Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dan Pink and economics

I've made note of this video before in another blog, but not here.   The voice you hear is Dan Pink.   He's describing a peculiar thing that is contrary to what should happen - according to economists.  Their theory is that the bigger the incentive the better the work.   (Obviously they haven't looked at some of these people who've been grossly overpaid, given even grosser bonuses, and still done a poor job.   The CEO of BP is a prime example: he's about to walk out of his job with a $17m severance.)   However, the reality is that people will work for purpose more than payment because purpose is far more satisfying.   Hence the reasoning behind Linux, or Wikipedia and many other examples.

The video's quite long, but it's superbly done.  An artist draws what Pink says throughout: not only his words, but also pictures and often additional comments visually or verbally.   Quite apart from its content, it's just great to watch.

I'm told this has something do with what's known as 'swarms' - not entirely sure at this point what that refers to.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Peter Bregman writes regularly on the Harvard Business Review online.    He does so with humour and an ability to see his own shortcomings, which makes him somewhat different from most of the writers on this site, where the talk is usually about business, business and more business.  

In his most recent article, 'How to avoid (and quickly recover from) misunderstandings,' he shows how easily it is to overlook another person's needs, and equally how easy it is to mis-hear what they're really saying.  

I'm not going to quote from it, as it needs to be read as a whole, but let me suggest that most husbands need to read this piece.   I need to read it....again. 

I tried to put a photo of Peter Bregman in this post, but after checking through hundreds of photos from the Picasa web albums that supposedly relate to my blogs, I still can't see one of him - though there should be one there.  Unfortunately there are no names and no order to the photos!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Over to degrees

My wife and I are just switching to the 2Degrees network, but both had about $4 on our Vodafone cards.  So we thought we'd use them up.  I rang my daughter in Auckland and we chatted and chatted and still no sign of the card coming to an end.   Finally she had to ring off and put the kids to bed.   And even then there was still $2 left.   So my wife rang a good friend of hers in Christchurch, and within a minute had run out of money!    How does that work?

Now I have to register with 2Degrees - we've already got a couple of their sim cards - and no doubt that'll be fiddly.  Maybe not!

Meantime I'm coping with the new Google version of Blogger, where they've made some changes - some good, like a button for links which, most oddly, never existed before; and some not so good like not being able to pick up photos off your own PC.   When you click on the add picture button it offers you a choice of getting something straight off an Url (or 'a URL' as they put it) or via Picasa - but online, not off your computer as I discovered after I'd installed Picasa - or from the pictures that you've already got on your blogs.   Weird.   Seemingly this is a bug that they're supposed to be fixing. Let's hope they hurry. 

Now why I'd want to write about an Epson receipt printer I'm not entirely sure.   One of the joys of blogging is that you find yourself writing about all sorts of things you know next to nothing about.   Which requires research, which I sometimes do...sometimes well, and sometimes not.   The latter is one of those occasions.   A receipt printer is one used for Eftpos machines - as I'm sure you all know without my having to present you with any of my research - and they make that whining little noise as though it was some kind of pain to present you with a receipt.  

They're ubiquitous.   There now.  That's enough.  Plus I managed to sneak in a decently long and suitably incomprehensible word. 

Big kids

With the huge increase of older people in the world over the next couple of decades, is this video an example of what life will be like? LOL

Here's some info from Wikipedia on the video: "Hoppípolla" Icelandic for "Jumping into puddles") is a song by Icelandic band Sigur Rós from their 2005 album Takk.... It was released as the album's second single on 28 November 2005. The lyrics are mainly in Icelandic, with some nonsensical phrases, a "language" the band calls Vonlenska ("Hopelandic"). Written with spaces, the song's title would be "Hoppa í polla" (the "—a" in "hoppa" is not pronounced). As with many of the band's songs, it was given a nickname in the early stages of writing. "Hoppípolla" was "The Money Song", as the band was certain they had written a song which would have commercial success. It is the band's most successful single, charting at #24 on the UK Singles Chart in May 2006 due to the song's increased popularity as the theme for the BBC's Planet Earth. The single also features "Með blóðnasir", an instrumental coda to "Hoppípolla", which is also featured on Takk...; and a studio remake of "Hafssól", a song previously released on the band's 1997 debut album, Von. The title appears as "Hafsól" on the single.

