Yearly Archives: 2008

The deal

Tonight I cruised into the supermarket to grab some fixin’s for dinner. Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. I noticed the trolley wrangler was wearing a green Santa’s helper hat. I remembered how my friend George had commented about the horrors of having to wear crap hats to hold down a job. Demeaning, he called it. I tried to drag myself nearer the festive part of the festive season. Three weeks to the day one of my colleagues announced today, in tones of joy that I didn’t know and chastisement that I didn’t know, blended with a subtle nuance of terror because she did know, and she knew what it meant. She also knew there was only one pay day between now and then. Almost like knowing there was only one more breath of air left in the car you drove off the wharf … sinking …

The supermarket. Instead of the usual blitz of frenzied looking faces grabbing calories to get through the night, no, tonight there was a bit of a crowd around the door, trays of slightly used looking snacks, and was that a barbecue? And someone in a penguin suit? No, not a tux; a suit what is a penguin. Handing out gee-gaws to sticky children prodded to the fore by grateful mothers. ‘Thank God that’s solved today’s demand.’ Is this how we want to live our lives? One of my other colleagues asked me today, ‘How do you approach xmas?’ Before I had a chance to answer he finished, ‘With trepidation?’

‘No’, I reassured him, ‘With fear and loathing.’ He laughed. We both laughed, in the way that those deep cellular memories laugh, the way our ancestral hunters laughed, around the camp fire, knowing full well that in the darkness just beyond the glow the sabre-toothed lion awaited. Patiently.

Xmas seems a bit like this for me this year. Been a long, long year – lots of laughs, but in the shadows, who knows. I grabbed me nuts (Brazils, keep it seemly) and me buttermilk, and headed for the checkout. Gotta get out of supermarket city … standing in queue. I turn, look at the next checkout queue. Checkout Chuck is wearing felt antlers. One proudly erect, one flaccid, spent, hanging over his be-pimpled face. And I think to myself, no, not what a beautiful world; rather, have I been somehow slurped into a Bosch painting?

Back, paying attention to my checkout. Wait, no, I’m distracted by a person (?) in a suit that looks a yellow coin with legs and arms. My mind evacuates itself. I am completely unable to … the switch goes to autopilot. I stare at the coin outfit. It makes no sense. I look for help to the checkout chick. She follows my glance and shrugs. At least I’m not hallucinating, she sees it too. ‘You must’ve been good’, I said. ‘Why?’ ‘You didn’t have to wear the yellow suit.’ ‘No’, she agreed.

We looked at the yellow suit, and back at each other. She seemed a trustworthy girl. ‘I want to make a deal with you, ‘ I said. ‘Sure, ok.’ ‘If I ever lose my job and become desperate for work, and I have to wear the yellow suit, I want you to kill me. Do NOT let me wear the yellow suit.’ ‘Sure, ok.’ ‘Deal?’ ‘Deal.’

I trust her.

I pay. I leave. I find out as I get closer (trying to be more invisible than my ancestral hunter confronting the sabre-tooth) it’s not a coin, it’s a crumpet. A crumpet. Someone came to work today and got paid to dress up as a starch-based food product. I walk back to the car. That was close. Too close. Oh, I know all about fear and loathing. I remember the year, that xmas, I came to work the crowds dressed up as Coogee Bear. You know, Rolf Harris. Coogee Bear. C’mon, you know you do.

Dressed up. For free. Where was that checkout chick when I needed her?

books

Once there was a well known philosopher and scholar who devoted himself to the study of Zen for many years. On the day that he finally attained enlightenment, he took all of his books out into the yard, and burned them all.

From John Suler’s Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbour.

catalytic projection

I wrote earlier about how it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter. The message is, although we’ve been stuck inside and generally weather bound, connections to people and places and ideas and concepts and dreams have been exploding all over the place. I’ve always been really interested in loose affiliations and vague connections – the stuff of inspiration – mystery and imagination. Somewhere in the fusion of the six degrees of separation and how you don’t know how you have changed a person’s life is how our lives seem to have been working this year.

At times it’s felt more than a little overpowering, and at other times it’s been a complete blast. I haven’t been able to put it clearly in words, but, in a way typical of how the year has unfolded, I found a video that very accurately shows the year’s expression of our ideas and interactions – with each other, with you, and subsequently the rest of the population.

