Friday, July 23, 2010

92.5% of the world's population...

...are not on Facebook. That's a pretty overwhelming majority and they can't all be wrong; the remaining half a billion people who insist on all that social networking bollocks really need to get with the program.

To me Facebook sounds like one giant pain in the arse. Until someone can convince me that I should join up, I'm staying right out of it. You have to tell everyone what you've been doing every five minutes (or is that Twitter?) and upload photos constantly, presumably photos with people in them. And then there's this business of accumulating friends as if they were football stickers or baseball cards. If I was on Facebook I know I'd only have four friends, or something pathetic, while the bloke in the upstairs flat has 382. I feel inferior enough as it is, thanks. And what if you decide someone isn't your friend any more? You have to "unfriend" or "defriend" them, and that sounds rather messy. Best to avoid it altogether.

Last week the job search was really starting to get me down. Maybe I am unemployable after all, I began to think. Who would ever want me in their company? I've got plenty of skills and qualifications, but none of the ones that really matter, i.e. people skills. Next Wednesday I'll be meeting one of the recruitment agents and for that reason I decided to get a haircut yesterday. This was a shame; my hair hadn't been cut since that job interview and it was the longest I'd had it in eight years. Sure, I was beginning to look a bit like a caveman, but why shouldn't I look like the person I really am? I had my hair done in the city where it was quick and painless. I also bought two CDs in Real Groovy costing $6 between them, one by the French group Matmatah (unfortunately I didn't like this one nearly as much as an earlier album of theirs) and the Cranberries' To The Faithful Departed. I really must stop listening to such depressing music. I heard the George Thorogood song "Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job" on the radio today; if only the second part of that equation was as simple as the first. I have some good news at least: that publishing company want some more puzzles from me. Only ten, but it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Last Wednesday Richard invited me round to his place; he lives in a boarding house in Remuera, built in 1855 (by New Zealand standards that's seriously old). Upwards of fifteen people live there and I can understand why he's thinking of moving out. Still, it was great to see him in his own habitat, so to speak. He cooked a very good meal and gave me the excellent news that he's now got a job on the phones at BNZ. He starts on Monday so they're not hanging around. To be honest I never expected him to get something as mainstream as that (and I hope I'm not being prejudiced against people with Asperger's by saying that) but good luck to him. I hope it all works out.

I've had my worst day ever of badugi today, losing $65. In my first session, on the 25c/50c tables, I dropped $17 in 124 hands. Worse was to follow as I dumped $39 in 114 hands on a 50c/$1 table, all laws of probability disappearing out the window. The whole lexicon of badugi nightmares came into play as I was monstered left, right and centre, normally by someone who called three bets pre-draw and drew three. My 5432 ran into number two in a massive pot in a display of rampant badugiflation. After a while I wondered whether it was all some sick joke and my opponents were drawing cards from some special deck stripped of all high cards and unhelpful suits. In my last session (at 20/50) I ran red hot in comparison, losing just nine bucks. The good news is that I'm still up $308 on the month and a lot more overall thanks to that big SCOOP result. It was funny cashing that cheque. "So where did it come from?" "Er, the internet," was all I felt I could say.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fush and chups

I had a blood test this week, the results of which were a pleasant surprise. The big news was my cholesterol reading which had dropped from 6.4 to 5.2, so on Friday I had fish and chips to celebrate. They were the best fish and chips I'd had in yonks; I'm sure the length of time since I last had them helped increase my level of enjoyment. For some reason there's always been a certain aura surrounding fish and chips for me, and for six years (until I got that shock cholesterol score last year) I took full advantage of living in a country with perhaps more "fush and chup" shops per head of population than anywhere else in the world. As kids we had an old shed at the bottom of our garden; my brother and I pretended the shed was a fish and chip shop; we'd pass the imaginary fried food through the windows of the shed which had long been broken.

Yesterday I went to the monthly Asperger's group for the first time in three months. As always I got to talk to a very kind bunch of people, including one or two I hadn't seen before. Some of us might meet up and see a movie in the coming weeks.

On Thursday I saw the classic Italian film Ossessione and tomorrow I'll be starting a new term of lessons. I've gone back to evening sessions just in case I somehow find myself a job. I'm finding the job search process a bit frustrating but I'll keep plugging away. I still haven't heard anything back from that mental health job I had the interview for. I'm seriously considering studying for a Certificate in Mental Health in 2011.

