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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Observatory

Domestic duties

Frozen

NBC has a photo essay on the Russian mining city of Norilsk. It’s one of the few cities within the Arctic circle, and as a result there is total darkness for 45 days in peak winter. The average temperature is -10ºC, but it can get as cold as -50ºC.

So the photos are interesting, because what would it be like to live in such a bleak, desolate landscape. It’s a place where public buses travel in convoys so if one breaks down in the unforgiving tundra, passengers can safely transfer to another.

But is the photo that resonated the most with me:

norilsk

The caption reads:

Once a month, the “Mechanika” night club is put on, organised by a group of volunteers. The dance club provides a rare opportunity to listen and dance to new music.

It also notes that young people born in Norilsk usually have one wish – to leave the city. They study to get accepted to a high school on the “mainland” and hope to find work there. The extreme weather, pollution, geographic isolation and lack of cultural and employment opportunities all contribute to their desire to flee.

I imagine a 15-year-old looking at a picture of Moscow in spring, with blossoms and soft sunshine and flowing rivers. A dream of a magical climate where you can wear t-shirts outdoors and everything isn’t frozen all the time. Who wouldn’t want to run away from the UV lamps, the domino-playing uncles, and the months spent indoors for the chance to experience a bit of life in the land of the thaw.

And wonder when the little girls from Norilsk watch Frozen (or Холодное сердцеCold Heart – as it’s called in Russia), if they roll their eyes as they are so totally over all that.

The time in London when they all chipped in for a cleaner

I’m currently obsessed with this Stuff Nation reader submission, a post written on the theme of “the flats nightmares are made of”. In it a young New Zealander writesof the time she naively ended up flatting with a drug dealer in London.

Oh, so that sounds like it would be a real nightmare, right? Addiction, theft, overdoses, police raids, gang warfare with rival drug dealers? No. None of that. Nothing happens. The most dramatic thing is when the flat gets a cleaner to come in in once a week.

“We eventually hired a cleaner – £2 each a week and the lounge, kitchen and bathrooms were cleaned on a Monday”

But yet I feel oddly proud that a New Zealander has had this experience. Flatting with a drug dealer in London, then coming home with this idea that there’s an epic story in there somewhere, but not being able to parlay it into anything more than an ordinary tale of flatting.

Nothing or everything

One day in the late 1980s, I was watching Ripley’s Believe It Or Not on the telly and I saw the most amazing thing.

It started off fairly innocently – lovely Marie Osmond introducing the work of dada artist Hugo Ball and his sound poem “Karawane”. It was written with sounds, not words, designed to be read aloud. And then Marie stops, looks at the camera and recites the poem from memory. In that moment, all the cheesiness of the Donny & Marie variety show faded into insignificance as Marie became possessed with the spirit of dada. It was the funniest, weirdest and most magnificent thing I’d seen at that point in my life. For weeks after, my brother and I would recite random lines at each other – “ü üü ü!”

The clip of that segment has become one of those weird internet things that people stumble across and they’re not sure what they’ve seen, but they can’t stop thinking about it. This blog has a bit of background about the clip, but the best thing to do is just watch it. Ba-umf.

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The Switzerland or Norway of the South Seas

Newsreel archive British Pathé recently put 85,000 old films on YouTube. So I did what any good New Zealander would do – I searched for New Zealand films. My favourite is “Pan Am New Horizons New Zealand”, a promotional film from 1970 depicting New Zealand as a tourist destination.

It portrays and idyllic version of New Zealand, where even on cloudy days the sun is shining and everyone is happy. You know, like how New Zealand is when you’re overseas and drunk and thinking back to your sweet homeland. I have scoured the film for the mightiest moments. Here they are:

1. Citizens on patrol

traffic

This guy doesn’t even look like a proper traffic cop. It looks like he’s stencilled “TRAFFIC” on the front of his bike, bolted on a megaphone, and driven up to the Newmarket Viaduct on his office lunch break where he will spend an hour yelling out some DIY citizen policing. “Oi! Stay in your lane, sunshine!” “Don’t you flick that cigarette ash at me, you mongrel!”

