territory, but I fear the exhaustion has overtaken me. Back in the warm dryness of the Odonata, sleep is coming easily.

All my love,
C

there is no random

hail on the wellington waterfront, june 2006Recently, while taking my usual lunchtime exploration along the waterfront, I decided not to brave the light hail shower. While taking refuge I got to thinking about the action on the hail stones as they bounced off the tarmac surfaced walkway. You can see from the streaks in the image the angle of the strike is fairly consistent.

It occurred to me how ‘random’ the hail should be.

But it really wasn’t. If you look at the pattern of the hail on the ground it seems fairly evenly distributed. Hail doesn’t stick; it hits, bounces and rolls. In a fairly consistent manner. As I was standing there, no hail bounced off the ground and then off the roof and then hit me on the head. None bounced up and hit my eye. None hit my knee. At best, some might’ve landed on the top of my shoe. Maybe.

So the hail seemed to fall at a reasonably consistent angle, and then respond to the impact by bouncing in a reasonably consistent way. Once it had bounced, it then may’ve bounced again, and then rolled. A finite height. And rolled a finite distance.

I concluded this was anything but random. Random should’ve had some ice explode into bluebirds a la Disney, and other hail to drill holes through to China. I agree the numbers required to predict the impact site of the next lump of ice may be quite large, but it is finite. And the action of that ice will be consistent, because of the nature of the material.

If we could somehow reproduce the cloud with ice crystals at exactly the temperature, wind velocity, location of source and the other variables I can only guess at, the then-Lynsey would see the then-hail behave in exactly the same way. I just hope he remembers his camera so we can get a photo to check.

I suspect there’s nothing we call random that can’t be reasonably explained using chaos theory, a pocket calculator, and if needs be, all your fingers and toes.

feedback: breakfast of champions

In the last few days I’ve received some feedback about my writing here. I’m still getting used to the idea that people read here at all. It’s not that I mind, of course, it’s just I’m still not quite used to the reality of having people read my work. I like it, but it’s still new.

One reader informed me that they didn’t always understand what I write, but at least it’s short. Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind. I’m a bit of a fan of short but pithy myself. I don’t understand how, when I see the mountains of law books that proliferate in Wellington like maggots on a carcass, how come god managed with just 10 commandments. Perhaps law books should be carved in stone and they’d be shorter. Take two tablets and call me in the morning.

Another reader has suggested the final word in the good continuum should be ‘goodist’. I like it and I’m going with that then, the four step continuum of good, gooder, gooderer, and goodist. I’m liking it.

View product details about 'Writing Alone and With Others' at AmazonThanks, gentle readers, for your feedback. It is always quite a thrill when you’re moved to respond, and knowing what things you like helps my writing no end. I’m working my way through Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others. It’s a delicious book for writers, and in the absence of a good writing teacher, a good companion. Once I’ve had a chance to get my head around the contents a little more I think I’ll feedback to the feedbackers and see what interest there might be in the writing with others part of the idea.

my hi-fi, my sci-fi

koromiko by Elizabeth ThomsonIt came as some surprise today, to see the leaves of the lancewood were, in fact, cast metal. Elizabeth Thomson’s ‘my hi-fi, my sci-fi’ exhibition would be one of the best I’ve seen at the City Gallery in a very long time. I would compare Thomson’s work to the earlier exhibition of Bridget Riley, but whereas Riley’s work seems repetitive and dated, Thomson’s skillful casting and colouring serves to create work that is at once comfortably familiar and yet disconcerting in the context.

While the sculptures of the pubic hairs of unborn ants didn’t really work for me, the wave form cartesian planes recalling the gems of Paul Klee were luckily supervised by a security guard or I would’ve risked an exploratory prod – there’s something slightly mean spirited about creating a texture that begs to be touched and then forbidding people the discovery. The large bronze lancewood leaves with their subtle, yet vibrant colour main veins reminded me of the colour field work by Morris Louis, and the large scale work encouraged the spending of time to compare and consider the variations.

