Thursday, May 31, 2007

Music Capitol!!

I’ve never really heard anything of Branson Missouri, but it turns out to be the Live Music Capitol (their spelling) of the World (their claim). If you want entertainment of the musical kind (light entertainment, that is) this is the place to go. But what appealed to me when I checked out the site for planning your holiday there, was the show advertising the Acrobats of China. When you click on their name on the Branson list, it takes you to the New Shanghai Circus site, where there’s a rather rough-looking video offering selected acts from the circus. The most wonderful and hilarious is one that features two Chinese dragons. Inside these are two acrobats who make these dragons (or are they dogs? I’m not sure) race around, roll, leap on and off a table, and eventually cross a couple of wires. It’s the co-ordination that’s so fabulous: how do they leap up onto things when it requires the person in front to move fractionally ahead of the one behind? It’s an extraordinary thing to see, even though the video looks like it’s been shot from the audience with a hand-held camera! Still it must be legit, since it’s on the circus’ site.
There's a great long list of Branson performers, including one crew called Baldknobbers. Hmm. Baldknobbers? Reminds me of a text my daughter sent us today about a shop called Knobs and Knockers: she thought we might like the name...

Writers and notebooks

There's no doubt that writers should carry some sort of notebook with them at all times. Ideas for small posts or large are easily forgotten. I find some of them, if they're connected to something else I'm doing, will come back to mind – usually when I don't have a pad and pencil – but some just get lost forever. And ideas are too precious to lose.

I've kept a notebook in the past, but it's always a bit of an issue, and you always think – 'I'll remember that.' But you don't. And it gets worse with age. I can't even remember what I've gone into another room for sometimes, so trying to remember fragile things like ideas is tricky.

Writers should never struggle with writer's block, really, if they keep a notebook. But even without one there are plenty of ways to get the juices going. Read a newspaper, read anything in fact. Go through old notebooks (you must have some somewhere. I've got a box of them.) Surf the Net, but don't get sidetracked from your purpose. Read some other blogs, especially those you don't normally read. Look around your house: does anything annoy you about it, or inspire you?

I do understand that writer's block is a real thing, especially if you're a fiction writer. But the best book I ever read on the subject was by Peter Elbow, who advised just writing, even if it what you wrote was arrant rubbish. The fact of writing gets things moving in the brain and the imagination, and often something of value sparks up, and you find you're away.

Writer's block is more often writer's refusal to start writing, a putting off of the task in hand, since writing is work, and requires discipline and organisation, in spite of what the movies show.

Shrinking shirts

It's an annoying thing to buy something and then find it shrinks on you. Three or four months ago I bought three shirts from K Mart. All three of them have shrunk: two of them just a little but one considerably. My wife puts it down to my gaining weight during this time. But I know for a fact that one of the shirts is smaller. When I bought it, it would do up around the neck. Now it won't. You can't tell me I've put on weight round my neck!

I tried to find an image of a person in a shrunk shirt, but couldn't: all the images that came up were for shirts that wouldn't shrink.

Monday, May 28, 2007

In the Kitchen

When we get back from the UK, I think we’re going to have to replace some of our cookware. Our longstanding non-stick pans are no longer non-stick, and our wok rocks on the fire. Our fry pan delights in sticking to anything that’s placed in it, and you wonder what you’re eating along with the fried eggs.
In the course of getting sorted for the trip, we’ve thrown out some older kitchenware, and stored away still more. The kitchen and its cupboards are a great place for things to hide away for years, unused or unopened; or opened and forgotten, or dusting the shelf with pepper, or cumin, or curry powder. We’ve had a good clean out, but it takes constant surveillance to keep a kitchen spick and span. Spick – there’s an interesting word we never use in any other context.
In fact, anyone who delights in the English language must enjoy kitchen words: skillet, poacher, chafing dish, griddle, spatula, trivet, to name just a few.

A little poem to HitTail

Still no news from HitTail, one of my favourite sites. In spite of several emails to them, I haven’t heard a peep. Maybe they’ve taken a snitch to me – even though I promoted them a good deal.
So, for what may be the last time, here’s a post about HitTail. It’s a kind of poem using the last lot of search hits that related to my site.

Blackheads in the neck are never pleasant.
Some would compare them to lemon peel in the compost,
though Anna Leese, and Michael Crowl of Seattle
and maybe even Andrew Mulligan of The Crowd Goes Wild,
are all too polite to say so. Their focus is more on the
Dream Homes Magazine, and Endowment Express
places they can put their money in. Let’s hope
they all live long and happy lives, and aren’t subject
to the Coroner’s lunch being eaten while he mulls
over their untimely demise.
Brent Stavig may also have something to do with
Seattle, though I have no idea what it is. Perhaps he’s
more concerned with epinions fridge reviews, or
Ronnie Rinalde video clips, or even a Lilburn
Sonatina? No, he’s content with three books on the
bed, and musing over the career of the Lyrical Whips,
or some Naga Baba photos – whatever they may be.
Meanwhile, Simon O’Neill performs in opera, and
visits his home country. Gareth Farr dispenses facts,
such as what a bagette is. Gao Ping presents his latest
2007 composition, and couples sans souci
struggle no more. The Lexus Song Contest does not include
Brent Read, who still has time on his side;
in the meantime he works on a constructionist capella,
using notes from Educating Rita, and
the Dr Who Keyboard Notes.
Finally, Emma Fraser, resting from Opera,
floats on her dockominium in Florida,
from whence she aims to
dream, design, discover and deliver.

The older I get...

It’s Monday here in NZ, so I guess that’s a time to give the Link and Blog Challenge of MeMe Monday a go.
But can I talk about myself? Any more?

My previous fiancee (many moons ago) broke off our engagement because she claimed I ate apples too noisily. I still eat apples in the same way, as far as I can tell, and I’m still married to my wife after 33 years.
I’m talented, but not excessively so: I’m not a great writer; I’m a pretty good one. I’m not a great pianist; I’m a pretty good one. I have a great eye for art, but not the patience to learn how to create it.
The older I get the more I think: there are umpteen thousand books I’ll never read, and umpteen thousands pieces of music I’ll never hear, and umpteen thousand works of art I’ll never see. More important than any of these: there are umpteen million people I’ll never know.
And apropos of that last one: as I get older I find it harder to make friends. When I was young friendship just happened. Now it’s a real effort. You’d think it would be like riding a bike: once learned, never forgotten. But it’s not.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Feedback

It makes a difference when you get positive feedback from your customers. When I worked in the bookstore we made an effort to keep track of good responses, especially when we did the occasional survey, and asked customers about our good and bad points. I’m pleased to say that our percentage of good comments was vastly higher than our percentage of bad ones. So we must have been doing something right!
I noticed the same sort of thing on a site for network cables where they’ve got a page of customer comments. It’s great when a business can not only receive those sorts of comments, but be able to place them in public view. There’s almost no publicity as good as a testimonial whether it’s for network cables or books or ripe bananas!

Birthday tribute

I spoke about my mother in the last post. I’ve no doubt mentioned that she died late last year, just before Christmas. So Christmas, in spite of lots of grandchildren, was fairly sombre at our house in 2006.
Today would have been her ninetieth birthday. Instead, some of the family went out to her grave and stood around and talked and arranged flowers – and froze: it’s been blowing a freezing gale all day. And we prayed and thanked God for her, because even though she was a quiet person, who didn’t like to be in the public eye, she was greatly beloved by our family.
There’s even been a bit of a joke about her ninetieth birthday. Last year, we’d talked with her about having a celebration for it, and she kept saying, “Well, I won’t be there.” She made sure of that!
Happy birthday, Mum. Hope you’re enjoying being in the presence of God and his endlessly delightful gardens, where no weeds grow, and nothing dies.

