Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Video power - or not

About a year ago at work I was looking into the way webinars function. We were thinking in terms of using a webinar conference to host some people from the world of missional thinking rather than bringing them all the way to New Zealand. That was one of our thoughts. Like some other bright ideas, it only went so far as getting the background on webinars and how to use the systems and so on. Still it gave me the chance to actually 'attend' a webinar on a couple of occasions - one very early in the morning our time - and learn how frustrating the process can be for someone who's never done it before.

I also discovered that some webinars can be very boring to watch - because nothing happens on screen. It's rather like listening to the radio while watching the same picture for an hour. Other webinars are more interesting - a PowerPoint is presented, so at least you get some visual interest. However, since PowerPoints are becoming old hat in some quarters - see the amusing PowerPoint presentation Matt Blaze sent to the RSA Conference in 2011, for example. (It was originally laid out in only three pages...)

My PowerPoint slides for the RSA Conference 2011
Matt Blaze
University of Pennsylvania

I’m not using PowerPoint in my presentation.
• I hate PowerPoint
– I avoid using it whenever possible
– It is usually a terrible way to convey information.
• … and they presumably invited me to speak because they think I’m good at conveying information
• But the conference organizers just sent me email “reminding” me that sending a PowerPoint presentation “… is a contractual requirement for speakers this year.”
– what contract is that?
– they’re not even paying me.

End of PowerPoint Presentation for RSA-2011
Matt Blaze
University of Pennsylvania

See also Seth Godin's comments on PowerPoint.

However, webinars also come in more interesting formats, with live speakers visible on screen (a bit like Skype, but usually more effective in its speed). And you can access video conferencing software to sort out your own webinar process, if you're of a mind.

I'm not sure that broadband in New Zealand is up to watching streaming video: at least not in my neck of the woods. At the office - where I'll only be for one more day! - the broadband speed is pretty good. It's rare to see a video in bits, as sometimes happens at home. And when the various TV stations advertise that I can go to my computer and catch up with programmes I've missed, I raise my eyes - it would take me about three times the normal length of the programme to 'catch up'. Watching TV in this way just isn't on as yet.

When the Government finally gets around to contracting Telecom or one of its subsidiaries to provide high-speed broadband everywhere in the country, things may be different. In the meantime, I might have to stick with the sort of webinars that provide one flickering image and do something else while I'm listening.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Busy fortnight

What you might call a loaded couple of weeks.

Not only do I retire on Thursday - finishing 50 years of full-time employment (apart from a couple of patches when I was out of work) - but I've got
  • two concerts at one of the Mosgiel retirement villages, on two successive Fridays, with two different groups of singers;
  • practices for a bunch of brass band soloists for the Provincial contest in Roxburgh on Saturday week;
  • rehearsals for the play, Shadowlands, twice a week - if I can make both rehearsals;
  • continuing work on the musical that I've been writing music for over the last few months;
  • some transcription work for a couple of singing teachers (shifting a piece of music up or down a key)
  • and probably several other things like eating and sleeping and spending some time with my wife....
At least with being retired from Friday inclusively, I'll actually have day time spare as well as a few evenings. Which will be a major plus. I actually need to retire: I'm too busy to work! At least at this rate I won't need to take a diet supplement like Oxyelite to lose some weight (gained in part from too many morning teas at our office); I'll be rushing from A to B to C so fast the calories will simply fly off.

One of my current colleagues at work keeps suggesting all sorts of (mostly ridiculous) jobs I could take up in my retirement. I keep asking myself, what's retirement for, if it's not to stop working full-time....

So hopefully the dog will get some extra walks, my wife and I will have time to spend together doing some of the things we enjoy doing in tandem, I'll read some of the pile of books that have accumulated, watch the odd DVD, maybe volunteer myself for odd jobs for other people and...who knows. The nice thing is there's no need to get up in the morning by a certain time in order to arrive and start working. I can do it all from home!

Number play

A fun bit of mathematics, or maybe just number play....

Thanks to the Liturgy site for alerting us to this video.

