Friday, 16 January 2015

Letterboxes

When I moved to New Zealand, one of the biggest and most traumatic changes for me was that I no longer had a letterbox in my front door. When I lived in the UK, letters, free papers and unwanted flyers always landed with a satisfying thud on my brown coir doormat. I used to get so much junk mail, I just kept a paper recycling bin in the hallway, thereby saving valuable kilojoules of effort carrying junk mail further into the house before carrying it back out on bin day.

Now I live in New Zealand, my letterbox is at the end of my driveway, over 50 metres away from my front door. When working from home, I no longer get the sound of junk mail arriving on the doormat to give me another excuse to procrastinate away from my desk. Quite often, I forget to check the letterbox for weeks on end and find that I've missed out on opportunities to sell my landlords house quickly to interested buyers, or have my house sprayed with toxic chemicals that kill flora and fauna just because I hate nature (seriously, who needs fish or bees?). Sometimes there's even a letter from some living anachronism who hasn't yet discovered email or SMS asking me to pay for shit or something.

I hate voicemail. Voicemail I just can't even. Send me a text. I can reply to a text when I am on the bog externalising a very complicated situation or on a conference call. Listening to a voicemail involves finding somewhere with good reception, listening to a ton of angry messages wanting to know why I never return calls, and then find your message so I can ignore it too. Send me a text.

Emails are even better. I like emails. I get such exotic emails, telling me I'm in line to inherit several million dollars from someone in the UK, or I've won the Nigerian Lottery. At least junk email is absurd. You never get absurd flyers in the mailbox at the end of the driveway.

And that's why I've cut down my neighbour's letterbox.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Crime and Punishment

The road toll has risen again this year, and the usual delinquents are using this as an excuse to claim a right to breaking the law.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, reading the New Zealand Herald's letter page it appears that most kiwis don't care about freedom of the press - in fact, most of the reactionary blowhards who write into the Herald in previous months seem delighted that the police in New Zealand was used to persecute inconvenient journalists such as Nicky Hager and Bradley Ambrose, so I'm pretty sure they'd be happy for journalists to be shot.

Most of the time, these people are happy for the police to overzealously enforce the law, or even make new laws to inconvenience or intrude on people they don't approve of. But if there is one area where the New Zealand public don't support the New Zealand Police, it's enforcement of speeding on the roads.

I find this curious. At one time, all of us drivers had to sit a driving test, where we proved we were capable of reading a number off a dial and making sure it was less than a number on road signs. But as soon as we get our driving licence, people feel that there is an inalienable right, as sacred as the Treaty of Waitangi itself, allowing them to ignore the speed limit as long as they only do it a little bit. Everyone's idea of a little bit varies... from 1km/h to 60km/h but always "as long as the conditions are suitable" or "but my car's designed for it."

In what other field of life is measurably breaking the law acceptable? When caught shoplifting, would you expect the perpetrator to get let off because they didn't see the "No Shoplifting" sign at the door? Is it okay to defraud your employer as long as it is only a couple of percent?

"Sorry Officer, I know you caught me bang-to-rights burgling, but I was only five things above the legal limit of zero, and it's difficult to keep count when I'm trying to find my way around an unfamiliar house."

People care more about someone violating the '12 items or less' queue at the supermarket (or pedanticalising about the grammar rule that it should actually say "fewer" or that "pedanticalising" is not a real word) than they do about driving a 1+ tonne murder-wedge at criminal speeds on New Zealand's side streets.

If you ask me, speed cameras don't go far enough; the modern cameras should also be capable of enforcing the Two Second Rule for people tailgating the car in front, regardless of speed. I'd also be in favour of police using Predator drones and Hellfire missiles to shoot cars where the driver is using their phone. Or listening to Newstalk ZB.

Bravo to the New Zealand police for actually getting out there and doing their job: which includes keeping idiots in V8s, obscenely-large trucks, and sundry German-built ego-amplification wagons from killing other people with their shitty aspirational steel boxes of rapid depreciation.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Why International Sports Are Boring

Take the Football World Cup for instance... It's boring, and do you know why? Because the best 11 players from any decent sized country are going to be too good. If people like watching "the best", explain to me why they watch so much "reality TV"? I think the reason is that people secretly enjoy watching other people being a bit shit. I know for my part, I only ever watch the first few episodes of X-Factor to laugh at the rubbish people. And The Apprentice and Masterchef is only fun while they weed out the real bozos.

The other reason big international sports events are boring is that they don't really give you an insight into the country itself, past some very crude stereotypes of Italians being huge fakers who dive every chance they get.

