Friday, November 26, 2010

Eating my hat (or selling my soul)

I thought I should probably do my last post of the month on me eating my hat. My attitude to social media has had to change just slightly. With the addition of another follower (Welcome room 6 of St Pius School - that's like... 30 odd followers right?) and the anticipation I hold whenever checking my blog, I've had to admit that this is actually not too bad a way of communicating.

Don't get me wrong. When I asked someone if they had checked out the blog last week, she replied with "No, I thought I'd have a conversation with you instead", it all came rushing back to me. Why I had resisted doing this sort of thing for so long? When I told a friend about what she'd said he asked me "is she cute?".

There is a story behind this. We were having a drink one day with a girl that we both quite liked and we were laughingly scoring her (She gets our sense of humour and has made us suffer since). She got a phone call on her cell phone, said to the person "I'm at the pub with some friends. I'll talk to you later". That was it. The both of us looked at each other. There was no more scoring to be done. He married her (lucky sod).

The problem I had with it is that it seems so much more meaningful to send the people I wanted to keep in contact with an email. Something individualised. So I'm not really broadcasting something. Rather, I'm expending time and effort to communicate with people rather than expecting them to come and keep up to date with me.

I still maintain. There's nothing social about sitting behind a keyboard typing away.

The thing is, I'm actually meeting people via this blog. That big mass of people in the staff room who, given my tendency towards shyness, I wouldn't have spoken to otherwise have suddenly gotten some idea of my personality, sense of humour and above all else, just how incredibly clever and awesome I really am ;p I'm even considering getting in contact with Room 6 at St Pius just so that I can meet them rather than them being an abstract concept on my monitor.

It hasn't all been roses. I got threatened in the staff room - "You're not leaving here without telling us your real name." It's really not that big a deal. I said perhaps I should do something like leave clues on finding the name - something along the lines of a scavenger hunt for the letters in no particular order so they'd still have to shuffle bits of paper around to figure it out. Or I could do something a little more subtle. Purposefully put a typo in each of my posts on this blog which involved the letters.

I've got a friend in Hong Kong. She trained as an engineer, graduated and got a job for a firm in New Zealand who do international contracts. I bumped into her one day - I didn't even know she was back in the country. It turns out she'd sent out an invite for a few drinks at her parent's place on Facebook. Given that I have a big aversion to anything Facebook, there was no way I would have known to go over so it was just plain luck that I bumped into her. So I still hate Facebook for removing the thought of me from people's minds. Had it been an email, I might have had a shot at finding out about it (without the random chance element).

So I guess this post is kind of for her (Hi Bird - I won't publish your name without permission). Though I haven't changed my position on the likes of facebook, I am now finding myself relying on social media to keep everyone up to date of what I'm doing. I'm broadcasting in that way that I consider fairly... anti-social. Except that I have found a reason (or excuse?) to do so.

Given that this is my last post of the month (I've given myself an arbitrary limit of 16 posts a month because otherwise I would be doing nothing but writing more posts), I thought I'd go through some of my ideas for next month.

I wrote a couple of short stories a long long long time ago. Before any of my friends were married. So I thought I'd finally publish them - on the blog.

I've taken the day off from school today to do some work on what I'm terming a 2nd pilot. Taking those things that I've learnt in the last 2 weeks and applying them to a new build for Manaiakalani. This probably means that come Sunday night, I'm going to be frantically building a new image and testing what I'm terming the "Keys to the Castle" - because we don't have admin rights to the student's machines, we need some way of resetting passwords as well as things like reimaging. So there will probably be a few more posts on that - how it's going, the changes to configuration and how those decisions were made etc. The "Keys to the Castle" will also be instrumental to the virtual machine images I've got to nut out.

As part of the Manaiakalani project, I've started to put together another website on Google sites. I don't recommend this as it's a little annoying. Rather than being able to define bits of the text as "heading 1, heading 2, paragraph etc.", it only has font controls (so take that font, make it a little bigger and bold) which I'm hating in a big way. I suppose I could do it via HTML but that kind of defeats the purpose of the interface that Google provides. Anyway, the new site can be found here. Basically it's a support page for the whole project. So where teachers might find some interesting resources for implementing netbooks in the classroom, what problems I know about, what I'm doing about those problems, what the technicians need to know etc. So I'll do a post about that once I've had a bit of time to throw up some content. I have come to realise that it's pointless my trying to teach the kids anything - instead, I'm better off giving a little guidance on how they can find the information to learn something themselves.

And hopefully I'll come up with more posts that leave me feeling self-satisfied. A sprinkling of cleverness here, a bit of wit there, and Bob should be my sister's mother's husband's brother.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is this love?

Interesting night tonight. I had my last "Mad Hackers Party" for the year.

Basically, for the Manaiakalani project, a bunch of us - not all hackers (in fact, I think there's 3 classical hackers, a couple of network guys though tonight only 1, a representative from the guys provisioning the laptops - absent tonight - and the rest are educators) - get together, go through, quite extensively, an agenda answering questions about where we're at, what we need to do (that covers the OS image, provisioning, professional development, network etc.). It's a bit of a social event as well. We have dinner together, and indulge in small amounts of alcohol (though I think I had a "hefty" 4-5 beers tonight - as an indication of the small amounts).

So where are we at? What are the lessons learnt thus far from the pilot?

A lot of it is around procedure. We need to provision at least a couple of technical people for each imaging round. We need to document. And once we've documented, do some more documentation. Truth be told, this is nothing I wasn't expecting. Time frames being tight caused documentation to fall by the wayside in some areas. There were a few other things that came up but I'm not going to document the whole meeting. Loads of it was probably confidential anyway. At some points I was explicitly told that what I had just been told is not to go up on my blog.

At one point I actually felt threatened. Not threatened in that guy walks up to me looking as if he's wearing a back brace and is saddle sore (A little intimidating though I still want to poke fun. Something along the lines of "Whoa there partner. What happened to you?") sort of way but threatened in the "That's my baby" sort of a way. Sort of like seeing a girl friend drool over a guy knowing that you don't have the abs, muscle tone, boyish good looks or even, heaven forbid, charisma to compete.

And this had me thinking. I actually asked the question to get some clarification on the matter - ready to don boxing gloves if necessary. Apparently I didn't come across as defensive though the fact that we'd talked about it after the meeting while indulging in churros says to me that there was at least a little something to notice.

So, here I am. I'm seeing myself with a future in the project. I'm wanting to be involved in the whole deployment for next year. 2,000 laptops, 7 schools, loads of people and I'm already thinking about how to provide support for all 7 schools. The idea of hopping on a bike to get from school to school appeals - in fact, I think I was primed for this. The lovely woman (Thanks Chris!) who drives me home from school most nights took me for a drive around the schools just to prove how close they are to each other and I can do most of it on a seaside road. Brilliant!

