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Showing posts from 2010

Tlaloc strikes down apon us... or maybe is was Zeus.

So, it was a fairly normal Friday afternoon.  Seemed a little windy outside, but all in all, a fairly normal work day. Wind in Wellington is as normal as sand in the Sahara.

We finished up at a normalish time, sometime after 4 and went home.

As we approached the house,  I clicked the button so that the handy electric garage door would open and we could drive in and park, as normal.

Nothing happened.

Very strange, but we've had power cuts before so I thought it was probably just something like that.  I parked outside, and we went in to investigate. 

Sure enough, there was no power.  I went to the switch board : two of the trips had been.... er... tripped? Anyway, I clicked them back, and the lights came back on.  Nice one!

But our joy was short lived.

As we made our way into the house we noticed a few things.
The security system's little control panel was blank.  It's got a battery backup, so this was surprising.  In previous power cuts, it usually flashed "problem&quo…


One of my fave blogs is (of course) PZ Myers' pharyngula.

It was with great sadness and alarm that I learned a few days ago that he was to undergo a fairly extreme procedure to assist his ailing heart. Very sad indeed.

Well, I learned a few days after that the operation went swimmingly and that he's recovering.

PZ is one of those writers who always inspires me.  I wish I could write with just 10% of his wit and intelligence.  It's so good that he's back doing what he does best - in fact I was expecting there to be a few weeks' silence from him, but divil-the-bit.  He was producing excellent quality blog posts withing days of the operation.  That's dedication.

Within the last month or so, there's also been the news that Chris Hitchens has been diagnosed with some unpleasant form of cancer.  It looks to my untrained eye that his prognosis is much less encouraging that PZ's.  PZ's problem seems to be mechanical. His heart is weak, needed reinforcements…

Slow Cooked Pork with Potatoes & Gravy

Well Jacqui's away back to Mexico for a bit.  The teenagers were here and it all went very well. They're nice kids, and we had a GREAT TIME :)

I also have some opinions about the state of modern Mexico that I'm dying to write about, but it's a bit to heavy for a sunday afternoon, so instead I'm gonna tell how to make something delicious.

So, lets say you've got one of those slow cookers, and you've tried a few things but it always ends up kinda-tasting-the-same.

Well, I know exactly how you feel.  I've tried several things, and usually they're OK, tasty enough, but lacking in whatever it would take to make the 6-8 hours worth it.

Until I discovered a secret.  I didn't find this anywhere on the web, but I have inferred it.

The secret with slow cooking is simplicity.  Each ingredient just adds to the mess of flavours and makes it's easier to get wrong.  It's like mixing paint.  The more colours you add, the more likely you are to come up w…

All work and no play makes Dan a dull boy

Well, it's all been very busy at work these days.  I'm helping the very nice folks at NZQA to build their new website, and this weekend, after months of coding & hacking, it finally went live.

You can check it out (if you like) at  There may still be bugs, missing pages and perhaps catastrophic crashes, but it certainly looks better and is apparently easier to use.

I did the "dynamic" pages - this is a fancy way of saying that I re-skinned the legacy pages to make them look like the rest of the site :)

There are several nice &/or interesting technologies in use back there : Silverstripe is used for CMS, and it's been interesting to see how to integrate something complex like a professional CMS with a set of legacy pages.

Anyway, mostly done now.

Musical Taste

Since I've been home alone since Sunday, I've been taking the opportunity to listen to old music that I haven't heard in ages.

Like many people, I maintain a huge Mp3 collection on an external hard drive.  Practically every CD I've ever owned (and a few I've never owned, but that's another story) plus hundreds of tunes bought or downloaded from various online sources.