2. Walk shorts

walkshorts

It was the early 1970s. Women’s fashion was gripped with the miniskirt (or dress), and because New Zealand is a fairly egalitarian society, men’s fashion had its equivalent in the walk short. There is notable variation in styles in this shot. Black Bum on the right has longer shorts with standard knee-length socks, with Bluey on the left flaunts his pins with shorter shorts and lower socks. Well, hello! Meanwhile in the middle, along comes a lady in a minidress, looking surprisingly modestly dressed in comparison.

3. Tanning

beach

They’re probably both covered in coconut oil, or maybe playing it safe with some SPF 5. The tanner on the right has the power combo of a shower cap along with a smear of zinc on the lips and nose for further sun protection. Meanwhile, the ginger friend is quite happy to force her naturally pale skin to the tan in the harsh New Zealand sun. Make the most of it, ladies - the ozone hole will soon be discovered and the Slip, Slop and Slap campaign is only a decade away.

4.Meter maids

rotorua

Are you a Rotorua tourist annoyed that the man wants you to pay for parking while you spend up big on sheepskin slippers and paua shell ashtrays? Well, the Rotorua Progressive Businessmen’s Association got a couple of local wahine to dress up in plastic tikis and put coins in near expiring meters. Sadly this service no longer exists, but then, nor does the Rotorua Progressive Businessmen’s Association. E hine, hoki mai ra.

5. Stormy weather

tongariro

This is the magic of New Zealand. The bottom half of the shot is two ladies off to play a round of golf at the Chateau Tongariro on a sunny day. The top half of the shot is the most ominous looking storm clouds ever. It doesn’t just seem like, oh, it might rain. No, it seems like there’s going to be a huge once-in-1000-years storm, the rain will never stop, the Chateau will be washed away and everyone’s fun skiing and golfing holiday and will be ruined.

6. Tickets to the gun show

tattoos

The kiwi is being all bad-ass with its gnarly claws, but check out the muscular physique of its handler. Was everyone in the 1969 really tanned and fit looking? Not only that but this fellow has some proper navy tattoos, probably done during the war by a crusty old seadog using a rusty nail and a bottle of Indian ink, as part of some sort of booze-fuelled initiation ceremony. You don’t mess with a dude like that.

7. Bloody goths

kiwi
Meanwhile, the rotating kiwi statue looks thoroughly miserable. Does this reflect the mental state of the person who sculpted it, an expression of inner turmoil in the medium of plaster and chicken wire? As the kiwi turns, it surveys the cold, heartless world that surrounds it.

8. The before time

christchurch

It’s almost impossible to look at historical footage of Christchurch without a sense of ominous foreboding. While these carefree teens relax on the banks of the Avon for an afternoon waiata, in 42 years time the historic bridge behind them will have sustained a bit of damage, while the Municipal Chambers in the upper right will be severely damaged, propped up with huge steel brackets. Enjoy the delightful folk music while it lasts, girls.

9. Thigh gap

mtcook

The film’s voiceover proclaims New Zealand to be “the Switzerland or Norway of the South Seas”. This is cruel, making me think of an alternate New Zealand where Queenstown is an hour’s train journey from Italy or Milford Sound is just a ferry away from Denmark. No, because this is New Zealand, we have ol’ Royce waiting for his wife to come back from the toilet, exposing his thigh to passing tourists like a harlot.

10. Too cool for gloves

skiing

Just look at that hipster. He’s about to ski down the mountain, but he’s come dressed in a Libertines jacket, like it was 2004, and no gloves because he’s too cool for gloves. Well, don’t come crying to me when you have to have your fingers amputated due to frostbite. This is a cautionary tale.

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Observatory

Tab-b-gone

I currently have 28 tabs open in my browser, which is way too much. Some of them have been there for weeks (months?). It’s like a to-do list or inspiration board, except I tend to forget about stuff and not be inspired by it.

A lot of these tabs are YouTube videos, so I thought I’d dump them here because they are all a bit interesting.

Very very gently

There’s this thing called autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) which this idea that watching and listening to a very sensual experience can remotely evoke the same physical reactions as you’d get if you were actually doing it.

So that’s led to a whole genre of YouTube videos of people (usually women) doing things like hair brushing, hair washing, scalp massaging, or just a verbal description of exploring various body parts. Like the nose.

It’s like a guided meditation recording, but accompanied by a video of someone else getting it done to them. Anyway, here’s a video of a ASMR practitioner sensually washing the hair of a metaller. You can hear the soap bubbles crackling. So hot?

