Category Archives: favorite things

FND Launched!

Yay! We went live with Fresh New Day this morning – not exactly countless hours, but uncounted hours of concentrated effort to get what is perhaps our most ambitious project off the ground. It doesn’t look like there’s much going on – a photo, a few words – but it really has been like the legendary duck – serene on the surface all the while paddling like crazy things below the surface. Nevertheless, a positive action that has already served to inspire and move others – I really want to say ‘our job is done’, but there’s plenty more effort to be put in yet. Check it out.

Life, changing

Christina's World
Christina’s World Art Print
Wyeth, Andrew
36 in. x 28.75 in.
Buy at AllPosters.com
Framed   Mounted

The first writing of the new brings no comfort at all. I was saddened to read of the passing of Andrew Wyeth noted by James Gurney, and then in the NYTimes. It’s always interesting to me how little things can change lives – and it was seeing the work, Christina’s World (above) that set me on a more creative path than I perhaps would’ve walked otherwise. I saw Wyeth’s work – reproductions rather than originals – in the 1970s and I was struck by the strange (yet familiar) isolation the images conveyed. It’s difficult for me to express how these sparse images are so evocative – I can all but hear the susurration of grasses, the soft ‘flumph’ of curtains pulled over the window frame to flap in the breeze, the ringing of silence. ‘Atmospheric’ doesn’t capture the almost surrealistic detail – and yet, when you look, no details, just scratchy brush marks. Wonderful.

My favorite work is ‘Wind from the Sea‘. Strangely haunting, I’ve only ever seen the painting by way of reproductions, most no larger than the link. I frequently think of this image, and before today the memory of it has somehow enticed me buy property near the sea – pursuing the empty promises of imagined realities. Who knows what are the sources of motivation?

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.

customer service

A couple of weeks ago we picked up a tub of black olives from the Thorndon New World (TNW) deli. Pretty uncomplicated stuff, you’ve probably done that kind of thing yourself. We got home and decided to make an antipasto thang for dinner – casual, picnic style, off the coffee table, and watch a movie – as you do. Well, we do, anyway (thinks: when did I get such classy readers?).

The olives were disgusting. No, not olives are disgusting (we like them) they were disgusting. They had some weirdo plastic flavour and they were just bad. I was grumpy because I’m just not the same without an olive or twenty two. Back in the fridge they went, and I festered and moaned about the horror of bad olives.

The next night I bundled up the olives and high tailed it back down the TNW, all the time planning on my approach to complaining about the olives. THE OLIVES! The head-talk: “Two thirds of the world is starving to death and I’m upset about olives. Get a grip!” The other part of me was thinking, “No, those thieving mongrels have sold us poor innocents substandard olives, they must be punished for this heinous deed.” Then, of course, another part was big into the “Oh my god, what if they were from some country where the mafia/cosa nostra/triad/illuminati/young nationals replaced the olive oil with diesel or whatever the last Spanish olive oil scandal was about, and we’ve eaten – noooooo – gak!” And finally, “What if half Wellington dies of bad olives? Remember ‘The Meaning of Life’? It was the salmon.” … You’re never alone if you have enough voices in your head.

All of us – me, and all the voices – stormed up to the customer service desk (alert: key words – customer service). I’m barely coherent at this point because all the voices wanted a say. Liam was on duty that night. He looked at me, listened, smiled, apologised, looked at the olives, apologised, tsk-tsked, smiled, sniffed the olives, apologised, fired up the refund process, apologised, smiled, I filled in a form, smiled, they refunded me twice the sticker price, smiled, apologised, and in less than 10 minutes I was back in the car.

I don’t quite know where the voices went. I went home.

