Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pretty Successful Regardless

Well another year down. I woke up this morning with an asthma attack. I haven't had one in a wee while. Nowadays it seems to be a sign of exhaustion. I saw myself in the mirror half way through today and realised that I hadn't shaved and that my eyes were just looking plain awful.

I left my cell phone somewhere the other day so I'm without that for the time being. I did want to send a text to a friend who shares her birthday with the common Christian solstice celebration but that didn't happen.

Anyway - so the food. The chicken was a little bit lacking... It could have done with a slightly stronger citrus flavour. The pizza dough came up perfectly! So I guess it not feeling right was just me being a stress bunny. Those who had the pavlova seemed to like it despite the fact that middle had dropped on all of them. The choice of toppings seemed to go down a treat. The brandy snap baskets took me AGES - cooking two at a time. While being a little thicker than I'd like, they were still brilliant. Right texture, real snap to them.

So I did end up dropping a couple of things. I didn't offer a kiwi fruit option for the pavlova. This was more because I was sick and tired so figured I could drop a couple of the small things. I only did one meat dish (Indian style grilled chicken). One type of pizza. The mushroom and blue cheese is never quite as popular as the caramelised onion, spinach and feta anyway. I didn't mash any potatoes. I was thinking about adding chocolates - made from the failed truffle attempts from last week - and perhaps even friands but they were the first things to be dropped. They're just fiddly.

As far as solstice feasts go, that wasn't at all bad. I had 9 people come through for a meal and 1 who didn't have anything to eat (except one of the pavlovas). So pretty good numbers too.

But enough of that. I guess what I really wanted to post about isn't so much the meal but more about the people I care about. Christmas always strikes me as a little bit weird. A lot of the people I care about simply aren't around. They're off with family or ... well... living their lives. I'd like to think those people know who they are - the ones I would like to wish a happy solstice to and miss on the day. The truth is, with my awkwardness and shyness, I'm not sure those people really do know who they are. Still - that's me all over. Doubting things...

Anyway - Happy solstice all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Just Not My Year

I managed to delay cooking until today. I did try doing truffles last weekend though that was disastrous. They're still sitting in the fridge waiting for me to hide them in chocolates.

Anyway, so this year... all my prep work. I made my bread today. I actually started it yesterday afternoon, proofed it for 24 hours, did something else, proofed for a further 2 hours, shaped it, proofed for another 2 hours. Unfortunately all of that proofing wasn't as successful as I'd have hoped. In places where it was supposed to double in size, it didn't. So while the texture and taste are all pretty much on par (a slight yeast taste to it but nothing significant), the size of the loafs are just kind of sad. Pretty much a textbook case of the yeast wasn't activated properly.

The pavlovas... well... There's a huge gap between the crust and the gooey inside.

Oh - the brandy snaps. I started making them from a recipe off the Internet. It turns out you need ground ginger. I had taken it for granted that I would have some around after my ginger beer efforts earlier in the year. I'm not sure if I just ran out or left it when I moved but sure enough. No ginger. Unfortunately I didn't do this until the evening so no chance of saving them.

Even the pizza dough, which I've made loads of times before isn't feeling quite right. This isn't a huge disaster. I could make it tomorrow. it only needs around 3-4 hours proofing.

So yeah... it's just not my year.

Actually... Baillie was telling me off (again) the other day. We've got quite different cooking styles. Normally (I haven't this year) I would read through a recipe 3 or 4 times and then go away and make the dish only really remembering quantities in relationship to each other eg. equal amounts butter and flour, liquids to texture etc. When I'm on, I'm really on.

Baillie however is what I would describe as a baker. She likes to know quantities. She tells me off when I use measurements like "A touch too much salt".

She was telling me off about the truffles. I was saying that I just couldn't get the tempering right. Then came the questions such as "Do you have a confectionery thermometer?". I wouldn't know what to do with one if I did have one.

So while Baillie's consistent... my solstice feast is a little sad. Whoops. Still - I've a chance to turn it all around tomorrow... Time to get some sleep.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The School Worker's Curse

End of the year. I've gotten by relatively well. I had two lost holidays from it. But it's hit... Again.

Yesterday, in preparation of the solstice feast, I decided to clean the pantry. Bad idea. Ever been into an Indian household's pantry? It's full of interesting spices - most of which will never be used. Double ups the spices that are used quite a bit (like Tumeric - I think I found a travel pack, the every day stash, a jar containing quite a quantity, and 2 bags full on top of all that).

Most of the jars and things aren't labelled so I ended up smelling my way through a lot of it. By the evening my nose had given up. That was it. My immune system had kicked it up a gear.

So the school worker's curse? Kids make brilliant petri dishes for all sorts of interesting illnesses. If you get a sickness that makes its way through the classroom, by the time it's gotten around the whole class, it's normally mutated enough for your immunity to not be effective anymore.

But it's not just that. It's also the exhaustion. You push yourself. There are all sorts of sacrifices that people make. Sleep is the least of it. The emotional strain is huge as well. For me, it was also a social life.

So it's no wonder that a lot of people who work at schools, for their first couple of years, end up spending their holidays in bed.

So a solstice feast to prepare and me being sick as a sick thing (hedgehog?). It's going to be a great solstice celebration.

And seeing as the school didn't acknowledge it, I've resigned from the school. I'm now working for another company and will be contracted out to the schools. This was something that really just needed to happen. So next year, rather than being a teacher aide, I'm going back to being an Information Systems person.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Things that make you go Ha!

I just thought I'd follow up on Baillie's "Things that make me happy" post.

I just came across this:

There's a whole series of them! I love it when people just burst out laughing.

I love it even more when pranks go terribly wrong such as here:

Solstice

It's solstice people! Happy Solstice!

This day you need not buy presents or do anything special except perhaps spare a thought for the fact that it's the longest day (southern hemisphere) of the year. I always thought it a great day to get drunk.

Oh and thanks to my old employers. The bottle of Whisky really is greatly appreciated. It's going to be a jolly solstice! Now... if only were Dave around... Tomorrow perhaps..

Fail

Speaking of how incredibly dumb the lack of customer service is:

I went to book some tickets for my holiday to Waitara. Go to the Intercity site, look for seats on the particular days. You used to be able to grab a booking number, then go to the retail office and pay for it.

Not anymore. Instead, you have two options. Credit card or POLi.

What's POLi you ask?

POLi stands for "Pay ONLIne". It's an Australian company. How does it work? They require you to download something, install it on your Windows operating system and then you can make the payment. It's 2011 (A couple of weeks away from 2012) people! The world is becoming more and more browser agnostic (although, it should be noted that Google services seems to complain if you're not using Google Chrome). It should already be OS agnostic where online services are concerned. What the "fornication"?!?

As a consumer, I'm more likely to trust to the standards (SSL) rather than trusting some random software which some hedge company, such as POLi, wants to install on my computer.

The really amazingly stupid bit is that companies such as "Intercity Coachlines" are using this service. I reckon there should be a list of shame for all the customers of POLi. This is not how you treat your customers.

Hint - if the front page of your site says something like "Pay with POLi in 5 Simple Steps", it doesn't matter how easy those steps are... there's "fornicat"ing 5 of 'em!

The interesting bit is this is what I've been on my high horse about. What is the aim of the site? It's to make it easy for their customers to make bookings for their services. Meanwhile, they've somehow been convinced that they need POLi's way of doing things for things to be "secure". Never mind the fact that the rest of the world doesn't require such silly practices. But more importantly, it's at a point where it's no longer easier for the customer. It's decidedly difficult. That is a classic fail. Get rid of the damn nerds! Work with the nerds who work to your aims. Period.

Oh and geeks - work with people. Try and get out of your geeky shoes and think about it from the perspective of your audience.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The True Meaning of Christmas

Oh here we go. Some claptrap about the birth of Christ? (sorry Christians). Yeah... I'm not terribly Christian besides which, Christianity is a fairly young religion. It has roots elsewhere. Good will to all men? Naff. If you're not showing goodwill the entire year round you're missing the point. Presents? Nope. Who needs more crap.

So what is the meaning of "Christmas"? I was saying to my mother last just how many celebrations there are on Solstice (I'm purposely not saying Winter Solstice given that I'm in the southern hemisphere). I ended up reading through the Hindu celebration - which funnily enough is now in the middle of January. This is due to the changes in calendar. A friend of mine had gone to India to work and had said that simply printing calendars was a lucrative and full time business given the different calendars in India. Anyway, we were reading up on it in wikipedia and it turns out we were in India at one stage during the celebration. And funnily Christmas wasn't a big deal for that trip (we were in England). Rather, it's what we term "kite day" that I remember from that trip. It was a competitive sport. You'd do your best to cut down other people's kites using your glass infused string (don't try flying kites without gloves). It turned out, at the tender age of 6, I was crap at flying 'em. Still, I could help repair kites.

Anyway, that's beside the point. The Hindus have celebrated a Solstice festival since... well who can remember? (at this point, we would have to remember that the Hindus have the oldest written texts). And just before you accuse me of pushing Hinduism, remember, the Maori have a winter solstice celebration celebrated in June called Maruaroa o Takurua.