So what is a futon again?

Don’t know that I’ve ever been sure what a futon is. Had a suspicion it was either one of those things you cooked cheesy mixes in and then dipped your bread into – onto a tiddly little fork – or else it was more like a crouton.
However, it turns out a futon is a day bed: something that looks more like a settee in the day time. I was looking at the home furniture on one site and came across their futon section. Man, futons are cool! They’re elegant, they’re stylish. None of your crumpled up old bed pretending to be settee type of thing; these are models of chic.
When we built another storey onto our house for my mother to live in, the architect provided what he thought would be a long walk-in storage area above the stairs. The only trouble was it was in the lounge and it seemed unnecessary to have something like that there. So my mother put her grandfather’s old settee in the space, loaded it up with pillows and spent some years of her life using it as a day bed. She watched tv from it, she entertained grandchildren and great-grandchildren on it, various people would sit on it and cuddle her and so on. It became a place of serenity in the midst of chaos.
I don’t know that she would have wanted to exchange her grandfather’s old woodeen settee for a futon, but it would have been kind of classy in that spot, all the same.

The Flying Scotsman

Some friends had enthused over The Flying Scotsman, so, when we couldn’t get in to see the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie, we popped round the corner to see the other movie.
It wasn’t helped by the fact that our seats were so hard that by the end we were in agony, but even that aside (and the sometimes impenetrable Scots accents) the movie is pretty much a B movie bio, and is marginal on humour, suspense, character and most other things.
Jonny Lee Miller plays Graeme O’Bree, an amateur cyclist with great ambitions, most of which he achieves. Miller isn’t a particularly good-looking actor at the best of times, and as O’Bree he achieves a sourness of face that must almost be unique amongst movie ‘heroes.’ (He might play a good Darcy in Pride and Prejudice!)
O’Bree himself appears to have been a fairly difficult character: obsessive about his cycling, depressed by past events, uncompromising, and with a determination that overrode the better judgement of some of his family and friends. Miller shows all this with a jutting out lower lip, and jaw, and haughty eyes. Admittedly O’Bree had some overcoming to do: the World Cycle crew appear to have been quite toffee-nosed in their opposition to him, and dragging himself up out of depression (and an unsuccessful suicide attempt) can’t have been easy.
But Miller lacks much warmth, and consequently you never really respond to him as a character. His wife, played by Laura Fraser, is the opposite, but she has little to do except be supportive, and has almost no time to come across as a character. Brian Cox has a quiet role as a minister who doesn’t reveal his colours until late in the piece (unfortunately my friends had spoiled this me) and is excellent in his portrayal of a man who’s had to face the same sort of distresses O’Bree is facing. Billy Boyd is Billy Boyd.
We should have waited till it came out on DVD.

Hook

I noticed in Roger Ebert’s book, Awake in the Dark, that he classes Stephen Spielberg’s movie, Hook, as one of Spielberg's failures. This surprises me; it’s a superbly made movie, has excellent performances from Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins, (who form a hilarious partnership), a controlled one from Robin Williams that keeps the character in perspective; two marvellous kids Charlie Korsmo and Amber Scott; and solid supporting performances from Maggie Smith, Julia Roberts and Caroline Goodall.
When I first saw it a few things grated: the roller-skating Lost Boys and some of their other toys that seemed out of place, and Julia Roberts herself. But 16 years on these are minor quibbles. Roberts exudes her usual warmth and has the disadvantage of almost never acting ‘live’ with anyone, which she overcomes in general. The updating of the Lost Boys is woven into the story without much problem, and once accepted, is no longer a concern. The Lost Boys themselves are a marvellous bunch, wonderfully cast, and the performance by Dante Basco as Rufio is full of emotion. (Basco, incidentally, is one of four brothers all working in Hollywood and on TV.)
I’ve watched the movie several times over the years, and it always resonates with me, more than I remember E.T. doing so. The whole business with the father/son thing has particular emotional content for me, and perhaps makes me more partial to it, but it isn’t just that. Spielberg takes a mythic quality story and extends it in a number of directions and manages to make it all work. The design of the movie is a delight, full of magical touches (the appearance of the ‘hook’ throughout, for instance) and there is a great deal of subtle humour (when Tinkerbell flies Peter to Never-Neverland, a tramp on the bridge is lifted off his feet as they pass – not in close-up, but quite casually as part of the shot). Furthermore there’s considerable emotion in the piece: after a number of ‘casual’ and sometimes comic pirate deaths, there’s the real death of Rufio at the end. And the gradual disgust felt by Jack at his father’s lack of interest and lack of ability to save him, is strongly portrayed.
So, Roger, I think for once you were wrong. Maybe the popcorn wasn’t tasting so good that day.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A completely green world


I’ve just noticed one of my earlier posts was about when I was sick with the horrible ‘vomity’ bug, as I called it. It almost links up with the topic of ‘going green’ – because I’m sure that’s the kind of colour I was sometime over the long Saturday when I was feeling ill.
But going green, as you’d expect is more about trying to do something about greenness in a world that’s currently becoming blacker. I’m even feeling somewhat guilty about flying to the UK in a couple of weeks. There’s a worse thought: what happens if they declare the world COMPLETELY GREEN before we come back, and we’re stuck there, unable to come home and hug our grandchildren – let alone our kids!
I notice that the NZ Listener has a long article on greenness in its latest edition; I haven’t sat down to read it yet, but I will. Although I’m almost full up with green stuff: everywhere you go you get something green thrown at you, either from a global warming perspective, or a climate change perspective, or a running out of oil perspective. If I didn’t agree that we have to do something it would be enough to make me vomit all over again!

The picture, by the way, is considerably less gross than some I could have added!

A liddle dab'll do ya

Another jingle from the past. I’m sure it had a great effect on thousands of young men in the fifties. The word ‘little’ was sung more as ‘liddle’ which made the first line in particular very assonant.

Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya
Brylcreem, you’ll look so debonair,
Brylcreem, the gals will pursue ya,
Simply rub a little in your hair.

Money where your mouth is

There are certain tv programs I can’t ever imagine myself going on. One of them is Distraction, that appalling quiz show where you can lose as much as you gain, and where the distractions consist of humiliations and pain. Seems to me to be a game show for fools.
Another show I’d prefer not to be involved in is Dragon’s Den, even if I had something that I thought could be funded by one of the dragons. I’ve seen very few people on this show who were both prepared for all the questions the dragons put or who had the nous to put their case in such a way as to impress the dragons. Occasionally someone makes it through, but for the most part I don’t think these self-made millionaires are in much danger of losing any money.

Venpar (Venture Alliance Partners) are a company who fund business ideas, and it’s interesting to see that they require a pretty sound business plan before they’ll consider your approach. The business plan, they say, should include the size of the investment you’re looking for and the structure of the business. It should have a description of the product or service (that’s fairly obvious), a history of the company (could be difficult for someone starting up), the business and marketing strategy – it’s getting harder – and an analysis of the market and the competition. Given in yet? Full resumes of the key players in the management and current financial statements – and projections – are also required.