A week or so later, a letter arrived, thanking me for participating in their ‘quality assurance’ programme. Um, I wouldn’t have quite called it that, but that’s what I do for a job, so I’m happy to lend my shoulder to the wheel. Overall, I’m a very satisfied customer, even if the olives – olives? Schmolives – who cares about olives? Thanks, Liam, you’ve got a bright future in whatever your chosen field. TNW – thanks for sticking to the game plan – I guess we’re worth $15,000 a year to you, so $10 worth of refund is less than the daily shrinkage from the dried fruit and nuts dept – plus there’s the promo work I’m doing here for you. But it’s about a principle. When New World presents a 200% satisfaction guarantee, they deliver on the promise. This is what is known as ‘customer service’. Please, Mr and Ms NZBusiness, take a look at the concept of customer service, and try to find a way of fitting in to the picture. This particularly means you, telecommunication companies.

thanks, guy

November 2. It’s 21:30 or thereabouts; and from outside I can here the occasional bang of fireworks. Double happys and tom thumbs we called ’em. New Zealand is attempting to manage the annual carnage of life, limb, property, pets, wildlife, real and forestry estate by only allowing fireworks to be sold four days before the official November 5 – Guy Fawkes day. I genuinely have no idea why we celebrate some pommie terrorist – perhaps it’s been because of the shocking absence (until recently) of our own home grown exemplars.

We never had fireworks as a kid. Instead (remember this is back in a time before and shortly after the introduction of tv – AND it was in glorious black and white) Mum would buy us a pineapple and a coconut. Her theory – her policy, damn it, the LAW was that Dad worked too hard to earn the money to put a roof over our heads and food on the table and there as NO WAY she was about to take money and set fire to it. At least with the treat of exotic fruit we would get four layers of pleasure from it. First – delicious and nutritious. Second – sensible use of money; and gratitude and respect for Dad’s sweat. How rare that is. Third – exotic. Exotic. Exotic. There we were, stuck in the boondocks and here was a taste of something from far away. I think we thought the fruit came from “The Islands” – I have no precise location, but it was then, and still is, an idea I am in love with every single day. “The Islands” – I so want to be there, even if they only exist in myth. Fourth – well, instead of having fireworks we got to go to school with a wedge of pineapple and a chunk of coconut, and watch our school chums writhe with envy. Oh, simple pleasures are the best ones.

every thing tells a story…

Some years ago I took my Mum to Townsville, far north Queensland. She’d had some surgery that hadn’t gone well. I was working three part time jobs being as full time work was unavailable. It was the middle of winter and some recuperation in the tropics seemed like a good idea for us both – I wanted my Dad to go with us, but he wouldn’t be parted from home. Off we went and we had the best time. We really enjoyed having a decent cappuccino – Wanganui being something of a coffee desert in those days. I decided to buy a cappuccino machine – and snapped the dividers out of the polystyrene box the machine came in to act as a chillybin (esky for the full Australiana) when we drove up to Cairns. We made very full use of the box – it was absolutely brilliant for keeping food and drinks cool. When it came time to come home there was no room in our suitcases to bring the box home – and so I went out to the dumpster to toss the box away. The nearer I got to the departure point, the worse I felt. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such complete guilt as I consigned our helpful friend to the trash. I went back to our rooms and I told Mum about what a complete fool I felt about feeling guilty about discarding the box. She felt the same – but there was no way we could bring the box back with us. Years later I still feel bad. And slightly silly about being emotionally attached to polystyrene packaging, repurposed as a chillybin.

Lately I’ve had cause to work through a lot of my possessions from my past. They’re just things – inanimate things – usually man-made, but not exclusively. Some things I’ve kept, some things I’ve sold, some things I’ve given away, and some things I’ve dumped. At times it’s been heart wrenchingly traumatic; other times it’s been a ‘oh no, just no, what were you thinking?’ moment. I have been wondering why some things are so hard to deal with. My niece, Catherine, said, ‘The trouble with all your stuff is, every thing has got a story. There’s nothing here that doesn’t have a story to go with it.”

To which my sister, Gillian, replied, ‘Well, yes. That’s why it’s here. If it didn’t have a story we wouldn’t bother with it.’

When I used to leave Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport, there was a sign that spanned the highway – ‘Every story has a beginning, a middle, and a beginning’. It was an ad for something – I have no idea what. But I loved the idea then, and now. When things arrive in my hand it’s rarely the beginning of the story. Rather it is part of the middle of a story. And the story continues once the thing leaves my hand. Objects don’t attain their own energy or their own personality – that’s what we/I ascribe to them – it’s their role in our stories that makes them hard to part with. What I’m realising is that the story doesn’t end when the item comes to me, and really, it’s better if I keep the story going by keeping the item moving. I’m feeling better about it that way.

tiddle me

I was talking about my new online Japanese haiku tiddlywiki with one of my workmates. He was saying how he’d like a tiddlywiki to create manuals etc, but the whole online hosting drama was just a pain when you’re not a geeky – after all, there’s a lot of energy required to create the content, and then working out the grit of getting a web site running – erk…

Well, fear not, would be/wannabe tiddlywiki owners, help is at hand. The illustrious team of Simon Baird and Daniel Baird have created a spot where you can have your tiddlywiki hosted. Online. Free. Ahhh – nice. They call it, well, tiddlyspot. Thanks, guys. And thanks also for the nice write up.