Heating up

We have three heat pumps in our house. Two were installed some years ago high up on the wall in adjoining rooms, with the heat pumps virtually back to back, and running off the same outside system. It hasn't been the most successful approach, and the person who came to put in the third pump a couple of years ago pooh-poohed the way things had been done. By which time it was a bit late, of course!

The result of having both the pumps running off the same system, and of both of them being a bit underpar for the work they're supposed to do, is that in the room we use as our main sitting room, it can be warm up around your head, but cold around your feet. It always seems a bit ironic to be paying for a heat pump to function when we have our legs encased in blankets. Still keeping warm is the prime thing, especially as the winter draws on.

I was talking to one of my colleagues at work yesterday and she was saying that they have a heat pump up on the wall in their house too - it's common practice, of course. On the weekend they were experiencing the same problem as we have: hot heads, cold feet. Her husband went and got the dehumidifier, plugged it in, set it going, and voila! it drew in the cold air and allowed the hot air to move around the room.

Result: warm feet. Now, do we want to go out and buy a humidifier? And is the extra drain on the power bill going to be worth it?

The third heat pump that I mentioned above is installed in the hall, which, because of the nature of our house, is the coldest area in winter. When that heat pump is going, however, not only the hall but the adjoining rooms warm up. It's down near the floor, for one thing, and it's a bigger model for another. I guess in a way it acts in a similar fashion to the dehumidifier: it pushes the cold air around and pulls the warm air down (well, I'm sure that's not technically what happens, but it's something along the lines of what happens).

I'm thinking about these things more at the moment, because we've run into a cold patch, and as well, in three days I retire, and won't get the benefit of my workplace's heating during the day...!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Skinny ties

Phew, nearly had heart failure...

Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but when I saw a site advertising skinny ties I certainly got a little perturbed.

Turns out that what they're calling skinny ties are pretty normal-looking. They're just not those wide ties that are still around to a degree.

Really skinny ties are what we used to wear - was it back in the sixties? They were pretty dreadful to be honest - even then. The picture shows an example, though most people barely notice the tie, probably. (Found on this site.)

You have to be skinny to wear a skinny tie. So that lets me off the hook.

Actually, truth to tell I've hardly worn a tie for years - since 1989, when my then manager proclaimed there was no need to wear one. I only wear them for formal occasions now, and there aren't too many of those.

I seem to remember wearing a skinny one for a play, but in my decrepitude, I can no longer remember what play it was. It may come back to me.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Still flawed

From the Maxim Institute's latest newsletter:

A Bill that is "functionally equivalent to a bill of rights" is back before Parliament. It's the Regulatory Standards Bill, introduced by Hon Rodney Hide. The Bill is virtually identical to a Regulatory Responsibility Bill recommended by a Taskforce 18 months ago, so it has the same aims—and the same flaws—as that bill. A recent Guest Paper that we published discussed some of the issues. The Bill might sound bland, but the paper's authors critiqued a lack of problem diagnosis, concerns about the Bill's principles of good law-making, and the potential to get civil servants and judges involved in contentious policy issues. The Bill is waiting for a first reading in Parliament. If it passes, it will go to a Select Committee for submissions.

Culture as a social ingredient

In [a] far more perfect world ... culture would be recognized as a crucial social ingredient and would be funded as generously as science and social services. Public art would be part of curriculums from kindergarten through doctoral programs. Bureaucracy would be cut to a minimum, and all concerned would be trained in collective process. Writers and other related workers would be involved in public art projects from beginning to end, so that words as well as images, physical residue or experience would be part of the collective communication.

Lucy Lippard
The Lure of the Local

Thursday, March 24, 2011


A couple of years ago I had a part in the J B Priestley play, When We Are Married, here in Dunedin. The three main male characters were supposed to smoke cigars at one point, though with it being a play, only one of them actually got to do so for any length of time.

I don't think they were Cohiba cigars which apparently are a mix of Cuban, Indonesian and African elements....and sound fairly classy! In fact they were the cheapest cigars our props lady could find at a local shop that would look effective and actually smell like cigars. She even managed to get the cast to smoke ones that were already opened, by rewrapping them.

Such is the life when economics preclude you using just the best...

