Thursday, January 30, 2014

Tennis final, biking, post-quake Christchurch, etc.

I've been feeling seriously rubbish again the last few days. Zero concentration. Zero motivation. And zero medication - a nice idea at the time, but it doesn't seem to be working.

My soon-to-be-flatmate came over with his dad on Sunday. When I told him about the earthquake business he got a bit jittery, and I thought he might pull out completely. I was having second thoughts too. He showed me his (expired) driver's licence with a 1977 date of birth. He's older than I thought. He's clearly had problems but what I don't know. And would you believe it, his younger brother has only just moved into another flat in the same block. That's not necessarily a bad thing. On balance I'm positive about living with another person for the first time in ages, even if the landlord thing is new territory for me.

I followed the men's final on the radio, half-hoping that Nadal would make a fast start so I could fall asleep safe in the knowledge that he was well on the way to yet another grand slam (even though I really wanted Wawrinka to pull an upset). Nobody could have predicted the ultra-bizarro match that ensued. The commentators (who included the wonderful Chanda Rubin for much of the second week) were excellent as always - a web of intrigue was being spun, and they conveyed that brilliantly. I was so glad Stan the Man came good in the fourth set, even if his victory was tainted a bit by Nadal's injury. A five-set comeback win for Nadal would have sent the controversy level off the scale.

On Monday morning I met one of the underwriters as she was walking to work. I was about to hop on the airport bus. "Have a good time," she said. "You too." That shows you how my brain was working. Or not. Wellington Airport is currently decked out with a huge eagle - which came down in last week's earthquake - and a Gollum. The flight to Timaru was pain-free as usual. Being over the wing I couldn't see a lot. All I could make out were big green dartboards carved out by irrigators, with the pivot as the bull's eye. It's amazing how sophisticated these giant irrigators are - they're all computer-controlled, and some of them are clever enough to jump over fences. The plane arrived ten minutes early and when I got out, wow, sunshine. Where has that been?

Mum kindly recorded the tennis for me, and I watched all four crazy sets. Perhaps the biggest moment came as Wawrinka served at 5-3 in the first set. He went love-40 down and couldn't buy a first serve, but Nadal was unable to get any of those second balls back in play. It was a weird set, but then things got a whole lot weirder. At the end it was good to see the two players being so friendly, even if Nadal surely wanted to get the hell out of there.

Even if you're not a tennis fan you should watch Li Na's speech after she won - it's absolutely priceless.

On Tuesday I was all over the place. I looked at some government jobs online, with little focus, and found one that was closing the next day. After lunch I took Dad's bike out - it was sunny and the exercise was likely to benefit me. I hadn't ridden a bike for I don't know how long, and I must have done 25 km at least, muttering to myself most of the way, trying to remember what that job was all about. It felt strange cycling on these straight Canterbury roads that stretch out seemingly into infinity. I'd see a truck or a milk tanker in the distance and it would take forever to go by. When I got back I applied for that job, but it was a strange application somehow. Later a couple from the UK arrived - they were staying the night and flying home from Christchurch the next morning. They'd been touring around the South Island, doing the Otago Rail Trail and a spot of Morris dancing.

Yesterday Dad drove us all to Christchurch. After dropping the British couple off at the airport, we had a look at the city. It was the first time I'd seen it since the earthquakes. Holy hell. It looked even worse than I'd imagined. The heart of the city was totally gutted. The streets on the map were still there, but they'd been reduced to almost a bare grid. To think that all that destruction happened in seconds. I couldn't get over the number of containers. They were everywhere. Some were used to shore up building frontages. It was a bright sunny day but it was eerily quiet in what used to be the CBD. An exception was the new Cashel Mall, which was a vibrant array of container shops. It worked very well. A bloke was playing a flute and singing opera. He seemed to suffer from some sort of tic, but he was very good. I happily gave him some money. He was angry when a group of Maori performers turned up and stole his spot. I hear some big company wants to get rid of the Cashel Mall containers and build something imposing. That would be a shame.

We then drove to Lyttelton, where my ancestors arrived 150 years ago. It's a lovely town but was hit hard by the quakes and resulting landslides.

I'll put up some photos from yesterday if and when I get the chance.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Flat - in more ways than one

My mood improved in the middle of the week but has since taken another dive. It's physical as well as mental. I should probably see the doctor, but all this depression stuff now feels so normal. It's got to the stage where it's part of what I am.

