Monday, March 29, 2010


On Saturday I had the pleasure of receiving a card from Emma's parents; they seemed to like this post I wrote about her. This must be a very difficult time for them, so I was really touched to get that card.

Yesterday I had lunch with Julie at Five Loaves and a drink at the Masonic. She's taken a massive hit from the collapse of three finance companies. It's so sad that people of her age - who can least afford it - have lost out the most, to companies whose chairmen, or whatever you call them, are simply cowboys.

I've just had at email from the States; they want another 35 puzzles from me. That should keep me busy, and being currently out of work, it's a potential lifeline. I've also just finished making a giant cryptic crossword which I hope to upload on to my website soon.

My overall profit on PokerStars hit $400 yesterday, and that's despite this hand which eliminated me from Saturday's tournament in 13th place (twelve paid):

PokerStars Game #41765335062: Tournament #254836334, $2.00+$0.20 USD
Badugi Pot Limit - Level X (250/500) - 2010/03/26 23:16:57 ET
Table '254836334 7' 8-max Seat #6 is the button
Seat 1: douganized (2580 in chips)
Seat 2: mcbane1988 (11285 in chips)
Seat 5: scott3437 (14655 in chips)
Seat 6: rain_2 (5510 in chips)
Seat 7: plutoman20 (14370 in chips)
Seat 8: kizzle72 (8899 in chips)
plutoman20: posts small blind 250
kizzle72: posts big blind 500
Dealt to plutoman20 [5c 3c 4h 3h]
2 folds, scott3437: calls 500, 1 fold, plutoman20: calls 250, kizzle72: checks
*** FIRST DRAW ***
plutoman20: discards 2 cards [5c 3h], Dealt to plutoman20 [3c 4h] [Jh As]
kizzle72: discards 1 card, scott3437: discards 2 cards
plutoman20: checks, kizzle72: checks, scott3437: checks
plutoman20: discards 1 card [Jh], Dealt to plutoman20 [3c 4h As] [5d]
kizzle72: discards 1 card, scott3437: discards 2 cards
plutoman20: bets 900, kizzle72: folds, scott3437: raises 1600 to 2500, plutoman20: raises 3400 to 5900, scott3437: raises 3600 to 9500, plutoman20: raises 4370 to 13870 and is all-in, scott3437: calls 4370
*** THIRD DRAW ***
plutoman20: stands pat on [3c 4h As 5d], scott3437: stands pat
*** SHOW DOWN ***
plutoman20: shows [5d 3c 4h As] (Badugi: 5,4,3,A)
scott3437: shows [Ah 3s 2c 4d] (Badugi: 4,3,2,A)
scott3437 collected 29240 from pot

The good news is that I'm running a bit better than that in the cash games.

Dad is flying out to the UK this evening; I'm just going to give him a quick call.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

He's not autistic, he's a very naughty boy

Well thankfully the health care bill squeaked through. There's a hell of a long way to go yet, but this is surely a step in the right direction.

An article on Asperger's syndrome is the cover story of the latest North & South magazine. I had to visit three dairies to get a copy - the first two had apparently sold out. Maybe that had something to do with the striking image on the front page: a screaming boy holding two bananas to his head like horns. The headline reads, "Asperger's (in big black capitals) or just a very naughty boy?" My mum does the odd spot of relief teaching; a couple of weeks ago she had a boy in her class who according to Mum, "had Asperger's or ADHD, I'm not sure which, but he's really just a little shit." She might have been right for all I know; I never saw him. But that does go to show that there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the condition.

Jen Birch made an appearance in the Asperger's piece. It was a good article, I thought, and it raised some interesting points. In recent years autism in all its forms has become almost sexy, forming the basis of numerous characters in books and TV, but in reality it's a very unsexy condition which makes life difficult for anybody who has it and those close to them.

