Tuesday, January 27, 2015

C is for cricket

Cricket is a game played in many counties, though it’s especially popular in countries in The Commonwealth. This year, New Zealand and Australia will jointly host the ICC Cricket World Cup (http://www.icc-cricket.com/cricket-world-cup). In this part of the world, this is a big deal.

The ICC Cricket World Cup will be held 14 February to 29 March 2015, and will feature teams from 14 countries divided into two pools. Pool A is Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, Scotland, and Sri Lanka. Pool B is India, Ireland, Pakistan, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, West Indies, and Zimbabwe.

The game of cricket began in England in the 1600s, and in about two centuries became their national sport. It was carried to the far reaches of Empire, which is part of why it’s not as popular—or particularly well-known—in the USA.

The international governing body is the International Cricket Council (ICC). It sets the rules for the game and governs it. There are 106 members, of which 10 are Full Members (also known as Test Nations), 37 are Associate Members (which includes Canada and the USA), and 59 countries are Affiliate Members. The ICC is headquartered in Dubai in the UAE.

The reason the 10 Full Members are known as “Test Nations” is that they play the long form the game, known as Test Cricket. It takes up to five days, making it the only game in the world that takes five days and might still end in a draw. Players for both teams dress in white. The shorter version of the game, which is what will be played at the World Cup, is the One Day International (ODI), which is MUCH shorter and reminds me, as an American-born Kiwi, of baseball (particularly when watched in person).

So far, I’ve avoided talking about what the game is and how it’s played because I’ve always found it’s difficult to explain it. Fortunately for me, it turns out that Wikipedia has pretty good summary:
Cricket is a bat and ball game, played between two teams of eleven players each. One team bats, attempting to score runs, while the other bowls and fields the ball, attempting to restrict the scoring and dismiss the batsmen. The objective of the game is for a team to score more runs than its opponent. In some forms of cricket, it may also be necessary to dismiss the opposition in order to win the match, which would otherwise be drawn.
The rest of the information on Wikipedia fleshes out how the game is played. Fair warning: If you’re not into sports, and maybe even if you are, your eyes may glaze over if you read it. In that case, trust me, on this: The game is much more interesting to watch than it is to explain.

I’ve been to several ODI matches in Auckland, but I’ve never been to a Test Match, and I frankly think it’s unlikely that I’ll go to one any time soon (I don’t have that much stamina…). However, the first cricket match I ever saw played was between some university students in Ontario. I was about 11 at the time, and had NO idea what they were doing.

A cricket wicket.
When the bales won't move,
it's a "sticky wicket".
Nowadays, I enjoy watching at least part of some ODI matches, and I also like how gentlemanly it is: Sportsmanship is VERY important in the game, which by the 19th century led to the expression, “it’s just not cricket” to describe anything unfair or underhanded.

The game has actually given English several expressions. For example, “sticky wicket” describes a difficult situation. Someone who’s had a successful run—especially, someone who’s died after a long life—may be described as having “had a good innings”. To be shocked or taken aback may leave one “bowled over”. All these expressions are still commonly used in New Zealand, among other countries.

And that’s a look at Cricket. It’s big in New Zealand, though rugby is our national game. It’s Australia’s only truly national game, with rugby popular in some areas and Aussie Rules Football popular in other areas. Now, the two countries are hosting a sort of Australasian ICC Cricket World Cup.

Many people in the world won’t even know the cricket world cup going on. But for some countries, it’ll be important. I’ll be watching—some of it, anyway.

The image of a cricket pitch at the top of this post is by Nichalp, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. It is available through Wikimedia Commons. The image of cricket wickets, also with this post, is by §hep, and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. It is also available through Wikimedia Commons.

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Monday, January 26, 2015


Today is Auckland Anniversary Day, its 175th birthday and a public holiday. But this weekend had another anniversary, one I didn’t have a chance to acknowledge on this blog. The first will return again next year, but the other one?

On Saturday, January 24, 2009, Nigel and I had our Civil Union ceremony and a party afterward. This year, the anniversary was also on a Saturday—six year to the very day. We weren’t in Auckland, however.

