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.