I'm finding myself devoted to it. My dear old 19 year old cat is craving attention as I've just been so involved with the project that I haven't really taken the time to sit down and let her sit on my lap (it's difficult trying to balance both the netbook and the cat on my lap thus she normally looses out). I'm getting up in the morning much to my fathers bemusement. In fact, the announcements in the staff room of "Nevyn's here to provide us with some technical support" have stopped - I'm almost part of the furniture.

I do fear I'm currently in a bit of a honeymoon period.

The most difficult part of any deployment in my experience is people. At one place, it was the receptionists. I sort of took them on as a personal project. It was tough. Two tough old birds who were very set in their ways. The company had been brought out and so their I.T. systems were changing to match the parent company's.

At another, it was the bosses mother. While the two tough birds mentioned above actually had cause for complaint at times, this woman would print things out, do things as she'd always done it, and then would go through and do the things on the system I'd designed. The new system, while designed to keep things in the computer, was just making things harder for her not because the system didn't work, but because she just couldn't get her head around the idea of doing the same things as she'd always done on the computer.

It's disheartening. You put in loads of work, work with them to try and design something that will benefit them and keeping them involved in the development process, and it's just that last barrier of the people that trip you up.

At Point England I get no such resistance. Nothing at all. The netbooks are completely new and an unknown quantity. There's no real preconceptions of how they should or shouldn't work. Point England School is probably the best place for a roll out like this though. They've been using technology in aid of education for a number of years. The teachers know, as part of their professional development, that they're going to be seeing and using more and more technology in the classroom.

But what's tomorrow going to bring? Tomorrow I've offered to attend a meeting at one of the other schools. Are their teachers as well primed? How much of a difference does the age difference in students make on attitudes? How big a role does technology play on quite a profoundly different school format?

So, is this love? But even more importantly, is this a healthy relationship?

I can't compete if someone decided to displace me for free - I still need to pay for things like getting there and back again (I rather feel I'm taking advantage of Chris' generosity at the moment so that does need rectifying), and eating (I'm most definitely taking advantage of my parents generosity) and perhaps just a little for living - things like attending the OLPC meetings in the weekend or even, buying books (yes, I'm one of those old fashioned books made of paper sort of guys).

Just because I couldn't afford to be in this relationship doesn't mean that I wouldn't still love the project. And occasionally I might bump into the project and there'd be an awkward moment while I try to make the project feel regret at having let me go by overstating my success.

I guess this begs the question, "does the Manaiakalani project and I need counselling?" At the very least, I'm going to have to have a conversation that's going to make me a little uncomfortable. My defences will go up causing me to be nonchalant about it all. I care, I just can't be seen to care TOO much. I'm here aren't I? Is that not enough? Sounds like couples therapy to me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Education

I was doing up my CV in the weekend. Looking at the approach I had proposed in the post "Being Interesting".

Anyway, it turns out, I'm not educated. My section on education looks really pathetic. I'm not qualified. I have a few tertiary papers that I passed (a couple of those being high school equivalents) but none of it adds up to a qualification.

But does that really mean I'm not educated? I'd like to think I'm very well educated.

I'm fairly studious though have problems when I'm not that interested. I've got a fairly good reputation for my Linux knowledge. Before I got into Linux, I was fairly well regarded for my programming abilities (in an informal setting at least). I have a blog which, even when I'm talking about objectifying, I'm talking about the skewing of statistics based upon certain attributes. At times in the workplace I've been pushed to take more control and authority over situations that I wouldn't have thought myself ideal - things like business processes and the like. I read - admittedly probably more fiction than non-fiction - but I still read. I'm opinionated and I would like to think that I can back up those opinions with something verging on justifications.

Do I object to education? Of course not. I've been working to get into the education sector. First with POINTS (Promoters of Open INformation and Technology in Schools) and then with OLPC and Manaiakalani. I wouldn't spend quite so much time reading if it wasn't for my love of education.

So what went wrong? I went to tech. I didn't finish anything. I got bored. Bored bored bored. I wasn't challenged or the papers failed to engage me. My age played a factor in this I'm sure. I hadn't had the experience to realise the applications of those business papers I so disliked (though really... what is "business context" meant to mean?!?). I was treated as my age.

So would I go back? Hell no. I can just imagine my frustration at doing some computer course only to find myself not challenged again. Would I stick to it? Just for something to put on my CV? Not likely.

Yes. I'm being a little bit of a drama queen. What I'm really alluding to here is the fact that there seems to be a serious flaw with the way we think about education. Does it all have to be formalised? Is education a goal unto itself or is the goal the piece of paper that says "according to our probably flawed tests, this person has passed". It doesn't say anything about competency in most cases. It says nothing of attitude. Perhaps a little something about aptitude.

[Quick edit]
I was questioned today about the claim that perhaps I had put things around the wrong way. A qualification may tell you something about attitude rather than aptitude. I stand by what I wrote originally. The reason being, I don't really think it says all that much about attitude really. Because of this attitude to qualifications and formalised learning, we may be pressured into gaining a qualification or we may be coasting or we really do see a qualification as something valuable. The ability to stick to something that is quite potentially boring and probably hasn't challenged you or pushed you says to me that either you were challenged and pushed and thus didn't face that boredom, thus you have a low aptitude, or you're quite willing to coast along and just do what you need to do to get something for your CV thus you're never really going to reach your full potential and thus have an artificially lowered aptitude. Sorry to all those out there with qualifications who are offended by this. You can be fairly certain that I am just over compensating for my lack of qualifications by implying that a qualification may actually be a negative thing.

A friend of mine quite often says "We're all learners". He works with primary school children so letting the kids know that we're learning too is generally a good thing to do. You go to university or tech and you start learning. And then a few years later, it's declared that you've learnt and you get your piece of paper. Is that it? Do you stop learning? Do you stop getting an education?

This has all the hallmarks of a trip to me (and no, I don't mean drugs). It's the journey, not the destination that's important. So why do we place so much emphasis on the destination?

So the question still remains: What do I write in my CV under education? A single word seems almost right to me. "Yes."

Doing as the children are doing

I figured while the kids are blogging about the field trip on Friday, I might as well as well. A quick idea of what's going on - given that the two classes with the netbooks were going on a field trip to the beach on Friday, and they were short of adults (I'm applying the term horribly loosely to myself) I thought it a good idea to go along (along with my inability to say no).

[Quick update]
I must have gotten it wrong. I've been to a couple of the kid's blogs tonight and haven't found anything being published since their "We got our netbooks!" post. Unless they go through some sort of screening process...

Quick disclaimer: This post is kind of meant for adults. It doesn't really have anything inappropriate in there except that it's a really short step from "objectification is good" to "it's okay to be curious". While I think it is okay to be curious, others, such as parents, might not necessarily share that view.