Monday, July 19, 2010

One sad book

I finished reading Marilynne Robinson's Home, this morning. Man, that is one sad book! I mean sad in its proper sense, not as in weak, pathetic. Even the cover has an endorsement that says: 'One of the saddest books I have ever loved' - that's from Sarah Churchill, in the Guardian.

Home is the reverse book to Gilead which is not one of the saddest books I've ever read. Gilead is unusual, strange, humorous, deep, wise. It's a brilliant book, and I've read it twice, with equal enthusiasm on each occasion.

I don't think I could read Home again. It isn't that it's depressing; strangely enough, it's not. There's an underlying sense of hope, and this is fulfilled at the end of the book, though not as sweepingly as the reader would like. The book is detailed: there are three main characters who take almost all of the focus. Glory is the youngest daughter in a family. After an unsuccessful engagement she comes home as a woman in her thirties to look after her aging father, Rev Boughton. The rest of the large family is scattered, happily married, having children. Except for one, Jack, who's a kind of self-imposed black sheep. Boughton has forgiven him time and again, has even forgiven him for the fact that he hasn't been in touch for twenty years. And of course Jack comes home, and the three spend the next couple of hundred pages trying to understand each other, and only marginally succeeding.

As in the story, Gilead, there's a great deal of forgiveness going on here. Although the main character of Gilead appears in this story at times, he seems different; in fact he seems to be the one person who can't forgive, although we know from the other book that he's more forgiving than he appears. But we're never privy to his thoughts in this book, whereas he told us everything in the first one.

In this book it's Glory who most exposes her soul. She's the one who achieves understanding when others don't. She's the one who keeps Jack from destroying himself completely (though there's nothing especially dramatic about this part of the book), and she's the one who continues to love even when the love is returned only in the most odd of ways.

Her father never seems to understand anything clearly, although he's been the one who held onto the dream of seeing Jack again, he's been the one who seemed most capable of love and forgiveness. In the end he starts to slide into mild dementia, and understands even less.

Robinson has a wondrous ability to write superb prose, to probe into the depths of people's character, and to create a world that isn't unusual, and yet is full of unusual detail.

I kinda loved Home, but I'm not sure I could recommend it to anyone the way I did with Gilead.

Twice the paper

Can someone tell me why, when we're all trying to do something for the environment, National Bank of NZ has decided to switch their credit card statements from one page to two? And not only to two pages, but it's now a kind of semi-glossy paper that doesn't break down as easily as the stuff they used before.

Barmy, I call it. Flying in the face of what people are thinking. Totally ignoring its effects on the environment. I've a good mind to change banks, even though I've been with this crowd for decades. I'll go to Kiwi - the homegrown bank, maybe!

The little rant out of the way, I just want to mention the topic of asbestos mesothelioma again. I've done this on here before, and probably will again. Most of the time I come across it in relation to law suits in the States. The web sites that relate to it tend to have screeds of fairly technical stuff on the disease, and a little bit about how to go about suing the company. I'd never seen it on a NZ site before, but discovered one today. I'm not sure who this company is - they seem to be part of a portal site, rather than working on their own. And the approach to writing about the topic of suing a company seems similar to the American one. Maybe it's really a US outfit working off an NZ site?

The portal is and it opens with this statement: Welcome To New Zealand's Online Business Services Information Website, here you can find some exclusive to online deals, latest offers and information on Insurance companies, Broadband Prices, Dell computers, Apple Computers, and Credit Cards in New Zealand. Hmmm.

Another take on Martha and Mary

One of the stories in the New Testament that always niggles me is that of Martha and Mary, and the way Jesus speaks to Martha when she asks for help in the kitchen. It turns up in Luke's Gospel, chapter 10 and verses 38-42.

Luke is the most sympathetic of the Gospel writers when it comes to women, so perhaps in this story his sympathy is with Mary who is definitely doing something out of the ordinary. That may be why Martha seems to get the bum's rush.

