Me Here, at Last, on the Ground; You in Mid-Air

I’ve spent the last week or so on school holidays doing pretty much sweet nothing work-wise, and it feels great. Sorry, not sorry, right?

One of the things I’ve been doing is catching up on sleep, and with catching up on sleep comes lots of dreams.

In one of my last blogs (see Familiarity in Dreams), I wrote about having those dreams that haunt you. Coincidentally, I had one again on Thursday night.
Read Me Here, at Last, on the Ground; You in Mid-Air

The Best Photo I’ve Ever Taken… So Far

Derelict Cottage on Isle of PinesI took this photo on the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia on 31 December 2002.  To this day, I feel this is the best photograph I have ever taken, mainly because everyone who sees it says it’s such a great photo.  We have even had photography teachers want to use this photo in their lessons!

I keep saying that I’m not a photographer; I’m not.  But I do “see” things, if that makes sense.  This cottage and the foliage around it screamed, “Take a picture!” to me.  And more often than not, what I see in my mind’s eye when I see these things tends to translate pretty well onto film.  I just wish it’d been sunnier that day… (There was a cyclone / tropical storm in the area, which is why the weather was so grey…)

What do you think about this photo?  Should I try to change the sky on it?  Enhance the colours?  What does it say to you?

The Robot

Robot from Lost in Space

A flash of lightning illuminated the basement through the windows, bringing light to many of the dark shadows for a few moments.  He rubbed his hands together, his assistant nervously counting the seconds, before a distant rumble grew louder, rattling the windows.

“It’s almost time,” he said.

His hands crawled up the white bed sheet, two fingers on each hand finally finding the top edge.  Pinching, he waited.

Another flash of lighting.  Another clap of thunder.

“Are you sure this is such a good idea?”  His assistant pushed his glasses up.  “I mean…”  The assistant’s eyes glanced towards the staircase.

He merely waived his hand, and his assistant’s concern faded.

Placing his hand back on the white bed sheet, he ripped the sheet off cleanly.  There, on the laboratory table, lay a silver robot, its arms and legs still, its various buttons and access pads dark.

He rushed to the wall adjacent to the table, flipping on switches and pushing buttons, on the various computers and monitors on the wall.  Monitors flickered to life, computers started their boot-up sequences; the sounds of hard drives whizzing into action, the lights of various buttons blinking on and off, filled the once-dark basement.

His hand pointed towards the jumper cables, motioning for his hesitant assistant to do his duty.  “Attach the clips to the bolts either side of the robot’s head.”  His voice sounded full of authority and confidence.

The assistant followed his orders, slightly shaking as he attached the first alligator clip.  His hand wobbling, he dropped the second alligator clip, stumbling to the floor to recover it.  On his knees, the assistant stretched his neck to see the bolt and extended his arm to hook the second clip onto it.

“Now,” he smiled, reflections of the various button lights and monitors dancing in his eyes.  “Now, plug the interface in, and stand back.”

A large electrical connector protruded from the lower wall, adjacent to the computer banks.  The assistant grabbed the thick black power cable spilling from the slab the robot lay dormant on and thrust the plug end of it into the connector.  Several buttons and switches hummed to life on the table, causing the assistant to jump back quickly.

He pushed the assistant back as he approached the table.  Glancing at the monitors again, watching the various graphs and measurements repeating on them, his hand moved to a large instrument panel located beside the slab.

Lightning illuminated the room, and again, the thunder nearly deafeningly sounding only moments later.

He flicked the switch.

A bright light filled the room, accompanied by a loud boom, and the assistant found he couldn’t see, his ears ringing from the loud noise.  He blinked a few times before his vision returned.

And before him stood the robot, dials and buttons and switches illuminated, its eyes glowing red.

It turned to look at the assistant.  Slowly, deliberately, its head moved to look at its creator.

It attacked.

He jumped on the robot’s back as quick as he could, the robot’s arms flailing and knocking over various pieces of equipment as the wheels for feet moved the robot back and forth in jerking, inconsistent movements.  The assistant ducked as one of the arms nearly hit his head, his hair moving as the arm flew overhead.

“The plug,” the robot’s creator motioned towards the wall, desperately trying to hold on.  “Remove the plug!”

The assistant looked down at the connector, then leapt towards it, narrowly avoiding being run over by the robot.  He rolled again as the robot tried to ram him, ending up sitting right in front of the plug.  Planting one foot against the wall, his hands wrapped around the cord, and he gave an almighty yank.

