June 2008

Again with the money-saving tips. Yoghurt is a healthy option if you’re eating dairy. It has lots of natural bacteria in it, and it is easy to add to a range of meals, or be eaten on it’s own. Plus, if you make it yourself, it’s very cheap.

Normally 600ml of decent yoghurt from Pak N’ Save will set you back about $4. But, I’ll show you how to make an entire litre for no more than $2.50, the cost of a bottle of milk.

All you’ll need then is milk, any sort at all, and some yoghurt to start your culture.

You can start the process by buying some natural yoghurt. And this will, of course, be your last purchase of this type.

You’ll also need a hot water cupboard. If you don’t have one… then it’s problematic. But not too much.

So, we’re off and making extremely delicious yoghurt! (more…)

Well, ubuntu is installed, and my OEM version of XP filed under ‘F’, for “floor”, and, “go away”.

Initial impressions? Not too tricky to install. Although, I chose the wrong keyboard in set-up, and now the ” and @ keys are reversed. Which is a little confusing.

Also installed WINE, which is a Windows emulator translation software of some sort that lets me load and run Windows-based software. As soon as I figure out how to get Direct X running, everything will be as normal. But, on a free platform!

If it continues to run well for about a week, then I’ll install it on Second Chef’s laptop, which is reaching the end of its useful life. Instead of purchasing a new one, I’ll get another couple of years with this platform!

Oh. One niggle is that it insists on telling you when you’re using hardware with closed code. And is ever-so-slightly haughty about it. But as I say, that’s just an impression. the main issue is that the video card will only display at 51 hertz…

Otherwise? Alrighty!

So, in this interesting story the papers are advising people so save money by filling up their tanks at independent stations, why is admirable, and a great change to outright complaints!

Apparently, petrol is 3c cheaper per litre at place like Gull. Which means that you can save $1.80 on your average 60litre fill. A very smart move there. There’s no point being loyal to any particular station when they’re basically funnelling money to big corporations. The bastards.

But what makes me wonder is this… filling the car from empty will still cost you $124!!!

So someone tell me why they drive at all? Aren’t you just outright being gouged? I opted to just save the $124.

Tell you what, this is exactly why we moved to a slightly more expensive rental in town, and sold the cars. Not only are we saving money by not paying for parking, warrant of fitness and registration (up to $4k a year, per vehicle), but no throwing good money after bad with petrol costs.

Don’t feel jealous though! Move into the city! Plenty of room for everyone.

And, the more people whinging about the boy racers the better…

I know I’ve been harping on about food prices a lot lately. But it’s your best interests I have at heart. Which made me think, you know, I could buy a heart from the local New World, and show them how to cook that.

Then I thought, where do these stupid ideas come from?

So instead I settled for liver. “EEESH” I hear you say, “Who’d eat that crap?!” Well, if you’re worried about food prices then you should. Not only is liver one of the cheapest meats outside of eating insects, it’s also highly nutritious. On my recent trip to Auckland I had liver cooked in cream, and that is pretty damn good and rich.

Another good reason to eat offal is that if you’re Green enough to care, but not Green enough to give up meat, then you should consciously eat more and different portions. The great crime of C21st factory farming is that it allowed consumers to start eating their favourite portions only. Not only is this an inefficient use of a living animal, but its limiting the great opportunities you have to sample a variety of terrific flavours. And a good liver, cooked till it’s fluffy is truly great.

So, what will you need? Here I have a bank-breaking 260g of liver coming in at $2.14.

There’s also 400g of bacon costing $4.16. I’ll only use 100g of that, so it’s costing me $1.04.

Then I’ll use a couple of onions, and a dash of sherry. All up that’s less than $5 to put meat on the table for two.

Otherwise, the meal will include sauerkraut, polenta, and some broccoli.

That’s right, this dish will be everything you every hated eating as a kid.

Heh. (more…)

Look you crazy people. Green thinkers, politicians, advocates, and crazies have been saying for decades that oil would one day become too expensive to base an economy on.

Even though this isn’t the mythical ‘peak oil’, we’re experiencing what a high-cost-oil-economy is like.

You can’t say you haven’t been warned. You’ve had DECADES to sort your shit out and find a low-oil alternative…

Let’s start this post by my giving you a run-down of a semi-fictional situation. A friend of a friend recently hit 38. This person being an entirely normal woman she is interested in having a child, but… isn’t currently in a stable relationship. So what can she do? IVF is prohibitively expensive of course. She doesn’t have any male friends she feels close enough to for them to both reach a ‘conception arrangement’ (I’m sure there’s some metrosexual phrase for that, if anyone can illuminate, I’d appreciate it).