Anyway, one night, the actor who played the main cigar-smoking character got a bit of a shock when he lighted up....his cigar started to go up in smoke in a different kind of way. It helps if you remove the cellophane wrapping. On this occasion, his fellow actor had failed to do so, and there was something of a stink on more ways than one.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thoughts on gold digging

In November 2009, just before I had problems with my prostate (though you didn't need to know that) I was staying for a few days at the former Waipiata sanatorium (now called En Hakkore) near Ranfurly in the Maniototo. One afternoon we walked up the hill to a cemetery that was situated on a slight slope overlooking the plains. The gravestones were scattered around the not-very-large walled-in area, and everyone of them spoke of people who'd been buried there around a hundred years before. There were no recent ones.

The reason for this was that the cemetery is all that's left of a small town that once stood up on this hill. Though the view is magnificent the inhabitants must have found it a rather windy spot. The town, called Hamiltons, came into existence because of gold, and died not long after the gold ceased to be found.

I found some information about Hamiltons on a Central Otago tourism site

The area is named after Captain Hamilton, who along with two others drew up and took up Run 204, know as Hamiltons Station. In late 1863, gold was reported and the field initially proved very rich, yielding thousands of ounces of gold. [I wonder how many gold bars that amounts to?] Some 2000 miners first worked the area, peaking at 4000 in 1864. Ironically, the surviving township of Patearoa once relied heavily on Hamiltons for shops and services. The town of Hamiltons, which included 25 liquor outlets and 40 stores, did not last long, although a few miners did stay and continue hydraulic sluicing.

Patearoa, as the extract notes, survived, even though its gold rush was comparatively short-lived. Perhaps its situation, down on the plain, is more sheltered and less exposed than Hamiltons.

This last week there's been a lot of celebrating going on in Lawrence, where gold was first discovered 150 years ago by Gabriel Reed. Lawrence's population was at one time 11,500 - it's now around 550. Gold digging must be one of the most unpleasant occupations a person can choose, even given the end results. Out in a lonely place, living in a tent or a shack of some sort (if you're lucky), often without friends, definitely without wives and children, and continually afraid that someone's going to steal what you've gained. And for the Chinese people who came here to search for it, it was an exceptionally difficult lifestyle, as they were despised and hated by the Europeans. You can still see some of their old shelters near Cromwell. The landscape around is pitiless, barren and rocky.

Going Local

On the bus this morning a friend and I were talking about the slow trend away from outsourcing to other countries and towards in-sourcing - in other words going more local than overseas. Interesting, then, to see this extract turn up in The Daily Asterisk, a six-day-a-week quote that I get by email.

Going local does not mean walling off the outside world. It means nurturing locally owned businesses which use local resources sustainably, employ local workers at decent wages, and serve primarily local consumers. It means becoming more self-sufficient, and less dependent on imports. Control moves from the boardrooms of distant corporations and back to the community, where it belongs.

Michael Shuman
Going Local

Monday, March 21, 2011

Housewife, 49

A couple of days ago TVNZ aired a TV movie called, Housewife, 49. It was written by Victoria Wood, who also plays the main character, Mrs Last, the housewife of the title, aged 49 at the time the story begins. Mrs Last is on the verge on another breakdown at the same time as England is on the verge of the Second World War. Her somewhat off-hand doctor recommends getting some friends (with the assumption that this is easy to do); in fact, what Mrs Last needs is a purpose in life, something to bring out her real and lively nature. Her two sons have grown up and are moving on, her husband continues to dominate the household by expecting everything to revolve around him - even though he's a person with almost no personality and no other interests in life except his joinery business. It all seems very bleak, and then Mrs Last joins the Women's Voluntary Service, who truly come into their own in the course of the war.

Things aren't all plain sailing from then on; her favourite son, Cliff, decides that he's acting as a coward by not fighting in the war (as opposed to being an army PT instructor) and ultimately he turns against her when she continues to mother him in the way she's always done. (He also turns out to be gay, something which of course he finds difficult to reveal.) She runs up against some strong-minded (and class-minded) women in the WVS, and more than once retires, battered and bruised. Her husband opposes her every move and it's only her sense that she's doing the right thing - not just for the war effort, but for herself - that keeps her going and eventually shows her that he's the weaker partner in the marriage.