The best way to experience the full impact is to open the vid to full screen (click the second button in from the bottom right) and crank the audio volume up to melt-down-imminent-you-need-a-note-from-your-mother-to-do-this. May I present, our year of ideas and interactions with others in 3 minutes and 44 seconds… thanks, everyone, couldn’t do it without you.

no writing. reading only.

One of the nervous moments people experience is the thought of their parents – you know – doing it. Not doing it, doing IT. Somehow the thought of our grandparents doing it isn’t so bad, and great grandparents – well, no one thinks about it. The ‘it’ I’m writing about is keeping a blog – a journal – a diary. What if we found our parents had kept a diary – oh horrors – what would it contain? And meanwhile we write like creatures possessed and think this online stuff is all new and exciting. We are the first generation to share our intimate (sometimes TOO intimate) thoughts with the rest of the globe. You know who you are.

My life, it seems, lately, has involved no writing here. I’ve been writing elsewhere, and now, slutty reader that I am, reading elsewhere too. Honestly, no shame, I’ll read anything. It’s not as though I’m addicted, I could give up at any time. I’ve found this new haibun/haiku writer – can you guess who is the author?

Drizzly.
  Dense mist in evening.
Yellow moon.

Hey, good for you – I would never have guessed George Orwell. Yes, that George Orwell. George has started to publish his diaries online. And the haibun/haiku is from August 10, 1938. Makes me think George would’ve been a first class writer using Twitter.

There’s something addictive to reading George’s writing – he’s as attracted to (or at least documents) the banal and mundane as the rest of us – he would’ve been a blogger or tweeter or whatever as much as anyone else these days, except, of course, it’s 70 years ago. Startling. Addictive. And when he’s got his writing going on, baby, it’s going on.

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter…

Well, long and cold, and while I have known lonely winters, this hasn’t been one of them. I haven’t written here for what seems like forever, but I have been writing like a mad thing over at the two new sites we’ve put together…

Business Savvy – For years I’ve taught people how to set up their own businesses. I have a special interest in micro business, patchwork economics, and rural community economic development. I decided that I would a) declutter the basement office, and b) make the material I’ve gathered over 20 years available online so that perhaps other people might be able to go on and change their lives and those of their family’s for a positive future.

A good reason why it hasn’t been a lonely winter… I’m a loaner. I changed jobs earlier this year – instead of a farewell gift of something fabbo like a plate with a picture of kitten to hang on the wall I asked for contributions to my investment fund for Kiva, and for my colleagues to pick out an investment for me. They did, and together we invested in an entrepreneur in Togo. Loaves and fishes. Having invested in fish, the next step has been to invest in loaves…

Cecilia Nyameke (from Tarkwa, Ghana) is a divorced mother with six children. Currently four of her children are in school. She has been baking for six years and her business serves as the main source of income for the family.

Image from Kiva.org - loans that change lives

She wants to use her loan to buy bags of flour, sugar, and baking powder to expand her operation and also to avoid price hikes. Cecilia is a member of the group called Abandenden Jesus (meaning “Jesus, our Strong Tower”). Members agree to guarantee for each other to repay the loan.

I look at this photo and I just want to buy and try some the bread, still warm from the oven, with lashings of butter and clover honey. I can’t recommend the stories highly enough.

Another reason why the winter hasn’t been lonely – Get Going Online. After teaching html and web at night school for a couple of years, and to celebrate 10 years of writing web pages and developing web sites, I decided to offer people a great way of getting going online. There are huge numbers of small businesses with ugly and out-of-date web sites. Why? If you’re not geeky and/or if you’re busy running your business, how do you update your web site? The options are you either don’t – and that’s a bit of a disaster – or you pay someone else to do it for you – and that is a potential disaster too. I decided to offer businesses a happy compromise with a content management system and some limited customisation – at small business scaled prices. It’s a good deal, especially as seeing the end result is anything but under-powered. Get Going Online is offering well over 400 designs (more arriving every day), and the preview isn’t just a screen snap or two, the preview IS the full site – this is what your site will look like. I’m very, very pleased with the way it’s shaping up and the positive responses.

And another reason why it hasn’t been a lonely winter…

just checking…

Geek alert! One of the great things about WordPress (that’s the do-dah that makes this writing space possible) is people have been able to bend their incredible creative and geeky skills to writing plugins. They’re useful (often very) mini-do-dahs that clip into the do-dah and make it more powerful/useful/attractive etc. And I can’t believe I’m writing about one such mini-do-dah – Broken Link Checker, by Latvian, Janis Elsts. Now while Janis has done a great job, there is a part of me that hates him – the part that has discovered there’s something like 110 broken links/missing images over this and the aquaculture spaces.