[Expansion on disclaimer]
The curiosity thing - so much has been done in the name of curiosity. From the fairly inane looking at things we shouldn't be looking at to the more serious "I wonder if babies bounce". In other words, I just don't want to take any responsibility from people being curious.

One word - Awesome!

My fears about being trapped in what's essentially a metal can with 60 odd kids was a little ill-founded. I wouldn't recommend it by any means and I did have a premonition about having a headache but it wasn't realised. (Thanks kids).

So we got to the beach and there, waiting for us, a leggy beach blonde woman in a surf lifesaving "uniform" - basically a sun shirt and loose light shorts all in red and yellow. After a bit of shuffling about, we went up into a hall, where there were 2 more of these majestic creatures (one left at some point and was replaced by a similar one except brunette).

Before I'm accused of being sexist, we should note that attraction is a perfectly natural feeling and is really healthy. Objectifying essentially helps make us feel alive in that way that only attraction can. In other words, it's a good thing.

Okay, so they were stereo-typically attractive. The thing I have to wonder though, is the demographics of it all. Assuming a normal population to pick from, is that population skewed by those who are confident about their bodies thus not going to balk at the idea of wearing a swimsuit for most of their summer?

And I'm not saying that the swimsuits were skimpy or anything. They were anything but. But I guess we'd have to examine our own feelings towards it. Personally, I didn't really learn to swim properly because my family didn't realise the effects of teasing on me. Apparently my butt stuck out of the water and they'd laugh pointing it out (of course, I never saw what they were laughing about which makes it worse somehow), I'd become self-conscious and was more worried about my butt rather than actually learning to swim.

So life guards are more likely to be those confident and self assured people. The question is then, are attractive people more likely to be confident and self assured?

Oh and yes - there was a bit of a "Bay Watch" moment in there. One of the life guards did a full on run up and dive in. None of the bouncing that Bay Watch was famous for, which was amazingly cool. Less plastic, more ... majestic. The thing is, if you were treading water before, and then saw this, there's the possibility that you'd find yourself transfixed. Like a deer seeing twin moons. Rather than treading water, there's the possibility that you'd find yourself drowning in no time.

That was a bit of a tangent...

The life guards talked about water safety and the like. They were well rehearsed. At times they got the kids to stand up and shake themselves about. They probably needed to make it seem like a bit of a game. I'm guessing the reasoning behind it was that kids are less likely to start snoring if their blood is flowing. It did get a bit snooze inducing.

So just before lunch, we had a few games. A couple of bull rush (the tag version - there were a few kids complaining that they just couldn't hurt anyone if they couldn't tackle them) based games and that horrible memory game I've never liked. You know the one - they call out port or starboard and a few other made up things and you're supposed to run in whatever direction. I've never liked it because it's not really a game. It's just a way of getting kids to run around. If you get it wrong, there's no penalty. It's about as pointless as doing laps. It's exercise while trying to wrap it in fun, where it most definitely is not. It's just running around.

So the important bit. We're playing elimination bullrush. I'd handed the cellphones and cameras to someone else so that I could have a bit of a run around (I was feeling like the one guy who doesn't like to dance at a club who is then given everyone's handbags and jackets while they go off and dance for a while. Actually, I kind of am that guy normally.).

So I run forward, find myself stuck between 2 kids. I fake left, take off right, and get tagged... except that I have so much momentum that I fall to the sand. A load of people laugh. That's right. I've had just been taken down by a 12 year old girl. Claim to fame!

Oh, and have you ever wondered about kids and their babel fishes? You know the phenomenon. You say something to them, and they seem to hear something completely different but they'd swear black and blue that they're doing exactly what you've just told them to.

So they're being told to get out of the water. So while I'm prodding them along, I could have sworn that I'd heard "get out of the water" and I'm repeating it but instead of getting out of the water, they're on their boogie boards looking behind them towards the sea. It seems the instruction "get out of the water" is heard as "wait for waves to do the hard work for you".

By the time I got back to school I was ranting and raving about being "taken out" by a 12 year old girl and the eye candy value of the life guards. I swear, I was just like an over excited kid.

Best field trip ever...

[Amendment]
In the staff room... When one of the teachers was asked how the trip was, she responded "Ask Nevyn. He said something about loads of Bay Watch moments by the lanky one". What I had really said that there was a Bay Watch moment (singular) by the leggy American one. Babel fish translation issue? Where are the kids learning it from ;)

What did I learn at school today? If you stay quiet about being dealt to by a 12 year old girl, and talk about the legginess of surf lifesavers, they're going to find some way of embarrassing you. Who would have thought ;p

[Further Amendment]
I just found out - she wasn't American at all! She had said she was from Omaha. As in Omaha Bay. If I wasn't already embarrassed, I probably would be now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Being Interesting

I wonder about CV's.

Having had the opportunity to go through a bunch of CVs at one stage, it's amazing just how boring CV's really are. We're encouraged to keep it short as the people reading them aren't going to want to trawl through a 1,000 pages.

There are standard formats and standard bits of information to provide about yourself.

What if, we were to throw all of that out the window? If there was a way to provide a little information and then allow for the reader to be able to then reference more information on something?

I was talking to a friend and she was talking about the idea of a table of contents for a CV. Instead of the same old 3 page format, you'd follow that format in summarizing your CV. You would then provide additional information in proceeding pages.

This gives you the opportunity to put in a bit of character. This would definitely make you stand out from the rest. Whether that's in a positive light or a negative one is debatable.

But if you've been trying to get a job for a while using the same old 3 page approach, it couldn't hurt to try this approach. I'm seriously considering it. I'll send a link to it if I do decide to try making a CV using this approach.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Need for Sleep

I went to a meeting tonight. I agreed to go along a couple of weeks ago even though it was for something that I'd decided that I would not get all that involved in.

Basically a collectively run server. I had agreed to take minutes.

Anyway, I turned up and there a friend proceeded to tell me just how wonderful I am. "You're great and what you're doing is making a real difference and we really appreciate your efforts". I rolled my eyes. I'd assumed he had read some of the comments on the blog and was mocking me.

It turned out that he'd been talking to someone from Point England School and was just passing on a message. I'm a New Zealander - we really don't take compliments well.

Anyway, I'm sitting in this meeting. Unfortunately the place we'd been planning on going to was booked out so we ended up at the pub next door. I've been to meetings at this place before and it's less than ideal. The long table by the door, which looks tempting for a meeting, is also right under a speaker and some rather uncomfortable bench seats which end with me feeling a little hemmed in.

I was sitting there with pencil and pad taking notes. The only thing - I was tired. Like really tired. I was as distracted as an 11 year old without a netbook (the classroom can be eerily quiet when kids are focused on something as fun as a netbook).