There's a lot more subtlety in it than that brief synopsis allows, and Wood has provided a script full of great lines for her various characters to deliver, particularly Mrs Waite (played by Stephanie Cole) who never says anything without using the English language to its fullest extent. David Threlfall, as Mr Last, maintains a dour aspect throughout, and puts a damper on the slightest show of life in his household; yet he has moments in which we can sympathise with him. It's a superb performance, showing how even the most drear person has humanity and uniquness.

Throughout the story, Mrs Last writes a kind of diary, in pencil and on scrap paper, and sends this off as part of an initiative called the Mass Observation Project. Their Archive site notes: The Archive results from the work of the social research organisation, Mass Observation. This organisation was founded in 1937 by three young men, who aimed to create an 'anthropology of ourselves'. They recruited a team of observers and a panel of volunteer writers to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. This original work continued until the early 1950s.

There were two aspects to the Project: one consisted of observers going to all manner of organisations and taking notes, the other was called The National Panel of Diarists and was composed of people from all over Britain who either kept diaries or replied to regular open-ended questionnaires sent to them by the central team of Mass-Observers.

This latter is where Mrs Last's (true) story fits in. Her notes are kept faithfully by the Project team (along with thousands of others) and her sometimes heart-rending story is seen as a kind of serial in their day to day work. The original Project came to an end in the 1950s, but was revived via the Archive in 1981, and continues to this day with a wide range of writers still contributing to it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Circus Aotearoa

Last year my daughter, grandson and I caught up with the Zirka Circus, a mostly Asian troupe. This was a circus that relied heavily on every member of the team being willing to so everything, including selling programmes, light sabres, tickets and so on. It was circus rendered small-scale, we thought.

And then we saw Circus Aotearoa. This is circus on a very small, very tight budget. (The aerial artiste's fishnet stockings had a large patch sewn on, for instance.) In fact, our first reaction was, this is pretty budget - and that not thought in the most friendly of senses.

A clown had some fun with small kids and an unstrung tennis racket before the actual show started, but the opening two acts didn't do much to encourage more enthusiasm. The string broke on the ringmaster's eggcup device (it's that thing you have on a string and send flying up into the air in order to catch it). He coped well with this, and managed to do his short act without one handle. The next act was the lady tightrope walker - except that she was performing on what you'd have to call a slack rope. Intentional, I'm sure, but it seemed a little odd.

However, after this, things suddenly picked up and it was a matter of spotting which of the eight performers was doing what for the rest of the afternoon. The ringmaster (yes, this circus, unlike Zirka, had a ringmaster) had a stint as a clown, and was very good. The clown from the beginning turned up again in his own act of balancing on various things that shouldn't be balanced on while juggling, and again as a half-clown tennis pro who juggled his tennis racquets and again in some other guise. The tight-rope lady did various other swinging or trapeze-type acts - four in all. One of the guys who seemed to be on hand only to throw things to the other artists, or pick up after them turned out to be a rope-swinger, doing some dazzling stuff up above our heads. The lady who'd ushered people in and then turned her attention to the sound desk came on for at least three acts in which she turned from total clowning (complete with whistle in one act) to some wonderful stuff with up to ten hula hoops. And a couple of guys who were supposed to throw knives - at someone, it never became clear who - were also on hand to do other jobs and acts at different times. (Their knife-throwing act was both clever and clownish - taking some poor guy out of the audience and fooling him into thinking he'd thrown two knives at one of the cast and somehow managed to hit the right spot each time.)

It was the good Kiwi humour and sense of fun that enlivened the show. A nice down-playing of the talent - talent good enough to fit into any decent travelling circus (you were never sure whether someone had intentionally goofed or whether it was part of the act) , and a sense of teamwork made you forget there were so few performers. There were no pyrotechnices, no lighting displays (in fact, someone had apparently forgotten to turn the - one and only - light on at the beginning), no big pieces of equipment, and even some of the costumes had a slight look of having come from an op shop (those of the clowns rather than the 'acts' people). And yet once it got underway it engaged the audience without difficulty and spoke on a level everyone was comfortable with.

