Sunday, January 30, 2011


I'm exhausted.

Ever since I got back from Wellington I recognised the fact that I needed some sleep. The night after I finally hit the wall while have a drink with a friend. I seemed to hit empty and just like a car out of gas, I was relying more on momentum rather than being powered under my own steam.

But I've been busy. A company I wrote some VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) code for a couple of years ago is still having problems given that they suddenly decided to change their version of MS Office. School is just starting up and starting to do imaging days. I haven't gotten back to someone about their website yet - that's been on the books since before going on holiday. And there's Kosrae to organise.

So I've been desperately looking forward to Sunday. Sunday is the day where I could lie in bed for the entire day and try to catch up on some sleep. I made sure my parents weren't going to be around, let them know exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it.

Only, at 9 this morning I woke up to hammering. The damn neighbours. I can't begrudge them really. They're not to know. Only I open my bedroom door and right outside my room is my mother holding a ladder for my dad while he knocks a nail into the ceiling for no other reason than some sort of superstition thing they've been meaning to do for a while. They're in their work uniforms. They've come home especially to do this. The neighbours don't even enter into this equation.

I'm frustrated and angry and I'm tired enough that I might just cry. My body desperately needs sleep but once woken, it stubbornly refuses to submit to it. This probably has more to do with how much needs to be done and my desperately trying to get everything going without a hitch.

When I express my frustration - "You knew I was desperately trying to get some sleep today" it's taken as a personal affront. Somehow I'm being completely unreasonable. My father is trying to get into my room for this whatever it is - they won't tell me what they're doing. By tonight my mother will have an apology with a qualifier - "I'm sorry but it had to be done at that very time because we've been meaning to do it and waiting a few hours or another day would make all of the difference". That'll eventually turn into "blame your father, it's his fault" and finally "It's our house and you'll just have to live with it". All of which aren't so much an apology as a justification for their actions and it's my fault that I was even trying to get some sleep. It's a whisker away from "I'm sorry you're an idiot".

And then I realise that this is why I actively hate superstition. While I don't believe in it (I'm not supposed to cut my nails or hair, or eat meat on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday or ever after dark etc.), my parents do. They're fanatical about it. It would be fine if they kept it to themselves. They don't. And me being who I am try to keep them happy. It's out of respect. But if I say "Not at this time" or "Not on this day", sure enough, they've picked those times and those days.

The fortune teller when I was supposed to be out celebrating my birthday for example. Suddenly I'm not allowed to celebrate because it inconvenient for this fortune teller. When it comes to these things, my plans don't factor into it.

Somehow this feels a lot like that whole stripping of - it's not just respect they're taking. It's something more. It's dehumanising. It's the same thing that my Aunties were doing by pushing me rather than talking to me and the same thing my sisters do when they very purposefully disrespect me and exactly the same attitude to me that seems to have been encouraged throughout my life.

In my teens my family seemed surprised that I would spend most of it looking at the ground. I was depressed. Crossing a busy street without a few dark thoughts of stepping out at the wrong time was a constant struggle. This is probably the reason I was an unpopular kid at school. I had no self esteem yet alone any display of confidence.

But then, once you've got a few dark thoughts, do they ever just go away? Take me out of the situation of the family home and away from the relatives which I did when I moved down to Christchurch. Only, I can't shake me from the equation. I've been brought up in a certain way.

A friend was saying that she thought I was great at what I do but I don't seem to have any self esteem and she didn't know why. The question feels like the wrong one to me.

My family never seemed to believe in positive reinforcement. My grades at school (prizegivings, an award from a science competition, a 100% score on an exam and later on an assignment) were never acknowledged. My occasional detentions were. Saying that I was probably going to have a bad grade for Chemistry due to the introduction of unit standards resulted in a loss of Saturday mornings as I was sent to tutoring - the tutor, a friend of my father's, had me writing lines because being tired apparently makes me stammer. Little good that it did. I still got a bad grade in chemistry but also hated Saturday mornings.

I had believed this to be a kindness to my sister who had struggled throughout school.Youngest child is spoilt my bottom.