Aloha, Mr Ulrich

I’d always known that Lars from Metallica was born in Denmark, but I didn’t realise he didn’t leave his home country until 1980, when he was about 17. He speaks fluent Danish, so of course I had to find a video of him doing this.

The internet provided this interview from the early ’90s, and there he is, happily chatting away in Danish. I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole video, but maybe like a minute.

The best thing is this comment from a Dane: “hahaha Lars has a very funny accent when speaking danish. like he’s living as a young guy in the 70′s.” This seems pretty reasonable. I imagine he sounds like the Danish equivalent of Jeff Spicoli, with his language skills frozen at a youthful, slangy, ’70s point in time. Gnarly.

In and out

I won’t shut up about Eurovision. Ok, so the show is live and there’s about one minute after each performance for the next lot of staging to be set up. While all that happens, television viewers see a short clip called a postcard.

When the staging changes, it’s not just moving microphones around. Everyone has stuff that has to be wheeled on, things hung from the ceiling, giant hamster wheels set in place, etc. It’s complicated and the crew have less than a minute to do all that and for the next act to be in place, ready to go.

As a result, the backstage activity is like the showbiz equivalent of a Formula 1 pitstop (only not as insanely fast). Everyone has a task and they get in there and do it with a quickness. In this video, while Iceland’s postcard plays, back in the stadium Sanna Nielsen from Sweden has just finished performing. The crew remove her mini stage, lighting ring, and disco ball and get set up for the Icelandic band Pollapünk. It’s so precise that the Icelandic performers step into place just seconds before their song starts. That’s showbiz.

I now only have 15 tabs open. Well, that’s an improvement.

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In a strange land

The rivers of happiness

Pharrell Williams in Happier times.

Pharrell Williams in Happier times.

I don’t think this has been mentioned yet in the media, by Pharrell Williams’ impossibly catchy song “Happy” has now spent a record 15 weeks at number one in the New Zealand singles chart. This breaks the record previously held by Boney M whose song “Rivers of Babylon” previously spent 14 weeks at number one way back in 1978.

There’s a big difference between the charts of the ’70s and today. For a start, in the ’70s people actually had to go to a record shop and buy a little black 45, whereas today it’s a quick click digital purchase anywhere you feel like buying it with your smartphone.

Most singles only chart for a few weeks. For comparison, “Royals” was only at number one for three weeks, while 2013′s biggie, “Blurred Lines” managed 11 weeks.

So what has attracted New Zealanders to “Happy”? Are we generally, as a nation, feeling a bit glum and in need of cheering up via a neo funk/soul song with an uplifting churchy gospel sound?

The churchy undertones of “Happy” ties in nicely to “Rivers of Babylon”. That song was originally written by Jamaican reggae band The Melodians, with its lyrics adapted from the Bible – specially Psalms 19 and 137. Are New Zealanders in need of some old time religion? Or is pop music our religion?

But even though “Happy” has broken this record, it’s still significant that “Rivers of Babylon” spent 14 consecutive weeks at number one, whereas Pharrell was interrupted after 12 weeks by Australian boyband 5 Seconds of Summer with their rather good track “She Looks so Perfect”, and then again by New Zealand pop power duo Stan Walker and Ginny Blackmore and their serious love song “Holding You”.

But “Happy” keeps ending up on top. It’s like the default number one song for 2014. What will finally usurp this happy ditty? Something miserable? Hey, that new One Direction song is pretty depressing.

That is a beard on a lady

I’m in full-on Eurovision Song Contest fangirl mode at the moment. This week is rehearsal week, which means tons of smartphone videos and fan analysis.

I was thinking of doing some sort of run down of this year’s songs, but then I realised that it would take too much effort to explain it all for anyone who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid. And, really, y’all should not be introduced to a Belgian man singing an emotional and slightly creepy operatic ode to his mother.

Instead I will introduce you to Conchita Wurst, a beautiful bearded lady who is representing Austria with her song “Rise like a Phoenix”. Conchita is the elegant drag creation of Tom Neuwirth, who is challenging gender stereotypes, don’t ya know, by giving Conchita a beard (Tom is normally clean shaven). Ms Wurst (German for sausage!) sings a Bond-inspired power ballad, a self-affirmation anthem showing that Conchita won’t let no one get her down.