I rang up my prospective flatmate this morning to give him the green light. There are now a few flatmate-related things I have to organise, and I don't feel like doing any of them.

Tom came over today. I still feel a bit uncomfortable with him around. He likes to get his mitts on any digital device I might have. Why haven't you added this or customised that? Jeez Tom, that's really really low priority for me at the moment. He mentioned Java programming again. Apparently arsing around with code, even if it serves no purpose, is fun fun fun all the way, and highly rewarding. I would like to learn Java, with a distinct purpose in mind, but I don't see that happening any time soon. Where will the time come from? The concentration? (I couldn't read a novel at the moment.) Of course Tom is pretty knowledgeable about the ever-changing digital world, and he was able to tell me what a "flat" iPhone design was. How can an iPhone screen not be flat? It turns out that "flat" just means no effects such as gradients or 3D or translucency (supposedly all that stuff, which was all the rage not so long ago, is now old hat).

Well done to Li Na on a fully-deserved Australian Open title. It's her second grand slam; she also won the French Open in 2011. The first set of tonight's match was a real belter - it could have gone either way. Cibulkova, the surprise finalist, certainly played her part too. Li Na almost exited the tournament over a week ago when she faced a match point, which means I need to update this page.
Let's hope Stan the Man at least puts up a good fight against Nadal tomorrow.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Flatting and statting

It looks like I've got a flatmate. I was iffy about this guy - who is probably thirtyish - when he phoned me yesterday, but when he came over with his dad last night he seemed like quite a safe option. He's embarking a two-year web design course - the school/college is just a short walk from here. Last night they were frantically measuring things and deciding on where certain items of furniture would go, as if they'd already moved in. Unsurprisingly the guy rang me today to say he's keen to move in; I've promised to show someone around tomorrow so I couldn't quite give him the OK, but I did say he was well in the lead. It'll be strange living with another person - it's nearly seven years since I last did so.

I listened to almost all of Stan the Man Wawrinka's stunning win over Djokovic on Tuesday night (and paid for it the next day). It was one of those times I really wished I had Sky, although the commentators paint a pretty good picture. I was glad Wawrinka won. He dominated the middle part of the match, and was able to hold off Djokovic with some big first serves on the crucial points in the fifth set. From the commentary, he was the deserving winner (and I was surprised to find out that he won eight fewer points than his opponent - it goes to show how important the big points are). It's nice to see the one-handed backhand come back - it just looks good. Just think of Federer's one-hander. I'd love to see Wawrinka win the whole thing now; that outcome isn't totally out of the question.

Now for some boring (to most people) tennis stats and probability stuff. It would seem that matches where the loser wins the most points are more common than I thought. From what I read online, Federer has lost 24 matches in his career having won the most points, which is a lot when you think how little losing he's done. On the other side of the coin, John Isner has been out-pointed in 20 of his career wins, including that match. He hasn't been on the tour all that long, so to rack up 20 such victories already is no mean feat. It might almost be a mindset thing for him - he'll do enough to hang on to his serve, maybe not put that much effort into the return games, and then put all his energy into the tie-break which he excels at, probably because he gets so much practice at them.
Although I never had point tallies when I played interclub, I'm pretty sure a couple of my singles wins saw me win less than half the points, and if that kind of thing even happened to me at the standard I played at, it must happen quite a lot to the pros where serve dominates, matches are generally closer, and individual points can be much more important.

I mentioned this before, but the Australian Open website gives you a plethora of facts and figures and charts and graphs for each match, and most of it isn't worth looking at. Like the "keys to the match". One of Djokovic's "keys" in his match with Wawrinka was "average more than 7.2 points per game returning". What?! I can see the idea of that I suppose. Lots of long return games means he's making good inroads into Wawrinka's service games. But 7.2 is a really high average. (If all points were 50:50, regardless of who serves, you'd get to 6.75, and any advantage to the server would only decrease this average.) It would take something quite bizarre to reach 7.2 in a long men's match, like a player being dominant on serve on the deuce side but struggling badly on the ad side. Frankly it looks like that figure was plucked out of thin air. Unsurprisingly, Djokovic didn't reach the target (it says he averaged 6.8, but that doesn't tally with the stats - 170 points in 26 return games gives an average of 6.54, which is actually still quite high).

