Monthly Archives: September 2006

street art theatre love story

And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.

Free hugs campaign.


It’s kind of frustrating noticing that I haven’t written here, out the front, for ages. If I’d managed to stick to my original project management plan, Marica’s research would be going live before the end of ‘this’ month, instead of going live before the end of ‘the’ month. In the meantime, I’ve been digging out the changes we want made in our respective writing spaces, recreating some of the lost navigation tools, and planning and learning the next techniques I want to add here. Yes, I’m planning on adding some new things here, hopefully before the end of THIS month.

turkey season

I’ve been away writing the code to enable Marica‘s research to be published on the AkoNet research pages. Not much in the way of spare brain cells to write here…

Speaking of not much in the way of spare brain cells, imagine my delight to come home to find our testbed blog space had been hacked. By an ‘ultra super-skilled haXOr’, clearly capable of taking down such a high profile site. Wow. The testbed blog. The one out-the-back where I try stuff out before running it here. It’s a test site to prototype and check the graphics and layouts. The haxuh called himself (or maybe herself – sadly, probably unlikely) Meatloaf or Meatlack or Muttluck or Metlack or something – Metlak? Regular readers will know how pro-war we are – Mudluck left us an anti-Bush, anti-war message, in grammatically unsound Turkish. You’re kidding, you put in an effort to hack us but somehow stringing a couple of words together in a meaningful way is beyond you?

Oh, by the sultan’s beard, Meatlick – how lame, how very lame.

brain II

I’m cutting the code for Marica’s research so we can publish her Master’s research findings in the AkoNet explorations section. It’s entitled: Developing and sustaining a synchronous online mentoring relationship – Lessons learned, and it helped Marica earn her MComm with Distinction – it’s all good stuff. After a day at work – which is all about reading, and some writing – I think the upgrades to Brain II are seeming cheaper and more worth the effort than ever. I personally can’t wait for the ability to augment my capacity with a little usb or similar port behind my ear that allows me to fluently speak c++, cantonese, or kareoke without the hideous learning cave – you know the one – it’s all dark and you fall off the overhanging roof because the curve is so steep it’s going back on itself…

Sept 11 and all that

I’ve been wrestling with angels for some days as to how to write about the dreaded September 11 date. For starters I figured I didn’t want a comments box filled by outraged americans who’d missed my point and so were going to attack me instead of starting their own blog. I didn’t want to trample over my american friends’ toes either. I’d quite like to set foot on american soil again without feeling I offended the sensitive nature of the homeland security.

I also didn’t want the day to go past without noting how the date was historically important from an aviation perspective either.

No, not those hideous scenes of aircraft going into the side of buildings. September 11 marks the day when the first flight was made from Australia to New Zealand. The first trans-Tasman flight was completed by Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith and CTP Ulm on 11 September, 1928. They flew a Fokker monoplane from Sydney to Christchurch in 14 hours 25 minutes, and they were met by a crowd of some 35,000 people. Probably most of the South Island if truth be known.

I still wanted to comment on the event from 2001. Finally, some days later (it’s the 16th, as I write) I got an edge from Andrew Bartlett’s writing, where he refers to an article on – 9/11, five years on: what has been learned?

At the time I was writing papers for my masters – we had to put forward a meta-analysis for where we saw the state of the world being ten years time. Apparently meta analysis is academic gobble-de-gook for ‘examine your belly button for lint and reference it using APA’. My big theory then (as now) is the issue is water. Or the lack thereof. And how there was a whole chunk of the planet under the age of 25, short of water, short of jobs and money, and short of prospects in general; but not short of relgious zealots redirecting their hormones and disposable bodies for their own political and ideological genocide. I saw the planes on buildings as a communication piece and naively believed that the images might provoke some sort of satori amongst the western powers.

What was I thinking? As if it would. Initially, for me, always the sceptic, I thought nothing has changed.

Abdul-Rehman Malik writes that from his perspective he’s learned four lessons. Of all the writers covered in the document (and there’s some good writing there, make no mistake) his resounded most for me. Might be right. Might be wrong. But it made sense to me. And so, building on Malik’s list, some things are changed. I agree with his first point 9/11 continues – same shit, different day. Different people have their own personal 9/11, often delivered to them courtesy of some western corporate. No wonder people strike out at the futility – you can only ‘be a bigger person’ for so long.