How unique though. Not that links are broken, but that in the ‘old’ days one would write and there was referencing to books, journals, manuscripts – whatever – but the expectation was/is that they will stay in print, or be available somewhere. Writing with links was seen to be *the * way to go in the web 2.0 world, but I sense a feeling of ‘I’ll link to my own writing’ to be sure that – as far as sensible I can control the availability of the resources, and sustain the credibility of the writing. Talk about fungible…meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ll be spending some time sorting the links and renewing or removing them. And my future writing will be considering the robustness of the link destinations. Ah, the joys of new problems. We don’t know what we are training kids for – the jobs and issues are unknown at this point, because the technologies haven’t been invented yet.

Open Library

A kind of ‘Open Sesame’ to the Aladdin’s Cave of published books. The way humans are going on we’re soon going to have to open another planet next door just to store the books. Open Library is an ideal option for the LibraryThing you have going on. Oh. You don’t have LibraryThing. You do have books? Oh, you don’t have books…

From the Open Library project:

One web page for every book ever published. It’s a lofty, but achievable, goal.

To build it, we need hundreds of millions of book records, a brand new database infrastructure for handling huge amounts of dynamic information, a wiki interface, multi-language support, and people who are willing to contribute their time, effort, and book data.

To date, we have gathered about 30 million records (13.4 million are available through the site now), and more are on the way. We have built the database infrastructure and the wiki interface, and you can search millions of book records, narrow results by facet, and search across the full text of 230,000 scanned books.

Open Library is a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, and is funded in part by a grant from the California State Library. We have a small team of fantastic programmers who have accomplished a lot, but we can’t do it alone! This is an Open project – the software is open, the data is open, the documentation is open, and the site is open.

They also have an ever expanding selection of scanned/full text books (free download or read online), so you can avoid those nasty overdue fines…

the people yes

people-yesA word cloud based on lines from Carl Sandburg’s ‘The People Yes’, created with help from Wordle.

I’ve written about the poem previously, and said how it ‘describes me and most of my days’. Of late that has been more true than ever as I’ve been able to watch good people work hard to try to make a difference, while bad people seem to be able to make a difference (of a different kind) seemingly effortlessly. We’re all people, it’s the choices we make that sends us on different paths. Once we get on our respective path getting off it is difficult, no matter who we are; and no matter whether we do good or do evil.

One of my colleagues used to regularly ask me, ‘How are you?’

My standard answer was/is, ‘I’m doing good.’

And he would always laugh and give me a bit of a hard time about doing good. I’m still confused by the question and by his response. Perhaps it was the work context where doing good is something of a work-in-progress kind of concept. I don’t care – it’s not a work-in-progress for me. I am very clear. Do good, my people, do good.

bombed back to the dark ages…

Driven by by the dual forces of my Dad being able to turn his hand to any sort of manual skill, and my paranoia about the world being thumped back to the dark ages, I’m very interested in how to survive in primitive contexts. Seems I’m not the only one to have wasted invested hours thinking about what would be the useful skills to have at your finger tips if you were time jumped back to 1,000AD. Jason Kottke, with Survival tips for the Middle Ages, picked up from Marginal Revolution’s Time travel back to 1000 A.D.: Survival tips.

First, a quick snapshot of 1000 AD. China and the Muslim worlds look like they’ve got it going on. England is waiting for William the Conquerer, the Pope is on the throne in Europe, and the rest of the place looks like the set of Jabberwocky. Actually, for the most part, commentary on the Kottke/Marginal Revolution sites bear startling resemblance to Jabberwocky, perhaps the film was a documentary.

I think survival skills are a topic worthy of consideration – I believe it is very possible we might well be headed there given our ongoing addiction to oil. The original question was – ‘How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.’ I intend to refine the question somewhat to include what skill sets would you be able to bring to today if you were suddenly transported to an economy that money was of extremely limited value?

I have lived in places where money was of very limited value. Most island communities are like this even today – money only has value if there is somewhere to spend it, borrow it, lend it. The old adage that it’s made round to go round is absolutely core to its value. In a barter based economy, skill sets and personal social contracts are the order of the day.