By the way, if you want to watch Eurovision, this year Sky channel UKTV are screening both the semi finals and the final live. If you’re up at 7 on the morning of Sunday 11 May, you should tune in and watch the final. Alternatively, there’s a web stream on the official website. Until then, here’s Conchita.

Corruption and bribery

Have you ever been involved with some sort of competition and someone jokes, “The judges can be bribed with chocolate fish!!!” And everyone laughs and laughs and laughs.

But wouldn’t it be brilliant if this were actually true? Like, that you could slip a competition judge one of the chocolate marshmallow treats and buy their favour, ensuring that your watercolour painting of the Parnell rose garden is shortlisted for the community art award.

Maybe it’s because New Zealand always ranks so well on the Corruption Perceptions Index that this is such a popular joke. Currently Aotearoa is first-equal with Denmark as having the lowest perceived levels of corruption. So with this perception that bribery seldom happens in New Zealand (or does it, etc), do we feel free to joke about it?

But what if New Zealand was further down the Corruption Perception Index, like Italy at #69 and we had a culture of actual chocolate fish bribery? Would there be cases of High Court judges being busted for accepting cartons of chocolate fish in exchange for a favourable verdict? Or instances of midnight deliveries of chocolate fish to backbench MPs?

I think New Zealand can afford to lose a few points on the index. I’d be happy to be down in third place with Finland and Sweden, with the trade-off being getting a backhander of chocolate fish.

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BRN, baby, BRN

Back in 2001, the New Zealand music industry organisation Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ; now known as Recorded Music NZ) launched a campaign to combat the new practice of illicitly burning copies of CDs, which deprived artists and record companies of income. The campaign was called BRN&GTBRNT, i.e. “burn and get burnt” and its aim was to educate young people that burning CDs or buying burnt CDs was not cool.

BRN_GT_BRNT

The campaign’s name was inspired by newfangled text-speak, targeting the youth who were texting and burning, burning and texting. And probably even texting about burning. (Here’s a funny side effect of the spelling – in HTML, > is the code for the greater-than symbol, so while I was googling up about BRN&GTBRNT, I kept finding webpages that had displayed the name as BRN>BRNT, which is truthful, though unfortunate for the campaign.)

The idea was that around New Zealand, enterprising whippersnappers were burning copies of popular CDs on their home computers, then taking them to school and selling them. A Herald article noted that, “American pop act Destiny’s Child, English rock star Robbie Williams and Britney Spears are said to be big sellers. Kiwi music is also holding its own in the playground, with Che Fu and the Feelers in high demand.”

This is nothing new. Back in my day, it was very ordinary to lend friends one of your tapes so they could go home and dub off a copy on their Sanyo ghettoblaster. No one was selling anything, but maybe you’d buy a blank tape for your friend to dub onto. Back then, my friends and I didn’t have $15 to plonk down for every new tape we wanted, just as the kids of 2001 didn’t have an unlimited supply of cash for those $35 CDs.

Oh, but other rapscallions were selling burnt CDs down at local markets. How dare members of the public have the option of paying $10 or even $5 for a CD that should rightfully be retailing for $35? Something had to be done.

Well, the industry’s reaction was to launch a campaign that included Dave Dobbyn in burn makeup looking like he was going to a fancy dress party as a comedy Satan, warning the burners not to burn. The Herald article noted, “Dave Dobbyn is probably less popular with the kids.” Well, he’s no Beyonce.

brngtbrnt-dave-dobbyn

The campaign was all over the media, including youth and music media. I remember full-page ads in music magazines with Dave Dobbyn’s red face imploring kids to just stop it.

It was ok to laugh at the campaigns of the 1980s designed to stop home taping, but the BRN&GTBRNT campaign was serious. If they didn’t do something, all those home burners would kill the music industry. Or as a passionate writer at NZGirl put it, “if you continue to purchase pirated CD’s your killing your own dream”.

brngtburnt-logo-1

This was all happening at the same time as labels were starting to introduce copy-protected CDs, which made no one happy, and could be cracked with basic geek skills. And then there was the awkwardness of Sony’s electronics division manufacturing CD burners and blank CDs while its music division raged against them. Worth reading is this forum discussion at electronic music culture website Biggie from 2002 – the smart music lovers of the site aren’t convinced.