I have a solution to boring international football, and it is... random teams. By this, I mean that anyone on the Electoral Roll, or equivalent, of a country can be randomly signed up to play in each international fixture. Probably with some kind of common criteria - age 16 to not-yet-dead, male and female, whether or not they are ill, disabled, rich, poor, etc. The International body would pay for them to travel to the fixture.

At this point, you are probably thinking, "that can't work - with a sample size of 11, a country could just have bad luck with the draw and end up with a team comprised entirely of elderly and ill people". So, here is the next genius step - instead of a normal team of 11 people, I propose having teams 100 times bigger - that's right - 1100 people per side (plus substitutes, obviously).

Now, again, you are thinking that there could be a problem fitting 2201 people onto a football field. Well, that can be easily solved by making the pitch 10 times wider, and 10 times longer. However, the goal posts should remain the same size, otherwise it would just be silly.

I think that it would be far more instructive, and break down social barriers, if we were to see a random 1100 people from each country playing - it would give you a real insight into the demographics of a country, and could sometimes be shaming for "developed" countries to play against "developing" ones. For instance, I expect that a USA vs Iraq fixture would be both riveting and humbling.

My favourite Banana Cake recipe

You will need:
  • 100g Unsalted Butter
  • 1/2 Cup of Caster Sugar (113g)
  • 1/4 cup of Soft dark brown sugar (55g)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup of golden syrup
  • 2/3 cup of Self Raising Flour (forgot to note weight)
  • 1/2 Cup of Plain Flour (forgot to note weight)
  • 1 Tablespoon of Ground Ginger (forgot to note weight)
  • 1/4 Cup of Milk
  • Some finely chopped lumps of candied ginger
To make the cake, you should:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4 / Moderate / 453.15 Kelvin / Gale Force 8
  2. Oil a loaf tin, then line base and sides with greaseproof paper
  3. Beat butter, sugar together until creamy
  4. Add eggs gradually, beating thoroughly as adding.
  5. Add golden syrup, beat until combined.
  6. Slowly fold in the sifted flour, ginger and milk, adding a bit of each at a time. The original recipe insisted on metal spoon, so that's what I use. Don't know why though.
  7. Pour mixture into tin. Allow surface to level.
  8. Bake for 40 minutes, then start checking it is cooked through with a skewer. If not, put it back in. Usually it takes 55 minutes for me.
  9. Take out of oven. Leave in tin for 20 minutes.
  10. Turn out onto wire rack to cool.
  11. Once cool, dust with icing sugar if you haven't already started eating it.
  12. I don't like bananas in cakes.

Are modern documentaries rubbish?

Has anyone else noticed that the quality of documentaries on telly has deteriorated over the last 20 years? Some evenings I catch bits of "real-life documentaries" like Bondi VetMega Machines Destroyed In Seconds by Planning Inspectors, When Nazi Sharks Attack and Animal Rescue Helicopter Piha Beach Police Border Patrol and feel nostalgic for the good old documentaries that used to be on Channel 4 and the BBC.

One of my favourite documentary series used to be "Equinox" on Channel 4... back in the late 80s and early 90s this was a great programme to watch to learn about all sorts of areas of science and technology, as well as other subjects.

A particularly good technology documentary that I saw as a kid was Hyperland, written by and featuring Douglas Adams... because of this programme, when web browsers were invented 4 years later, I was already kind of expecting them, rather than surprised. You can watch Hyperland on YouTube. I recommend it, just to see Douglas Adams and Tom Baker:



Then there were the "classic" documentaries like "The World At War", which was great and I'd still like to own the DVD box set now.

When I first heard of the Discovery and History channels on satellite TV, I was really excited, as I was expecting to be able to watch high-quality documentaries like the aforementioned 24/7. But it didn't work out like that...

These modern documentary channels need to make money, so they advertise. And because they advertise, they have to make sure people don't switch off during the ad breaks. The common tactic seems to be find 3 or 4 stories and cut between them - even if the viewer doesn't like one story, they might stick around to see what happens in one of the others.

The reason I don't like this is because the documentary has to be broken up into tiny chunks so that several stories can be progressed before the next ad break.

And then before every ad break, the narrator does a recap along the lines of "after the break, there is a shocking discovery in Nellie the Elephant's poo".

And after every ad break, the narrator has to recap what happened before the ad break for the gold fish at home; "before the break, zoo-keepers were about to make a shocking discovery in Nellie the Elephant's poo".

And then, we finally find out about the elephant's faeces and it's not shocking and, at most, only mildly interesting. The people who made the documentary probably even know that it's not really a "shocking discovery", but have to make it sound as compelling as possible to avoid people turning of the television set and doing something more interesting instead.

The problem is that this has devalued what the word "documentary" means to me, and even on channels that don't have advertising I feel they are using the same tricks (presumably so they can sell the programme to other foreign stations who do want to insert adverts).