So, what would I bring to the table? Some of this stuff I did years ago, so my skills are a bit rusty, but I could pick them up again fairly quickly. If I could bring a few things with me, a good knife, a ball of nylon cord, and some vegetable and kefir seeds would be the items I’d start with. It’s a bit like building a CV for the dark ages.

  • Rotational cropping with nitrogen fixing plants (clover), coupled with composting and earthworm husbandry.
  • Plant propagation skills which include harvest, storage, preservation, and seed storage.
  • Bee-keeping, honey processing.
  • Hide preparation, preservation, and tanning for leather
  • Clay processing, building, wood firing, and salt glazing pottery
  • Brewing alcohol, including distilling spirits that can be safely consumed
  • Growing sour dough yeasts and making bread

And I’d probably be a dab hand at catching fish, and not too bad at aquaculture, given the right temperatures and species. I can read and write, albeit not in latin, and my maths is sort of ok-ish, so I think my best bet in Europe would be to head for a monastery if I wanted to preserve the ‘good life’. I can draw out labyrinths, so perhaps I’d find a gap somewhere in some monastic order. I think realistically, I’d do better heading towards the warmer climes, and finding a nice fishing village looking for someone who can take raw agricultural, horticultural, and aquacultural materials and create some added value. The trick in barter cultures is to be able to add value – everyone can catch a fish or raid a nest – the creator of a good gin is a valuable person to have around.

But Europe? Europe? Honestly, why would anyone want to go to such verminous and pestilential place, filled with oppressive regimes and bizarre religious activities? And it was no better in 1000 AD. My venue of choice for a flashback to 1000 AD would be the Cook Islands. Frankly, my dark ages CV would be of limited value – reading and writing and to an extent, maths – irrelevant; the plant propagation/fish farming would be of value; I don’t know that there’s viable clay for pottery – if so, great; tanning would be pretty much limited to dog or perhaps shark hide, bread depends on grain/flour, I’m unsure about the presence of honey bees (doubt it somehow); alcohol might be an option. What I could bring to bear is art and craft skills, and once I’d refined my limited Maori into Cook Island Maori language, story telling could be a good thing along with helping out with hunting and fishing. At least it would be clean, warm, healthy, and ok, so it wouldn’t have achieved the levels of ‘civilisation’ of Europe, but really, who cares? The end result is a planet that has a severely compromised immune system and a diminished resale value. I’ll take fresh fish and tropical fruit, washed down with clean water, on a tropical island surrounded by friendly, smiling people any day. That’s what I call civilisation. You can keep the horrors of the cathedral/plague ridden/crusade driven insanity.

How would you survive if suddenly transported back to 1000 AD? Leave your suggestions for survival in the comments.

lutfisk


When I was a kid we didn’t have tv. Yes, I did have a pet dinosaur. Somehow my parents discovered the local museum (and when I say ‘local’, I mean a 45 minute drive away, in part over unsealed roads) ran sessions comprised of 16mm movies – documentaries – in the museum basement. It was not unlike sitting in Tutankhamen’s private theatre, if King Tut had used those finger removing folding wooden chairs, later to be used by the Spanish Inquisition to such good effect.

I fell in love with the images (typically of New Zealand) from the National Film Unit, the national pride invoked by vivaciously positive sounding voice-overs, the haw-haw jokes, and the unique music – it was unlike anything heard or used in another context before of since. Add in the torture seats, the screechy-scratchy sounds of the chairs on the hard floor, the smells of mothballs and the flickering lights on the screen – plus, of course the thrill of being out with Mum and Dad past our bedtime – all set to be a thrilling experience. So, yeah, had the pet dinosaur, but also had an experience that probably couldn’t be re-created for our young’uns. They probably aren’t going to be uplifted by scenes of mountain buttercups fluttering in the breeze, blue skies in the Southern Alps, or majestic waterfalls. You can see how, when Peter Jackson bought out the National Film Unit, all that footage found its way into the Lord of the Rings, fantastic, even if they had to toss in a couple of hobbits and some other stuff. Gotta pay the bills I s’pose.

When I found the clip above I was reminded of the documentaries clattering away in the basement of the Wanganui Museum. It’s worth viewing just for the terrific production values alone, and of course, somehow the EU food hygiene requirements hadn’t been brought into play at that point. I imagine no-one died from eating lutfisk. I don’t imagine many of the people actually producing the lutfisk were later served such delicacies in the manner shown in the film… Culture. This is culture, that is culture, this is all culture.