Thursday, September 29, 2011

Turbulent times at Timaru airport

I'm back in Wellington now after recharging my batteries on the South Island. Yesterday when I arrived at Timaru airport, it was all rather confusing. I couldn't even find the international terminal and it wasn't at all clear which zone to check in at. My flight was due to take off in half an hour; would I make it? I searched for a long snaking check-in queue, which would inevitably be for my flight, but I couldn't find one. I did however see what looked like a check-in desk and tried to attract someone's attention. Eventually a bloke came out and took my piece of paper while I dumped my bag on a set of glorified bathroom scales. He then handed me my boarding pass: I would be seated in 1F. Wow. The front row! Is that business class? No, the very front row is first class, surely. That must be what the F stands for. I saw a few other planes take off and land, mostly with no passengers, then I fancied a coffee. There was a coffee machine but no information as to how I was supposed to pay for my beverage. Credit card or cash? Which currencies did they accept? Maybe if I put one of the paper cups under the nozzle and press the flat white button, something will flash up on the screen. Would you believe it? Free coffee came out!

It was soon time to board the plane. As it turned out, the F didn't stand for first class, and it wasn't even business class. What's worse (on a sunny day like yesterday), I didn't even get a window. But boy what a stress-free way of flying it was. If only all airports could be like that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rugby World Cup thoughts

Mum and Dad have Sky so I've watched a few games since Saturday, and to my slight surprise I've enjoyed at least some of what I've seen. I'm pretty clueless about rugby - it seems a very unnatural game to me - but I've got some idea about formats and scheduling of competitions, and in that regard the World Cup could do better.

1. One of the Samoan blokes (the coach?) said the schedule discriminates against the less-fancied teams, and he's dead right. It's particularly tough on the better less-fancied teams like Samoa who have a realistic chance of progressing to the knockout stages. The best sides play all their games at the weekends, giving them nice seven-day intervals between matches, while the weaker teams face four-day turnarounds. They should follow their football World Cup where they play two games from Pool A, then two from B, then two from C...
Admittedly five-team pools make matters more complicated (one team will have to finish their pool games before the other four) but the current schedule, which heavily favours the best teams, could be vastly improved upon.

2. Why did they make the draw years in advance of the tournament? So much can change in two years; good teams can become average and vice-versa. For instance Argentina, who were ranked fourth when the draw was made, are now (I think) ninth! In the interest of fairness (to avoid a big imbalance in the strength of the pools) they should again take a leaf out of football's book and do the draw eight months or so prior to the competition.

3. Yes I know Christchurch had a series of catastrophic earthquakes that meant they couldn't play there, but shutting the whole of the South Island out of the knockout stages of the World Cup is, in my opinion, shocking. They spent serious money on the stadium in Dunedin, which has so far been a big success, so why aren't they playing one of the quarter-finals down there? OK its capacity is "only" 40,000 but for just one quarter-final I don't see that being a problem.

4. Once again there have been too many blowouts. I'm not a big enough rugby fan to appreciate all the amazing play involved when South Africa thrash Namibia. Cutting the number of teams to sixteen could help (and would certainly help some of the scheduling issues) but a better solution would be for the "lesser" sides to become more competitive by playing more matches at an international level.

For all that, the World Cup has clearly been a big success so far, and any criticism or advice that I offer should come with a big "I don't really understand rugby" disclaimer.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Fiddling the fudge factor

On Saturday afternoon I took a 19-seater plane from Wellington to Timaru. It made flying seem so easy. I didn't have to arrive at the airport three hours early, take my shoes and belt off or have all my deodorant confiscated. In fact, to my surprise, there was no security at all. Wellington looked stunning from the plane but then it clouded over so I couldn't see much, but we flew right over Temuka - and the cemetery where my grandparents are buried - as we came in. It was noisier and more jerky than a 737 but a pleasant enough flight and so much more convenient than flying to Christchurch, to say nothing of international air travel.

That evening we went to Woodbury for my uncle's 70th birthday and to watch the All Blacks take on France. There was a big crowd, big enough to make watching the rugby a less than enjoyable experience for me. There was considerable variety in how much people cared about the game, from life-or-death All Blacks fanaticism to "it would be quite nice if France won, actually." When it became obvious that the men in black would win comfortably I sidled off to the next room which acted as a chill-out lounge.

