Dec 27, 2016

Tech Life: Build, Test, Release Adventures

For the past year and a half I've been working for a small and smart financial software vendor, which I love. I'd been inching my way from financial services to "the other side" of the software fence for a few months before I made the change, and I thought at the time I had developed a solid understanding of technology vendor-ship and what that work would be like.

But of course, you only know so much until you get there.

The amount I've learned - and am learning - is immense and fantastic, and I am honestly amazed and grateful that in my late forties I am working in a nimble and dynamic environment where I am still learning and improving (I hope) every day.

But then, isn't that life these days? We are living in a time of unprecedented acceleration and change, and it's not like there's much of a choice. Exciting times!

Anyway, in my new life on the vendor side of the technology fence, I have come to appreciate the funny side of the frustrations unique to the software business.  These challenges are ongoing, but you can take comfort from their universality - it's not just you.

There is the classic law on software development:

And just last night I came across this one, which made me laugh at the same time as it sent a small bolt of pain recognition - a bit close to home this one.

What makes you laugh in your line of work?

Nov 25, 2016

Living in a Modernist House

I recently caught up with a great two-episode series on the ABC called Streets of Your Town, about suburban architecture in Australia. It's worth a look - you can catch it here until 30 November.

This is something I didn't know: post World War Two all the way into the early 1970s, there was a program in Australia where great architects worked with housing projects and building companies to create beautiful, innovative modernist houses at affordable prices for the suburbs.  The Small Homes Service headed by Robin Boyd provided modernist architect-designed plans which were sold to the public at cheap prices, creating a bounty of beautiful, distinctive and affordable two and three bedroom homes throughout the suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.

The Seidler House - Matt Adams Flickr CC

Watching this, I suddenly recognised the first home I remember living in. It was a brick box with sloping roof, exposed beams and bricks, floor to ceiling windows, a split level ground floor and an open staircase, all nestled in a native garden and surrounded with a ti-tree fence. Tick tick tick - all of these are features beloved of the modernist architects of the time.

We have always remembered this house as an oddity - weirdly designed, a menace to small children, plagued with hunstman spiders thanks to being nestled in that native garden. But now I realise it was actually a modernist masterpiece!

When I moved with my own family to the suburb we live now, I drove to that house to take a look, as it's only a couple of suburbs over. The ti-tree fence is gone, and it seems so is much of the native garden, at least at the front, but otherwise it looks exactly the same. I was surprised at how small it looks from the street, but that's deceptive, as the tall brick box you can see is just the front part of the house, and it has another box with the whole back part of the house attached behind it.

Here are the features of that house, all of which are classic modernist design:

  • simple rectangle shape
  • single roof line
  • very open plan
  • exposed brick walls in the family room and living room
  • open staircase
  • split level - two steps from the entrance area took you to the lounge room
  • sloping ceiling with exposed beams and track lighting
  • floor to ceiling windows in most of the rooms 'bringing the external inside'
  • glass doors and glass walls to the back yard
  • native garden
  • in the back yard, a big garden mound covered in tan bark with a ti-tree and native shrubbery

Most of these features were pretty avant-garde to our 1970s selves, and throughout our childhood my sister and I always remembered this house as bonkers. It was also not kid-friendly - we were constantly scraping our elbows on the exposed brick walls and burning the soles of our feet on the heating grates in the floor (again, not a common feature in houses at the time), and one time my little sister tumbled through the open staircase.  Our Labrador also had a mishap on the staircase at some stage and for some time our dad had to carry him up and down the stairs every night and morning.

There was a timber deck out the back, one side of which overlooked some bricks down below - which my little sister fell onto and cut her head one time. The room we played in was carpeted with grey nobbled industrial carpet squares on which we regularly burned our knees and ankles.

The master bedroom was on a mezzanine floor, the only privacy a waist-high wall that overlooked the rest of the house.

When I describe the house now, it sounds kind of awesome - but it actually wasn't.

My mother hated the house because it was not great for small kids, it was dark and kind of ugly, and it was plagued with huntsman spiders. My mother is a proper arachnophobe, which she successfully masked to us throughout our childhood to avoid passing on the same fear. She always remained calm and did what needed to be done when a huntsman invaded the house, which was empty a can of fly-spray on it and yell for the dog who would then gobble it up, fly spray and all.