However, while I appreciate what Mary does, I always feel for Martha: she's got a houseful of people on her hands, no one helping her in the kitchen, all the blokes sitting around being spiritual, and no one seeming to care that she's trying to get some food ready for when they stop being 'spiritual' and come down to earth, as it were. So the discovery of the poem ‘Unauthorised Version’ by U.A. Fanthorpe, (on Bosco Peter's Liturgy site) was a delight.

It's spoken from Mary's viewpoint, but the intriguing thing is that she doesn't take Jesus' side - she takes her sister's. She doesn't apologise for her own behaviour particularly, but she certainly understands where Martha is coming from, and reminds us that Martha is no slouch when it comes to the spiritual side of life - consider Martha's behaviour at her brother's tomb. She's the one who speaks the theology at that point; she's the one who's in Jesus' face asking why he'd left things too late. She's great!

You can find the poem on Bosco Peter's Liturgy site, and you can also find a sermon preached by Colin Gibson (of Mornington Methodist Church in Dunedin) on the subject. He included the poem in his sermon. (I don't always see eye to eye with Colin on theology, but in this instance I think he's pretty close to the mark.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Writing and rewriting

Felt yesterday that the script for the musical was never going to get to the point of being 'set.' It was as if everything (including the Kohler kitchen sinks) was rattling around inside it and making no sense.

That's not remotely true: the earlier scenes now mostly seem to be pretty much finished. My biggest problem is that I get too close to it all and can’t remove myself (which is another reason why I needed a collaborator, someone who would pick at the stuff I'd overlooked). When I came back to scene 8 the other day, I tore great chunks of stuff out and made it much faster moving. But then I hadn’t looked at it for a while; it had been in my head as a scene already settled. This is also a problem; each time I leave something for a while, the dissatisfactions creep in.

I find it’s easy to feel dissatisfied with the whole thing: is the humour really funny, or just pathetic, or do we just think things are funny because we like what happens? Why do characters do the things they do when they could just as easily do a bunch of other things? When do you stop making choices about them? It’s the same with music: every song you write could be written in a dozen different ways. It’s what happens on the day I write something that counts, and it’s rare for me to want to go back and do it differently (although the two versions of the song Muddy Puddle are proof that it’s perfectly possible - but in that case it was a choice to do two versions). There’s no ideal world version. (I wonder if Shakespeare was still re-thinking lines during the rehearsal period: That 'to be or not to be' line - bit tinny, don't you think? Hmm, maybe not. What would work better there? 'Maybe or maybe not?')

I was a bit grumpy yesterday at the thought of still having to think about points that seemed sorted. I'd got up at 5.30 in the morning unable to sleep (on a Saturday!), and during the next hour and a half or so finished off the notes for the journal for the University course I'm doing, and then worked on scene 8 again, trying to get the songs to come together without losing the good or including rubbish.

Today I looked at some things in the script again, and got them sorted; now there’s really only a few of the lyrics that need real tidying. Most other things are finally coming together. I need to sit and read the whole thing through. The trouble is I miss the 'missing links' easily, because I get caught up in the whole thing. Still, I'm feeling a lot more confident about it all today.

This is scary...

I think we first had some sort of Internet access in 1989. And for a good deal of the time since then I've been playing various games on the Net: chess, Scrabble and some few others. These aren't 'real time' games; the chess, for instance, was more like the old system of correspondence chess that my father used to play back in the 30s and 40s. It could take days then for each move while they waited for a letter to come by return post. It was similar with the online chess: occasionally someone would respond to your move straight away; most of the time it was at least a day before you'd see a response.

I used to play chess regularly, and occasionally won, but for some reason gave it up. But I've played Scrabble on various sites over the years pretty much continually ever since I first discovered you could play it online.

And this was the case up until a couple of months ago. At that point I must have had some complete mental blank in regard to Scrabble, or else got so tied up with something else that lesser things went out of my head. Anyway, last week, out of the blue, it suddenly struck me that I hadn't played Scrabble for a little while. It turned out that I hadn't actually played it since May. When I went back into the games (there were three unfinished ones) one of the players thought something must have happened to me - we tend to let each other know if we're going to be away for a few days. Another player who has shared quite a bit of 'conversation' with me in the course of the games, has obviously thought something similar, as she hasn't started up the game again since I wrote to apologise the other day.