I might be buying North & South again. There are plenty of other good articles, and I'm still nowhere near reading it all. For instance there's one about the dying (or is it?) art of handwriting in the digital age, and another about Kiwi-based board games. I remember as a kid trying to invent board games. Or rather my dad, who is a very creative person, did the inventing, and I just tweaked them a bit. One of the games involved racing cars on a three-lane "track", the idea being that you use more fuel by driving in the fast lane but get there, well, faster. The winner was the first to complete a certain number of laps (twelve?) but if you ran out of petrol you were in deep doo-doo. You would pick up cards along the way telling you to do this or that, with the pit stop acting as Monopoly's jail. Another of Dad's inventions was a mountaineering game played on a pyramidal "board"; it was a very clever idea I thought, but things quickly got complicated and we abandoned it. Maybe I'll think of resurrecting it one day. I should point out that I rarely played games as a child; the only kid of a similar age around was my brother, and he was never interested. If we played Hangman he'd pick a three-letter word, which was always CAT or DOG. I had a football table, but he'd only play with me if it was the first to score one goal. You get the idea.

North & South also gave me some ideas for books to buy when I'm in the UK (they're too expensive here): Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey and Petina Gappah's An Elegy for Easterly, a story of life in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. I'll try and make the most of the exchange rate (the pound has plummeted against the Kiwi dollar) when I'm over there.

Monday was a strange day. I saw my counsellor in Albany at lunchtime but I also had tennis up there that evening. Because I currently don't have a car, I basically had to stay up there all day (by the time I'd arrived home on the bus, I'd have had to leave again almost immediately). I hadn't planned my day at all; on the bus I thought to myself, how stupid! I'll be stuck up in Albany all afternoon with nothing to do. The only thing up there is that bloody mall which I've avoided like the plague since the day it opened. Why didn't I plan something?! I felt another bout of depression coming on. I mentioned all of this to my counsellor who did have a couple of ideas: Borders or the cinema. I find malls to be depressing places. They don't have toilets, they have restrooms; some of them even have elevators instead of lifts. But as malls go, the Albany Mega Centre wasn't too bad. I didn't find anything worth watching at the cinema (and besides, that costs money) so I spent my remaining three hours in Borders. They had a vast array of poker books (oh dear) but I eventually sat down to read Daniel Tammet's Embracing the Wide Sky. Thinking I could walk from the mall to the tennis centre, I completely lost my bearings. Already running late, and getting more and more frustrated, I gave in and called a taxi. As it turned out the walk would have been about five minutes.

I was in a bad mood for the start of my singles match. As we warmed up, I knew I'd get blasted off the court. I remember thinking, please just let me win one game. I won the toss and, as always, I chose to serve first. This isn't because I have any confidence in my serve, rather that I don't like serving at 5-4 or 6-5. As if I'd reach any of those scores in this match! I lost my first service game to love - I had no control of my forehand. So I started hitting backhands whenever I could, nearly all of them to my opponent's backhand. He made a surprising number of errors, and after an hour, to my astonishment, I was just one game away from victory at 6-4, 5-3. I promptly dropped serve, and easily the longest game of the match ensued as I tried to break him for the match. He would hit a big unforced error followed by a crunching winner, a pattern that continued throughout the game. On one occasion he skied a ball off the frame, over the fence, on to the bonnet of a car parked outside. Match point. Then bam! Ace. Four match points came and went, and it was 5-5. What happened next was unexpected: I won the next two games easily to win the match. The killer blow was a one-handed backhand winner I hit on the run in the last game. We then won our doubles comfortably, 6-2 6-4. At last I've got used to playing with Superman. I felt sorry for one of my team-mates who lost an interminable singles match against an opponent who put virtually no pace on the ball; it felt as if he was being sucked into a black hole. We won overall by four matches to two.

Mum and Dad's town of Geraldine made an appearance on Campbell Live last night. Tourists in campervans are bypassing Geraldine because they're all now fitted with Navmans (Navmen?) which send them in a different direction. I doubt my parents would have watched it, because like many of their generation, they've got dozens of channels but only ever watch One.

Richard is a big fan of the Cult, a British band who I'm ashamed to say I was ignorant of until a couple of weeks ago, despite coming from the UK and knowing some of their songs. My favourite song of theirs would be Fire Woman. The Cult are playing in Auckland just before I go away; I might be interested in seeing them.

This is my hundredth blog post and probably one of the longest. It's taken me over a year to get this far. For anybody who can’t be bothered trawling through all my ramblings (I can’t blame you), I’ve plugged all 100 posts (including this one) into Wordle, a nifty tool which creates a “word cloud” based on a text. Words that appear more frequently appear as a bigger word in the cloud. So here goes:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health (but for a change, not mine)

On Saturday I attended the monthly social group at Autism NZ. About 25 people turned up, some for the first time, and as always it was a pleasure to meet them. I was unable to get round everybody of course, but I did my best. I wish I could have been a bit more helpful. Emma was very noticeable in her absence; that was obviously rather sad. Without her smiling and giggling, taking photos and even locking herself in the loo, things weren't quite the same. She will be sorely missed. It is of some consolation that when she passed away, a month ago now, she was extremely happy.