My favourite songs this week are:
Lovely Head - GoldfrappSunchyme - Dario GThe Golden Path - The Chemical Brothers & The Flaming LipsThe Weekend - Michael GrayGangster Trippin - Fatboy SlimPraise You - Fatboy SlimReverence - FaithlessLa Femme D'Argent - AirNumb - PortisheadWandering Star - PortisheadProtection - Massive AttackBorn Slippy - UnderworldBeachball - Nalin & KaneHarvester of Sorrow - MetallicaMy tastes have certainly changed over the years, and some of this stuff would never have been pat of my collection before.  Jeeze. I only added Metallica at the end there to give the lis…

All's well that ends well

Well, Jacqui is finally safely arrived in Mexico City and is, as I type,  recovering from a fairly arduous and long ordeal. 

Apart from arriving at the wrong terminal, everything seemed to go relatively smoothly.  She even has a decent wifi connection in her hotel room, so we could even chat for free over skype.

She makes the 4 hour bus trip to her home city tomorrow afternoon, and will be staying a night in a local hotel before getting settled.

Excellent :)

Interesting Times...

Well, Jacqui's off to Mexico for a few weeks, or a month, or maybe longer. 

Thursday night Jacqui spent packing and I spent sorting out her laptop.  Updated all the software and switched off automatic updates - Jacqui will be using the tethering function on her iPhone for internet and at $10 per megabyte, it could be very expensive!  We ended up going to bed sometime around 4.

A few hours later, on Friday morning, we got up early and faffed about for exactly 7 minutes too long, and then battled our way through Friday Morning Traffic, moving at the exact same speed as Golden Syrup, before arriving at the airport exactly 7 minutes late.


"Sorry sir, check-in is now closed." the lady told us.
"Yes, but don't worry; you can get on the next flight for a $90 charge."
"Excellent!  When's that then?"
"In 6 hours"

The lady was very nice though : not her fault we arrived late.  She suggested that we might like to try s…

Auckland is off the menu (for now)

Jeese, but it was close.

I was offered a very good perm role in Auckland and the agent was telling me that they needed a decision pretty damn quick!  Apparently they were going to meet with the company that very day, and wanted a yea or nay before COB the following day ("Close Of Business", just in case that's a stupid TLA - "Three Letter Acronym").

So, I was very pleased when I got word that a local company here in Wellington were interested in talking to me about a 6 month contract. The interview was arranged for the following morning.

The interview went well: brief but covered most of the things you'd expect.  Nothing too technical but enough to weed out the stoopids.

I think I did well enough, because they told me I was the "preferred candidate".  After some panic regarding getting by references sorted, the offer was made. I called the agent in Auckland, and she was very gracious.

I started a few weeks back (hence the lack of updates recently)…

On Heaven & the Afterlife

An article on the Washington Post website asks :
What is your vision of heaven? What images from scripture, tradition or your own personal experience describe it best?The answer given by Paula Kirby seems to me to be the best, most well thought out response to a question such as this.

I recommend you read it, but to summarize,  she says:
To a Christian, the only point of life is to win a place in heaven to be with God for ever. But what is the point of that? Apparently it is to praise God for his goodness in sending Jesus so that we could be saved from the eternity of torment that would otherwise have awaited us in hell (and there's another preposterous idea that has caused more than its fair share of avoidable human misery, but perhaps that will be a subject for another day). and...
Fortunately, there is not the slightest evidence that points towards the existence of heaven, for it would be nothing but unspeakable tedium. I can't help thinking that the people who find the conc…

Revolt of the Mannequins

This past week, Wellington has been host to La Révolte des Mannequin.

La Revolt des Mannequin, or The Revolt of the Mannequins, is a set of French art installations.  Around the town, several shop fronts are installed with Mannequins posed and doing various things.

Each day, they appear shifted to a new pose, giving the impression that they're moving. And thus a story is told.

There where ten of them in the CBD area, but the first that caught my attention was called Nightmare of the Puddle and featured a man enjoying a drink on the first day.  But as the days progressed, the man appeared to be melting form the feet down, forming a large puddle of plastic.

By the end, he had practically disappeared completely, and a cleaning lady was mopping up the remains into a blue plastic bucket.  On the last day, she throws the contents of the bucket at the window.