So the question is: Where did I find the small amount of self esteem that I do have? But back to the immediate question: How do I get some sleep?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ideas Worth Spreading

I was watching TVNZ 7 which currently has a few video's from a TEDx conference held in Auckland. For those of you how don't know of TEDx, they're independently (Independent of what I'm not entirely sure. Probably from corporate interests) run conferences with the theme "ideas worth spreading". I've come across these talks every so often. They're ALWAYS interesting. I don't think I've ever been bored by one.

One of my favourites was one on maths in the classroom. The speaker asked the question:- what do we lose through route learning? The most obvious thing that jumps out to me about this is multiplication. I didn't learn my times tables. I saw households where they'd "practise" their times tables in the morning before school and even after school.

The answer was obvious. Enthusiasm. We lose enthusiasm. How many of us get to high school and find a class room full of people who enjoy maths? It's like brussels sprouts right? Except, if you cook brussel sprouts right (not too much and a little bit of butter with with toasted almonds and fried onions), they don't taste so bad. Maths is much the same way. And we're now at a stage where the calculation becomes less important. It matters to understand what is happening i.e. 3*5 is a short hand way of saying 3+3+3+3+3. It's less important to know that 3*5 is 15 if it results in a lack of enthusiasm for the subject.

Anyway, while watching this  talk on TVNZ7 (while on the face of it it's about New Zealand's more global role creatively but to me came across more about the advantages of smaller and nimble entities) I got to thinking about what I would talk about if given the opportunity.

Two ideas jumped out at me:
1. How we think about unemployment
2. Community projects in a global context

I was sitting at the bus stop the other day when a guy drinking from a Coke bottle. I say from a Coke bottle as the guy drinking from it freely admitted that it was mixed with something. He started talking about being unemployed. I suggested that perhaps he should try volunteer work. He looked like he could do with a win.

I've spoken about this before. We seem to have gotten things all wrong.

We've given ALL of the power to the employer. It's much more important that we're happy with the job than it is that the employers are happy with us. One will inherently follow the other. In otherwords, despite what WINZ or anyone else says, you should be perfectly comfortable to turn down a job if you have misgivings.

We don't look at how happy we're going to be at a job. We look at the money we'll be receiving and whether we'd be able to do the job. While I was working at EDS and found myself with no time whatsoever, despite being paid well, I wasn't happy. The most visited site at EDS was TradeMe. Not just me. This is EDS New Zealand wide. You've got buildings of stressed people, who are paid well, but don't have a lot of time who look for "retail therapy". I didn't actually have time to go out shopping for what I needed. I had to look online to get these things delivered to me.

WINZ, I believe, is a destructive force. While they help a lot of people keep their houses and get fed, when it comes to job placement or their courses, they don't have any notion whatsoever of appropriate placement or what skills someone needs in order to get placement.

I've drawn these conclusions from two main sources - what I see around myself and a friend who was forced to go on two of these courses and placed in various jobs.

This friend of mine was put into a fish freezer works. He'd gone through most of an arts degree and yet the only placement WINZ seemed to be able to put him into was somewhere where any notion of creativity was to be quickly killed off.

He's a well educated person. We talk for hours on various subjects on a weekly basis. He's not stupid. He described the first course as being condescending right down to the person leading the course being much like a kindergarten teacher. During the 2nd course, we were flatting together and weren't getting along so well (though we're still very good friends) so I didn't hear too much about it.

But what I think WINZ is REALLY bad at, is encouraging people. You have a body of people who have a range of skills - because let's face it, no body is never any good at only one thing - who are suffering this incredibly depressing time of their lives. Seeking out work is discouraging. Everyone seems to use employment agencies which have a really bad habit of trying to cubbyhole you.

"You've worked in prostitution? Sweet, we'll have you working in MacDonalds in no time." Nevermind the fact that the person may have been miserable as a prostitute.

Instead, what if WINZ showed an interest in what you're doing? What if they were to encourage volunteering instead? Something along the lines of:

"You've done art and you're currently volunteering your time to help people find their creativity. What if you were were able to work with troubled youths? You'd be doing something for the community and it's something you appear to enjoy."

Sure, they may be on the benefit for a little longer. However, the people they're helping are exploring the options. They're doing what they want to be doing rather than just trying to feed their family.