So what is Christmas really about? It's a time of hope. The worst of winter is all over. Solstice marks the shortest (and longest for the summer solstice) day of the year. So for winter solstice, people would bring evergreens into the house (like pine) and decorate them as an indication that the worst was over and things were going to get better.

Think in terms of survival. Spring, you'd plant your crops. You'd probably get a few crops through summer. Come winter though, with the snow covering the ground, food was sparse. The only things you'd have to eat are the things you stored away in the cellar. Come solstice, you'd know spring was on its way and you'd have the opportunity to grow food again.

So solstice marks seasonal holidays based upon the celestial calendar which was all about survival.

Nowadays I would like to think that we're a little beyond just survival and thus, solstice has very little meaning. Rather, it's simply a chance to celebrate...

So what's Christmas about? Nothing in particular... it's just an excuse to get together with friends and family to celebrate.

Movie Tickets

Hooray! Drunk again. Blog post idea. Got and need things.

2 x Movie tickets. Got one last year. Got another this year. Anyone want to go to the movies with me? My shout.

Desperately need rosemary for Xmas. Anyone know where I can steal some from? I'm loathe to buy it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Present

It's that time of year again...

Actually, I think that's completely the wrong attitude. At a certain time of year everyone fills out the malls buying loads of crap for people and then complain that they just don't have enough money.

What if, instead, you were to do away with presents for events. If for birthdays, you spared a little time. The same for solstice celebrations.

Instead, you could buy things for people when you thought of them. I did that the other day. I was out shopping for myself (kind of for the kids - I found some wireless mice going horribly cheaply so went to buy some as presents next year) and saw something that reminded me of someone.

This leads into one of my biggest frustrations. One of those things I can't seem to shake.

I gave it to that someone who's insisting on not opening it until Christmas day. This could mean 1 of 2 things. Either they don't want me to see their reaction (which could mean 1 of 2 things) or they are placing some importance on the gift (which could mean multiple things).

Bad enough contemplating what it means yet alone what each of the possibilities means. Life is decidedly complicated. And to think, I've never been especially good at chess, yet, in life, I'm always thinking a couple of moves ahead yet still being surprised. It's like I don't really live in the present.

Anyway, given that the present (no, not that present) was an off the cuff thing, I'm wondering if perhaps I should have put a little more effort in. Ahh well... at the very least it's not perfume (the gift that says you stink).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Blog Ideas

I was on the phone to Baillie last night. I was getting drunk on Baillies (the irony did escape me though I was slurring pretty early on).

A friend and I started carrying a pad around with us when we'd start drinking. We were always convinced that we had brilliant ideas when we were drunk and if we only remembered them... As it is, we came up with some pretty cool t-shirt designs.

So it was a bit like that last night. We talked about the service industry - how you can't count on ever getting service these days. Remember when petrol stations were called service stations? Z energy have started making noises about bringing some level of service back to petrol stations.

When I was growing up the department store Farmers had a huge building in town. A multi-story building. I remember the toilets. Outside the toilets there was an area where you could sit down and wait.

As a teen, I occasionally ended up sitting outside of changing rooms while feigning interest in some girl or another's clothing choice. They used to have seats! That's all gone as well.

Shopping is no longer the experience it once was. Farmers in town is a rather sad affair these days. The other day I had gone in and found that I had to ring a bell and wait for someone to open the door to use the changing rooms. I had also gone to Hallensteins - they'd seemed surprised when I'd said I'd already tried the clothes on. And Rebel Sports, while looking for sun glasses (I'm starting to wonder about the whole sun glasses thing. Why is it somehow acceptable to try them on in horrible lighting?) I'd asked one of the staff for an opinion. He didn't even try to be convincing.

New Zealanders really need to start complaining. We need to be more demanding. A workmate was saying that her local kebab place had become kind of crap (I have to wonder why kebab places can't seem to get it right - as customers, we don't want to see raw disgusting looking meat on the spits. Americanised, overlit, computerised tills don't impress us - thinking about your decor and having it pokey with atmosphere is a win. Sauce is just that - it really shouldn't make up the majourity of the kebab. We'd much rather pay a little bit more and have lamb we can taste rather than that flavourless pressed crap. We'd much rather pay a little bit more and have a meal rather than having the portions be pathetically small). She hasn't complained yet. I had a laugh with her and told her "she's more kiwi than she thinks".

I was buying my daily sandwich at the bakery across from work. I ALWAYS refuse a plastic bag. A friend was with me and said to me "I don't get why people refuse the bag. It's already made so they're not saving the environment at all".

That's that classic "I can't make a change" attitude. If enough people refuse plastic bags then demand goes down and less of the bags are produced as a result. Or that's the hope anyway. And then there's the whole voting thing. The bit about "wasting" a vote. Actually - I shouldn't really talk about that. The results of the referendum annoyed me to no end. If we were to change our voting system, most people would go with First Pass the Post?!

Anyway, the reason we don't get any sort of service? It's because we let companies and people walk all over us. We don't complain. We don't believe we can make a change. And given the results of that referendum, I'm wondering if we actively put ourselves in that position.

I complained to a big chain of pizza stores. I had assumed that other people would have as well. It turns out, mine was the first. Given the complaint though, the pizza store in question has improved greatly and always seem just a little busier every time I go there. They can't improve if they don't know what they're doing wrong.

And bollocks to Baillies counter point the last time - that people are idiots. Sod it - if enough people complain about stuff they think is wrong, perhaps things would improve. We'd start to get treated well. We'd get some sense of service. It'd be nice if people actually cared.

I wasn't terribly impressed when Starbucks seemed to have lost my order (despite having taken the money for that order) and for my 10 minutes wait offered up the coffee I had ordered. The sad bit is that I didn't complain. I grumpily took my coffee as any further delays would have made me late for a meeting.

So even when people know they're doing something wrong, they're not making amends. It's not their fault. Obviously. And we're not holding them accountable. It's definitely time to do something...

Oh - and the original point of this post - that's the only bit I can remember today for a post from last nights conversation. Oh well. Given that I'm about ready for a holiday, chances are I'll be drunk again coming up with ideas for further blog posts in no time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

When Things are New

I was just thinking about that whole sitcom situation where the husband doesn't notice when his wife has done something with her hair.....

The thing is, if it feels like the first time every time you look at someone... you kind of notice something different but it's not obvious what it is.

Terribly embarrassing...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tastes Like Medicine

I was saying to someone at work just how weird I've always found cola. Every other soft drink seems to have a fruit base, but as a kid I started to wonder what flavour cola was.

We didn't have the Internet back then. If you wanted to find out information on this sort of stuff... well you were well out of luck. Anyway, it was brought at a pub quiz a few years ago. Created in chemist as a snake oil. i.e. something to cure all of your ills. Headaches, stomach aches etc.

Being the over thinker that I am, I started thinking about the various children's medicines that are cherry flavoured. Thereafter, anything cherry flavour tasted like medicine.

But cola, really does taste like medicine. Hmm.... cherry cola....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Makings of a Short Story

Last year I had this idea for a short story. Sort of an alternative interpretation on the whole Santa Claus myth.

What if, instead of a jolly fat guy who comes down your chimney and leaves presents, it was a nasty character who broke and entered? A whole village scared of this one night of the year where this character would enter their homes, steal their biscuits and milk, dismember people etc. Stockings on the mantel would be designed to confuse him (had he already dismembered people?). A tree with bright lights on it would dazzle him and eventually make him go away.

The following morning there'd be celebrations. Those who were still alive were still alive!

Anyway, never happened. Feel free to steal the idea.

Oh - and this is my 150th blog post.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Potential

I was in a classroom today where the kids were exclaiming

"Whoa! You can do anything!"

I was drawing a picture of Santa from scratch in GIMP (mainly using the smudge tool).

The funny bit is, they're right. I can do absolutely freckin' anything.

When I was growing up, I had started to teach myself to knit. I eventually had to get help as I was missing something. My sisters were taught to knit whereas, being the only male child, I found myself wanting to be involved. It wasn't deemed proper for a male to learn such a feminine skill. So I nicked a couple of needles and a ball of wool (I'd be fairly clever here and made my own ball of wool so that no one would notice - essentially only taking a bit of a ball). I'd watch closely trying to figure out the movements. Eventually someone saw what I was doing and taught me.

I've never been particularly good at knitting. I find it therapeutic. It's the perfect activity for sitting in a hospital room with someone.

So I was thinking about that. Sure, I hadn't been able to figure it out on my own by watching other people as I was trying to do (bear in mind I was probably only around 6 at the time). And that got me thinking about me using the smudge tool in GIMP to draw Santa Claus.

I brought a risk board the other day (don't get excited. I've since parted with it in a personal cause - i.e. under valuing it in the name of good will during the silly season) and was thinking about me hanging out with art students back when I was at Polytechnic (M.I.T.). We'd meet up once a week and play risk.

Some of those ex art students are still my best friends. We used to sit around finding pictures on the Internet to draw. Normally we'd sit there criticizing our own work. They were okay but not great. I'm sure I've still got some of those drawings somewhere. I was never happy with them but then, who has to be? I mean, it's not the result that matters right? It's this fun little activity. Sitting there working on something until you feel it's time to abandon it.