The scary part is that I didn't miss the playing. Not that I'm some Scrabble addict, but it's been one of the things I do regularly online.

How can part of your brain just ignore something you've done for so long?

On another tack completely. I'm not a person who needs to be in the start-up stage of any innovation, especially in the technological area (although we were amongst the first people to get email in Dunedin when it was available). Consequently, when I ran the shop it was quite some time before we went over to a Point of Sale system. By the time we'd got the Board to agree to the idea, and had got the money together, POS systems had been around for years.

I'd been thinking about the possibility for some time before that, of course, and saw the advantages. Mostly it was the lack of finance (a perennial problem in that shop) that left us way behind. And even when we did get into it, we went for a system which proved to be somewhat limited as the years rolled on. It worked in terms of recording stock and keeping track of sales and all the usual stuff; it just wasn't very sophisticated, and it was built for a different kind of retail system to bookselling.

Some years later one of the other Christian bookshops in the country (they're few enough for us all to have known each other, pretty much) did get innovative, and they brought someone in to build a POS system from scratch. When we shifted over to it, it turned out to be pretty amazing - certainly as compared to the system we'd been on. But the curious thing about it, I found, was that the people who'd built it never used it to its full capacity. In fact, we used it far more extensively than they did.

I don't know what point I'm trying to make here. It's just a bit of anecdotal history, I guess! I've always been intrigued by cataloguing things - used to try and do it with pen and paper when I was a child (all my books had 'codes' inside their covers) and in a way, I think humans have this kind of inbuilt desire to bring a sort of order to what seems to be a rather chaotic world. Some of us are more prone to cataloguing than others, perhaps. I know the rest of my family doesn't seem interested in the idea very much.

I have a feeling I'm trying to add some focus here, but it's eluding me. Maybe it connects up with my seeming mental block in regard to Scrabble. If we don't order things, we lose them. Not sure if this is the point I'm trying to make. Maybe I'll come back to it later!

Friday, July 16, 2010

More on "Oliver"

I said I'd write some more about the musical, Oliver, which I saw again the other night. The last time I saw it, it was also done by the Taieri Musical Society. At that point a friend of ours played Fagin (singing about his cheap insurance of jewellery in a not-particularly well-guarded box) , and one of his older sons - he's now 27 or 8 - was in the kids' chorus.

Anyway, just some thoughts about Oliver as a musical, especially in the light of my trying to write a musical myself. It primarily consists of a bunch of set pieces: there's a minimum of dialogue, and a good number of songs that are intended to make you go out of the theatre whistling the tunes - and to buy the original cast LP when it comes out a few weeks later.

Some of the songs merely create atmosphere - Oom Pah Pah, for instance; others offer insight into characters: I shall scream, or Fagin's solos, or even As Long as He Needs Me - which is also in the vein of a show-stopper. Few of them carry the action forward in any way, something that one of the interviewees in Talking Theatre, by Richard Eyre, says annoys him. I can't remember which interviewee it was, just at the moment, but he complained that many of the most popular musicals come to a halt when a character sings - he even cites Oklahoma in this regard, even though it's often thought of as being a musical that changed the genre from merely having songs for the sake of having them, to having songs because they were part and parcel of the story. R&H musicals vary in this regard; some of the songs do move things forward; some of show-stoppers.

Stephen Sondheim's musicals tend to incorporate character, forward movement and plot into the songs, which is why his musicals don't often produce 'hit' songs; they're too integrated into the scheme of things. I'm not sure whether it was the same interviewee as I mentioned above who applauded this approach (though it may have been) and who also said that there comes a point in a musical where the passion is aroused to such a degree that singing is the only option.

Well, that may be a bit extreme. In Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the characters sing most of the time; there are scattered sections of dialogue, some of it stand-alone in the sense that it's not underpinned by music, but for the most part the music pushes things along as much as anything else. So does that mean that the characters in Sweeney Todd are particularly passionate, or that Sondheim works to a mostly music format? As does Lloyd Webber, whose musicals are almost entirely sung - for better or worse.