The plug came out, and the robot’s limbs went limp.  The robot’s lights and eyes dimmed then went black.

* * * *

Noel and I sat with my brother Brian’s bandmate Mike in the backseat of Brian’s car.  Brian drove as his then-girlfriend Darcie tried to break the ice.  “Tell me a story about when you guys were kids.”

It was the first time either Noel or I had met Darcie.  Having arrived in the USA the day before, we were jetlagged, and thinking wasn’t really on the cards.  All we’d wanted was to go play a nice mind-numbingly fun game of mini-golf so we could be in the fresh summer air and try to stay awake so our bodies adjusted to Chicago’s time zone.

“Uh, I can’t think of any off the top of my head.  Brian?”

“I dunno.”  His eyes looked at me via the rear-view mirror.

Darcie hit Brian on the shoulder.  “Oh, I know.  What about the time Brian built the robot?”

I laughed and glanced at Darcie.  “Robot… What robot?”  My eyes returned to meet Brian’s via the rear view mirror.

“You know… In the basement.  Something about you calling upstairs to your Mom…”  Darcie’s smile was on full-beam.

I squinted.  Robot… Robot… Robot?

And then the thought came to me.  “You mean the piece of balsa wood with a light switch attached to it?”

“What?”  Darcie shook her head at Brian.

“That wasn’t a robot, right?”

“It was supposed to be,” Brian countered.

“That? Was a robot?  A piece of balsa wood.  With a light switch screwed on to it.  With a plug wired on to it…?”

Mike rubbed his hands together.  “This sounds good.”

“Yeah, I was building a robot.”  Brian’s knuckles were getting whiter.

“No, I was making a model for my train set, and you took a piece of balsa wood, screwed a light switch on to it, wired it to a plug, and you made me plug it into the wall.”

Noel, Mike, and Darcie erupted into laughter.  Darcie, covering her mouth with her hand, managed to say, “Tell us what really happened…”

* * * *

“Hey Scott,” came Brian’s voice from behind me.

“Yeah?”

“Can you come here a second?”

I put the rubberband around the model building I was working on, pushed the metal folding chair back, and moved towards Brian, standing with something in his hands at my model train table.

“What?”

He nodded at the plug dangling over the table’s edge.  It was a non-standard plug with two thin dirty white wires attached to it.  Following the wires up, it met a small metal frame with a dirty white plastic light switch, the frame screwed into a small piece of balsa wood.  “Could you plug that in for me?”

I figured Brian knew what he was doing, so I grabbed the plastic plug casing and pushed it into the wall socket.

Sparks flew from the socket, and I jumped back as a puff of black smoke rose from the plug.

Brian dropped the balsa wood and quickly yanked the plug from the wall.  His wide eyes met mine, and we both turned to look at the smoke detector hanging over the doorway.  “I’m too short to reach it,” Brian muttered as we both thought the same thing.

I dashed over the smoke detector, trying desperately to get the cover open, but it wouldn’t budge.  Exasperated as the smell of smoke rose in my nostrils, I cleared my throat and tried to sound as convincingly calm as I yelled, “Mom?  How do you turn off the smoke detector?”

You Can Say “Happy 4th of July” But You Can’t Say “Happy Waitangi Day”?!?

Many countries have a national day, a day that’s a holiday but celebrates or recognizes their heritage, culture, and history.  In the USA, we have Independence Day, more commonly called “The Fourth of July”.  It’s a day where we acknowledge the country’s brave founders, men and women who declared their independence from the British Empire in a document called the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776.  The rest, they say, is history.

Fourth of July Fireworks near the Statue of Liberty
Photo from The Hot Sheet Blog – http://www.thehotsheetblog.com/2012/06/25/phoenix-fourth-of-july-celebrations-and-fireworks/

When I lived in the US, we would either gather with family or with friends (or a combination of both) and see the local parade before having a BBQ and maybe watch the village’s fireworks display that night.  It’s usually a day to hang out, celebrate, and enjoy your freedom.  The key word here is “celebrate”.

Most importantly, when you see friends and family or even people you don’t or may barely know, you say, “Happy 4th of July”.  It’s just kinda a normal thing to say.

New Zealand’s equivalent to Independence Day is Waitangi Day.  Originally not always recognized as a public holiday, Waitangi Day switched its name to New Zealand Day for a while until Muldoon’s government felt the name “New Zealand Day” detracted from the significance of the day:  the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British and Māori on 6 February 1840.  And so, the name reverted back to Waitangi Day.