I was gazing across the pub at a woman whose smile filled her face and she did it frequently. And the salt shaker on the table had a ideal geometric quality to it. The lights on the ceiling kept changing colours using tri-colour LEDs and of course, I had just rolled up a piece of paper and there was an empty glass far enough away to be tempting. So on and so fourth. (That smile really was great - imagine a smile like that in your life...)

By the end of the night, around 10, I was barely able to stand and my speech had become slurred. I kept pacing while waiting for the bus. The guy with the migraine gave me a sympathetic look as I told him I had to be up at 6.

I think last night I mentioned a blog by another Nevyn. She'd done a post about her inability to say "no". So when I was invited to be one of the adults on a field trip to a beach (Given that it's the classes with the netbooks, it seems a good idea), of course I said yes. And then was told that I'd have to be there by 8:45 and that I would need a pair of togs.

I'm one of those people who likes sitting under a tree reading a book or lying on the beach. I seldom get into the water. I'm not a great swimmer. In fact, I'm quite crap at it. So after a bit of initial objection ("Do I really really have to bring togs?"), I agreed. Still, I'm spending a Friday at the beach. A chance to work on my tan. Brilliant! Also, a chance to deal with some of my unease with some of my relationships with some of the teachers. I suspect I'm picking up on anxiety.

So, it's time to go to bed. 6am start. How do people do it? I know people say the same about me about the sort of hours I keep but seriously, this is a strange and usual punishment! I get grumpy if anyone calls me before 11 normally. The best hours for concentrating for me is in the evening. Everyone's in bed, the phone doesn't ring, no one knocks on the door etc. There's a chance for some real momentum. 6am is a good time for bed...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Expectations

I often forget that the expectations I have of myself are VERY different from the expectations others have of themselves.

When I was at high school I enjoyed science. I enjoyed it enough that I took 2 science classes back while doing School Certificate (Science and Biology). It was indicated that we were expected to enter a science competition (essentially an exam) - which I did. When I got the results, I was embarrassed. The mark wasn't great (somewhere between 60-70%). I had struggled a little bit with it and had run out of time. I didn't let anyone see my result as I had felt I had let myself down. The funny bit though - I ended up with a certificate at an assembly for it. I was in the top 25 percentile.

While I was working at New Zealand Couriers, I was quite happy to spend a little extra time on a call if I could get a situation sorted out.

There was one morning where my first call of the day was a weeper. Fortunately it wasn't me who had caused the weepiness. (I did cause a couple of weepers during my time). The woman's boss had had a death in the family. The family were on holiday and needed to be at the funeral the following day so their clothes HAD to get to them (Auckland to Taupo). She asked me to keep track of where the package was. So I kept track of it, was able to work out where it had gotten stuck (Hamilton), got it redirected to where the funeral was being held so that it could be picked up the morning as soon as they'd gotten off their flight in time for the Funeral.

I thought I had done a pretty good job. I had taken the situation, done exactly as I told the customer I would do, kept her and my team leader apprised of the situation, and communicated with the depots involved. This I took as part of my job. (Unfortunately, it wasn't. I got raked over the coals over it even though the customer was thankful. Apparently I was supposed to hand it off and carry on trying to get people off the phones even though I had let my team leader know what I was up to).

But that's an example of the sort of standards I hold myself to. It's nothing. It's just what I'm being paid to do. That's it. I'm fairly humble about it. If I'm paid to do data entry, I will consider it part of my job to see that other data entry people are on the same page, and involve myself in the validation of that data (my first temping job, I was placed in charge of the other temps on the job - all of which had been temping for years) as well as being paid an extra couple of hours on top of what I had earnt as a bonus for sticking around and helping validate the data.

The problem with this, because I have much higher expectations of myself, is that I don't advertise myself.

What did I do for 2 years in Hamilton? I worked at a factory. Never mind the fact that as well as the data entry role I was paid for, I wrote up documentation for all of the jobs in the factory, formulated a way to quantify the performance (vs. errors) of staff members (making pay reviews a breeze) and was able to use those figures to suggest ways which those errors could be reduced and ended up being essentially a P.A. to the factory manager.

But, then, I considered all of that my job. I was paid to do data entry. That other stuff was just to stop me from getting bored. That extra stuff certainly wasn't anything to emphasise. That's not what I was being paid for.

Given that I've been struggling with money (and employment) for a fair few years now, you have to wonder. Are employers actually getting the best people they can? Is this insistence from employment agencies to try and shove everyone into a box actually getting businesses the right people? Is the whole interviewing process horribly flawed?

If I had interviewed for a job doing what I'm doing for Manaiakalani, would I have gotten the job? Would I have been called in for an interview had I sent in my CV?

Definitely something to think about :/

Nevyn....

I thought I would do this post now.

The name Nevyn is actually a named I picked when I was 18. I needed to reinvent myself.

I was 18. Suffering a bit of depression and self destructiveness. I was reading a bunch of books by Katherine Kerr. The central character in a whole series of these books was a guy named Nevyn. The name, which felt like it fit at the time, supposedly means "No One".

In the books, the characters father renames him "Nevyn" while banishing him from his kingdom.

The character lives for hundreds of years sort of in the background. An influencer of great events. The advisor of kings for example in a story that explores the idea of reincarnation.

So even though the name was taken in a rather cynical context, the character kind of grew with me.

I made an interesting discovery a few years later. I was typing my name while not looking. I wasn't looking at the keyboard or the screen. I looked up and saw Mrbum on the screen. Confused, I looked down and did it again. It turns out, on a standard qwerty keyboard, if you displace each key to the right by one, you end up with Mrbum.

So, a name that suits me and allows me to be me. My real name always makes me feel... oppressed. It's only really used nowadays in the Indian community and legal documents. Otherwise, it's Nevyn. Done and dusted.

And the real name? I'm not telling :p

Popularity

I've never been popular. Or have I?

I was the guy who went to school in corduroy pants, with horribly big hair, and who's back made the most convincing question mark that a person could make. At one point a friend's mother told her son to stop stooping or he'd end up looking like me. A shade away from telling him that the wind might change.

At Intermediate, I still had the big hair (now shaped in a mockery of the guys from Beverly Hills 90210, aptly named a "mushroom cut"). Imagine - puberty, big hair, it's no longer the 80's so big hair is no longer in (and things were to get worse - those big belts in the 80's suddenly became short skirts in the 90's. I'll talk about this at some stage). One word. Awkward.

At high school, there were a few times when I would turn around a corner only to find that the fits of laughter would suddenly stop and then start again when I'd passed the laughers.

Not brilliant for self confidence.

At some stage though, things changed. People started becoming less judgemental. I noticed this at high school (there's a whole story in here but I'll avoid it in case I'm as "popular" as might have been indicated).

