Monday, April 30, 2007

Appreciative Inquiry

Ever heard of Appreciative Inquiry? Apparently it’s ‘an approach to organisational development and change which grows out of social constructionist thought.’
Does that help? Only if you know what social constructionist thought means. We’re given a bit of further help in the next sentence:
‘The appreciative inquiry approach offers us all the process and potential to positively explore, collectively imagine, collaboratively design and jointly commit to a path forward.’

Hmmm. Appreciative inquiry is achieved in four stages: Discover, Deliver, Design and Dream. I checked out a paper that had been written as a kind of introduction to it, and I don’t know that I’m much the wiser. There are a lot of what I’d call buzz words, words that in the context they’re presented in here don’t seem to mean too much: collective capacity building, stakeholder engagement, strategic deliverables (!), distinctive competence, paradigms of management, democratising strategy, meta strategic management cycle. Note how there are no little words here. To understand Appreciative Inquiry you have to use big words.

Anyway, Sara Orem (along with a couple of others) has written a book called Appreciative Coaching: a positive process for change. It’s published by Jossey-Bass.
The book is described in this way: ‘Appreciative Coaching describes an approach to coaching that is rooted in Appreciative Inquiry. At its core the Appreciative Coaching method shows individuals how to tap into (or rediscover) their own sense of wonder and excitement about their present life and future possibilities. Rather than focusing on individuals in limited or problem-oriented ways, Appreciate Coaching guides clients through four stages—Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny—that inspire them to an appreciative and empowering view of themselves and their future.’
There you go! That helps, doesn’t it?

Orem is a member of the Capella University, a fully online university that specialises in e-learning. I talked about e-learning late last year on this blog, again in relation to Capella, and it’s still an idea that appeals to me. Of course, it’s not entirely new, and most real universities, as opposed to online ones, are also doing e-learning of various kinds. You never know, once I get back from England, making an appreciative inquiry about myself may be just the thing!

Turnkey for the third time

The word turnkey has started to haunt me. Either that, or else an awful lot of US copywriters use it far too readily. Anyway, I came across it again today when I was looking at a site that is promoting a new system of dealing with cheques (though, of course, they spell the word, checks).

Before I talk further about that, I must mention the wonderful machines they have at the evening job I do. They’re imaging machines which are used to image all the cheques that are processed each night so that they can be worked on by the data entry people. This imaging is done at high speed – a speed so high in fact, you wonder how the machine can register anything at all. When you consider that photocopying machines these days merely blink at the thing they’re copying and it’s copied, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the speed the cheques are copied at. But I am. I could stand and watch this amazing machine for hours.

Check Vantage is talking about a similar electronic check processing system, but one that would be available to businesses. Furthermore, this process not only images the cheques/checks, but it ‘reads’ even handwritten figures! Now, this is quite extraordinary. The humans at the place I work at have considerable trouble reading many of the cheques that pass before their eyes. I have to wonder how a machine can do it. Yet they say in their blurb: Our CAR/LAR technology actually ‘reads’ the handwritten amounts of each check, and creates a posting file to export into your billing system.’ So obviously this software can do the job. It’ll be putting all of us data entry people out of work!

Not only does it read the handwritten stuff, it images 180 items per minute. That sounds at least compatible with the machines at our place. The point of installing this sort of software, of course, is to increase the speed at which the cheques are processed. Instead of having to be handled by an accounts department, they can be virtually processed electronically from whoa to go. Scary.

David Chilton on feminism

The feminist vision [is] an ideology which has only incidental contact with reality.

David Chilton, in an article entitled: Civil Rights: rhetoric or reality, published in the Restore magazine, January 1985.

David Chilton is not someone I can tell you anything about, unless he's the same David Chilton that's written about on a blog I came across. If he is, heaven help us! You'll have to do a search down the page to find the references to Chilton, and they're rather chilling.

I'm not even sure now what the Restore magazine was, except that it was published by a Christian group.

Portrait of a Lady

Madame Merle: ‘When you’ve lived as long as I you’ll see that every human being has his shell and you must take the shell into account. By the shell I mean the whole envelope of circumstances. There’s no such thing as an isolated man or woman; we’re each of us made up of some cluster of appurtenances. What shall we call our ‘self?’ Where does it begin? Where does it end? It overflows into everything that belongs to us – and then it flows back again. I know a large part of myself is in the clothes choose to wear. I’ve a great respect for things! One’s self - for other people – is one’s expression of one’s self; and one’s house, one’s furniture, one’s garments, the books one reads, the company one keeps – these things are all expressive!’

Isabel: ‘I don’t agree with you. I think just the other way. I don’t know whether I succeed in expressing myself, but I know that nothing else expresses me. Nothing that belongs to me is any measure of me; everything’s on the contrary a limit, a barrier and a perfectly arbitrary one. Certainly the clothes which, as you say, I choose to wear, don’t express me, and heaven forbid that they should!

From chapter XIX of The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Scary Moment

Crikey, there was a scary moment! After I'd done my demo shopping I came back to my email program to find three emails: two thanking me for registering with the demo shops, and one giving me the details of my order! Gulp. The order, which I now see was for $2,900AU, is all laid out in detail in the email and I can even click on the status of my order to see how it's progressing. The only good thing is that I haven't given them any details as to how I'd like to pay. I feel like skulking under the bed until it all goes away....

Doing some demo shopping.

I know I’m always talking about the shop I used to manage, but you’ll just have to get used to it. It was a big part of my life for seventeen years, which equates to number of years it took me to grow up – and that was a pretty important time too!
We used to have a program called Chreos for our data base and debtors and creditors and POS. (Point of sale to those who aren’t familiar with the abbreviation.) It was a good program and overall had few areas I’d complain about. By the time we started using it, it had been well and truly tested by other shops in the same business as us, and a lot of things had been ironed out.
However, at that time it wasn’t usable for direct online selling, and this was something we looked at fairly seriously a couple of times. It would have meant quite a change to the way we processed our data, but it would have been worth it.
I’ve just been playing with some shopping cart software which does all the things I’d like to have done in the shop. has some demo models online and I’ve just ordered myself a couple of scooters, some helmets of various sizes (you never know, my head might grow or shrink) and some roller blades. Bill came to something like $2,000AU, but that was okay, because at the end of your playing you were reminded that this was just a demo – and not to call to make your order!
It was easy to register as a customer (almost as easy as sending the items to your shopping cart by merely clicking on them), and though there’s a spelling error on the address info page (‘biling’ instead of ‘billing’) I was happy to overlook that because of the ease of usage. You’re even offered the chance to pay by PayPal, which isn’t something you find everywhere. The demo is so lifelike it even took me as far as asking for my PayPal address, by which time I thought it was wise to get out of there, just in case the program had decided to stop playing demo and get into the real thing.
For some reason I couldn’t access the Admin demos using Firefox, but that’s okay. When I get a minute I’ll give it a try on IE7.
Did I mention the price? That looked very enticing to me. For a small business, it's around $99 per month. Pretty good value, I'd say.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Software you can get to grips with

I talked about AIMpromote’s customer relationship management a few days ago, which they provide by using their CRM software (CRM: customer relationship management – get it?). I also talked about turnkey marketing yesterday, and it seems to me that that’s what AIMpromote is all about: making the thing as simple as possible to set up, so that the customer isn’t spending days figuring out some new system, but can get to grips with it straight away. At least that’s what their site tells me, and who am I to gainsay them. (Yay, haven’t had a chance to use ‘gainsay’ in a good while.)
There’s nothing worse than a program that takes forever to get to grips with, as I’ve mentioned a couple of posts back. And doesn’t it bug you when a software specialist walks in the door of your business, loads up the software and then proceeds to go at a great pace through something he understands but you can’t get hold of for the life of you!
disclosure statement

Cinema seats

Perhaps you think I only ever watch old movies, from the way I talk in some of my posts. That’s not the case, really. We almost went to see a new movie tonight, until my wife decided she couldn’t be bothered going out and sitting in the uncomfortable seats at the cinema when she could stay home (and watch an old movie). There’s something about the cinema seats they provide now. They’ve made them more roomy, so you’re not all cramped up against your next-door neighbours, but in the process they’ve given you so much room that you can only lean your elbows on one side at a time. And then the make the depth of the seat – from the back to the front where your legs hang over – comfortable for people with long legs, but not for those with short ones. Consequently, when you’ve been sitting on them a while, you start to slide forward and your bum starts to ache – or your back. It’s no wonder we sit at home and watch DVDs.