So anyway - my mission for this weekend. Go and buy some art pencils, find a pad (or buy one) and have a play. Perhaps even attempt to do some drawings of the staff photo (which I got today). Prove to myself that I am capable of crap loads of things and that variety is the spice of life.

Hell - perhaps even come up with something really interesting for the secret Santa this year. I'm told I'm only allowed to spend $5 (like hell that's gonna happen. Sorry those at Pt. England. I hate limits. I tend to just spend on what I think is a great gift. Last year's cost $35 but I still maintain was a brilliant gift). Actually.... I'm thinking bollocks to the secret Santa. I might buy small gifts (if I can find things that are appropriate) for the people I really appreciate there (even if they've never rubbed my legs - inside joke...).

Just Over It

I'm in a hell of a sulk. After last night (yes, it was reactionary, and no, it had absolutely nothing to do with running into people from high school) I'm just feeling over it. 3 Xmas work do's down. Only another couple left. I'm not even all that enthused about the day the Christians stole.

It was a few weeks before Christmas,
And all through the land,
Advertising elves,
Kept dealing a bad hand.
The jolly old fat man, was hanged from the gallows with care.
While dances of saviours, sent images of fear.
Then with a ring and a chime, the mail arrived,
Bringing letters from IRD, the unscrupulous swine.
With an almighty groan, And a rolling of eyes,
Dreams of a full lunch, suddenly went dead.
With holidays ahead, and the people all gone,
It was time again to brace, for loneliness ahead.
With seasons greetings, delivered with dread,
You've got to wonder, why we don't fear it instead.
And with that I leave you, before I disappear out of sight,
Happy Saturnalia to all, and to all a good 7 nights.

That's enough of that... So I'm not really looking forward to the holidays. The lack of money (limiting holiday options), the amount of work that needs to be done, the lack of people being around and the deteriorating relationships...

Someone did say to me that I've got a whole 17 days (how depressing is that?) to get out of my funk in time for Xmas lunch. Of course, I still have to cook it - I probably will enjoy that bit if I'm not trying to scramble around for ingredients and can instead do a horribly efficient shopping trip (last year I managed to get a list, price it all before getting there and do the shopping in the middle of the night avoiding the rush).

Anyone got a big rock I could hide under?

Sometimes It'd Be Easier Not To Care

I'm probably not talking about you. But really... sometimes, in some circumstances, it'd just be easier not to.

Actually, I keep playing over in my mind bumping into someone from high school who I barely knew. Only this time, rather than trying to be polite, it comes out as:
"Look, I'm sure you're a really nice person, but I just really would rather not take a trip down memory lane."
Yep. Easier.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Animal Are You?

I just had a really quick passing conversation with someone. She asked about the work do and I replied "I really just need to get out with a bunch of geeks or a bunch of people who don't know what I do". I followed up with "When you have a room full of elephant's, no one notices THE elephant in the room".

Anyway, in her interesting way, she came up with "I'm always the purple cow. No one notices the brown ones. But the purple ones... Wow!"

I'm sure there are other animals... the ostrich? In the corner, head in sand, not being noticed? Comment.... go on... if you don't comment, this post just becomes a form of self gratification and there's a word for that..

Computers in the Classroom

I know - I'm not a professional development person. But there are some things which just seem so obvious now. So I thought I'd share these bits.

If you're talking about security, you need to be absolutely clear as to what you're securing and why you're securing it. It must be justified, not just a default position in a school. This is because security takes away from user experience and the aim is to learn, not to take loads of time to get to a point where you're working. You're not working in Fort Knox. If you have a decent backup strategy in place then the most you'll lose is a days work.

Technology is a wonderful opportunity to give your students a voice. If you're looking at things in much the same way as you were i.e. the kids have an exercise book book which they write in and show you, then you're missing a huge opportunity. Giving the kids a voice means that they're suddenly interacting with the world at large. Others can comment and for the most part, you'll find that those comments will be positive and encourage further learning. It's easy enough to put checks in place i.e. allow teachers to vet comments before they appear.

You're not trying to train secretaries. Rather, with the rate of change, you're teaching how to learn and adapt. Which also means you must be able to learn and adapt. Watch out for phrases like "I can't learn that!". The more you open yourself to learning new things, the easier you're likely to find it, the more you'll be able to help your kids. I know there's a temptation to do the whole take study notes thing. Don't. I know it can be hard to remember the steps. But then you shouldn't need to. With a well designed interface it should be obvious. Look for cues on the screen. Try to find logical steps. Some things are always in the same places - i.e. save, open, new are almost always under "File".

Computers should be fun! They should engage learning, not be a great big chore. This means that you're probably going to have to accept that kids are going to interact with each other. And some of that might even be negative. The great thing about computers though - it's fairly easy for harassed kids to collect evidence of someone picking on them. Always provide some way of taking screen shots.

If things aren't working the way that you need to be working, then change it. I really do wonder as to how Windows has maintained a dominant position on the desktop when they can't even get the start up right. If you've got time to have a coffee while waiting for something to start up and then time to chat when you log in, there's something wrong going on. In other words, if you can, own it. If you can't, look at alternative platforms. Android is being ported to x86 platforms (i.e. normal commodity PC's) and there's Linux in all it's flavours. Look at the options rather than accepting that this is the computing experience you're stuck with. It's the experience rather than the platform that's important.

If you pride yourself on teaching your kids how to use X branded word processor / spreadsheet, you're missing the whole point. You're not there to market X brand. Get that idea out of your head. There have to be reasons for teaching it. And if that reason is "It's what they'll use when they get into the workplace", you're missing the point. We all know that things would have changed by the time they're in the workplace. All you're really doing is reinforcing the market position of X brand rather than having your kids take charge and do something useful instead. In other words, if you have branding around the walls, you're probably doing it wrong. It's about the kids.

If we're talking about literacy and reading, then getting the kids to give feedback on each other's work is brilliant! Bring on critical thinking. When they start to assess, they tend to find the same mistakes in their own work and are more prepared to correct it.

If you're using a computer lab, don't. Integrate them into the classroom. Go for 1/5 at least. So a class of 30 - have at least 6 machines around the room. Get them creating. It doesn't have to be writing. Animations (I've been showing off what can be accomplished with programming in scratch in terms of animation) is just a different voice. It's still a voice. Something the kids can be incredibly proud of.

If you do have a computer lab, then start using it differently. They get plenty of time in the classroom to do literacy. Being able to create documents with pink elephants (i.e. colourful text and the like) just isn't useful and lacks any sort of engagement. Explore what else is on there.

If the computers are locked down, then insist on an admin password so that you can explore and see what's out there. If the powers that be won't give you an admin password, look for cloud based solutions. Without an admin password, this could potentially be a problem - if they, for example, have ordained that you have to use a particular browser which doesn't work with that particular cloud solution. Basically, kick up a fuss. This isn't about your support guys. It's about the kids. Basically, own it.

There are more ways to input information than just keyboards. Cameras and microphones are engaging and can be used to put them into different environments (i.e. have them actually in a scene around the space programme or running away from dinosaurs).

Basically - think about ways computers can be used. If you don't like something, insist that it gets changed. If you lack the nerds to do it, find the nerd groups in the area - look for the words LUG, python etc. They're all over the place. Talk to other teachers and put in an appeal from as many of you as humanly possible. Programmers, for the most part, are just looking for that next great idea.

Ha! A much less depressing (though does have me on my high horse) post!

Greetings from the Depths

Well here I am. From the bottom of my great big low. I even had to take a sanity day today.

The last couple of days has resulted in me having real difficulty in getting out of bed. Not the "Oh I really should get up but just don't feel like it" difficulty but more the "Oh god... I just can't deal with it today" sort of difficulty. We're talking about 2pm before hunger eventually has me up cooking something nasty from the freezer like hash browns or something of that ilk.

It's been awhile since I've had to take a day off for depression. Entirely necessary this time around though. I've been feeling shaky. I'll wake up from having fallen asleep somewhere (the couch, the bus etc.) and I'll be shaking like a Parkinsons sufferer. It'll take me a few minutes to get myself back in to normal working order. In other words, my nerves are frayed.

So what's troubling me? I think I've said it before - it's a thousand small things. A feeling that absolutely nothing is going right. Of course, this is all perspective. And much of it is self-fulfilling. If you're feeling down, then relationships tend to suffer.

Speaking on the whole relationship thing:

I went out last week. On the Friday night. After the work function. A couple of people went into town. I decided to bum a ride. It was a weird night. It felt odd being able to walk into places without any hassle whatsoever. Granted, I was dressed to impress. Toward the end of the night I had ended up sitting next to some random girl. We got to talking and by the end of it she even had a nickname - "Devil's Advocate" (Hint: She's a smoker). She was flirting something chronic. Which was brilliant!

The only thing is, while it should have been this great big ego boost, that wasn't what I took away from it. What I ended up taking away from the whole experience is that the relationships I care about most seem to be slipping away from me. This pretty much explains my dreams at the moment. Feeling powerless while whatever object of desire moves away from me. And like I said, this is very likely self-fulfilling. This could be a definition of depression.