The first Waitangi Day I spent here, I went around wishing everyone a “Happy Waitangi Day”.  People kinda looked at me like I was nuts; they were probably thinking I was some crazy Yank who had no clue what he was talking about.  Noel said that one really didn’t wish people a “Happy Waitangi Day” in New Zealand.  I knew there had been issues around the day, most significantly the injustices some Māori felt the British had created under the Treaty.  To be honest, the New Zealand Government has, for the most part, made big leaps and bounds in addressing these grievances in an attempt to help Māori achieve and succeed.  At least, I kept telling some people who’d go on about how poorly the British (and then New Zealand government) had treated Māori, they didn’t displace Māori from their land then place them on reservations or segregate them from the general public like other countries with indigenous people had done. *cough* America *cough* Australia *cough* Many African countries. *cough*

The Fourth of July in the US is a day of celebration and recognition.  More importantly, it’s a day of pride and patriotism for the country.

Waitangi Day is a public holiday.  Some people have BBQs, some just chill and hang out, some go shopping.  For more radical activists on both ends of the spectrum, it is a day of protest, activism, and division.

Protests at Waitangi Day Celebrations
Photo from Stuff. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/6370107/Waitangi-flagpole-protest-ends-quietly

Case in point from this year:  Titewhai Harawira threw her toys out of the cot because marae elders wanted another kuia (female elder) to lead Prime Minister John Key onto the Waitangi marae.  This is the same woman who told former Prime Minister Helen Clark she couldn’t speak on the marae due to Māori protocol not allowing women to speak on the marae yet doesn’t follow that same protocol herself.  She made Clark cry.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Helen Clark, but the woman was our Prime Minister; she deserved more respect from a woman who claims she’s full of mana.

It doesn’t end there, good people.  No, one of Titewhai’s offspring decided to disrupt a re-enactment.  One of her other sons, Mana party leader and MP Hone Harawira, who isn’t above courting controversy himself, stated that Waitangi Day is, “about focusing on issues that were important to Māori.” Two of Hone Harawira’s nephews assaulted the Prime Minister on Waitangi Day in 2009.

(Noel said yesterday, when the whole Titewhai bun-fighting over who would lead the PM onto the marae affair raised its ugly head, that he thought the entire family should be tied to a flagpole or banned entirely…)

Those from the other end of the spectrum probably have or will emerge to say that that Māori shouldn’t have any special rights above others and the Treaty of Waitangi should be scrapped, or Waitangi Day should be de-legitimized as a public holiday in place of another national day, like ANZAC Day.  Even former ACT MP Dr. Muriel Newman called Waitangi Day “Our national day of shame” and argues her reasons why it is.

I personally don’t feel these actions are solutions to the problems.  Sure, Māori may have legitimate grievances, but there are many other days throughout the year and many processes, including the Waitangi Tribunal, to address these.  Likewise, those non-Māori calling for the abolishment of Waitangi Day (and everything associated with it) should push harder to make it a day of celebration.

I think there’s a small fringe of radicals on either side of the political spectrum, jumping up and down, making a lot of noise.  Of course, to sell papers or raise ratings, the media latch on to this like a leech to its host.  This kinda stuff sells.  It might sell, but it’s divisive and destructive.

Even Labour leader David Shearer, a man I honestly don’t have a lot of time for, expressed his opinions supporting celebrating Waitangi Day in the Dominion Post today.

In the US, the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”, is important.  United, as a nation, we can do anything.  So, as our national day, the day on which our modern nation of New Zealand was essentially created, as an agreement between non-Māori and Māori alike to co-exist harmoniously, we need to think of ways to celebrate those things that make us different but, more importantly, those things that make us great as a nation.

Let’s go forward and use the day wisely, as a celebration of all things New Zealand, all things Kiwi, all things that makes this beautiful, wonderful country great.

Happy Waitangi Day!

Happy New Year… Nearly a Month Late!

Happy New Year… nearly a month late.

I have to admit that after I posted my Christmas decoration blog, I was facing burn out with all the tasks to complete at work (results, diplomas, international examinations, graduation, et cetera) and once we hit the Christmas break, I vowed I wouldn’t do anything I didn’t want to do and just relax.  It worked pretty much, which, for me, is no small feat.

Christmas came and went too fast for us.  Noel wasn’t well most of the break, so that meant we really didn’t do much.  To be honest, that was fine by me because I spent the time doing stupid silly things like playing Sims 3 (which ended up being more stressful than not because the damned newest expansion pack, Seasons, doesn’t work very well on pretty much everyone’s computers) and being a little creative.