I was a couple of years outside the campaign’s target age group of 12-to-24-year-olds and I didn’t own a CD burner and so didn’t do any burning (though I did rip a lot of my own CDs so I could listen to them on my brand new iPod). At the time, I did acquire a few CDs that friends had burnt for me – but most of them I didn’t even listen to, like a compilation of ska-punk tracks. My legit CD collection at the time was massive, and it’s where most of my disposable income went. But then, I wasn’t a 12-year-old with $20 a week pocket money.

brngtbrnt-stellar

So was the BRN&GTBRNT campaign a success? Well, former RIANZA president Michael Glading admitted in 2004 that the locally-focused campaign mostly inspired people not to burn albums by New Zealand artists only. When it’s Bic Runga and Stella fronting the campaign, it’s easy to see it as being about supporting local artists, whereas Britney and Beyonce, well, they’re millionaires already. And this wasn’t helped by the bling culture of the ’00s, where musical videos presented popstars as if they were living large – even if it was all a facade.

Music manager Campbell Smith told the Herald in 2004 that “The sentiment of the BRN&GTBRNT campaign was bang-on, but it always smacked to me of being a bit hastily put together. It seemed a little bit cheesy in the end.” And I think that’s pretty accurate. Despite its good intentions, the campaign’s message weirdly distilled down to “You should not copy that really cool Destiny’s Child CD because it will make some old New Zealand musician feel like he’s had really bad sunburn.”

And here’s another curious thing about life after the BRN&GTBRNT campaign: no one burns CDs anymore. Yes, no sensible 12-year-old is going to spend $5 on buying a burned CD in the schoolyard when they can legitimately stream it for free on Spotify or watch the video on YouTube.

The Herald article noted that one argument was that people copy CDs because they’re too expensive, with the counter argument from the music industry being that “the price of a CD reflects the money and effort which has gone into making and promoting the album”. Well, there’s another curious thing – during the BRN&GTBRNT campaign, a full price CD cost as much as $35. Now a full price album on iTunes is around only $16-$18.

And who buys CDs any more? Old people? Fans of Sole Mio and X Factor winners? (Third-place-getter Benny Tipene was amused that his debut single was being released on CD.) The technological issue that BRN&GTBRNT was trying to fight against was solved not by educating the public. Instead the troublesome technology itself changed the music business so massively and so quickly that CDs are now all but a relic of a bygone era.

When I was googling for info on BRN&GTBRNT, I was surprised at how few images remain from the campaign, being that it was so well known for the visuals of its ads and posters. What remains are tiny, low-res images, pixelly artefacts. That seems highly symbolic. These digital remnants of an earlier age, back when it seemed that technology was going to eat the music industry, not realising it had already been eaten.

brngtbrnt-logo-2

Update: Courtesy of Lower Hutt’s finest musician, Disasteradio, comes these photos of the BRN&GTBRNT sticker in the wild. The threat of a $10,000 loomed over anyone thinking about copying this easy listening compilation CD. Also of interest – the CD was full priced at $34.99, then reduced to $24.99. Today a cheap-as chillout compilation album on iTunes can be found for as little as $11.99, while the Chillout Lounge playlist on Spotify costs $0.

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The national costume

kate

Oh, look. It’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, at the state reception held for her and her husband in Wellington. She’s wearing an elegant black gown with a silver fern motif on the shoulder, designed by UK designer Jenny Packham.

It’s been praised in the media for its referencing of New Zealand’s national emblem. But wait – it’s a strangely familiar design. Let me think…

Oh, that’s right. It’s what almost every Miss New Zealand wore in the national costume section of Miss World and Miss Universe in the 1980s.

As I discovered recently when I trawled through two decades of Miss World and Miss Universe contests, there’s a certain awkwardness and uncertainty when it comes to New Zealand’s national costume. It seems no one’s really sure what it should be, but the one thing that keeps recurring is the black frock with a silver fern.

So ok. The Duchess of Cambridge has officially made it a thing, so let’s declare it once and for all: New Zealand’s national costume is a black gown with a silver fern motif. For both men and women.

It might not be to everyone’s liking, but let’s just be thankful that the duchess didn’t take inspiration from Miss New Zealand 1985:

1985-miss-world-head2

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Hunt and peck

Snooty Dog God

I watch a lot of old-people telly. I know it’s old people because the main advertisers are Cigna Funeral Plan and Ryman Rest Care. It’s the lucrative “you’re going to die” demographic.