The magnum opus is the work that takes an entire gallery wall, created specifically for the City Gallery. Just like Bridget Riley, except this century, this country, this town, this gallery. On point, on purpose, on target. A great work, using cast, life sized pohutukawa leaves, from tiny to large, each beautifully coloured so they look freshly plucked from the tree. I wanted to photograph it. But you’re not allowed. I wanted a brochure so I could write about it. But there are no brochures. I wanted a catalogue. But they’re not out until July. July! The exhibition opened June 18. I wanted to find it on the web. But the counterhopper didn’t know if the gallery had the exhibition on the web site. I wanted to find it when I finally found the web site. But the big work is not there. Not even a mention. With the largest and most strategically located exhibition space in downtown Wellington, and a budget large enough to haul in international exhibitions, you’d really think the City Gallery might do better for a local (Newtown, for God’s sake, Newtown) artist. Bizarre.

I suppose that’s the sci-fi part after the hi-fi part…

no worries for the capital blog/wikisphere

I was recently sidelined for a role that was advertised for someone to write, who knew about blogs, and wikis. Also needed to be able to create powerpoint presentations incorporating flash. Hmmm, lessee… just completed a Masters in Communication with distinction, writes two blogs – one of which has had over 90,000 words written in the last 10 months, does all the web master work on the four blogs, wrote the web site setting the blogs, organised and ran New Zealand’s first international weblog conference, Blog Hui; manages 20+ swicki, taught powerpoint… (rant, rant…) interested in potentially undertaking PhD research into the role…

Received a clipped note – after I asked (much later) about was the role still live – ‘there were other, stronger candidates’. Wondering exactly when was that information going to be shared. Perhaps I should’ve been more empathetic when I was told there was no job description.

Phew. That was close. Might’ve ended up there.

The great news is there is no worries whatsoever about the state of the writing/blogging/wiki in Wellington. For any given role there are numbers of strong candidates – which is fantastic, however it does make a shadow of doubt cross my mind when I hear the bleats about the shortage of skilled staff.

I’m so sick of the shortage of professional recruitment practices and underpants gnome roles where, while the initial interviews are taking place, there’s still no job descriptions, or specific details about the role that is being filled with such great urgency. It’s hard to take this kind of behaviour seriously. My other favourite is the coy, ‘We can’t tell you what the role is worth, because then you’d know – by the way, how much do you think you’re worth?’

Why can’t companies/government departments give you a straight answer to the same questions they ask you?

Where do you see this company/government department being in five years time?

Give me an example of how the company/government department has managed an ethical issue, and what happened as a result?

What are the weaknesses of this company/government department?

Why does this company/government department want to do this job?

What will this company/government department bring to my life?

Why should anyone work for this company/government department?

I don’t know, but I imagine Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, or Bill Gates probably would be able to answer these questions. I’m guessing, but perhaps that gives some indication as to why they’ve done well.

the first days

redweedMy Dear Wife,

I cannot believe the time it has taken to simply be allowed to write to you. I have managed (I hope) to include an image of the first plant species I found – but wait – I’m getting ahead of myself.

Unexpectedly, after departing, the military made all contact impossible and even this note will be subjected to their scrutiny and censorship. My concerns about the implications of finding useful (from a military perspective) discoveries would appear to be well founded. It has been so utterly frustrating being unable to write. Let me at least attempt to describe the events to date.

As I wrote in my last dispatch we were about to board the Odonata for the trip from orbit down here to the surface. We strapped ourselves in, and intially the flight was smooth and quiet. We positioned the Odonata, and gently entered the outer reaches of the atmosphere. The calm was indeed before the storm and we were very shaken by the entry and the noise was quite frightening. The crew – Captain FitzRoy, the navigator, and the pilots appeared calm – as if landing on a strange planet was an everyday event for them – and this was most comforting. I am not privy to knowing exactly where we were landing, that information was (and is) still classified. As we entered the lower levels of the atmosphere the pilots slowed the Odonata and deployed the blades which then took over the full flying process, much as we would expect back home on Earth.

The crew brought us to a safe landing and we began to feel the full weight of gravity. After so long without it, it felt leaden – to match the skies. After the clarity of the sun’s light above, the heavy clouds seemed quite threatening, and the rain beat heavily on the porthole covers. The pilots cut the engines, and as the whine died away, a silence fell on us all – the rain even paused for a moment. We realised we were smelling the air from outside – surprisingly rich and fecund after the re-refined atmosphere of our home away from home, orbiting somewhere above us.