I’m not 100% sure if tiddlywiki is a wiki in the model of wikipedia – I’m uncertain about its ability to scale to that extent. I’m inclined to think Jeremy and his team have come up with an entirely new form – looks similar – but different. But I am extremely sure about the way my laptop is becoming entirely infested with tiddlywiki managed information – I’m managing a lot more information – knowledge, if you will; a lot better. I’m taking more and more of the information I’ve stored on paper, and weaving it into my tiddlywiki – an orderly world is a productive world.

how to make a kite for matariki

image from www.sopwithproductions.comThe ultimate in one-upmanship is to cruise down the park with the kids and have a kite that flies. Or, let me put it another way – Charles Shultz absolutely knew how to show Charlie Brown’s ARGH! moments with a kite that refused to fly. You can buy kites – I’ve even done that myself, however, real oomph comes from making your own. But how do you make a kite that flies, and flies well? Sorry, Charlie, those lozenge shaped kites suck. So how, what kite is better? Ask no more, here is how to make the flying-est kite going – a sled kite. I have made dozens of these, all sizes, and they all have had one fantastic thing in common: they fly, man they FLY!!!

sled-kiteFrom my drawing here you can make them any size, so long as the ratios remain a pretty much constant 4 wide by 3 deep. I’ve made kites out of plastic rubbish bags, black garden polythene, even chip/crisp packets. You’re looking for a fairly strong plastic – cling film is probably too delicate unless the kite is small. Size matters – a large plastic rubbish bag is likely to be too big and scary for a little kid – dangerous in a strong wind with burnt or cut fingers from the string and possibly pulled and dragged along the ground. A sheet of plastic about the size of an A3 sheet of paper is a good starter size.

Cut the plastic in the hexagon shape as drawn, and cut the triangle shape out of the middle – see – that maths stuff does pay off. You need three sticks to act as spreaders – to hold the kite open. They’re not structural as in the traditional rhombus shaped kite. I’ve used bamboo garden stakes, dowelling, willow branches, rolled up sheets of newspaper, kebab sticks (for small kites), and toi-toi sticks; but my favorites have been the long straight stalks from bracken fern. It seemed to have the right amount of springiness. The sticks need to be slightly longer than the height of the kite, so that if/when the kite screams into the earth the sticks hit before the body of the kite does. More about that later.

Once you’ve cut out the kite, tape the sticks to the kite. I’ve usually used a strong waterproof 50mm (2″) wide tape used for taping polythene ‘glasshouses’, but you could use duck/duct tape, sticking plasters, or if you’re desperate, sellotape. It’s not the best though. It doesn’t make that much difference, it’s merely there to stop the sticks falling off. If the sticks are uneven length, put the tallest stick in the middle for balance. Put a couple of layers of tape on the two outside points where the bridles are to be attached, to reinforce the corners.

The length of the bridles needs to be about three times the width of the kite – i.e. a 1 metre wide kite needs bridles 3 metres long. Again, a kite this size is much too big for a little kid, and an adult needs to handle them with care until you get used to them. Attach a bridle to each point, and then (warning: the one trick in the whole exercise) knot the two ends together, making sure both bridles are the same length – the kite must be balanced to fly superbly (it’ll still fly no matter what, but if the bridles are uneven it’ll fly to one side…)

Attach the kite bridles to the cord for flying. Personally I prefer to attach the kite using a heavy duty fishing swivel/safety pin connector so the cord doesn’t get all twisty on me, but you don’t have to. Badda-bing, you’re done. These kites won’t fly inside, but if your kite is small enough and you’re careful to avoid any nasty overhead wires, you can probably fly it in your backyard. I’ve test flown kites out the window (too lazy to go outside) and really had fun flying them from the garage roof. I can remember flying a little kite made from a metallic looking chip bag from the garage roof – it went up so high I eventually lost sight of it – truly, it was speaking to the heavens. I knew it was ok, because I could feel it tugging, fish like, on the end of my line.