It may not be a show to make you gasp at the displays of skill (we've become a bit blase about people doing daring things) but it's very entertaining and well worth a visit, though if you're expecting to see everything listed on their site's FAQ, you'll be disappointed....

Friday, March 18, 2011

Peter Brook still making magic

At the end of the Guardian article about Peter Brook's latest production, Mozart's Magic Flute, the writer quotes Brook as saying: what does touch me is when people come up to me in the street, as they sometimes do since they mistakenly think I've retired, and talk about some experience that has remained with them. That for me is the only real legacy: the idea that one has left a lingering trace in people's memories. In the end, that's all a director can hope to do."

I still remember seeing his Midsummer Night's Dream in the sixties - the set was a bare white box with a door at the back (I don't remember any other entrances). Everything was 'created' in this white space, and amazingly what was seen and heard was wondrous. It had a marvellous life. As Brook notes, you can't recreate 'Brook' - each director has to do his own work.

My first reaction, however, to his Magic Flute production was that he's skimmed it down to next to nothing. Here's how it's described.

His 90-minute production of Mozart's A Magic Flute, which comes to the Barbican next week, is quintessential late Brook. Out go the opera's pantomimic spectacle, big processions and trios of boys and ladies. Instead, we have a stage bare except for bamboo poles and minimal props and a young, nine-strong cast who deliver the work – sung in German with dialogue in French – crucially situated in front of Franck Krawczyk at the piano. As Brook wryly says: "If you come to this production looking for something that will slam you in the eyes, you've come to the wrong address."

That, at first, puts me off. However, you need to read further into the article. While this can't be a visual spectacle it's obviously going to be effective.

One other thing struck me: he also says:

"I have an unshakeable conviction," says Brook, "that never in history has a guy written the tunes, and someone has come along and put the words to them. I once asked Richard Rodgers whether he had any tunes in his bottom draw waiting for a lyric. He told me that it was only when he heard the lyricist's precise words, such as Oscar Hammerstein's "O, what a beautiful mornin'", that the melodies emerged. And in Mozart, the music is drawn to the surface by the words."

Brook's 'unshakeable conviction' may or may not be correct. I've certainly puzzled over the idea that tunes came first for many of the great musical comedy writers of the 20th century, but it's been stated in more than a few places that that's how they worked. Perhaps the answer is closer to this: the lyricist proposes some words; the composer gets a framework of an idea for the music; the lyricist fits his words to the music; the composer rearranges his music to make it work better; the lyricist alters his words to fit the rearranged music - and so on, until the product is ready. This may happen in a matter of hours, weeks or months. And perhaps the composers/lyricists, in reflecting back on how a song was written, forget all the to-ing and fro-ing that's gone on.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Learning from a disaster

Matthew Taylor from RSA writing in relation to the Japanese disaster (and also the Scottish economy, but that doesn't get mentioned in the following extract)...

It was...fascinating this hear James Naughtie on the Today Programme describing the issues which some Japanese people hope their country will now face up to in the wake of their unfolding tragedy:
first, how could the Government and the people have a deeper and more honest conversation about the choices facing a country which already had a debt twice the size of GDP even before the crisis.
Second, how could Japan rediscover the entrepreneurial flair which led to it being the world’s economic powerhouse in the seventies and eighties.
Third, how could Japan develop a new and stronger civil society to fill the gaps between big Government, big corporations and individuals?

The idea that Japan could turn this crisis into a national conversation about a new idea of citizenship and society is inspiring. It is also fascinating how recognisable these issues are to us in the UK.

Defend and Betray

Having found that the various non-fiction books I've got on hand at the moment aren't inspiring me to read them, for a bit of a change I decided to grab something off the Public Library's fiction shelves. Wound up with Anne Perry's Defend and Betray, written back in 1992, and one of the earlier books involving her detective, Inspector Monk.

It has the benefit of being written by someone who knows how to use language, which is a plus - there are plenty of thrillers/detective stories out there that are abominably written. (Interestingly enough on page 138 of this copy some person has corrected Perry's - or the editor's - 'bare' to 'bear' in the sentence '...bear the social shame of it.')