To my relief that US$4000 cheque (the poker winnings I cashed out) arrived last week. Until I saw the money it almost didn't seem real. This month I'm up $333, mostly from badugi. Yesterday I tried five-card draw for the first time. It took some getting used to - my opponents were reluctant to raise, even with huge hands, so I'd often be betting and raising, not realising that I was behind. To give an example, on one particular hand I was dealt a pair of queens. I raised and we were four-way to the draw. I hit a second pair and bet out after the draw. I get one caller who promptly turns over three kings!

I had an interesting call from my grandma at 6:20 this morning. She wasn't making a lot of sense, and I was half-asleep, so all in all our conversation wasn't up to much.

Nearly a year ago, when I was down in Geraldine, I posted some pictures of Dad's model plane crash. Well today there was drama on another level entirely as his plane caught fire!

Richard has kindly invited me over to his house for dinner on Wednesday, so that will be one of the highlights of the coming week.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Badugi glossary

Poker is full of jargon, be it "runner-runner", "flopping the nuts" or "under the gun". Badugi is no exception. So for those who wish to give this fine game a crack, here is a handy selection of terms taken from the Concise Badugi Players' Dictionary, or Cobapdic for short:

Badoggie: a badugi topped by K-9, such as K954. As the name suggests, it's a bit of a dog.

Badugiflation: a phenomenon in which your opponents are showing down huge hands, i.e. fours and fives, left right and centre. Your sixes and sevens, which were bloody good hands back in the day, just don't cut it any more.

Jack shit:
1. A really rough jack badugi, like JT85, as opposed to a smooth jack.
2. Absolutely nothing.
Thus if you're sitting on a king or queen badugi in a live game and your opponent proclaims he's got "jack shit", you're none the wiser.

Knuts: the worst possible badugi, namely KQJT. Either play it fast or dump it, depending on your position and your opponents. Pronunciation of the 'k' in 'knuts' is optional. Appropriately for this hand, "knuts" backwards is "stunk".

Monstered: we've all been there, and if you haven't, you soon will be. When your virtually unbeatable hand gets beaten, you've been monstered.

Number two: normally number twos stink, but not in badugi where the term refers to 532A, the second-best hand in the game. Losing with this hand (it can and does happen!) requires the ultimate monstering.

1. An eight badugi. The word is used similarly in golf to refer to an eight on a particular hole.
2. Someone who likes to pat-bluff, or snow, a lot. Snowmen are tricky customers.

Ugi: a badugi which isn't bad, such as an eight or nine. You'll often end up calling off multiple bets in a big pot with your ugi, in the vain hope that it'll somehow be good.

So there you have it. Best of luck at the badugi tables and may all your pat snowmen hold up.

Independence Day

Last weekend Americans celebrated Independence Day. At the same time I regained my own independence by getting myself a new set of wheels. For a minute I thought of avoiding the whole "anonymous box" thing and getting something exciting and European like a Saab or a Citroen, but in the end I spent $2500 on a red 1996 Toyota Camry. As well as being an anagram of "my car", the Camry is one of the most exciting cars on the planet. In the week I've had it, I've been getting stares at every red light. In fact Camrys are so exciting that 74% of New Zealand's actuaries choose to drive them. In all seriousness it should be a reliable car, if perhaps a bit big for me.

I did have some real excitement last week, in the shape of a phone interview. I'd applied for a job at my local mental health support centre; the impromptu interview took me by surprise a bit. "Is now a good time?" Sure, it's a bloody great time! But I'd met the interviewer before, and I handled the questions as well as I could have hoped. Whether that'll be good enough, somehow I doubt it (I come from a very different industry after all) but if I did get it, I'd be over the moon.

After catching the end of this morning's third-place World Cup match, I saw a programme about an Auckland teenager who, three years ago, got into a car with one of his drunk mates behind the wheel. The resulting crash left him brain damaged. The programme certainly brought home the horrors of drink-driving, but what really amazed me was that after the accident, none of his so-called mates, not even his girlfriend, wanted to know him any more. I didn't have any friends to speak of at that age, but if that's what teenage friends are like, perhaps I didn't miss much.