Yesterday Mum, Dad and I drove to Moeraki, or close to there, stopping off at Oamaru with its quite spectactular stone buildings, Kakanui for a tasty lunch, and Timaru to drop in on family. Last night we watched a cracking rugby game between Argentina and Scotland (getting excited about rugby, whatever next?), Argentina scoring a late converted try, the only try of the game, to sneak home 13-12. So far (to my mind) there has been an inverse relationship between try-scoring and excitement. The game was played in the driving rain of Wellington; a wonderful advert for the city.

I'm grateful for these three days off work. Things got a little awkward last week. My boss seems to have it in for me regarding our draconian clear-desk policy. Sometimes I'll arrive in the morning to find everything, however innocuous, has been whisked off my desk by my boss, into a locked cabinet somewhere. It's annoying and embarrassing having to ask him for it back every time, particularly as my next-door colleague leaves more (and more sensitive) paperwork on his desk than I ever do and nobody bats an eyelid. I've now set up a daily alert in Outlook to remind me to lock everything away before I leave for the day, otherwise I'll keep forgetting: at that time of day all I think about is going home. As far as my actually work is concerned, it gets more bizarre by the week. If things don't add up, I'm required to introduce a fudge factor, and if I have to change something so that the fudge factor no longer works, I'm then required to fiddle the fudge factor. Before long I've lost track of what's real and what's imaginary.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It's not that I'm lazy, it's that I just don't care

That's a quote from Office Space - great movie - when Peter has a meeting with the two Bobs, and it's a quote that applies to me in my job. Another quote which applies to me is " only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job." Sometimes even the fear of being fired isn't enough to motivate me. Not only does what I do on a day-to-day basis not matter to me; I can't quite fathom that there are other people in the office for whom it clearly does matter. People who think about work outside work! It's a weird situation I'm in, just going through the motions in what is supposed to be some big spiffy career job, although it doesn't seem that weird to me because I'm so used to it.

It would be really cool to feel that I was good at my job. I did get that feeling when I worked on the earthquake claims, and that made me feel good about myself. Because the quakes had caused so much mayhem I felt I was helping somebody somewhere, and it was obvious what I had to do when I turned up in the morning, so I went ahead and did it. In contrast in the last two weeks (and the rest if I'm honest) in my big spiffy job I've been all at sea. I don't know what goes where, I can't seem to remember a damn thing (not caring probably doesn't help there) and most of the output I have produced has been somewhere between dodgy and hopelessly wrong. My boss is partly to blame - he isn't a great communicator so I'm often left in the dark - but mostly the problem is me, and recognising that isn't great for my self-esteem.

One fringe benefit of my job is that I got to see a World Cup game on Saturday - South Africa against Fiji. On Friday an email was sent around the office; six free single tickets were up for grabs. I got my hands on one of them; I benefited from the lack of demand for single tickets. On Saturday I wasn't really in the mood for watching rugby, but I took a longish walk to the stadium and got there as the anthems were playing. The atmosphere was good at the start - all the non-South African fans were behind Fiji and for the first twenty minutes it was nip-and-tuck, but then the Boks got a try, then another try, then another try... In the second half I lost interest but I was glad I saw the game - it would have cost me $120 had I bought the ticket. I got the shuttle bus back to Courtenay Place, got a very tasty butter chicken from Taste of India, and watched Ireland's shock win over Australia on telly. Gee whiz.

On Friday they had drinks after work, taking in the All Blacks match with Japan which kicked off at eight. I went home for dinner then joined my colleagues in town as the game started but I wish I'd stayed at home. Being in a crowded pub with work colleagues who have been drinking for three hours is a recipe for stress.

Last night we had the autism group. I really enjoyed it; we had a smallish turnout (five?) which actually helped my enjoyment of the session I think.

This Saturday I'm flying to Timaru and will be taking three days off work. I'm looking forward to both the flight (which in such a small plane will have some novelty value) and spending some time with my parents.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hail Mary (and some Grand Slam miscellany)

Wellington was pelted by a hail storm this lunchtime; the stones were the size of peas and quickly blanketed the street outside my work. Apparently this was a once-in-a-decade event, which means I can pencil in golf-ball-sized hailstones for next Wednesday.

Two drama-filled finals rounded out this year's US Open. Yesterday Serena lost it (her temper and the match) against Sam Stosur. She told the umpire she was "unattractive on the inside", among other things, after making a (correct) ruling against her following an ill-timed "come on!" before the point was over. A shame because it took some of the attention away from Stosur who played an absolute blinder by all accounts to pick up her first grand slam title. Serena was fined $2500 which is a bit like fining me a fiver.