My brother-in-law, his partner and their kids moved to another house, and we went down to help, though nearly everything was done by the time we got there. Which was nice, to be honest. It was also incredibly hot, much as it was the Saturday six years earlier.

I wondered if the anniversary of our civil union might fade, now that we’re married. In 2009, the only way for us to have our relationship officially recognised was to have a civil union, so having one made practical sense. I think that the civil union anniversary will always matter because of that fact, but I think that in future it may not be a big focus—but, who knows? This year a niece is getting married on the same date we did—October 31—so we won’t be the only ones to whom that date is special.

But that’s really the larger point, isn’t it? Personal anniversaries are important to people precisely because they’re personal. Others may join in celebrating, or not, but that doesn’t change anything for the couple. So, our civil union anniversary will be important to us for what it meant, and so will our marriage anniversary, and partly because it completed what began that horribly hot January Saturday back in 2009.

We may not have celebrated our anniversary on Saturday this year, but that doesn’t mean it was forgotten. I doubt it ever will be, but, just in case, I’m including a list of all my previous posts about this anniversary.

Auckland Anniversary will definitely be back next year, though.

Posts from previous years

2009: Perfect Day – where it began
2010: One and Fifteen
2011: Second Anniversary, squared
2012: Three years ago today
2013: Fourth Anniversary
2014: An anniversary

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The future of computing?

Based only on what’s already happened, it seems to me that the future of computing is clearly interactive, and will quite probably involve greater immersion of the user in the experience. But will it require goggles?

Microsoft has announced HoloLens (promo video above), a stand-alone (wear-alone?) set of goggles, which, they say, “seamlessly blends high-definition holograms with your real world.” The video shows the basics of how they envision it working and how it might be used.

I think there’s definitely a place for technology like this. It looks like it would be particularly useful for industrial and architectural design, medical research, and for being able to more fully look at other planets without actually going there.

That’s what NASA thinks. They plan on using the technology to virtually explore Mars (see photo below). That seems to me like a particularly good use of the technology.

I’m less convinced that ordinary people will use it in their ordinary lives in the ways depicted in the promo—because people have to wear those goggles. Microsoft says, “Holograms will improve the way you do things every day, and enable you to do things you've never done before.” But, strictly speaking, they’re not actually holograms, but merely projections on the goggles’ screen that’s combined with movement-sensing technology to help users interact with those projections. That’s fine for playing games that combine real world and imaginary worlds, but for everyday use? I dunno, those goggles are kind of clunky…

Still, touchscreen computing has already become ubiquitous on pads, smart phones and even some desktop computers. It’s changed the way people interact with and use computers from keyboard and mouse-click to tap and swipe. It’s not hard to imagine that computing will evolve to include motion-sensing control of the computing device.

I’m sure that the goggles will improve over time, and one day there will probably be actual holograms and, if so, one day goggles won’t be needed. But all of that is a long way from now. HoloLens may be the first taste we’ll get of what future computing will be like. Or not. Technology doesn’t always work out when it’s first introduced (Apple Newton, for example).

Change is inevitable, and HoloLens seems to me to be a glimpse of where computing is headed. We’ll see—with or without goggles.

"New NASA software called OnSight will use holographic computing to overlay visual information and data from the agency's Mars Curiosity Rover into the user's field of view. Holographic computing blends a view of the physical world with computer-generated imagery to create a hybrid of real and virtual." Image and caption Credit: NASA.

Tip o’ the Hat to our nephew in the US who shared the C|Net article on Facebook.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Art of naming

The naming of kids is a difficult matter: Pick the wrong one, and the child could be scarred for life. Even a simple, non-controversial name can become a source of torment for a child when forged into a tool for ridicule. But, names can always be changed.

I’m named for both of my grandfathers and an uncle. That’s a lot of work for one name to do, so it remained at full strength—Arthur—up until junior high school (ages 12-13) when my science teacher (whose own name I’ve long since forgotten) suddenly decreed that I should be known as “Art”. I resisted at first, lamely—one simply didn’t argue with teachers about such things.