I spoke to Mum tonight following Cibulkova's upset thrashing of Radwanska in the semis. Cibulkova is about the same height as Mum, but their physical similarities end right there. The Czech player blasted an out-of-sorts Radwanska off the court to set up a final with Li Na.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Release of energy

Although my work situation isn't filling me with happiness, depression-wise I haven't been too bad in the last week or two. It goes to show that unhappiness and depression are two quite different things. But yesterday there were signs that I was making a descent, and today I went into a tailspin. Right on cue, we had a significant earthquake shortly before 4pm today, which lasted about thirty seconds but of course felt longer. The epicentre was in a different location to the big shakes we had last winter; it was close to Eketahuna, 33 km deep, and measured a hefty 6.2. I sent the tennis commentators a message, to say how good their commentary was and to mention the earthquake, and they read it out.

I was at home today - it was Wellington Anniversary - and it's just as well I've only got a four-day work week before I go away (I'm going down south next Monday). My only real team-mate has taken the week off, my boss hasn't, and I'm feeling like crap and with little energy, not far off how I felt over the Christmas/New Year period.

I put an ad on NZ Flatmates and got a surprising number of inquiries, more than I did from TradeMe. And of course that's a good thing. But having to even think about flatmates or jobs or anything like that feels beyond me.

Tennis - at various levels

Today I played tennis, for the first time in ages, with the Meetup group. It was stupidly windy out there (wind must play a huge part in Wellington interclub competition). We didn't play any games, which was probably just as well. One of the guys had never played before, and didn't seem to care that he couldn't keep any kind of rally going, or even hit the ball a lot of the time. I didn't care much either, but I would have felt extremely self-conscious in his situation. He kept talking about "Sanchez shots" as if someone called Sanchez was currently a top-ranked male tennis player. We later ascertained that he meant Sampras. As for me, I enjoyed the hit-out and wouldn't mind getting back into it properly if I could find the time.

When I got home after tennis, Ana Ivanovic had just taken the second set in her shock three-set win over Serena Williams. I was happy with that result - I've never been a huge Serena fan, and I remember seeing Ivanovic as a teenager in 2005 and I was mighty impressed with her. There was some drama as Serena served at 2-5 in the final set. She was (rather unfairly) given a time violation, and responded by taking virtually no time in between points. She hung onto her serve, saving a match point, but Ivanovic served out to love, beating the player everyone said was unbeatable. It was a great performance, regardless of any injury Serena might have had, and any of the dozen players left in the tournament has a chance of lifting the trophy.

I've just updated my CV, but I guess I need several versions. It's tricky - I'm saying, look, this is what I've done for the last ten years, but that's all irrelevant because now I don't want to do anything remotely like it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Need to make a change I can embrace

I did manage two hours' sleep shortly after my last post, and felt surprisingly awake on Saturday. The Beatles cover concert wasn't bad at all. OK, the band (who we could hardly see because there was a tree in the way) seemed to lack energy at times, but heck it was free. The audience was younger than I expected, but when you think about it the weather was excellent, it didn't cost anything, and most importantly you could bring as much alcohol as you wanted. They finished with Hey Jude which I think would be my favourite Beatles song.

On Sunday I caught up with a woman from the autism group. We had a coffee and a long chat. Unusually for someone at the group, she's in a long-term relationship. When I talked about work she knew exactly where I was coming from (and that's unusual anywhere). She's had serious problems with depression and is on the maximum dose of Efexor and that's not all. She's also carrying a lot of excess weight. In fact her dream is to design clothes, that aren't tents and don't cost a fortune, for larger women.

Monday was a very fine day and after work I sat out on the waterfront. Two stingrays swam by, one of which was practically man-sized. It was an amazing sight; the last time I saw anything like that was at Kelly Tarlton's a long time ago. I then attended the first autism group of the year. I mentioned work, of course, and got all kinds of job ideas from bars to libraries.