This has implications elsewhere. In terms of education, someone had said to me that if you teach those higher goals, being happy for example, the rest will follow. For example, I found that I was enthused and excited in electronics. This gave me an enthusiasm for maths so I was always going to learn it. English was something I wasn't enthusiastic about until a girl (and here I am having a conversation with myself and in the process transmitting the conversation to the world in written form).

And then there's the fact that searching for a job is about sending out 3 pages of text that say nothing about you really to multiple places - which for the most part, don't have the courtesy of telling you that you haven't been sucessful in your applciation. It's discouraging. It's depressing. It's disheartening. And we seem to be encouraged to display that same lack of character during an interview. You dress up in your Sunday finest. You speak when spoken to. You perhaps ask a superficial question or two. You listen to a litany of how X company is a great place to work at and how they changed ownership in 1993 or whatever.

This same lack of character is the same lack of character that you're taught at school when being taught CV writing or exactly the same lack of character that WINZ displays or the same lack of character that employment agencies encourage. What makes you different from that other non-character dipslaying applicant? Is your character going to be compatible with the workplace?

So, we're back to the overly big CV. The 3 pages are your index which the employer may then look at to get more detail. The rest is a chance to show some character. I'm not entirely convinced that this would work. For the most part, the employer only ever gets to see a small subset of CVs after the employment agency has dropped a whole bunch. Employment agencies don't find the right person for the job. They find a person to fill a position.

So this rant about unemployment, how it's viewed, what's going wrong etc. needs work. But there's definitely a lot of content.

In terms of community projects, one of my biggest criticisms of them is that they can be horribly inward looking. Take the Tamaki Transformation Programme. While I'm horribly enthusiastic about it, I find myself looking at it with quite often the same trepidation with which I view the Maori party. While I really want to respect Pita Sharples, it annoys me that he's always talking about what's good for the Maori people rather than asking "does this benefit the people of New Zealand?". The two aren't mutually exclsuive.

One of the biggest benefits of the Manaiakalani project (which is under the broader umbrella of the Tamaki Transformation Programme) is that it allows students to see themselves in a more global context. They have to consider their audience when writing in their blogs for example. When filming themselves, they have to consider appearance and diction.

But how far can this be stretched? Are they completely reliant on the community? And if those skills don't exist within the Tamaki region, what happens? The Manaiakalani project sought volunteers. But then, how much can you rely on volunteers? Given that it's nor part of our culture to volunteer - eg. we don't have internships and while we're unemployed we're busy sending out CV's, there's a good chance that those people will leave. And who can blame them?

Creating a sustainable relationship with people outside of the community may have benefits within the community. If for example, I was sit down with people within the community to teach them about the systems their kids are using on their laptops, the benefit would be an education you just can't buy.

Ask any Linux person, and their education on Linux came off the internet and talking to other Linux people. Sure, there are certifications out there. Not all of them are offered in New Zealand. And when they are they're attached to horribly expensive three day courses designed to teach you nothing more than how to gain the certification or are just the exam itself. That's the closest you get.

What if the Tamaki region became a Linux powerhouse? The same as New Zealand having a reputation for baristas and bar staff in England. Should those benefits be ignored if it means hiring from outside of the Tamaki region? Should those benefits not be seen as a loss?

This is what I think has gone wrong at that "other school" I've been using for contrast. While they're hiring from inside their community, they come across to me as having limited perspective. They ignore their "cluster". They have communication issues within the school. No one seems to see themselves outside of the context of the school. None of the staff seem all that willing to try out other schools because of "what they've heard" and as a result, the students aren't taught to see outside of the community. Their pride and joy is a group of ex-students who formed a drama group which essentially makes fun of their culture.

And again, while it's great that they've made a success of themselves, they have limited scope. Their humour, in most cases, isn't shared with those unfamiliar with the culture. As far as I know, the members of this group don't do drama outside of this context.

If this school were to hire from outside of their community, their kids would be gaining a different perspective. This perspective could potentially lead to kids who see themselves in a wider context. The possibilities become more than just sports, drama or working in a factory (because that's what Mum and Dad do while the former two are huge ambitions encouraged by the school).

The point is, community projects need to see themselves in a wider context. It's all very well to support the community and people within the community but this needs to be weighed up against the costs. Is the cost a lack of perspective? Is it something more tangible such as education opportunities?