SAP and one other

In my job, a temporary one, I’ve had to work on a new system called SAP (I won’t tell you what some of the other office workers claim this stands for). I thought I was usually pretty quick to pick things up on software that was new to me, but I’ve had a major learning curve with this one. To me it doesn’t at all seem to be user-friendly; in fact, there’s one report that, if it crashes for any reason, (and it has done at least twice in my experience), will cause you to lose all the data you’ve entered. What system doesn’t save, or isn’t saveable as you go along? Fortunately this is the only report on it I’ve found that’s like this, but I wonder how many other reports – of the hundreds that it’s capable of – function in a like manner?
Still, this program isn't as frustrating as another we use - I won't mention it's name. It reacts so slowly on our servers, that you can be typing along and suddenly discover that the program hasn't at all caught up with you, and is asking you to re-enter a screed of stuff you've already entered. And make the slightest mistake on this program, and it will make you suffer: by becoming increasingly slow. One of the other office workers the other day got so frustrated she started bashing the keyboard with her fists and screaming. Not a healthy scene!

Voicemail to Text

While reading the Vonage VoIP forum , I came across the following piece of news. Just when you thought you had everything on your mobile, along comes Vonage with their new voicemail transcription service, Vonage Text.

Vonage Text automatically transcribes voicemails to text and allows the mobile owner to read their voicemails anytime and anywhere. Subscribers can read, store, search, and respond to their voicemail messages not just on their mobiles, but on their laptops as well: anywhere, anytime and in any form. (I’m not quite sure what ‘in any form’ means in this instance, but that’s what they say on the forum.) They can check out new messages to sift through and find the urgent ones. No longer will someone have to strain to hear a voice message in a crowded place; it will be readable, just as texts are.

I guess this is the sort of thing businessmen and women on the move will appreciate. For me, at this point, it would avoid the sluggish process I have to go through on my mobile to get at a voice message, but it isn’t of great benefit to someone like me who’s really only a moderate mobile user.
disclosure statement

Educating Rita

Just watched Educating Rita on DVD. Made in 1983 it features a young Julie Walters, and a by then not-so-young Michael Caine. (He was 50) I remember reading the play this film was based on a few years ago; from memory it was a two actor piece, with strong and sharp scenes between the two protagonists. Unfortunately the playwright, Willy Russell, also wrote the screenplay, and has taken the opportunity to expand it out considerably. A few of the two actor scenes remain, but without the build up over a whole play, they lose some of their impact. In their place we have a host of other scenes, and a bunch of other characters, many of them stating the obvious, instead of letting us find out about them through the two main characters’ speeches. Obviously a two actor film set in one room was never going to work, but to me what’s here doesn’t work that well any more either. Maybe the piece has just dated, but I don’t remember that the play felt dated when I read it. Maybe it’s Lewis Gilbert’s direction, which is flat and stolid. It’s interesting that Roger Ebert, whose review of the film was written at the time the film was first released, is also disappointed with what’s happened to the original script. So perhaps my feelings aren’t entirely misplaced.
Added to these negatives are the awful mix of hairstyles Walters is given (seven of them, by one IMDB’s count). They go from stylish to ridiculous, and look as though annoyed Walters as much as they annoy the viewer. But the most dreadful feature of this movie is the music (besides the waste of Michael Williams and Maureen Lipman, both of whom have ridiculous roles). The score is played on what sounds to be an Hammond organ and a piano, for the most part. David Hentschel, the composer, never seems to know what he’s about, and gallumps along when he should be sober, and tries out super-dramatic when subtle is called for. Hentschel isn’t as well-known as a composer as a music producer, and Educating Rita appears to have been his last job as a film composer. However, in his other role as a music producer he’s had considerable success, working alongside George Harrison, Elton John, Queen, Phil Collins and Mike Oldfield, to name but a few.

Rocking chairs....mmmm!

Is this piece of home furniture cool, or what? It’s a Leilani Rocking Chair by Euro Style Furniture. It’s got a rattan seat and back; you know, that old wicker style that your grandmother and grandfather used to have – out the back of the house somewhere; maybe on the porch where it had been rained on a good deal but was still usable. Rattan is both sort of comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. It’s the sort of material you can never make your mind up about, and by the time you do – if you do – you can’t be bothered moving anyway.

I guess this rocking chair has been tested for over-rock. By which I mean, it has just the slightest look about it that if you rocked too far back you’d do an amazing head over heels. Maybe that’s part of its charm!

Anyone remember that marvellous moment in the otherwise violent movie, Patriot, when Mel Gibson sat in the rocking chair he’d just finished making and it collapsed? This rocking chair ain’t gonna collapse. Even if you can do flips in it, it’s gonna endure.

The Lexus Finals

It was really disappointing last night listening to the Lexus Song Quest to hear the results and find that my friend Claire Barton had missed out on a placing. The other Dunedinite, Emma Fraser, came third, which was good, but Claire was with the three unplaced finalists. I hope Claire gives it another go. I thought she sang superbly (although because I forgot about the broadcast until half-way through, I didn’t hear her doing her lieder), and her voice is in great shape, with a soaring mezzo at the top of the range, and a wonderful strength to the lower voice.
After the singers had done all their work, we had to have several long speeches. This isn’t the time of the evening to do this, I think. Get them out of the way at the beginning, or in the middle. Don’t keep the audience and the contestants in suspense. It’s fine that the judge should speak at that point, but not the Fran Wilde, and the Prime Minister and the representative of Lexus. People just don’t want to hear them at that point.
Elizabeth Connell – her surname now pronounced Connell with the emphasis on the second syllable, something I don’t recall from the days when I knew her – gave her comments in a humorous and warm style, and came across as someone who would have been good for the six singers to have spent a week with. She and the three prize-winning singers are going on a brief tour of the country next week, coming to Dunedin on Wednesday.
As I’ve mentioned before, Elizabeth and I were engaged for a brief time back in the late sixties. My wife is keen to go and meet her. I suggested we should take all the kids and the grandchildren too…

Friday, April 27, 2007

Spending all my money

If I’m going to look for a dream home, then let’s forget the el cheapo $1,000,000 places. Piffle to them! I liked the place (it was a mere $52 million) situated in Pasadena. Looked as though it might require a large staff to maintain it, but when you’re spending that much money why balk at paying for staff too? An English butler, a housekeeper (a la Helen Mirren in Gosford Park), several maids and valets, a chauffeur or two, and a half a dozen gardeners.
And I loved the place in San Diego (La Jolla to be precise) which is built at all sorts of angles, with tiled roof, and balustrades, and stairs in various directions, and balconies, and verandahs. Ah. And it’s only going to cost me between $15 and $18 million. Did I mention the swimming pool?
Real estate in San Diego has to be seen to be believed. I was looking at the Mega Dream Homes site, but if you don’t happen to have as much money as I imagine I might have, then you check out It’s bound to have something in your price range!