This is the sort of thing start-up entrepreneurs aren’t very good at. And it’s why many of the people who go on the dragon show fail: they just haven’t given enough attention to all these matters. Usually this is because they’re too busy getting their product off the ground. Still, I guess there’s one thing about the Dragons’ Den: it’s a quick-fire learning ground for someone who does have something worthwhile, but hasn’t put all their info together yet.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Clear, clear water

A generation ago people would have laughed if we’d suggested that in future we’d be buying water from the shops to drink. We used to drink ordinary everyday tap water without blinking an eyelid, and never worried about its level of contaminants. And maybe we should have carried on doing that. But the pure water industry is so ingrained now that few people would go back to the old days easily.
So we accept the position as it stands and get on with it. In my office one of the jobs I’ve inherited is to fill the water bottle every couple of days. The water has to be filtered through a water filter before it reaches the bottle, but it’s no great task, and sometimes I can read the newspaper before anyone else while I’m waiting.
It always seems to me that the filter can’t be doing much filtering, because as far as I can tell the water goes in through it and pretty much straight out again. Still, the water, especially once it’s cooled by the water watchamacallit, is certainly very drinkable.
Purewater2go.com advertises portable water filters that do this task while you’re on the go. So presumably you can grab up some water from any old place when you’re out jogging, for instance, and filter it on the spot. The only difficulty I see here is carrying a water bottle and a filter, but if it’s pure water you want, that’s what you’ll have to do.
The site says millions of people die every year from not having fresh drinking water. I rather suspect that more than 99% of those people don’t live in Western countries, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Perhaps purewater2go has a huge untapped market in Third World countries.

Surviving Childhood.

I have to make mention of a post in a blog called Nickoftime's Sanity Corner, which appears in the same 'house' as a couple of my own blogs.
The post is called How we all survived childhood and is a partly humorous, partly serious look at all the things kids did in a previous generation, a number of which would be greeted with shock/horror by the PC Brigade. Yes, some of them may have been not the healthiest, but the kids survived.

Love Over Scotland

In the following extract, Stuart and Irene are the parents of a precocious little boy of about six, called Bertie. Irene is ambitious for her child, but Bertie would prefer that she wasn’t. Stuart is a bit of a wimp when it comes to be a father, unfortunately, and finds it difficult to break out.

When Stuart returned home that evening, Irene was in the sitting room with Bertie, playing a complicated card game of Bertie’s own invention, Running Dentist. The rules, which Bertie had explained at extreme length, and with great patience, seemed excessively complex to Irene and appeared to favour Bertie in an indefinable way, but the game was quick, and surprisingly enjoyable.
‘Ah,’ said Stuart, as he put down his briefcase. ‘Running Dentist! I take it that you’re winning, Bertie.’
‘Mummy is doing her best,’ said Bertie. ‘She’s really trying.’
Stuart glanced at Irene. He knew that she was a bad loser, and that it was hard for her when Bertie won a game, as he so often did.
‘It’s a very difficult game to win,’ observed Irene, ‘unless you happen to be the person who invented the rules.’

From Chapter 13 of Love Over Scotland, the third in the series, 44 Scotland St, by Alexander McCall Smith. I think McCall Smith probably enjoys writing about these three characters more than any others in the series.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

At the Dunedin Club

My friend, Arnold Bachop, the singer, and I performed some songs at the Dunedin Club a couple of weekends ago. I'd never visited this institution, even though it's been going since 1872 or thereabouts. (It resides in a house built by the famous Johnny Jones, known for whaling, amongst other things. He only lived there for about seven years.) There's probably no reason why I should ever have been in the Club. As its name implies it's intended as a place for members to join, and I suspect I wouldn't be willing to part out with the steep membership fee for the sake of hob-nobbing with the hoi polloi.

We entered the hallway, which was wide enough to swallow up any one room in my house, and waited until the butler – sorry, the manager – came to acknowledge our presence. He wasn't at all formal, and told us that the Victoria League AGM was still taking place, and would we mind waiting. We’d come to sing to the Victoria League people.

So we read up on which worthies of the town were members, and noted that many of them were professional people making a good deal of money. The walls had a number of old paintings on them, scenic paintings that seemed to me to lack any real distinction, as well as a sketch of the house by Shona McFarlane, and portraits of Jones and his wife. Cheery-looking Victorian couple.

There was a Suggestion Book on a hall table (some of the other furniture in the hall would collect a very pretty penny at an auction). It dated back to the first years of the Club, and some of the 19th century handwriting took a little deciphering. Most of the suggestions were fairly basic, relating to the hanging up of coats, or umbrellas, or the like. As time went on the suggestions didn't get any less down-to-earth, but perhaps that's what suggestion books are all about. Avoiding dealing with long discussions about the banal in a club meeting.

I took a quick trip up the stairs – which creaked with their age – and glanced around the upper hall. The floorboards were rather uneven, and noisy: certainly you wouldn't want to be taking a quiet trip to the loo in the middle of the night.

Meanwhile the Victoria League continued with its AGM. The Victoria League, I later learned, began at the beginning of the 20th century, and was most well-known in the early days as a group to help men during the First World War. It opened clubs and hostels, and provided beds for both soldiers and their wives. During the Second World War, it worked in a similar capacity, and since then has been strong on assisting students in need.

The League in Dunedin has seen its hey-day, I suspect, as most of the members are in their sixties and upwards. For them it acts as something of an ongoing social club. However, the Victoria League worldwide is still a valuable society.

Finally we went into the dining room and did the songs, which went well. Afterwards, the husband of the president of the League took us around some of the back section of the Club. A long corridor has cartoons and caricatures by Tremain and Syd Scales and others of many of the past presidents and members. The billiard room at the back of the building is big enough to encompass not just a room of our house, but the whole ground floor. Two enormous billiard tables stand waiting for members.

The place has been done up very well over the last decades, helped by the fact that the Club has architects and men with some ready money willing to put their efforts towards maintaining the place in style. Upstairs the rooms have been altered considerably, making them more hospitable for guests. Supposedly the men’s toilets downstairs, which our host was keen to show us, are original, although if that’s the case, they’re very well preserved. Apropos of that, the most extravagant toilets still standing in Dunedin must be those at the old Art Gallery. The building was raised for the South Seas Exhibition back in the twenties (I think) and the urinals are a sight to see (and to pee at!)

When is a stethoscope not a stethoscope?

A stethoscope is a stethoscope is a stethoscope. Right? Apparently not. I always thought that those things doctor whip out at the drop of a hat in medical tv soaps were pretty much a standard model, used from episode to episode. Not so. When I look on the Light & Sirens Medical Supplies site, for example, I find there’s such a range of stethoscopes that it becomes very hard to choose between them. Even the Littman stethoscope is only one of nearly twenty types or brands the oddly named Light & Sirens company stocks. No wonder it takes so long to get through medical school. Half the battle must be deciding what make of stethoscope to buy!

Wilfred Mellers on Handel

Yet because Handel is a very great, not merely representative, composer, authenticity is not essential to the performance of his music, as it now seems to be to that of Telemann or Couperin. Great works of art, which are those most likely to survive, are also those most likely to over-ride the ephemeral; which is why they may be re-interpreted in terms of a later age, so long as that age has the courage of its convictions.

Bach and the Dance of God, by Wilfred Mellers, appendix, page 308.