The New Year hit me rather hard.  I admit, I cried.  I was glad to see the end of 2012, which had been such a roller coaster of a year for me, tacked on to the end of 2011 like the false ending of, well, a roller coaster you think is going to stop but it picks up again for another final lot of thrilling and scary spins.  I missed Jenah.  Some of my friendships seem to be getting more and more distant, and it’s hard enough to try to make friends in Christchurch as is.  I was homesick.  But I was finally feeling emotionally slightly better.

2013 arrived, and, at first, it felt no different from 2012.  There was still that apprehension about work with the Targeted Review of Qualifications (TRoQ) and our upcoming External Evaluation and Review (EER), all through NZQA, plus the looming threat of whether we’d get enough students to meet our funding requirements.  No pressure.  No pressure at all.

I don’t know why, but something came over me to say that life is not all about work.  I seem to be going back to that message all the time.  My parents and grandparents instilled in me the value of working hard in the job you are in to be successful, but this wave of longing to expand my horizons, almost to the level of panic, rushed over me.  And then I felt suddenly positive and creative and raring to go with that.

One of the creative ideas I have been toying with is creating my own Star Trek movie using CGI.  I have seen some excellent ones and some not-so-good ones, and it irks me that some of the not-so-good ones act like they are better than Aliens.  I’m not that great with the whole CGI thing but I do have a sharp image in my mind about settings.  It would obviously not involve the characters established in the movies and TV shows, so part of the challenge would be to set up new characters the viewers would care about.  And I was also thinking of cobbling together some of my ideas and characters in my fan fiction universe to accomplish the movie (although only a featured starship, one of the enemies, and a region of space would show up with a few cameos from some of the other characters).  I have been thinking of a good piece of drama.  Sure, there could be a few phaser blasts here or there, but a character drama really is what has made some Star Trek episodes and movies great in the past.  Plus, whoever helps me with the CGI won’t die from establishing too many special effects shots!

Another challenge would be to build up my non-Star Trek writing.  The problem with this has been that I get so bogged down in consistency that I can’t seem to just write something down and worry about the nitty gritty later.  I did have a successful shot at writing a short story for an anthology I wanted to create, although it worries me because the supernatural angle seems to have been done a bit too much.  I want to make it as realistic as possible from several different characters’ viewpoints but hopefully leave the stories ambiguous in the readers’ minds as to whether or not the characters are reading supernatural things into everyday events.  In my mind, this could lead to starting my Masters in Creative Writing in 2014, because I need to have several stories built up in a portfolio before I apply.  The thing that worries me is I feel very devoid of ideas right now.  The same old ideas keep churning over in my head, and I’m trying to distance myself from anything that can be construed as autobiographical or semi-autobiographical to be honest.

Of course, in all this, I’m afraid I won’t do well enough or that the standard I set is too high and I can’t reach it or I’ll just plain burn out or lose interest before I finish.  And the biggest worry is rejection.  But then again, what do I have to lose if I don’t do it?

Just last week, I received some devastating news.  My cousin Greg, who was a year younger than me almost to the day, passed away suddenly.  It has rocked me to the core, and made me more apprehensive about my own destiny and my own life.  If the earthquakes have taught me anything, it’s that you don’t know what’s around the corner.  Do I work my butt off to get these things I listed above done, and hope my work somehow becomes a footnote in history, or do I just drift my aimlessly in life like a boat without a rudder and hope I’m remembered for good reasons when I go?

Yes, 2013 is going to be an interesting year indeed.

And Now, What You’ve All Been Waiting For… Christmas 2012

Christmas lights all blurry
Christmas lights all blurry

Okay, so apologies for the delay in getting the Christmas 2012 blog going.  With work being busy, and Noel and I having a gazillion things to do lately, one or the other of us has been dragging our feet at one time or another.

All the Christmas decorations are up that will be up for this year.  We have quite a collection of Christmas decorations and things, and every year we miss a few here or there.  This year, we’re missing our Santa with a snowglobe (with a list of who’s naughty and who’s nice), our Christmas train for around the tree, and other little bits and pieces.

Our traditional Christmas tree
Our traditional Christmas tree

Noel and I have built up our Christmas collection over the years.  In our front living room, we have a traditional Christmas tree (pre-lit) with red and gold ornaments.  We skip the garland or tinsel because we have two rather rambunctious cats who would get the tree on the ground in about three minutes flat by tugging on the stuff til the tree couldn’t take it any longer.

Alas, I digress.