This morning Djokovic outlasted Nadal in a four-hour-plus breakathon. It would have been a joy to watch I'm sure. Djokovic had come back from the brink to defeat Federer in the semis - two sets and two match points. Since the turn of the century, a remarkable number of grand slam champions have won their titles having been a solitary point from elimination. Here's the list, which took a fair bit of Googling for me to come up with (and I hope I haven't left any out):

Roland Garros 2001: Gustavo Kuerten saved one MP in the 3rd set of his 4th-round match against Michael Russell. 
Australian Open 2002: Jennifer Capriati saved four MPs against Martina Hingis in the 2nd set of the final – one at 5-3, two at 6-5 and another in the tie-break. 
Australian Open 2003: Serena Williams came from 5-1 down in the 3rd set of her semi-final against Kim Clijsters, saving two MPs at 5-2. 
US Open 2003: Andy Roddick saved one MP in the 3rd-set tie-break in his semi-final against David Nalbandian.
Roland Garros 2004: Anastasia Myskina saved one MP at 6-5 in the 3rd set of her 4th-round match against Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Roland Garros 2004: Gaston Gaudio saved two MPs against Guillermo Coria at 6-5 in the 5th set of the final.
Australian Open 2005: Serena Williams saved three MPs in the 3rd set of her semi-final against Maria Sharapova.
Australian Open 2005: Marat Safin saved one MP in the 4th-set tie-break in his semi-final against Roger Federer.
Roland Garros 2005: Justine Henin saved two MPs in the 3rd set of her 4th-round match against Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Wimbledon 2005: Venus Williams saved one MP against Lindsay Davenport at 6-5 in the 3rd set of the final.
Wimbledon 2009: Serena Williams saved one MP in the 3rd set of her semi-final against Elena Dementieva.
US Open 2011: Novak Djokovic saved two MPs in the 5th set of his semi-final against Roger Federer.
Australian Open 2014: Li Na saved one MP in the 2nd set of her 3rd-round match against Lucie Safarova.
Australian Open 2016: Angelique Kerber saved one MP in the 2nd-set tie-break in her 1st-round match against Misaki Doi.
US Open 2016: Stan Wawrinka saved one MP in the 4th-set tie-break in his 3rd-round match against Daniel Evans.

(Last updated 12/9/16)

An honourable mention goes to men's Wimbledon 2001: Rafter was two points from defeat against Agassi in the semis, Ivanisevic was two points from defeat against Henman in their semi, and then Goran was again two points from defeat against Pat before lifting the trophy.

In other sports news, Kiwi Chris Wood scored a hat-trick for Birmingham as they beat Millwall 3-0 on Sunday night.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I've just watched the World Cup match between South Africa and Wales. Really good game, just a shame Wales quite get over the line, so to speak. When Wales had a penalty kick bizarrely ruled as a miss when it looked perfectly good to me, they were destined to lose by three points or fewer. The match was played in Wellington; I saw plenty of supporters of both sides in town today. "Wales have the wind at their backs, no South Africa do..." Ha! Welcome to Wellington.

The terrorist attacks on America happened ten years ago today. I remember that horrific Tuesday afternoon (as it was for me) very well. I'd had a pretty dreadful summer with the panic attacks and had just got things back on an even keel; I was working nights sorting mail to the tune of Kylie Minogue's I Can't Get You Out of My Head so I was at home during the day. At about 2pm my grandmother called to tell Dad and I that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. We switched on the TV and saw the second plane hit. It was mindblowing to see that live and the world changed for ever because of it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Life in the slow lane

After work on Monday (83% blokes in our team), I attended the Wellington autism group where there were 100% blokes. All eight of us. You could pretty much cut the testosterone with a knife (not really). It was a good session though and we were graced my Matt Frost's presence. So he does exist in real life after all!

I felt I hadn't been getting enough exercise so on Tuesday I swam for the first time at the Freyberg pool. It was very different to anything I was used to. No lilos, no kids, definitely no fun. The pool is roped off into lanes for every one of the 15 hours a day it's open; the lanes are marked as fast, medium and slow. I swam in the slow lane most of the time, sometimes moving to medium. Even though it was hardly relaxing, I liked the 33-metre pool and will try and go once a week from now on. I'd definitely had a workout but man was I hungry afterwards.