Looking back over work-related blog posts from 2009 and 2012 (it's amazing how much I've forgotten), my latest experience is giving me a real sense of déjà vu. I absolutely have to leave the world of big faceless insurance companies, or else it'll be déjà vu all over again in my next job. It never ceases to amaze me that some of my colleagues don't just tolerate the environment, where everything you do is monitored at all times, they seem to enjoy it. I can sort of understand it with the younger ones, for whom privacy is a foreign concept (and I think you're naturally more competitive at that age), but when people get into their forties and fifties and are still driven by targets and KPIs that have been foisted upon them by some authority figure, I'm completely baffled.
On Thursday the global CEO sent us all a 32-meg email, which was nice because we have a whopping 150 meg of storage and can't send anything over three meg ourselves. The email outlined a three-point plan for us all to follow. First, put our customers at the centre of everything. Fair enough. Second, adapt to change faster. Embrace change. That's always a tough one for me. The last one though was like someone had Googled "corporate bullshit" and tried to cram as many buzzwords in one sentence as possible; I had no idea what it meant.
I am looking for jobs now but it's very hard to know what I should be applying for.

It's been a very hot Australian Open so far. Inhumanely so. It's not fun for anyone. The extreme heat policy doesn't really work, and I wonder whether it'll take loss of life for them to change anything. The temperature has since plummeted but it's pretty muggy out there now. It's interesting listening to the commentators. Today they were talking about the demise of serve-and-volley. In 2001 Roger Federer beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon (7-5 in the fifth set - I remember it) by coming in on almost every serve, and of course Sampras did the same. Now they're saying racket technology would make that style of play almost impossible, which is a shame. The tournament website has something called Slam Tracker, an analysis section run by IBM. You click on a match and it brings up three options. One of the options is entitled "momentum" and it's almost totally meaningless. A much better idea would be to show the estimated probability of a player winning the match given the current situation. It would be easy to understand and show the relative importance of each point, which I think people would find interesting. The second option is called "social sentiment" and shows a graph of the number of positive tweets each player has received. My first thought to that is, who cares? My second thought is, how do they know? Do they search for key words in tweets so they can tell whether they're positive or negative? What if you describe a player as "amazingly crap"? It's all a mystery to me - I wouldn't know a hashtag if it walloped me on the nose. The third option just shows the stats, and that's the only bit worth looking at.

15UP - yes it's the one I invented
People aren't buying the app, and that's hardly surprising because there isn't much to entice people to buy. There's so much you could do to make it really good, but the current developers aren't capable of making the (extensive) necessary changes. It's frustrating when you see what other apps have done. I was recently introduced to Wordament, a Boggle-style game involving a 4x4 grid of letters. You have to connect the letters together (diagonally is OK) to make as many words as you can in two minutes, but that's most definitely not all. Everybody plays the same game at the same time, and at the end of the game you can see how you stack up against the rest of the world. The games aren't all a simple find-as-many-words-as-you-can: sometimes there are themes or multiple letters on one space or some other variation, and that all adds considerable variety. The hardest variant is the one where you get a hefty bonus for making a certain long word, which is difficult to find when you're trying to make other words as well. My only gripe would be the arbitrary distinction between "common" and "obscure" words: some of the "common" words (which can give you more points) actually seem quite obscure, and vice-versa. Because I don't have a Facebook presence or an iPhone, I can only play as a guest, but that's fine by me. I'd give Wordament 4 stars.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The beginning of the end (again)

It's well after 4am and I haven't slept a wink, so I might as well write something here. I had my performance review with my boss yesterday (I think I have to call it yesterday now) which was even uglier than I expected. I really took a hammering. My input two months ago probably didn't help. I think it's fair to say that the writing's on the wall; the clock is most definitely ticking. I won't be fired, not yet anyway, but life will gradually be made harder for me over the coming weeks (and months, if I get that far) until either I'm managed out or I'm so depressed that I won't manage at all. Of course my performance is no worse than it was a year ago, and if it wasn't for the regime change I probably would have been fine. So the big question is, while I've still got a job, what do I look for now? I'm not going anywhere near life insurance again, that's for sure. And I need to get flatmates. Plural.

I found an excellent article about depression and work here.

I emailed the link to the app around the office on Monday. Most people would have ignored or deleted it, but my boss installed it! She got through the first six levels impressively quickly, then went back to level 287 (or whatever) of Candy Crush. Releasing an app on the market should feel like a big achievement, but it really just feels like I've hobbled over the start line of a marathon.

There's a Beatles tribute band playing tomorrow night, um, tonight, at the Botanic Gardens. I'll be going there with Martin, and yawning through the whole thing no doubt.