We also have a large light-up reindeer that sits in the window next to the tree.  It has Christmas lights through its antlers to make it look like it’s a bit clumsy.  It reminded Noel of Jenah so, of course, he had to have it.

The piano has a Christmas carol book open on it (this year: “Joy to the World”) and a small Christmas tree with white lights.  This year, Noel has added a menorah for Hanukkah, sitting on our relatively new hall table (right beside the front door).

Christmas wreath on the front door
Christmas wreath on the front door

Outside, we aren’t as garish as some of those houses with 9 gazillion lights, but we decorate what I think is tastefully.  Noel (who is less afraid of heights than me) climbs the ladder every year to put them up and take them down, and nice enough to put up with what he calls my OCD to make sure the lights are all on solid and not different random patterns (it irks me!).

This year, Noel brought out one of his super-duper cameras and took a picture of our house as the sun was almost fully set.

The house as the sun sets
The house as the sun sets

The funniest thing is that, this year, we seem to be the only house on our block to have such a display up, so people slow down and admire it pretty much all evening, which is lovely.  Glad that we can bring at least a little cheer to other people in what’s been a very topsy-turvy last two Christmases for Christchurch and the Canterbury region.

You might recall I said “our front living room” before.  That’s right.  We have two living rooms.  It’s rather typical in newer New Zealand houses.  The front living room is what I’d like to think is similar to where visitors were first received in old English homes.

The back living room is connected to our kitchen, with a breakfast bar and dining room, in an open plan.  We place quite a few Christmas knick-knacks around the place in that area.  The main Christmas feature, though, is our white Christmas tree.

White Christmas tree
White Christmas tree

Jacqui’s mother Ann bought this tree for under $5NZ at Farmer’s, where she works, a few years back.  It’s been an extremely durable tree and been well worth the investment.

This year, Noel and I bought new lights for it.  The first lot of lights were strings of 25 LED lights (blue) that had sparkly tinsel on them.  We would still be using them if they hadn’t been so short!  So we raided TradeMe and found 3 10-meter, 100 LED light strings; the above is the result.  I think it looks stunning.

While I realise all my friends and family are not Christian, and they know I respect them for whatever or whomever they believe (or don’t believe) in, Christmas is a very special time for me.  There is something in the story of a father who loves those under his care so much that he sends his own son to be sacrificed to save those under his care.  For me, though, I have very good memories of Christmas (for the most part), of fun with friends and family, and that’s why Christmas is so very special to me.

Happy holidays!

Christmas lights and ornaments
Christmas lights and ornaments

Christmas Shopping

Christmas Presents
Christmas Presents

I hate Christmas shopping.

It’s not that I begrudge buying presents for other people.  Noel would tell you that I try to be a very giving person (and I hope I succeed).

It’s that I worry about if the other person will like the gift and also if it is too much / too little to give them.

These are pretty stupid things to worry about, I am sure, because I try to be the type of person who is gracious in accepting gifts, even if they aren’t exactly up my alley.  People are giving me gifts out of the goodness of their hearts, and I take them in the spirit that they are given.

To be honest, I’d rather have someone come out and say, “I’d like item A, item B, and/or item C for Christmas.”  It makes it a lot easier to get the item or even get some inspiration from that.

Noel is very hard to buy gifts for.  He’s kinda the guy who has everything… So when I get a flash of inspiration on what I can buy him, I’m always nervous he’s going to buy whatever I’ve bought already, or buy the only gift idea I have for him.  (You might laugh, but this does happen sometimes.  I try, as gently as I can, to steer him in a different direction.  One year, I actually told him, “No, you don’t want to buy that.”  He did get the hint…)

I kept getting upset about buying him a Christmas present this year because I had zero idea what to get him.  Every time I asked him, he’d say, “Oh no, don’t buy me a present… You paid for us to go to see your family this year” or something similar, and inside, I’d be getting more and more upset because that answer wasn’t helping me figure out what to get him for Christmas.

So, in the last few days, there have been a few flashes of inspiration, and I finally chose the gift I wanted to get him.  I did have to shift around some cash to make it happen and got some advice from a good friend.   Noel’s present is paid for, wrapped, and hidden somewhere safe… Phew.

Now, for the next lot of gifts for other people…

PS.  I did promise that I would show you our Christmas decorations for Christmas 2012.  We were waiting on some new lights for one of our Christmas trees, and they arrived Tuesday.  Noel put them up, but I haven’t had time to put the decorations up… I’m doing that this afternoon.  Hopefully my next blog will be to show you all the pretty things we do with the house for Christmas in our own modest way.