This had two main results. First, I immediately had to deal with other kids calling me “Art the Fart”, which I didn’t appreciate. Of course. The other result was that I was called Art for roughly the next 17 years, until I insisted people again call me Arthur. To this day, you can tell how long someone has known me by what they call me.

This comes up every year at my birthday when I get Facebook greetings from people calling me Art. They’re people who knew me prior to the late 1980s, like my family and oldest friends who still call me “Art”—as Jason did in a nice blog post on my birthday.

The people who have known me from the late 1980s onwards, including everyone I know in New Zealand, call me Arthur—as, indeed, I do. How did it come to be, this re-renaming of myself?

Part of the answer is that at some point in the late 1980s I simply got tired of a name I didn’t choose and never fully embraced. “Art’s the name of a plumber!” I declared, before quickly adding, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that—it’s just not me!” I’m not sure what, exactly, I meant by that, or what I was thinking (I never wrote anything down about it), but I was at the height of my political activism at the time and I think that I felt that Art just didn’t have the gravitas I was trying to project to elected politicians in my lobbying work.

The name also gave me problems at work. I noticed about this time that when I answered the phone, and people asked my name, I’d say “I’m Art” and the person would start calling me “Mark”. Going back to Arthur fixed such problems.

But, there was more going on.

It was also a period in which I was reinventing myself. An abusive relationship ended and I was beginning to reassert the ME who had been somewhat lost up until that point. Part of reclaiming my identity was reconnecting with what I perceived to be a more authentic self, and part of that meant using a name I chose rather than one imposed on me (although, logically, if I’d consciously chosen Art, it would have had the same effect).

It turns out, though, that I’ve been uncomfortable about hypocorism my whole life. When I was a very little boy, my parents nicknamed me Ace because they thought it was “cute” to have such a little guy called something so “big”. But one of my earliest memories was of the neighbourhood bullies, who I called my “eminies”, calling me “Ace From Outer Space”. I was furious and demanded that my parents stop calling me Ace, and they did. I wasn’t even in school yet.

Nowadays, I don’t really care what people call me, though I only use Arthur. I’ve revised (rather than reinvented) myself many times over the years, and have become more relaxed about a great many things, my name among them. Basically, I’ve decided what to call myself, and what others do is up to them.

Our names are the second thing that parents give us (after life itself), but if we don’t like it, we can change it (unlike our parents…). My name has now changed twice, but back to what my parents gave me in the first place, which is neither a deep nor inscrutable singular name.

With apologies to T.S. Eliott for the brazen theft in this post.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The annual increasing number: 56

When I talk about my birthday each year, I try and find something different to say. Understandably, this becomes more difficult over time: There are only so many ways to talk about the same thing, after all. But I persist because I like the topic so much.

I talked about that part a little in my ABC Wednesday post for this week, when I said about focusing on my birthday: “If that sounds a little self-centred and narcissistic, well, that’s the point! It’s the one day a year that I can be the centre of attention, be pampered and spoiled, and not feel in any way guilty about it.” And that’s certainly a major aspect of this annual reflection.

But I’ve also become increasingly aware as the years pile up of how important it is to record all sorts of things that mark progress through life. Memory isn’t anywhere near as reliable as many people assume, but it tends to become less reliable as the years pass. I sometimes joke that I’ve forgotten more than I knew as an 18 year old. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but maybe not as big a one as I might hope.

Narcissistic: The obligatory birthday selfie.
These annual posts—along with ordinary posts about ordinary things—serve as a sort of institutional memory, a kind of “Arthur Cloud”. But they also do more: These posts help me remember things I’ve forgotten, or they might inspire me to reflect on memories that maybe I hadn’t examined before. Those are good things, too.

For example, it was through writing these posts that I realised just how highly I regard my birthday, not merely for the celebration or being the centre of attention, much as I like both, but because birthdays symbolise for me a fresh start, a new beginning, with the promise of unexplored territory ahead, sometimes laying just at the horizon or maybe around a bend, but there all the same. Looking back, then, has reminded me how much I value looking forward, and moving ahead.