I did love a few things about this house. I loved playing under the stairs or on the landing halfway up them, and I loved sitting under the tree on the native garden mound. I thought of it as a willow tree, and in my memory it was every bit as magnificent. (It was actually a ti-tree and a few shrubs, but it was still my magical fairy garden).

Looking back now, I am struck by a few things about this house:
  • it was big! There were two living areas, and the master bedroom upstairs had a walk-in robe and an ensuite. My sister and I each had our own bedroom, and we had a playroom 
  • it was packed with modern features that we probably should have appreciated, but didn't
  • much of the 'weird' stuff is standard now - like the open plan, and the flow between the kitchen and living area 
  • it was pretty luxurious in its way - a mezzanine floor, ensuite, ducted heating and track lighting - not things a young family in a rental house would usually expect at the time
  • in hindsight, this was obviously a very cool, designer house - and yet it was also somehow an affordable rental for a single-income family with little money. 

This style of house is often praised for its style and liveability, but we didn't find our house very functional. 

But just as I was wondering if we had in fact been suburban philistines who did not appreciate good architecture, I was amused to come across this article from 2015, when a Seidler house was for sale: "Owners of Seidler house: "it's hideous to live in". Here's an excerpt from the for-sale ad:

"Looking for serious design heads, architecture nuts and modernism fans with serious money....Perfect if you are Don Draper on his third marriage. But for conventional living, no."

When my sister and I asked our mother years later, why the hell did you guys choose that house?? her response was that they never liked it but there was not a lot of choice at the time.

Something that still remains true with rental houses today.

Some years ago, the house was updated with new bathrooms and kitchen, the open plan was reduced with the addition of a couple of walls, and and the exposed brick walls were painted over. Its estimated value is now over one million dollars, and the suburb it sits in is no longer affordable.

We could never have foreseen any of this in 1976.

Nov 24, 2016

Illustrations of (My) Life

Hello, and welcome to another instalment in an ongoing occasional series I call Lazy Blog Posts.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here are some photos which I thought were a pretty good short-cut to saying something about life.  Or in some cases just my life.

So without further ado:



(saying goodbye to your Galaxy Note 7)

(I love calamari)

The posts said: 
"Say 'OK Google' and then 'Lumos' on an Android phone and your torch will come on!"

So I tried it and got this:

When your kids don't want you in the lounge room

When your husband always leaves the microwave like this:

Every god damn time

When your Dorito looks like a sombrero


I think this well-worn path says everything about human ingenuity, rebelliousness, striving, and laziness:

Why aren't all picnic tables like this?

When the alt-right finds your pre-Primaries tweet:


I can't end with that.

When your kids create an Instagram account for the dog

The sea will never let you down

Nov 7, 2016

5 Favourite Posts

How fortuitous that just when I dusted off my blog this week, along came a new Listography! Whether this marks a return of Listography or just a one-off thing, I'm happy to see it and immediately want to participate.  I loved Kate Takes 5's Listography when it was a regular thing - always so easy and fun to make a five-point list of anything.

So this Listography is Five Favourite Posts.

I've had this in draft since yesterday, trying to decide on my favourite posts, and it's not quite as easy as I thought it would be. Ones I thought were great at the time I read now and am embarrassed by; others I like but the topic is a bit boring, or I like the topic but my execution was a bit meh. But I have finally settled on these five:

The Art of Leisure
From June 2016 - a post on rediscovering proper joy in leisure activities, which I managed to do once, briefly.

Men and Women are Completely Different
In which I argue a topic very close to my heart: that men and women (and especially boys and girls) are not at all psychologically different, underneath all the social conditioning.

My Dog's Favourite Toys
A little love note to our fluffy beast

How Not to Handle a Confrontation in Front of Your Kids
In which I turned into a complete bogan over a small confrontation and lost my family's respect. (Sorry not sorry)

Breaking the Magician's Code
In which I reveal the secret behind my then eight-year-old's very impressive magic trick

Gerry Dulay/Flickr CC

Nov 5, 2016

Halloween Party 2016

I don't blog much these days. But you didn't think I could ignore Halloween did you? A quick search on the word 'Halloween' on my blog turns up 22 posts (?!), including this one (2015), my first one (2012) and my Halloween poem - so it's no secret I love Halloween.

Last year Trick or Treating was a bit of a fizzer in our neighbourhood, but all the kids had fun and afterwards everyone ended up at our house where we served impromptu chicken nuggets and soft drink and nibbles and wine for the parents, and I got the idea in my head, I am going to host an annual Halloween party!