And hey, if we were to merge these two things - unemployed? Then go and volunteer on a community project. Bring an outside perspective. But most importantly, this is a relationship. You need to look at what you're able to bring to the table and whether this is something such a project needs. This sounds like great training for ultimately chosing a job that suits you to me.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bad Genes

I'm down in Wellington for a family wedding. I can't say I've ever really enjoyed Wellington all that much.

As a smoker, it's hell - you can buy cigarettes. You can put them in your mouth. You just can't light the damn things. It's a bit of a look but don't touch or touch but don't saviour sort of a deal.

Wellington does have it's good points. The public transport system is great. However, this is counteracted for the fact that it's got quite a large Indian community. This in itself isn't such a bad thing. They're a fairly strong community. The problem with that though, being of Indian descent myself, and that they all seem to know each other, I have the problem that they have a tendency to stare as if trying to work out where I'm from.

This trip has had it's good points. I took a bottle of whiskey along to my Uncle's hotel room and drank the night away with him and his partner. I don't really know him. My sisters only see him in a negative light. He did some prison time which seems to have mellowed him out a little. I haven't really had the opportunity before this weekend to get to know him and for him to learn something about me.

That's kind of where the good points stopped though. I was at the wedding and it occurred to me that I really shouldn't be there. The bride lives a suburb away from my parents and I but only acknowledges our existence if:
  1. She has to out of obligation (such as a wedding).
  2. She's dropping something off for my sister or they've arranged to meet up at my parents place.
Indian weddings seem to be ALL about obligation. An Auckland wedding has a couple of thousand people there. The bride and groom probably know about a quarter of them and the rest are there out of obligation or the free food.

The most interesting part is that they tend to make it a fairly unpleasant experience. The ceremony's long. There are lots of breaks where nothing is happening. There's no drink. The food is the same mass cooked lumpy green stuff that they serve at every wedding. There are some ceremonies that although they have meaning in India, that meaning is somewhat lost in New Zealand let there are still tears and the like. And then there are the family photos...

In Auckland, they make you pose for a photo then hold that pose while they pan across slowly with a video camera. And they do every possible combination of genders and families. This all takes a couple of hours.

This wedding was different. They were a well oiled machine. They had lists and schedules and had doled out responsibilities and had contingencies. Of course, any general would know that any plan goes out the window when the battle starts. In this case, the bride was 15 minutes late in the morning.

So the mother of the bride was actually actively snobbing me. I don't know whether to be flattered, that she would actually go through that much effort to snob me, or insulted. Either which way it didn't really feel worth the effort to come down to Wellington. I could have spent a few more days in New Plymouth with Ian and Mrs. Cream or gone back to Auckland and gear up for the new year.

But back to schedules and photos... The dreaded time came around. Being an immediate cousin I knew I'd have to be in at least one photo. There was no avoiding it. Only, instead of saying "You're up for a photo now", an auntie puts her hands on my shoulders and starts shoving me.

She looked taken aback when I turned around and said "take your hands off me". Her hands didn't move though. They stayed on my shoulders. I had to repeat myself several times while she sat there insisting that I had to go up for a photo. First things first.... "Take your damn hands off me".

Her mannish hands finally released me and I started up to the stage. Only, everyone was milling around a tad confused. Where were they supposed to go? Another auntie, the mother of the bride shoved me. I turned around and snapped. "Get your damn hands off me. If you want me to do something talk to me. Don't you dare think you can just shove me". She was insistent that we only had 15 minutes for family photos and we needed to hurry up.

That felt pretty crap. Snapping at the mother of the bride. However, I wasn't apologising. Treat people like people and you get much better results than just herding them into a general area and not giving them a clue about where they're supposed to be (Men at the back standing? Women in the chairs?).

About apologies:

That first auntie - she's a bit of a drunk. Ever since her husband died some 20 odd years ago, she's been in mourning. For Hindu woman, this means not wearing bangles and those decorative dots on their heads. They have to be vegetarian. There are probably a hundred other rules. But really... 20 odd years.

When I was in my late teens I was asked to go and help her out in the shop. This was a huge inconvenience for me. Spending my Saturdays going out to Howick to work in a dairy.

