Monthly Archives: November 2006

how much is that doggy in the window?

Mark Bernstein has been asking some interesting questions about how much is the value of money through history. For some reason I’ve always found this to be interesting – as a teen I didn’t understand inflation – all I knew was my workmates did ‘PJs’ – private jobs and got paid $4 per hour for doing architectural drawings. This to me seemed an astoundingly large sum of money. I got paid the princely sum of $70/fortnight/gross, for a fulltime week, ie 40 working hours. Note to self – don’t return to the architectural draughting world. Today I earn that in a few hours. But by way of comparison, I was cleaning out some drawers in the garage at home and found a newspaper from the time. A great four bedroom house, three car garage (and possibly a pool), in the best suburb – $10,000.

Assuming I had no need to eat, sleep, clothe, pay tax, or otherwise squander money, I could’ve bought that house in 11,428 hours labour. Today, to buy a rather less salubrious house, – say of $500,000 (which wouldn’t buy a house of the above specs in a reasonable, similar suburb here in Wellington), it would take me well over 14,000 hours.

There’s about 2,000 chargeable hours in a year. In 1973, when I had my first fulltime job if I could have worked and saved every penny I earned I would’ve been able to buy a great house in a great suburb in slightly over five and a half years (not allowing for interest). Today, it would take well over seven years. Gee, we’ve never had it so good. And for those of you wondering why you still don’t have a home of your own, or why your wife has to work just to make ends, please be assured it’s not because she throws out the crusts of bread instead of saving them to make your lunch tomorrow.

I don’t know whether it’s globalisation or a succession of delinqent govenments – or – ok, I’m going for it – Bring back Buck. There don’t appear to be simple answers – or better, someone to blame. But based on my relatively short lifetime, I suspect for the average kiwi – and I earn rather more than the average kiwi – the egalitarian dream of buying a house on the quarter acre section in a pleasant tree lined suburb will be a thing of the past in another generation or two; simply because of there not being enough time to earn and repay the money. I often hear people saying, ‘I don’t know how young people are going to get a start these days.’ And this is not unreasonable – people don’t always calculate things out to the cent, but they have a good general feeling about how much money isn’t in their wallets, and how sleep deprived they feel by the end of the week.

My family has wills going back to the 1600’s – to the time of the Black Plague, Cromwell, and Isaac Newton – we (my ancestors) avoided them all. I can remember when we got the copies we laughed with my Dad when we found that one of the ancestors bequeathed everyone a gold guinea. And this went on for generations. Everyone bequeathing everyone a guinea. A guinea – good grief – what could you buy for that? Well, in those days it bought you middle class. You didn’t have to go in the army, you were a free man (or woman). My old history teacher (later as a colleague) sniffed and said ‘You have always been bourgeois – neither poverty of the peasants nor the responsibility of the aristocracy’.

As if I wanted either – free is good enough for me. And it’s clear – no matter when the time you find yourself in – it’s not how much you earn that makes the difference, what counts is how much you’ve got left after you’ve paid the bills.

rasterbation doesn’t make you blind

Marica - tiled images from the RasterbatorOnce, I planned a surprise for Marica’s birthday. I’d found this wonderful *free* software ‘the Rasterbator‘, which takes your standard image and allows you to print it big. Way big. Hugely big. You run out of toner and paper big. Christo wrap the coast of Sydney big. Big.

I grabbed part of an image of Marica. Tuned it in photoshop – vignetted, sharpened, groomed, and greyscaled it, and then printed it out on my less-than-special laser printer. Some moments with a roll of tape and a blob of blu-tak and the job was done. The results were then hung in our house foyer, ready for her to skip downstairs (as is her wont) on the way to breakfast. I’d hung the work a day or two beforehand behind a quilt my sister had made and so I managed to slip the surprise past the kids as well, a rare bonus.

The tiles are printed on A4 sheets – that’s 210mm x 297mm – there’s some banding apparent which probably wouldn’t be there if there’d been a new cartridge in the printer. The image is a 6 x 6 image – so 36 sheets of paper were required. Rasterbator can also produce colour, but I haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet. I think the best results when printing in black is to convert the image to greyscale so you’ve got a better idea about how the tones will work. The Rasterbator converts the greyscale image into differing size dots – not unlike how a newspaper photo is presented.

cone of silence

I bought an early xmas pressie for us – the 30gb iPods. Yay! They’ve been a while coming while I reconciled myself to paying about four or more times what I’d expect to pay for a 30gb hard drive. You can tell the Mac charisma doo-dah hasn’t really taken root with me – I was all keen get a black one, and then found the earphones were in matching white. Great, a true designer accessory. And then I’ve discovered that, because I was cursed from birth with deformed ears, the hard shiny plastic speaker cases slide out of my ears – or, better still when I got really annoyed and shoved them up my head, they stuck to the wounded flesh and formed a sound-proof seal. Pffft – design. Yeh, right. Deliciously idiosyncratic, quirky, gently eccentric. See also: crap design. However, as Kate writes, great packaging.