Spring Cleaning in Autumn

We spent Anzac Day doing the sort of chores that used to be called Spring Cleaning, but it’s actually Autumn here at present. We washed the bathroom completely, from ceiling to floor. We washed the kitchen from floor to ceiling and moved all the stuff that hadn’t been moved for quite a bit of time – I won’t say how long. Very satisfying, and tiring, and a good time for throwing out old things that we’d hung onto for no particular reason.
Each time we have a major cleanup we find things that have come to the end not just of their useful life, but of their life full stop. Why we’ve kept them at all up to this point is always a mystery, but it’s not a mystery we’ve ever been able to solve. There are always the pieces of pottery that we haven’t been able to throw out, though we have no possible use for them. There are always the various tools that have long lost their usefulness because some bit’s gone, or something doesn’t quite work any more. There are clothes that have stains on them, or don’t fit, or are threadbare, but they’ve continued to hang on the clothes hangers.
One of these days we may be able to get more ruthless, but it’s unlikely!

Too well known on the Net?

No doubt, like me, you’ve sometimes put your name in the Google box to see what results come up. Mike Crowl is a fairly common name, as it happens, and there are quite a few of them in the States, and thus quite a few results. (I’m the only one in the whole of New Zealand, however - in fact, until my children grew up, we were the only Crowls in any telephone book in the country.)
But I found I get even more results when I put in my username. It turns up everywhere. That’s a bit scary. There is another ‘mcrowl,’ who’s known to the Discuss Cooking forum. And the same one, or another, is a member of the Spring Sonlight Curriculum User group. Spring, as it turns out, isn’t the name of the season, but a place in the States. And Sonlight Curriculum, as you might guess, is a Christian homeschooling syllabus.
Meanwhile, this mcrowl’s life reels before his eyes: Trade Me, Blogit, myLot, Zillion, Link and Blog Challenge, Netscape, Digg, Widgetbox, Epinions, the chess games of Arthur Frank Crowl (my dad). Gold Age Forum, reviews, free videos on the Internet – in Spanish (nah, that can’t be me). My first ever email address still shows up. It’s In My Way forum (a recycling site) to which I've contributed almost nothing. Even eBay, where my reviews from Epinions are used without any permission whatsoever. (As no doubt many other reviewers’ words are.) I’m ubiquitous!

Getting the right list

When I ran the bookshop, one of our biggest difficulties was building up the email newsletter list to a reasonable level, and maintaining it. People were always dropping in, shopping for a while, then getting bored with us and dropping out. Well, at least that’s what you had to assume, as some just stopped responding and vanished. On the other hand we made some good friends amongst these customers, even though we never met most of them.
Because we were a niche market, there was little point in buying a ready-made list of email customers, and in a way, chasing new customers had something of the hunt about it. However, businesses with different markets would no doubt benefit from buying or renting a list, and there are some phenomenally wide-ranging lists around. Martin Worldwide, for instance, possesses a database of over 290 million consumers and 14 million U.S. businesses. That makes our little list at the shop look rather paltry. Still, we made sales through it, and that was the aim!
Martin Worldwide act as a telemarketing lists broker, amongst other things, and offer turnkey marketing solutions. Okay, turnkey marketing isn’t a phrase I’m particularly familiar with, and I had to do a bit of hunting around to find out that it means – I think! – marketing that’s up and running and ready to go for the person wanting the job done. I guess it comes from the idea that you turn the key in your (new) home and voila! everything is ready waiting for you.

Brent Stavig Visible!

After mentioning Brent Stavig several times over the last few weeks, it was great to discover that he’d left me a comment after one of my posts. (I get so few comments I often miss them until I do a thorough check.)

Here’s what he had to say, for those who also missed his comment:

Hey Mike -
Brent Stavig #1 here. Actually I was merely a guest on the James Dean tour in NYC. The leader is a gent named David Loehr who is the foremost James Dean authority in the world, and who lives in Jimmy's hometown of Fairmount, IN.
I'm no longer an actor, but I am still a musician; although I'm not actively playing at the moment.
I'm the Transportation Supervisor at Starbucks Coffee Company here in Seattle, which is a great job.
Your fans can find me at My Space under the moniker bscowler, if they so choose.
The cranky letters to the editor are mine, but while I used to have a bike back in the NYC days, I've never met Brent Stavig #2 who appears to be quite the bike expert.
Keep on a'bloggin', and enjoy the spring!

I checked out the address at My Space, and discovered the Lyrical Whips, an eighties band that Brent was/is part of. There are some (interesting) photos at this site; the music is loud (I was listening to Tchaikowsky on streaming radio at the time and suddenly there was a curious confusion of sounds) and there’s some background on who the Lyrical Whips were – and maybe still are.
By the way, Brent - it's autumn here!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Debating Compost

The owner of the blog site, Linkandblogchallenge, posted a piece about composting a couple of days ago. In it she writes:
“Never add cooked foods in a compost pile! They lack the enzymes and other critical elements needed and you will attract many unwanted pests and insects! If odours similar to garbage develops, it's a sign that you failed to maintain the compost pile properly or you did not have a good mix of green and brown materials.”
With all due respect to Tammara and her sources, I have to disagree. Composts will take virtually anything. Cooked foods may lack some enzymes (although it’s not something I’ve heard about before) but they still decompose in the pile, and add to the stock of stuff that makes up worm food. Certainly the worms in our compost have never turned up their noses (such as they have) at our cooked food. In fact some of them have hinted that cooked food is easier to digest. I’m mindful that worms aren’t the best communicators on earth, but I think I’ve understood them correctly!
We toss household dust into the mix, floor sweepings, the lint out of the clothes dryer. So far we haven’t got to the point of throwing a whole dead sheep into our compost, but if we did, we wouldn’t be the first person to do so!

UPDATE, 3.3.18
This post came up as one of the popular posts on my blog today, and I looked it up again. I still mostly agree with what I've said above, but in the last while we've had a bit of invasion: one rat and probably some of his mates. The cheekiest rat made itself at home in the pantry, right up on the top shelf where he wasn't obvious. It was only because he didn't clean up his poo after him that we realised he was there. When we surprised him while cleaning out the pantry, he leapt down the height of the five shelves and whizzed out to the laundry, where his poo began appearing subsequently. Another lot of poo appeared under the stove, and another lot in the corner cupboard where we keep the pots. More under the sink, and more in the hot water cupboard. And then there was the something that was making a knocking noise behind the fridge! We discovered today that once we'd stopped his exits up completely, he'd simply eaten through the gib board and escaped that way!
Before that we tried traps. The vermin weren't interested. We tried more super-duper traps (if you caught your finger in one of these, that would require surgery, I'd suspect). We tried a super-super-duper trap which all the pests totally ignored. We finally began putting down blocks that poison the creatures over a few days, and this has completely put them off coming near the place. Or else it's killed them off: we found one dead rat outside on the path to the front door one evening.
It's definite that they were eating some of the uncomposted food from the compost heaps, though I try to bury this stuff under leaves and vegetation. But they were getting inside through vents that were secure when we first came to the house nearly forty years ago, and were broken either by one of our boys or one of our grandchildren at some point. Whoever it was - and I can't remember now - went round and pushed them all inwards so that the vents were completely open. We've just fixed these up today: two or three of the vents were still intact, just not in place. A couple were gone completely, and one had only half itself left. There is now no entrance through these into the house!
Up until a year or so ago we'd always had a cat around the house; at one point two of them. This kept vermin well and truly at bay. I remember a mouse getting into our hallway one evening: the dog, the cat and I were all trying to catch it. Interestingly enough I was the one who did: simply caught it in my hand in a move that surprised me as much as the mouse. The dog is good at barking at them; he hasn't a clue about how to catch them.
We may have to get a cat again!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

HitTails Stats

I’m not going to go into all the HitTails that have turned up in the last few days, but it’s interesting to note that a search for AIMPromote (which I wrote about the other day) brings up my blog as the first result on Google! Most intriguing.