Ok – time to fly. Take your kite, cord, a roll of repair tape, and some scissors down to the park. It’s ok – no, it’s cool to arrive with your kite rolled up. Attach your kite to the cord, and let some cord out. Holding the cord in one hand, juggle around and hold your kite open to the wind. If there’s so much as a gentle breeze the kite will lift away like a parachute and fly. Let more cord out. Look cool. How hard can it be? Never run with your kite unless… you’re doing if for exercise purposes.

Ok depending on factors like wind speed and kite size some things can happen and you might need to teach your kite how fly. If your kite takes off like a crazy puppy and then spirals around and around before crashing it’s probably too light for the strength of the wind. Add some weight in the form of a tail hanging from the bottom of the middle stick. I’ve used lengths of plastic, packaging tape, my jandal, my t-shirt, and branches before today. My kites sometimes looked like flying recycling (but mostly to people who didn’t have kites that flew… ;)). Use the scissors and tape to add a tail (or tails – because you can add tails from the side sticks as well), ensuring that the heaviest tail is the middle tail for balance.

I found that if I ran with the kite I could force it into mad spirals and that was fun too – the moment I stopped the kite would right itself and ‘swim’ like a carp upwards. I can remember arriving at the park with my rolled up litter and seeing a guy with a kid and the high tech tetrahedron mylar work a nasa engineer would be stunned by. I unrolled my kite, and kicked it into the air. My kite rose effortlessly. I tied it off against the fence and looked over to the guy. His kid looked at me and my kid. He smiled. The father curled back his lip with a sneer… ‘trailer trash’. Could it have been my mullet? By now I was bored and untied my kite – time to play. I walked out into the field, and then turn and ran as fast as I could, looking over my shoulder. The kite, sensing the game immediately started into the hard spirals, the cord singing under the pressure. Five spirals, and the kite crashed into the ground. I heard the guy choke back a laugh. He didn’t get the game. The kid looked surprised and disappointed. I went back and kicked my kite into the air again, let some cord out, and ran again. Six spirals later, crash! This time the guy didn’t laugh, but the kid did. Walked out even further, let out more cord, ran harder than ever. The kite roared with delight. Seven full spirals, and CRASH – with a kind of snap sound that can only mean one thing. The kid looked at me horrified and the guy laughed out loud. The kite lay on the ground, moving sadly in the breeze. I could see the kid’s sympathy, and feel the guy’s delight at my broken kite. After all, even though his kite hadn’t got off the ground, mine was just a rubbish bag, some sticks and well – litter.

I gave my kite a little tug. A corner lifted… another little tug… a little more lifted… and then slowly my black dragon lifted off the ground shaking a little, but swimming ever upwards. I heard the kid laugh, and the guy say in an amazed tone, ‘It’s just a pile of junk!’ In reply, my kite dropped the broken stick, and having got rid of that little surplus weight, soared on higher. When I turned around there was just my kite and me in the park.

combined forces

When I was first exposed to wikis I couldn’t see an application. And then along came wikipedia and it seems a wonderful tool. It’s increasingly difficult (but not impossible) to find a gap in wikipedia’s coverage. One of my professors was saying earlier this year about how wikipedia was not a viable or valid reference. Given the mistakes in Encyclopaedia Britannica, I believe wikipedia has a lot going for it. Best will in the world, there’s a lot of people out there (who knew?) with extensive (encyclopedic?) knowledge of their particular microcosm.

The second cool application I’ve been able to participate in is building swicki – search wikis. I’ve been creating and contributing to swicki for a while now. I find the idea very appealing – a focussed search engine. I start with a spectrum of what I think are key search terms, and then people are able to search, and any terms that get used frequently are added to the search engine. Very clever work. Check out some of the swickis I’ve created – see My Swickis links in the sidebar. I was discussing with our friend, Marg, about the ‘where to from here’ with search engines – and I believe the rss/aggregation approach might be the way of the future – focussed search engines rather than the big general that is google. It’s not that google isn’t potent – of course it it. But the sifting through the 90 million mis-hits for the two or three that really do the job is a burden best reserved for machines.

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.