And I guess you've all figured out that doing desktop support is going to ... upset me a little. It's just one of those things. You've got to keep a level head, and really, it isn't that hard keeping people happy, but really is kind of soul killing. Why you ask? You spend your time trying to fix other people's mistakes rather than making your own. On the other hand, if it means I can solve my accommodation issue (and IRD issue and Xmas issue and holiday issue), then perhaps it is worth it. I so do hate having to make decisions based on money though.

There's also the task of throwing computers at problems. Imagine this - you encounter a school which seems to be training secretaries. The Internet is somewhere you can maybe find a bit of information on World War II but otherwise, is completely useless. There's no unified I.T. strategy. The school can not afford a full time computer teacher and see the expense to be in hardware, not in training. If the teachers already know how to use a word processor, then why would you have to pay for training?

I came across one of these schools. My first thought was to laugh and get nervous. It looked very much the same as when I went to school (although we had Acorn Archimedes machines for some strange reason). What's worse-their hardware choices have me slapping my forehead. Hint to those not in the know: Buy your computer monitor separately and don't skimp on it. It will probably last you a good 3 computers or so so it's worthwhile spending a little bit more money on it and get something big'ish. If you're looking at less (and I would recommend perhaps spending 3 times that much) than $200 for your monitor, you're looking in the wrong ball park.

So my instinct is to grab them by the shoulders and shake them yelling "Spend the money on PD, not more computers!". Without the teaching, the computers are pretty little word processors. Perhaps I could try and slip a few ideas in there slowly and get them thinking about the possibilities. Oh which reminds me... If you have some time to kill, check out this site.

The holidays are coming up and I'm fretting the idea that I won't see a bunch of people during that time. It's the same distressing feeling as I had last year - only a little worse as I now know and care about everyone all that much more. Holidays do seem a little bitter sweet. With so little money I don't think I can afford a holiday and with 9 schools on for next year, I think there's going to be a hell of a lot of auditing and the like going on. So I don't really anticipate having that much of a holiday. The right phone number or a cuddle from the right person would probably make this not quite so bad.

Oh and I'm a little disappointed with AuckLUG - they're having their end of year event but have chosen a venue with very little information available (it's apparently Korean - no idea what the prices are like), haven't catered to different diets (i.e. vegetarian/gluten free etc.) and requires RSVP - which given the nature of the group, and their reluctance to RSVP, means that half of their potential attendees are unlikely to go along.

So yeah... generally miserable. Personal life is next to non-existent. Work life is going to be quite different next year (think less time with the kids). Family life has never been great.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Deep Dark Secret of the Information Technology World

How many of you know the big dark secret about the I.T. industry?

None of us, and I mean none of us, ever imagine ourselves as desktop support people. It's kind of where you've got to start out. As for me, I think it's one of the best ways of getting feedback on what's not working well.

It's a mine field of issues though.

User fault... yeah that's a pain but you can deal with those.

What if it's a problem with the Operating System? And what if the vendors don't want to acknowledge the problem? This happens a hell of a lot more frequently than you'd expect. This is one of the biggest arguments for open source software. Someone can fix it and release it.

And other hardware? Something along the lines of a photocopier/printer? At this point you're probably looking at support contracts - so the cost isn't in the initial purchase of a piece of hardware, but rather, in the support contract.

Some support can be fun. An issue that no one else has been able to solve. Something that takes a day to trace everything back and talk to various people to get a few ideas and trying to think outside the box. A bit like playing "House MD" only with computers.

But for the most part, no one enjoys doing desktop support.

You might get the impression from sitcoms that it's the users that trouble us.

There's a little bit of that. It's not that we don't relate to you well - it's more to do with perspective. In terms of "Oh my god! Things just aren't going right!", a desktop machine is really small beans. It's not like it's an Internet server serving up millions of pages a minute. So when someone is flapping their arms about, ranting and raving about how vital something is, your geek is normally trying to concentrate and figure out what is going wrong and if there's some way of negotiating the mine field that is support in order to make it work.

And generally, people aren't nice when you're trying to fix things. They're stressing you out. They're loitering asking how long it's going to take to fix. You're not a person - you're a geek who's just being difficult.

Once you've fixed things, you cease to exist in a lot of cases. You wouldn't have been needed if things were going right. The best you can do is smile, be cheery, carry on.

What I find really interesting though, is the number of people who seem to think that desktop support is all I.T. is about.

You've got to wonder why so many people do it. Not surprisingly, the I.T. trade is full of people who have realised there's money to be made. In fact, I'd say that's the majourity of people. I remember when I first went to Unitec to get into computers. In one of my classes we went around the room and stated why we wanted to get into computers.

Number one: Money/Security.

There was no number two. I was the only one who was there because I actually kind of found computers fun and wanted to do all sorts of interesting things on them. There's a good chance that I secretly wanted to make computer games. The course back then was "Business Computing". There was no such thing as a purely all things computer like course. So even the course had a money basis to it.

So A LOT of people go and do the papers, pass, get a desktop support job and that's them. They're set for life. These people don't like what they do. They get paid fairly well for it though. They're not the types who get bored and want to create things. They normally have a bunch of qualifications under their belt. You too can buy a book, memorise as much of it as possible and pay a couple of hundred dollars to get qualified.

For others it's a fallback. Their plans haven't panned out. Would-be computer game designers who didn't really know where to start. The burnt out programmers. The sick of pulling cables network guys (normally through attics and under buildings and mind the cat skeleton).

Anyway, it seems I've unwittingly ended up in desktop support. Let this nightmare begin...

Amendment:
Just to clarify, this isn't an indication of what I'm doing now. I am really happy to support something I've put together. I especially like it when I can figure out ways of making it work all the better (thus working with kids) - it really is not a bad way of figuring out what's going wrong. Supporting different OSes and different bits of closed source software and dealing with different vendors... boo!

Xmas Work Functions

The seasons only really begun. I had my first Christmas work do yesterday. I wasn't really in the mood for it.

I'm really feeling the nerd bit. I REALLY hate being referred to as "geek" in the classrooms. One of the teachers at another school uses "expert" instead. Others use technician. None of them are great. Geek is terrible though.

The word geek is horribly dismissive. It's usually meant to say "I'm not that interested in what you're saying and am not going to attempt to understand it".

It's like the pizza delivery girl. I only really see her for around 2 minutes every 2 or 3 weeks. So she's the pizza delivery girl. Someone who I remember but don't know anything about. She's there to do a job

So I expressed this to someone last night. She looked at me and said "I think it's in your head". Well yes. Isn't that kind of the point? When you're making someone feel welcome, it's not a very concrete thing. You're attempting to put them in a positive frame of mind. It's all in their head.

I was talking to a kid at school yesterday. We have chats regularly. Normally I'm trying to get him to do something. He doesn't really get all that engaged until we get into some sort of conversation. So we're talking and he says to me: "You're the hardest adult to crack Mister".

It turns out he was referring to the fact that I have an evil tendency to deflect. I'm guarded. So I showed him the blog - incredibly quickly. I wasn't looking for him to read it - just to know that I do have some sort of outlet for not deflecting. He scanned it incredibly quickly and picked up on the nerd thing.

"Yeah mister. People call me a nerd all the time. It doesn't feel great".

"So what are you going to do about it?".

"I'm going to be rich and laugh at them because nerds earn more money".

So what can be taken from this? We're not actually claiming the words (geek/nerd) back. Or not effectively at least. That isolation is still felt.  I'm concerned that he sees money as a solution there. And he's upset enough by it to want to do something but hasn't realised that those same people he wants to make feel bad are the same people he's going to have to live with and deal with on a daily basis.

But then... The people who hurt you are the ones you let hurt you. The ones who's opinion of you matters. So I could decide not to take offense. By... deflecting perhaps.

But that's no good either. I end up being awkward. Struggling with some social interactions. Being a nerd. Not feeling great at Xmas work functions.

How do most nerds avoid this? They have another life. People who see them as something other than geek. Unfortunately... I threw everything I had into the project. My social life is non-existent. And next year looks like it's going to be just as bad.

Last night I found myself texting. I had sat for 1/2 an hour with a conversation happening over me. i.e. I was between two people having a conversation before pulling out my cellphone. It got worse when I had gone to the toilet and returned only to find that I didn't have a seat anymore. It did give me an excuse to move around. I was feeling awkward about where I ended up. I've been avoiding one of those people who I am often offended by (Of course, I'm only offended because I care). It very much is in my head. It's just any social interaction with her at the moment results in an "Oookay". Very much a "You're weird". Essentially "geek" incognito. It's a little worse than that. There's a very dismissive "you're a geek" tone to her at the moment if I go even slightly outside of computers.

As far as work functions go, this wasn't bad. I've been to much much worse. The worse one was when I had to call out to the door men to kick me out as some bitter old guy had me by the collar and was just about to punch my lights out. I still, to this day (8 years later), have not figured out what this guy's problem with me was. It was mortifying having to explain myself on the following Monday - why I was one of those kicked out (I didn't want anything happening to the guy as I didn't know what it was that I may have done to cause offense and it was just easier me going).