Someone even searched for ‘blackheads in the neck’, and we got picked up. The knitting poem I quoted back in February came third on the list of Google results, and even my mention of the Fred Astaire movie,Second Chorus, gave us seventh place in line. And a search for ‘most religious country and survey and Japan,’ gave us about tenth place. I’d be interested to know if someone was searching on these words because of an article that appeared in the ODT the other day by the usually reliable Gwyn Dyer. In it he talked about some study that had stated that religious countries (including the US) have higher degrees of immorality, from murder down to child abuse. Secular countries, such as New Zealand, supposedly have less immorality. Now this is curious, because the post I did on this topic goes back to late 2005 and in it I discussed at some length a column written by George Monibot, who’d written in The Guardian about the same issue. It’s curious because normally I would read Dyer and find him most credible. However, this column was not only out of his usual field of world politics, it was blatantly wrong. New Zealand is a very secular society: yet we have child abuse, murder, teen pregnancies, divorce, and pretty much everything else to a fairly high degree. We are certainly not a moral society as a whole.

Another search, this time for Dame Maggie Smith, again brings this blog to the top of the list, this time on the Google blog search, rather than Google as a whole. And another search, for Hornby and Gilead, brings us back to the top of the whole Google results. We’re sixth in the list for a search for Shaun Tilby, the Otago Nuggets basketball player. (Go, Shaun!)
And finally, people are continuing to search for our old friend, Brent Stavig. And because we’ve given him mentions more than once recently, we turn up twice in the Google results, in sixth and seventh place.

Why am I excited by all this? Does it mean anything at all? Well, yes. Presumably it means that if I turn up on the first page of the Google results then I’ve got a good chance of being looked at. Things that turn up on the next page, are vastly less likely to be seen.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

John Pratt

The picture of Solomon's Temple in the previous post comes from an article by John Pratt which I discovered on the Net. But who is John Pratt? He tells us that he loves 'puzzles, science, math, calendars, and enjoy connecting ideas from a wide variety of disciplines.' He has degrees in physics and math from the University of Utah, and a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona. He teaches astronomy at a state college and keep notes for that class on this web site. He also does computer programming, has three software patents, and hosts a few websites such as for the Utah Table Tennis Clubs.

(By the way, my wife and I purchased a table tennis table - and bats and balls, of course - last Christmas, and have it set up in our upstairs lounge. We've played heaps, and get plenty of exercise rescuing the balls from under tables and chairs and sofas. I've actually improved, and can almost give my wife as good as she gives me.)
To continue on about Mr Pratt. Most of his publications have been about chronology, and he says it's unlikely you'll want to read them. (The sort of thing that most people would take as a challenge, I suspect!) He's also written a calendar conversion program to convert from our calendar to others.
On top of this he's invented a pictorial periodic table which he hopes might make chemistry more fun. It can be used as memory pegs for memorizing long lists of other items too. (There you go, another reason to check Mr Pratt out further. Anything to do with memory is always of interest to me.)
He finishes by saying, 'If you like tough brain teasers, I think I have found a great logic puzzle in the Bible which you might want to try.'
I've just had a very quick look at his memory pegs idea, and it's very sensible. As he points out, most memory pegs are random, whereas his approach is more intelligent. Good on him!

Weighing it up

Rereading the Book of Chronicles (in the Bible) yesterday, I was struck by the amount of gold and silver David stockpiled for the Temple. According to my translation it was in the region of 100,000 talents of gold and million talents of silver. There were 3,000 shekels in a talent, and a shekel weighed (as far as archaeologists have been able to establish) around 10 grams. A hundred shekels, therefore, would make a kilogram, which means that a talent would weigh, roughly, 30 kilograms. I’m not going to try and recalculate that in pounds, as I find it hard enough working in kilograms as it is. That seems a phenomenal weight for what is virtually a large gold ingot. And the weight of 100,000 talents would be in the region of 3,000,000 kilograms. (We haven’t even started on the silver yet!)
No wonder the Temple was considered such a wondrous building. It must have shimmered in the Eastern sun.
Which goes to show, perhaps, that gold has always appealed to human beings as being something of exceptional worth. Even now an ounce of gold – which I discover is equivalent to 28.4 grams (go get the calculator out and you can work out how many ounces David had) is worth a pretty penny. (Apparently bullion bars come in ten ounce units.) If my reading of’s price list is correct, the current gold price is edging up to $US700 per bullion bar. (If you’ve worked out how many ounces David had, you’ll be able to figure out what his 100,000 talents were worth.)
Gold is on the rise, it seems, particularly since oil is so iffy. So the expression, Go for Gold, is probably quite apt these days!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Decimal Currency

The other night on Who Wants to be a Millionaire (the English edition) they said 1968 was the year decimal currency came to England. My wife disagreed, and in the end we looked it up. Turns out that British decimal currency was begun in 1968, but typical of the Brits, it took them about four years to go the whole hog. New Zealand, by contrast, switched to decimal currency overnight. I can remember we had to stand in long queues at the banks changing our money from pounds, shillings and pence, and the bloke in front of me in the queue had terrible blackheads on his neck. How’s that for a strange memory to associate with decimal currency?
I had to go through a decimal currency change twice, once in New Zealand, and then again later on when the Brits finally switched over completely, I was living in London. The NZ version was handled in a far superior way to the British one, I feel. The latter struggled to find a way to deal with the Penny, because they wanted to keep the Pound, whereas NZ decided to make the old ten shilling note the new dollar, and things were much easier to deal with.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mr Bachop turns 70

Today was long-time friend Arnold Bachop’s 70th birthday. Arnold, a lyric tenor, has been singing for as long as I can remember; in fact, I did my first and only radio broadcast accompanying him back in the early sixties, and by that stage he’d already performed on the radio a number of times.
In the last two decades he and I have been involved firstly with Opera Alive, a group of twenty to twenty-five young people who would put on a musical variety show (often with a them, which wasn’t always strongly adhered to), and then when Opera Alive disbanded, we began putting on shows featuring the music of particular composers, such as Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and so on.
It was good to be included in the his ‘nearest and dearest’ group today – the group included lots of relations, of course, as well as pupils and other singers, and accompanists like me, people who’ve worked with Arnold over the years.
There were a number of grandchildren there, including one little boy who, during one of the songs that were presented, walked up behind the lady accompanist and lifted up the back of her jacket and tried to put his head under! Very disconcerting for the accompanist, but she coped admirably.

Stuffing envelopes till you drop

One example of a work at home scam that you see ads for constantly on the Net is the stuffing envelopes scam. How anyone in their right mind can think they’ll get $5 or more for each envelope filled with advertising material is beyond me, but the scammers obviously think they’ll find enough people to do it because they keep advertising.
In a number of cases the scammers will ask you to pay a registration fee upfront. That’ll be the last you see of that money – or anything else. Others will get you to pay a fee and then tell you that the way to make the money is to advertise to others in the same way and get them to pay you. The old pyramid approach.
Think about it: Why would any company in these days of computer addressing and machine stuffing want to send envelopes, stamps, stuff to stuff the envelopes with etc to someone’s address when they could do it all themselves? In the past the shop I managed used to send its mail-out to a company that employed many people with disabilities. They would put the addresses on and stuff the envelopes – but there was no vast fee. In fact it cost us very little, comparatively, otherwise we would have continued to do it ourselves.
While I was looking up scams on the Net one site told me about a way to make money in a completely different and entirely legit way. The only problem is that there isn’t likely to be much work in this area. You can still apply in some parts of the States to be a member of Police Identity Parades. You register with the local station, and when they want to do an ID Parade, and when you fit the bill as someone similar in appearance to the alleged criminal, they’ll call on you. It doesn’t sound to me like a very lucrative job, however, nor one that you'd be called on to do very often!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Coupon Chief strikes again!