As I write this, the House of Representatives in Washington is voting on the health care reform bill. I'll admit that I'm very hazy on the nuts and bolts of the proposed new legislation, but I really hope it goes through. Some extreme right-wing Americans have described the bill as "the death of freedom", even using Britain's NHS as an example of "how not to do it". The NHS isn't perfect, but I'd take that over the American system any day. In America of course, there are a number of very powerful bazillion-dollar insurance corporations, all with a vested interest in keeping the status quo. As I see the current situation, there's a huge underclass of Americans who can't afford health insurance, and if any of these people become seriously ill, they're pretty much screwed. That's some freedom.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I didn't win Lotto

On Monday night I went to tennis, even though I really didn't want to. When I got back my depression seemed to vanish, as if someone had flicked a switch. This latest bout started very suddenly too, and that it ended just after bashing a few furry yellow objects might be a coindicence. But getting exercise when I'm depressed - which is of course when I least want to get exercise - doesn't do me any harm.

I had Italian on Tuesday. We've got a couple more people in the class, but I'm still the only person whose adjectives and past participles end in 'o' rather than 'a'. Despite being the only bloke there, or maybe because of it, I've found the course very enjoyable. Our teacher is superb.

On Wednesday - St Patrick's Day - I found out I didn't get the job. I wasn't disappointed at all; it was rather like finding out I hadn't just won Big Wednesday. When I spoke to Mum the next day, she was more disappointed than me. It's funny that in New Zealand anyone whose neighbour's flatmate's uncle's cat is half-Irish finds an excuse to get pissed on St Patrick's Day. I do have some Irishness in me - Mum was an O'Something and her family originates from Kerry - but it all pretty much passed me by.

The following day I helped out at the mental health centre with the mail-out of their quarterly newsletter. I liked that - it was good to feel I was doing something useful for someone else - and I've got Andy and Brendan to thank for picking me up and dropping me off.

Last night I went to the tennis club again, not to play but to watch. Belmont were playing Campbells Bay in the semi-finals of the Chelsea Cup. Our club had made quite an occasion of it all; I didn't realise it was such a big deal, but with top-ten players in the country on show, including a former number one, I probably should have done. The tennis was a joy to watch: one of the Belmont players put so much topspin on the ball that several times when I was convinced it was going long, it would dip onto the line at the last moment. Belmont were clear favourites going into the encounter but after the four singles matches it was locked up at 2-2 and the crowd - which was substantial - started getting nervous. The home side's two singles wins had been comfortable ones while both of Campbells Bay's victories were long three-setters, so Belmont just needed one of two doubles matches to advance to the final. When they took the first set in both matches, Belmont had one foot in the final, but half an hour later Campbells Bay had levelled the scores, and both games - simultaneously - entered a super tie-break. I think the whole concept of the super tie-break is flawed but the Belmont pairing of Mark Nielsen and Jackson Bodle handled the pressure admirably in winning their shoot-out 10-3. Campbells Bay won the other tie-break, 11-9, but it didn't matter. The final will be played at Albany next Friday. I met an actuary and some other people from the life insurance industry which, try as I might, I seem unable to completely leave behind.

I've had an exceptionally good week on PokerStars. Last Saturday my overall profit reached $200; yesterday it hit $300. There's no two ways about it - I've been running well. It's important to recognise this. Far too many people hit a purple patch at say 25c/50c, suddenly think they're Superman and jump into a $3/$6 game. Likewise it's important not to let your play be affected when the cards turn against you, which they did for me at the end of last month and will do again.

This afternoon I'll be attending the Asperger's group which I missed last month. Up to this point I've been pronouncing Asperger incorrectly, with a soft 'g'. It will be good to catch up with them again.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Life tastes horrible

Last night I made a chicken curry - of sorts - and mixed in a jar of something I'd never tried before: Pam's Oriental Honey and Soy Simmer Sauce. A public service announcement for all you Kiwis out there (out of a population of 4.3 million, approximately 4.3 of you read my blog): next time you're in New World or Pak 'n' Save and you see a jar of that stuff, don't buy it. It's disgusting. Whether it was the fishiness of the sauce that disagreed with me I don't know, but whatever I found it distinctly unpleasant.