Which is not to suggest that everything is flowers and chocolate bars all the time—every life has good and bad all mashed together. But, for me, birthdays are the day I get to forget all the bad stuff, and instead think of the good: What I have (especially my Nigel, family and friends), as well as what may yet come my way. And if all that’s not worthy of a blog post, I don’t know what is.

So, happy birthday to me. With luck, there’ll be many happy returns of these posts, too.

The Illinois Route 56 sign is a public domain graphic available from Wikimedia Commons. I should probably note that as far as I can remember, I’ve never been on Illinois Route 56, but it’s in my home state and says “56”. That’s reason enough to include it, since I often use such signs as an illustration. The photo of me is my own. Duh. It’s the “photo for another post” I referred to in a post earlier today.

My Previous Birthday posts:
2014: The annual increasing number: 55
2013: The annual increasing number: 54
2012: The annual increasing number
2011: The annual increasing number
2010: The annual increasing number
2009: Happy Birthday to Me…
2008: Another Birthday

Gratuitous Bella photos

Today I was taking a photo for another post, and I looked over and saw that Bella was watching me. So, I snapped photos of her. But I couldn’t decide which one I liked best, so here are all four. Besides, she probably doesn’t get enough photos taken of her.

Yes, she’s posing next to a dead palm frond I haven’t cut off yet, but to me it just makes it look like she’s a model posing for a fashion shoot. I guess that means she’s ready for the catwalk.

You’re welcome.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

B is for Birthday – mine!

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later: ABC Wednesday letter “B” happens to correspond with my birthday. So, what better topic?

Truthfully, there are probably many “better topics” for “B”, but my birthday is my favourite day of the year, so none of those other topics are quite as appealing at the moment. If that sounds a little self-centred and narcissistic, well, that’s the point! It’s the one day a year that I can be the centre of attention, be pampered and spoiled, and not feel in any way guilty about it.

I’ve felt this way pretty much my entire life, for as long as I can remember. When I was a little boy, my mother made sure to make a fuss of the birthday child: We got whatever we wanted for dinner, our choice of cake for our birthday cake, and, of course, presents. Sure, my parents no doubt gave a lot of attention to us all year round, but that one day a year we were the undisputed centre of attention in the family.

Fast forward many years, and I moved to New Zealand. I found that Kiwis weren’t all that big on greeting cards, even then, so I didn’t get many birthday cards in the mail (apart from my mother in law). Birthday cards, when they were given at all, were handed to the birthday person (with or without a gift). All of that is still pretty much the case.

Typically, birthdays of grownups are celebrated by going out to dinner with friends, or maybe having some people round for dinner or a barbecue. Some people do have birthday parties, but in my experience, they start to become less common as people get older. All of which is what I found in the US, too, as I got older.

What I found very different in New Zealand, though, was that at work people often brought in treats on their birthdays to share with co-workers in their department or team or whatever. In the US, it was rare that co-workers even acknowledged my birthday, but sometimes one might buy me a muffin or something.

At my Kiwi workplace, though, I found that it was common, though not required, to bring in treats on one’s birthday. Nothing elaborate—maybe some cookies, a cake, things like that. It was considered kind of bad form to eat treats brought in by a co-worker, but not bring in any on one’s own birthday. Not that anyone said anything—Kiwis are far too polite for that.

All of this wasn’t standard, however, and there were variations in what happened. For example, some people I worked with put on a morning tea (which is like a small meal, really). Most of us never did that! I also went out for lunch with some co-workers a couple years, and, typically, people pay for themselves when they do this, birthday person included.

When I was a kid, many of us had birthday parties (I wrote about one of my favourite birthday parties http://amerinz.blogspot.co.nz/2009/03/tears-of-clown.html a few years ago). Kids in New Zealand, I’m told, also have parties. A relatively recent development is that kids attending other kids’ birthday parties are given a goodie bag to take home, which made me think that my mother was ahead of her time in wanting to have something for my guests to take home.

So, Wednesday is my birthday, and it’s time for ABC Wednesday’s letter “B” for this round. Perfect timing, really.