I spent a bit more time looking at coupon codes today. (I mentioned them a while ago in one of my posts.) While doing so I found a link to Dell Computer’s ‘Dell Outlet’ where you can find refurbished Dell products and get discounts. This is interesting, because the ads for Dell give you the impression that every single Dell computer is built to specific requirements for a specific customer. So obviously this isn’t entirely the case, or else these items have been leased out and Dell has cleaned them up in some way.

I had a recent experience with Dell with didn’t quite endear me to them, although the laptop we bought from them is fine. My son and I worked through the Dell website at great length, picking and choosing what I wanted for the machine, and eventually finished up at NZ$1677. The first email confirmation from Dell confirmed this price. The next email said the charge was $2047!
Now Dell is not the easiest company in the world to get customer service from. The first person said the difference in price had to do with GST, which was piffle. The second person, whose first name was Annie, was more helpful, but didn’t really get hold of the problem for a while. The difficulty might have been that I was speaking New Zealand English and she was speaking Malaysian English, and only occasionally did we meet on common ground.
However, Annie stuck to her guns, and over two or three weeks we did manage to communicate a bit more effectively, mostly by email, but also, to my surprise, by cellphone. Presumably I put my cellphone number on the Dell site, but I don’t particularly remember doing so. Anyway, out of the blue, she rang me on it.
They’d charged me for two extra years warranty. In the end I think it was easier for me just to let them charge me and be done with it. At least I’m supposedly getting something for the price.
To go back to the Dell special prices site. I don’t find it easy to see what the special prices actually are, but then I find the layout on some sites isn’t as obvious to me as I’d expect it to be. Dell talk about free shipping and such, but that’s no big deal. We get that with a lot of their specials here, so I’d be interested to see what their real deals are!
disclosure statement

Compost and worms et al

When we get back from England, I’m planning on working more on the compost bin in our garden. I’d like to increase the stock of worms, and begin selling them – and the compost they produce.
We’ve made compost for years, and my mother (who lived with us) and I used to battle about what could and couldn’t go in it. She didn’t think orange or lemon peel should be included, and up to a point she’s right. But the experts on composting say that some citrus peelings are okay. And she wouldn’t put potatoes or their peelings back into the compost. Again she was only partly right.
To my way of thinking, if you can put horse manure into a compost, a few potato peelings won’t go amiss. And anyway, you can often wind up with sweet-tasting potatoes later in the year, if you don’t happen to uproot them.
I’d always focused on the worms in the compost as being the great workers, but there is an army of other little creatures that get going on the leftovers you put in there. Many of them are too small to see, and often they also end up as part of the worm’s diet.
Some people think you get flies around a compost. Only if you don’t keep the rotting food you leave in there uncovered. Even if it is uncovered, I don’t find that flies are much of a nuisance. They’re more of a pest inside the house, but these days even inside I let them go free if I can. A friend of ours, years ago, complained when I used to swat flies on the windows with rolled-up newspaper, and I’ve never done it since! Plus, it seems to me that flies have a purpose in life, the same as many other insects that we’re not particularly fond of, even if it’s only to wind up as spider fodder.

Babe: Pig in the City

I watched Babe: Pig in the City on DVD the other day. It was the first time I’d seen it since it was on at the movies, some nine years ago, and I’d forgotten a lot of the detail. It’s possible it’s a better movie than Babe itself, and that’s saying something. Magda Szubanski, who was riotous enough in the first movie, here leaps completely into a theatre of the absurd and verges on being a cartoon rather than a human being. Yet somehow it works, because there’s a real person under it all.
With Mrs Hoggett taking over the movie, it loses the warmth that pervaded Babe, (and loses James Cromwell for most of the proceedings) but what it loses in warmth it gains in creating a world in which chimps dressed in human clothes and talking with Brooklyn accents are nothing at all to be wondered at, since the humans in this world are even more strange.
Mickey Rooney makes a brief appearance as Fugly Floom (Fugly Floom, what sort of a name is that?) a character who’s just as peculiar in his real life as he is as the Magician. And the woman, played by Mary Stein, who owns the place where all the animals hide, is a tall person who dresses oddly, and seems to think there’s nothing weird about being almost the only human in an animal hotel. Even her neighbour across the canal, who listens all night long to opera with her husband, is a manic creature given to odd hairstyles.
The crowd who inhabit the streets nearby are an extraordinary, extreme mix of Los Angeles types, many of them on skates. And there are suddenly more people in this world with porcine faces than we’d normally see in everyday life.
The animals are drawn equally largely, from the manic dog with wheels where his hind legs should be, to the pitbull who has something of a change of heart, to Thelonius the orang-utan, who insists on dressing up when he goes out.
It’s the detail in the film that’s superb. The production design by Roger Ford is constantly a delight, as are the jokes that pervade the movie, whether it’s Mrs Hoggett being dowsed in paste and turning up later creaking and squeaking, or the absurd swinging from the mezzanine at the big party at the end.
This is a classic comedy, on a par with….The Princess Bride.

Who's lurking in the fridge?

Some online surveys I’ve done lately have an idea that we somehow view products in human relationship terms. Thus, I’m asked if I would think of milk as one of the following:
A loyal spouse or partner
A fling or flirtation
A trusted friend or confidante
A Distant friend
A close member of the family
A colleague or associate
A complete stranger
An opponent or enemy

Are the people who write these surveys serious? Who on earth thinks of a bottle of milk in terms of a loyal spouse, or a flirtation. Do I really go to the fridge looking for a close member of the family? Would I be surprised to find an opponent or enemy lurking there? Have you ever seen milk as a confidante? Oh, puleease.

Hitting the Spot!

Last Saturday, my wife and I went to sort out our flight tickets for our trip to the UK in June. The travel centre we go to isn’t big, but it’s good, and we know the guy there, so that makes a difference. Unfortunately, when we arrived he was busy with another couple, and since we wanted to see him rather than going through everything again with one of the other staff, we waited. And waited. We waited for at least and hour and possibly longer. I kid you not.
The couple were planning a trip to Fiji, and trying to decide on which resort they were going to stay at. It had to have this, and it had to have that. No, it couldn’t be too far from the beach; in fact if the beach was on the doorstep that would be best. There had to be things for the kids to do, and if there weren’t what were the kids going to do? They must have separate sleeping accommodation for the parents; they must! No, they didn’t want to walk eight or nine minutes to the next beach; that defeated the purpose of a relaxed holiday – and this holiday was a reward for the wife, she said, for achieving well in her medical training.
Every time the travel agent got them settled on something, another issue would come up, and he’d have to start all over. I think if the husband had been on his own, he’d have had it sorted in five minutes. It was the lady who kept finding new ways to delay making a decision.
At the end of their time, they thanked the travel agent very much, and said they’d take it all home and think about what they were going to do. Am I glad I was not in their house that day.
Which brings me to, a site that features all-inclusive holidays. No, all-inclusive doesn’t mean everybody can come; it means everything you want on the holiday is included in the price, such as your room, your meals, the drinks and activities. This is a good idea, as it means you can budget before you go. (If you can afford to go – although we cut $1000 off our flight prices last Saturday, through choosing a different airline.)
The pictures are very enticing on this newly redesigned website, I must say. On the main page they’re advertising places like Hedonism III (!) and Couples Sans Souci (I had to look this up and remind myself that sans souci means ‘carefree’). now has a customized booking engine and intuitive functionality. Hmmmm. Intuitive functionality. Sounds just a little like something Homer Simpson would roll around in his mouth.
I didn’t really explore the intuitive functionality on this site, but kept getting sidetracked by pictures of places where there’s a staff-to-guest ratio of one to one, along with a nanny for the kids. (That’s at the Franklyn D Resort, by the way – kinda cute name, huh?)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Looking after the customers