Another excellent one wasn't hosted in one shop.  It was called the Inspector and the Sniper.  It featured a sniper located at…


These days, Jacqui drags herself out of bed at about 6.30am to get out in time for the 7:25 bus.
I'm an unemployed bum, so I stay in bed.

So, this morning she managed to grab this outstanding photo of sunrise over the eastern hills.


Neil Gaiman in Wellington

Saturday evening was spent at Neil Gaimans's talk.  It was his part in the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

We went with our friends Jen, Dom & Jordan. 

The compere (she seemed nice) introduced him as the Amadaus Mozart of postmodernist literature.  Aside from the fact that I usually detest the term "postmodern" when assumed to mean anything (can you define it satisfactorily?), I thought it was quite a clever description.

The talk itself was excellent - he read 3 short poems. I can't remember the order, but they were:
1) A story called "My Last Landlady" about a murderous landlady in an unnamed English seaside town.  Sounds like Brighton.
2) A story about the bones of Saint Odhrán buried under the church on the Island of Iona which is just of the west coast of Scotland.  Downpatrick, the town I went to school in, gets a breif mention :)
3) A beautiful poem (which he described as his credo) about reading Goldilocks to his daughter.

The whole au…

Dawkins in Wellington

Well, Richard Dawkins was in Wellington last night to do a talk as part of the NZ International Arts Festival.

Jacqui and I had bought tickets as soon as we heard he was coming (months ago!) and were amongst first in line to get to a good seat. our friends Raquel and Cristina were with us.

We settled about half way back, not so close as to be craning our necks; not so far as to be unable to see.

 The view from our seats.  I put the phone away when Richard came on to the stage.
The room was filled almost to capacity.  This, I remind you, is not a rock concert or a famous actor.  This is a talk by a scientist.  And the room is filled to capacity.  I hope this is a sign of the times.  I hope that scientific literacy is improving.  10 years ago, I don't think a science writer could have attracted such a large crowd in a small city like Wellington.  Perhaps we're putting myth, superstition and religion behind us.  Perhaps.

The talk started with a short introduction by a local scienc…

Christopher Hitchen's new commandments

As you probably may have gathered from reading my other posts, you'll know that I have little respect for religion. I'm proud to call myself an Atheist, and think that's it's probably the only philosophy worthy of respect in a sea of morally bankrupt religions.

Christopher Hitchens seems to live in the same moral sea as I, and in keeping with this he's written a nice little article for Vanity Fair about the 10 "Commandments" - the moral framework set forth by the judeo-christian god.

He goes through all the biblical commandments one by one and deals with them as one would given today's ethical environment.  I'm always horrified by people who treat the biblical commandments as if they're in some way a moral high point. They're really not, and I admit to being further horrified by the glaring omissions (genocide, rape, child abuse and care for the environment.  Wouldn't an omnipotent god have known about these too?)

So check out his lis…

New Favourite Guitarist : Christophe Godin

I was browsing the old intertubes today and happened upon a guitarist.  He was showing the qualities of a brand of guitar amplifier on Laney's website and I was quite impressed with the guy playing the yellow guitar.

I went along to the youtube page (where the video is hosted) and discovered that he was a French guy called Christophe Godin, and he's remarkable.  Seriously good doesn't even begin to describe his style; I thought I was quite good, but I now realise that I have to work alot more to get anywhere near this guy.  His style reminds me of Joe Satriani, but he's interesting and pleasant to listen to (unlike Joe, who isn't either).

I read further and discovered that he's mostly known for playing in French band called Metal Kartoon, who I must admit I've never heard of.  There's no sign on iTunes, so I may have to dig a bit deeper.

Rockin' Out!
Go to his website and have a look at his videos.  It's all in French, but really it doesn't m…


Well it's turning out to be an interesting time.

As I discussed recently, contracting is turning out to be something of a pain in the ass.