So this year we held our first one. I already decorate our house every Halloween but I knew we needed to up our game if I wanted to become the Halloween beacon-house of the neighbourhood (which I do, obviously).

Halloween goals

So I bought a whole lot of stuff to turn our house into a party house and trick-or-treater bait.

I got Murderous Chef costumes for Yanni and me to wear - which were not quite as scary as this one but you get the idea:

I downloaded a Halloween playlist and a scary sounds app, to play when the kids arrived and whenever Trick or Treaters came to the door. (That was fun - though a little hard to co-ordinate).

And in the end the house looked pretty good, especially inside.

The only problem: I didn't have enough hot food for the kids. Who would have thought 18 kids coming back from half an hour's trick or treating, stuffing themselves with lollies and chocolates as they went, would be so ravenous?

We had heaps of sweet food - cupcakes, lollypop ghosts, cinnamon cookies and a cauldron full of jelly eyeballs - but not nearly enough party pies or chicken nuggets.

Plus these days, kids don't like cinnamon cookies.

Thank goodness for a friend who helped us host and brought along two huge platters of cheese and kabana sausage and dips.  (Also appreciated by the murderous chefs).

And - again, who knew - hosting a party for 18 kids hopped up on sweets for two hours is exhausting! It's a lot louder, messier and more chaotic than I was probably expecting too.

But Yanni and I did have fun, and after frantic serves of drinks and hot food we were able to sit down and relax with wine and nibbles and watch 18 kids run rampant through our very own haunted house.

Plus, our party was apparently the talk of the school the next day and everyone thought it was AWESOME.

And after all, isn't that what it's all about?  :)

Aug 8, 2016

The Olympics

The Olympics are on! So I decided to write something about the Olympics.

I've written before how much I love the Olympics. I always have, ever since childhood, when during school any teacher who could commandeer a TV would set it up in a corner of the classroom for as long as they could get away with it.

And I love Rio - who doesn't? Not that I've been there, but I have always wanted to, ever since childhood when my favourite song was Peter Allen's I Go to Rio, and my religious childhood self was in awe of the Christ the Redeemer statue; and later when my early-twenties self discovered samba music.

Buuut.... it's been quite a few days now, and I haven't actually watched any Olympics yet. I'm not sure why not?

Apart from the Opening Ceremony highlights, that is. Holy cow, how good was that? So good! It was so impressive I almost considered watching the whole thing! I didn't of course - that would be madness - because who has that attention span in 2016?

Which is a pity, when you think of the time, money and effort that has gone into four years to create this Opening Ceremony masterpiece:

The main thing I thought, when I watched this, was "Man, fireworks technology has really moved apace in the last four years" - or even since last New Year's Eve.

I mean, they had fireworks spelling out "Rio"! When I saw that I thought I had imagined it - I had to watch it again. For sure, "Rio" is a short word and includes two easy letters already in the shape of most fireworks - but still.

And apparently, despite looking like it must have cost a gazillion dollars, the Rio event was done relatively "cheaply", or at least at a fraction of the cost of the London Olympics Opening Ceremony.

But as for why I haven't yet watched anything else?

Well, OK, I have watched the video of the gymnast breaking his leg. OUCH.

And today I watched a news clip of Novak Djokovic walking off in tears. Made him even more likeable. Who'd have thought the tennis greats would really care about the Olympics?

But nothing else so far.

There is that frustration, common to all Olympics, when, at the only time you are free to sit back and catch some live Olympics action, you click on the TV or live streaming - hoping to see diving, foot races, weight lifting or gymnastics, obviously - and find the only thing on is hockey or soccer or some other boring team sport you can catch any other weekend.

When I watch the Olympics I want to see this:

Maybe even a little bit of this:

Not so much this:

I'll try again tomorrow, and hope I can catch some diving, fencing, shooting, judo or canoe slalom.

Or maybe Friday, and catch some trampoline gymnastics!?!

Now that's more like it.

Jul 11, 2016

The Movie Nut's Meme

Here's a short set of questions and answers about my movie history. I got this from Princess Pandora, who got it from Sunday Stealing.

What was your first movie-going experience without your parents? 

I have wracked my brain on this but cannot remember. I remember what must have been one of my first movie experiences WITH my parents: I remember seeing Sleeping Beauty at about 7 years old and being entranced by the vivid, gorgeous colours. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. 

Do you still buy DVDs or Blu Rays (or do you just stream them)?

