Observatory

Giving and receiving

My Secret Santa package arrived and it was good. I opened the box and discovered three items wrapped in newspaper (reuse!), with instructions on the order in which to unwrap.

Stick

Strangely, it was easier to plug into a USB port than a real one.

Gift #1 was a USB stick. Wait. It was a stick from a tree with “USB stick” scratched into the bark. WTF, worst Christmas ever!!!! I cried for several hours, before mustering up the physical and emotional strength to open the next gift.

Four

One Direction would actually be improved if they replaced Louis with a sheet of lined refill.

Gift #2 was a CD of Four, the fourth album by One Direction. Despite having previously moaned about One Direction gifts, I was actually really happy to receive Four. While I do enjoy the musical oeuvre of 1D, I’m not enough of a fan to actually buy their albums, but Four is a good pop recording and represents a new stage in the boy band’s evolution. And besides, “Steal My Girl” is really decent tune.

My Secret Santa also went to the effort of blanking out all appearances of Louis in the CD booklet after I expressed my dislike of him. This was a really kind and thoughtful, because if I’d seen L. Tomlinson’s likeness, Christmas would have been ruined again.

USB stick

The perfect accessory for the modern girl.

Gift #3 was an actual real USB stick, a nice 16GB thing that I can use to put thing on. Hooray! Christmas is saved!

My Secret Santa also included a letter that old his amazing story (so far), and in a way that was the best part of package.

Oh, apropos of nothing, I was alerted to this vlog by a dude who is describing what he gave his Secret Santa person, and what he received. By total coincidence, the gift he gave his Secret Santa person was exactly the same as the gift I received. But obviously he wasn’t my Secret Santa as that would mean it wasn’t a secret and would somehow spoil the fun or something. But I’m sure that the person who received his gift was really happy to receive and it and may or may not have literally rolled on the floor squealing with delight. *wink*

On the flip side, my Secret Santa recipients enjoyed the present I got for them. It was hard because they were a business, but in the end I think I got something that a group could enjoy.

By the way, NZ Post and Secret Santa fans have donated more than $6000 to the Christchurch City Mission. The mission also gets all the gifts intended for people who didn’t keep up their end of the bargain and send a gift. So everyone has a happy Christmas!

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Observatory

Merry stuff

It’s Secret Santa season, and I’ve again taken the plunge and signed up for NZ Post’s very well organised NZ Twitter Secret Santa.

But I have a fear involving Secret Santa and One Direction. Every November (deep within Q4, the time of year when the best pop is released), One Direction release a new album and, despite my best intentions, I usually end up tweeting about it or something to do with the group around Secret Santa time. This year it’s been my newfound appreciation for Liam, due to his amazing production-line selfie-taking process:

My fear is this: my Secret Santa person will see a 1D tweet and think, “Oh, she must be a huge 1D fan!” and then gift me something like a thin book with a name like One Direction: Their Life in Pictures, full of various photo agency snaps of the quintet with scarves and haircuts outside film premieres. I would be genuinely upset by this for two reasons:

1. No one wants One Direction merch. Not even actual One Direction fans (especially not 1D fans). What the merch represents is not why people like One Direction. It’s not a keyring with their faces on it; it’s their music and their #cheekybantz. And, curiously enough, those things can be legitimately enjoyed for free online.

2. Novelty gifts are a heartbreaking waste of resources. George Monbiot wrote a piece about the short, pointless lives of novelty gifts and their impact on the planet. It made me think of all the weird novelty gifts I’ve received over the years. They all eventually end up in the bin or are taken to the local recycling shop. There’s a bit of science that says that people enjoy experiences more than objects. I keep seeing tweets from ladies saying “Something nice from Lush would be ok” and I think, yeah, some nice bath stuff would be really enjoyable.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. When I come to buying a Secret Santa gift for my person, I just think “Is this something I would like to receive?” If the answer is hellz yah, then that’s the thing.

One Direction Colgate

Get out of my mouth, Louis.

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Observatory

Hey pretty lady

Do men in New Zealand catcall women? Is street harassment a thing in Aotearoa? The New Zealand Herald made a hidden-camera video, with a model walking around central Auckland and only one person approached her but he “sounds European”.

So is this not a problem in New Zealand? Well, New Zealand may not have the same street culture as New York, but for sure women get unwanted men approaching them.

