Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Compressed

While checking through Evernote for items containing the word, compressed, I came across an article which talked about ten things you can do to improve your computer's performance.  I immediately tried one, that of dealing with some of the items in the start-up of the computer.  Skype has been insisting on starting up when I open up the computer, and getting a call from a relative when you're still in your pyjamas and haven't put your teeth in is a bit disconcerting.  So that's been sorted. 

I've was interested to note however that the article also talked about opening up your computer and cleaning its inside.  Crikey.  That sounds a bit scary.  Making the computer work without opening anything extra up is enough at the best of times; opening the machine itself sounds too technical for words.  Not that I haven't been inside a computer a few times in the past, but that's usually been out of necessity, not for a spring clean. 

Anyway they suggest, among other things, using a can of compressed air to dust the interior parts.  Don't touch anything!, they also warn; just let the air do the cleaning.  You don't need to set out and buy air compressors for the task; that's overkill (or is likely to kill your computer dead, from the inside out).  A small can is all that's needed. 

Continuing on with the subject of compression, I was reminded that there's talk of using cassette tapes as data storage, in this case, big data storage, like all the information that floods through Facebook on any one day, or the 1 petabyte of info (that's a million gigabytes to you) from the world's largest radio telescope.  Now presumably, just as you won't be using a full scale air compressor to clean out your computer, you won't be using one of those manky old cassette tapes you've had stuck in a box since the 80s to store any data on.  These tapes will store "35 terabytes of data - about 35 million books worth of information - on a cartridge that measures just 10 centimetres by 2 centimetres."  The tape will be coated with particles of barium ferrite.  Of course you all know what barium ferrite is, but I had to look it up on Wikipedia, and truth to tell, I wasn't any the wiser when I had. Anyway, this fancy stuff seems set to change the way we store data.   As long as the cat doesn't get hold of the tape, and play at running around the kitchen with it, unravelling it as it goes...

Superannuation

Yesterday there was a bit of flutter on Twitter about a pensioner in the Hutt Valley who was now being made to pay back his student loan - which he took out in 1999 for study - because the recent increase in the pension has meant he's crossed the threshold for repayments.  He complained about this being unjust, and got called a 'cry baby' in some places, as well as being reviled on Twitter.   I think the 'cry baby' post was perhaps a little over the top, but I guess that paying back the loan was always a possibility.  (It's a very small amount, though see below.)

However, what I found unpleasant on Twitter - and on the site where he was called a cry-baby - were the sarcastic and aggressive comments of younger people who have yet to experience what it's like to live on a pension, and nothing but a pension.  This is the pension where, if you're married, you actually get less each than if you're single.  Yes, I know there are ways for two people to economise, but why should they be treated as some double act financially just because they're married?

This is the pension that has been paid for in advance by years of taxation.  I worked for nearly fifty years.  I paid tax throughout that time.  I paid for that superannuation over the fifty years I worked.  Younger people go on about how they're paying for superannuitants.  No, they're not.  Superannuitants have basically paid for their pensions through their tax, just as those now working are paying for their own future pension. 

This is the pension that is about half of what I was earning before I retired. The figure I earned in my last three years of work was possibly the highest I'd ever received, and it wasn't anything like NZ's mean income.  I'd often worked for incomes that were considerably less than that.  Earning that kind of money makes it very hard to put anything away for your retirement, so in the end you're forced to rely on the superannuation.

I'm grateful for the pension, make no bones about it.  However, what many younger people won't be aware of is this little catch.  My wife isn't yet 65, but no longer has a job.  Because I'm on a pension, thankfully she is able to receive a 'supplementary' pension.  As a result, until she's reaches the age of 65, my superannuation figure goes down somewhat from the normal payment, and her payment equals mine.  So we get less than many married pensioners.  During the year she was able to pick up some work.  However, between us, we're only able to earn $100 a week over and above our pensions - until she reaches 65.  (The $100 a week, is of course, taxed, as is the pension itself - something many people don't think is the case, including Michael Laws.) The part-time, casual work she did in the last Work and Income year caused us to go over that threshold figure.  Every dollar she earned over that $100 a week, is taxed at the end of the income year at 70%.  This is not a typo.  You have to make up your mind whether you think it's worth working and having some cash in hand, or whether it's not and thus avoiding the additional tax you incur (it's worked out at the end of the W&I year). 

Perhaps I would at one time have thought superannuitants had it easy (although I was aware what my retired mother was receiving for many years, and it was never much).  But in fact many superannuitants in the country are much worse off than we are, and we don't exactly consider ourselves flush for cash.  So before you start criticising those over 65, think about what they may really be earning.  Once they've paid for the essentials each week (if they can afford to do that) there's next to nothing left.  Not much to show for years of giving your life to your country. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Busy, as usual

I've finally managed to post on one of my other blogs another one of the letters I wrote to my mother from London back in 1968.  This one discusses the Double Bill we presented (Angelique and Dido and Aeneas) and the imminent Christmas holidays. 