I still buy them for the kids, as I don't download movies. But we now stream movies and TV as often.

What is your guilty pleasure movie? What about it works for you?

I have a few: 

Arlington Road, a really good domestic terrorism thriller with Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack and Hope Davis. I love it as it's creepy and paranoid and really surprising (or it was the first time I saw it)

Limitless, which is objectively silly but a good thriller anyway. 

Without a Paddle, which is just extremely funny. Literally every scene made me laugh. 

The Mummy and The Bourne Identity are, in different ways, perfect escapist movies I've watched many times.

You have compiled a list of your top 100 movies. Which movies do you like, but would not make the list?

Hmm... so movies I like but don't love. Hard to come up with more than 100 movies I like without copious googling, but I will nominate these, for some movies I liked but which weren't my favourites:

Cabin in the Woods 
Gone Girl
Shutter Island
The Departed
The Grey
The Imitation Game
American Hustle

Which movie(s) do you compulsively watch over and over again? What makes it so great?

Maybe Jaws. What makes it great? Great story, great suspense, awesome jump scares, and Roy Scheider.

Another of my all-time favourites is Rear Window. I love the old-fashioned suspense, and the set, and Grace Kelly's perfect wardrobe.

Classic(s) you're embarrassed to admit you haven't seen yet?

The Deer Hunter, Mean Streets, Singing in the Rain, Dr Strangelove. 

Do you have any movie posters hanging on your wall? If yes, which ones and why?

No, but I used to have a movie poster of Salvador in my 20s. I loved that movie, and loved James Woods.

Tell us about a movie that you are passionate about.

I loved Witness as a teenager - it was my perfect movie for years and years.

What is a movie you vow to never watch? Why?

The Saw movies. I like supernatural horror, not torture porn horror. 

Tell us about a movie that literally left you speechless.

The Secret In Their Eyes. Very very good. Haunting. Visually amazing and very memorable. Harrowing in one scene.

What’s a movie that you always recommend?

I love Madagascar and Madagascar Escape 2 Africa and am constantly telling grown-up people to watch them.

Who is an actor you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie?

I don't have one now, but my sister and I used to have a Nicolas Cage pact, where we would go and see every movie of his together, because we loved him so much, even though all of his movies are terrible. Snake Eyes killed it for us - even we couldn't keep going after that. He started out so well! Raising Arizona and Moonstruck were great, but since then.... the last "good" one (I loved it) was Face/Off!

Who is an actor you don't get the appeal for? Why don’t you like them?

George Clooney leaves me a bit cold. He's too self-aware.

Who is an actor, living or dead, you'd love to meet? Why do they intrigue you?

Jodie Foster is pretty cool. I think she'd be interesting to talk to. She's smart and down to earth at the same time.

Sexiest actor/actress you've seen. (Picture required!)

How to choose...Benicio Del Toro, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Clive Owen, Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, James Franco...

But actually I think you can't go past Marlon Brando in his youth:

OK, you are casting a movie, pick four or five actors you’d hire to be in it and why we’d love them together.

I would love to see more comedy with women - Amy Schumer, Kristen Wiig, Bette Midler, Mindy Kaling and Jane Krakowski ought to be fun.

Who is your favourite actor pairing of all time?

Kathryn Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. She was so cool, and their chemistry was great.

Have you ever watched movies from a decade that was before you were born? If so, which decade is your favourite?

I like suspense thrillers from the 1940s.

If you were to be in a movie would you rather play the hero, villain or anti-hero? Why?

Jul 10, 2016

In politics, I am extremely against extremism

Listen up, Australia. I am pretty sick of our recent political environment. We do not have to do extreme right, religious conservatism and introduce a sudden pro-gun agenda just because America does those things, okay?

Pauline Hanson, we do not need a Donald Trump, thanks. Get back to 1996 where we thought we left you.

Cory Bernardi - far out. Where did you come from and why do you even exist? We did not have far right politics here once upon a time. There was Tony Abbott, sure. But he was called 'the mad monk' for a reason. Because he was the only one! Why do we have a whole faction of these people now?

And listen, Twitter and Facebook. Despite the above, we do not live in a fascist right-wing dictatorship, so calm the crap down. It's a three-year stint to the next election, the country has not locked itself into a future of doom. I don't mind the odd Get Up! post in my Facebook feed, but I don't want to read political ranting or posts and cartoons from lefty nut job sites masquerading as news or proper commentary.