The musical I'm writing started out in this way, but the more my collaborator and I worked on it, the more it seemed that some scenes were better driven by dialogue. Things will continue to change, but at present the opening two (shortish) scenes are mostly sung, then there's a mostly dialogue (again shortish) scene, and then there's a long scene where singing is spasmodic, but where there'll be an undercurrent of music accompaniment. And so the rest of the piece goes. The music will occupy the sort of space that it does in movies, but there'll also be songs of the kind that are Sondheim style rather than R&H style, or Oliver style. My aim is to make them catchy and the sort of tunes that grab you on first hearing, but they're not likely to be regarded as 'hit' songs.

I was interested to see that Oliver almost falls apart at the end. Even though the plot is working like mad to keep us interested in Oliver's fate at the hands of Nancy and Bill Sykes (who has the worst song in the show: My Name! - what does it mean, for goodness' sake?), the show ends with Nancy's murder, lots of running around by various extras, Bill's appearance on the bridge with Oliver, his rather off-hand shooting by a policeman (at least so it appeared in this production) and then....not the restoration of Oliver to Mr Brownlow (that happens fleetingly) but a last scene with Fagin, who's suddenly becoming the most interesting character. There's no rousing final chorus, oddly.

I think the problem is that Oliver gets less and less interesting as the show progresses - he's tossed about like a prop between various adults, and they take up the slack. Nancy certainly becomes one of the main characters, even though she arrives on the scene relatively late, and Fagin, who also doesn't appear until well into the first act, gets to appear to be the star of the show. As it happens, the two singers in this production were both capable of stealing the show - Nancy with her singing, and Fagin with his characterization. I suspect that was the same in the original London production, which may be why things are tailored in this fashion.

The missing link

Apparently it was the chicken that came first, not the egg.

Scientists have discovered that the egg can't be produced with a particular protein called ovocleidin (OC-17), and that's found in the ovaries of the chicken. OC-17 acts as a catalyst, kick-starting the conversion of calcium carbonate in the chicken's body into calcite crystals.

The particular news report this appeared in finished by saying: But the researchers have not yet got an answer to how the protein-producing chicken existed in the first place.

Oh, hang on, of course, we all come from a single cell that came from....wait! we haven't discovered that yet, even though we know it must be true because we've thrown out the idea of a Creator....therefore...hang on, something's missing from the calculation....

I know: God!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oliver - 1st post

I went to see Oliver as produced by the Taieri Musical Society a couple of nights ago. Good show, energetically performed, well cast overall, and in general a good night's entertainment. I didn't get a programme unfortunately (everything had to be paid by cash, and I seldom carry cash) so I can't tell you who played who: I recognised John Sears - he has another hyphenated name alongside Sears, but don't ask me what it is. He was playing Mr Bumble, who looked as though he'd been on a stomach fat loss diet of some sort. Mr Bumble needs to be fat. That aside he was bigger than life and full in everyone's face.
A couple of friends of mine were in the cast: they first appeared as the Sowerbys, and then went onto play all manner of little roles throughout. And the son of one of our friends from church was in the children's chorus.
Because Dunedin is small enough for lots of people to know each other, there were also two people I knew in the orchestra pit, though when I say 'orchestra' that's a bit of a misnomer. The three players in the pit were each on an electronic keyboard of varying degrees of technological complication; most of the time they managed to produce some surprisingly effective orchestral sounds. Occasionally there was a sense that the synthesiser had taken over, but in general the three keyboards proved to be a good substitute for a band of real instruments.

More on the actual musical later....

Monday, July 12, 2010


Why would I want to use this high-class, superbly stylish, everlastingly interesting blog to write about a testosterone booster. I can hardly spell the word, 'testosterone' for starters. It takes a concentrated effort, in fact, to do so.

I check out the site where they're selling these items and the sight of the chunky muscular chest - Sylvester Stallone at his most Rambo-ish - puts me right off.

I'm sure there's a good reason to have plenty of muscle, and to be able to wiggle those pecs around and impress all the girls - and the guys you'd otherwise be kicking sand in the face of - but I just can't see me hauling around all that extra muscle weight. I mean, it's not as if I need it, is it? I've managed to reach pensioner age without requiring vast quantities of hyped-up muscle, and though I'll admit I sometimes could do with a bit of extra lift when it comes to hauling the furniture around, I probably won't be going down daily to the gym to improve the situation.