The whole experience was unpleasant. She complained about my clothes (jeans and a t-shirt even though I was out the back stacking boxes for the most part and it was, after all, just a dairy). But the bit that's really galling. She accused me of stealing money. A review of the video cameras showed that she had taken the money and put it away. But there was no apology. No acknowledgement at all of what had happened. I only found out about the review of the video footage from someone else.

So past experience tells me that there will not be an apology coming any time soon. Not from her.

The other auntie I admittedly don't know terribly well. Her and my mother have been engaged in a battle of sibling rivalry for as long as I can remember. She makes every effort to make my mother feel stupid.

So I don't hold high hopes there either.

But the most galling bit - if I had pulled that sort of stunt with the children at Pt England or any other school, I would be justifiably made to leave at the very least. So I'm being treated as less than a little person yet alone as a 31 year old man.

So along with those characters, on my mother's side of the family there's also:

The auntie who "suffers" Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If my family ever visit they go to the service station before hand to use the toilet - because as soon as they're in the door, the furniture is rearranged so as to block off the toilet door. She's never really been called up on it. The family peace has to be maintained no matter the problems...

The auntie who introduces my grandfather to people. He died when I was 7.

With the various weird behaviours of my mother's side of the family, I find myself questioning my own genes. What chance have I got? I'm hoping that the act of questioning my genes has to be a good sign... right?

There's another ceremony tonight. I'm stubbornly refusing to go. I guess this is really just Nilesh finally being declared dead. I will choose how I'm treated and will not take that disrespect or rudeness any more. Family obligations be damned.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Apple - devil or saviour?

I'm engaged in a great big argument at the moment.

It sparked up at news that a developer of the video playing software VLC asked for the application to be removed from the Apple App Store after he realised that the terms for the app store didn't adhere to the GPL.

So an explanation is needed here. I'll try not to get too technical here. Basically, the GPL stands for the General Public License. It's a license for software which attempts to protect certain freedoms:
  1. To use the software for what ever purpose.
  2. To study and change the program for what ever purpose.
  3. To share the program with anyone and everyone.
  4. To share any modified versions of the program with anyone and everyone.
So the latest version of this license has all sorts of things preventing the use of "Digital Rights Management" also referred to as DRM or "Digital Restrictions Management" by some people.

So to get things into the Apple App Store, you must agree to allow Apple to put DRM, should they so wish, on what ever application you've put into their store.

This has all sorts of implications. If GPL applications can not be in the Apple App Store, then a lot of Apple devices can not run the software. Things like the iPhone and iPad.

The question then becomes one of motives. Why do Apple try to enforce DRM?

I'm very much on the "Apple is bad" side of the fence. While I applaud Apple for creating products which users can be reasonably assured will work well, I find myself finding myself horribly frustrated with the idea that Apple dictate what I can and can not do on a device. If I can't get it from the Apple Store, I can't install it.

Okay, so I could do what's called "jail breaking". Essentially hacking the devices so that I have a bit more freedom. This would void my warranty. Apple define it as being illegal and this has gone to court. Although Apple may not have won the cases, the fact that they get you to agree to those sorts of terms speaks volumes.

I'm loathe to buy a device that I am not allowed to do what I see fit on. So back to motives. Is Apple simply trying to save me from myself? Are we unable to take responsibility for our own devices? And if I were to decide that the freedom is really important to me and choose to do what Apple consider to be illegal and jailbreak the device, am I running a huge risk by voiding my warranty?

There are all sorts of excuses out there.

Apple provide a stable platform. But this doesn't have to be at the expense of freedom. For example, Apple could provide me a means of another way to install software of my choosing which I would thereby take personal responsibility for the software I install.

Apple users aren't stupid and so wouldn't chose to use a platform that they didn't see some advantage to. This still sounds a bit like "All the cool kids are doing it" to me.

Apple believe themselves to be looking after their users interests and while I might not agree with their methods, there are advantages. Except that this feels a bit like the whole Play Station 3 thing. Play Station 3, when it first came out, was touting itself as "not just a gaming console". It was also a media centre and a computing platform. Except that Sony removed it's ability to load up Linux meaning that the platform only runs what Sony deem is appropriate. Why do these things? Because it's commercially advantageous.