Listen, everyone: this rabid extremism is exhausting.  And we never used to have it. We don't need it! Okay, we need a bit of it. We've always needed a few people on the edges to swing the pendulum where it's needed every now and then. But the system can never live at left or right - it works much better in the middle.

At work last week I listened to people talking about election day and when I heard a young guy say he "walked in, wrote down some random numbers and left", I was almost glad. Ah, political apathy! In the midst of all the ranting, lecturing and scare-mongering that surrounds us lately, it was almost a relief. Maybe this is what we need! Political apathy and laziness might just save us from becoming a nation of shouters!

There is no political party that represents my views. And even if there was I probably wouldn't whole-heartedly support it. But here are my politics in a nutshell:

  • Taxes should fund health, education, welfare, transport and essential services, science and innovation and environmental protection. 'Small government' is code for skimping on these things
  • But government should limit the things it subsidises - subsidies lead to price hikes and rorting
  • There should never be a large national surplus - if there is, infrastructure is being skimped
  • Government does need to watch spending and not let debt get out of hand - the budget is important 
  • Education and health should be a universal right for all citizens, but cannot be completely free. 
  • University education should not be free but fees should be regulated and student loans should be low-interest. I think our current HECS system is about right.
  • Government alone cannot pay for all the services we now expect and require. Some privatisation is essential. Governments can no longer pay for large infrastructure projects; government-private partnerships are essential. The private companies that provide these services/investments will profit from them, and the profit will be at our expense. That's unavoidable. It's government's job to make sure we don't get swindled.
  • Some services are not meant to be profitable and should not be expected to be. Hospitals and education need to be accepted as expenses and should not be expected to generate their own funds, beyond small amounts.
  • Taxes and government transfers (welfare) inevitably get complex and inefficient in a liberal democracy. Governments have to be fair and accountable and that is expensive. We don't need to wring our hands about our "inefficient" tax system. It will never be fixed.
  • Decent public education should be available for all - but providing that is prohibitive, hence the current government fashion for funding private schools to lessen some of the "demand" for public schools. I have no problem with governments funding private schools to some extent - you have to fund them if you want them to conform to national curricula, programs etc - but funding should be minimal and the rest of education funding should be needs-based 
  • Company taxes should be low, somewhere between 20 and 30%. Even if you loathe them, big corporations are beneficial to an economy, and to a society. Small business is also an important engine in our economy - though there are plenty of crap small businesses out there.
  • For an economy to flourish, there has to be some very wealthy people. They are like a side-effect. Economies that don't allow some people to accumulate massive, unfair wealth are stagnant.
  • Offshore detention for asylum seekers, and turning back boats, are both awful and indefensible - except if the defence is "they work as a deterrent" which sadly, they appear to do.  We should not be doing either of these things - they are cruel and inhumane and wrong. I don't know what we should do instead. Increase aid to UNHCR, increase our refugee intake, increase funding for internal detention centres and processing... all of those things, but none of them will "stop boats" or resolve the massive, international problem of asylum seekers and "economic migrants" - which are actually people living in hopeless circumstances and severe economic distress.  Even if we did all those things, the "demand" and the boats would keep coming - what do we do then? I don't know, but not what we're doing now.
  • I don't think we need a royal commission into the banking and finance sector. We know it's rotten. We don't need more regulation either - ASIC needs more teeth to police and enforce the regulations we have
  • Homelessness should not be a problem to the extent it is - what has gone wrong? There needs to be a full enquiry which no one will hold as no one will want to be held accountable for what comes out of it. But if we're going to hold royal commissions into everything these days, maybe a royal commission into homelessness and poverty wouldn't be a bad thing
  • Minimum wages and working conditions need to be protected. I am ambivalent about penalty rates - these days there's no real difference between a Friday and a Saturday, though I do agree people should be compensated for working anti-social hours (I know first hand the toll it takes on family life for example). And we need to make sure we don't become like the US, where people can work full-time jobs and earn less than a living wage
  • Gun ownership should be limited and controlled, just as it is now. No changes to our gun laws!

So that's politics according to me.