Unlike the Herald‘s test person, I’m not a model. I’m not the kind of girl that random men approach in a “hey baby” kind of way, but street harassment has even happened to me.

This is a sampling of the more memorable situations that have happened in the past 10 years:

Karangahape Road

I was walking home from work along Karangahape Road, along the bit over the motorway. A man approaches me. He says something but I can’t understand him so I ask him to repeat himself. He again mumbles, and again I look confused. The third time I hear him say “If I give you money will you have sex with me?” I walked off, feeling a bit sorry for him because he seemed quite messed up.

kroad

Hobson Street

It was about 6.45am, and I was heading to work as I was on the early shift. I was waiting at the pedestrian crossing outside the Skycity Theatre when a really drunk guy came up to me. He was convinced I’d just come from the casino and suggested we keep partying into the night morning. I said I was on my way to work, which he didn’t believe as obviously I was heading over to the Albion Hotel to play their poker machines. He seemed bewildered as I didn’t walk into the pub and kept going along Hobson Street.

hobson

Courtenay Place

I was walking along Courtenay Place on a Saturday afternoon. I passed a random white guy and he said, “How’s it going?” I didn’t know if he was talking to me and also couldn’t be bothered finding out so I ignored him. He shouted “I said, how’s it going?” and I just kept walking. With anger in his voice, he yelled “Fucking… red neck”. I’m pretty sure he was left kicking himself that he hadn’t been able to come up with a better insult.

courtenay

Dixon Street

I was walking along Dixon Street on a Sunday afternoon. A guy started walking alongside me and said, “Hey, pretty girl. You wanna talk?” Really? I was not having it and shot back “get fucked”. He laughed and said, “Yeah, let’s do that!” I immediately turned and walked off in the other direction.

dixon

Munters in cars

And then there were all the times when munters in passing cars have yelled stuff, most of which is unintelligible. One time some teen boys yelled at me then turned down a nearby cul-de-sac (which seems like a real amateur move) so I found them still sitting in their car and told them they were dicks.

This is all a lot harder to capture on video, but who knows what the future of wearable tech will reveal. (Do men make passes at girls who wear Google Glass?)

None of these situations were pleasant. I had places to go, things to do and I was having to stop and deal with these random dudes. It doesn’t happen to me a lot, but when it does, it’s annoying and I wish it didn’t happen.

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Film & TV

Back to reality

Series one of The X Factor New Zealand was simultaneously the best and worst television show ever. Series two is on its way and all going well, it will be even better and worse.

It’s not due to screen until 2015, but I’m so excited that I’ve written a preview for The Spinoff and you should go and read it right now. It includes this masterfully constructed infographic:

dream-team-2015

The piece starts off with a gag where I pretend I can’t remember who won series one. After the article was linked on the official X Factor NZ Facebook page, all these people commented like, “Duh, it was Jackie Thomas!!!!” Oh, of course.

There are a lot of major reality shows coming to New Zealand television in 2015. As well as The X Factor, TV3 is also making local versions of The Bachelor and Grand Designs, and no doubt TVNZ will have some more to add to the mix.

A lot of people lament the golden days of the TVNZ charter in the ’00s, and remember all the quality programming on TVNZ7 (especially the book show). But guys, it wasn’t all like that.

Mostly, TVNZ fulfilled its charter obligations by making lots of cheap fly-on-the-wall half-hour reality TV shows. Some of them, like Neighbours at War and Piha Rescue, were successes (and let’s not forget the enduring legacy of Popstars), but there was so much crap in there as well.

I watched a lot of shows like this when I was making closed captions for TVNZ in that period. As well as property shows galore, there were series about health inspectors, the SPCA, dog shows, navy recruits, and troubled youth. Some of these might sound vaguely familiar, but others won’t because they were dumped in graveyard time slots, like 2 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. The series about the naval recruits, which was one of the most painfully boring shows to caption, ended up being canned after a couple of episodes, no doubt because it was so boring.

When National removed the TVNZ charter, all those crappy shows stopped being produced and TVNZ switched to making local versions of big-deal reality shows. Yeah, the My Kitchen Rules format comes from Australia, but as Morrissey once sang, this one is different because it’s ours.

