Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blame it on the Badugi

It's been a strange week. I spent a large chunk of my work day yesterday on websites from the BBC, CNN, Reuters, you name it, trying to determine whether Michael Jackson really was dead. He was only fifty, but boy did he pack a lot into those fifty years. He polarised people; I always had a lot of sympathy for him. So much of what happened (as is the case for us all) was a result of his upbringing, and largely out of his control. He'd always been a very unusual bloke, but in about '95 (when he did Earth Song which I thought was amazing) he fell out of the crazy tree and hit every branch on the way down. So sad. (By the way I didn't invent that phrase; I heard it on TV and thought it would come in handy here.)

Today I got two new tyres for my car and ordered a case of wine for Mum and Dad for when they get back from Vietnam. They've both just had their birthdays. Mum's was one of those special landmark birthdays so she also got a box of expensive but very good chocolates. I got home just in time for the badugi tournament, and I qualified for the second time, finishing 54th after a head-spinning 6¼ hours. I came back from the brink on several occasions and was extremely fortunate to survive. One time I think I went all in with a queen badugi; another time I clung on by the barest of margins, making the worst possible six while my adversary had the best possible seven. At one stage I was down to less than a tenth of the mean stack size.

On Tuesday I had that presentation for real. It could have been a lot worse. As expected I got asked lots of questions I didn't know the answers to, but at least people could tell I'd put some work into it. The presentations overran so my boss, who was to go last, didn't have time to give her talk on the subject of "philosophy". A shame, because I'd really like to learn about Jung and Freud and all that stuff, but as it turns out it was actually going to be about the philosophical basis for pricing our products. That reminds me of the men's group which I'll be attending next week; the subject of Freud comes up a lot there.
That afternoon our team went go-karting as a team building event. It was the first time I'd done it apart from one very brief go when I was eleven or so. You think you're going at breakneck speed, and it would have been a lot of fun if I was with a different group of people. Unfortunately my colleagues are all quite competitive, and I lack the aggressive type-A personality needed to be good at that kind of thing. So most of the time I was at the back of the field, which normally wouldn't matter, but my workmates liked comparing grid positions, lap times and all that malarkey.

I'd been dreading Tuesday for a while so I'd almost forgotten about Wednesday which was exam results day. It was no surprise to me that I didn't pass. The pass rate, at nearly 50%, was a surprise, but my heart wasn't really in it and my head was often all over the place. So I now have until next Friday to decide what to do next, though I've already decided. I won't be doing another exam this year. At work on Wednesday I had a panic attack, my first for some time. Thankfully it only lasted a minute or two and nobody noticed anything untoward.

It's been very foggy here the last 24 hours, so the ships' foghorns have been going full blast. For some reason I don't mind that, just like I don't think I'd mind living near a railway line. Wimbledon will be on telly shortly, but as I've got the French club in the morning I don't think I can stay up all night and watch it, as much as I'd like to.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The C-word

On Tuesday I felt my grip on my job become more and more tenuous, and frankly I just didn't want to be there any more. I was hoping that someone from work could get swine flu - just a mild case of it - so that we could all be sent home for a few days. I calculated that if H1N1 continues to spread throughout the country at the same rate, then by July 2nd it would be more likely than not that someone at work has it, which would be great because I'd be able to stay up all night and watch the business end of Wimbledon. Nadal has pulled out - probably a sensible decision - opening the door for Fed to break Sampras's record, though in my mind he's already surpassed Sampras. The career grand slam, five straight Wimbledons, five straight US Opens, twenty consecutive grand slam semi-finals, what can you say?

So I felt utterly hopeless on Tuesday. Work was crap and I couldn't summon up the energy to do anything about it. That situation has changed somewhat, and I'm now seriously looking at vacancies. I found two promising jobs on the internet, but anything advertised online is likely to get so many applications that I've got more chance of winning one of my badugi tournaments. Still, no harm in trying.

Today I had a longish session on the cardio-glide machine Bazza gave me. Then I took the ferry into town on what was a sunny if slightly chilly day. When I got back I spoke to my aunt and uncle on the phone, sidestepping any questions about my exams. They were in Auckland, about to board a plane to South America, which if I had the time and money would be near the top of my places-to-go list. Later I gave Brendan from the men's group a call - we talked (or rather he talked mostly) at length about the vagaries of real estate.