But after a good start, the book has bogged down a bit in the middle as the three investigating characters, Hester, who worked in the Crimea with Florence Nightingale; Rathbone the lawyer, and Monk keep going over the same ground trying to find out why the character who has confessed to the murder either couldn't have done it or, if she did, must have had some so far unexplained motive.

Hopefully things will start to move forward again or it'll join the League of Books I've-read-quite-a-bit-of-but-never-finished.

Anne Perry, it turns out, is actually Juliet Hulme, who with her friend Pauline Parker, murdered Parker's mother in Christchurch in 1954. I find it a little odd while reading the book that Perry should write about murder, murderers and victims with an objectivity that must have been difficult to achieve after her notorious act as a teenager. Still, given the chance to move on in life, I guess she had to do something, and she's certainly been very successful as a novelist.

Update, 20.3.11.
I've now finished the book, and yes, it does pick up on page 252, when the trial of the woman who's murdered her husband starts. From this point on it moves forward at a good pace, and the trial scenes are well written.
Some of the character drawing throughout, however, is a bit puzzling. Her detective, Monk, and Hester and Rathbone are constantly portrayed in ways that seem to show them being in conflict with themselves, so that we never quite get to grips with them. The three get on well, and yet, Perry is always telling us something that makes it seem that they don't. This character approach is a bit odd, to me.
The sub-plot concerning Monk's previous murder investigations and his gradually recovery of memories about them is just annoying. It interrupts the flow of the main story, rather than adding to it, and I found myself skimming these sections again and again, because they broke into the forward movement. Further, in the end they contribute nothing to the main plot, and merely show more of Monk's seeming conflicts in himself. Since these aren't terribly relevant to what else goes on, they were another irritant for me.
I think Perry overwrites: in building up the 19th century London world around her characters she often adds two or three paragraphs of detail. Yes, it reminds us that these people exist in a time different to our own, but it's extraneous to the book's basic intention. We don't need to know about the hansom cabs and vehicles in the streets, just because someone is crossing a well-known London square. We don't need to know how the various jams and stuff were made. And so on. These things need to be integrated into the book more.
Further, she's always giving us characters' feelings, and yet these are often out of tune somehow with the mood of the scene, as though she wants us to know that none of the main characters is really the same underneath as they are on the surface. For a mystery, these are just excess.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Accurate reporting

Two posts from today show the difficulties of reporting the news accurately - and why it's always worth asking questions about reported pieces. Furthermore both of these pieces involve the difficulties inherent in clearly understanding religious issues as opposed to sectarian ones.

The first discusses various clashes between Muslims and Christians in Egypt since the removal of Mubarak. The second looks at a particularly horrific attack on an Israeli family, allegedly by the Al Aqsa Martyrs (who at first took credit, then later claimed they hadn't done it).

In both cases, the writers attempt to clarify who is who and who did what to whom. In neither case are these things as clear as they should be in the original news reports, and the reports often leave out vital facts.

Sometimes the problem is publication policy; sometimes it's inept reporting; sometimes it's a biased use of language. Whatever the problem, it shows that in a world where we
can actually compare reports, it's worth doing so before we make up our mind about what we've been told.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan on the 11th March

I'm posting this in appeared on the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog (he's in NZ just now) on March 11th and is a 'conversation' between him and a colleague in Japan. It gives some idea of where things are at for those on the ground.

He writes: My friend Mika Goto was stuck in Tokyo tonight after the earthquake and I asked her some questions for the blog. I am posting it unedited.

TSK: Did you feel the earthquake in Tokyo? What is happening there now?