Fast forward a few years. A bunch of friends and I were invited to Uma's (that's Uma as in Uma Thurman - the woman I'm talking about here has a passing resemblance to Uma Thurman. Mrs. Cream - as in Irish Cream, also a name invented to protect identity - told me off for publishing her name with the "complaining" post so I'm being a little more cautious) parties. These parties were great. We'd turn up on time (in other words, a couple of hours before anyone else turned up), help her decorate (they were ALWAYS themed) and then spend the night in the kitchen talking to each other. Eventually going to sleep in the lounge.

It turns out though, that Uma had loads of awkward guy friends. The sort of people who gravitated towards the kitchen. So every couple of months we'd go to these parties and the whole lot of us would hang out in the kitchen.

There were embarrassing moments in there - there's a photo out there somewhere of me passed out on the couch with a horribly long baloon in a compromising position. The night where I'd drunken so much I was sitting outside not feeling great. Uma came out to see if I was okay and I had answered in the affirmative only to follow up with a power chuck at her. She was a good 2 to 3 meters away and it was bouncing off her. Despite my drunkeness, I still, to this day, remember it clearly and am embarrassed by it. She doesn't, funnily enough. It was perhaps just a little worse by the fact that she was wearing a dress she had borrowed from her mother - a great 1960's floral number. Yes kids, you'll do things you'll regret - the difference between a fool and a wise man. The wise man will learn from their mistakes.

So back to the parties. At some stage we got out of the kitchen. This is when fire was introduced to the parties. Fire pois and a fire staff. Things that looked great - taking photos was awesome. It occurred to me then that we'd become the centre of this group of awkward guys. We were there - people would centre around my friends and I.

We'd done it - we were popular. Weren't we?

Back when I went to Unitec, I had gained a reputation as a troubleshooter. I would hang out in the courtyard and would get called in to help people debug their programming code. I could seldom just hang around. I was getting called in to help various people with various problems. Hint: if you're tired, never ever use a variable called Count. There's the possibility of missing letters.

Popularity?

Fast forward a few more years. I organise the meetings for AuckLUG (The Auckland Linux Users Group). I see it as me being very community orientated. However, it seems attributes I don't normally attribute to myself are attributed to me. I turn up to the meetings and talk to everyone I know and I'm hit by a series of technical questions. Say a little about yourself and people assume a lot more. The less you say, the more they assume. Brilliant. Is that popularity?

And then the blog.

I turned up to the school today to have a few things mentioned about last night's blog post. Sure, it was one of the adults talking about it, but he'd said to me, the kids have probably already seen it. They're a Google generation.

Funnily enough, I decided to Google the name Nevyn (this isn't actually my real name - I'll post about this some time too) and came across a blog. Kid's, don't visit this blog. It has some uncensored language: http://nevynsworld.blogspot.com/

Her post on "The Art of Saying NO" strikes a certain resonance in me.

So people are actually reading the blog. I think there have been 4 comments today. It doesn't sound like enough, but loads of people (27 I think?) read the entry today. So where are these people coming from?

[ Update: It's now showing 56 visits for yesterday and a couple more comments. I'm practically a celebrity! ;) ]

Google doesn't really show me - I think I appear on the second page of results for my profile on the TangleBall wiki. If you search within New Zealand, I'm there, in all my glory. My more political posts on the New Zealand Labour Party blog site, posts from me in AuckLUG or NZLUG, me complaining about what passes for a computer magazine in New Zealand (Computer World), some indication that I'm involved with OLPC with a testing report showing my name. The simple act of searching within New Zeland though eliminates the blog.

Are they visiting from the tag at the bottom of my emails? But this can't be it either. The people who commented on my blog today aren't people that I've emailed - unless my emails have been forwarded on to other people (is that popularity?). I don't think that's all that likely either.

But wait! We're on the Internet. All of those people probably have a "Google Alert" looking for some obscure term... like Manaiakalani. So to all of those reading this because it popped up in your Google Alert, say hi in the comments. Oh, and yes, I used the word Manaiakalani a couple of times in this post just to see if I'm right.

[Update: It seems I got this wrong. Only one person really need have the alert - and that one person to forward on the address to everyone else in the school. Hi Dorothy]

There is another purpose for this post. I've been talking to a community minded person in Wellington who invited me to join a "planet". Basically an aggregate of blog posts. Cool. A bigger audience. Although, there was only really one post that came to mind for this planet, the guy said to me there were a few posts on my blog that should be distributed to a wider audience.

Should I be looking to do this sort of thing? Getting onto more planets. Being a bit more lose with my selection criteria etc. Better yet, if more people comment, it's an indication to me that people agree or disagree with my horribly opinionated posts. A discussion is always good. Better yet, I would really love it if people let me know that I've brought up something that's likely to resonate with other people.

In other words, I want a social media consultant without having to pay for one...

Manaiakalani - not all roses

I was writing a blog post this afternoon when I should have been working.

With the Manaiakalani project, I encountered my first major issue. And the bit I'm slapping my forehead about is that I had indicated previously that there may be a problem there but I wasn't entirely convinced that it was quite a problem.

And the problem? As a result of only really having one day for testing, and a day for sorting out the problems and a relatively small sample group (I had three laptops to test with and there was another laptop in the wild doing some testing outside of my efforts), and my dismissing of the issue, because we were testing at a pub and the pub's access point quite often has issues and the fact that very few people have been complaining about the particular issue on the Internet, lead me to not to look for a solution for something that I wasn't sure was a problem.

Sure enough, by around 10:00 this morning, I was called in to diagnose the problem. After a few hours of checking the DHCP server and the access points and trying to convince myself that it was a network issue rather than an issue with the image, I was writing up the error report.

And then it occurred to me that I had encountered this before. In fact, it was very much what I had encountered in the weekend and the error report was sounding very much ... exactly like what I had written in the weekend.

Suddenly my self assured "it's a network issue for the network team to fix" confidence was right out the window.

So I gave someone an external usb wireless adapter to try. Sure enough, no issues. So problem confirmed.

Now to find a solution... and quickly.

So the drivers are tied into the kernel. Included. Brilliant. Only, that would imply that to update the drivers I would have to update the kernel. I don't want to have to maintain a distribution. I'm there to make the distribution work for the user, not to replace the major bits of the distribution.

Consider that solution as a last resort. I won't do it. I don't want to. Imagine me stamping my foot. Yep - my foot's down.

So what are my options? Try and find an alternative way of doing it (without having to backport because I'm really just not that low level yet).

While downloading the sources for the drivers, I decided to try the ndiswrapper way of doing things. It works brilliantly. A half hour ping test and it worked flawlessy. Not a single lost packet. I'm loathe to use Windows drivers. It's almost insulting. Linux can get this right. However, if Ubuntu aren't willing to release a more updated kernel for Lucid, I'm pretty much stuck. I stopped trying to download the sources for the drivers - they were going to take near on an hour on a connection that has me drooling. In other words, loads of data for a small driver.