And once you've got it all, you have to keep it up to scratch. No point having gone to all that effort for nothing, is there? So it's everlastingly to the gym, everlastingly posing in front of all the skinny blokes and skinnier women, or the blokes with paunches and the women with large rear ends, and everlastingly hauling yourself through some muscle-building routine while your mind goes into a mind-numbing state, saying, I....can't....stand....any....more....of....this....focus....on....MUSCLES! Give me something to think about!

Photo by Ron on

Friday, July 09, 2010

A genius at your own level

The other day, Seth Godin wrote: If you're waiting for a boss or an editor or a college to tell you that you do good work, you're handing over too much power to someone who doesn't care nearly as much as you do.

We spend a lot of time organizing and then waiting for the system to pick us, approve of us and give us permission to do our work.

This somewhat ties in with something I've struggled with a good deal over the years: a kind of self-criticism that says what I do isn't good enough - because so and so does it so much better. The fact that so and so is some kind of genius has never impressed the self-critic in me. Because so and so is great/good/capable, I must therefore always be on a lower step on the rung.

It's nonsense of course, and what's worse it makes me criticise others, both those who really are better than me, and those who plainly aren't (though of course the critic doesn't let me say that without feeling guilty).

I realised the other day, after having discussed this at length with my supervisor on several occasions, that there really isn't some kind of magical 'bar' just out of reach that I'm always striving that
someone else has placed there. The only bar I need to worry about (if worry is the right word) is the bar I'm prepared to climb up to. If what I'm doing isn't good enough the bar is the one I set in place myself to make sure that what I do is good enough.

I need a bar, a kind of level to strive for. Otherwise, 'okay' is good enough - and of course it isn't; it's usually second-rate. But the other side of this is that when I do do well, or write something that's good, then that sets the standard for future work, and also satisfies the inner critic.

Furthermore, as Godin says, I don't need 'permission' from someone else, approval that says what I've done is good. Of course we all like to hear that other people appreciate what we create - equally we don't like to hear other people saying they
don't like what we've done. However, reliance on that approval (or disapproval) is, in the end, counterproductive. It tells us nothing except that someone liked or disliked something.

The person who needs to like or dislike it is the creator of it. Ultimately I'm the judge of the work. If I think I've done my utmost with it, then that's the place to sit and be satisfied. If I realise that I can improve it (see the previous post) then I need to knuckle down and improve it. Until it's at that 'level,' that 'bar' I was talking about, it will make me feel dissatisfied.

But at least that dissatisfaction is within my own sphere, not 'created' by some false sense that someone else would/could do better, and that I'm a fraud to pretend I can do as well.

On an entirely different note, because different notes give variety, and monotonal music/writing is a bore, I have just discovered what pop displays are. I thought they must be something to do with pop-outs. Nope. The 'pop' stands for 'point of purchase' - that's not what we call them here in NZ where the term is more often 'point of sale display' - and it means all those little things you (or worse, your kids) can pick up at the last minute and throw into the bunch of stuff you've just spent an hour buying around the supermarket, or Bunnings, or The Warehouse, or wherever.

Bunnings opened its new store in Dunedin a few days ago - tonight they had about five minutes of full-scale fireworks blazing throughout the night sky, the second such display in a few weeks - the last was for the last match at Carisbrook, the famed sports ground that has been dumped in favour of the new Stadium Dunedin is building at enormous cost to the ratepayers - even though initially we were told it wouldn't cost us a thing! That ridiculously long sentence, with its muddled syntax and cluttered phrases is a prime example of something that should be fixed up (my inner critic is doing a poor imitation of weeping), but since the bar for this paragraph is just where I'm sitting already, I'm not going to do anything more about it!

[Picture of Mozart - a genius - for those who didn't recognise him.]

Sharpening up the children's musical

I knew I'd written about electronic cigarettes on one of my blogs in the last year or so, but it took me a while to find the post (here it is). I thought it was on this blog, but it turned out to be on Webitz, a blog that's been a bit neglected of late while I've been working on the script for the children's musical with another person. The script is 'finished' but still needs work; things that don't quite hold together, lines that seemed good when written but aren't anymore, and whole scenes that still don't want to get themselves together (there's only one of those really; the others are mostly okay).