Earth, home and hearth, and our loved ones, had never seemed so far away. I looked at my fellow travellers – our spiky short hair and gaunt features making us look more like convicts than explorers. FitzRoy reminded us of our security responsibilities, safety requirements, wished us well, and blessed us. He checked his recording devices, and ordered a hatch open. The outside air rushed in and FitzRoy stepped out into the dampness…

wanted: product developer

This morning I awoke midway through a dream. I’m over alarm clocks, by the way. You probably are too. In the dream I watched a guy using a computer, but instead of a keyboard, he used a device called a ‘Handitand’. It was a wireless device, which could also be connected by USB in this case to a Mac. There were input options, not keys in the traditional keyboard approach, on both sides of the Handitand, and you use it more in the concept of a flute – i.e. with both hands wrapped around the device. Removes the RSI (does anyone get RSI any more?) options. The look of the device reminded me of my old slide rule case – about 300mm long, 15mm thick, say 50mm wide. And colour coordinated with the Mac, of course.

If you need to use a traditional keyboard you simply flip open the Handitand and there’s a keyboard, and other tools within. I was amazed at the speed the input was being achieved, and the guy gave the clear impression that the keyboard was not a frequently used option – hence it was on an ‘available as required’ basis.

Unfortunately I was unable to gather more details as the discovery process was interrupted by my phone announcing it was time to launch into what everyone else sees as the day. How much creativity gets lost this way every day day around the world? If you are a product developer and would like to get a look the drawings I made when I awoke, please feel free to make contact. Have your wallet and an intellectual property lawyer handi.

Who knows where these dreams come from? Probably too much lusting after the new mondo big iPods. Thinking how cool it’d be to hack an iPod with a keyboard so I can write without lugging more digitaldoobrees around with me. I believe there are a number of devices and ideas that found their foundations in dreams – the DNA helix for one. There’s bound to be others… Time for a nap I think…

the shortest day

Sometime during today/tomorrow we’ll be as far from the sun as we can get. There’s a howling southerly outside, complete with all the audiovisuals. For dinner we had myop, a traditional Karori dish, wonderful at any time of the year. I’m in bed, it’s warm and snuggly, and I’m writing – life is good. I’m particularly pleased with some work I’ve been doing, which I intend releasing shortly over on our web site – akonet.nz.

While completing my MComms I spent a great deal of time researching reflective practice in particular applied to how it might be used for improving the skills and expertise of people who are already at, or near, the peak of their profession. How does one get better when you’re already very, very good? Is there a limit? Does the law of diminishing returns kick in and does it get to the point where it’s simply not worth developing personal practice any further? I used to describe it as ‘getting gooderer’.

Oh the number of curled upper lips I’ve encountered when I mention the word, ‘gooderer’. The trouble is we don’t have a word that assumes we can go from good to great, in search of excellence, or whatever blather is spewing forth from the speaking circuit today. Teaching squirrels to fish, dancing with elephants and wolves, emus who care too much, and the mandrills who love them. The reality is, in our current climate, here in the dispersed city that is New Zealand, we don’t much care for people who are exceptionally good, and we certainly don’t want to do anything that might resemble work to achieve that.

What I’ve been working on is some tools and resources designed for people who want to do some practical work on developing their expertise, extend their creativity, or perhaps want to get unstuck from a deadend of some kind. I’m not very good at the flamboyant, showy, and ultimately ineffective model of personal development – most of the ‘send no money now’ hucksters are like fad diets – easy to buy into, but hard to stick with. In less than a month most people are back to their old ways – me too. That’s completely forgivable – not much point in blaming the victim. Personal development through reflective practice can be achieved in much the same way that successful – i.e. permanent, safe weight loss – can be achieved by reducing calorie intake and gently increasing exercise (calorie consumption) outputs.

So, with that in mind, the tools have been designed to help reduce ugly mind fat and help replace it with a svelte, active mind. Start now in winter so that when summer comes your mind will be a triumph – trim, taut, and terrific. Watch this space for the release news.

normal service

I’m feeling a bit peeved – I haven’t been visible in writing here as much as I’ve become familiar with of late. It’s annoying because I’ve left poor Charles stuck in the Odonata (surely the longest trip from an orbiting space vehicle to a planet surface ever – truly, I don’t know why he doesn’t just get a #12 bus like the rest of us) and my other writing has been swept to one side. So much writing to do, so little time – if only there was a sensible way of earning a living at this. Things are going on behind the scenes, however, and be assured, gentle readers, that normal service should be resumed shortly … or sooner, if I can get everything working nicely.