The C-word by the way is cholesterol. Every two years at work we're given a health check - a great idea I think - and yesterday I found out I've got cholesterol up the wazoo. I received a magnitude 6.4 shock on seeing those results: how on earth have I ended up there? I do consume my fair share of fish and chips, red meat and cheese, but I don't think I'm any worse than the average Kiwi bloke, and I eat plenty of fruit and vege. I will try to change my diet over the next few months (I've just bought a whole load of salmon and cashew nuts - foods I really like anyway but are just a tad on the expensive side). If I stay somewhere in the sixes despite my best efforts then I'm afraid it might mean more pills.
Cholesterol isn't the only aspect of my health I'd like to change. I've also been missing out on a whole load of vitamin D. I used to live in a sunny flat in Milford and took a two-mile walk to work, which was by the beach, so I got out at lunchtime and soaked up the sunshine if there was any. Fast forward three years and I'm living in a dark basement flat (with great views but I don't get the sun) and I drive to work, which has since relocated to a faceless business park where there's nothing to do, so people just stay inside.

I'm now getting into another new poker game - deuce-to-seven single draw. It works just like five-card draw, you know, the one you learn as kids, but the object is to make as bad a hand as possible. In other words the hand rankings are the same as for regular poker but in reverse. The only exception to this is A2345 which doesn't count as a straight, because for some unknown reason aces always play high in deuce-to-seven. The nuts in this game is a non-flush 75432. On Thursday night I had my first turn at a single draw freeroll. Out of 3600 entrants and after 4¼ hours I came 86th, thirty places outside the cut-off for the next round. I ran hot for the first couple of hours but then the hands dried up. It was the first time I'd played a tournament with antes - I didn't feel I adjusted enough for the extra pressure these put on my stack.

When I first arrived in Auckland I often used to hop in the car and get the hell out of the city, usually somewhere up north. I haven't done that in ages, so that's my plan for tomorrow.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My unsorted life

It wasn’t a bad weekend really, even if most of it was a distraction from what I’m supposed to be doing, which is sorting my life out. After a few of the comments I’ve made about my job, Andy said I had to see Office Space, a movie set in a software company during the late-90s IT boom. So I bought a copy of the DVD off TradeMe. It could have been better, and was very much of its time I thought – back when shares in traded at stratospheric levels – but it still made me laugh, and that makes a comedy a success, doesn’t it? At times things got a little too close to some of my experiences in my own job.

On Saturday night I went with Julie to see an amateur production of Little Shop of Horrors. I loved it. The only musical I’d previously seen was Cats, several years ago in Australia. Cats did absolutely nothing for me, but I really enjoyed this one – it’s funny, it’s dark, and unlike Cats it actually has a plot. I’d never appreciated how much work goes into this sort of production, especially a musical where there are so many extra lines to learn. And I’d never realised how much skill is involved in writing a musical in the first place – getting all those rhymes to work is very clever stuff when you think about it. I reckon I’d actually prefer this type of production in an intimate setting to a professional performance in a big theatre. It’s cheaper for a start, the performers are very passionate about what they do, and if you do get the odd fluffed line occasionally (on Saturday that happened maybe once), is it really that big a deal? Perhaps they could have made the surroundings even more intimate by allowing the Audrey II plant to spread its “tentacles” over the front few rows of the audience.

I had another go at that badugi tournament yesterday. This time I came 215th out of the 6590 who entered. I probably should have been knocked out at the half-hour mark – I was down to a few hundred in chips, went all in, and hit a six badugi on the last draw. I survived another two hours, my luck finally running out when I got involved in a three-way pot with my pat 8432. One of my opponents, the one I wasn’t worried about, made a six to eliminate me. These freerolls are a bit of a time-waster, but considering I’ve made the top 5% three times in five attempts, including one top-64 finish, I’ll carry on with them for the time being.

Yesterday was my mum’s 60th birthday. My parents are currently on holiday in Vietnam. There’s plenty to do and see there (it's a world away from Geraldine) so they should be having an exciting time. I just hope they’re not finding the June heat too oppressive and that they aren’t spending too many dong. Yes, the dong is Vietnam’s currency, and you get rather a lot of dong for your dollar. There are 11,000 dong to one New Zealand dollar, or 30,000 to the pound. On the subject of low-valued currencies, I recently bought this note on TradeMe:

It’s a Zimbabwean 50 trillion dollar note. That’s a five followed by thirteen zeros. All those noughts are a bit of a joke on the face of it, and certainly make for an interesting collector’s item, but really they’re just a measure of how a once-prosperous country has totally gone to the dogs.

All this talk of dong also reminds me of Friday’s meeting at work, when I had to describe to the whole marketing department what a dongle was. Not a dong, but a dongle. As you can imagine, it isn’t easy to even mention the word dongle (which is in fact a mundane piece of computer equipment) without sending people into fits of hysterics.