So yeah. A Xmas work function. I think I've got another 2 for the year. Here's hoping that was the worst of it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Entering a Low

Being manic means there are highs and lows. All of last week was a high. However, a low hit me yesterday. Like being hit in the stomach with a brick. Suddenly I wanted nothing more than to roll up into a ball somewhere and sleep. Drowsiness is often a symptom (and sometimes a cause) of stress for me.

Anything can set things off. A hit to the head (Monday), feeling like I'm being marginalised (I'm really not just a nerd. Tuesday), not being able to fix a problem as quickly as I'd hope (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday), not having anything nearing stimulating conversation (Tuesday/Wednesday), feeling like I've failed (I've now gotten a bit tougher on some of the older kids about what they see me about - i.e. they all know how to check the password to their wireless connection and waiting for me to do it for them is just plain lazy - especially when they could be asking each other), being broke (it's pay day and I've just realised I've got around $10 left for drinks for 2 Xmas work functions after paying back the money I borrowed last fortnight and doing my final 2 weeks for the flat and accounting for transport for the next 2 weeks etc.), realising I have more work than time (I really want to go away to New Plymouth for a week during the holidays except that I know I have craploads of work to do in the month that the holidays last for - which I haven't been doing as I'm burnt out - and I don't know if I can afford it. Outlook is grim.), people using the name that I don't use just to annoy me (most of last week and this week).

So there are always reasons around to be down. It's all self pity. I get that. There are loads of other things that could upset me: The uplifted kids or those that probably should be. The social problems which no one has any real solutions to. The fact that Barnados came knocking on my door yesterday wanting regular donations to help with these sorts of problems. But then, this is my self pity. My depression.

The nerd thing - I think what I'm really missing is my old friends. The pub culture. Where I wasn't Nevyn the nerd but rather, Nevyn, the guy everyone knew. A bit like an episode of Cheers. Nerd was just an occupation. It wasn't used as a description of what I am. I'd walk into the pub and would have my choice of group to join.

Today was the volunteers morning tea at one of the schools. I think I wrote about it last year - The Whole Village. This year I turned up late. I had a meeting at another school and was pleased it ended 1/2 an hour earlier than expected so I could go. The problem though - I found myself standing around alone. This often happens. I just didn't really feel part of any group. I'm paid so I'm not a volunteer. I'm not paid for what I do thus I kind of still am a volunteer.

This isn't something new at this school. In fact, I'd guess every school has it to some extent. If you're:
  1. Not a teacher.
  2. Don't belong with a team
You're an other. You don't really fit in. You're there just as much as they are but you're not part of their group/team. Your participation in these things is more a charity rather than you belonging. Furthermore, you miss all sorts of details because often announcements of what's going on happen during "staff meetings" (which are mainly for teaching staff - as you'd expect. Most (all) of the non-teaching staff don't go to these meetings. So me finding out about the Xmas work do, for example, was someone pointing out a menu on the photocopier).

So that's me for the moment. Lowly little nerd whose probably seen as greedy given that pay is often a cause of complaint and with more work on next year than I know what to do with and very few friends around to make this all feel a little less ... daunting.

Welcome to a low. Population: Me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Possibilities

Sometimes I think the most exciting this in the world is a blank piece of paper. It's got the chance to fly, to contain just about any information under the sun, to have a drawing on it etc.

So that last post - define exciting. It's possibilities. There was the potential of a post. A possibility.

This month I've been writing. And writing. And writing. I don't think I've ever written quite so much in my life. For every post that ended up being published, there were 3 that didn't make it. Possibilities. Tangents that could have gone somewhere - even might have had I carried on - but ultimately got rejected.

Just think - the possibilities of what you might have found out. The perspective I might have imparted.

The kids - when they've made a movie or written a story, discovered something new (today I got some little boys interested in tessellations after having shown them some of M. C. Esher's work - they've got netbooks and here I'm showing them how to cut and tape bits of paper together in order to make their own template for a tessellation), found possibilities for themselves.

So what makes a person exciting? Possibilities.

Define Exciting

Comment... Discuss...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Christmas Menu

Not quite December yet and I'm already thinking about the Christmas menu. Of course, the tradition has been taking a bit of a weird turn. We don't celebrate a Christmas so much as anything but. So we come up with other terms for it. Saturnalia (Although I tend to celebrate Saturnalia on the 23rd of December though the 17th is probably more apt). The day of the jolly fat "breaking and entering" man. The day the pubs are closed etc.

It's a bit of a game. I think it's just a case of everyone being a little over Christmas. I don't really do the whole family thing. Rather, I do something for a few friends - collect up the strays, have a great big meal, watch movies, fall asleep on the couch etc. The family can decide on their engagement with it all. Which normally means they'll eat at the very least. It's all very easy. I think it'd be quite different if we had kids around. That invitation is being done on Monday hopefully.

So, this is how things are looking so far in terms of a menu:
  • Snacks
    • Roasted Nuts
    • Chilli, olive oil, parsley, garlic and parmesan bread (planning on actually making the bread this year).
  • Meats
    • Indian style grilled chicken (my favourite dish as a kid)
    • Honey Soy chicken? (Little effort. More variety)
    • Possibly a herb crusted lamb
  • Vegetarian
    • A spinach, feta and caramelized onion pizza.
    • A mushroom and blue cheese pizza.
  • Sides
    • Rosemary Potatoes.
    • Beans fried in butter.
    • Possibly mashed potatoes.
  • Dessert
    • Pavlova (individual serves?) with the choice of a kiwifruit puree, passionfruit or strawberry coulis.
    • Brandi snaps with berries and custard.
I'm trying to make sure that just about everything is home cooked this year. So for the brandi snaps, I'll probably end up making baskets out of them and make them at home. So yeah - much more cooking time needed this year. Come the day of red suits, seeing a table set out with all of this stuff should be really horribly satisfying.

I guess all that needs to be done now is to find out who's coming... Oh and try out the few things I'm not that confident in cooking (pavlova and bread).

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Night Before Election Day

It's the night before election day,
and on the bus,
a couple of English men,
asked who I was voting for.

Yeah - not going to be able to keep that up. Weirdest thing. One was going National because he reckons "they can do it". The other, the Maori party, because "they're honest". Me, the Green's because I don't think we can afford National again, Labour are going in a direction I really don't like and the Green's are the most likely, in my opinion, to have a positive effect on New Zealand.

This is one of those things that annoys me about elections. We don't tend to think in terms of the big picture. Loads of people think they have to vote for Labour or National because anything else is a wasted vote. But that's one of the reasons we got rid of "First Past The Post" as a voting system. It didn't allow, in any way, for smaller parties to influence things. Yes, I realise, this can be a bad thing. Winston Peters holding the government to ransom is rotten. What I don't get is why both parties didn't just decide to leave NZ First as independents. i.e. why do they need them in their coalition? In which case, that particular problem is the fault of the two main parties as it is the small party that instigated the problem.

So what is tomorrow going to bring? Earlier this year I went to NetHui - a brilliant conference that had a presentation by some people from the "World Internet Project". In particular, people from AUT.  They do research (surveys) into various things such as the amount of homes with Internet. However, I found myself horribly cynical  about their results. They'd gotten their results from a phone survey... I'd hazard a guess and say that those people are less likely to have access to the Internet, but the very method of data collection omits those people from their conclusions.

Why am I bringing this up now? TV3 made a big deal about their last poll before the elections. On the same day TVNZ 7 were doing some sort of travelling show talking to various voters in different electorates. The bit I saw was them talking to a couple of people in various Indian stores in Mt Roskill. None of them would state who they were going to vote for. So the question is, can the polls be trusted if, although an incredibly small sample size, the supporters of various parties are less vocal than the supporters of others?

I've also been horrified by some of the advertising. I always am, but normally it's around the slogans on billboards. One of the most horrible I've ever seen was during the Mt. Albert by-election - Russel Norman's, "For some muscle, vote Russel". Anyway, this time around, I keep seeing Nikki Kaye in town, a bunch of high school kids in tow, waving signs about. Yes, the National party is no longer just for old business men. Naive children who aren't old enough to vote yet are also supporters!

Talking about Mt. Albert... who here remembers the by-election? The candidates? Melissa Lee was making headlines for her foot in mouth disease. Russel Norman had a few billboards up but no one was paying any attention. Oh and Labour had a candidate - I don't think anyone actually knew his name but hey - he wasn't messing up as much as the other candidates.

So you'd think National would have up'ed their game right? Nope. Melissa Lee. They're not even trying. Labour have put in David Shearer (it doesn't really matter who they put in at this point). The Green's have put in David Clendon and ACT also have a candidate though if anyone ever thought that ACT would make a good representative for their electorate, you'd have to conclude that they don't really understand the candidate vote at all or otherwise, just don't understand what ACT are all about.

It's a no-brainer. And again, not for any merit of his own, but rather because the options are just so ... horrible or generally unremarkable, David Shearer will probably win the seat.