Enterprise-level features
Lead management
Website analytics

Maybe these three phrases leap out at you and you know exactly what they mean. I’m not sure that I do. They’re the kind of phrases where I think I know what’s being said, but have that niggling feeling that my mind is trying to glide over them because they’re not entirely clear to me.
I picked them out at random from a website that deals in customer relationship management. (There we go again: doesn’t that just somehow seem to be not quite the English you know and love?) This website,, has a page that shows all the ways in which it’s superior to two other sites. I checked out both these sites, and in fact, AIMpromote is definitely superior in being clearer in its use of English. That’s a plus, especially as they’re the ones I got these phrases from. (One of the other sites offered a ‘news’ item, which turned out to be a dull jargon-filled piece of stuff which my mind definitely refused to read.
But AIMpromote is also superior in its features, of which there are over fifty. The other two sites have lots of crosses where AIMpromote has nothing but ticks.

Read those phrases again, consecutively:
Enterprise-level features
Lead management [of]
Website analytics [into]
Customer relationship management.

There! That’s better, isn’t it? They just needed a bit of context.

Wii Wii Wii, all the way home.

What an unfortunate word ‘Wii’ is. It’s one of those instances where a word that’s fine in one language is absurd or even politically incorrect in another. US marketers have had a few occasions to regret the use of words they’ve sent overseas as product names.
A fellow blogger sent me a link to his site where he’s also got a link: to a Utube video called Wii Dancing. It’s completely politically incorrect, and uses the f-word (unfortunately) a few times in the subtitles. But apart from that it’s absolutely mad: a collection of male and female dancers in bright costumes going full bore on the side of a hill. It’s probably a Bollywood musical clip originally, but it hardly matters what it was. The subtitles have turned it into a daft song about using Wii. On the musical side it’s Busby Berkeley gone barmy, and makes Gene Kelly stomping around getting his feet wet in Singin’ in the Rain look positively tame.

Adding on

At one time we thought of adding a patio outside what is now our bedroom. (It started off as the girls’ bedroom, became a dining room for a time when they’d grown up, and then reverted to its normal state again.) But we could never agree on the idea. I didn’t fancy having French windows straight into my bedroom, even if I could have stepped out onto the equivalent of a patio garden first thing on a fresh, sunny morning (a patio garden, that is, if we’d put flowers around it).

If it had been left up to my wife, she would have taken the opportunity one weekend when I wasn’t around, and would have knocked the window out, and some of the wall, and left us with no choice but to do something. (She did this with a door once.) Fortunately, she restrained herself on this occasion, and we continue to sleep in a room that has its original windows.

But every so often, she harks back to the idea of ‘something’ outside the window, whether it’s our window or the window upstairs – where ‘we could build a balcony!’

The photo above comes from The Old Vicarage, Treneglos, near Launceston, in Cornwall.

Addiction....and sin

In one of those I-wonder-what-that-site-is moments I took a look at a site on Drug Rehabilitation On their ‘aftercare’ page they give an interesting list of ‘relapse dangers’ that rehabilitated people need to watch out for.

Here’s the list:
1. Being exposed or having drugs and alcohol available.
2. Negative feelings.
3. Celebrations
4. Feeling or experiencing boredom.
5. Using a similar substance that reminds you of the old "high"
6. Physical pain or physical injury.
7. Remembering the "good ol days".
8. Having too much money.
9. Abusing prescription drugs.
10. Believing you are now "cured" and thus safe from addictions.

Interesting how several of these are also relapse danger points when it comes to sin! Being exposed to the sin that ‘always gets you’ and having negative feelings about life are both points of temptation, as are times of celebration (where the celebration is of the kind that leans towards sin rather than one of those fun parties where sin isn’t brought in).

Feeling bored, or flirting with something that reminds you of sins you’re trying to avoid are both dangerous. Remembering how ‘good’ the sin was (if that’s not too ironic an idea). Having too much money – as I said in another article recently, ‘retail therapy’ is a lie straight from the pit. And finally, believing you’re okay and can’t be tempted any more.

We don’t tend to call addicted people ‘sinners’ for the most part. There’s often an element in their makeup that’s given them a leaning towards the addiction. But not always. Some addictions just start out as straight rebelliousness, or even greed, both of which are sinful in themselves. It’s no surprise that AA meetings are often held in church halls and crypts. The whole AA concept is one that calls sin, sin, without somehow managing to use the word, and it often seems to lean towards its roots in the church.

Just getting back to the site for a moment, I thought this site focused on a particular centre, but in fact it’s a referral service. I notice on aftercare page they talk about an interesting offer some rehab facilities have available. If a person does relapse within six months, they can apply for re-admittance to the facility for free. Some perpetual sinners could do with the same ‘peace of mind’ service!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tightening the Belt - severely!

In an article in the Otago Daily Times this morning Murray Grimwood says that for our survival as a species we’ll have to live within some tight parameters. He lists five particular things:
replacement population only;
total re-use of resources;
total elimination of pollution;
self-sufficient housing (linked together in energy terms like the Internet);
a halt to physical ‘growth.’

He adds that as a result of following these things we will work less and walk more, weigh less and live more, impact less, conserve more.
My problem with these points isn’t that they’re unrealistic, but rather that a huge percentage of the population, in the Western world anyway, isn’t interested in recycling, living conservatively or considering how they use the resources they have.
I’m fairly recycling-focused, but even I find it hard to think of living within restricted parameters.
And I’m not sure that I agree, if we were to go ‘conservative’ in our progress, (if that’s not an oxymoron), that we would work less. Rather we would work harder at better things, things that involve domestic manual labour for men and women, things we could do with our hands, creative things. And we’d definitely walk more.
My mother remembers walking to Blackhead Beach when she was a child, with her parents. This would be an all day trip, there and back, up hill and down dale, and no doubt they’d be carrying picnic baskets and all the beach paraphernalia.
The other factor is how to make total re-use of resources. Perhaps with oil running out we’ll have a huge amount less plastic to deal with. That would help immensely. It’s one of the least reusable material on the planet.