MIKA: I and co-workers, felt the earthquake in the central Tokyo.
It was the biggest earthquake in my life, intensity 5 in Tokyo area.
After emergency escape, we are told to go home or to go safe place,
but trains were stopped, there were traffic jam,
so that, there were lots of people walking to go home, or to find warm and safe place.

some of co-workers, who live near central Tokyo, they walked home.
some of us, who live away from the central, we stay at office for tonight.
hotels and restaurants were full, lots of people are staying in some building to keep themselves warm.
from around 11pm, trains started moving in Tokyo area.

phone line has been too busy, we lost contact with each other.
I kept calling to my parents, so that I could reach them to find that they are safe.
(my father is also staying in his office in the central Tokyo.)

tokyo, is ok, i gues, but the area close to the origin of the earthquake,
people there are facing difficult situation, with collaption of building, landslide, seawave.

one of my co-worker, her family is in Miyagi, near earthquake center,
inside of their house is messed up, but the family is safe and their hous is ok.

I heard, the parents of a guy in our church, live in Sendai, which is also near earthquake center, he hasnt reach them yet.

TSK: Have the churches begun to respond in Japan? What do you think they will do?

I dont know if they have begun, without any info,... but I hope, the churches aound the epicentral area will help, such as offering them place to stay, food, blanket, caring of those who lost their family...

TSK: People around the world are praying for Japan right now. And we expect that churches and organizations everywhere will want to help in any way we can. Which organization is the best one to donate money to help Japan?

I don't have any church org in mind now. I will ask some of church friends for this...

TSK: How can we pray for your country?

it will be great if you pray for Japan, asking Jesus what to pray.
I pray that no more death will be caused by this earthquake,
and that God will use good of this for the future benefit of this country and the people in this country... (coz this gave us opportunity for us to think what is really important in our lives.)

no photo for now......and,,, i m going to sleep... hope i can go home tomorrow morning.

thanks for your prayers, mika goto

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Rambling on about hats

Look at photos from the early twentieth century, and everyone - men, women and children - is wearing a hat. Everyone.

Even up until the fifties, when I was a child, most people wore hats. We wore caps to school, caps that had a little brim out the front made of hard card which was good for flicking someone else with.

And then suddenly this all stopped. It was as if overnight a switch had been reset and hats became invisible. You have to wonder what happened to them all.

We've never quite gone back to the total hat scene, although hats of various sorts are much more visible now than they were a decade ago. A few weeks ago, for a few days in a row, there was a man in a suit, on the bus, wearing a hat that looked like the one on the right - it's the sort of hat very few people wear these days.

Which reminds me that a couple of decades ago some brave soul started up a hat shop here in Dunedin, at a time when hats were practically invisible. A friend of mine bought one that was even more stylish than the one pictured, and wore it briefly - until he realised that just no one was wearing anything like that. And the shop closed within months of opening, as I recall, which was hardly surprising.

Women's hats, of the kind that used to be worn by every woman (with exceedingly extravagant versions available to those in 'society'), appear at weddings, but not much anywhere else. (My wife wore one to my son's wedding.) We seem to have moved on from the age when the hat was a symbol (more than something to protect your head) and when people spent a good deal of time on windy days holding onto their hats - or chasing them along the street. And we've certainly moved on from the time when it was normal to wear a hat,whatever the weather, and whatever the occasion.

In the hotel room we stayed at in Heidelberg four years ago, the only other item in the room was a hatstand - which seemed a bit optimistic.

However, having said that hats are well nigh invisible, that's not quite the truth. Hats of the more formal kind, with a brim all round seem to have gone into hiding, but hats in general (covering a wide range of styles) still appear - if you keep your eyes open.

Men and boys wear the baseball type cap (thankfully the right way round for the most part) and these are particularly useful for wearing as a kind of shade to keep the sun out of your eyes. Consequently I wear one through the summer when I'm walking to work, and even well into the winter - both to keep my head warm and also to act as a shade against the very low winter sun. I even wore a cloth (or flat) cap for a time - someone had given it to me and it just suited the purpose.

And talking of winter, that's when a vast array of hats appear: beanies that fit all around the bonce, (by beanie I mean the NZ version, not the one in the picture) and the occasional balaclava, and those peculiar knitted things full of colour that hang around down the ears and would loop around under the chin if it was stylish to do them up (I've just discovered they're called a 'chullo'). Knitted hats, in fact, are very common in the winter, and certainly in our climate they're great for keeping the heat in (although I've read somewhere recently that we don't actually lose a large percentage of our heat from our heads after all - wish scientists would get their facts right and stick with them).