Way to go guys. A seat ripe for the plucking and it's just handed to Labour. Not that I'm complaining. I just think it'd be great if the party's actually took this seriously. The candidate vote should be about who would best represent our local interests. Obviously no one was terribly comfortable with Melissa Lee. They're still not going to be comfortable with her.

I suppose I should say something about my unease with even "The Green Party". They seem to have made a huge effort in recent years to be a lot more ... not quite respectable, but respect able. i.e. I'm able to respect them.

However, I find myself doing a palm plant when I hear terms like "Green Jobs". Lose the stupid jargon and make it sound ... practical. We care about the environment, and if you can demonstrate that the jobs are going to be beneficial to the environment, then all power to you but don't try to distract the from the fact that this is a step towards creating more jobs thus bringing down the unemployment rate and hopefully creating more opportunities.

While I'm a HUGE fan of Gareth Hughes and Metiria Turei is also on my radar, Russel Norman leaves me wanting to punch the party in the stomach. Partly due to his slogan for the Mt Albert by-election. He's never won an electoral seat in which case, he's never been able to win the confidence of people within a relatively small area - and yet, he's co-leader of our 3rd biggest party. To be fair, Turei and Hughes have also never won an electorate seat either. You've got to wonder what they're doing wrong.

Okay - so in terms of confidence that the NZ public have in them, not so great. I would blame a lot of their problems on the infighting and factions though. The Green Party seems to be full of factions. Who could forget Sue Bradford, now a member of the Mana Party? They seem a lot more cohesive now.

So I guess the question for me came down to the politicians I respect. Clare Curren from the Labour party, who had some input into Labour's plan to introduce 1:1 devices in schools (while completely disregarding the bits that would make it work such as giving the people a sense of ownership and responsibility in the programme) or Gareth Hughes, who seems to be the most likely to actually work to achieve something rather than fight for the sake of fighting.

At least this makes the decision a tiny bit easier than trying to figure out which party I could respect.

I still think we need a no-confidence type of party. In the last election it was the "Bill and Ben Party". The McGillicuddy Serious Party, which stood for various interesting policies such as free dung and the abolition of money, had great political influence when the Laird McGillicuddy (Graeme Cairns) was publicly tarred and feathered when he failed to win the 1999 election as he'd promised. Currently, this leaves the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party with those votes... uh-oh.

Heartbreak

Define heartbreak:

Someone you care about looking miserable and you just wanting to hug them but not really being sure:
  1. Whether they would appreciate a hug from you (at that particular time).
  2. If that urge is about them or you.
  3. How you'd go about initiating one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What the Advertising is Saying

In New Zealand there's this ad for a health insurance provider - Southern Cross Healthcare. They established a bunch of ads with a character, a white terrier, named Mr. Perkins.

The funny bit though is that Mr. Perkin's owner, Sarah, gets injured and so she goes and sees Mr Perkins... No, not that Mr Perkins...

What I'm wondering though.... does anyone find it weird that Sarah should be paying for health insurance, injure herself, and go and see a "specialist" who doesn't have a doctorate? These ads have been running since 2009... I would've thought someone would have pointed this out to them by now...

I so wish I could find a video of the ad...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nevyn Hira and the Infinite Sadness

I went out drinking on Saturday night. At times, after drinking, and with a great big hangover I often find myself feeling really horribly melancholy. Often I think I've offended someone.

I'm pretty sure I did this time around. It's possibly not as bad as I think it is as she's still speaking to me. It's either it's not as bad or she's just decided a working relationship with no reference whatsoever to anything personal is probably the best thing for it. The reason I almost always feel really horribly bad about this is the fact that I never want to make anyone feel like how I perceive how I've made them feel. In most cases, it's me getting defensive. I've taken something as a bit of a slight. For example, being told "those are my friends" is less friendly than just introducing them - even though this is definitely not a cause for offense.

This time I was almost comical in my attempts to poke fun at and be cute. It just wasn't happening. I knew what I was trying to say. I could hear myself say something that sounded shocking even to me. And in that case, I'm much more likely to just shut off and go away for a little while. Just because I've found myself a spade does not mean I have to keep digging. A bit like watching yourself falling. You wonder if you should put your hand out to stop your fall but you're not sure if it will result in stopping the fall or breaking your wrist.

So blame it on that god awful shyness of mine. Or how I get myself nervous over just about everything (when you over think EVERYTHING, everything becomes a source of anxiety). There's an apology in there just waiting to come out - if you're the one I'm talking about and you're reading this, chances are there is an apology I'm going to make. I really do feel really bad about it all.

So today, still feeling melancholy and ashamed, I'm finding myself wanting to be more than just a geek. I know... it's my job. There are some people who won't give me the time of day without a technical problem to fix. And I guess this is a result of the lack of balance to my life. I haven't cooked a meal in a while. I haven't knocked something together or done any gardening. Given that I no longer smoke (I did slip up the other day while drinking, took 2 puffs and found myself horrified by what I was doing and the sensation of it all) I no longer find myself star gazing. I haven't enjoyed a meal with a friend with a couple of drinks which is why I think I went overboard this weekend. I guess I'm just wound way too tightly.

I remember a few years ago I was going through a stage where I could obsess about something or just go on with being a nerd. At the time I had termed it "To be a geek or to be a real boy". Given that I've never really been that good a "real boy" I decided to distract myself with ... well ... geeky things. I think I may a fairly good geek. However, there's got to be more... doesn't there? I mean, are the two mutually exclusive.... are they?

So there we have it. A brand new anxiety. I don't want to be known just as "the geek" anymore. I want to be a real boy. I want to have social interactions that don't have me questioning myself and my motivations and whether I've been honest etc. I want to be able to throw caution to the wind and ... well ... interact. I don't want to over think everything. I don't want to be shy. Most importantly, I want to be in the moment...

Now.... how does one go about shaking off the geek shackles?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Relating to People

I've had a sudden realisation.

While I'm working on getting some self esteem, I'm still not really relating to people. Quite often I'm making some joke about "not food" - i.e. KFC, McDonalds, Burger King etc. Or I'm criticizing people's choice in music (the silly thing is that I probably have the worst taste in music ever - 1920's show tunes, 1970's rock, Hayley Westernra etc.). The choice of television shows etc.

So while I've been peacocking (essentially looking great because I wanted to be noticed) all of last week and feeling great, I've also been a bit of a tool. My flatting experience has probably moved me away from being relatable - I have less in common with people. The lack of TV.

I never listen to the radio anymore due to the amount of advertising either - which means I'm often very behind in the latest music. I never go to the movies - mainly because I hate the idea of seeing a movie on my own. Being a geek further separates me. The word, while I own it - i.e. I find nothing offensive about it - does have some connotations. It's often used by other people to dismiss you or as an excuse to ignore anything you're saying because obviously geeks speak a different language. I had one case where as soon as they thought you were getting too technical, they'd make a white noise sound.

None of this is all that surprising really. A friend of mine noted that single people tend to .... I don't think she articulated it terribly well, but the gist of it was that there was a certain ... self centered quality to them. I think what she was really saying is that single people tend to lack the context which other's take for granted. So it's hardly surprising that I'm finding this all so very hard.

So I guess this is a bit of an appeal. Help me to be a better person. If I'm being a tool, call me up on it. If I am speaking a foreign language, then letting me know which bits you don't understand will only make me all that much better at speaking to people. In other words, don't use me being a geek as an excuse for my awkwardness.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Oh Labour, Why Can't You Think?

Back in July I had a look at a paper about how the government could give kids devices for e-learning.

I was appalled with it. It missed some of the most obvious bits needed to make a 1:1 program successful. Anyway, it seems Labour's education policy, in the section titled "E-Learning and Engaged Young People", has actually been silly enough to think that a government pushed programme of this sort is going to work.

The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project identified that it's not enough to just give out the laptops. It's all very well for the country's government to come up with the funds. However, if there is no sense of ownership in the device, problems over care start to pop up.

In the Manaiakalani project this has also come up. The sense of ownership is also an opportunity to teach things like warranties, insurance, finance etc.

I can't emphasise just how important this is. Ownership of the device is absolutely key.

The devices themselves do not make e-learning work. In fact, drop the e. It's just not important. It's all just learning. What needs to happen for learning to work? You have to have buy in from the staff and the staff must feel supported. So a majour investment must go into the ongoing professional development of staff. No two ways about it.

Schools need to be thinking about what they want to accomplish from these devices. This really should involve the community. What do parents want their children to be learning? What do parents fear about the online world and how can those fears be mitigated? In other words, PD (Professional Development) for the community as well.

Government is a hammer. No two ways about it. They prescribe ways of doing things. Thus, the community, nor the school, will ever feel they own the programme if it comes from the government. This sort of thing works best from the bottom up. The best way to put an end to any positive talk about 1:1 programmes, in my opinion, would be to push it on people.

So what do I believe this money should be spent on?