And frankly, I would rather see a local version of The X Factor or My Kitchen Rules than watch a series featuring a council worker inspecting the grease trap of a Chinese takeaway.

Now there just needs to be a New Zealand version of Big Brother and I’ll be happy.

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Music

Serious moonlight

I came across a short video with highlights from the 1990 New Zealand Music Awards. There were three nominees in the Top Album category. The first was Straitjacket Fits’ second album, Melt, which perfectly captured the band’s tense combination of noisy and gentle pop-rock. The second nominee was the Chills’ popular album, Submarine Bells, with a diverse track list kicked off by the magnificent “Heavenly Pop Hit”. The third nominee was… Moonlight Sax.

Oh, that’s right. Moonlight Sax used to be a thing. Performed by saxman Brian Smith, it was an album of easy listening saxophone covers of pop classics. Songs to get the Moonlight Sax treatment included “Just the Way You Are”, the Moonlighting theme and “Someone to Watch Over Me”. Are you feelin’ it? Yeah.

The album was released right at the tail end of the trend for the sax in popular music (as previously examined here), but that didn’t make a difference. It was a successful popular album. Not only did it peak at number one in the chart, it was certified platinum. (Bri’s website has a pic of the platinum award, based around a framed CD).

Moonlight Sax followed Carl Doy’s similarly mega successful Piano By Candlelight series of the late ’80s, which established a hungry market for easy listening instrumental CDs. And it’s very important that these were CDs – not LPs or tapes. Fully embracing the fancy new format, letting the sax notes ring soft and clear. Moonlight Sax was followed by Moonlight Sax 2 in 1991, and the Moonlight Sax Collection in 1993.

If cafes had been a thing in New Zealand in 1990, I’m sure Moonlight Sax would have been the ubiquitous cafe soundtrack. Instead I like to think that no dinner party of 1990 could have taken place without the hostess popping the Moonlight Sax CD into the family compact disc player.

There were others in the genre. In 1996, the instrumental albums Beautiful Panflute 1 (there was no sequel) by Max Lines and Romantic Strings by the Starlight String Quartet were both nominated for best album, losing to Shihad’s perfectly named Killjoy, but neither of those album had the impact of Moonlight Sax. Since then, easy listening instrumental albums have been absent from the Tuis.

It’s easy to think of Moonlight Sax as a remnant of the ’90s that would never survive today. But the nominees for Album of the Year at the 2014 New Zealand Music Awards tell a different story. Amid the cool girls of Tiny Ruins, Lorde, The Naked and Famous, and Ladi6, there’s also the trio Sole Mio and their nominated debut album SOL3 MIO. That album contains popera covers of easy-listening classics, including the Fleetwood Mac tune “Songbird” – the very same song that kicks off Moonlight Sax. Therefore, one can only conclude that the dinner party hostesses of the early ’90s are the seniors of today who enjoy going to matinee performances of Sole Mio.

As it happens, it was the Chills who won Album of the Year in 1990, and along with the Fits, they’re lovingly remembered as part of Flying Nun Records’ golden age. But I think the shiny compact disc of Moonlight Sax deserves to be remembered as well. There’s always going to be an audience for music like this.

Here is the final track from Moonlight Sax, the show-stopping medley of saxophonic pop classics from “Careless Whisper” to “Baker Street” with all the boring bits removed so you can totally mainline that cosy, familiar groove.

Bonus! Of course the internet has to be weird about “Moonlight Sax Medley”. Here’s an except from the track – the intro of “Careless Whisper” – seamlessly looped into an epic 16-minute masterpiece. If you listen to the whole thing, by the end of it you will have seduced yourself.

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Observatory

Galore

Drill down

Last week I was at the dentist getting a filling. This is what happens when you move to a town that doesn’t have fluoridated water. Previously the water of Hamilton, Auckland and Wellington kept my teeth so healthy I barely had any fillings, but Waikato District’s no-frills water has now necessitated that I use a super-fluoridated mouthwash once a week in order to protect my teeth and/or become a compliant sheeple.

So I was lying in the dentist’s chair with the relevant part of my mouth in a state of pleasing numbness. Getting a filling is kind of boring, so I started thinking about what I’d done on the weekend, but then I was distracted by the radio.

