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.


I had something stuck between my teeth. While I was fiddling around with dental floss in front of the bathroom mirror, I noticed what appeared to be a hole in one of my molars. Uh oh. How long had it been since I last went to the dentist? Er… about three years. I quickly got the name of a good dentist and made and appointment.

Growing up in the small rural hamlet of Matangi meant that the water we drank came from a bore in the ground. Before y’all start getting images of wells or cranking pump handles, it was an electric pump and if you turned on any one of the taps in the house, water came out. The difference was that because this water came straight from an underground stream, it hadn’t been flurodated. So the dental nurse at my school recommended to my parents that they give me a fluoride tablet every day. I objected to these F Tabs and thought I was getting away without taking them, but it turns out my mother used to crush them up and mix them in with my milk.

I never used to brush my teeth, either. I’m not sure why. But I started when one day I visited the school dental nurse and got a filling.

Like a lot of schools, the dental clinic was affectionately known as the Murder House. This name goes back to the dental clinics of my parents’ generation’s childhood. Where the drills weren’t electric, but foot pedal powered, so if drill essentially only went as fast as the dental nurse was pedalling. If she got a bit tired, the drill would go slower. And back then dental nurses would grind down and fill the molars of everyone. Not because they were decayed, but as a preemptive measure, as someone had decided that molars were somehow imperfect and only modern dental technology could improve upon nature.

Fortunately by the time I got to school things had changed. Not only had electric drills been introduced to the dental clinic, but someone had realised that molars aren’t the cavity traps that they were previously thought to be. Fillings were only done when they were needed, and when they were done they didn’t hurt as much.

So off I went to the Murder House and I had a little bit of the side of a molar drilled away and filled with some amalgam. It wasn’t incredibly painful, but on the other hand, it wasn’t pleasant either. The dental nurse told me to relax, so I did and it wasn’t that bad.

After that I started brushing my teeth, but interestingly enough, after I started brushing I eventually ended up getting two further fillings. I eventually moved to the city (a whole 8 kilometres away) and could drink all the flurodated water I wanted. I was also seeing a proper, grown-up dentist by then, and he used to tell me that I had “disgustingly healthy teeth.”

My teeth were healthy, but my bottom jaw was crowded. I already had one tooth that was sticking out at the front, so my dentist pumped me full of novacaine and yanked it out. It’s such a cool feeling to have a tooth pulled out when you’re conscious. It make a sort of scraping, creaking noise. The best part was, I got to keep the teeth.

When I was 17 I had to have two of my back molars removed so make room for my wisdom teeth. I was totally knocked out for that. I would have much rather been conscious for that which, incidentally, is an option with today’s modern medical technology. There’s this anaesthetic that makes you not feel anything, but you remain conscious throughout the whole operation. That would rule.

I had kept up with the regular six-monthly checkups, and my teeth remained healthy. Then I moved up to Auckland and forgot to get a dentist. But the sight of a hole in one of my teeth was enough to remind me of the need for dental care.

So there I was, lying back in the chair, watching a tennis match on the TV up above the chair. The lower left side of my mouth, including the left side of my tongue and the left side of my lip were numb with novacaine. My dentist was packing the newly drilled hole with a compound named Fuji 9. His assistant was operating the sammy sucker. Another dentist was watching as my dentist explained the “unorthodox, but effective” technique he was using.

So now I have a new white filling, and one of my older amalgam fillings has been replaced with the white Fuji 9 stuff. My only minor complaint is that the filling white doesn’t match my teeth colour, but that’s another story for another time.