I recently started applying for suitable contracts in Auckland - a sprawling city in the North. Apparently.
I managed to secure a phone interview with a Nameless Large Company, and they kindly informed me afterwards that I came "a close second". 

This was cool, and usually that woud have been the end of it.  Us contractors have to be used to rejections - it's part of the job.

But they have confused matters a bit - they told my agent that they might consider me for a perm role. Usually, I'd reject this straight away, but it's been nearly 5 months since I last secured a contract.  Also, it's a very well known company, and there are some excellent bribes, er, I mean benefits...

I'll not mention what they are cuz you'll instantly know the company.  Suffice to say I'd be able to do the thing they do for 60% les…


I'm feeling a bit in-awe today.  The word awsome has changed its meaning somewhat over the last 50 years.  These days, people bandy it about like "Cool" or "Hey that's great!". But I prefer to reserve it to describe the almost spiritual feeling we get when exposed to something truly amazing.

The reason for my feeling of awe today is that I was contemplating the size of the Universe.

I was watching an episode of Carl Sagan's Cosmos, for the first time since I was a child.   I hadn't really thought about it before, but our sun is one of 200 billion (or so) other stars in our one single galaxy (the Milky Way).  Our galaxy is one on a million billion other galaxies, each one with it's own 200 billion stars.  Isn't that utterly mind boggling? Isn't that awesome?

And what about time? Carl gave an excellent analogy. Let's say that all of time has been compressed into a single calendar year.  The big bang happens during the first second of t…


This is the NZI Sevens weekend here in Sunny Wellington.

Jacqui and I didn't manage to get tickets - by the time I'd remembered to log on to the website, they were all long sold out.  Apparently they were all gone within 3 minutes, so I don't feel so bad.

It would have been great to have gone to the actual tournament, but since that wasn't possible, we went into the city to bask in the ambiance.

And we're glad we did!  The whole city was out, and I don't think much work was done!

The whole point of the Seven's weekend is, surprisingly, completely unrelated to rugby. Rather, it's about being seen in your outfit.  And every year, the outfits get a bit crazier.

This year the costumes included, but where not limited to:

Oompa-LoompasAvatarsFairiesSWAT team membersCavemen (and cave women)Synchronised swimmersBaywatchersBlues BrothersMexicans
Also, everyone was either drunk or crazy.  Many were, in fact, both.
Jacqui got hugged by random strangers more times…

Homeopathy Win

There's been quite a lot of media coverage this last few weeks around homeopathy.  Homeopathy is an alternative treatment based on the assumption that the less there is of something, the more powerful it is.

Let me explain.

Let's say you have a problem with sneezing. You sneeze and sneeze, and you just can't shift it.
So the homeopathic treatment would go along the lines of saying, "well, what causes sneezing? pepper!"
You they's take a teaspoon of pepper and add it to a litre of water.

They'd then shake the bottle, and take a teaspoon of the mixture.  This teaspoon would be added to another litre of water.  This would also be mixed up, and a teaspoon taken.  This process would be repeated.  The homeopath would claim that each dilution makes the potion stronger! The final potion (mostly water with a little sugar or flavour to make it taste "mediciny") in then prescribed to the patient.

Yes really.  Some treatments go though dozens of such dilutio…

Science & Libel

There's been quite a lot of talk in the media recently about the relationship between Science, Libel Law, Alternative Medicine and Evidence.  It's mostly in relation to the experiences of Simon Singh and others who have been sued in the UK for saying things like:
The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence.The Chiropractic Association in the UK took great offence at this for reasons I can't comprehend and decided to sue Dr Singh for rather a large sum of money.

Now, here's what I think about this. First there really is little or no evidence that chiropractic is any better than physiotherapy for treating back pain.  In fact, there appears to be real evidence that it's less effective (and in some rare cases, dangerous).  Further, many unscrupulous chiropractors claim that their treatments…


I've not used this space to talk about what I do for a living before, so I think today is a good day to tell you a bit about that.