It was on ZM and over the sound of the drill and the sucker, I heard the following songs play:

I knew that a few of those songs had been number one in New Zealand, so once the filling was in and polished, I checked. Indeed, all but “Next to Me” (which was number six) were number one singles.

And I thought, is that all it takes to programme one of New Zealand major commercial radio stations? Is it just an algorithm that makes a list of number one songs from the previous eight years, throws in a few iconic top 10 hits, puts them in a random order and squirts them out in between the DJ’s madcap banter?

If so, I could totally be the programmer for ZM. And I could do it from a dentist’s chair.

The time the lights went out

Bits of central-east Auckland recently suffering a major power outage. Comedy rule: it’s funny if it affects to someone who lives in the posh bit of that area (lol how will they get their lattes!!!!!!) but it’s not funny if if affects someone in the poorer area, especially if it’s someone who’s had to go into hospital because their home dialysis machine won’t work.

This got me thinking about the Auckland power crisis of 1998. It didn’t affect me much. I lived outside the blackout zone in Auckland’s CBD (lattes galore!!!!!!) but my workplace, on Newton Road, was right on the fringe.

The office wasn’t supposed to be affected, but the power kept going off – I think it was due to repairs or diversions. There was a generator sitting in the car park, so that was fired up and extension cords ran everywhere.

There wasn’t enough capacity to have all the computers running at once, so we had to take turns. For an internet company, there wasn’t a lot of paperwork to do. Once all the filing had been done, it all just turned into a general afternoon mucking around and bonding session, with a few people working hard on the remaining computers.

After work one day a workmate and I went sightseeing in downtown Auckland, but closed shops and dead traffic lights have limited appeal. We ended up going to Starbucks in Parnell where the electricity was rich and plentiful and there were lattes galore.

Viz biz

bookBetween 2001 and 2008, this was the book I rested my laptop on. I borrowed it from my dad’s bookcase to protect my lap from the scorching hot underside of my fancy new iBook.

I had read the book, but I didn’t think too much about its contents. The shape of the book was of more interest to me.

But then people started talking about the book. As it happens, it’s Envisioning Information by Edward Tufts, which is like a seminal tome on the world of data visualisation, or dataviz if you’re cool like that.

I think data visualisation is basically colourful diagrams and pretty maps. Except you are less interested in the actual content of the diagram or map and more interested in its datavizness. “Wow, great dataviz,” you say as you admire the multicoloured map that shows there’s a giant sinkhole under your house.

I’m sure there’s some sort of metaphor in me using a book on data visualisation as a laptop rest. I misplaced it when I moved to Wellington and switched to a book on New Zealand architecture instead, then later I used a wooden trivet that broke when I accidentally sat on it. So I thought why not do some dataviz on this very topic:

My current laptop is solid state and disappointingly doesn’t get hot.

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Observatory

Votes and goats

ballot-boxHey guys, it’s general election times! I made an advance vote yesterday, which was rather thrilling. Previously advance voting was only available to people who would otherwise be occupied on polling day, but now anyone can do it. I don’t think “too hungover to get out of bed on Saturday” used to count, but it does now!

In a little meeting room inside the Waikato District Council office cum library, I cast my advance vote. It was the first day advance voting was available in Raglan, but I could have done it last week if I’d gone to Ngaruawahia or Hamilton or… Inglewood.

Whangamonona in happier times (i.e. when I went there in 2006 and had some wedges for lunch at the the pub).

Whangamonona in happier times (i.e. when I went there in 2006 and had some wedges for lunch at the the pub).

Oh, that’s right. The little Waikato town of Raglan is in the Taranaki-King Country electorate. This came about by Stratford being moved into the Whanganui electorate, so the Electoral Commission expanded Taranaki-King Country north to take in some parts of the Waikato.

I could have cast my vote in New Plymouth or Te Kuiti or even the little village of Whangamomona. In 1989 it declared itself an independent republic and elected a goat as the president. Election day road trip!!!

But I’m lazy so I just went down the road to the Raglan library and voted there. A huge burden has been lifted. I now no longer have to pay any attention to the pre-election amateur dramatics and tomcockery.

Highly symbolic.

Highly symbolic.

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Observatory

Too many mistakes

Today my mum cancelled her subscription to the Waikato Times because there were too many mistakes in it.