I guess what's holding up the script isn't the lack of work on it, but the fact that I think I've got it right and then the collaborator comes back and says, 'But what about this?' and I ask, what's wrong with that? and she tells me...and so it goes. And now, to add into the mix, I've started a University paper (funded by my work, so I'm not going to refuse to do it) and that of course is taking up the rest of the room in my brain. Good stuff, but while I lay in bed on Tuesday struggling to get over a stinker of a cold that dribbled all over the carpet every time I got up on my feet, my brain was acting like an insane juggler: children's musical, varsity paper, children's paper, varsity musical, musical children, paper varsity....and so on.

If only the collaborator wasn't so sharp - the script would have been done and finished by now, and I could have relaxed over something that wasn't nearly as good as it could be. But because she is sharp, I have to sharpen up my act too...and so the script isn't quite where it needs to be.

I have written a little music for it (a tiny modicum - don't tell the collaborator!) because there were some tunes I had in my head that desperately wanted to be put on paper. I'll try and be good and not write any more....

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Alan Jacobs, who tweets a good deal on all sorts of things, and probably should be getting on with his real writing more often, sent a wonderful Tweet during the early days of the Soccer World Cup:

This ball might as well be an Elgin Marble, so incapable are the Greeks of retaining possession of it.

I only remembered about this because I've been keeping a list of various items I want to use at some point in the blog, or elsewhere. They're a pretty random bunch, and it's hard to think how I'd place Jacobs' line otherwise than by just plunking it down on the page.

Here's something totally different, relating to the number of bags that are lost annually by air companies. (By the way, if you travel a lot and want to prevent hair loss from stress, don't read the following!)

Apparently 25 million items of luggage are misplaced globally each year, or one bag per 100 passenger. Pretty scary. We've only ever had one bag go astray, and that was between Dunedin and Wellington last year. We stayed in Wgtn for a couple of days, but the bag still didn't manage to get there. Finally we carried onto Napier, our next destination, and somehow or other (since Air NZ didn't know we were going there) the bag managed to get there ahead of us!

So when do bags go missing? Here are the stats:

- Transfer baggage mishandling (52 per cent)

- Failure to load (16 per cent)

- Passenger bag switch/security/ticketing error (13 per cent)

- Loading/offloading (7 per cent)

- Airport/customs/weather/space-weight restriction (6 per cent)

- Arrival station mishandling (3 per cent)

- Tagging errors (3 per cent)

It's those transfers that are the big problem. I watched a bunch of guys throwing (yup, that's how it's done) bags onto a trolley while waiting for my plane to move onto the next destination a few weeks ago. None of the bags were checked in terms of whether they should have been taken off the plane or not. In fact, the guys didn't look at the labels at all. No wonder things go astray.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


In a bit of a movie splurge, caught up with three movies last week: Shutter Island, A Serious Man, and, Adaptation. All of them are unusual, each in different ways. Shutter Island is the most mainstream, in that it has plenty of money to throw around, stars Leonardo Di Caprio, and is directed by Martin Scorsese. It's a fairly bleak psychological thriller with echoes of Hitchcock, and overall, I thought was worth watching. The cast is uniformly good, but the thing that stood out for me was the cinematography. Since dreams and memories are a significant part of the story, there's a dream quality to much of what goes on, even when it's meant to be the 'real' part of the story. (The thing hinges on a trick, somewhat like The Sixth Sense, or Hitchcock's own Vertigo.)

A Serious Man was a puzzle. I'm sure it's the sort of movie that leaves plenty of open ends so you can ask questions, but equally, in answering almost nothing, I found it just unsatisfying. It's as if the Coen brothers wanted to make a black comedy where they didn't have to explain anything; they could just go with whatever came up. Again there are dreams that at first appear to be reality.