I noted this quote down originally in the 1980s. Much later, probably a couple of years ago, I came across this book in the library when I was having a bit of a thing about Bach. Having completely forgotten I’d read it, I was amazed to find some pencil notes in it that I knew I’d written. There was no mistaking my handwriting. Furthermore, instead of finding Mellers to be the last word on Bach, he seemed to be rather silly the second time around!

Bank + Ethics? Wow!

It’s not often you hear about banks being ethical, I’m afraid. I’m sure they really, truly are, but you never hear them saying so. One bank – a co-operative bank – does say so, and says it fairly loudly. On their website you can see an article telling you how they’ve actually lost business as a result of acting more ethically, in the environmental, human rights, animal welfare and other areas. They even detail which businesses they’ve turned down because of what those businesses were doing in such areas. It’s quite heartwarming!
Okay, you say, they’re losing business. What sort of a bank is that? Well, curiously enough (it’s always curious that doing good is actually more profitable!) their loan business is increasing. They’ve gone from providing ethical services to certain individual clients way back in 1992 to being ethical on a large scale. With no loss of custom.
The name of the bank is The Co-operative Bank, and it’s located in the UK. Maybe I should go and visit them when I’m over there in the next few months! Or even set up an account with them!
By the way, there’s a good deal more on their site about the ethics side of things. It’s worth checking out.

The David Bain case is not finished yet

It's hard to avoid reading about David Bain in the news. And to add to all the comments, here's a bit more.

There are two things that strike me as odd about the case. Firstly, the motive. While David's father might have had a motive, why would he have killed all his family apart from David? Surely there was no reason to kill his younger son, Stephen, nor his older daughter, Aroha, if his concerns were about his relationship with his other daughter, Laniet. To go round destroying all the family seems an insanity.

Even more unlikely is any motive in David's case. Here was a mild, quiet young man, a bit immature perhaps, but certainly not one who appeared to be greatly troubled by his dysfunctional family, if his behaviour in the world outside was anything to go by. Unlike other mass murderers, there was no hint of withdrawal from society, or underlying anger, or hatred of the world. Compare David to the young man who killed the students in Kansas. The two personalities are light years apart. And look at Bain when he came out of prison. Here was a man full of light and life. Certainly his pleasure at being released was huge, but wouldn't you think there'd be something else, a certain something you couldn't put your finger on? No sign of it. David Bain is either a very good actor, or he's innocent.

The other strange thing about this case is the fact that the police acquiesced in the burning down of the Bain house. This was done within a month of the murders. Apparently this was at the instigation of the Bain relatives. Doesn't this strike you as odd? There are two reasons why it's odd. Why would the police allow a major crime scene to be destroyed so early in the piece, and how come the family had the power to persuade them to do it? Note that the family have once again had a strong say in what should happen to David: he's not to be allowed to stay in the South Island. Says who?

It's crazy, but I have a suspicion there's someone else out there who knows a whole lot more about these murders. Someone who has sat in hiding for all these years, and has the guilt of five deaths on his or her head. Someone who doesn't appear to have a motive because there's never been enough investigation for motive beyond the father and the son. That might make some sense of the puzzle.

Studdert Kennedy again

The world and the life of men have meaning and purpose. At its heart the world is not mad; but sane. That is the bare minimum of faith for man. It that goes, everything goes, and we can neither live nor think about life; but only take a long time to die.

G A Studdert Kennedy, in The Word and the Work, quoted in Woodbine Willie, by William Purcell, pg 208

Monday, May 21, 2007

The year of the amethyst

This year we celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary. The traditional stone for this anniversary is an amethyst, but since we were spending a lot of money going to England, the amethyst rather got sidetracked. We haven’t been much good at celebrating anniversaries with the traditional gifts, though the kids managed to find pearls (including pearl cufflinks) for our thirtieth. Last year the traditional gift was a conveyance. A conveyance! Well, the mind boggles at the possibilities – it’s certainly a lot more ambiguous a possibility than an amethyst. Anyway, my wife has gone on about buying a campervan for years, and we’ve never come to agreement about the value of getting one. So last year I managed to find, with some difficulty, a model campervan, and presented it on our anniversary. She took the joke with delight, and it’s still sitting on her computer at work.
I checked out amethysts on the Net just now, to see what sort of things are available. Unfortunately, my wife isn’t much into rings these days. Maybe I should think more in terms of a necklace, if it isn’t too late to celebrate!
By the way, why do Americans spell jewellery as jewelry and jewellers and jewelers? I can understand the second spelling, perhaps, although the full pronunciation of the word must surely be: jew-el-lers, with a degree of doubling of the letter ‘l’. But jewelry? It smacks of a lack of delight in the sound of words. But I suspect I’m going to be banging my head against a wall on this one.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Odd Man Out

When I was a teenager I bought a book called Three British Screenplays. The film scripts in it were Brief Encounter, Scott of the Antarctic, and Odd Man Out. I’d never managed to catch up with any of the movies themselves until I recently came across a DVD of Odd Man Out. It’s extraordinary what odd films turn up on DVD. This is a wonderfully clear copy of the film, no problems with the visual or audio side of it as there often is in these lesser known movies. It’s exactly as Carol Reed intended, with those marvellous light and shadow shots, rainy streets reflecting the street lamps, the snow showing up pure white towards the end. And then there are the faces, a mixture of Dickensian eccentrics, like Robert Newton, Cyril Cusack, F J McCormick (one of the Abbey Theatres great stars) and Joseph Tomelty, and the soon-to-be Hollywood stars: James Mason, Robert Beatty – and Dan O’Herlihy. Fay Compton makes a brief but strong appearance, and hidden amongst the uncredited actors are Wilfred Brambell, a very young Dora Bryan, Eddie Byrne, Geoffrey Keen and Noel Purcell.
It’s an odd story: Mason is the leader of a group of Irish nationalists who gets wounded in a robbery and spends the rest of the day and night on the streets, sometimes protected by those who care, sometimes neglected and sometimes about to be sold for the £1000 pound reward. He’s in danger of discovery from the police, and is nearly left for dead more than once. Two women take him in, briefly, and attend to him, a cabbie inadvertently takes him through the police patrols, and after being discovered by a conniving vagabond, he winds up escaping into a pub, being protected by the publican for a time, caught up by an alcoholic artist who wants to ‘paint his dying eyes’ and then finally is rescued by his girlfriend – for a last moment or two.
The atmosphere throughout is of a world that’s gone: children playing out on the streets until all hours and a gang of rough uneducated boys begging for a penny; cabbies driving horse carriages; a double decker bus crammed with people so that the bus breaks down; people living in derelict conditions and police on every corner; a middle-aged wealthy woman running some gambling house and betraying two of the nationalists to the police; a pub so full that there are half a dozen barmen.
It’s a film packed with detail: as much is going on in the background of some shots as in the foreground, and every shot is a delight to the eye. It’s almost surrealist visually; a lot of the lighting isn’t natural, and isn’t intended to be. As the night creeps on things get more and more strange, so that the nighttime outside scenes are obviously shot in the studio (even to the pretend trains rushing past in the background of one set, signified only by the smoke trail and the hoot of the engine) and the house where the vagabond, the doctor who’s missed his calling and the artist live is a great ramshackle place that’s once been the home of someone wealthy. The streets are no longer filmed on location as they were in the day time scenes, but have an increasingly Caligari feel about them.
The acting is on a consistently high level, and the direction of the actors is another area in which there’s attention to detail. Mason has a difficult role to play as someone who’s only half with it most of the time; Beatty makes what he can of a loyal partner in the group but vanishes part way through the story; Cusack is as full of beans as always; Elwyn Brook-Jones makes the most of his enormous eyes and screwed up face; W G Fay plays an apparently dull-witted priest who turns out to be sharper than anyone around him, and so the list goes on. Only Kathleen Ryan, as the girlfriend, disappoints. It’s possible that she was supposed to play her namesake Kathleen as a rather downhearted girl, disappointed that the rebellion is taking so long and is about to take her man down with it. But she sticks to this one note throughout, and isn’t really believable when she claims she would shoot her boyfriend rather than let him be taken to prison – and shoot herself too.
Well worth waiting for after all these years.