I'm a Software Engineer, working mainly as a Java/J2EE programmer/analyst.  I'm also a contractor, which means I get to switch jobs every 3-6 months.  There are many good and bad things about this arrangement.

First the good:

The pay is certainly better.  I earn more in a week, than I would earn as a permanent in 3.  Maybe even more, depending on the rate.  I get to work on something different every few months.  No endless maintenance!Less office politics.  I don't have to care if Eric's not talking to Lucy because she said he was incompetent. Or smells bad (this happens in every office).But there are downsides If I don't work, I don't get paid.  So : holidays, sick leave, bereavement, paternity and anything else - no pay.Interviews every few months.  Jeese, I'm sick of interviews.  I get hired one in every three interviews (a…

El Estudiante

We saw our final film at the Mexican Film Festival in Wellington on Tuesday.  It was El Estudiante (The Student) and was the story of a retired man who decides to go to university in the beautiful city of Guanajuato, which was one of the real stars of the film.

Really, it was about his effect on the young people there, and their effect on him.  Although the values of the young were different than the old man and his wife, there was more that they had in common, than separated them.

It's a very pleasant, uplifting film, and I think it'll be something I'll look out for on DVD.

Sin Nombre

On Saturday, we had a very busy day. We saw a grand total of 3 Mexican films.

The first one (Otra Pelicula de Huevos y un pollo) was an animated comedy featuring talking eggs & a chicken, and to be honest, I think you have to be Mexican to get most of the jokes.  I was in a row with several Mexican people who where practically doubled over laughing when one of the eggs said something which I though was about 15% funny. Oh well, I guess it was entertaining enough.  I liked the animation & appreciated the very high production quality.

The second (Los Herederos) was a documentary about kids living in rural Mexico.  I found this to be a very powerful film.  It contained very little actual dialog - it mostly showed this kids working hard.  Damn hard -  expected to work as hard as the adults from a very early age.  I'll not go into much detail - I reckon anyone who has an interest in Mexico should see it for themselves.

The last one (Sin Nombre) was by far the best of the 3, and…

Arráncame la vida

Last night we attended the first night of the Hola Mexico Film Festival in Wellington.  The first movie of the season was Arráncame la vida (Tear This Heart Out), the story of a woman who marries a Mexican General in the years following the Mexican Revolution of 1910.  

I found it to be a real genre breaker as far as Mexican cinema goes.  Over the years, we've seen several Mexican movies, and the general theme seems to be heart breaking tragedy, and rarely a happy ending.  This one was different however.  Although tragedy played a huge part in the story (I don't want to give anything away, but don't get too attached to the Carlos character.  He doesn't last long..), the ending seems quite uplifting.  Well, comparatively at least.

The story starts when the protagonist is 15 years old, and being whirlwinded into a marriage with a famous (or infamous) general, twice her age.  It tracks her sexual awakening as a teenager, through to her intellectual awakening in the followin…

Guitar Completed... more or less...

I finally got the guitar finished.  I'm sure you'll remember that one I bought in a local auction shortly before Christmas?

I finally got it wired up, screw together and stringed.  I plugged it in and was more than a little amazed to find that it actually worked!  It's actually feels nice to play, and looks pretty too.

It also has buckets of tone and I would imagine would make a nice blues guitar.

However, it's not perfect as yet. There appears to be something of an annoying hum,  but I think with some additional shielding and grounding, it'll be fine.  And it's a fairly well known issue with strats anyway.

Also, the neck pickup appears not to work.  Not sure why - it appears to be correctly wired.  No problems though.  I very rarely use that pickup anyway.

And lastly, the scratch plate doesn't really fit.  The body isn't exactly a strat shape, just very similar.  I think it looks quirky, so I don't mind :)

Check it out:

Looks quite nice eh?

