Sydney!

My first multi-day work trip of the COVID era. After getting a supervised RAT and uploading a bunch of extra paperwork, the actual travel experience was surprisingly normal. The airports weren’t crowded, no extra procedures except for wearing masks.

In between strategy sessions, I did a fair amount of walking around. Found a few interesting spots, like the Anthroposophical Society, which according to Wikipedia is just about what I’d expect. I have noticed several similar groups since moving down here. Are there more in this part of the world? Maybe.

I liked this building just for the wonderful AD 1900 lettering. So here’s a closeup …

There was a lot of old vs. new, massive sandstone next to sparkly glass.

It was nice to catch up with some colleagues I hadn’t seen in real life for a couple of years, eat and drink too much, and luxuriate in a Hyatt bed. But there are risks. So far, of the 18 people who shared a big dinner (outdoor dining, but still), eight have tested positive in the following week. I’m not one of them, and nobody so far seems seriously ill. But that’s a lot of sickness even so.

Just keep breathing

Jono Ridler, 0-dark-30, April 3, 2022, Matapouri Bay, NZ.

This haunting photo was taken yesterday by one of my swimming friends as she set out to spend ~14 hours in a boat, supporting Jono’s attempt to swim nonstop out to the Poor Knights Islands and back. From here, he turned around, fought through the waves breaking on shore, and swam off into the darkness.

Jono follows a set of rules originally designed to standardize the times logged by English Channel swimmers. No wetsuit, no touching the pilot boat, etc. You do get to put on a layer of grease which provides a mixture of sun and water protection… but I’m sure he was still pretty pruney at the end. In an out and back swim like this, you’re normally allowed 10 minutes on land at the midpoint. But landing on the Poor Knights is forbidden, and there’s no benefit in treading water for 10 minutes, so he just turned around and kept going.

As far as anybody knows, this is the first time that particular swim has been done, so he’s now the record-holder, 13 hours and change of effort that will be remembered. Objectively I know there are people who can swim farther and faster than Jono, but not very many. And having seen him cruise past me while I was swimming hard and he was doing a one-arm technique drill, he’s plenty fast enough for me to remain in a state of perpetual admiration. And although I’ve never heard him brag about it, I know he has done good work fundraising and inspiring others with these swims.

Congrats and well done Jono!

Big Trash Day

We were introduced to Big Trash Day when we moved to Salt Lake City… shockingly that’s almost 25 years ago… and we thought it was a brilliant concept.

The idea is that once a year you can put all the stuff that’s too big for the normal can into giant dumpsters the city drops off. Presto! Of course there are rules about hazardous materials and so on, but by and large the program lets you get rid of things you want to get rid of. Also against the rules is cruising those dumpsters for treasures, but there’s plenty of that, sharp-eyed men in pickup trucks driving slowly by. Your daughters are probably safe, but lock up your scrap metal.

Auckland also has a city service for picking up the big stuff. But I’ve heard it’s complicated, and it certainly seems like people use private alternatives instead. Half the houses on our block have one of these startlingly strong woven plastic bags around the place. They fill up with everything from renovation waste to grass clippings. You can just see the new staircase our neighbors built in the background. The old rickety stairs got broken up and put in the big bag. Then you make a phone call and a truck like the one above comes along and scoops it all up with a little crane. Magic!

Hundertwasser Art Centre

Our weekend plans were somewhat disrupted by high winds. So instead of taking the charter boat out to the Poor Knights for snorkeling etc, Lee and I went into Whangarei to visit the new Hundertwasser Art Centre.

It took a lot of years to raise the funds and overcome the city planning obstacles, but the Art Centre now becomes one of Whangarei’s marquee attractions. It was cool to be there in its first month of operation.

Hundertwasser was already a well-established artist, architect, and eco-activist when he moved to northern NZ. I knew about the public toilets in Kawakawa, and had a vague inkling of his other work, but the Art Centre visit gave me a much fuller perspective on who he was and what he did.

The plantings on the forested roof (largest such thing in the Southern Hemisphere) were all donated by our friend Tom’s brother who runs a native plant nursery.

I want to use the word whimsical to describe Hundertwasser’s style… no straight lines, no uniform patterns, big bold colors. But I don’t know if I found much whimsy in the man after learning a bit about him. It was all brooding contemplation, leading to manifestos and idealistic rants and calls to unshackle oneself from the chains of conventionality. And there was an element of narcissism that struck me sharply. Lighten up man!

I liked the place even so, and certainly agree with what he seemed to stand for. I hope the Art Centre educates and delights and challenges visitors, and anchors that waterfront area, for generations to come.

Swim Tutukaka

The Bay 2 Bay swim club trekked up to Tutukaka this weekend for swimming and camaraderie. Fun times!

We started on Saturday morning with a swim from Glen’s house into town. Glen’s house is perched on a high cliff, so the first challenge was getting down his epic staircase. Our swim will take us across that open water, about 1km, through the gap in the rocks you can see at the top right of the picture. From there, we turn right and swim into town, landing at the little beach near the marina about an hour later.

We made it down to the water’s edge eventually, a victory worth celebrating.

And then, into the water. Do I look uncomfortable about plunging into the roiling crashing cauldron? Probably I was, but my primary concern about this part was scraping my ridiculously tender feet on those sharp rocks.

With everyone safely in, we headed off across the channel, spurred by the muffins and coffee waiting on the other side. It was a fun swim, conditions were better than expected, saw some fish…

Nice way to start the weekend!

Stay home!

We’re in the peak part of the omicron surge, maybe even past the peak. With hundreds of thousands of active cases, but relatively few people seriously ill, our much vaunted contact tracing system became overwhelmed and then irrelevant in a matter of days.