And since Saturday, that's what life has tasted like. Bloody horrible.

Beware the ides of March

It's the ides of March today, not that I'd know an ide if it punched me on the nose. As it happens, for the last 48 hours I've felt as though I have been punched on the nose: I'm depressed again.

I had my interview this morning, having last night de-cobwebbed my suit. They say that proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance. I can't say my preparation for this interview was particularly thorough, and though I wouldn't call my performance piss-poor, it wasn't great.

On the ferry into town, I spent most of my time thinking about how my life was going nowhere fast, and about five seconds thinking about what I might say in the interview. In town I had some time to kill so I just wandered aimlessly, wanting to bang my head against something but thinking better of it. The foyer of the tower block had a large stock ticker; I stared blankly at those blinking red, orange and green pixels for 15 minutes, and could quite happily have spent the rest of the morning looking at them. But I made my way up to the second floor, via the tenth (I'm still getting to grips with type-in-your-floor-first lifts) and a couple of minutes later my two-on-one interview began. "Did you pass all your exams first time?" Are you serious? "Why didn't you sit one last time?" Because I definitely would have failed it. "Why did you leave your job?" Because I was worried I might kill myself if I stayed there much longer. Of course that last question was one I had prepared for, but I still don't think I gave a satisfactory answer from their point of view. They probably thought I wasn't totally committed to the actuarial cause, and they would have been right. I think that given the chance I'd perform well in the job (they gave me a job description during the interview) but I seriously doubt I'll get that chance.

Assuming I don't, where to next? I don't like to ponder that question because it just makes me more depressed. So far I've focused mostly on jobs a bit different from my last one. Analysis-based, but outside the insurance industry. But the skills I picked up in my last job don't transfer particularly well, and companies are not as willing to spend time and money training staff as they used to be, so my chances of even getting an interview for those jobs are slim. If, instead, I looked at very similar roles, I'd be much more likely to get an interview (like the one I had today), but these types of roles don't come around every day, and I can't see how I'll ever be successful at any of those interviews anyway.

So if jobs that are a bit different are a no-go, as are very similar ones, I'm left with just one option: totally different. That's where I'll be concentrating my energies from now on. Teaching English as a foreign language has worked its way to the top of my list.

On Saturday I met up with Richard in Devonport. It was good to see him; he seemed to be coping well under the circumstances. We didn't do a lot really - we ate at the Stone Oven (it was there that I realised my latest bout of depression had set in) and Richard joined the very select band of people ever to step inside my flat. Maybe I should set up a visitors' book, or perhaps a visitors' postage stamp. Mum, Dad, my landlord, the next-door neighbour, the plumber, now Richard. They could all fit on.

Yesterday afternoon I had coffee with Phil. At the end of April he'll be shifting his life to Denmark, maybe for good.

I figure it's time I cut back on the poker again. If I was playing with real cards and real people, things would be different, but sitting at a computer screen is a very lonely existence, and I'm sure it doesn't do my state of mind any good. I'm up two Ben Franklins so I don't see why I should quit completely, but weekdays before 7pm are now officially off-limits.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Life goes on

After hearing the news about Emma, the next few days went by in a haze. I played Tracy Chapman's All That You Have is Your Soul on repeat and had very little energy or enthusiasm for anything. My computer packed in - normally that would cause a major headache for me, but on this occasion I was content just using the one in the library for half an hour a day.

In the last week, however, things have been gradually getting back to normal. I've been making a giant cryptic crossword - not an easy task; playing tennis (extremely badly); going to Italian classes (I'm doing a bit better there); and playing badugi (after a very lousy run I'm now back to my highs around the +$170 mark). Oh, and next Monday I'll be having a job interview.

I've partly got my mum to thank for this interview which has come almost totally out of the blue. A few weeks ago she noticed an ad in the paper for an employment agency. I called them, at that time they had nothing, and I thought I wouldn't hear from them again. Then on Friday they gave me a surprise phone call about this position - an actuarial position - that had just become vacant. Yesterday, straight after my Italian class, I had a 20-minute meeting with a bloke from the agency. He got in touch with the company, and later that afternoon he called me to say I'll be having an interview.