I haven't had the time to type up more of the letters recently: there have been several things on the go. I've been working on the latest draft of the novel version of the musical I wrote, Grimhilda!, and getting some feedback from people about different chapters.  I'm learning the lines for another play, The Sunshine Boys, which I went straight into after finishing the play we did for our church's 150th anniversary.  And I'm working on various pieces of music: one of them is the accompaniment for Enesco's Legend, a piece written for Trumpet in C, but the soloist in this case will be playing a cornet.  It's a good piece, but has some sections that take quite a bit of working out in terms of time, with hemidemisemiquavers scattered about all over.   I'm also (slowly) writing another piano piece: it started off well, but has stuck one of those points that music sometimes does. 

Twice a week I've been going to a course run by English Language Partners; it's to learn how to tutor a person for whom English is a second language.  This is done in their own home, on a one to one basis.  I was supposed to be there this afternoon, but had a spell of ill-health yesterday afternoon/night, and so was still feeling rather under the weather when I got up this morning.  The last session is on Wednesday, so I'll need to be there for that.  It's been an interesting group: included amongst the participants have been two Muslim ladies, two women and a man with Chinese backgrounds, along with half a dozen or more Kiwis. 

And of course, my wife and I have been going for some long walks.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Keeping fit

Recently I wrote about a walk in which we discovered Braeview Crescent; it was just one of a number of decent walks we've been doing of late, walks that may be up to seven kilometres long and/or an hour and a half (or more).  Some of the time we've used the Intriguing Dunedin Walks books, but over the last three days we've done walks that we've just discovered for ourselves.

On Thursday we left the car opposite where the Monarch is berthed, down at the wharf, and did the old Crowl family trick of turning left, then right, then left again and so on. Nearly seven kms later we'd got all the way to the University area, walked around some of it and come back to the car via a different way.

On Friday we did a rather more adventurous - and more exhausting walk.  (The Thursday one had been almost entirely on the flat.)  This time we parked near my son and daughter-in-law's place in Helensburgh Rd, climbed up the street to discover that Wakari Rd ran across the top, walked right along that road for quite a distance (doing detours into Caleb Place and Joshua Place - yes, I know - and discovering that one of them had a little walk through a private garden that was open to the public).  Then, in due course, we went down Polworth Rd towards Burma Rd, which runs through the Ross Creek reserve.  We thought we'd give ourselves some variety and go through the bush, but the track we were on dropped off a small cliff in two different places, which wasn't ideal - so we backtracked onto Burma Rd, found the usual track that we've been on before and climbed back through that until we reached Cannington Rd.  Thought we'd be clever and take a shortcut through the golf course - and managed to, though with the dog in tow it seemed likely we might suddenly get thrown off the green.  Managed to find a gate to climb over and then did the relatively heavy climb back up to Helensburgh Rd.  Had a cup of coffee with our daughter-in-law after around two hours walking...

Today went out to Tomahawk, and climbed up it until we reached Centre Rd, which we then proceeded to climb until we'd done 3.5 kms of climbing.  What views!  The sea on one hand, the lagoon on the other, Saddle Hill in the distance, Brockville at the same level, fields, cows, horses, sheep (pong!).  All made all the better by a glorious sunny day.  Plainly the wind is strong up that way, however, as the macrocapras were bent almost completely over in places.  We were going to climb up to the monument that sits on one of the peaks, but there didn't seem to be a road to it from Centre Rd, so we went as far as the bend and came back again.  Got in the car and went back up to the Tautuku turn-off, and discovered the most wonderful old stone house down at the water level.   We'll have to do the Tautuku walk another day.




1. I talk to a horse (but he don't listen to me....)
2. Celia at the highest point we reached.
3. One of the views from on high.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Being random, as the blog's title implies

1. My wife and I were outside this morning in the sun chopping down the upper half of the holly hedge that separates our house from our neighbours' place.  It was a beautiful morning.  We then spent nearly an hour around 1pm talking to my son and his wife in the States, on Google's equivalent of Skype, went to go outside and found it was pouring with rain.  Since then the temperature's dropped considerably and we're now trying to get the house warm.  After all the fine weather we've had any cold day comes as a bit of a shock.