This isn't to say that it's a poor movie in any sense; the cast are wonderful, with even those characters who are seen only for a minute being fully inhabited by the actors; the cinematography is again rich and full of detail, and it has lots of subtle (often 'Jewish subtle') humour in it. There's even a Jewish folk story sequence at the beginning which is wonderfully done, but appears to have almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie. An article in Wikipedia has this to say about this sequence:

The Yiddish story that introduces the film was created by the Coen Brothers, as they did not find any folk tales they thought were suitable. They note the story has no developmental relationship to what follows other than to set the tone. One possible interpretation of the faux folk tale at the beginning of the movie is that the couple seen in the folk tale are Larry's [the main character] ancestors and may through their action toward the Visitor have introduced a curse or a strain of sin into the family tree, as Yiddish folk belief would have construed the story. A portrait of Reb Groshkover [the 'visitor'] is glimpsed on the wall outside the Rabbi Marshak's office later in the film.

I suspect that several viewings of the movie would reveal a good deal that isn't picked up in one viewing.

Adaptation is a movie that plays constantly with the idea of movie-making, of adapting books to movies, of screenwriting, and of teasing the audience. In the opening credits we see that the screenplay is written by Charlie Kaufman - who exists, and is played in the movie by Nicholas Cage - and Donald Kaufman - who doesn't exist, and is also played in the movie by Cage. (Charlie Kaufman is the somewhat fat and morose twin - who'd probably benefit from a course of curvatrim - while Donald is the upbeat guy for whom life falls into place, even when he doesn't expect it.)

Three other real people appear in the film, but are played by Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Brian Cox. What these three 'characters' do in the movie isn't what the original 'real' people did, or are likely to do. And then there are several real people who play themselves - if that's what you do when you're just being you.

Kaufman the character is trying to adapt a book by the Streep character - and it's an actual book that was on the NY Times bestselling list. His earlier movie, Being John Malkovich, is seen being made early in this film, and becomes yet another part of the real/fictional/adaptative aspect of this movie. Adaptation also occurs in other areas: in relation to the orchids that are the subject of the book being adapted, in relation to changes in the characters' behaviour, in connection with Charles Darwin's theories about evolution, in relation to the way the movie itself adapts to its audience, since Robert McKee, the scriptwriting guru (he's the person played by Brian Cox) tells Kaufman that there has to be a satisfying third act - so Kaufman, after much internal debate, provides one, which of course, he's part of. Trying to describe this movie is a task.

Of the three movies I think I enjoyed Adaptation the most - its twists and turns at least contributed to a satisfying whole. Serious Man remains something of an enigma, although I enjoyed it while I was watching it. Shutter Island is overlong; some cutting would have improved the suspense and edge.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Theatre is not all one thing....

One of the shortest interviews in Richard Eyre's book of them (Talking Theatre, Interviews with Theatre People) is with Cameron Mackintosh, the extraordinary entrepreneurial producer of shows like Les Mis, Phantom, Miss Saigon and more.

In this interview there's no talk of Brecht, or Beckett, or Joan Littlewood - people who dominate the questions in many of the other interviews. Here the name of Andrew Lloyd Webber isn't temporarily forgotten by the interviewee (as it is in the preceding interview with John McGrath); in this interview, of course, it's celebrated.

There's one brief question and answer I'd like to quote - it comes from page 278 of the book.

Eyre: Do you accept some sort of hierarchy of art by whichpeople talk about operetta as sort of second-rate are and, as it were, Verdi and Mozart as first-rate art?

Mackintosh: I always thought the best defence of that was a wonderful critic in the Sunday Times called Harold Hobson, who wrote about a Ray Cooney farce saying: 'This is on an equal part with Hamlet.' Because, you know, whatever the art is, as long as it is absolutley of the best and true to what it is trying to do, then it is a marvellous piece of work. To me, there is absolutely no difference.

Through the rest of the book we've had the 'intellectual' theatre people saying some wonderful things, but also seemingly focused on political, physical, metaphysical, out on the edge theatre. Mackintosh is quite refreshing. Pity there's no more of him in the book!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Alphabetic trivia

Writer Alan Jacobs obviously didn't have much to do this morning (my time). Here are the results of four of his tweets, in which he provides sentences of various lengths that each contain all the letters of the alphabet. Makes a change from 'the quick brown fox, etc'.

Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz.

Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow.

Waltz, nymph, for quick jigs vex Bud.

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.