Work is still driving me barmy. Tomorrow I’ll be going to see my psychologist – I still have to prepare for our session – followed by the men’s group. Maybe after that I’ll be one step closer to sorting my life out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sixty-six grand

I attended the house auction on Saturday, and once more I found myself priced out of the market. The bidding skyrocketed, finishing a whopping $66,000 above my limit. There was predictably a lot of patter from the auctioneer - "you won't want to come second" - but it seemed to me precisely the kind of auction you would want to come second in. To my mind the eventual buyers paid too much. I had an agent on my shoulder during the auction - I found that intimidating and it's something I'll have to avoid if I ever try and buy a property that way again. The highlight for me was a ginger-haired boy of around seven who defused the tension in the auction room by shouting out a rather high bid. The auctioneer didn't accept his bid, but I found it amusing that the final sale price was $1000 above that kid's figure.

I got caught up in a marathon badugi tournament on Sunday - after almost six and a half hours I finally bowed out in 39th place out of 6700 competitors, enough to qualify me for a real-money
tournament which I can play at any time. It was a steady but unspectactular accumulation of chips for me until the fifth hour, when three hands in quick succession defined my tournament. When my seven-high badugi was cracked by a five I was in dire chip trouble, so when I was dealt a jack badugi soon after, I had no real choice but to go all in. My hand was only a 57% favourite against my sole opponent who drew one, but thankfully it held up. A few hands later I caught a six-high to take out a sizeable pot, and figured I'd have just enough chips to make the crucial top 64 if I played conservatively enough. With steadily increasing blinds, "just enough" is more than you think. I was moved to another table and from then on the game became farcical. The biggest stack in the whole tournament was at my table - he/she would raise every hand so I had no option but to fold, as did pretty much the whole table, every hand. Hands were going by so quickly that there was a real danger I'd be blinded out, so I slowed the game down. When the field was whittled down to 64 I was relieved, though I did wonder if it was all worth it.

I got to work early this morning in readiness for my 8:30 presentation, only to find out I'd got the date wrong by two weeks. That just goes to show how disorganised and "out of the loop" I am in my workplace. Though it would have been nice to get it out of the way, on balance I'm relieved because I'd have had no choice but to use decidedly dodgy data. I doubt by the 23rd I'll have any more idea of what I'm talking about, but at least by then I might be talking bollocks about real data.

I've had some interesting conversations at work in recent days. Firstly there's Pam, the cleaner, who's obsessed with her kids' tennis. Telling her that I play tennis was a big mistake - she never stops talking about the latest trophies her three boys have won. Then yesterday I spoke, for the first time, to this woman who's writing a sci-fi trilogy. I have a lot of admiration for anyone able to write a book, but when she said she'd written the first book of the series in just six weeks - whilst holding down a nine-to-five job - I was blown away. And today I met someone who'd bought some shares in an Australian oil and gas company for five cents apiece a few weeks ago; they're now worth seven times that.

I'm still seeing the psychologist. I'm now getting on pretty well with her and we're even starting to develop plans and goals. Long may that continue.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The tide is going out

I haven't posted here for a little while. My parents were up here over the long weekend (these cheap flights mean I'll see a lot more of them now!) It was good having them up here, though the Antarctic blast that swept its way up the country did make my flat unbearably cold at times. We ate out twice, spent the best part of a day at the Auckland museum (which was very good I thought), went to Takapuna market, played Scrabble (more on that in a later post) and looked at a house I was interested in (it received their approval and has an auction on Saturday).

Then Mum and Dad flew back, and it was back to work for me. Tuesday was one of my better work days; I get on pretty well with my two younger colleagues but they'd both caught a bout of (swine?) flu over the weekend which meant I picked up their quoting work. That was great, because I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it. I felt better about myself because I knew I was helping people. I used to do quotes all the time, and would have been quite happy to have carried on doing them, but alas I was in a career, rather than just a job, so that was never an option. It was back to normal yesterday, which means feeling hopelessly inadequate. Today was even worse and I just wanted to go home. I've got to do a bloody presentation on Tuesday and I'm still nowhere near even getting the data I need for it. I don't even know what the presentation is for. The tide is rapidly going out on my job, so doing something about that has suddenly become Priority A.

On Tuesday I saw the psychologist who basically said I need to find ways to make my remaining months (weeks?) at my current workplace as tolerable as possible; one of those tactics was to ask more questions. That evening I went to the men's group; Andy, talented bloke that he is, wasn't there because he was playing live music on the radio. I met up with Andy during my lunch hour today though.

I hope to be starting Italian classes some time in July. I did study the language a bit in '01 and '02, just using books and tapes, but I'll start at the lowest rung of the ladder and hopefully I'll work my way up.