  • The development of software and platforms that create a sustainable software stack that address New Zealand school children's concerns.
  • Enabling the schools to put in structures to develop a program. i.e. for the Manaiakalani project we have the Manaiakalani Trust that must have a certain amount in the bank to underwrite all of the netbooks.
  • Professional Development, Professional Development, Professional Development. If all you're doing with your computers is using a word processor, you're not really learning. I don't believe any school can do this on their own. We're lucky in that the people behind the Manaiakalani project keep looking around at other projects around the world.
I know, it would've sounded a little less grand saying "We'll enable schools to put together learning programmes around 1:1 devices" than "We'll give your poor kids computers!" but, it would have sounded well thought out. This is what is really missing from any policy I've seen during this election. 

None of them really reason things out and figure out what the government's involvement should be and all seem to be a bit of flash to gain votes rather than coming up with real policies that actually do something positive. Imagine it - an election where you didn't feel that you were just voting for a name rather than how much good you think they would do in parliament based upon what they're saying they're going to do. The number of times I've heard "What's the point? None of them keep to their promises anyway". I think I'd be horrified if they did..

Friday, November 18, 2011

Can You Say Farce?

New Zealand's elections are coming up! Brilliant! Time to kick National to the curb (Please on please don't vote National. That would be tragic).

Anyway, they're also doing a referendum on our voting system. What a crock! I just had a look at my voting papers and the information they sent out. For each of the options, the first sentence is "There are 120 members of parliament". Wow! Way to point out the differences in the different systems. If you look at the layout of the options in the informational leaflet, you can't help but think "It's not symmetrical". I can't help but wonder as to their reasons for the layout. For example, on the first line, MMP takes up 2/3's of the line, FFTP, 1/2. On the 2nd line, it's all Preferential Voting. The third line, a 50/50 mix of Single Transferable Vote and Supplementary Member.

Is this just a really bad case of someone trying to subliminally influence people's votes? Given the wording of NZ's last big referendum, "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?", it's easy to see an improvement. I'm not sure if I've said this on this blog, but I thought the question was stupid and designed to get a particular answer. i.e. It's pathos. If you don't agree with the question, you don't believe in good parenting.

So it's an improvement. However, given that we're being bombarded with irrelevant information and not really given the information we need to make an informed decision, I would argue that this referendum is just as irrelevant. It's no more than a complete waste of money.

Shouldn't there be some sort of check on this sort of thing?...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Whoa!

I often find that posts about the number of hits a site is getting is usually a bit... well... self-congratulatory. But WHOA!

Last night.... A shocking 300 odd hits. Slightly more than the rest of the month (the 15 odd other days) in just one day.

The highest amount of hits we've ever had in a month is a little over 700. We're already up to 600...

I wonder... if I get enough hits, monetize the site, could I then buy a house? Failing that.... a coffee?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Coffee

Hi All,

Went out for coffee with a friend. We informed the media. We talked about the cost of coffee, the service and the size of our wallets. Things got a little heated when I realised he expected me to pay for half of his soy milk - $0.25 but it's the principal of the thing.

It turns out someone recorded our conversation. Weird. Nothing was said that I would hide from others. Given that the media were around it'd be a stupid time to say anything we didn't want others to hear.

I have no money. I thought the coffee was good but not nearly as good as the coffee at the coffee cart down by Britomart. Service wasn't nearly as good as we could have hoped but that's typical of New Zealand cafes.

Of course, the media have watched horror movies too. They know the unseen is far scarier than actually showing what's hunting down the stupid teenagers in the forest. None of our conversation has actually been revealed. I'm starting to doubt it was actually recorded.

Come to think of it... I did say a little something about the waitress. Looked great in black, about a third my age. Perhaps it's better if that recording doesn't get out.

Note to self: Don't tell the media when going to a cafe.

P.S.
If you don't know what this post is all about... I'm rather pleased with how clever it is for reasons I'm not going to note. This is very much a New Zealand thing and probably only really relevant at this current time. Sorry if you're reading this sometime after I wrote it and am especially sorry if you're not living in New Zealand. Should've read it before I wrote it.

P.P.S.
This is completely fictional. A waitress 1/3 my age would be a little over 10. I haven't had a chance to go out for coffee with a friend for a little while now. I'm not sure the media would be all that interested in me going out for a coffee. It's normally me who has the soy milk. About the only thing that's true about this post is the lack of money.

Grace

I've been sitting here thinking about what I want to write. I have something in mind, but it's just not happening. I write a page of "stuff" and then end up deleting it because it's just not flowing. This all reminds me of me back when I was 16 and I had something I wanted to say. I was frustrated with something and really wanted to get it down in words. Anyway, it took me months to finally figure it out. It became a rather horrid poem which I'd actually gotten fairly good marks on. Yep... it became an assessed piece of work.

Anyway, part of what I want to write actually started almost sounding like grace. I'm sure I've said I kind of like the idea. If you could get rid of the references to a diety, I think it would be a whole lot better but that's just me. The problem with this is that it is full of "I" rather than the annoyance that's the imposed "we" you get when people are saying grace.

So here goes:

I am feeling anxious about my life. The idea that I've had to move back in with the folks (Oh - I moved in the weekend). I'm thankful that I'm able to rely on them. I'm a little ... embarrassed that things didn't work with the flatmate. Much as I'd like to blame someone else, I just don't think I'm the right flatmate for her.

I'm feeling lost without my own computer. I don't think I've been without a computer since.... 1999 when I moved to Christchurch and couldn't bring my computer with me.

I'm embarrassed to say that I ended up smoking again. I'm glad I've got the perseverance to see this more as a temporary setback rather than an indication that I shouldn't be quitting.

I'm resigned about the 5's. The 5 letter word "maybe" followed by the 5 month wait I think is going to be resolved by a lack of contact and I think I'm actually really quite good about it.

I'm actually feeling kind of connected to someone and although my shyness inhibits me quite a lot, I really am enjoying just spending a little time with her and being impressed by the passion she brings to what she does. One of those people who I really want to invite over for a meal. I hope I don't mess things up with my weird mixed signals which are a result of my shyness and my doubting myself.

I'm really happy that I'm surrounded by people who get it. School staff get to see some of the worst in people through the effect it has on their kid's behaviour, and oft times I go home ready to cry. And those are just the ones I'm aware of. So, I'm incredibly thankful I'm surrounded by other people who help make my anxieties not seem pathetic and who are at times as awkward as I am about these situations. Is it a good time to declare today "Teacher Aides Day"? Show your appreciation (actually, I don't really care what day this is done) for what they do and the emotional drain this puts on them and acknowledge the hideously poor rates they're paid. They really are a love over money people.

Baillie and Ian, are in DIY hell and having the carpet fitted on Monday (yay!). So I'm really happy they're buying a house which hopefully has a spare bed for when I visit after Christmas. I'm really happy I've got such cool friends. Not just Ian and Baillie, but ... well, you know who you are.

I've got to give a talk on Thursday though only to a small room full of people this time around. It's on the future of technical support for the Manaiakalani project. I'm not actually planning anything. Of course, at some stage, I have to put it down on this blog as there are quite a few people reading this blog who are interested. Here's hoping I don't seize up in a mumbling mess digging a toe into the ground and looking down saying "stuff", and what the kids have taught me, "fing" a lot.

Anyway, I think that's me. I feel.... kind of good after all of that. I highly recommend this.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Buying a New Computer

It's kind of interesting not having a computer of my own. I'm thinking about getting my old desktop going again. It's around 6-7 years old now so horribly under spec'ed but it might do for the time being.

Anyway, I got to thinking about what I would like from a portable machine.

Firstly, it must have decent battery life. That restricts me to 2 classes of processor:

  • Intel Atom
  • AMD Fusion
To me, the AMD's have an edge over the Intel Atoms. They're able to decide HD video streams. This is something I haven't been able to do with the Intel Atoms. At least, not the N270 nor the N450.

The other big reason to go for AMD Fusion over Intel is form factor. The biggest complaint about the netbooks is the size. Complaints such as "I can't get a netbook, my eyesight just isn't that good". But what if you don't need a hell of a lot of processing power, value the portability that long battery life offers you but want a bigger screen?

It turns out that Intel has a restriction on the devices that can be manufactured around the Atom processors. 10.2 Inches. If you exceed that, either you can't sell the device with the screen (such is the case with the Asus eee box).

The AMD Fusion though has no such restriction. This means you can get a full sized laptop, with a long battery life but slower processor, full sized keyboard and full sized laptop screen (15" or so...).

This has lead to all sorts of interesting reviews on the Internet. Because those laptops don't really fit well into either camp - ultraportable vs. laptop - they're usually reviewed as a laptop with not enough processing power (try Linux on it...) or an ultraportable (netbook) that's not all that portable (due to size).

Anyway, I went to buy an ultraportable (It still deserves this label as the battery life makes it usable for a goodly amount of time) laptop at PB Technologies. The last one in store. Anyway, turns out they couldn't find it. Such are stock control systems... 

Never mind - it's available at the same price from other places...

Anyway, I think the AMD Fusion processors will become the netbook processor of choice as it allows manufacturers a lot more options as to how they're built - size, added drives etc. Say goodbye to the Atom. It was good while it lasted, but seriously, if they're not going to offer the options, what's the point? Intel might as well give it up if they're unwilling to open it up.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Demotivational Posters

Remember back in the 80's when people, mainly middle management, had posters on their walls that they'd constantly refer to as if those posters had somehow changed their lives? You kind of got the sense that you could do away with the manager and replace them with the poster.