There are occasional gems, like anything by Jon Ronson, but I miss the good old days where someone could spend thirty minutes or an hour telling a coherent factual story in a logical order, without over-dramatising inconsequential bits just before every ad break.

Please tell me if there are some good documentaries that I'm missing...

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Republic, by Plato

I read The Republic several years ago, and one of the key things I remember about it was the proposal of a state ruled by "philosopher-kings", who would rule by telling a "noble lie".

I've been wondering if it's a coincidence that such a heretical notion survived over 2000 years, especially through the period when the Catholic Church ruled or influenced most of Europe? Who was reading and scribing it during this time?

Do you think that the Pope knows all religion is bollocks (as I suspect almost every priest I ever met did), but he keeps up the facade anyway, because the prospect of a billion gullible people waking up one morning and realising that they can do anything that they want, without facing the consequences in the afterlife, is too terrifying to allow?

I do.

Review of "Rusty Car Garden Archaeology" on BBC1

Ostensibly, this is a new TV series in which an overgrown British suburban garden is visited by a crew of car enthusiasts, who attempt to reveal the recent history of automobiles using a Time Team format. The format is straightforward; find an eyesore of a property with rusting hulks of cars mostly hidden in dense undergrowth, and then recover as much of the cars as possible to restore. There is heavy use of CGI and archive footage to show how the cars would have originally looked with their classic British period features such as square steering wheels.

Inevitably, the kind of people who keep rusty cars in their garden tend to also be the kind of people who have ongoing disputes with their less-untidy neighbours, and this is where this otherwise boring TV programme comes into it's own: the selection of Richard Herring as presenter was pure casting magic. As he freely admits at the start of the first episode, filmed in Basingstoke, he doesn't care about the cars, but revels in the opportunity to taunt what he calls "Daily Mail-reading, wannabe-middle class prigs." He takes every opportunity to inconvenience the neighbours, with such antics as spending two hours directing a lorry to repeatedly turn around in a neighbour's driveway signposted as "no turning", and his project to weld the axle of a Morris Ital to the drive shaft of a British Leyland Princess to form a crude crucifix and then staging a haunting re-enactment of the Stations of the Cross slowly down the street at dawn, creating a tailback of tooting German-built commuter cars.

[Sadly, this programme doesn't actually exist, but I did have an extraordinarily vivid dream about it one night.]

RRE: A Suggested Alternative to AV

Russian Roulette Elections.

Put all the candidates in a row, with a revolver containing a round in all but one chamber. Then the candidates take turns to put the gun to their head and pull the trigger. The one who survives gets the gig.

I suspect the current selfish "political class" would think twice about doing that, and we'd be left with the insane optimists running the country. Just as hellish to live under, but watching Election Night Special would be fucking ace.

Fast Food Recipes - Fajitas

This is my current favourite fast food, and making your own spice mix beats paying $4 for a sachet that only does one meal, even if you have to buy the spices to begin with. I found a recipe on eHow and changed it a tiny bit. I'm sticking it here, as I need to make a new batch and took ages to find the recipe.

Take one old clean jam jar, and then put the following ingredients in.

3/4 cup of chili powder
4 tablespoons of ground cumin
4 tablespoons of salt
4 tablespoons of ground pepper
2 tablespoons of garlic powder
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
2 tablespoons of paprika

Shake it all up in the jam jar.

Cook your meat/mushrooms, onions and capsicums as usual, sprinkle one or two tablespoons of mix into the pan, and stir it all about until everything is covered in spicy goodness and the meat is cooked through.

Are you Zoo Queue Jumpers, too?

Went to the Auckland Zoo the other day. Was great, loads of animals and far better than the dismal day we had at Chester Zoo a few years ago.

Even better than watching the animals was watching the other people. Now we have digital cameras and blogs we can passively-aggressively shame the people who felt the need to jump the queue for feeding the giraffes:




(If you are those people, and feel violated that I posted photos of you and your families, please feel free to stop fucking queue jumping.)

Other notable wankers were the South African family driving this car. They parked their metallic-shitty-brown Toyota so close to the back of my car in the car park that I couldn't get into the boot of my own car. But then, they took the fucking piss when they asked me if I'd mind moving my car so they could get out of the "space" they'd wedged themselves into. I pretended not to understand and rummaged in my glovebox until they got frustrated and walked back to their car; they then did a 10 point maneuver to get out of the space, just before I pulled forward a foot deliberately late, to complete the wind-up. Hope they don't mind the mark in their bonnet where I discovered that they had parked so close I couldn't get into the boot of my car.

In summary, zoos are great. A few people are annoying wankers. I'm probably one of them...