Unacceptable.

So now I've got to check the licensing on the Windows drivers, see if I can package it up, if I can't, install it individually (not acceptable for next years roll out which is 2000 laptops in 7 schools) or go back to doing the bit that I'm putting my foot down on.

Meanwhile, I think given enough time I might be able to figure out the sound problems. In other words, time in the middle of the night to sort this out.

In the meantime, while I was anticipating working tonight to package up those drivers, I've left the netbook at school. Whoops. I'll blame someone who isn't me.

Manaiakalani - the pilot

The last few days have been crazy. Just plain nuts.

The pilot programme - 2 classes - of the Manaiakalani project has just gone live. Huge event for me. This has probably been the most responsibility I've taken for such a project.

At the beginning of next year, we'll be rolling out 2000 laptops amongst students around 7 schools. But that's definitely not the end of it. Given that they're building a community wide wireless network, it'll mean that others will be able to use them as well. Suddenly things like Internet banking becomes avaliable to the parents. When it's not in cash and just a couple of figures on the screen, people are able to think a bit more about budgets and the like.

Apparently we've got others looking on. There's some interest in using this same model elsewhere. Hell, if I could get paid for it, I'd be really happy building and maintaining various images for the various projects.

Anyway, I thought I'd talk about the last couple of days - starting from Friday last week.

I've been developing the image on laptops which weren't actually the laptops which the students would be getting. Pretty damn close, but not the same.

So the laptops arrived last week. On Friday, testing HAD to begin. So I went to do a quick test of the imaging procedure. Unfortunately the BIOS (Basic Input Output System - the bit when you first turn on your computer) flash didn't work though luckily that part of it wasn't my responsibility.

On Saturday, I went to the OLPC group. This group is probably the best software testers I've come across. Their attention to detail and boldness and reporting anything that seems perhaps even a little bit odd lets you iron out issues really quickly. This is an area that programmers really aren't all that good at. As far as we're concerned, it's almost always the users who are at fault, not how the software was designed.

So I hijacked the OLPC's testing to test out the Manaiakalani image. One of the big problems that came out was that "Sound Recorder" wouldn't record sound. Sounds like a small problem right?

Sunday, I needed to get a new image built. All of the problems (at least those that I could fix) found on Saturday needed to fixed. There were a couple of things. I had it sorted in short order. However...

THE SOUND ISSUE

Despite the sound card being a fairly standard one, apparently there are loads of different implementations of it which need customized configurations. Furthermore, the laptops had done away with the 2 audio plugs from last years model (and a usb port) and replaced with with just 1.

Turns out an external microphone wasn't working either. By 5am Monday morning, I'd been working on the sound issue for the better part of the day and had given in and made the image.

Up by 7am for imaging day. 100 laptops, BIOS to be flashed and OS to be installed. 8 incredibly enthusiastic kids (forever known now as technicians). After a few teething issues - some of the laptops had an option in the BIOS for a "Boot Boost" meaning that the quiet boot screen wouldn't show up and it wouldn't respond to the keys we expected it to respond to.

It turns out we had more than 8 kids. We had adults. The kids would go and grab 2 laptops for flashing and hand one to an adult and say "here". That's it. Suddenly the adults were all flashing laptops too.

Then came the BIOS password panic. As a precaution against the possibility that the kids might think it funny to set a password on their friend's laptop and do something like set no devices in the boot order, and most likely forget the password, it was decided that the vendor of the laptop would put a password on the BIOS. Only they are to know. It turns out that there are 2 levels of password on the BIOS. A supervisor password and a user password. So while the supervisor password was set, the user could still get into the BIOS.

After reminding everyone of the original reason for putting the password on the BIOS, it actually came across as a bit of a win. The supervisor password couldn't be changed except if you'd entered in the supervisor password. Brilliant! So kids could still play and explore, but if it did get mucked up, we could at the very least get in there and set things back to sane values again.

The whole thing was streamed over the Internet. I was a little embarrassed when I realised that me having lunch was being streamed over the Internet! Apparently we had had 57 people watching the stream at one point or another.

And finally, Tuesday. The handing out of the netbooks. The kids lined up and gave their teachers the serial number as they got the almost shiny box. A bit of instruction and they were away (except for one poor little girl who seemed almost apologetic for having a brick of a netbook - there were issues with one of them the day before but it managed to slip through the process). I was quite pleased that I decided to put Tux Math on there - it was a huge hit for things to load up first.

Speaking of Tux Math: has everyone reading this played it? The hardest level is ridiculously hard - being a combination of in-equations, integers using the 4 main operators. I recommend everyone put themselves through that particular hell at least once in their lives.

By the end of the day, there were kids holding their netbooks close - like something long lost that they were concerned may leave them again. Unfortunately for them, they had to leave the netbooks at school. The network won't be ready until next year and these laptops aren't actually the ones that the kids are buying.

Anyway, time for some sleep. I'm back at school tomorrow!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ginger Beer - first attempt

I bottled my first batch of Ginger Beer last week.

So, make the plant, feed it for a week, bottle it, give it a week to carbonate, refrigerate and eventually drink. In other words, at least 2 weeks before you can actually drink it. This makes it a little hard to make modifications to the recipe.

So I've had a dozen bottles sitting there hoping that they'll have carbonated. I was thirsty last night and there's nothing in the house so decided to open a bottle. It didn't give a sound that would indicate that gas was escaping it.

I was half expecting that anyway. The recipe I used didn't use yeast or even sultanas (sultanas having yeast on the skin which also means you don't have to go out and find a brewers yeast in order to avoid that yeasty flavour). Since then though, instead of discarding half of the silt on the bottom of the plant (I'll explain what I mean by this in a little bit when I post the recipe I used here) I decided I wanted 2 dozen bottles a week, not 1, so left it as it was and doubled all of the proportions.

Is there anyone here who has brewed their own ginger beer? I ask because I'm looking for advice. I suspect I've gotten small bits wrong. Anyway, the recipe I used was (From here):

In a large preserving jar add:

1 dessert spoon of sugar
1 dessert spoon of ground ginger
A squeeze of lemon juice
2 cups of water.

This will be your plant…put on the lid and store it in a cool dark place.

The next day, add 1 dessert spoon of ginger.

On the following day, add 1 dessert spoon of sugar – continue to alternate these ingredients for the rest of the week, till you end up adding ginger on the 7th day.

Now, later on the same day, you’re ready to bottle.

In a large pot, or preserving pan, add 2 cups of sugar and 4 cups of hot water.

Stir till all the sugar is dissolved. Add the juice of 2 lemons. Gently strain in the liquid off your plant.
Then add 12 cups of cold water.