2. A friend lent me a copy of Edmund Gosse's book, Father and Son, a couple of weeks or so ago.  I'd heard of this book over the years, but never got round to reading it, even though it has some status amongst the English classics.  What an odd book!  Gosse was the sun of Philip Henry Gosse, who was a famous zoologist in the 19th century, around the time of Darwin.   He was also a Puritan Christian, as was his wife - the mother of Edmund: she died of breast cancer when Edmund was still under ten years old.  Philip married again, a few years later. 

The book is supposedly the factual memoirs of Gosse as a child, and of his relationship with his father, who, according to the book, was virtually a recluse, and a very rigid Christian.  (Gosse's mother was as puritanical as her husband, according to Gosse junior.)  The book claims to be fact, but later biographers of both father and son have found a good deal of fiction in the writing.  It's very much the view of a man who has cast his parents aside along with his religion, but in writing about it he colours the characters of his parents - his father in particular - in such a way as to make the reader recoil from them. Knowing that Gosse's writing is more biased than not is quite helpful in reading the book: you see how he shows himself as the one treated somewhat unjustly, when in fact this was apparently less than the truth.  He also, perhaps unwittingly, shows himself as rather pompous and quite class conscious.  Those who are lower than him in the social scale are written about in such a way as to show that Gosse despises them - it's not just what they do, it's how the author describes them.  For example, in describing John Brooks, a poor man who doesn't do the right thing according to Gosse's lights: John Brooks was a heavy dirty man, with a pock-marked face and two left legs...  I'm not sure how Brooks manages to have two left legs, but doesn't it immediately make you feel he's something of a monster?

I'd got to a point with the book where I thought I wouldn't finish it, but I will.  However, Gosse has lost my sympathy quite some time ago! 

3. I'm currently learning lines for the play, The Sunshine Boy, in which I'm playing Al.  He has a substantial enough part, but it's nothing like as long as that of the main character, Willie.  There's a great deal of humour in the play, and it'll go across well with an audience.  The line-learning has kind of interrupted my latest attempt to learn Psalm 119 (the longest in the Psalmody).  It's a tough psalm to learn, but I'm making slow progress on it.  I'm also singing with the Sunny Side Up group tonight, at one of the retirement villages, and I'm revising words and music for that as well.  So the brain is getting quite a work out at present!





Friday, April 12, 2013

Watch the fingernails

It's a pretty sure bet you'll come out of Danny Boyle's latest movie trying to figure out all the twists and turns in its plots.  It's probably a good idea to give up, because I suspect the plot doesn't actually hold water too well. 

Trance starts off with telling us how a certain London art auctioneers manages its security - especially when it has a painting for sale that's likely to bring in more than 25 million (and that's pounds, I assume).  James McAvoy is the narrator at this point as well as being part and parcel of the set-up.  And then the set-up becomes the real thing, we go through the process for real, and the two main characters that we've met so far both turn out to be not quite what we were told.  McAvoy comes off very badly in the ensuing rough and tumble and winds up in hospital for weeks, with, among much else, his memory damaged.  The bit of his memory that's damaged holds the key to where the painting that was stolen went, and so off he goes to a hypnotherapist to find out where the painting is.  Except that none of this is quite as it seems, and by the end of the movie, everything we've seen is either in someone or other's mind, or is a lie, or is twisted.  Cassell is exposed as the villain of the piece very early on, and stays a villain throughout...except that he's not the real villain, and the hero isn't quite the real hero, and the hypnotherapist, while certainly a hypnotherapist, is also a good deal more.  Even the ending has some ambiguity about it. 

Critics of the movie have complained that the plot can't be explained properly, and that's right.  But this is a plot with not only an unreliable narrator (in the brief patches when he acts as one) but at least one other very unreliable storyteller, and a director who cheats at times.  Keep your wits about you, and keep an eye on the damaged fingernails. 

The direction is superb, of course, with a great deal of mirroring and reflecting of the actors, a lot of use of people on different sides of glass, or seemingly in touch when they're not.  If the story was even more unbelievable than it is, this would still be a very watchable film.  The cinematography is top notch as well (Anthony Dod Mantle also worked on Slumdog Millionaire), and the music is extremely unsettling - in the opening exposition, for example, the music is running with a different edge to what we're watching, and you're trying to think why this should be. 

It's not uncommon for audiences to have to keep up in modern movies - we're often given less information than we require and have to make assumptions - but Trance takes this to the extreme; like Inception, it leaves you guessing quite a bit of the time, even in its last stages. 

Undiscovered Dunedin

My wife and I went for an hour and a half walk yesterday, using one of those Intriguing Dunedin Street Walks books as a guide.  They were written by Paul Hayward in the nineties, and there are either four or five or them.  A number of things have changed since the booklets were first published, but fortunately none of the streets have moved, so this is a plus! 