I’m not a cynic, but I am a sceptic. Cynics tend to be people who care the most, who love the most, who built up a leathery coat to defend themselves against the venom of the world. I’m not like that. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t believe. I’m not that good at tv, as an example, because I don’t believe technology is neutral or innocent. Andrew Bartlett comments that he’s amazed about the persistant nature of the conspiracy theories, as outlined in Time magazine. Well, I’m not. I’ve seen stills and video footage, and heard and read eye witness accounts of the event. One thing they have in common was the clouds of billowing dust – apparently from the pulverised concrete. Why a fragment of the conspiracy theories will remain with me for a long time is I’ve yet to hear a convincing explanation how a reinforced concrete building can be pulverised to dust. Take a hammer to a concrete block. See how much dust results. Concrete is a stick-together kind of product, not a turn-to-dust kind of product. I do believe what I see, I’m just not believing the media’s conspiracy to convince me that a glancing blow from an aircraft did it alone. But aparently, I’m wrong. You see, the National Institute of Standards and Technology have spared no expense ($US 16 million) to investigate and report – to the extent of putting together a web site heaving with data to assure us that, pretty much, any crap design will fall down if you shove an aircraft up it.

In the end who cares? They are right, I am wrong. That changes nothing. On the day, and perhaps as a result of that day, there are winners and losers. The winners typically wear suits, uniforms, or robes; and travel not less than business class. The losers wear work clothes or if they lose badly enough, shrouds. They travel cattle class or more unfortunately, freight class. It doesn’t really matter what ethnic background, or what passport they carry. It doesn’t matter what religious affiliation they espouse, even if they don’t have any religion to speak of, the results are the same, for all sides. It’s a bit like at the end of Animal Farm, the animals outside noticed how the farmers and the pigs started to look alike.

Peaceful Tomorrows quote Martin Luther King Jr: ‘Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows’. I don’t think we can go through life wringing our hands and bleating ‘how terrible’ however. What we have to do is make an effort in our own immediate sphere to contribute positively to our people. They in turn to theirs. We have a power of communicating worldwide now – you’re doing it now – reading my words, written here in Wellington, and you are somewhere else. Reach out to the person nearest and make a difference where you are.

the impact of technology

I was talking to my Mum and she mentioned how she was very impressed with our (Marica and my) graduation back in May. I was intrigued – granted Mum hasn’t been to any of my previous graduations due to the conspicuous lack of previous graduations, however I was interested to hear her thoughts. Mum’s 89, by the way.

She said she was how struck by the way we learned and managed our study. “Everything’s on computer – which is really good, because you only have to put it down once and then you’ve got it. In our day all we had to write on was a slate and then we had to rub it off because there was no more room. We had to remember everything, because there was no way we could store it.”

I’d never thought about it before, but I realised how much would’ve been remembered by rote learning, chanted times tables, sung alphabets – I heard on the radio (while driving up to see Mum) a comment about how the Wellington branch of the Royal Society was running a competition for a snappy new way (a mnemonic) of remembering the planets, seeing as Pluto had been downgraded. Kim Hill also read someone’s elaborate mnemonic story which contained the various time periods in the development of Earth. I can only remember the ‘Silurian Epoch’ and that because I was a Rick Wakeman fan as a teen. Alarmingly, that dates me even more than saying how old my mother is.

I’d never thought about rote learning as being a technique for replacing a big hard drive. It occured to me that another string to the rote learning bow is in story telling. There’s been discussion here in NZ about the teaching of religion in primary schools, and without wanting to kick off any scabs there, much of our cultural metaphor is based on the bible stories, like it or lump it. The Noah and the Flood, Samson and Delilah, the prodigal son, Jonah and the whale – the list of stories goes on – whether you choose to include the spiritual content or not. It would be impossible to include a review of western culture without including some reference to work inspired by the stories contained in the bible. It’s also impossible to interpret the works without the vocabulary. I thought of it as general knowledge. Marica calls it (more accurately, in my opinion) global literacy. Every culture has a global literacy – I suspect this is why even after living in a different culture for a very long time, it’s possible to to be tripped on a small stub – a story meme, theme, or subtle nuance you couldn’t access unless you’d learned it at your mother’s or father’s knee.

In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations product details at Amazon Jerry Mander writes (amongst other things) about the impact of electronic media on residents of the snow bound northern Canada regions, and how the loss of the traditional stories (and more importantly the story telling in itself) also meant the loss of the transmission of the survival techniques – the lesson contained in the stories that got told over and over. I think this is one of the essential weaknesses of digital storytelling, even though it’s a lot of fun to make, it’s still a filtered method of storytelling – it’s push technology as well.