Here's …

Christopher Hitchens

There's a fantastic interview with Christopher Hitchens here which seems to mainly be about the recent axe attack in Denmark.  The victim was the chap who drew the cartoon depicting Mohammed with a bomb for a turban.  Mildly funny, but apparently incredibly offensive to some very touchy Muslims.  The man in his 70's was enjoying New Year's Eve with his young grand daughter when an axe-wielding-maniac stormed into his house, injuring the man, and probably frightening the little girl for the rest of her years.  I don't have the words to describe how horrified I am to hear about this.  So, I'll let Christopher fill in the gaps:
These are some of the same people who say that if I don't believe in God I can't know what morality is. They've just dissolved morality completely into relativism by saying actually, occasionally, carving up grandfathers and granddaughters with an axe on New Year's Eve can be okay if it's done to protect the reputation of a s…

Rosca De Reyes

Yesterday was a fairly special day in the Mexican calendar.  Means fek all on the irish calendar, but who cares about that?

It was 3 Kings day.  I'm sure you remember the story.  We had posada a few days before christmas ("no room at the inn") and we had christmas day ("baby jesus day") and now we have the day when three wise men ("Well, what are you doing creeping around a cow shed at two o'clock in the morning? That doesn't sound very wise to me.") come to visit to give gifts of gold, frenenstien and murr, which is a type of balm ("A balm, what are you giving him a balm for? It might bite him. It's a dangerous animal. Quick, throw it in the trough.")

Anyway.  Tradionally kids gets toys, and a big bread called a Rosca De Reyes (Kings Bread) is made.

We tried to make one last year but it didn't come out too well.  It was hard, and fairly flavourless.  Being tech savy, we decided to consult The Google.

There must be a hundred…

Freshly Picked Strawberries

It's a beautiful summer's day in Wellington, and we thought : well - let's go see what's fresh at Penreys PYO fruit and veggie place in Otaki.

It's an hour or so's drive, but it's a pleasant trip up along the coast through Paraparamu.

We arrived in the middle of the afternoon heat, and discovered that unfortunately It's a bit early in the season, so we had to make-do with just fresh strawberries.  However, when fresh hand picked Strawberries are the consolation prize, there really isn't much to complain about.  The girl explained that there will be chillies, apples, tomatoes and other stuff towards the end of February.  We'll be back...

But in the meantime...
Oh my : beautiful wee red lumps of sweet, juicy deliciousness.

Oh my!

So, apart from eating them 'straight', what does one to with fresh berries? There's the obvious answers jam, strawberry cake, pavlova.  What else? I think Pavlova gets my vote but I'd like to try something…

Gardening Rocks

Since we moved into our house here in the windy suburb of Newlands, we have been endeavouring to grow our own fresh produce.

Early this summer, I planted Peas, Potatoes, Onions, Tomatoes and Silver beat.
So far, the peas and potatoes have been the most successful, but I hold good hopes for the onions and tomatoes later in the summer. The silver beat, well, I don't really like it anyway...


...and spuds

For dinner yesterday we bought some decent quality filet steak and some prawns.  If that doesn't scream Surf N Turf, I don't know what does!

We picked some peas and dug up some potatoes. Oh boy: excellent! There's nothing quite like having diner that is mostly made up your own garden produce.

Road Trip Part 2

Cathedral Cove set the bar very high it has to be said.  When we got back to our cars, we discovered that we were mostly hungry, so the consensus was reached that we should try to find somewhere to eat.  

So, we followed Tom, who thought he knew of a suitable place to eat.  However, this turned out to be a Ferry port (end of the road) and we had no notion of where to go next.

It was starting to get late by this point, but since we had the tent in the boot, we weren't that worried.

I switched on my tomtom to see if it knew of any good places to eat nearby.  It did : claimed that the closest place was a little cafe/restaurant.  I gave them a call, and they told me that the kitchen would be open for another half an hour.  Excellent!

I programmed the GPS and off we went.  10 minutes later, we still weren't near the place.  Strange.
The tomtom now claimed that what had started as a 10 minutes drive had 30 minutes left to go.  Very Strange.

We wanted to call Tom & Alfa to see what we …