But sometimes there are little snippets of hope, signs of life from the ’90s or, if we’re really lucky, the ’00s. Like this recent question on Millionaire Hotseat:

Before the options were even given, I knew it was Snoop Dogg and I felt all awesome, like I should add that to my LinkedIn profile. Then things got even better: I realised I knew the real names of two of others – Curtis Jackson and André Benjamin. I thought Chuck D would be Charles D-something, but it turns out his name is the very posh sounding Carlton Ridenhour. No wonder he uses a nom de mike.

The lady on Millionaire blindly guessed correctly, then went on to win $250,000. What do I get for my hip hop trivia knowledge? Well, I’m quite good to have on your pub quiz team, provided it’s not an old-people quiz.

Space

Air New Zealand tweeted an image of this old menu and it brought flashbacks of high school typing.

See how somethings are centred and other things are left- and right-justified? Well, back in the olden days of manual typewriters, this had to be all worked out, er, manually.

You’d count the number of characters in the row, and figure out the number of characters in the text you were going to type, then space across exactly the right number of spaces so that when you typed “Asparagus Mayonnaise” it would be perfectly centred (unlike the one on the TEAL menu, which is off by two spaces).

I did high school typing from 1988 to 1990, up to School Certificate. I’d been using word processors on the family Commodore 64 – like the hallowed Bank Street Writer – for about five years prior, so to have to revert to counting characters to figure layout, well, it seemed like a pretty step backwards.

I had no desire to be a typist or secretary. I only took typing as a school subject because it seemed like a good skill to have, as in, if you can type, you’ll always be able to find work. The funny thing was, I never actually learned to touch-type at school. Typing was actually my worst subject. I struggled with it so much compared to the easier academic subjects.

Mastery of touch-typing came about five years later when the web came along. And while every job I’ve had has involved a keyboard, those old-style layout skills are something I’ve never had a use for.

Maybe it’s time for an organic artisan document layout revival. Bring out the vintage Underwoods!

The art of motel art

When I was on my Northland roadtrip, I took photos of all the motel art (or lack thereof) that I encountered. Concrete block walls, painted white, with a photo or print screwed on to prevent the artwork being stolen. Well, I didn’t need to steal it. I have these precious memories captured forever, etc.

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One Two

Cake

I made this cake for my dad’s birthday. There’s a kind of a tradition for a chocolate cake decorated with M&Ms, but traditionally it used a handwritten recipe called “One Two Egg Chocolate Cake”. That recipe only uses two tablespoons of cocoa, so it’s not really a chocolate cake, more a brown-tinted vanilla cake, which I’m not really into.

So I googled and found this Nigella recipe for Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake. It was super easy to make (it basically involves biffing everything in a food processor) and it used a hearty 40g of cocoa so it was good and chocolately. And the icing was quality. I rejected Nigella’s suggestion of decorating with sugar flowers, and instead went for the traditional M&Ms, M side down (well, it was either that or removing all the green ones).

Hääletamine on suletud?

I’m really enjoying the Great Language Game. You listen to short clips that seem to be all taken from radio new broadcasts from around the world and you have to identify the language that’s been spoken. It’s multiple choice, starting with two options, increasing as the game progresses.

It's just an image so you can't actually click here. But if you could, the answer would be Croatian.

It’s just an image so you can’t actually click here. But if you could, the answer would be Croatian.

The most I’ve scored is 800. I partly attribute this to it being right in the midst of the build up to Eurovision. I’ve watched a lot of the national selection TV programmes, so I can say “voting has now closed” in a dozen different European languages. (By the way, the best competition was Ireland, where one of the guest panelists and a mentor had a stand-up row. Proud 2 b Irish.)

Sometimes I could apply a bit of logic to choose the languages (like when I figured that the posh sounding broadcast was more likely to be Hebrew than Yiddish)

What is blog?

One thing I know is that blogging isn’t what it was 10 years ago, or 15 years ago. Or even five years ago.

A lot of my friends’ blogs have turned into collections of reactions about Twitter storms. Some controversy happens, then everyone toots about it, then someone makes a blog post with a collection of the most dramatic and/or wittiest toots along with a bit of commentary. It gets stale so quickly. Like, in a week you’ll read it and will fondly recall that time in March 2013 when everyone got fired up about the radio DJ who made the slightly sexist tweet, offered a half-arsed apology, but he didn’t lose his job or anything, oh well.