I like portable tools I can use immediately, when batteries are not only not included, they’re not needed. Rote learning suddenly seemed like an exciting and new approach when the storage facilities are limited. Singing. Chanting. Mnemonics. Rhymes. Storytelling. Who knew? Good on you, Mum, I’m still learning from you.

Peter’s story…

I first encountered Peter a couple of years ago. He’d left a comment on my blog. I replied and we quickly became good buddies. Our lives were quite different – me with a wife and kids and domestic responsibilities and job that wasn’t much fun, and he leading a rather more exotic lifestyle. Peter lived on Kaua’i, a distant part of the Hawaiian Islands. We got on like brothers, and no matter how mundane my life seemed, he always had an encouraging word, and when things got rough – when work started to crush the life out of me he managed to help me keep a sense of proportion – the bigger view. I sensed a vague sense of envy on his part – although I could never see why – he lead a life in fantastic corner of the planet, and he had no shortage of company – he was always telling me about the women in his life. There was a constant stream, often more than one at a time and I often wondered how he managed to avoid the issues of them meeting. Apparently this had never happened. Peter had a gift for juggling, no doubt about it.

My job continued to take a number of unpleasant twists and turns, and life at home began to mirror my work day. I never climbed into a bottle, or did drugs, because I figured they’d only make the bad situation worse. I did climb into my head and in the quiet dark spent a great deal of time silently screaming – or so I ‘liked’ to call it. In reality it was more about churning my manager’s most recent put down over and over. Replaying the scenario again, maybe trying to work out the best way forward, maybe because the desperation had begun to pull my heart out of my chest.

Peter’s email became an absolute lifesaver. He’d remind me of the good stuff in my life – my wife and kids, our home, our folks, the weekend, the garden, a barbecue at the beach – the simple good stuff that some how Peter managed to make sound so valuable. And it is, of course, but when your day goes through the mincer it’s hard to remember this stuff. More than once I’d turn from his email with my eyes burning with tears. It’s not often that a guy will admit to that.

Gradually the clouds of my life began to turn brighter – my manager was promoted to a new division and her replacement was cast from a different mould. As light began to enter I realised I’d never found out what Peter did for a living. Peter and I had the kind of relationship where we’d shared everything, but I was a bit surprised I didn’t exactly know what he did. It’s not like it was a secret, I guess I was so concerned with my own issues I’d never asked and – well, it just never came up. I imagined he was a programmer or something. He knew his way around tech having helped solve some network issues I’d been having. He was clearly well paid because his lifestyle would’ve demanded a reasonable pay packet if nothing else, and his hours appeared to be fairly flexible – I didn’t think too much about that aspect because we were in a different time zones made everything just a notch more confusing.

His email in response to my question rocked me back in my chair with a laugh. Peter was an entertainer. So much for my visions of him being a programmer guru. I suddenly had this vision of him being this tall, tanned dude in a Hawaiian shirt, Magnum moustache and a woman on each arm. He thought that was hilarious. But he didn’t deny it – I think he liked the image, and said he’d use that as part of his act. Karaoke champ? This time his laughter bubbled up of the email. No, he said, he was a storyteller – tusitala. I immediately was relieved – I finally knew what he did, and was further intrigued – as a writer what had he written? Amazon turned up nothing under his name – Vere-Smith is a distinctive surname – but not distinctive enough for Google.

I was perplexed. I was envious. I was trying to be adult about it, but frankly, I was kind of angry too – I’d just spent months in horrid job, while my friend was having this fantastic lifestyle. How could a person earn enough to have the lifestyle, and be a writer, without having a published book?

No, he didn’t do publish on demand books, nor did he create limited edition books, although it turned out he did do limited edition, exclusive performance works. Peter worked entirely online, which explained the tech expertise. He ran a subscription-based web site, catering for well-heeled women who wanted a certain kind of private entertainment, the kind that Peter was evidently willing and able to supply. He gave me a password to the site and the feedback was clear – he was good, damn good, at what he did.

My envy turned into amazement, and then back secretly to envy mixed with curiosity. “How on earth did you get started in that kind of writing – tell me so I can too – just kidding. But how?”

Peter’s answer was matter-of-fact. He had been involved in a disabling car accident – he was unable to return to his previous role as an editor for a women’s magazine. He took the insurance money and called in some favours, and reinvented his life online. As to how he got started, well, apparently the injuries were significant, and a team of specialists undertook some radical therapy. “You won’t believe it,” he said, “they started by asking me to imagine playing tennis – serving, volleying and chasing down balls. And then they asked me to picture myself walking from room to room in my home.”