(I had another "Beginning of the end" in 2009.)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Keeping my Peka up

First things first, my Android phone app for 15Up (if you can call it my app) is finally out. For a minute there I didn't think it would see the light of day. You can get up to level 6 (of 15) without having to pay a cent, but with the way work seems to be heading, I'm banking on a few people downloading level 7 and above.

I decided at the last minute to "do" New Year's Eve with the anxiety group because I thought it would be good for me. We met at Lazeeza, a Mediterranean restaurant on Dixon Street, at the far-too-early time of 6:30. We were there for an age, and I was unlucky enough to have no-one I could reasonably talk to. I happened to be sitting at the end of a long table, right next to that horrible bloke who played squash a few weeks ago, and opposite a guy who doesn't really talk at all. The squash bloke likes to mock everything and everybody; he reminds me of kids in my class when I was eleven. I had a pasta dish which was fine but not nearly enough to fill me up; the kunafa I had for dessert was delicious. Time dragged, and eventually it was decided we'd go to the beach to see in the new year. A few people had brought their cars, and we made our way to Owhiro Bay. People lit a fire, which you're probably not supposed to do, but they were pretty sensible about it. I tried to help out by collecting wood. It made a nice change to welcome in 2014 in a fairly remote location (no mobile reception) under the stars. It still amazes me how many stars you can see in New Zealand. In the UK  it was never properly dark - there was always so much light pollution. I found out that one of the "stars" close to Orion's Belt is actually a galaxy. There's so much astronomical stuff I have no idea about; I should probably download one of the many apps where you can just point your phone at the night sky and it tells you what's what. It was good to get home: the anxiety group isn't really working for me anymore. The events draw many more people than they used to, and they last so much longer, making me more anxious.

On Thursday (the 2nd), Tracy invited me to the family beach house at Peka Peka, just north of Waikanae and about half-way to Palmerston North. Her mum had the place built in about 1985 when Tracy was a baby, and it's a lovely spot there, very close to the beach. They had another family (of five) staying, whom they were very good friends with. The idea was that we'd kayak or even swim in the sea - it's a lot warmer than around Wellington - but it was a bit too windy and the beach was riddled with bluebottles. We had a good walk, ate some excellent food, and sat down to play some board games: Takenoko (which I'd played, badly, twice before), Settlers of Catan (the king of modern board games but a new one on me) and Jaipur (a two-player card game which I really liked). They had a whole raft of games and puzzles to tinker with, and they got really into Sherlock which they had on DVD. I wondered, were they all Aspies?

I ran much hotter in our four-player Takenoko game than in my previous attempts, but Tracy still beat me into second place by two points. Settlers, which we played with five, was a tricky one for me: so much of the game relies on trading resources with your opponents. All my opponents were either siblings or long-time friends, and I felt a bit uncomfortable asking someone I didn't know from a bar of soap whether they'd trade two sheep for a brick and an ore. At one point someone suggested I was taking too long. Well, what do you expect, I hardly know the rules. Another time I had nine cards in my hand, no-one to trade with, and no idea what to do. I was completely flummoxed. Surprisingly enough I didn't win that game. Jaipur was my favourite - it's a card game with a fairly loose theme where you play the part of a merchant in India, buying and selling valuable goods. The game also features camels, which play an important strategic role. Tracy and her mum walked me through the game, which was over quite quickly, and to my surprise I won by a handy margin - it didn't feel like I'd won at all. Then I found out it it was best of three. It was like those tennis matches I played (such as here and especially here), where I'd win the first set 6-2 or something, but I knew he was in fact better than me. Predictably Tracy won the second game comfortably. The third took longer than the others, just because of the way it panned out, and I unexpectedly won it by just two points despite giving up the "camel bonus".

It was a really pleasant day all round, with easy-going people who I felt I could relax with most of the time. Even just getting in the car and going somewhere made a nice change. Peka Peka was where the Emperor penguin Happy Feet mysteriously appeared in 2011. It also has a reputation for being a nudist hangout, which is hilarious when you consider the name. I suppose you could call the release of 15Up an appy feat.

I've still been feeling yucky, with a lot of dizziness and not much mental energy, but at least I've got my physical energy back. The importance of exercise is enormous. Tomorrow I'll be back to work for a five-day week and so will my boss.