Local Hero

Local Hero is one of those quirky Bill Forsyth movies that never go where you expect, and keep leading you up paths that turn out to be red herrings. No character in it can be said to be straightforward, even the main character, Mac, played by Peter Riegert. He’s supposed to be a tough wheeler and dealer for a big oil-company, but he proves just as soft as all the rest. Burt Lancaster has an odd role as the chief of the company, who spends most of his time on his own, or with his therapist, a man whose absurd agenda doesn’t quite seem to match that of his client. The rest of the cast are typical Forsyth characters, people who seem unwilling to go quite in the direction a typical story would take, which consequently often leaves the audience shaking their head at the weirdness of it all.
There are daft scenes at every point. Half a dozen fishermen stand around talking to Mac, with a toddler in a pram amongst them. Mac asks who’s child is it. The men look to one another in turn. Are they indicating that it could be anyone’s child, or that they don’t know, or that they’re not even sure what the child is doing there? We never find out, because the scene cuts and moves to something else. The publican turns out not to be the publican, even though he runs the hotel, and cooks the meals, and acts as barman. He’s also the local accountant, and a bit of a wheeler-dealer himself. The priest is black, with a Scots name, a man who doesn’t quite seem to know what he’s doing in this out of the way place. A young girl dressed in ragged jeans, with her hair spiked up, and a painted face, wanders in and out without remark by anyone else – except when she starts to chase the Scotsman who works for the oil company in Aberdeen. Then it turns out she already has a boyfriend – in the local band. The main female character spends most of her time in the water, like some nymph, or silkie. An unidentified person buzzes past on a motor scooter almost every time someone steps into the street. The publican and Mac agree to exchange their lives in a tipsy moment and then carry on as normal the next day. An old guy does impressions of famous film stars for another old man – all the impressions look the same – and the other old man gets them wrong every time. And the ending is a slap in the face for the audience, with Lancaster swapping places with Mac, and Mac arriving back home in Texas with two pockets of sea shells. Suddenly the film stops.
The film is well known – there are plenty of reviews on IMDB – but isn’t much seen. As someone notes, the film score is better known than the film.

20th century advertising jingle

An advertising rhyme my wife remembers from her childhood:

That cough does upset her,
What can Mother get her?
Why, Mother says Venos,
The best mixture she knows;
That cough quickly goes,
When she takes Venos.

To my surprise, Beecham's Venos is still available. I'd assumed it was long gone. For a fun story relating to Venos, check out this site - about half way down.

The following note comes from an interesting site on old bottles, called Ask Digger.
hi there i was looking round a market one day when i cam across one old venos cough mixture bottle it has still got the sticker of it one front and came with it original box , it is called venos brand lightning cough cure and was prepared by veno drug co Ltd , Manchester eng. the box is quite old and the bottle as well it even has some medicine in the bottom of the bottle , can you please email me and let me know about this bottle only date i can find on it is 1910 can you tell me if it is worth anything as well thank you very much for your help

Studdert Kennedy

There had been but two rectors in seventy-five years [in Leeds], John Moultre and John Murray. Both were men of character, and the former something of a saint, after the quiet Anglican style, which means he was intensely venerated in his immediate locality and virtually unknown anywhere else. This was the man who died of smallpox, after a ministry of fifty years, while visiting a child parishioner in the epidemic of 1874. He was very greatly beloved, though he could be sharp when he wished, as when, an earnest evangelical lady saying she had sat under his ministry for many years and gained no good from it, he looked at her quietly for an appreciable time before saying, ‘I believe it, Madam.’ His successor, Murray, a stern Tractarian high-churchman, much feared in the town, with an untidy beard and a habit of drinking cold tea throughout the day, used in the latter days of his ministry to astonish visitors already impressed by his own antiquity by taking them along to see his mother, still briskly surviving.

From pg 57 of Woodbine Willie, a biography of G K Studdert Kennedy, by William Purcell, published 1962

Friday, May 18, 2007

Tin-Tin. Spielberg. Jackson.

You don’t seem to see Peter Jackson looking happy these days. My suspicion is that in losing weight he’s lost some of the jolliness that used to go with him. Be that as it may, it hasn’t stopped him moving forward and making more movies.
(Years ago when I was in London I knew a young opera singer who made it to Covent Garden very quickly after coming to the UK as a student. She was quite heavy, but she had a lovely, large creamy voice. Someone decided that she should lose weight, and drastically, the voice lost a good deal of its warm timbre.)
Tin-Tin. Spielberg. Jackson.
Plainly Tin-Tin held more appeal for Jackson than Harry Potter, which is a pity, because I could see Jackson dealing to the last couple of Potter movies with their increasing gloom and fantasticism. Tin-Tin is okay, but he’s a relatively mild character in terms of adventure, if my memory serves me right. Still, he’s a challenge, especially if he’s going to be created in CGI, like Kong and that other little feller from those three movies about some Ring…

Changing Faces

In New Zealand, there’s some thought that over the next thirty years we may mostly be a Maori nation. I beg to differ: I think we will mostly be an Asian nation, with European and Maori minorities. Already there are far more Asians living and working in New Zealand than there have ever been in the past, and they’re wealthy and intelligent people, who bring an enormous heritage with them. Yes, many fish and chip and takeaways are still run by Asians, and many restaurants, but that doesn’t seem to stop them filling up professional jobs as well. The last two mayors in our city of Dunedin have been Asian, one Indian and now a Chinese (though I think he was NZ born). The times have changed enormously from my childhood, when the only Chinese you ever saw ran fish and chip shops, or were fruiterers. Now half the doctors and dentists are Asian, and intend to stay in the country.
I haven’t noticed such a large influx of Asians into the IT market here, as yet, but apparently in China there are some 2 million IT professionals in the workforce, and over a 100,000 more of them graduate from universities every year. Not only this, most of them are English-proficient, since this is now a requirement for anyone in top professions. I suspect that that may mean proficient at English but not necessarily proficient in the subtleties of the language. Still, it’s a start.
And now the trends of the last few decades are reversing further. I’ve just read of a top Chinese IT company called Hundsun Electronics Co. that has a subsidiary in the States called Hundsun Global Services, Inc. What a turnaround! This means that they can offer software outsourcing in China, and of course the price is considerably lower than what it would be for the same job in the US. Apropos of this, it’s not long since I was told by the owner of a chain of shops here in NZ that they could have a shop outfitted now for a fraction of the price by giving all the details to a company in China and having the whole thing shipped to NZ ready to go.
I think those of us who live through the next thirty years will be astonished by the changes in the world focus. And the interesting thing is that English may still survive as a major language!