So what she chose was the third option, getting up the duff to a semi-casual boyfriend.

The details of what actually transpired are sketchy, and I’m not wanting to gossip, so I’ll state some “facts”, and any commenters should stick to them.

1. We have the casual boyfriend, and the woman wanting a child.

2. The casual boyfriend isn’t informed about what’s going on, and doesn’t know that there isn’t any contraception (perhaps he was told “I’ll take care of it”).

3. Conception ensues, and the baby is carried to term despite the boyfriend stating that he isn’t interested in being a parent.

And what’s wrong with the situation? Well, I’m not so sure myself, which is why I thought I’d bring it up.

For starters I imagine that in my group this type of action could become increasingly common. A lot of women around my age have left children very late, and lot are becoming very jumpy about missing their window.

The scenario I’ve outlined does raise issues about the rights of fathers in an environment where single 30-something women are seeking children. If you’re sleeping with a woman who is pining for children, do you have an obligation to support any offspring if you were under the misapprehension that contraception was involved? A decent man will always take responsibility for his children, but if you were mislead into a conception haven’t you just been taken advantage of?

I’m of the opinion that if you have made the presumption that children are not part of a relationship (casual or otherwise) but find yourself a father, then you are justified in asking, wtf? This is especially the case because while you aren’t legally obliged to put your name on a birth certificate, you are morally obliged to do so. As I say, a decent man will take responsibility for any child he helps create, and there is a necessary and appropriate social stigma in abandoning a mother and child.

But if you’ve made the decision not to procreate and had that choice taken away from you, then you are in effect trapped under a moral obligation to be a decent man, and a father. And what flows from that moral obligation is a financial one.

Personally I find this scenario alarming, and a little outrageous. I can understand that missing out on children is a personal tragedy for many. And I can understand that social, financial and career pressures can prevent a woman from having children at the “ideal” time. Furthermore there is nothing wrong with single parents (assuming that the parent continues to support themself and the child by their own means), but two parents are most usually a better option. But none of these factors give a woman the right to use a man to conceive, and thereby entrap him in parenthood, if he choses not to enter it.

I should reiterate. This is a simplified re-telling of a real-life situation I’d like to act as a conversation-piece. So your opinions, please. 

The thing about airport waiting lounges is the glimpses you get of the lives of other people. It’s something of a cliche these days to talk about how you can see the best and worst of life in the way people greet each other, and frankly I’m sick of hearing or thinking about it. It’s only because modern Western societies isolate ourselves communally as a matter of course that the exception of a huge family greeting is exceptional. We divide ourselves into age cohorts and only get close to our relatives at weddings and funerals, then act amazed when we realise that meeting and greeting is such a nice feeling.

Worse is the fact that airports are the most expensive place on earth. There’s plenty of people who get a kick out of ‘pay and display’ lifestyles, and I would refer all of them to a life of lurking in lounges. You’ll be broke in no time. For example, I was interested in a Lonely Planet guide called “South-East Asia on a Shoestring”. The first thing I noticed was that you’d immediately blow any pretense your budget on the $65 tome. Then you’d want to be sure you didn’t buy a single gram of food or drink.

Perhaps that’s why people are so damn happy to see one another, “sweet jesus… I can finally escape this noisy, air-conditioned hell.”

Despite all this whinging, I seem to have spent an extraordinarily long time sitting about in airports. Half the time I was waiting for a friend or relation to come in from New Zealand, or sending one home (consequently I’ve mastered the “any excuse to not actually enter the terminal” approach, which means that I think airport parking fees are actually a good thing), so I’m well-familiar with the arrival/departure anxiety that appears to result in the effervescence of the welcome. And I remain cynical about the authenticity of the emotions on display.

Now, this isn’t to say that I think all greetings or farewell’s are fake. Rather that the atmosphere lends itself a a smidge of dramatisation. Lot’s of waterworks when someone is only going away as far as Australia, when, in reality, they’re a short trip away and can be easily visited. Maybe it’s the realisation that one should have spent a lot more time with the departing person that drives the wailing and gnashing of teeth up that extra octave. Who knows?

Or more importantly, who cares… Once I’ve been lying on one of those uncomfortable lounge chairs trying to catch up on the sleep I’m missing by hauling my backside out of bed to collect a friend at 3am, only to find the flight delayed, or customs is holding people up, or I got the wrong time, then feeling the love of the people around me is the last thing I feel like motivating myself to participate in.