In other news, I'm back badugi-ing again. I've asked to cash out most of my SCOOP winnings ($4000) and am anxiously waiting for the cheque to arrive. Yesterday I made eighty bucks at the tables (a mixture of 25c/50c, 50c/$1 and $1/$2) but I gave back thirty today. I'm also trying to get a handle on triple draw, although the variance in that game seems even more severe than in badugi. I'll be restricting the bulk of my play to weekends and will try to give weekly updates on my progress from now on.

Family matters

It's been a busy last couple of weeks in our family. I wasn't looking forward to the nightly phone calls when Mum and Dad got back from their trip, but lately the unusual amount of news from their end has justified the high phone call frequency.

I mentioned Uncle Dan's untimely passing in my last post. His funeral will be on Wednesday.

Last week my aunt, in her wisdom, tried to get my gran into a home without telling her. People arrived at my gran's door to whisk her away, and surprise surprise, she wasn't having any of it. In fact she went absolutely ballistic from what I can tell. So she's still at home after all that, and I'll give her a call tonight.

In better news, my brother is coming to New Zealand! After all my talk of spending "proper" time with him in the UK, we managed to completely miss each other. There was never a day when we were both free. We still talked on the phone and have exchanged several emails since. He'll fly into Christchurch on 18th August (the first time he'll have been in the country since 1997); I'm looking forward to that a lot.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Uncle Dan 1940–2010

Some sad news today. Uncle Dan, the eldest of Mum's five brothers, died this afternoon. He was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus in early 2008 although it was only six weeks ago that his cancer became terminal. From there it was a very rapid decline indeed.

Dan captained Air New Zealand 747s for many years. He invested his (considerable) salary in the stock market and made several squillion dollars by employing a long-term buy-and-hold strategy. He had a number of Warren Buffett books on his shelves. Dan's reluctance to spend his wealth (he and his wife lived in the same house in Christchurch's Memorial Avenue since the sixties) didn't go down too well with some members of the family but I always got on well with him. He was a pretty decent golfer too.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Best point ever?

I'm still watching the Berdych-Djokovic Wimbledon semi. I've seen one of the best points ever, certainly on such a big point in such an important match. Djokovic came up with an amazing rearguard effort on Berdych's fourth consecutive set point, hitting a perfect lob onto Berdych's baseline after maybe thirty shots. But it was called out! Djokovic correctly challenged and won another extended rally on the replayed point. Unfortunately for him it was all in vain. Djokovic double-faulted to lose the second-set tie-break 11-9 and is now two sets down.

It's 2am so I really should be thinking about bed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bangkok, Bali and back

I've been back a week now and this whole business of trying to find a car, a job and, well, a life, isn't too dissimilar to what I faced when I moved to New Zealand in 2003. The crucial difference this time is that I've got a lot more support than I did then.

I spent three nights in Bangkok - well, two and a half - and I'm glad I went there even if it was unplanned. I never felt in danger of terrorist activity (even though I could see evidence of what had happened in the centre of the city) but as one of the few tourists there, I was concerned that I might be an easy target. Thankfully I was fine.

My first full day in Bangkok happened to be a Saturday so I spent a few hours at Chatuchak weekend market. I've seen a lot of markets in my time, but this one was huge, a real rabbit warren of narrow lanes. If I hadn't already maxed out my baggage allowance from all those books I'd bought in the UK, I'd have had a field day there, but I made do with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. The next day I took a trip down some of the various canals and waterways - it was just like Venice! - and accidentally ended up at another big market where there were hordes of people but not a white face to be seen, except mine. There were plenty of English signs though and I tried ordering a coffee from a stall run by two very attractive young women. I got as far as "could I have a large..." when one of the women burst out laughing and I walked away.
The great thing about Thailand is how cheap everything is. I was no longer sure what currency to convert prices into any more, but in Bangkok I often found myself doubling the baht figure to get pence. Mo Chit on the Skytrain? That'll be 70p. Canal boat? 26p. Dinner? 80p. Bangkok was certainly a welcome break from all that Euronating. The only significant expenses apart from the hotel room were the taxi fares to and from the city. Even they weren't too bad really, but my hotel was near the airport, some distance from the action.

The next morning I caught a very early flight to Bali, hence why my stay in Bangkok was just 2½ nights. That Air Asia flight - the one I had to book and pay for again due to the Frankfurt fiasco - was only half-full so I was able to lay out and get some kip.