Being an in-law

In-laws start married life at a disadvantage with their new family: they're lacking in all the family history that's gone before. I can remember one young man sitting with various members of our family and desperately trying to keep up with all that was going on, a great grin on his face to show he was involved, and the occasional comment to show he understood. But the reality was, for the most part he had no idea what it was all about, because after a while, families talk to each other in a kind of shorthand.

I've been in that boat myself, as no doubt all people have who've married into a family. And there's nothing you can do about it. You just have to pick it all up as you go along, and you may still be finding out things about your other family years after you've married into it. Some families are adept at hiding things almost forever, which doesn't help the 'out-laws,' as one of my fellow out-laws calls us. And then, when brothers and sisters get together, there's still a sense of exclusion for those who weren't born into the family.

Unfortunately it takes quite some effort on the part of a family to learn to include an in-law, and some families never make the effort. We've had to learn how to do it in our family and hopefully have made some progress.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Keeping in touch


As we prepare to go the UK for six months, we’ve been looking at all sorts of options for dealing with calling home and using email. There are plenty of options, but a lot of them are expensive, with a capital E. We’re probably going to use Skype in part, though so far it’s debateable how well it’ll work for us. But we’ve done some testing here at home and things are starting to come together.
Skype, of course, is only of use if you’re close to the laptop. Another option I wouldn’t have normally considered is a calling card, but Pingo’s cards seem to be very economic to use - and they allegedly don’t have any of those awful charges that eat up the money on the card before you’ve even started talking. I’ve just had a look at the FAQ, and it seems it’s only when you call from public phones that you have additional charges. Well, that’s normal, I guess.
Usually when I come across these sorts of cards on the Net, they’re limited to one country, but Pingo actually lists NEW ZEALAND. I had to use capitals to show that for once the great US of A has acknowledged that there’s a little country down the bottom of the world. We’re not the only country they acknowledge and act as a prepaid calling card provider for. In fact, the list goes on and on, and their site quotes all sorts of rates for calling from hither and yon and back again. Yes, even for NZ. Ain’t that amazing?
Their rates are very good too, though there seemed to be a bit of a discrepancy between their quote in English pounds compared to the same quote in New Zealand dollars. One is 2.7P per minute, and the other is a phenomenal .072 per minute. I don’t think those two quite equate. Nevertheless, that’s a pretty good rate. But what I did like the idea of is having a pin connected to the card. Gone are those awful days when you had to press umpteen buttons to get to the person you wanted to call. And if you made a mistake - you started all over again!
Pingo calling cards are available in NZ, but I can’t find a direct link. So I’m going to give you one for the International prepaid filipino calling cards, since I can find that link much more easily!

The strange uses of language


I don’t normally put stuff on here that might regarded by anyone as bawdy, but occasionally something cries out to be mentioned. In fact there are two things. One is a link to an absolutely hilarious list: 20 Ways To Tell A Man His Fly Is Unzipped, which also has a picture that has to be seen to be believed. How does Mr George Bush get himself into such situations?
The second thing is something I came across at work, and which has intrigued me for several days. It’s apparently a tool which is used in the engineering shop, and it’s called a maiden threading and screwing tool, as far as I can make out. The only connection I can find with maidens and tools is a maiden bar, which is something used on a spinning wheel. But I’m not even sure what it is in that context. I quote from the NZ's Ashford Company's ad: Larger 24"/61cm drive wheel mounted on ball bearings makes for smooth effortless spinning. Horizontal adjustment of maiden bar allows perfect adjustment with all 3 whorls. Maiden bar clamps to base to eliminate vibration. Double drive with scotch tension.
Maybe an engineer or a spinner can help me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Platinga on Dawkins

The God Delusion is an extended diatribe against religion in general and belief in God in particular; Dawkins and Daniel Dennett (whose recent Breaking the Spell is his contribution to this genre) are the touchdown twins of current academic atheism.
Dawkins has written his book, he says, partly to encourage timorous atheists to come out of the closet. He and Dennett both appear to think it requires considerable courage to attack religion these days; says Dennett, "I risk a fist to the face or worse. Yet I persist." Apparently atheism has its own heroes of the faith—at any rate its own self-styled heroes. Here it's not easy to take them seriously; religion-bashing in the current Western academy is about as dangerous as endorsing the party's candidate at a Republican rally.
The God Delusion is full of bluster and bombast, but it really doesn't give even the slightest reason for thinking belief in God mistaken, let alone a "delusion." The naturalism that Dawkins embraces, furthermore, in addition to its intrinsic unloveliness and its dispiriting conclusions about human beings and their place in the universe, is in deep self-referential trouble. There is no reason to believe it; and there is excellent reason to reject it.

This comes from an article by Alvin Plantinga, published in Books and Culture, March/April 2007. You can find Plantinga's homepage here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I miss out again

The problem with not living in the States is that you miss out on some outstanding contests. However, I don’t think I’ll become a US citizen just so I can enter; at present I’m quite happy with my status as an Aussie who lives in NZ.
But it would be fun to go in for the lowest bid contest, which is a kind of inside-out auction. The person opening the bids starts at 1c, and so might several other people – no one knows what anyone else bids. The person who dares to go up to 2c or more, and is the only one to do so, becomes the ‘lowest’ unique bidder. And so it goes on until bidding stops. A further tricky aspect to this is that in spite of bidding in monetary amounts, you don’t actually have to pay anything at the end of the auction, if you’re the winner. And the prizes are real and substantial, from BMWs down to Motorola Razor cellphones. I’ve checked out the prizes a couple of times, and find it hard to choose what I’d most like to win.
There’s a charming young lady called Karen (if I caught her name right) who goes through the whole deal with you on a little video. Worth checking it out. If you live in the States (and the District of Columbia).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Not quite so celebratory

From the sublime reaches of theology to the elasticity of Spiderman – Spiderman 3, no less.
My wife and I went to see it last night – even made the effort to see it on the big screen, along with twenty other people. The spiritual underpinning continues, with forgiveness well to the fore at the end of the movie, and with lust for evil well-expressed (one character even ‘praying’ for Spiderman’s death). There’s also a lovely visual moment when Spiderman is seen as a gargoyle on the outside of a church steeple.
But beyond the spirituality? It’s an odd film: three villains coming and going, Spiderman having to find out who he is and how dark his dark side is - and still not getting the girl…quite. The fight scenes are even more comic book than before, and stretch credibility to its limits - though they’re extraordinarily well staged. But a number of shots of someone being hammered into something much harder than they are, and of people dropping from heights and getting up after a quick shake of the head, and people surviving explosions. Well, it’s all just a bit much. I don’t think it quite matches number two, and number two didn’t quite have something that number one had. What I think that was, was celebration! Spiderman the first was so celebratory that I went and saw it twice, evangelistically taking someone else with me. Toby Maguire was so boyish in the role then and Kirsten Dunst was just so lovely. But this third movie requires them to trade on those qualities again and again, without any real development. Maguire is now 32 and even though he still looks boyish, there must be a limit to how much longer he wants to go on playing a child/man. You get the feeling he wants to break out in this movie, and yes, he does break out, but it’s only to go back to the Spiderman/Toby that he was at first. There isn’t any real forward movement.
Sam Raimi is a great director of this kind of movie, and deserves plenty of credit. But I just didn’t feel moved by the film, in the way I was moved at the first in the series.