I can't show you a photo of Blackhead Beach on this blog, because of copyright restrictions, but if you click here, you'll see several professionally-taken ones.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

HitTails and Memory

Crowl swim,
Athletics foot on fingers
Lloyd Jones Mr Pip
Complete polysyllabic spree
Anna Leese
Jonathan Lemalu
Rosemary tree goudge
Stone hawk battle creek mi
Brent read sings harry

When you’re investigating ways to improve your memory, one of the techniques that’s taught is to connect random things together in absurd ways. Usually it’s a list of shopping items – e.g. bread, milk, tea, coffee, toilet paper – that have to be connected up in such a way that the brain will enjoy remembering them. ‘I dropped the bread in a huge bowl of creamy, frothing milk with a huge splash, causing the teapot to fall over (hand on hip) and pour scalding tea into the coffee grounds that were roasting with a luxurious aroma in rolls of soft, white toilet paper that were spread throughout the house.’ Okay, that’s the kind of thing. I’m sure you can do better. Let me know if you can!
The HitTails results for this week are a much more difficult list of items to try and connect, because they’re far more disparate than a bunch of household items.
There’s an alternate approach to remembering them – if you were so inclined – and that’s to put them into categories. So in this case we have a literary category for Lloyd Jones’ Mr Pip and the Polysyllabic Spree. That’s easy: Pip and Polysyllabic Spree have sharp and sibilant alliteration.
The singers’ category for Anna Leese, Jonathan Lemalu and Brent Read Sings Harry, all being blogged about on that operatic blog: A soprano, a bass and a tenor in trio. The tongue-twisting blog name is a bit of an issue, though, except that it again has the letters p and s in it, along with m – the first letter of my name.
Which leads onto my name again in the Crowl Swim - which could take place in Battle Creek, where you’d make sure you didn’t infect the water with your athlete’s foot on the fingers.
That just leaves the Rosemary Tree with a great Goudge out of it standing on the bank.
Okay, let’s see if we remember all that tomorrow. Or better still, can you come up with better ways to remember it all, yourself?
I’ve just done another check back on HitTails, and notice that Brent Stavig is leading my keyword list there. That is, more people have looked for Brent Stavig and brought up results that include this site, than any other ‘keyword.’ Anna Leese, however, is running a close second.
Not knowing anything about Brent Stavig, I did a little bit of surfing, and came across a debate between him and a poet called Frederick Glaysher on political issues. The notes from Stavig start quite a way down the page, so use your search box.

Dorothy Parker

Just came across this neat quote from Dorothy Parker:

I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." -Dorothy Parker

I have no idea where it comes from originally, but one of the people posting on uses it as his/her signature.

More on Mr Chow

Obviously I’ve caught up on the John Chow phenomenon a good deal later than most people on the Net. Oh, well, I was never one to be in the advance corp, except on a couple of occasions, one when I managed to write an article for The NZ Listener on blogs before they exploded on the Net scene quite so thoroughly, and two, when I was the first Christian bookshop in NZ to go on the Net. In general, I’m trailing the field, however.
To get back to John.
He offers a reciprocal link from his site to yours if you do a post that’s a review of his site. I guess his site is best known for his ‘make money online’ category, a category in which he seems to excel. There are dozens of posts on the topic, and I checked out one that interested me on increasing RSS subscriptions. He points out that the RSS link needs to be visible. Plainly the Blogger people don’t feel that’s necessary as the feed on this blog is stuck right at the bottom; not the best place if you want people to notice it. (It took me quite some time to notice it myself.) I’ll have to check and see if I can shift it up to the top somehow. (Another job!)
John’s article on RSS feeds is full of good sense (and some curious English) but it’s only one of many that are worth reading – I fully intend to do so when I get more time that I seem to have at the moment. Time has become rather scarce since we decided to go to England for six months. We’re having to clear out the house to make way for possible renters, and it’s a major operation.

John Chow Makes Money!

I came across John Chow’s website a while ago, when I was looking for something else. As so often happens in net surfing, you look at a blog, and think, ‘I must bookmark this’ and then something distracts you and you forget to do it.
So it was good to come across a post in Peter Haslam’s site, Necessary Skills, in which he brought John Chow to my attention again. This time I’ve bookmarked Chow’s site, in the hope that in the midst of all the stuff I’m doing I’ll actually have a chance to get back it and have a look at his money-making opportunities on the Net. Some people must be making money on the Net, but I’m certainly not one of them. (Well, I make money, but what I make wouldn’t feed a mouse for long in these days.) John Chow apparently makes money, and if he’s doing it honestly, I’ll be checking him out.
I guess it’s only fair of me to tell you how I’ve made money via the Internet. You might like to have a laugh, after all. There’s myLot, which pays miniscule amounts, but finally, after four months, I have US$10, which means they will actually transfer this amount to my Paypal account in due course.
There’s Blogitive, with whom I was doing well until they lost my blog for a while. They pay US$5 a post (which includes an ad) and pay regularly.
There’s PayPerPost, whom I’ve mentioned with some irritation in this blog before. They pay a minimum of US$5, and for a while I was doing well with them too – until they got all uppity and started excluding bloggers on the bottom of the ladder from any opportunities. Between these two I made over US$400 over a relatively short period.
That’s pretty much it. There might be something else, but if there I can’t remember it. Somehow I don’t think I’m going to give John Chow a run for his money just yet!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What do YOU think?

I get a lot of emails from a survey company called What Do You Think in Australia. All of them require me to click on the ad that’s included in the email in order to get a certain number of points. So far I’m not sure that I’ve achieved anything by clicking, although it claims that I’ve got 190 points in my account. But finding out what I can do with these 190 points has proved a bit of a mission. That’s by the by.
Normally these ads are for things I wouldn’t be bothered with. Occasionally they’re fun, as the one that led to an ad for Nike was recently. But today’s ad is actually worth commenting on. It leads to a site called (rather an ironic name to have on the Net, don’t you think?), and I’m sure it’s all intended to make you buy your house through them.
But they’ve gone to a lot of trouble to put something useful together. When you click you’re taken to a reasonably long page which shows you around the average modern home. And the question at the top of the page, which was why I was interested in the ad, is What can you do to be green?
The first time I clicked on the ad it was interactive: as I ran the mouse over the photos, it would bring up boxes telling you how you could save energy, in lighting, heating, water and all. My second attempt just now has lost the interactivity, but it’s still an interesting page, and one well worth looking at. For instance, there’s a myth about showers being more economic than baths. I always knew this, but it’s good to have it confirmed with the statement: ‘Typically, showers are the biggest users of water in the home.’ (Obviously the person who wrote the ad copy has a teenager or two in the house!)
By the way this isn’t a paid post for At the moment nobody’s paying me for posting. Boo hoo!
At present I’m working (in my real life) for a large firm where waste seems barely considered. (Rather ironic, in view of the fact that one of the sections of the firm deals with what we do with waste!) Paper is thrown away at a rate of knots, and lately, with the colder weather arriving, the heat pumps have been going full bore in our office. I’d hate to think what the power bill is. And it would be interesting to know how much money could be saved if people were more energy-conscious in the office.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bargain-hunting and tripping-off

For the time being I’m leaving Trade Me aside. With our attention being greatly devoted on our trip to the UK in two months, it’s hard to keep focused on buying and selling as well, although it’s been fun going to garage sales and secondhand shops and thrift shops and finding bargains to put on the auction site. Sometimes we’ve bought more for non-Trade Me purposes than for onselling, but that’s okay. Some of those finds have been good too, such as the job lot of kitchen cutlery and odds and ends that some woman was so keen to get rid of, she gave to us for a dollar.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned the trip to the UK on this blog. (I have on another blog.) My wife comes from the UK and every so often has a great yearning to go back for a prolonged visit. She regards New Zealand as home, these days, but that doesn’t stop the place she grew up in being very close to her heart. Sometimes I find her on the Net searching for references to it, or checking out the webcam overlooking the carpark there. About three weeks ago, we both came to the conclusion – separately, as it happened – that since I didn’t have the responsibility of a permanent job, and because we had a bit of money left in England from an inheritance, that perhaps it was as good a time to go as any. She could get the time off work as unpaid leave, and we could spend the time in the UK visiting her extensive family, our friends from the past, and perhaps doing a bit of tripping around. We might even work there spasmodically. If we leave it longer, until I retire for instance, we might neither of us have the energy or health to go.
So we’re off in early June, gasping a bit at the cost of getting there and back, and trying to save money where we can before we go.