They'd normally show scenes of something picturesque and have a single word underneath. And under that, in proportionally smaller text, there'd be some wanky quote.

They'd look quite good along the hallways of offices. A way to add a little colour.

Of course, it's incredibly hard, after seeing a lot of these, to take them terribly seriously.

Take the example here. What if the text were something along the lines of:

ACHIEVE
When you can't, fake it.

Suddenly, rather than a guy embracing the world around him, you see a guy trying to convince the world that the fish was "this big".

Taking something that someone found horribly motivating and turning it around is funny. It doesn't try to be anything that it's not. It's just not terribly motivational.

And thus, we have the demotivational poster. It's a response to something real. Something that people took seriously. It's not just a form factor. It meant something. It basically meant "Sod it, we're done with your manufactured sentiments".

But it's just a joke right? Well... no. It's a response to something. If you go looking for demotivational posters though, people seem to have completely missed the point. In a list of "the top 40" demotivational posters, I found around 7 odd that were actually demotivational posters.

Let's start acknowledging them for what they are...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wall of Shame

I really should follow my own advise. After months of asking people which courier company they'd be using when sending items my way and rejecting any that use any company of the Freightways group (New Zealand Couriers, Post Haste, Castle Parcels etc.), I found myself in a scenario where I wanted computer parts quickly and didn't go through the usual lines of inquiry.

Basically my hard drive died in my netbook. Well.... I was expecting it. So I figured, rather than a hard drive, I might throw in solid state drive instead. Hopefully it changes the user experience. Anyway, so I went online, checked out PB Technology and ordered online via credit card on Wednesday.

I then get an email the following day asking for a confirmation code.... on a credit card transaction? It turns out I needed to provide a 6 digit code which I would have to call up my bank for. Ring National Bank, answer the security questions, get a code. Asked about the code. It doesn't grant them any permissions or anything. It's just something their merchant system seems to want.

A few hours later I get another email from PB Technology saying that the code is wrong. Right. Ring the National Bank, answer security questions, get code. Ring PB Technology and give them the code as well as sending an email.

Friday - item gets handed over to the courier. Oh poo. New Zealand Couriers...

Tuesday, still waiting.

So on my wall of shame:

  • PB Technology. Why oh why do you have some weird requirement on something that the rest of the world can handle? Isn't the whole point of a credit card and online payments that things can happen seamlessly with no hassle?
  • New Zealand Couriers. Seriously. It can't be that hard! You're a courier company. Start acting like it! I've got an "investigation" going on it. An apology for the delay. Screw their apologies. I want the damn item! So much for "Point-to-Point". Closer to "Point-to-oh wait.... where is it again?"
  • National Bank. The guy I got the first time seemed confident and self-assured but gave me a completely different code from what it turned out to be. The woman I got the second time around was good and even went looking for the guy to find out what the hell he'd done.
So... almost a week since ordering. Brilliant...

Update: 11/11/11


So the solid state drive got delivered. Brilliant! I couldn't hold back my excitement. I was up till 1am that morning trying to get it working. It turns out that OCZ have a drive that won't work with most netbooks. There's an incompatibility between the drive and the chipset though they won't admit to the fault.

PB Technology, to their credit, offered me store credit or cash. So I exchanged the drive for an Intel one - 20GB smaller, but still, pretty damn cool. I got it into my netbook and had a 12 second bootup! Loved it. Anyway, the following day my netbook was dead :( D.E.D. Dead! The symptoms were that it would turn on though no output on the monitor or external monitor. Couldn't turn it off without disconnecting the power source - either plugged in or battery. Turns out this is indicative of a motherboard failure - $190AUS to replace (plus postage).

So anyway, while we're on the wall of shame...

  • OCZ - don't bother with 'em. They may offer the cheapest solid state drives on the market... but really. What's the point? If you can't trust that their gear is going to work with your gear and the company won't admit when there's a problem, it's just not worth the hassle.

Anyway, it turns out I'm now in the market for a computer of some description. My desktop is so out of date that I didn't bother taking it with me when I moved (there's an update on that - I'm about to do a post on it). The netbook is dead which was my highest spec'ed computer. So yeah... I'm now using one of the school's netbooks. This isn't a long term solution though...

Oh... and the fact that I spent $200 on the netbook only to have it crap out on me hasn't been lost on me... It's been a great week!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pecking Order

I was at a pub the other night having dinner after a failed meeting (the person was a no show).

Anyway, I'm sitting there and the person I'm with says to me "that girl over there keeps looking at you". Another couple of people joined us. A brother and sister pair. He then says something that I found a little strange at the time.

"Your pose is very aggressive like a gangster".

It wasn't until the following day that I realised what was going on. A friend had tried to explain the whole pecking order thing to me as exhibited in male humans (yes - I'm purposely being Sheldon like here). Actually, he was trying to tell me how to be higher in the order though I can quite honestly say - that's just not me. If you want to look like a douche, go right on ahead. I'm not going to fight for some position. It's classic though. I mean, an absolutely perfect example of someone trying to establish a pecking order.

The rules are simple - try and say something that puts the other person on the back foot but which they can't actually defend. What I find even more interesting was the fact that this guy perceived me as a potential challenger.

Anyway, about the girl. We invited her to the table and you can imagine what happened. He was on her like white on rice. He gave her his number though she very pointedly didn't give him hers. She left the pub shortly after.

So hey - I wasn't in the equation at all I don't think. But still - interesting seeing the whole pecking order thing in action.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Happening

Those of you who know me personally may have noticed that I've been a little grumpy of late. I've been pretty much living at school (only ever leaving to go and do my laundry or get some sleep). I'm tired. Frustrated. And just generally feeling like I've got no options. Not a nice place to be.

So of course, I've been waiting for options to open up. Something's got to happen right? I mean, I can't really be expected to go on this way. What is more irritating is that at the moment I would probably have to accept charity to get myself out of this situation despite the type or work I do and the hours I put in. I don't think anyone has quite realised just how... frustrated I am. Okay, so one or two people have noticed. Basically a month of not having anywhere to relax. When everyone goes home after a day of screaming children, I'm still at school. Either keeping myself busy working, or, if I'm shattered, keeping myself entertained.

My big problem is a kitchen. I've always liked cooking and being in the kitchen. Putting together what are essentially compositions of food. Setting myself challenges (like finding a dessert that goes with a dry red wine for example). Trying to come up with the perfect 3 or 4 courses that just goes together perfectly. Finding ways of using whatever's in season. Poetry in action... Only with food rather than words (the right food in the perfect order). I had never expected this to have been a problem.

I was going to expand a little. I'm not a big baker. I'm pretty bad with things that I have to leave alone for long periods of time. Rice is almost always burnt. Cakes I just find frustrating (although the friands were just plain awesome!). So I was going to start doing breads. Things like ciabatta or white vienna. Perhaps even a 5 grain. I've even gone out and found myself an old 1970's Kenwood mixer.

If you think about it, we're gouged on bread. We're offered up horrible sponge like white things - spongy texture, no flavour. And we're charged a crapload for the privilege. If however, we were to take out some time in the morning to mix our bread and let it proof during the day, bake it in the evening, a much more interesting loaf of bread, normally sold for around $5, would probably cost us less than $1.50. And that's with sod all effort.

I was also going to try my hand at beer. I find the whole idea fascinating. How much honey would you put into a pilsner to get just a slight honey after taste? What things make it bitter? What sort of things give a beer it's character? It's just cooking except with a whole lot more patience needed. Speaking of character - have you ever tried Miller's lager? Apparently the idea of an American lager is to keep out any character thus not offending anyone. Horrible stuff. A great standard for what not to brew.

I found it interesting last week when people were talking about buying one of those Easi-Yo things. It's essentially 2 jars - one insulated and the other fits inside it. Here's a tip people - if you want to make your own yoghurt, never mind Easi-Yo. If you boil some milk (sterilise it), let it cool a little, chuck in some yoghurt (for the cultures so it needn't be a lot), put it in a covered vessel (something not air tight) and leave it somewhere warm and dark, in a day/couple of days you'll have yoghurt. Do it with cream instead and you end up with crème friache.

Never mind a bedroom. What I'm really after is a serviceable kitchen and somewhere to entertain people. Cooking for yourself is so much different from cooking for other people.

But my biggest thing about cooking? Being able to actually focus on actually cooking. If you've never gotten lost in the cooking and set off the smoke alarms and only then realised that you've generated a lot of smoke or finished cooking and gone to construct the dessert only to realise that the place is a complete sty and there's just no where to do it (the fridge often works in this scenario) then you're just not getting into it. I hate watching people who can't seem to focus on what they're cooking and would gladly sacrifice the food for washing up dishes or wiping down surfaces etc.

So I've got places I can read. And a place to watch TV (streamed on the computer). What I'm really lacking... somewhere I can invite people over and enjoy a good meal with. What better way to say thanks to people than to invite them into your home and enjoy a meal with them? Or to say "I appreciate you"?

It's going to happen. It's got to happen...