Theology

I’m continuing to read the History of Christian Thought, and am now into the 20th century, amongst Barth and Bultmann and Bonhoeffer. Light springs out occasionally into the theological darkness, and then the gloom takes over again. The 20th century has not been the great century of theological forward-thinking, even though Christology and the Trinity have made theological headlines again. Theology in the 20th century (and even the 21st) is more likely to make you lose your faith than find it, though that’s not to say that Barth and Bonhoeffer weren’t men of faith; they were. Certainly I’d be happier in their company than in that of some of the late 19th century theologians, who seem to have lost their way almost completely.
I can understand that theology must always be finding its own voice in the midst of each new age, but it must never, to my way of thinking, lose sight of where it all sprang from: the revelation of God through Jesus Christ. Without that, we’re lost. There’s no two ways about it.

How Do I Love Thee?

I have had a love/hate relationship with PayPerPost, which readers of this blog will no doubt have noticed. It turns out that part of the problem was my own, caused by my not being aware of the need to categorise my blog and thus assist PPP to categorise me for advertisers. So it goes (to use Kurt Vonnegut’s catchphrase – I was sorry to hear that he’d died the other day).
I started out doing a couple of posts a day with PPP, back in the days when blog marketing was simpler and they hadn’t made their system so complicated. Then I went off them for a while because I just couldn’t seem to make anything out of their revised approach. Now I’m back on track with them, and though I still need to make a bit of adjustment to my status within their categories, in general we’re friends again. And they certainly have the widest range of opportunities available at present – some other smaller paid-post organisations seem to be struggling to get enough advertisers to work with them.
So do I love PPP? Not sure that ‘love’ is the word. Am I loyal to them? Well, yes, I think I am. After all, friends stick to each other even in times when they’re not relating straightforwardly, and I never quite forgot them…

Blog Resurrection

I had a birthday yesterday. It's such a boring number that I won't even bother to tell you what it is, but suffice to say, I won't be looking forward to twice 31 again.
As a kind of celebration of the occasion, I've resurrected another blog, one that I started back in the early part of the century, and seem to have let go. Can't quite understand why it was neglected, but that's the way things are.
Anyway, it's going to focus on our imminent trip to the UK, and anything else that happens to relate to that. Expect the usual mix of random comments, paid posts, nonsense, and some stuff about travelling.
It goes by the exciting name of Mike Crowl's Travel Diary, because I was in a hurry to get it up and running again, and didn't have time to think of anything better, such as An Optimist Goes Abroad, or A Broad Optimist Goes, and so on.
I've sometimes wondered, apropos of that, whether I'm an optimistic pessimist, or a pessimistic optimist. Can't quite decide where the difference lies.

A bit of belated blogtipping

Like me, one of my sons has written stuff since he was a kid. He and one of his great mates wrote, drew and acted throughout their childhood/teenage/youth. They're still writing, I've just discovered, and now it's blogs. Worse, they've even inveigled their old friend Doogle Sherlock to start up a blog.

I quote from my son's blog: The doctor I got was really kudos and she prescribed me with a drug which was apparently one of the ingredients used to make P. I tried not to act suspicious.

I quote from his friend's blog, Procrastination Opportunist: I have spent the last four months procrastinating (true to form). Actually, scratch that; it was three months procrastinating, the rest was procrastination recuperation.

I quote from Doogle's Blog - appropriately called My Blog Log: butt this tym i rote a book! it waz in my hand and syned doogl! i kno i wud hav syned it 'doogel' if i waz awake but slepe doogl probly dusnt kno this. i showd shirlee and she rolld her i's so i went to sebastyans plce (in tha sekure lokdown wing of tha prizzon, hez doing grand larsinny tym for diak at tha momint) and he thort it wus the koolest book eva! 'tha grate butt piratikal bumbustificayshin' is just wat id call a book too - slepe doogl has sum gr8 ideas!

Doogle has a considerable history, and it's interesting to see he's still alive and kicking. He's got rather crude over the years, which makes me wonder about his creator. Can it really be the person I think it is?

Eugene Peterson

"For Christians, whose largest investment is in the invisible, the imagination is indispensable, for it is only by means of the imagination that we can see reality whole, in context… . If my imagination is stunted or inactive, I will only see what I can use, or something that gets in my way… . It is the invisibles that determine how you will view the world, whether as a homeland or as a prison or place of battle. Nobody lives in the 'objective' world, only in a world filtered through the imagination... . Right now, one of the essential Christian ministries in and to our ruined world is the recovery and exercise of the imagination."

(Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant , 170-171)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

But......Why?

You have to wonder if some people have too little to do in life. Ashrita Furman recently attempted the world record for using a metal hula hoop under water. He lasted all of 2 minutes 20 seconds while standing completely under water, with curious dolphins from the Island Dolphin Care facility swimming close by – and no doubt wondering what the heck the guy was up to. As I do.
Furman has apparently set 144 official Guinness records and is still the holder of 59 current records. He has set records in all 7 continents and in more than 30 different countries.
Why? Is this a way to achieve lasting fame? Apparently not, if someone is going to come along and beat your record at the drop of a hat. And what’s the value of such records as standing under water using a hula hoop? Why would you want to create such a record? It seems to me to have a lot in common with those art works known as ‘happenings’ where the point of the thing is barely discernible, or ‘installations’ where things like several crates of oranges are flung around the floor randomly – and that’s it.
Are we so short of records to achieve in the world that we have to stand under water with a hula hoop? Maybe we are.

God the Silversmith

One of those things that gets sent round by email. I like it, but I've removed a couple of paragraphs from the end which only served to explain what was already obvious.

Malachi 3:3 says: "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver."

This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver." She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's easy -- when I see my image in it"

Hitch-ier

A quote from the film, Hitch. Okay, it might seem sappy out of context, but in the movie it fits perfectly.

Never lie, steal, cheat, or drink.
But if you must lie, lie in the arms of the one you love.
If you must steal, steal away from bad company.
If you must cheat, cheat death.
And if you must drink, drink in the moments that take your breath away.

Script by Kevin Bisch.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

One thing missing

We have very sombre ads here on tv by an actor who used to appear in Shortland St, (probably the most successful tv soap in NZ’s history). In one ad he shows how a family survives in an emergency by being really prepared. They look like a singularly unexcitable family to me, but that’s okay. In other ads, all the services that are usually available, such as fire, ambulance and so on, gradually disappear off the screen behind him, until he’s left in a vast landscape of nothing. The point being that these services may not be available when we need them. In another ad, cars disappear from a motorway he’s standing near, and then a passing train simply vanishes. Very effective ads, as you can see, except that they still haven’t made us do anything about getting an emergency kit together.
We actually brought the beginnings of one at a garage sale one day, and then used up the bits and pieces in it instead of waiting for an emergency. Oh, dear, we’re not very foresighted. We’ll probably be the sorts of people you’ll find begging for food and water in an emergency, while we bleed from copious wounds. Or else, my wife, resilient and resourceful person that she is, will have made do with what’s to hand and we’ll cope.
All this by way of a lead-in to Disaster Kits I saw advertised on the Net. These ones come ready-made in five (!) carry-bags – rather like the bags you use here to take your gear to rugby or swimming. I checked through the ‘over 100 items included’ and do you know what I couldn’t find? Toilet rolls! A slight oversight on the part of the makers, no doubt.