Now enjoy this flash mob ballroom dancing on a New York crossing courtesy of my new favourite site, Improv Everywhere. If only life was more like this:

Edit: this just in:
Here's a piece of commentary I can agree with (though I like Nick Xenophon myself):

In Turnbull and Shorten we had the pick of two decent leaders - now let's all pull together:

Jun 16, 2016

Two App Ideas (please send money)

Dear Venture Capitalists, Developers and Marketers,

I have two great app ideas and would like these developed as soon as possible please.  Please note these are my intellectual property but I am open to sharing the millions of dollars we make on them under a reasonable arrangement.  Please let me know when they are ready.

1. HairNow!

 You know when you go to a hair salon and they have posters of hair styles in their windows or on their wall that look weird because they're always just slightly out of date?

Hairdressers can never keep up with current hair images, either in poster form or in their stacks of style books and magazines (do they still have those?)

The app:
A searchable database of hair styles, and a constantly-updating poster display for screens mounted on a salon wall

How hairdressers would use it:
Replace posters with huge screens and display an ever-changing rotation of latest hair style images. Optionally filter what styles, or types of styles, to display.

How customers would use it:
Phone app can be searched for images by hair style and type, e.g. "cool hairstyles for short thick brown curly hair" (just to throw a random example out there that has nothing to do with me).
Or search for current trends, e.g. "London 2016"

Does not promise to solve this problem

How it will make money:
Free for regular people. Hairdressers to pay a small subscription which gives them the rotating images of latest styles.  I guess the subscription has to be pretty small, if we compare it to the amount hairdressers spend on updating their posters once every few years.

2. PlantLife!

You know when you see a tree or plant you like but you don't know what it is? Or you think, "Is that a maple tree or not?" and you have to Google maple tree images and trawl through them trying to match them to what you are seeing?

Or maybe you live in North America and are hiking through the woods and want to make sure you're not about to walk through a patch of poison ivy.

We can't all be botany experts. That's why we need....


The app:
Like Shazam but for plant pictures. You hold your phone up to scan a plant or tree, focussing on leaves, for instance, or flowers. You press a button. The app trawls through the whole Google/Wikipedia images database or a botany database of some kind and bam! comes up with the name of the plant and some information.

How it will make money:
Obviously this is so useful that the money will just come rolling in from advertising we will host on the app. We will offer a premium edition with no ads but over time we will gradually put ads on the premium edition too, and raise the price. We will market this as an educational tool to schools and universities and maybe create a tie-in game? You guys can figure this stuff out, I am sure. I can't do everything.

OK so that's it for now, please go ahead and make these and I look forward to getting rich soon.
Thank you.

Jun 12, 2016

The Art of Leisure

I just came across a post in my Facebook feed called The Lost Art of Leisure, which I didn't have time to read but which I have bookmarked for later. I think I know what it says though, and the title struck a chord with me.

When I was younger, and the world was not yet digitised, I had ample time for leisure and I used it for the most part wisely - reading, walking, visiting art galleries, trawling bookshops, dinner with friends (we didn't do coffee or breakfast or brunch back then), going to see bands at pubs.  I had a big music collection and listened to it. I did painting classes. I sketched, and wrote poetry.

In short, I was probably an insufferable young idiot, but I did know how to enjoy myself.

When Y. and I lived in Santorini, many years ago, we spent our precious free time coasting around the winding roads on his bike, lying on the beach and drinking coffee or beer in cafes. This was high quality leisure time.

When I lived in Twickenham, my favourite activity was to walk the towpath to Richmond and back, snug in my army-surplus parka, a Kate Bush or Blur cassette in my Walkman, headphones on.

When I lived in St Kilda, my favourite activity was to go to the Espy with my boyfriend to see a band, and wander home in the early hours of the morning to his untidy flat, feeling happy and at home.

When I lived in Auckland, I loved cooking up dinner parties with my university flatmates and the sorts of long, honest conversations you only have at that age.

Growing up in Auckland, we were conscious of being at the outer limits of the world, and we lapped up everything that visited our shores. We saw every visiting art exhibit (though I only remember Monet), and every band or singer (Billy Idol, Bryan Ferry, America, David Bowie, U2 - it didn't matter who, in general if they came, I went to see them - though I did draw the line at Dire Straits, and was pleased to have my decision borne out by everyone's judgement the day after that "the laser show was really good").

But of course, as everyone knows by now, that all disappears when you have kids. And honestly, you don't mind. I didn't miss any of that stuff. Well, except walking on my own, and reading in a quiet corner - I could do both of those things forever.

When you have kids you grab your leisure where it's available, and when it's available you're not always ready. Or you only have a few minutes or half an hour, or a two-hour block, or whatever - not enough time to really sink into a full leisure activity and enjoy it without an eye on the next obligation.