Generally one of the most annoying things on Twitter is people who go on about mistakes that subeditors make, all “sack the sub” about online articles that aren’t allowed to be wrong for even a couple of minutes.

But what happens when you’ve bought a newspaper and you’re sitting down to read it while you have your morning muesli? You’d like to enjoy having a smooth read of the news of the past 24 hours, but instead all these trivial but annoying errors keep turning up.

This is the kind of crap that bothered my mum this morning:

times2

To ‘to’ or not to ‘to’.

times3

Coming soon: Byline3D: The Return

times4

Curtesy would evade a spellcheck because it’s the word given to what a husband inherits upon the death of his wife.

My parents have been regular readers of The Times since they moved to Hamilton in the early ’70s. Not any more. Not with this complete lack of common curtesy courtesy.

It’s not reasonable to expect that Waikato Times and Fairfax reporters and contributors will have flawless spelling and grammar, but the paper’s subeditors should actually pick up all the mistakes and have near perfect copy ready to go to the press.

But is this possible anymore? I know newsrooms are getting downsized and that Fairfax outsource their subediting. Is this half-arsed standard just normal now? Are printed newspapers just a service for the fish ‘n’ chip industry, and therefore who cares what gets printed?

Well, I suspect the people who work at the Waikato Times and Fairfax still care but probably find themselves without enough resources to have things running at the previous standard.

I guess now it’s time to get my mum an iPad to read over breakfast.


Update: Thanks to alert reader David who spotted this in the same edition:

times5

Skulduggery is not duggery of a skull. And let’s not ponder the placement of the hyphen.

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Observatory

Evolution, revolution

The backend

Ok, I have my website back working the way I want it. Let me tell you about what happened!!!!

Back in February I moved to a new web host. At the time, The Morgan said there was a chance that the new host might not be as good as the old one. And that’s what happened. So I had to quickly move to another host.

But I decided I didn’t want it to be a rush job like it was the last time (on holiday, sitting in the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi, trying to sort out URL redirections using my iPhone) so I took some time to clean things up and get things how I wanted them. This is mainly backend stuff, but it’s nice to to have a tidy backend.

Hard-working rock unit update

I’ve just discovered that Prime Devastation have updated their website with the latest news. There’s a full report of what went down on their 20th/23rd reunion tour. It might not be a surprise that things didn’t go so well for the band in Cambridge. And Te Awamutu. And Papamoa. Bloody Papamoa. The Hamilton show was apparently good, though.

There’s also an official statement from Prime Devastation on the mega successful (and totally real) Hamilton rock band Devilskin. The ‘Skins had the number one album for the past three weeks. Take that, Ed Sheeran!

If you haven’t heard of Devilskin, this is their most recent single, “Start a Revolution”. They’re notable for being a metal band with a chick singer (rare) who can rap in that death-metal growl (even rarer). And with metal now being almost as niche as country music is in the pop charts, it’s cool that New Zealand’s metaller community has a local band to get behind. It probably comes as no surprise that they have quite a good range of t-shirts.

Life on the street

At the moment I’m enjoying the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood iPad game. The aim of the game is to become an A List celebrity, which I managed to do in about a week. So now it’s just all going to parties and doing photo shoots and going on dates.

This all sounds like fun, but it’s all work. The parties are all paid appearances, so you have talk to people about the various fictitious products in the KKH universe. Going on dates is super hard as well. You have to wear the right thing and buy your date dinner and flirt with him and stuff. If you’re short of cash, you can put in a shift at one of the clothing stores. And if you’re totally broke, you can actually scrounge for cash on the footpath.

It’s horrible. Basically, if you want nice things, you have to work to get the cash to buy them. It’s all about the value of hard work. And if you want someone to love you, you have to be nice to them and be attentive to their needs. If you ignore them, they will break up with you.

My friend Johubris is also playing. I’d previously done a photoshoot with her, then later I tried to invite her on a date because she’s fun to hang out with IRL. The game was all, if you change your relationship from business to romantic you will lose your business progress. Which is bullshit.

The most fun thing about the game (apart from scrounging for coins in the gutter, which is actually surprisingly fulfilling) is changing outfits. But the weirdest thing was that the hairstyle that most resembled my own actually looked the worst on my play character. I guess I’ll just have to get some wigs.

kim-kardashian-hollywood

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