Now, if you have a positive test they ask you to stay home for 10 days or so, and you get a pack of rapid antigen tests to self-administer. The social compact is strong here, and lots of people seem to be following the rules.

It’s wreaked havoc on businesses, of course, many having to close their doors until the isolation period is done. There is still a lot of financial support available, but I don’t suppose it’s ever really enough.

Here’s hoping this is COVID’s last serious gasp.

Puhoi Pub

We’ve adopted the little coastal town of Tutukaka as our go-to weekend getaway spot. It’s beautiful, we have friends with holiday homes there, and it’s far enough away to feel like you’re going somewhere but not so far as to be a big hassle. Ticks all the boxes.

We’ve seen some of the things you can see between here and there, but we’d never stopped in historic Puhoi until this past weekend.

Puhoi as we know it today was founded about 150 years ago by Bohemians. Then commercial logging happened for a long time, and now it’s an exurban off-ramp as you head north from Auckland.

The main attraction is the pub, which offers good road food and also beer. And takes the whole “put stuff on the wall” school of interior design to an extreme. Especially banknotes from faraway places scrawled with I was here messages. Even at the early end of lunchtime on a Friday there were 20-30 people mostly sitting outside enjoying the day.

A fun place to have lunch, but we’re still holding out hope for the Kumeu Pie Shop to reopen.

Re-alignment

One of the reasons we like our neighborhood so much is that we can walk to the shops and eateries just up the hill in Highbury.

The downtown area is anchored by a small mall, which has struggled over the past few years. There’s the general question of how does any brick and mortar retailer survive in the online era. There’s competition from bigger, newer malls. There’s the pandemic.

But somehow they seem to be making a go of it. After losing one of the anchor stores and temporarily turning its space into a vaccination center, construction has started on a new arcade / bowling alley of a type that seems to do ok elsewhere. Several other stores have opened, closed, moved from space to space just since we’ve been here. But the net appears to be positive, assuming by that you mean “more commerce”.

The latest rumor is that we’re getting a McDonalds to join the Burger King and KFC already present. Do I particularly want a Macca’s (as they’re called here because Kiwis frequently can’t be bothered to say the whole word) nearby? Not really, nor any other fast food joint. But do I want that mall open, fully occupied, and bustling with people? Absolutely yes.

And now, this

I haven’t posted as much lately… so you should read these articles instead of waiting for an interesting tidbit from me (I can’t bring myself to say titbit like they do here).

They’re both posted at The Spinoff, which offers a hipster-friendly, left-of-centre alternative in New Zealand’s media landscape. I would argue that they’re still part of the ‘mainstream’ media, since they are ad-supported and seem to care about the things I associate with professional journalism, but they are tackling topics and showcasing ideas that might not get as much space on other sites.

New Zealand’s new local history curriculum was announced this week. This article summarizes it. I must admit to feeling like quite the reactionary… where’s the Queen in all this?

And how about money? This article wanders around the NZ economy using the idea of rent-seeking behavior as its primary lens. Lots of food for thought, particularly when you look closely at the rich and powerful people who seem to be written out of the new history curriculum.

10 years later… I’m still John Carter

Ten years ago to the day was the theatrical release of the Disney film John Carter. As I reported then, they gave me tickets to a free advance screening, a t-shirt, some other swag. I’ve still got it all (but not as much hair on my head), even the t-shirt, which has proven to be very high quality. Unlike the movie, which was a giant flop.

I went online today to see how history has treated this expensive fiasco. Mostly forgotten, it seems. Film students get to study it sometimes as an example of a high-profile flop. An occasional film buff will remember it when I introduce myself. The director Andrew Stanton and the star Taylor Kitsch seem to have made out all right, although one could argue that Kitsch’s career trajectory changed that year, when he was in several dubious movies.

Supposedly, the film did very well in Russia… a dubious honour even then.

I’m still glad they made a big Hollywood movie with my name as the title.

Maskini

To celebrate their recent COVID home isolation, our neighbors came up with a new outfit for Little Miss Sunshine.

Feijoa Lumps

When people make listicles about favourite NZ foods, it’s surprising how many of them are sweets and desserts. And of a surprisingly juvenile nature.

Pineapple Lumps are one of those nostalgic foods. Chocolate covered pineapple flavoured marshmallows. Often stale. The chocolate is waxy. But I like them. Lee does not.

So when I saw limited edition Feijoa Lumps at the store the other day, it was a no-brainer to get a package. The taste of feijoa also divides the household, so there’s no danger of a conflict over scarce candy.

Oh my cron!

Our little island paradise went from a few COVID cases per day to 20,000+ over a period of about two weeks. And so the government implemented Phase 3 of the plan… Phase 3 says that due to the high number of cases, most aspects of the previous plan have become impossible, so here’s what IS possible, and y’all please do these new things.

Fair enough… we don’t have unlimited resources for contact tracing or quarantine. And more important, we do have a highly vaccinated population. Relatively few people are getting badly ill.

To the RAT manufacturers, thanks for your products, and we hope you enjoy this year!!

Ich bin ein Berliner / Je suis Charlie Hebdo / something something Ukraine

Here’s Auckland’s two tallest buildings lit up in blue and gold to show solidarity with Ukraine. Lots of people are doing the same with their Facebook profiles and the like. Awesome!

Or is it? People are dying, and this kind of naked invasion threatens to erase all the gains Europe fought so hard for over the last 100 years. It’s clearly not enough to protest by programming the LEDs and changing your social media colour scheme.

But maybe some is better than none. Do those lights lead to letters to MPs and Congressmen? Do those lights lead to disinvestment from Russia? Do those light inspire a few people to get on a plane to Kyiv and stand in front of a tank holding a flower?

It’s gonna take all that and more.

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