Nina Cheng / Flickr CC

And of course we're all so busy. Kids, no kids - we're all busy with work and with keeping up with all the ceaseless household, personal and digital administration that is part of modern life.

All of which creates the situation we now find ourselves in, where leisure time is a five minute break huddled over your phone playing whatever dumb game is your secret shame, or strapping on your exercise shoes and convincing yourself that the 20-minute power walk you are forcing yourself to take at lunchtime is "relaxing" instead of a guilty workout.

We don't seem to have time to enjoy proper leisure, doing activities that absorb us and bring us joy, often enough.

Well, maybe this is only me.

But my guess is that an article called "The Lost Art of Leisure" means that it isn't.

The reason this article struck a chord was that I found myself, one day last week, quite unexpectedly enjoying some leisure time, that was actually leisurely.  I set myself the task on Sunday of doing nothing much, except beefing up my Spotify playlist and cooking a good winter meal for the kids.

I used to have a lot of CDs and a stereo, and I listened to music all the time. Then I had an iTunes account and listened to music on my iPhone. Then I changed to a Samsung phone and converted my music to Google Play, and.... I sort of forgot to listen to it. Or maybe I got older and music just gradually fell down the priority list, competing with podcasts and reading articles and watching Cracked videos on YouTube?

Phil Mike Jones / Flickr CC

But recently one of my daughters set me up with a Spotify playlist (it needs some work, but you can check it out here) and I have suddenly rediscovered the joy of music.

Jake Kitchener / Flickr CC

I dug out a couple of CDs and played them while cooking on Sunday. Then when they were finished I put on my Spotify playlist and listened to that. As I stirred a slow-cooking meat sauce and chatted easily to my daughter, with nothing else planned for that afternoon, I felt a strange sensation. It was a sweet surge of joy - a simple, swelling happiness that lifted with the music and reminded me that these moments, while fleeting, should be more than just gaps in a busy life.

I liked it.

Do you possess, or covet, the art of leisure?

May 15, 2016

Men and Women are Completely Different

It is obvious that men and women are completely different.

For instance, women love dressing up and reading horoscopes, and men love drinking beer and watching sports. But there are many other ways that men and women are different, and all of them are scientific fact.

The below well-known examples prove that men and women are very different.

Women are better at multi-tasking

This has nothing at all to do with the fact that men are not expected to multi-task, or that there is actually no such thing as multi-tasking.

I have to admit my husband cannot remotely multi-task, as he stops washing dishes while he's talking so he can wave his hands around to punctuate his sentences, which drives me crazy and makes me blurt out, "keep working while you're talking!" and then he gets annoyed and stops talking, so then I get annoyed, but he does go back to doing the dishes and I keep folding laundry and it means I get to dominate the conversation because I can do both at once. But that's not because I'm a woman, it's because I'm not him.

I can't actually multi-task either, unless you count listening to podcasts while driving or scrolling through emails while people are trying to talk to me.

When it comes to sexual arousal, men are very visual, while women are more cerebral


Women take ages to get ready

This has nothing to do with the fact that women are judged on their appearance which is generally expected to include flattering clothing, flawless makeup, smooth, styled hair and accessories that complement the outfit. None of that takes time to pull together. No, it's clearly a fact that women just take ages to get ready!

Young women wear ridiculously inappropriate and non-functional clothing

Well, we all know this is true. There's nothing quite as ridiculous as a tipsy young woman holding her shoes in her hand, or shivering in a backless dress on a winter street, or trying to hold down a wind-whipped skirt on a blustery day. Hilarious!

Here is something that happened to me more than once as a young woman:

Group of young people: Let's go to a bar!
Young woman (thinking): I am a girl, so I will need to look attractive at this bar. My boyfriend will be pleased and turned on if his friends and others like the way I look. I will feel confident and in control and we will have good sex later. If I don't dress up, my boyfriend will steal glances at other girls who have dressed up, and I will feel regretful and pissed off and we will not have good sex later.  So, I will wear something sexy, with high heels. 
Young woman (also thinking): It will be warm inside the bar and I don't want to carry too much as I already have to carry a purse and keys that I can't put in my pockets because women's evening outfits aren't designed to have pockets. So I won't wear or carry a jacket.  
Young man: I am a dude, so I will wear jeans or pants, a shirt and comfortable shoes. I will look good and be comfortable! 
Much time later, outside the bar, early morning. Group of young people stand around and realise there is no available transport. 
Young men: No drama, it's only 2 k's, let's walk home! 
Young woman (thinking): Fuck you all.