The other plus is discovering bits of Dunedin that have existed longer than I have and yet I've never realised they were there before.  Yesterday's big surprise was finding Braeview Crescent.  Now, to those who live in the street, or know people who live there, the Crescent will come as no surprise, but, as Hayward notes, it's not a street you find easily: one end is only accessible by a pathway. 

The more interesting thing is that as you come down the pathway you walk into what Hayward calls the equivalent of an English country lane, complete with (very high) hedgerows, and blackberries growing wild (and not sprayed with poison either, as far as we could tell).  But the next surprise is that once you get past the hedgerows you discover that you're walking along the edge of a cliff, one that drops some hundred metres or more down into the lower Leith Valley area.  You get a marvellous view over the North end of the City, but you also take your life in your hands if you go too close to the edge.  Fortunately the dog wasn't interested in doing so, though I imagine if we'd taken my youngest son there when he was a child, we would have had our hearts in our mouths.  I can remember my brother-in-law, years ago, being shocked at how casual my son was in regard to danger: at that point he was on top of the cliffs at Tomahawk. 

Anyway, after the cliff-top excitement you find that there are houses built on plateaus at the edge of the cliff.  Great views, but I'm not sure if they would be my ideal location. 

The Hayward books are great for helping you discover lanes that you've never noticed before, little pathways that run between streets.  I'm sure most cities have these, but they're easily missed.  We went down one this morning that had the rather over-the-top name of Mentone Avenue.  It was barely wide enough to walk down with your arms stretched out.  It apparently has some connections with Menton, in France, where there is a villa that writers can go and live in for a year, courtesy of the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship.  Most lanes are unnamed: they're just a way to get from A to B.  They serve their purpose and good on them!

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Vibrato

While driving to a rehearsal for the group, Sunny Side Up, today, I was thinking about the use of vibrato in singing because a bass singer in Don Carlo, which was on the car radio at the time, seemed to be making excessive use of it. I have a bit of a thing about vibrato: I tend to think that it's an overdone practice, and certainly opera singers from some countries make more use of it than others.  Supposedly vibrato is natural in a singing voice.  If that's the case I'm not sure why certain singing teachers insist on increasing the use of it, something that young singers often find quite hard.

String players and wind players make use of vibrato too, some to an extent that it becomes irritating.  Again this seems in part to depend on the nationality of the player.  Vibrato isn't quite the same as tremolo - pianists can play tremolo, for instance, whereas they can't do vibrato in any sense - but the words do get interchanged.  Thus when you go to buy a Floyd Rose tremolo at GC you're basically buying a tremolo for your guitar, since a Floyd Rose tremolo is a type of double-locking vibrato arm to keep your guitar strings from going out of tune when you produce a tremolo effect.

Apparently if you say the words, Floyd Rose, guitarists will understand that you don't mean the person, Floyd D Rose, [pictured at left] the man who invented the locking vibrato arm, but the device itself.  Thus a person's name gets taken over by his invention, as did Alessandro Volta's name by electrical voltage.


Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Sunshine Boys

I've been offered a part in the Repertory Society's coming production of The Sunshine Boys, a play by Neil Simon.  I'd heard this was in the offing three or four weeks ago, and got a copy of the play to read.  It's very funny, sometimes in a kind of aggressive way, and the three main characters are great to play.  I'm doing Al, who doesn't appear till the second scene. He's the bĂȘte noire of the main character, who's being played by Bert Nisbet.  Bert's character is onstage for a great deal of the play - even when he's not onstage, he has lines that he has to fit in from offstage.  I'm relieved that I have several sections of the play when I get a break - and time to cram up on my next lot of lines, no doubt! 

Apropos of this, I've been memorising Psalm 119 over the last few weeks - it's a slow process, because there isn't a kind of narrative flow to the psalm.  The sometimes seemingly random statements - which use the same words over and over in different ways - don't easily connect to one another in the brain, so you have to have all sorts of links to keep track of things.  The part in the play is a piece of cake to learn by contrast with Psalm 119, so in a way I've been doing some mental exercises in preparation.  However, it's also the longest part I've ever learnt, I think, and will be kind of tough to deal with.

I was in a play last week on the life of Rosalie Macgeorge, the first missionary to leave New Zealand from the Baptist Mission Society.  I had only around twenty-five lines in the play all up, and for once I was word-perfect.  My aim is to be word-perfect in this play too, because I feel that if you don't get the words right, not only does it do a disservice to the author, but it also makes it harder to remember whether you've got the line quite in its proper shape.  The brain delights in muddling those who don't learn things exactly (it can muddle those who do know things exactly).  It may seem picky to want to learn the thing perfectly, but I know from experience that if I don't I'll have trouble at some point in the performances.