Wikipedia, of course, has articles on the hat - this one has a great list of them with photos attached - it surprising just what a wide variety there are around the world. You can even buy Wikipedia trucker hats with various sayings on them...rather like the slogans on t-shirts.

Well, there you go. How to ramble about the hat when I could possibly, and probably should be, doing something else. What the heck, I'm nearly retired!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Buying online

Is it safe to buy life insurance online asks someone. The question might better be: is it safe to buy anything online?

If the law of averages is anything to go by, I'd say, Yes, of course it's safe. But then I've never had anything really serious go wrong with an online purchase. Occasionally I've received a book that wasn't the one I ordered, but the supplier has then turned round and given me the right one free of any further cost.

Dell Computers can be a bit difficult to deal with - for instance I'm waiting on an order I requested back at the beginning of last month. Dell usually comes through - even though they may take some time and a number of calls to people who speak English in such a way that it's hard to understand. I wouldn't buy from them again, (I've had to order printer cartridges because no one else can supply them) but to be fair, everything has eventually resolved itself with them.

I once ordered a DVD on Trade Me, and the seller turned out to be a bit dodgy, I think. He was basically waiting for the sale before he ordered the DVD from his supplier, which meant there were much longer times of waiting for goods to arrive than would be normal for a Trade Me transaction. His dodgy behaviour eventually bit him in the bum...he had so many people complaining that he stopped selling stuff altogether. It didn't help that he tended to accuse the buyer of causing problems (having a letterbox next to a shop, or across the road from a school??) rather than accepting that he was the problem.

Hmmm. I started off saying that on average it was okay to buy online. My stories are pretty mild by comparison with some I've heard. It's always worth dealing with a company that's reputable (Trade Me itself is far more reputable than the odd seller on there and they will sort out problems if needed) - I guess Dell is reputable, but their service aspect leaves something to be desired, and their speed of delivery is poor by comparison with most online companies. They also make it more difficult to get back to them than necessary.

As for life insurance, buying it online will be safe as long as you're sure the company you're dealing with is a legitimate life insurance company. There's the rub. If you don't know the company, check it out first - in some way or other. Don't rush in and take up a deal before you've got some further information. Pretty simple, really, but not everyone is patient enough to do it....

Incidentally, I've just remembered something that I did find odd when trying to buy some shoes online recently. Shoes? Yup. When we were in England in 2007, my shoes were wearing thin, and water was getting in. When we were passing through a town called Oswestry we came across an op shop (charity shop in the UK), and my wife spied a pair of Clark's shoes with Gore-tex waterproofing - the kind that are slightly more like a boot than a shoe. They'd been worn in, but that was all, and they were only £7.99. And they fitted like a glove.

I've worn these shoes ever since, and they're still going strong, except that they're starting to feel as though they're letting a little water in when it rainds. I'm not sure if they're actually doing it or whether it's just that my feet sometimes feel cold in them. (Not helped by the fact that during the Christmas holidays we went walking after a heavy shower and the water off the tall grass we were pushing through soaked my trousers and then drained off into my shoes. It took a couple of days to get them dry.)

Anyway, we decided that since we had a bit of cash in an English account, we'd buy another pair of these shoes before I finished work at the end of March. We found an equivalent pair online, Gore-tex and all, and went to buy them. Here's the rub: firstly Clark's wouldn't send shoes overseas. Okay, that was a bit of a pain, but we decided we could send them to one of our English rellies and they could forward them on. Went through the process of ordering them only to find that they didn't accept credit cards unless your home address was in the UK! That is extraordinary, particularly as we have a credit card that comes from a bank located in London.

Finally we had to direct credit money to our rellies so they could order and pay for the shoes. That seemed ridiculous, since Clark's is a well-established company, is very visible on the Internet, and advertises to all and sundry. Except that 'all and sundry' only includes citizens of the British Isles.

Occasionally I've come across American companies that are like this - although they're becoming a dying breed, thank goodness - but I've never found an English one supplying only to those inside its borders. Anyway, the shoes are here, they fit very well, and I'm gradually wearing them in. Hopefully they'll last as long as they last pair...!