Watching the Nuggets again

My wife and I went to a basketball game tonight for the first time in a couple of years. We used to go and watch the local team, the Nuggets, regularly, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the Nuggets had a real down patch – partly through losing some key players – and they’re having to build up the team from the ground again.
I was alerted to the fact that the game was on tonight by an article in the sports page (yes, I do read the sports pages occasionally) in which the captain of the team, an American import, Justin Bailey, was saying that when he got on television he would lambaste the referees because they were so inconsistent. I thought the guy must be a top player to be talking in such a fashion, but if his performance tonight was anything to go by, he’s also pretty inconsistent. Maybe he’d been given a sharp word or two from his coach for shooting his mouth off in such a way.
The Nuggets continued their trend of not doing well; they started the game sluggishly, played badly on defence throughout (or de-fence as it’s used in the game, as a kind of chant), and only began to pick up half way through, when it was too late to catch a more confident opposition.
But they do have some great shooters, and they need to let them do the ‘talking’ in the team, rather than the Captain, who looked tired and not very energetic tonight.
I sat throughout the game thinking: this is something I can do some blogging about. Such is the nature of blogging, that everything becomes a topic for it.

The photo is of Shaun Tilby, who produced some great three-pointers tonight, in an otherwise lacklustre game.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Just keep an eye over your shoulder

The other day, in one of those rare egotistical moments I have, I added myself to a site called It never crossed my mind to check that I might already be on there – after all, there are six billion people on the planet, and zoominfo mostly focuses on people in the US. But today, when I happened to come across the site again while looking up Brent Stavig (see the previous post), I found I was on there not once, not twice, but four times! Firstly there was the listing I put in myself the other day. Then there was a listing with me as a freelance writer. I hadn’t put this on. It had been picked up because a couple of Internet references caught up my name and collated them together.
And then I turned up as the Manager of OC Books, my former workplace.
And then I turned up as the writer of the Daily Writer at OC Books.
There are some ways in which the Internet can be a scary place. Big Brother, possibly, had nothing on it! What do you think?

You have my permission to comment - in fact, I'd like you to!

While looking to see what results would come up from a search on ‘Emma Fraser Opera Criticism’ I came across a fellow-Dunedinite blogging on opera, singing, singers and doing it with great panache. Dunedin isn’t a very large city, but I’m not sure if I know who Sarah Noble, the writer of the blog, is all the same.
Why would I be looking up ‘Emma Fraser Opera Criticism’? Only because my favourite HitTails site brought it to my attention. When I went to look at the results they didn’t seem particularly to show that Emma has any great fondness for criticising operas, but maybe someone thought she had.
Brent Stavig, on the other hand, turns up in a lot of Google results. Or should I say, several Brent Stavigs turn up. There’s at least one who’s an actor/musician, and one who’s a metalworks instructor at St Francis High School. The former acts as guide on a tour of James Dean sites, the
latter set out to build a Baas bike with his class. Because he didn’t have the experience required, he invited pros into the classroom to work with the kids on all aspects of the building process. The bike(s) built were provide "money [to] buy new welders, hopefully c and c equipment in the machining area, and then the students learn on state of the art equipment, not to mention they'll be able to make even better products in the future". Now that’s hands-on experience. I can imagine many teenage boys would be more interested in building a motor bike than doing most of the things they’re expected to do in class.
Darren Rouse, on, mentions that we should encourage people to comment on our posts. Since I very rarely get anyone commenting on them – and thus really have no idea if anyone actually reads them, in spite of the stats – I’d appreciate any comments you’d like to make. It’s easy to do on this site: you don’t have to register to make a comment here.
Having said that no one reads the blog, the stats do seem to show up a good number of occasions when someone in Mangere, New Zealand, has checked in, and someone in Boulder, Colorado.
I have two readers. Wow.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Lilburn exonerated

I've said in the past in this blog that I don't much care for Douglas Lilburn’s music. It sometimes seems as if the Concert Program is determined that I should like his music, because they keep on playing the bloomin’ stuff day after day, especially in their New Zealand Made section, which just happens to come on about the time I come home from work. I will now admit that his early symphonies are growing on me – I think it was the second that was on the other day, and I actually recognised it as being one of Lilburn’s symphonies. It still seems rather to me to be all hustle and bustle without much purpose but it’s creeping onto my list of listenable pieces. And, shock! horror!, I played the slow movement from his first piano sonatina in church this morning. What’s a sonatina? Who would really know? It’s something a composer calls a piece of music when he doesn’t quite think it’s up to sonata level. Maybe. Why did I play that movement in church? Or anywhere, if it comes to that. Firstly it’s got a pleasing dissonance about its main ‘theme’ (such as it is). And there’s some passion in it, something that seems to be mostly lacking in his music. And it suited the occasion. Our church generally has a Good Friday service in which, at some point, a young man brings in a heavy cross and carries it slowly down the steps to the front and up onto the stage, and then he proceeds to hammer three nails into it. It’s almost a tradition! And equally it’s almost a tradition for me to play something sombre to accompany the walk. I’ve used a Bach prelude a couple of times (the E minor, if I recall) and that’s been very effective. But I felt there was a need for a change, and the Lilburn sprung to mind. So there you are – he’s been somewhat exonerated.

You learn something every day, but sometimes it doesn't much help

The other day at work we briefly discussed how we got decaffeinated coffee. Where did the caffeine go? It turned out to be more complex than I imagined. I had this thing in mind that somehow the caffeine must be siphoned off and ‘put’ somewhere. Well, in a rough sense that’s what happens, except that I had to wade through some scientific stuff to get there. Apparently there are four approaches, all relying on the caffeine molecules, which aren’t very strong, joining up to some other material instead of the coffee bean, or cocoa, or whatever. And then there was another approach where the beans were soaked in a coffee flavoured liquid so that they didn’t lose the flavour at the same time as they lost the caffeine.
The four approaches involve: Methylene chloride, Ethyl acetate, Carbon dioxide or water. Do you still want to drink decaffeinated coffee after knowing this? Doesn’t it rather put you off?
The other part of this conversation was, what do you do with the caffeine once you’ve removed it? Turns out that none of our jocular ideas were much near the mark. Rather prosaically, it’s used to re-caffeinate things like the many soft drinks that now have some degree of caffeine in them. Seems a roundabout way to go, really.
Just by way of totally irrelevant addition to this post, I'm adding in my myLot User Profile at this point in order to set up my blog on the myLot forum that I'm part of.
You can join myLot yourself if you want: and even make yourself a tiny amount of money for each post you write.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Gareth Farr: naked AND poor...?

A post on my other blog,, about the relatively frequent appearance of ‘Gareth Farr’ and ‘naked’ in juxtaposition on Google searches, elicited an amusing response from the man himself, who now gets a chance to appear in my otherwise nondescript blog yet again.
I quote it in full:

Poor Old Gareth??!!
As a starving artist I may be poor, but at 39, I'm not that old, am I? Well, it's good of you to think of my feelings and show concern about my "beleagueredness" (is that even IN the dictionary?) but please don't worry - I haven't noticed any telescopes aimed at my house lately, and my nakedness hasn't been noticed by a soul (it only happens twice a day). And for your peace of mind - is not on my list of things to do anytime in the near future. All the bestGareth Farr (not naked)

I replied as follows, (though I’m not sure whether he’ll notice – hopefully he’s off composing more energetic music, music such as a man of his youth should be composing):

Sorry to hear you're starving, Gareth. I'll have to add that to the 'naked' factor and see if we can get a fund started for you!
Nah, 39 is a pretty good age, really, these days. Could be considered positively young, in fact.
'beleagueredness'? Yup, you may be right about its lack of dictionary placement, but I've used it more than once in my lifetime...
Thanks for dropping by.