“That started the process, and with the assistance of technology I’m able to engage with people, and earn a healthy income, and enjoy myself – and have interesting conversations with people around the world. Plus, of course, my delightful customers.”

I had a feeling there was something slightly missing, and so, ‘Peter, what was the extent of your injuries?’ I was shocked to discover that the range of injuries was vast and the extent enormous. Peter lived life effectively bed ridden, assisted by nurses and a neurotechnician who managed the net connections and the brain wave interface – Peter did not use a keyboard, or voice activated software, it was entirely constructed by his thought processes.

My vision of Peter as this strapping surf god was replaced a shell of a man held together with high tech apparatus. “Don’t the customers find this disturbing?” I asked him.

“No”, he said, “They have an impression of me – I assist them to create an image of what they want me to be – tall, tanned with a Magnum moustache.”

I had to smile. “Sounds familiar, got a Hawaiian shirt?”

I could feel his laughter and Peter was back as I imagined him, and I could see how busy, lonely women would enjoy a ‘no-strings, wild things’ interlude with this guy. He was attentive, charming, he had ‘a certain way’.

“I’ve always known women want, and so I give it to them – well, let’s be clear, sell it to them.”

“You’re just a gigolo”, I joked with him.

“Oh no, only guys can be a gigolo.”

I was confused.

‘Try Google news for me on imagining playing tennis – “serving, volleying and chasing down balls”, and see just how I got started.’

they’re ba-a-a-a-ack!

my bassYay! I was so pleased today to discover where ‘my’ sea bass had slunk off to. Through the summer I’d enjoyed my daily view into the world of the bass that live in the harbour. I’m not prepared to say exactly where they are in case they get taken for someone’s table, which would really destroy my viewing pleasure. I call them bass – I’m a long way from being convinced that’s what they really are – probably some other kind of Labrid…but I call them bass – more to do with their banded reddish colours than any other more scientific indication.

The image above shows off one of the bass. The other fish is a good sized spotty, so, the bass is clearly not a spotty. The dark blob in front of the bass is a mussel – I’d guess it’s an average sized adult – about 100mm long. I’d guess the spotty is in the region of 200 mm, which would make the bass about 400mm long – give or take a millimetre.

I used to watch the bass (it looked like a pair) almost every day through the summer. They seemed to occupy about 4 metre long by 1 metre wide by 2 metre deep territory, and although they appeared to continually be roving over the mussel beds covering the wharf piles, I never saw them interact with each other or with the spotties. Over the winter the section of wharf broke away and the bass vanished with it. As usual, I’m more interested watching the fish than catching than catching the fish. In their new location the lighting is better, so hopefully in time I’ll score some better images. Their new space (if it is the same fish) appears to be more long lasting, as well as better lit. Real estate – everything in Wellington is about upgrading.

writer’s retreat

Sitting in the side foyer of the City Gallery, at lunch time, to catch some sun out of the chilly breeze. It’s warm, pleasantly so, the aircon is purring away like a satisfied cat.

I’m writing in my yellow note book with my gel pens, trying to provoke some words I can live with. It’s a bit like cultivating a garden where we live – a thankless task, the futility of which is further highlighted by the obscenely stringy corpses of vegetation that hasn’t had the good taste to rot away from the last effort. No words to be dug out today.

The gel pens don’t have the dignity to scratch the way the old school dip pens did, they simply peter out and so I sit like a teeny-bopper, three gel pens, three different colours, and swap them over as the moment moves me – to keep the flow. I’m appalled at myself. The pens have glitter ink, and only thing I feel I should be adding to finish it off is to carefully draw heart shaped tittles – the ‘dot’ over each i.

So much for my efforts to ‘just let it go’. I had equal success with ‘just put it out there’. Ditto with ‘just stop trying, let it come to you.’ Same with ‘I’m turning it over to the universe now.’ Nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Devoid of words. The aircon purrs, the sun pours through the window. My head begins to climb into the white noise. I relax.

“Excuse me, is it free today?”

I consider ignoring the words – pretending they were for someone else. There is no one else present. I turn around on the bench. I smile my coathanger smile, previously reserved for serving drunks at the bar. A very intentional looking Maori woman smiled back at me. An authentic smile. I upgraded my smile to the real thing. Ran the playback – “…is it free today?”