I've lived in New Zealand nearly eight years and still haven't got my head around Kiwis' attitude to physical pursuits, especially swimming, cycling and running, the disciplines that make up the triathlon (and boy do they love their triathlons here). In the UK I used to ride a bike to, heaven forbid, get from one place to another. That's almost a foreign concept in New Zealand; here everyone is dressed in their Lycras, primed for Serious Exercise. OK, some people ride their bikes to work, but it still seems to be more an exercise thing than an A-to-B thing. I noticed this week, advertised in big letters in a shop window, a sports bike that was reduced from about 2½ times what I paid for my car to only 1¾. I remember when I lived in Bayswater in 2004 I used to drive along Lake Road (on the North Shore) in my '84 Bluebird, amazed at the speeds people got up to on their bikes.

Last night some kind of World Cup thingy started in Auckland. There was a great sense of occasion there - the rugby was almost a sideshow as far as I was concerned - but all the public transport issues helped confirm what I've thought for some time, that as a 21st-century city Auckland doesn't function.

Last Saturday I had a look (from the outside only) at one or two houses in Hataitai and Miramar. I still need to get a bit more serious.

Friday, September 2, 2011

We need to talk about it

Suicide. More people die that way in New Zealand than on the roads, and the deaths are just as preventable, but it's almost a taboo subject. Our attitude needs to change, otherwise we'll continue to see over 500 people a year taking their own lives, as it appears a member of the Auckland autism group did last month.

One theory I had for our high suicide rate was high gun ownership rates, especially for men who live in remote areas, but some figures I saw last week - yes, the topic is finally receiving media coverage - did not include shooting as a common method. Here's an article I saw yesterday, suggesting a link between antidepressants and youth suicide.

In other disturbing news, an 88-year-old man from the Wellington suburb of Newtown - not far from me - was found in his apartment, having been dead for a year. It's a shocking indictment of the society we now live in. If and when I buy a property, I'll make sure I pop in on my neighbours from time to time.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lacking motivation - and business speak that drives me barmy

I need to look at places to live (my lease runs out in ten weeks) and I need to get out and meet new people, but for whatever reason I can't get my butt into gear. And as for my motivation at work, the less said about that the better. It all seems gloriously pointless, and it could really get me down if I let it.

On Monday our replacement for the six-foot-five Samoan bloke arrived. I can't quite pick her age but I think it starts with a two. She's worked at half of the Big Four and doesn't lack self-confidence. The way she was talking today, you'd think it was her fourth year at the company, not her fourth day, but that's Gen Y for you.

Now for some words and phrases I hear all the time at work and wish I didn't:

Touch base: as soon as someone says this (which for some of my colleagues is every other sentence) I totally switch off from whatever else they might be talking about. I don't let anyone touch my base. Ever. Where does this phrase come from? Some say baseball. My knowledge of baseball is sketchy but I don't think the phrase "touch base" is actually used in the game, and when a player does touch a base, he does so alone, not with anybody. My theory is that the phrase comes from expeditions, where you would make contact with base camp.

Migrate: a good word describing something quite exciting. Birds, animals, and sometimes people do it. But computer data doesn't, goddammit! "At close of play on Friday all the TFI data will migrate from the ABC system to the XYZ system." No it won't. It'll move. Or shift.

Populate: this one's very similar to "migrate". The word comes from the same root as "people", although there's no reason why you shouldn't apply it to rats or even trees. But populating the cells in a spreadsheet?! Ugh.

It is what it is: what does this even mean? I'll hazard a guess that it means precisely bugger all, apart from maybe "who cares?". People use this phrase to sound deeply philosophical, but to me it just sounds bloody annoying.

Chillax: this isn't business speak, but I've heard it at work a few times so I'm including it. This "word" is real fingernails-on-a-blackboard stuff. And what's more, unlike "chill" or "relax", it doesn't sound particularly soothing. In fact it sounds like a weapon that could do serious damage.

K: in writing, K is a handy abbreviation for "thousand", but it's people talking about K that I don't like, and I can't quite put my finger on why.

FYI: again, a useful abbreviation, sometimes employed by Inuit who've had enough of the whole eskimo thing and proclaim: F*** Your Igloo. Most often you see FYI in an email, used in a similar fashion to "NB". Occasionally you see it used as a noun: "just as a quick FYI, stop touching my base." But yesterday I heard someone use it as a verb: "I was eff-why-eyed into that email." Eww.

Birmingham have Chris Wood - a Kiwi - playing for them. He's now scored in two consecutive matches. Take a look at this goal, the third in Blues' win over Nacional last week. It's just like watching Brazil.