Worse, airports are one of those places where the masses get to blend in all their glory. You get toffs sitting uncomfortably and trying to pretend they aren’t sitting two feet from a lurking bogan family. You get rascists pretending they aren’t a seat away from “the Maoris”, or “the Asians”. And you get the smells, the wailing, the running around, the loud cellphones, the grumpy kids, the happy kids, the hungry kids, the inquisitive kids who don’t know that you’re not related and therefore don’t give a goodamn that they just “did poopy”, the stinky old people, the uncomfortable looking and slightly distressed disabled, the crowd of drinkers, the loner stoner hiding under his hoody, the poorly dressed slappers with their gear out on display, the dazed smokers bringing skinny wrinkled lips in from the cold in a miasma of stale smells and so pale as to almost be translucent skin lacking all circulation, morbidly obese people looking happy at the prospect of being upgraded to first class and therefore enjoying the benefit of slowly drowning in nutrients for the first time in their lives, the new family family proudly touting and displaying a baby like they’re the first people in the world to breed, the exhausted parents herding four children and looking wistfully at the childless couples like pumping out that first sprog was the craziest thing they ever did to make themselves happy, the ordinary people, the beautiful people, the persistently friendly, the compulsively grumpy, and last of all, the heartbroken.

And all of it laid out like a night in front of the telly. God I hate it.

Nice to be back in Wellington by the way.

On a visit to Mount Maunganui a few years back my brother responded to my remark about the place changing significantly since my last residence there with a muttered, “I thought so…” I’ve guessed that people in town get so used to the gradual pace of change that they don’t appreciate it when it happens.

And I think you could say the same about Auckland. The place is still the same old nightmare of car-driven sprawl, but it’s definitely seen a series of changes that have vastly improved it. Downtown is much flashier for starters. My earliest impressions of Auckland are (strangely) of a bunch of pubs where sailors or bogans got drunk. Don’t ask me why. It could be because most of what I heard about the place while still living in the Mount was from school-mates who had gone into the Navy, and loved to get out in downtown on a little R&R.

Back in the day you’d find yourself a decent spot in the Occidental and start putting away pints, which just reinforced the image. There were a few flash bars and the like on High Street, and perhaps Vulcan lane,  but on the whole it was mostly a pub-driven scene. It sure doesn’t seem like that today. There are well-dressed toffs everywhere, expensive cars, and soul-less chain-store or boutiques for miles. It’s like someone compressed any big city in the world into a 100m sq. area.

Now, that shouldn’t sound like a criticism. I’m snobby about all corporate-culture outlet-land regardless of which city it’s in. Lambton Quay is in equal degrees both boring and banal.

As I’m settling more and more into my gradually accreting curmudgeonly ways I’m finding that I’m actually insulted by expressionless commercialism and consumption. The meaningless blather that makes up a central city (again, not just Auckland) is one of the drivers of an economy, but it never ceases to amaze me how much crap people put out for sale. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to consumption per se. I am however constantly amazed at the way in which cities spring into existence to provide people with all these things they think they need.

And my hasn’t central Auckland grown.

On the plus side, we did stop in at a quaint little market next to the Britomart Centre. Tell you what, there’s a development that’s done the city a world of good. The market could benefit from one of those spot in Metro to get a few more punters in there, but nice all the same. On the other hand, it made me wish we had a car to get out to Otahuhu.

Another plus is that, commerce being the driving factor in the city, shopkeepers and the like were a lot friendlier that I’m used to in Wellington. And that’s especially the case in any place that sold service (I got a damn got Ristretto, and an all-good attitude from the Barista). In Wellington service staff tend to be students from small towns just trying to put together booze money, so often the “I really don’t give a shit” attitude is entirely underwhelming. Here though? Very nice.

But. And there’s always a but. Try asking a question like, “where does the bus to Dominion Rd leave from?” We decided to ask a few people, and that’s a show-stopper right there. One girl actually looked at me like I was taking the piss out of her! 

In the end we settled for the first bus we saw. Which was to a suburban, car-destination mall…

In the history of anti-war novels Slaughterhouse Five seems to be the least offensive. I know that makes it seem as if I’m damning the book with faint praise, but that is far from the intention. Some novels take horror to new heights, while others take irony to new depths, but Slaughterhouse does neither, instead laying out war and death as an inevitability none of us can escape.

It’s that idea I found most compelling while reading this all-to-brief account. Vonnegut was apparently captured during the Second World War and taken to the city of Dresden to act as forced labour. Not long after his arrival the city was fire-bombed by the Allies in one of the most controversial massacres in a Twentieth Century characterised by brutal, mechanised killings.