As you can probably tell, I find it really hard to give the arguments any credence. They just sound like people believing a bunch of marketing rubbish to me.

I guess the reason I'm writing this post is I want people to come up with well thought out reasonable arguments as to why anyone should chose a device that doesn't respect your freedom.

"It works" is probably about the best I've heard and that one probably does have some validity given that sometimes you just want something that works and not everyone is a geek.

For example, iMovie is unmatched by anything else I've seen. It just works. It's intuitive. But the choice needs to be countered with "what are you losing?".

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Being Awesome

Quick note: Some of you might have noticed that a few posts have gone missing. It's for no other reason than I haven't gotten permission to talk about the project I was talking about.

I've been thinking about what it really means to be awesome.

And this brings me to Doctor Who. This has become a favourite show of mine. It's brilliant. It started out as an educational show about an alien, "The Doctor", who times travels to the past with human companions. This of course got expanded to include monsters - Daleks and the like.

The latest Doctor, a slightly odd looking actor by the name of Matt Smith, wears a bow-tie and claims that it's "cool". In the Christmas special he elaborates on it by saying something along the lines of "it's cool because I don't care".

So, part of being awesome, in my opinion, is knowing that you're awesome no matter how you look.

In an episode where the Doctor is stuck on what is essentially a train carriage (it's actually some sort of vehicle that protects it's inhabitants from the planet's conditions), the limited number of characters go through a really stereo-typical process of paranoia and mistrust as one of the people in the carriage must be a killer (or rather, an alien entity who possesses the inhabitants of this carriage). At one point, they turn on the Doctor, asking him how he knew what to do and he turns around and says "Because I'm clever".

So someone who knows their own capabilities.

But then, those who I consider truly awesome... They're the ones who are able to see the awesomeness in others. They value the people around them and acknowledge the efforts made by other people. They're able to see outside themselves to see the perspectives of other people despite their own views and opinions on various issues.

I did indicate that there should be an "awesome-ist award". I've been privileged to have a fair few of the most awesome-ist people in my life.

The likes of the OLPC group who put their time into something that is quite often work and is something that software houses pay quite well for (software testing).The Cats and Miss Heathlike Shrub (invented names)

And then there's those who got together to put together a Creative Space in Auckland. The seeding 3 or 4. Those who put the time into going out and presenting an idea to large groups of strangers and the put the time and effort in. Those who came after and ran with the idea - such as Mr C, The Man Upstairs (his name's Ed) and some which I don't want to invent names for but also want to preserve their privacy.

Those who are so passionate about doing something to lift whole communities - quite often through personal sacrifice. This group is probably bigger than you might think. Even those getting paid put in far more time than they were charging for. At the head of this list has to be the Burts.

And those who are friends outside of those 2 groups who I find lift me up rather than bringing me down - Ian and Mrs. Cream. Miss Bird. Miss Bird's Dad.

And these are just the people around me. An awesome-ist award would be a mission to give out. Instead, given that most of the people mentioned on this scaringly long list (and really, I've only really referred to about half the people who deserve to be on this list) read this blog, I'd like thank you all.

You are awesome.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Still learning

After that Christmas do with the school that wasn't Pt. England, a thought had occurred to me. And now seems like the perfect time to bring it up.

Part of what was bothering me is that I can see the differences. It's quite obvious. So why can't others see it?

It turns out that no school - at least none that I've come across - would ever admit to not being progressive. Whether it's a reworking of the curriculum or approaches to technology or an emphasis on sport.

But this is very much a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it. If you're not communicating with similar institutions, are you really being progressive? Are you really being progressive or just a bit more progressive than you were being? Where do you fit in in a much larger sample size? Have you done what I've described of creating a culture that excludes those outside of yourself?

So while indulging in pizza at this Christmas event, I asked a friend "Have you ever considered trying a different school for a year?".

The answer was less than encouraging. It was simply "Better the devil you know".

Following on this line of enquiry, I asked another person how long they'd been at that school. The answer? She's only a young person. Probably low thirties? (I should know this. I was at her birthday party). 9 years. 9 years at the same school.