I wanted to say look lady – there’s this tree out side with strange looking leaves developing and maybe it’s a liriodendron, but maybe not because they look small but maybe it’s container grown and needs a feed and the leaves’d make interesting photos and should I come back tomorrow to take photos because if I leave it a few more days it’ll be too late, and how can I get the photos without going into the creche grounds and how dubious would that look, and look, actually, stuffed if I know what was it again? “…is it free today?”

Our smiles are slightly cooled. I can see the look in her eye – is he on drugs? Clearly, I’m a crazy man. I figure she’s asking about the exhibition and I’d seen a sign outside that says City Gallery, Open everyday, free. So I said, “Oh no, it’s all free today. Everything’s free.”

“Oh, ok.” She smiles. “Thank you.”

I pretend the woman vanishes. She sits. Inside doubt begins to gnaw on me. The gnawing grows. Soon it’s sucking the marrow out of my bones. I look up and see a sign on a door in the distance. I can dimly make out the words ‘Writers blah blah’.

I’m writing in my yellow note book using multicoloured gel pens.

I’m sitting outside a workshop that’s a) for writers and b) about to start in 15 minutes.

I’m writing.

The wave crashes in. I’m suddenly mortified as the circumstantial evidence washes over my head and slams me onto the beach of reality – I’m writing at the scene of writers… that must mean… oh my god – this wahine has mistaken me for a writer!!!

Flustered, I shove all my stuff in my glasses case. It now holds three gel pens – red (doesn’t work well), green (a psycho alien green that does work well but is hideous), and orange (held together with cellotape); a 1gb memory stick with less than 3mb of space left; my xD picture card USB stick, and the cleaning cloth (not that clean in itself) for my glasses. My glasses no longer easily fit in this tortured ecosystem of contemporary ephemera, and so I have to shove my glasses in, risking my glasses life and limbs.

I smile stupidly at the lady, stare at the sign more closely, confirm that – ‘yes, it is free today’, and scuttle away to the library. I get a seat by the windows overlooking the gallery, and peer back towards the bench where I was sitting. The Maori lady is nowhere in sight. There are people arriving and going in to the theatrette. It was free today so I figure I’m going back. I’m going to find out what’s going on in there. Comfort zone my ass!

Turned out indeed there was a scripting of writers there – the ten students from Vics master of creative writing. I stayed for the first couple – a poetess (v.deep and meaningful – i.e. lost my interest quickly) and a short story writer – who bravely read a work in progress mentioning the women of Smyrna. I had to get back to work – 13:00 start time – clearly student hours. As I left I could feel the Maori woman’s gaze. I’d like to think she thought I’d been inspired by the works and I simple had to write my words down. In reality, she probably thought, “Is he on drugs? He keeps rushing off.”

It is unclear if the tree concerned is a Liriodendron. My glasses survived.

Give ’em a chop with Hrunting!!!

There’s a slight irony that Dell (they of the exploding, burning laptop batteries) sponsored the computer recycling binge over the weekend. Great, I guess, that recycling happens at all, but slightly wasteful nevertheless. I have three five (maybe six) pcs hiding in the basement, with a vision of getting some space and time to build a beowulf.

Yahoodawhatta? A beowulf. As they say in Wired 8:12 December 2000:

Have you always fancied yourself an übergeeky processing-speed freak with a supercomputer in the den? For as little as $3,000 – even less if you have some old PCs lying around – you can live your dream and build a Beowulf cluster of PCs running the Linux OS, with speed rivaling the $20 million Crays of yore.

If you’re even slightly familiar with PC hardware and Linux, you’ll be able to render advanced animations, crack high-grade encryption codes, or help find E.T. by speed-crunching SETI project data.

So, instead of merely recycling them, Dell might’ve done something really dynamic with the pcs. For example, from iTWire, 27 August 2006,

US scientists intend to build a supercomputing network from idle PlayStation 3 boxes sitting in gamers’ homes in a project aimed at understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.

The scientists at FAH want to enlist the PS3 consoles in gamers’ homes into the network when they’re not being used. Volunteers with PS3 boxes would download a piece of software that would enable FAH to use their processors when they’re idle.

According to FAH, a network of 10,000 PS3 boxes would enable processing performance four times as fast as the most powerful supercomputer in the world, the IBM BlueGene/L computer in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at the University of California.

As xmas approaches, I can see a new marketing campaign where the kids nudge mum and dad for a PS3, ‘not for playing games on, but to save Gramps’. And everyone wants to save Gramps, right? Sure. Who cares about the boring games…