While it's very nice to have this chance, there are a couple of obvious snags. Firstly, after spending nearly six years in the actuarial department of an insurance company, they'll expect me (not unreasonably) to, well, know stuff. And I really don't. I've started to incorporate bluffing into my badugi strategy, but unlike in poker where it's a tactic best used sparingly, in the interview I'll need to bluff virtually the whole way. Secondly, as yet I know very little about the job: it hasn't been advertised anywhere and I haven't been given even a ghost outline of a job description. Thirdly, they might want me to start quite soon; I've got a six-week trip planned. Finally, even if I somehow did get offered the job, I might not want it. Studying for exams again - ouch! So that's actually more than a couple of snags. On the positive side, things would be good from a financial perspective, and I intend to give the interview my absolute best shot. Who knows?

Funnily enough I popped into what used to be my work today because I needed a witness to sign my application for a new Kiwi passport; my old boss seemed the best person to do it. It was actually quite nice to see the people I worked with. I told them about my upcoming interview; they found the fact that it was for an actuarial role quite funny. They thought that defeated the whole purpose of my leaving, and I had no answer to that because I totally agreed.

This weekend I hope to meet up in Devonport with Richard and his friend. Maybe I'll even get in a set of tennis with Andy. If I play anything like I did in my singles on Monday, he'll probably beat me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

An inspiration

A week ago I received the devastating and scarcely believable news that Emma, one of the more recognisable faces from the Asperger's group had passed away at the weekend, having suffered a brain aneurysm. She was only 28.

Never before has someone's passing come as such a shock to me. I had been very lucky, perhaps unusually lucky, only to have known death at an advanced age. I was lucky enough to know all my grandparents. In 2005 my father was lucky to survive a serious heart scare, while my 28-year-old brother has lost some of his friends and colleagues in Afghanistan. These incidents have made me more aware of our mortality, but luckily I'd never known the sudden, premature death of somebody close to me.

Until last week. I'd only met Emma four times but she'd already made a significant positive impact on my life. In a world where we live in constant fear of failure, fear of appearing foolish, fear of not measuring up to our own or others' expectations, Emma seemingly had no fear. She was her own person, and I was able to be myself around her. More than that, she was happy and her laughter was remarkably contagious. Emma was very involved in the community and had a lot of friends. For a few months she had been going out with Richard, also from the Asperger's group; 2010 had the makings of a very good year for her.

A hundred people attended Friday morning's funeral, which was a true celebration of Emma's life. It was understandably a very emotional service, lasting two hours, but it wasn't a minute too long. Emma had touched so many people and they all had something to say. She was a prolific writer of poems; several of these were read out. My name even got a surprise mention in one of them - I felt quite honoured. The hymns and bible readings were very fitting, as were all the colourful balloons and Disney characters, for Emma had many childlike qualities. She was small in stature - five foot one, maybe five-two at a push - and I thought it was appropriate that her initials were ELF. Still, she was very much an independent adult and deserved to be treated as one.

After the service I talked to Richard and another bloke from the group; we agreed to meet up in Newmarket the next day for lunch to remember Emma. We ate at Burger King, which Emma liked to do, and I even managed to have what she would have called a Mr Bean moment by spilling a pint of coke all over the table. The three of us spent the rest of the afternoon together. We'd planned to see a movie but we were all a bit tired; I expect we'll do that in the next couple of weeks.

Last week's news was simply awful, and for the next three or four days I felt decidedly flat. I had no energy and everything seemed to happen in slow motion. However I now realise there are at least two positives I can take from it all. Firstly I might end up making some very good friends, and secondly the way Emma lived her life, always looking on the bright side even when times are tough, should be an inspiration for us all. I've always put a lot of emphasis on making a mark on the world, and have taken that to mean curing a disease, writing a novel or designing some architectural masterpiece. Emma made her mark by helping others and making them feel good about themselves, and that's just as big an achievement. In an age of trust funds, company pension schemes and KiwiSaver, some of us just assume we'll live to threescore and ten, perhaps a decade or two more, but in reality none of us know what's around the corner. At the end of the funeral we were shown many pictures of a happy, smiling Emma. Interspersed with those pictures were these words: Life is precious, use it wisely.