That's shocking! Just think - there's no perspective there. They don't really know what's out there. The really troubling bit for me though, is that these small ecosystems seem to be encouraged. No one wants to give up a good teacher.

But, would that teacher be better from getting more perspective? Is this protective attitude actually hindering the development of teachers? Isn't the aim to teach our kids? And to do so, good teachers are needed.

This means a certain amount of risk. Perhaps they won't like where they're going to. I don't think I've ever done a job that hasn't given me some perspective. Regardless of whether I've walked away sour or not. Not knowing that I'd hate the job is a blessing.

The question is how can this be improved? Is there the opportunity for some sort of "teacher exchange" programme? The better a school's teachers are, the better they're able to educate and attract more students.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


After my little grumble about New Years, I got invited to a barbeque. Brilliant! Truth be told, I had grumbled about it before that post.

This barbeque was a little off the beaten track. Mt Wellington. So I'd talked to a friend about sharing the cost of a taxi back - neither of us driving. It turns out, she was sick and so was a no show. Same no show as Christmas. And another friend was meant to come along as well. He was also a no show.

So it might have been a bit awkward if it wasn't for the fact that the people who did come along were great! Two families, a guy who left before New Years, and the hosts - expecting.

So you can imagine what the conversation revolved around. Babies. Children. Back to babies. Still, brilliant New Years. Kids running around.

I have to admit to being just a tad irresponsible. When I found the kids playing with fire, I had said to them "If you're going to injure yourselves, just wait until after I've gone back inside".

Sure I was at the edge of my seat the entire time. A few sparks would probably mean a few small holes in their clothes. Getting some sense of how hot a fire gets in a relatively controlled manner, invaluable in my opinion. Getting injured... sure it might teach them something but is it really the right message?

What was fascinating was the rules they came up with for each other - if someone has just thrown leaves in, you have to wait for it to calm down and then wait just a little while more.

One of them did try convincing me that she was just keeping the fire under control by dripping water into it.

What was probably more interesting though, was hearing one of the parents talking about how breaking an arm is a terrible lesson and how it could be worse.

My response to that is that I'd much rather a child be free to explore and test their limits. Finding out what level of risk they're comfortable with. Being able to push the limits.

And I'm back to personal experience. I liked to ride around on a skateboard. Only I wasn't allowed to do anything even remotely risky. Sure, at one stage my mother was having to pick gravel out of my head with a pair of tweezers after I'd come off due to a few stones on the footpath but if I'd asked to play at a ramp, the answer as always "No". I might have gotten hurt.

But isn't getting hurt a bit of a life lesson? We fall so that we can learn to pick ourselves up. Not falling means that we don't learn to pick ourselves up.

So while I wouldn't suggest going out to break a kid's arm, and I wouldn't suggest not warning a child against something that seems like it's almost certainly going to result in the kid's arm being broken, if and when it does happen, I don't think we should panic. Kids should be able to be kids without fighting against the swaddling placed on them by their parents.

And the funny bit about it all is that all if this sees to be more about the parents than the kids. Kids have gotten on through our entire history without so much swaddling. They're much more robust than you may think. Even more importantly, is that urge to protect the kids actually about the kids? Or is it about the parent's own anxiety?

Sure, playing with fire isn't the best thing to be doing. But then, they were looking after each other, creating a whole lot of rules aroud it and knew exactly where they could get water from if things went wrong.

So almost everyone left before New Years. Younger children and the like. When the fireworks went off, we were still wondering why the fireworks had gone off so early - as far as we were concerned, we still had 2 minutes left.

I eventually rang for a taxi only to find that the lines were busy. The hosts graciously offered me a bed for the night. So I'm still here. Writing this post on an XO (the computers deployed as part of the One Laptop Per Child project). It's a much harder feat than you might imagine. The keyboard is not made for fingers such as mine.

As a result, I decided to be as much of a "kitchen fairy" as I can. They've gone to bed and I decided to rinse off the dishes. This should make the clean up really quick tomorrow.

Anyway, the whole point of this post. It turns out that I may have the opportunity to go overseas to Micronesia as part of OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) for a couple of weeks. It's already feeling like this year is coming up aces.

So to everyone out there, Happy New Year and here's hoping this new year comes up aces for you. May your days differ and your enthusiasm never wane and your year be good.