The whole point of my going to Bali was to relax, and I guess to relive those memories I had as a boy. However, as expected, the resort of Sanur had changed a lot in twenty years. It had become far busier. The distinctive sounds and smells were just as I remembered, but it wasn't as easy to appreciate them due to all the people, and of course everything is more exciting as a kid. That's especially true in Bali because the Balinese love kids.

It got quite hot during the day so I'd often spend the daytime reading a book by the pool, popping in for the odd swim. This was fine to begin with but after a while I began to crave company. Out on the street, the sales techniques of the Balinese had changed too. In '89, '90 and '93 they were always trying to sell you watches. "Real gold Rolex, forty thousand, why you no buy?" I wished they'd stuck to watches into the 21st century. With watches you could play along with the hawkers a bit, asking what this dial or that knob does, and if you haggled enough you could buy a watch for only a few quid. I remember having a watch with what looked like a moon-phase display but instead was a rather ingenious device that told you whether it was day or night, in case you've had so much Bintang beer that you can no longer tell. But no, in 2010 it's no longer watches but transport. Walk 100 metres in any direction and you'll get at least a dozen blokes offering transport, always bloody transport, hoping you'll take the bait. One time I did bite, and almost immediately wished I hadn't. He took me to Ubud, another place that's become far more touristy over the years, hassling me to buy silver jewellery or artwork along the way because he'd get a nice commission. I found him a real menace. At Ubud I figured I could get a shuttle bus back to Sanur and even though he seemed to charge me a rip-off fare and I was unable to beat him down much, by that stage I just wanted to get rid of the man. I did find a great little eatery in Ubud, not because the food was anything special but because of its lush, green setting next to the river. And best of all, not many people seemed to know it was there.

That evening I ate a very cheap and dodgy nasi campur ('c' in Indonesian is pronounced 'ch') and regretted it for the next two days. A nasi campur is made up of all kinds of bits and pieces (that's its main attraction to me) but I guess that means there are lots of things to go wrong. And in my tummy, things sure as hell did go wrong. On the whole though, food is great in Bali. As well as the various Indonesian offerings, I'd thoroughly recommend the piping hot steaks. The only snag is that you never quite get enough, and in some cases you're left feeling hungrier than you were before the meal.

By the time I'd recovered from Bali Belly I had just one day left. That last day, when I went on a tour to the north of the island, happened to be the best. There were only two of us on the tour; the other guy was German and a bit younger than me. He worked as an underwater photographer, and having spent a year in Australia his English was as good as mine. I'd actually been a bit depressed over the previous three or four days so it was good to have someone to talk to, even if my bullshit detector did go off once or twice with some of the things he said. He clearly enjoyed his job though and had a great deal of enthusiasm about pretty much everything; I wished I could be more like him in that respect. That day we saw the real Bali. Temples, rice terraces, an impressive waterfall, a beautiful lake, and most of all a totally different way of life. I even got to hold a snake and an iguana, although that was simply a tourist attraction. I'll have to go back there some time, preferably with a friend, and perhaps visit Lombok as well.

Of everything I saw on that last day in Bali, perhaps the one thing that impressed me the most was the signs. I wish I could have taken some photos of them as we were driving along. I'm used to living in a country where signage is computer produced and marketing department approved, and as a result the output you get is usually deeply dull. In Bali, signs were works of art, hand-painted, carved into wood or even made out of pieces of scrap metal. A real person had made them. You'd get mad colour combinations (why stick with one colour when six will do?), crazy 3D effects, all-over-the-place kerning and even the odd backwards N, but it didn't matter. In fact those features made the signs all the more charming. I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to drive around Bali taking enough photos of signs to fill a book, but a quick Google tells me somebody already has.

The Thai Airways flight from Denpasar to Auckland was as painless as any eleven-hour flight can be. My hours still haven't quite adjusted yet but that's my own silly fault for watching too much Wimbledon (I'm currently watching Djokovic, who looks just like my brother, take on Berdych). I even watched Germany's thrashing of England.

Yesterday I met up with Richard - it was great to see him after all these weeks. We're both now in the same position of looking for work. I applied for a mental health-related job yesterday and will see how that one goes. On Wednesday I attended the men's group and it was really good to see those people, including Andy and Brendan, again. Tomorrow I'm going to take a look at a car I saw on TradeMe; in Auckland you're almost snookered without one. Tomorrow is also the day that Mum and Dad get back from their North American holiday.