And then there are political blogs, which get a lot of media attention but are generally only of interest if you’re really into politics or if the Justin Bieber fandom isn’t providing enough drama to satisfy your needs.

Then it just leaves those personal website type blogs, which should be where all the cool shit is happening. But it’s not because when I check my RSS feeds, hardly anyone updates anymore.

My website is going to be 18 years old later this year. And as much as I’d like to treat it like an 18-year-old person by urging them to go flatting or maybe backpack around Europe, that’s not going to happen. My website is not independent. It’s like a lazy-arse teen that just sits around the house all day watching MTV, like it’s still 1997. God.

A few months ago I realised I hadn’t updated my site much and I thought that was a bit lame. So taking inspiration from the original format of Courtney Johnston’s blog Best of Three – that is, posting about three things – I got back into it. And it worked – as rules and restrictions and limits tend to do for me.

But I don’t want to be alone in this. So if you have a blog that you’ve been neglecting, put some stuff on it. Put your favourite photo from Instagram or a link to some fun quiz thing that was going around on Facebook. Just something of the quite-good variety.

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Observatory, Places

Self-adhesive

Lame-arse travel tips

One thing I noticed on my travels: most hotel rooms have powerpoints in really awkward places. In the olden days, back when the only thing that needed to be plugged in was the bedside clock radio, not a smartphone or tablet, meaning a modern user can be in for complicated experience finding somewhere to plug in.

So I had this idea. Instead of trying to relax in a bed that you’ve pulled out 20cm from the wall in order to accommodate the giant iPhone plug, what if you brought along a power board to plug in and bring power points to the comfort of your bedside table?

I thought about doing this when I was on holiday but then I thought, oh, what if the cleaner sees it and thinks it’s part of some meth lab I’m in the middle of setting up and then they call the cops and my holiday is totally ruined. A rational thought, you understand.

A declaration

flagsA couple of weeks ago when I’d just arrived in Kohukohu, I was walking along the main street when suddenly I saw a number of the United Tribes flags flying. At first I thought, “Whoa, things are different here,” (which is true of the Hokianga anyway), but then I discovered the flags were related to an exhibit of work by local artists, He W’akaputanga Mai o te Rangatiratanga – a proclamation. The artists have created work in response to the Declaration of Independence, signed by various northern chiefs in 1835. The exhibition was really good, very thought-provoking, an unexpected discovery in that sleepy little seaside village.

As it happens, the exhibition’s travelled to another sleepy little seaside village, Devonport. It opened yesterday at Depot Artspace and is on display until the end of March. If you’re in the area, you should go and see it. Here’s a report from Maori TV on the exhibition.

Stick it on

When I was in Kaitaia, I kind ran out of things to do. I tweeted asking for suggestions (which led to a visit to out to the beach at Ahipara, and on to a couple of kauri places at Awanui), but while I was waiting for the replies, I had a wander along the main street and ended up going into all the $2 shops in town (there are a few) and buying all the different types of party moustaches that I could find.

moustache

I actually have experience with all these from previous moustache parties in Wellington, so I can offer the following comments.

Self-adhesive Facial Hair Kit
This one has a bit of a Deadwood thing happening, but due to it having eyebrows, sideburns and a soul patch, it’s also the most versatile of the three. The pieces are cut from a thick felty material that isn’t much like actual facial hair when seen up close, but it’s ok from a distance. I wouldn’t recommend using all the components at once. It’s like with makeup – you either emphasise the lips or the eyes (or the sideburns?), not both.

Mustache Party
This is my favourite, and I think everyone should keep a Mustache Party in that drawer in the kitchen where all the random stuff goes. You never know when you’ll need it. The biggest feature – six different styles in two different colours, though I’d personally have preferred the Scoundrel to come in black, rather than grey. The moustaches are made of the thinnest material of the three packs, and on some you can even see the weave.

Party Mustache
From a distance this one looks really good. It’s a big fat hairy moustache that would look great, right? Well, part of the problem is its hairiness. There’s fibres flaking off it in the packet, and you don’t want something like that next to your nose. It would be ok if you were wanting to wear a moustache for a selfie, but it fails on the requirements of being a good party moustache.

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