Moaning aside, there have been a few great new experiences as a result of joining the iPod set. First, I now have more Mozart than I know what to do with (although I do know what to do with it). Instead of playing the same cd over and over because it was too hard to change (and who can be bothered when the flow kicks in?) I an now able to create a day’s worth of sounds and let ‘er rip. Rip being the operative word. I’ve managed to dig out some meditation material and now spend a set time meditating each day. I write a set time too. No big changes, but it’s a coordinated strategy and I’ll go with that.

From cds I know really well I’m finding subtle sounds and effects I didn’t know was there – so, I’m rediscovering familiar music all over again. I’m also realising how much noise there is downtown, as I have to turn the sound up much more walking during the day than I do in my office. I had the bizarre experience of having the earphones blown out of my ears the other day – not from the volume, but from the gentle breezes we’ve had wafting in lately.

One of the greatest benefits of wearing the headphones is it’s like being in a cone of silence. Whether you’re listening or not. People don’t engage with you. I even noticed in the lifts people don’t even so much as look at me – they don’t engage at all – I’m loving that.

So now the gloss is fading from the new-ness, I can relax into finding cool ways of hacking the iPod. I’m interested to see if I can take a leaf out of Kate’s book and maybe get flash working for interactive learning games, to get text into audio, to generally make this over-priced playback device earn its keep.

christhit is coming…

One of the things I love to hate is pseudo-political correctness gone mad, particularly when this is applied to perfectly clear English by petit bureaucrats. Makes me furious with frustration at the stupidity, and waste of resource$. This week’s example has been an exceptional effort by ACC – yes, they of the inaccessible web site.

The topic concerned? It’s no longer correct to say ‘near miss’. Oh no, although that is correct, the new word is ‘near hit’ – sorry, they use double speech marks for added authenticity – “near hit”.

What this means is when you’re in a red double decker bus that drives through a giant billboard showing Cliff Richards, and you (and the bus, and everyone else in the bus) crash to the bottom of a cliff – what do you say? Correct! You say, “Phew! That was close!” And when the bus explodes seconds later in a ball of flame, killing everyone, well that’s show biz.

Wake up, ACC. It’s a near miss. A miss that was near. Like a miss that was far (you remember, ‘Ha! Missed me by miles!’), but closer.

A near hit is a flesh wound.

Oxford English Dictionary records:

II. Special uses.

13. … near miss, (a) a shot that only just misses a target; also in extended use; (b) a situation in which a collision is narrowly avoided

Opps – no subscription? Try the Compact Oxford instead. It’s free (yay!). Says this:

near miss

• noun 1 a narrowly avoided collision. 2 a bomb or shot that just misses its target.

Thinking more about the idiocy of ACC – outer space will have to become ‘outer earth’. Near space becomes ‘near earth’. Only PJ knows where middle earth is.

Clearly, while the real estate writers never let the truth stand in the way of good advert; the ACC writers clearly never feel the urge to let English stand in the way of their attempts to rewrite it.

walk the walk

Today has seemed rather more turgid than usual – my list of things to do recently has been expanding faster than I can cross things off, and today – ah, today – everything gridlocked and log jammed together. The great discovery of the day was that I have a blind spot in one eye. But, it is the first of November, and there’s been some good news from friends around the world. Trevor Romain has been invited by the United Nations ‘Children and Armed Conflict’ division to go to the Congo to work with kids. I know this is an issue near and dear to Trevor’s heart – and conceptually I’m jealous of him – to visit the Congo sounds wonderful, and such a great recognition of his work. Actually, the Congo sounds a pretty scary place and so my jealousy has some clearly defined limits.

Marcel Baaijens has arrived safely in Slovakia and is starting to report on his experiences on the El Camino – his pilgramage to Santiago. 764 km is a long way to look at bones – there must be some other force in action here. Marcel is planning on reporting for the next 38 days, along with images and pastel drawings of his impressions. Maybe if I ran it I’d get the 38 days in faster. Can’t wait to read the next instalment.

So, two friends out doing great things, in interesting corners of the planet, and I have a mote in my eye. Just great. I cut my tongue on an envelope once…