What’s fascinating about Slaughterhouse Five is the manner in which Vonnegut casts his novel so as to almost, but not quite, trivialise the horrors his proxy character, Billy Pilgrim, is experiencing. The entire novel has a bizarre whimsy that is at once both delightful (it’s not often you get to giggle every few pages of a book describing the murder of tens of thousands of civilians), and horrible.

Vonnegut writes in a pulp-paperback style (the book even includes a character who appears to be a nod to the doyen of pulp, Philip K. Dick), but this style serves to reinforce the distance that Pilgrim finds himself from the events unfolding around him. This, combined with the premise that Pilgrim is travelling backwards and forwards in time as the novel unfolds, serve to undermine the distance of the reader from Dresden. Dresden is not an event that happened in the Spring of 1945, it is an event that occurs now, even as you read this post, and it is an event that will always be happening.

It’s that conflation of linear time into a “constant presence” that acts to both trivialise and sharpen the narrative. Dresden is something that happened 60 years ago, but is also something that could and does happen every day here in the C21st. And perhaps that’s where Vonnegut is trying to find the horror in his story. Brutal deaths from warfare are as much an everyday occurrence today as they were in 1945, and as much as the Vietnam era in which Vonnegut was publishing. Dresden serves as a constant reminder of what we are capable of, and still do, and which we will always be compelled to do.

A decision I made shortly after leaving Public Address was to not make the mistake of starting to blog under a pseudonym. The problem was that as newly-minted public servant in 2005, and it also being election year, it had been extremely difficult not to make extensive comment about subjects one does not broach when in the employ of the Crown. In plain English, I had to learn to keep my mouth shut.

And it wasn’t easy, and I failed sometimes.

When I kicked off Object Dart here my first thought was that it would be easy to assume a non-de-plume and get to blogging, and saying whatever the heck I wanted. The main hurdle to this idea was that “Che Tibby” had become something of a brand (for better or worse) over at PA, so losing the title would mean losing some potential readers who might want to migrate. Ego is, after all, a powerful motive.

But more importantly, I knew that using the pseudonym would doubtless get me in to a little bit of grief. Something I had been aware of for a while (mostly because I was guilty of doing it) was the inappropriate pressing of the “hot send” button. The crew at Sir Humphries were on the receiving end of it a number of times. There were quite a few issues I used to feel a lot more excited about, and if I was hopped up on coffee I would happily give out a broadside. Nazis used to drive me over the edge… I really hate the damn nazis…

As my intended brief stint in the public service has dragged out to a couple of years I’m finding that the anger about issues is abating, and the abatement seems to be doing good things for my general levels of stress. So I think it’s with actual online experience I can now dish out advice to other members of the public service who might like to get themselves into the Web2.0.

Tip #1. Using phrases like “Web2.0″ is sooooo 2007. What was Web2.0 is now OEM and not a big deal.

Tip #2. Blog, twitter, edit Wikipedia and comment places under your real name. If you’ve genuinely got the time to be engaging and/or relationship building online, then the pseudonym will or could get you into hot water.

I’ve covered this ground before, but Poneke’s recent experience with some of the seamier side of the blogosphere clearly demonstrates that there are people out there who will likely try to “get you” simply because you’re a public servant. We’re not the most popular occupation at the best of times, so the public finding out that we’re “wasting time/money” by putting our private lives online is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Using a non-de-plume, which is inevitably found out, can only add suspicion to the minds of non-interweb people who probably don’t know what the hell you do on a good day, let alone one where your hangover or mood doesn’t let you reach that exalted stage of “most productive”.

It was better therefore to go under my on name (which a surprising number of people thought was a pseudonym anyhow!) Firstly this allows me to own whatever I do online. There can be no cases of mistaken identity, and no getting my workmates under the same IP address in any trouble (Wikipedia editing anyone…). Secondly, it actively prevents me from straying into to ‘hot send’ territory. This is especially the case if I’m commenting from a work computer.

Thing is, the day is almost here where interaction online is no longer frowned upon in the workplace. All indications are that professional people should be able to self-regulate their internet usage, and that general levels of web interaction and use of applications will increase accordingly.

The risk is that public servants are tempted to say things online they might happily say in the pub, and that this is recorded permanently. My own view is that using a pseudonym will only increase the likelihood that an individual will take that risk. You only have to look at the behaviour of public servants around key or interest-specific issues (such as the seabed and foreshore), to see that people do occasionally step across the line.

But Google doesn’t cache a bit of protest. It does almost everything else. So keeping it all above board means your future self might not find a sudden rush of cold-water poured on an otherwise spotless career.

Oh, and Tip #3. Don’t write about, hint about, or blurt about work. Ever.

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