The photo up top is—quite literally—the first photo ever taken of me, on January 22, 1959, when I was one day old.

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Sharing and suprises

I’ve come to an understanding with Facebook: I kinda like it, and it kinda tolerates me. We get along now. I post some things there that never make it here, but other things become blog posts. It’s—interesting…

Most of the stuff I post only to Facebook includes things that would be of interest only to people who actually know me, more or less. I have, however, sometimes posted things to Facebook that became blog posts, and this is one of those times. Because I was surprised.

I posted the photo of a sign at my local countdown, and said of it:
I get that closing a grocery store to do a re-jig would lose them too much in profit, but based on what I saw & overheard today, they're losing customer good will. I'm curious what you all think: Do you think the possibility of losing customer support is a big risk? Or will customers just moan and keep coming back? Me, I can just go to New World, so it's no biggie, but some people get quite irate!
At another time, that might have been an angry rant of my own, but I’m a little more mellow these days, and I was more interested in the reactions of the customers in the store, and curious how my Facebook friends saw the situation.

As I wandered around the store, I saw several units with empty shelves (and noticed how dusty the shelves were behind the products we normally saw…). Small printed notices told customers where the missing products could be found, but I found the type on them too small to bother reading; from a distance, they looked more like notes to the people moving the stuff around.

I was able to find the stuff I wanted until I got to the toothpaste: Those shelves were behind a tape barrier, like those used to separate lines of people at a bank or whatever. This was because they were emptying some shelves about a metre or so further along. So, I walked around the barrier, got my toothpaste and left. None of the workers said a word to me or, truth be known, took any notice.

At the checkout I saw and heard a middle aged, middle class lady complaining to the checkout operator about it. I heard her say, “it’s so annoying!” and asking the operator, “so, have you been getting a lot of complaints?” The operator, whose English skills were sorely lacking, said something non-committal to the lady, but I wasn’t close enough to hear if she was being vague or if she didn’t understand what the lady was saying. It seemed to me that the operator just didn't want to engage—and why should she? She has nothing to do with the inconvenience.

When I shared the photo and my comment on Facebook, I quite frankly didn’t expect anyone to comment. For me, the things that are most likely to get a “Like” or a comment are things about me personally, Nigel, the two of us, or about our furbabies. When I share links to things that I find interesting, sometimes they seem to get no notice whatsoever (like links to some blog posts). So, I tend to share more real-life stuff about me and my family than I do things in the world.

Well, apparently this Facebook post hit a nerve—well, several nerves. People talked about Countdown’s bad business practices, about how New World wasn’t any better, or how they were all bad. Mostly, it was quite civil and all that, but it did veer pretty sharply from my original question. I hadn’t seen that coming.

One friend mentioned that when their local New World was done up, they had maps and posted a lot of signage. This is when it hit me that the Countdown had no actual signage, just those small notes with too-small type. I realised that if they’d put up better signs, customers wouldn’t have been nearly as grumpy.

I can easily stay away until the revamp is done—there are three other Countdowns nearby, in addition to the New World I now go to most of the time. And this particular Countdown could use a bit of a tart up—I don’t think they’ve had a big one for many years. I just hope they clean the shelves while they’re at it.

And the consensus was that customers will return. I’m sure I will, too.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Summer Sunday

Today was a beautiful, though hot, summer Sunday. There was no sign of yesterday’s sprinkles of rain (they may return tomorrow), and it got up to the mid to high 20s officially (upper 70s to low 80s Fahrenheit). At our house it was over 31 degrees (around 88F). And the sun was intense.

Since we were out and about, and noticed the air was crystal clear (probably after the rain), we stopped by Birkenheard Wharf, where I snapped some photos. Three of them are with this post.

The photo up top is of Auckland and the Harbour Bridge from the end of the wharf. It's my new cover photo on Facebook. I didn’t post the two that are below.

Heat aside, it was a lovely day.

Looking toward Little Shoal Bay form Birkenhead Wharf, January 18, 2015.

Looking toward Chelsea Sugar Refinery from vehicle area near Birkenhead Wharf, January 18, 2015.