Hitch


I watched Hitch again last night, on DVD. I hadn’t seen it since it came out at the movies a couple of years ago. It has be the comedy with the most charm about it that I’ve seen in years. In spite of being all about falling in love, almost none of the characters leap into bed at the drop of a hat (the only couple seen in bed are just snuggling), and it’s more about relationships than sex. Which makes a great change.
Will Smith is lots of fun, sending himself up enormously (particularly in the gross scene where he has a food allergy) and Keven James is superb. Check out the incredible splits he does at the end, which I remember had the cinema audience in hysterics.
The idea is original – a kind of male matchmaker who works only with men who lack the self-confidence to woo the woman they’ve fallen in love with (usually at a distance). The matchmaker then falls in love himself, and all his ‘art’ goes out the window as real life takes over. (Though his ‘art’ works for the blokes he coaches, as it happens!)
It’s celebratory, and lots of fun, and has dialogue almost reminiscent of those great romantic comedies of the past, where people actually did more talking than leaping about bedrooms in the altogether.

A footnote - or should that be an above note?

The picture in the previous post originally appeared on the Alberta Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention site. Last weekend we had two of my grandchildren staying with us – and their mother. Boy, is she patient with them! The older of the two, who’s around 15 months, got diarrhoea while he was here, and cried loudly every time he was changed – which was often. And then his baby sister would join in. My wife and I can get small children to stop crying by a variety of (positive) methods – all of them learned through handling our own children over the years - but even we were struggling to keep them calm for long. Their mother, bless her heart, never got angry, never got mad, even though she was very tired. Good on yer, daughter!

We don't Get!

Awww, I can’t join the whogets.com contests! And neither can people in Florida, Rhode Island or New York. What has the world got against us? Or rather, what do the residents of Florida, Rhode Island and New York have in common with each other – and me? Let me think: F, RI and NY all have an O in their names. They all have an R in their names. But New Zealand doesn’t have either of these. So what’s the catch, WhoGets? Are ya just prejudiced against us? Boo, hoo!

They say on their Official Rules that they’ll hopefully open to F, RI and NY in the future. But do they mention NZ? Nope, they do not. Boo, hoo, again!

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Seek and you'll probably find

The Internet is a great place to get lost finding things. It can be overwhelming trying to track down just one name or business, let alone a group of them. A new kid on the block called Masterseek is aiming to be the global business-finding web search engine. It’s encouraging companies around the world to join up and be part of its data base. I’ve just had a look at the site, and though the colour’s a bit bland for my taste, the site works very well. Some types of companies (listed under categories) are already in abundance. They’re the sort of companies that don’t miss an opportunity to advertise: construction, maintenance, household appliances and so on. The arts scene is unrepresented almost entirely at this stage, but then again, so is health and fitness, to my surprise. Seems to be easy to join up – though I didn’t try, as I’m already registered with enough sites to sink a ship. But even without registering you can garner a good deal of info. One of the most useful parts of the site is the way it joins together different companies from different countries that have a commonality (always wanted to use that word) of interest.

The dog bone component of the bucket crowd section

The dialect of different groups within the business world can sometimes be rather puzzling. I’m currently working in an office attached to a large construction/landfill/landscaping/drainage company. On one of the reports relating to an accident that occurred was this phrase:
The dog bone component of the bucket crowd section.
Apparently that’s English and makes sense to a large number of people.

Trying to makes sense of bucket crowd on Google provides the following helpful sentences (I gave up on dog bone):
For enabling a boom to be smoothly raised during the triple combined operation of boom-up, arm-crowd and bucket-crowd in a hydraulic circuit system...
The bucket crowd ram 20 comprises a ram housing 202 and a piston rod 203...
the bucket crowd motion was specifically. controlled to draw it through the radar curtain...
And lastly one that I think is a little off-topic:
Nosebleeds were posted for $75 for the beer-bucket crowd


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Prince Harry

In yesterday’s Otago Daily Times (Dunedin’s only major daily newspaper), there was a very neat letter to the editor, written by one Keith Clifford.
It went as follows:

If Prince Harry goes to Iraq and becomes the Mother of all Targets, it will at least give him some respite from being the Target of all Mothers back in the UK.

I’d love to write something as nifty as that!

Another paid for posting site

The paid post opportunities are coming thick and fast these days. Via another blogger, I’ve just come across yet another company that’s offering bloggers the chance to get paid for their posts, by linking to advertisers. This one is called Bloggerwave, and it seems to have its act together. You can find out more by clicking on their name.
There’s a great deal of hype on the Net about whether this is an ethical thing for bloggers to be doing or not – paid posts, I mean. Once again, I have to say that I have no problem with doing it. How many people read magazines or newspapers and wade through advertisement after advertisement and never blink an eye? Is there any reason for blogs to be different? The detractors say that bloggers are making the paid posts look like ordinary posts. Well, I say that’s still fine by me. No one forces a reader to click on a link, and if they don’t like the post about the topic being advertised, they don’t have to read it, just as they don’t have to read an ad in the paper.
My aim is make these posts as interesting as anything else I write, and if you click on the link, all the better for the advertiser; if you don’t, that’s a risk he/she’s prepared to take.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Do computers remember?

I’ve talked about memory and memory tricks on this blog before. Put the word ‘memory’ in the search box at the top of this page and a very random number of posts will turn up. But I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the joys of computer memory.
As an aside, I have this theory that computers don’t really back up anything at all. They pretend to. After all, the only time we try and get back what we’ve lost is when we’ve lost it, and then we find that for some inexplicable reason the computer can’t find it either – even on its backup. And it always has excuses: like we backed it up to the wrong drive, etc.
This used to happen not infrequently to us in the shop, before we went over to a zip drive. You’d back everything up like a good boy, and then come to use a file the next day – and it would be unaccountably empty. You’d go to the back up disk – and guess what? It either wouldn’t restore – or couldn’t. My suspicion is that it couldn’t, because it never really backed anything up in the first place. I could have proved it by checking the other files that we still had copies of, but of course no one checks the ones they don’t want, only the one they want. See what I mean? It’s a conspiracy.
Anyway, all that aside. I started to talk about memory, not backing up.
Computers and memory. There’s never enough. It’s another conspiracy, because just when you think you’ve bought or added all the memory any computer person in the entire world would ever need, along comes a program that warns you: your computer may not have enough memory to run all the features of this program.
That’s why a place like memorystore.com is helpful. Although it asks a rather existential question when you go to its home page. “Know your memory?” it inquires. (This is something we older people probably need to make sure we do know – though can one ever know one’s memory?)

This is not an ad

I’m always pleased to get a comment on this site (hint!), so eagerly checked out the latest one that came with my recent post on log cabins. It began: “Hello I want to congratulate to you. This site is fantastic, looks like entertained and very good to me it elaborated.” Okay, a bit garbled, but I got the message. And then it went on: “I invite them to that they explore a little on my site of the Web.” What follows is a reasonably well-written piece of prose expounds the benefits of buying a piece of real estate in Costa Rica!
Well, the writer intrigued me and I went and had a look at the site of the Web. Unfortunately, before I could get past the first page I had to register, and I don’t think I’m going to have much opportunity to buy anything in Costa Rica – at least not within the foreseeable future. This is the second piggybacking comment I’ve had in recent weeks. At least they’re better than earlier comments that cut straight to the chase after a quick, ‘Your site’s great and we love you.’