Mix well and filter through a fine tea strainer into bottles…makes about a dozen 340ml bottles.

Halve the sediment left in your plant jar, add 2 cups of cold water, 1 dessert spoon of sugar, 1 dessert spoon of ginger, a squeeze of lemon and continue as before for another week…and so on…

Keep your bottled ginger beer for a week or 2 before you drink it, so it has a little time to ferment.

What I'm tasting of it, I quite like. It's dry. Other recipes I've seen use double the sugar to the ginger. So I'm thinking of dropping a couple of sultana's into the bottom of the plant and seeing if that makes a difference.

So I guess I'm wondering, should the plant be air tight? This is one of those differences I've seen between different recipes - though my own experience with breads suggests that airtight generally works a little better. Should the bottles be stored in a dark warm place or a dark cool place?

Oh - I was supposed to talk about costs.

Funnily enough, the expensive bit was the bit which loads of people have growing in their back yard - lemons. Last week I spent $3 on 3 lemons. Just plain extortion if you ask me.

For the rest of it, $4.95 for 500 grams of ginger (should last me a while), a bag of sugar that's been sitting in the pantry for ages, the cost of the water (it really can't be that much can it?) and if I were to add in the cost of sultanas... Looks like I'm going to the bulk bin again.

So that's sod all for the 12 bottles, but then we'd have to factor in the time. The biggie is the washing of beer bottles. I also sterilized them (dumped them into boiling water along with the caps) before starting. I think it took me about an hour to wash 12 bottles - removing the labels, a good going over with a bottle brush and the result being horribly pruny hands. About 15 minutes to sterilize them (sitting there with tongs fishing out bottles from a large pot) and probably about 15 minutes bottling. So really, not that much time.

So if we were to say, 2 hours a week. (Possibly 3 for 24 bottles?). If the average hourly wage is around $25 / hour (taken from here.) that's $50 - $75. And the cost of a bottle of ginger beer? About $2 a bottle? So $24-$48 worth of ginger beer. So a little creative trading and perhaps doing it in bigger quantities (if I were to do 48 bottles, the added time being on bottles - probably another hour or so - $100 of time spent, $98 of value in the ginger beer) and I'd easily make up that value.

Of course, I'm not stopping with Ginger Beer. I've been trawling the net for recipes for bread. I'm planning on doing a White Vienna (a milky version) and a Ciabatta. In fact, for Christmas this year, I'm hoping all of the food can be home made rather than that mad rush to the super market.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Credit (or blame?)

I was out tonight with a bunch of people who are working on the Manaiakalani project.

I think I've said it before - I'm the worst person ever for selling myself. I sum things up in a series of stammers which result in a single statement along the lines of "yeah I ah do ... you know ... computer stuff" while my hands seem to carry that stammer even further - not helping make a point at all, just waving about and really just distracting from what I'm saying.

Anyway, we're sitting at a pub for a drink after the event (I might do a blog post on the event itself at some point) and someone turns around to a few of asks us "So you're all involved in making the image for the laptops?" and while I'm nodding, someone pipes up and says "That's mostly Nevyn". Laughingly I asked why I was being lumped with all of the blame. The truth of the matter is that they have been involved very early on which effected the way it was approached. Their contribution really can't be overstated.

A few months ago, I had been working with a couple of friends on a project - the establishment of a "hackerspace" in Auckland (I'm not terribly involved anymore myself but you can find more information at creativespace.org.nz and tangleball.co.nz). Anyway, soon after our first meeting I had a great big hissy fit. I mean, a full on, "you just don't appreciate how brilliant I am and how much you all suck" sort of a hissy fit. Practically fighting the floor on it's own level sort of hissy fit which any mother in any mall would have been embarrassed by. The problem was with credit.

It seemed to me that one person was taking credit for the efforts while there were 3 of us involved each taking very active roles in getting it off the ground. While I wasn't that great at presenting the idea (public speaking definitely not being my forte), my strength was in the planning (putting up the website, the promotional material inviting people to participate etc.).

Another friend of mine has just won an award for her contribution to the open source world. Now I'm not meaning to take anything away from her - she's a motivator and brilliant at it. It needs to be asked though, how many of her accomplishments are a result of the help/work etc. of other people?

The point is, this isn't really a fault of hers. And I think I just really needed to recognise the issue.

We're selfish. Recognising that is important. We do things for our own reasons. Whether it's the feeling of doing something that we consider selfless, the recognition, the warm fuzzy's, the avoidance of something more unpleasant (taking out the garbage) or the money etc. We all do things for our own reasons. We make time for those things important to us.

With that in mind, does capitalism have to be just about money? I have to pause for just a second here - this is actually something a friend brought up while on one of our walks. If our reasons for doing things isn't always about money, but the accumulation of those things is much the same as the pursuit of money (or rather, value), then capitalism could be extended to describe the accumulation of those other things.

So even when we're not doing something for financial gain, we're still vying for position for that recognition or the warm fuzzys etc.

So can we get away from this? Can it be about getting the job done and valuing everyone equally? Would we even want to? Oh course, when things go bad (I'm sure there's a television show in that), who takes the blame? There's a whole other subject in here which I'll get to when I've thought on it some more - a conversation I heard in a car which I think definitely bears some thinking about and hopefully a big long discussion.

The Irony (A post about cats)

Imagine my excitement tonight when I had a look at my blog only to notice that I now have 2 followers! 2 of them! Brilliant! People are finding this blog and probably thinking I should be a pom (given how whingy I can be).

The irony hasn't escaped me though. The tag line for blog includes the statement "But not about cats". The irony you may ask? One of them has a picture of her cat for her profile, the other one is called "Tabby".

I wonder, if I put a tag line in there to my advantage - i.e. "definitely absolutely not about attractive single geek woman my own age with a tendancy to be attracted to opinionated guys with blogs" - whether it'd still work. I'm not sure irony works quite that way. Still, it might be worth an experiment at some point.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When Complaining Doesn't Work

I've tried to stay fairly neutral about the places I've worked for in the past. I've never blogged about which courier company it was that I worked for.

And finally, I'm breaking that silence.

The reason being, since I left there, it has taken 2-3 weeks to get anything delivered by them (overnight my butt), a hell of a lot of time and phone calls and finding my way to their various depots to get anything within those 2-3 weeks, a lost passport. And it's happening again.

To say I'm not happy would be an appalling understatement.

I know that it's not impossible to get things to me. Courier Post do a fantastic job. The driver knows me by name, face and address so even if I'm working in the area and he sees me, he'll hand over the items right then and there. Even on his Saturday run, he knows there's always someone home and so will deliver it on the Saturday without anyone paying for the Saturday delivery. He knows to go to the back door. This guy goes above and beyond. Great courier, and never any hassles with the company.