And when you are older, you may still be subjected to things like this, apparently:

Men don't like makeup

For sure, men hate makeup. They keep saying so!

Or maybe, what men like is natural-looking makeup and light, matte lipstick. On a naturally beautiful face. Which still looks better with makeup.

Men, this woman is wearing a shit-ton of makeup


Men are better at 'compartmentalising' work and family

God knows how I also manage to do this every workday.  Luck, I guess?

Mothers are naturally more bonded to their children / Women are more emotional / Women centre their worlds around family

For ages, I believed this one. When it suits me, I still believe it. But, since more dads are now performing a primary carer role (or even just a sharing-the-burden carer role), I've seen more and more men displaying the kind of 'motherly' behaviour that involves intuiting when your child is unwell, preparing lunch boxes, knowing your children's shoe sizes, etc.

So this one might be true if you substitute 'primary carer' for 'mothers/women'. When men perform these roles, they tend to have this outlook too.

When boys fight there's no drama. They get over it fast. Girls backstab and hold grudges

When I visit my kids' school to see a teacher or the principal or do some form of admin or whatnot, I see the student welfare officer mediating a constant stream of bitchy catfights, friendship dramas and tears, accusations and peer-exclusion. The fact that half of these incidents involve boys and the other half involve girls clearly makes our school a bit exceptional, as this is obviously very girly behaviour.


In conclusion, it's obvious. Men and women are, clearly, fundamentally different.

May 7, 2016

How To Find Out About Anyone: Great Questions!

One of my favourite sites is Quora, where people pose questions and others post answers. It's a great different kind of social media, even if these days it is more overrun by marketers and promoters than it used to be (welcome to any social media platform, right?)

Tonight I was happily browsing my feed while procrastinating doing some work, and came across a set of really great 'meme' style questions, in response to a question that asked, "What 10 questions can tell you the most about a person?"

As of tonight, 11 people had responded with their lists of questions, but the best response to my mind was this one, from Barnard Law Collier, "anthropologist, journalist, writer, director":

"Dear Horatio," he begins,

"These 20 (ten is too few to be at all comprehensive) questions are meant to be asked of public figures and would-be or current politicians, but they work well with almost anybody. 
It's best to ask them without revealing them in advance. But even if the questions are known in advance, they are devilishly hard to "spin" even for the most slippery interviewee and her/his spin doctors. 
They have been tested extensively, and if they are all asked and their answers recorded IN FULL WITH ALL ASIDES AND REMARKS ON THE RECORD (make this stipulation crystal clear to the interviewee ahead of time: "Be careful, everything you say is on the record") results are often quite astonishing. 
Be sure to listen carefully and faithfully record all the asides; they are often priceless...."

The questions themselves are pretty great. They are different or deeper enough from the usual, that I can see some interesting responses - and asides - coming out of people's attempts to answer.

Perhaps one for a meme, Sunday Stealing?

What 10 (20) questions can tell you the most about a person?

Answers by Barnard Law Collier

Besides to your God, your family and your country and your constituents (if any), where do your loyalties lie?
In as much precise detail as you see fit, how does your mind work?
Have you ever been in love? If so, describe the experience.
If you were an animal, what animal would you be ~ other than human?
What did your father fail at?
Except for "nothing," what or whom do you hate?
In deadly peril, name three people you want in your foxhole with you?
Have you ever dealt a death penalty? If yes,please explain.
Describe your ability to dance.
What do you think your worst enemy really thinks about you?
On a scale of 0 to 250, where would you score your intelligence?
In eight words or less, please define intelligence.
What is the greatest weakness in your character?
How do you verify the truth of what you are told?
Name and define your favorite word.
Of the following, which gives you the most pleasure: a) Music; b) Money; c) Literature; d) Science; e) Spirituality; f) Golf; g) Food & Wine; h) Films.
Briefly describe your favourite hat.
Who is the best living lawyer that you know?
If you were made to live out the rest of your days as a famous fictional or non-fictional character, who would you select?

Source: Quora, 26 April 2016

What do you think - could you answer these?

The only ones I think I would be stuck on are 18 (whaaaat??) and 19 - though actually, for 19 I'd probably choose Julian Burnside.  But I don't know many lawyers.


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