However, New Zealand Couriers, part of the Freightway Group, has never managed to deliver a single package to this address in a timely manner. Never. There's never any card left, letting us know that a courier has been. It's always up to me to realise that I haven't received a package that I was expecting, and to follow up on it. Even upon following up on it, I seem to get the worst Customer Service Representatives (CSR) ever.

At one stage, I asked the CSR to send a message to one depot to send the package back to another depot for the weekend so that I could pick it up. After managing to arrange a ride out to that depot for that Saturday morning, I went to the depot only to find that the package wasn't there. With the same package, I went out to the depot it was at originally only to find that the driver had it on board - 2 weeks later. So the package wasn't at the depot.

And the passport? New Zealand Couriers is owned by Freightways. Freightways owns a bunch of other related businesses - Post Haste, DX Mail and Travcour. Travcour take the hassle out of visa applications. Go there, spend a bit of money for the convenience, give them your passport and in about a week, your visas should be sorted out. That is, until they lose your passport.

I have to say, my experience with Travcour was actually quite a positive one. They spared no expense in getting a new passport done up over the weekend and the visas sorted out. But I maintain that the only reason I got the passport in a timely manner was the fact that there was no time to deliver it. I picked it up at the airport on my way out. In other words, not handled by Freightways at all except to get it from Wellington to Auckland.

This time around though I find myself gritting my teeth in quite a dramatic manner. The package was forwarded on to New Zealand Couriers by DX Mail. According to their track and trace information it was then delivered, and then picked up an hour later by that same driver - in other words, delivered to the wrong address. That was yesterday. Today, after querying this, I get an email from them saying "The package is showing that it was delivered, can you please confirm your address?". I've got another package, coming from the same online store, which I assume I'm going to have the same hassles with. ETA is Thursday/Friday. At this rate I'll have worn through my teeth, made to sit on hold for hours on end (I swear, it's like calling IRD), made several attempts to get the package before getting it in about 3 weeks time.

Each and every time this happens, I place a complaint. Soon after, some misguided soul decides to send me a package via them (despite usually making the request that they don't use New Zealand Couriers) and it happens again. So now I've got no choice but to boycott Freightways and any company that uses them. Because it truly isn't worth my time trying to chase up couriers.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Something Positive

I had a meeting today and saw someone reading my blog. Interesting - put a link in the form of a signature in my emails and people actually find this site. Cutting a long story short, I said to her "it's just me whinging". And it really is. In fact, that was it's intention. I was buzzing with irritated energy and just needed an outlet.

I don't think I've offered up much in terms practical "let's fix it" type of ramblings. Instead, I've criticised the media (let's face it, it kind of deserves it), I've spoken about my quandary with politicians and politics and highlighted an opinion about specific current events. Sure there's the odd exception - when talking about Web 2.0 and why we really should make complaints (and why we shouldn't).

I've been thinking about doing a series of posts on something.

There's the 30 days of nerdism that seems to be going around at the moment. I've got to say, I'm almost tempted except that it doesn't really offer up anything in terms of uniqueness. Yes, I like to do my programming at night to the detriment of my health. I pick noodles based on the English content on the packaging (Maggi is all English thus must be bad whereas Shin Ramyun or Indomie Mi Goreng have only sort of recently become more mainstream thus now have English packaging). If I wear a foil hat, it's as a fashion accessory because you don't really need to send electrical pulses through me to control me - there's advertising and media and patterns to do that. There's nothing more to say on the subject really. I could go on about why I'm a little uncomfortable with Google's dominance on the Internet though I find myself using gmail and Google search and even, heaven forbid, Blogger - but really. Aren't we all just a little bit weary?

Even worse, it doesn't quite scratch that itch. The itch to do or say something positive. So I've decided on... Trading Posts.

What is this "Trading Posts" thing I speak of? It's a post (pole, garden stake) used as a centre for trading. Wait... I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's first talk about why we need a centre for trading.

Why do we go to the Super Market? It's cheaper right? But what's cheaper? And cheaper than what? And even better, they're now making us do more of the work without bringing down those prices. Consider this: for 6 of those self checkout machines, they only need one person attending them. That's 5 potential checkout clerks not employed. Don't use them. It's immoral in my view. This is a whole other rant about customer services that I'm going to leave for another whinny post. So once again I find myself digressing. Back on topic: The cost of things at the super market.

I've been thinking about the whole idea of "shopping the edges". This is mainly for food - your vegetables, meats, fish and dairy are all on the outside edges of the super market. So, if those are the bits that I'm really concerned with, are they cheaper and of comparable quality to other sources?

The vegetables are normally, at least a little, priced higher than a decent vege shop and lack quality or have some quality to them that has you paying more than you should (think about mushrooms - putting mushrooms in the chillers has them absorbing water which potentially doubles their weight). And meat? How about a butchers? Fish? What's wrong with Joe Fish Monger and his small fish store offering up more variety? (tuna steaks anyone?).

I went to buy powdered ginger the other day. This blew my mind. I had a look at the price at the super market. Something like 18 grams - in it's own little cute bottle granted - for around $3. That's $0.17 per gram! I then went to the bulk bin and saw what I wanted. 500 grams for $4.95 - sans cute bottle (if the cost of the ginger is the same and the differentiating point is the bottle, then the cost of the bottle, rounding the price / gram to $0.01, is $2.82).

Okay, so we have alternatives. And personally, I quite like the alternatives.

But what about... Ginger Beer, Bread, Hummus etc?

Or better yet, what's stopping me and everyone else from making this stuff themselves? Is it just a time thing?

A friend of mine said to me, what if he makes the hummus and a friend of ours were to make ginger beer and I should pick something to make as well (bread?). And then we could trade. So I could trade home made bread for home made ginger beer or home made hummus.

Is the effort involved in making a small amount of something much different from making a large amount of something? And what about costs? And if we're making this stuff at home, can we also reduce our waste?

So I've started making ginger beer. I've always wanted to and if I can't trade with one of those guys, that's kind of cool too because I want to be trading with my neighbours rather than having to get half way across Auckland to trade with a few special people who are clued in to the idea.

So then comes my contribution to the idea. What if I were to put a sign up in the front yard? "Have ginger beer, will trade. Need: Lemons". It's a "post" with a sign on it. Brilliant. A trading post. In terms of marketing does it get much better than that?

Even more interesting, it might be a great way to meet my neighbours. So it checks a lot of positive boxes: I'm getting home made stuff, I'm making home made stuff. It's an ice breaker. I'm not spending stupid amounts on these goods. I'm not buying more packaging than goods. I'm reusing what would otherwise probably end up as part of a road surface (yay for the council's recycling effort).

I guess what I'm really saying is, why not try it? Put a garden stake in your front yard with a piece of paper stating what you have and what you might like to trade some of it for.

Anyway, I did say this was going to be a series. So watch out for my ginger beer post.