Archive for the ‘interests’ category


Just another Christmas for a staff nurse

22.07.2018

My late mother was a nurse. Before she was a midwife at Wellington Women’s Hospital, she was a staff nurse in wards 21 and 26 at Wellington Hospital.
   From what I remember, ward 21 was first, which meant she was working there some time between 1976 and 1978. This is a letter that she received from a Sheila Mahony. When I first blogged, I assumed it was from a patient, but a quick search suggests that there was a Sheila Mahony who was a supervisor there. I don’t know the story behind this, but between the lines you can work out that the kindness expressed here is typical of nurses. The letter is dated December 23, so this was likely in response to a gesture Mum made in the spirit of Christmas.


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Posted in general, interests, New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Forced to take prime-time nostalgia trips

20.07.2018


‘There’s an old Polish proverb …’ I believe it’s ‘Reality television can’t stop the motorways in Warsaw from getting icy.’

I’ve always known what sort of telly I liked, and often that was at odds with what broadcasters put on. In the 1970s, my tastes weren’t too dissimilar from the general public’s, but as the years went on, they diverged from what New Zealand programmers believed we should watch.
   Shows I liked would prematurely disappear (Dempsey & Makepeace), only to return very late at night a decade later. Some only ever appeared late at night (Hustle), then vanish (in New Zealand, seasons 5 to 8 have never appeared on a terrestrial channel, and they have also never been released on DVD).
   We had a British expat visitor on Wednesday. He arrived here in 2008, and had no idea that TV1 had once been the home of British programming, and TV2 was where the Hollywood stuff went.
   By the late 2000s and early 2010s, I was watching either DVDs or finding a way to get to BBC Iplayer et al, because less and less of what was on offer had any appeal. We had boxed sets of Mission: Impossible, The Persuaders, and others.
   When the country switched to Freeview, I couldn’t be bothered getting a decoder. We were fine with online. Eventually, I did buy a TV set with Freeview, but only because the previous one conked out.
   On Thursday night, it became very apparent just how bad television had become here.
   Every English-language and Te Reo Māori terrestrial channel had unscripted drama, i.e. “reality” shows, or the occasional panel show or real-life event, other than Prime, showing the MacGyver remake.
   Who in the 1980s would have predicted that MacGyver would be the only scripted series on air during prime-time here between 7.30 and 8.30 p.m.?
   I realize the economics of television have changed, and there’s no such thing as a TVNZ drama department any more.
   Shows which might have had the whole country watching would be lucky to pull in a quarter of the audience today.
   But it is a sad reflection that the televised equivalent of the weekly gossip rag is what rates. The effort needed to produce quality drama is expensive, and not enough of us support it.
   I also imagine scripted Hollywood shows are cheaper than British ones, hence what we see on our screens is American—and why some kids these days now speak with American accents. Yet to some New Zealanders, Chinese-language signs on Auckland high streets are a bigger threat to the local culture. Really?
   In this household, we vote with our attention spans—and over the last month that has meant DVDs of Banacek and, in true 50 shades of Grade fashion, The Protectors. Sometimes, you feel it’s 1972 in this house—but at least the telly was better then.

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A letter from composer Terry Gray, 1991

18.07.2018

What a coincidence to come across a letter from composer, arranger, conductor and former TVNZ bandleader Terry Gray, dated May 25, 1991, after I blogged about him on (nearly) the seventh anniversary of his passing. Here it is for others who may be interested in a little slice of Kiwi life. It looks like ITC Garamond Book Narrow here, though the resolution doesn’t make it very clear.

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A three-decade time capsule hanging on my door

15.07.2018

There was an Epson bag hanging from the back of my bedroom door, hidden by larger bags. I opened it up to discover brochures from my visit to a computer fair in 1989 (imaginatively titled Computing ’89), and that the bag must have been untouched for decades.
   I’ve no reason to keep its contents (if you want it, message me before Thursday, as the recycling comes the morning after), but I wanted to make some scans of the exhibitors’ catalogue for nostalgia.
   Let’s start with the cover. It’s sponsored by Bits & Bytes. Kiwis over a certain age will remember this as the computer magazine in this country.

You can tell this is a product of the 1980s by the typesetting: someone couldn’t be bothered buying the condensed version of ITC Avant Garde Gothic, so they made do with electronically condensing Computers and Communications. In fact, they’re a bit light on condensed fonts, full stop, as they’ve done the same with the lines set in Futura.
   While the practice is still around, the typeface choices mark this one out as a product of its time.
   Inside is a fascinating article on the newfangled CD-ROM being a storage medium. Those cuts of Helvetica and Serifa are very 1980s, pre-desktop publishing. It should be noted that Dr Jerry McFaul remained with the USGS, where he had been since 1974, till his retirement. The fashions are interesting here, as is ITC Fenice letting us know that he’s speaking at the Terrace Regency Hotel, a hotel I have no recollection of whatsoever. I can only tell you that it must have been on the Terrace.
   The other tech speakers have a similar look to the visiting American scientist, all donning suits—something their counterparts in 2018 probably wouldn’t today. In fact, the suit seems to be a thing of the past for a lot of events, and I often feel I’m the oldster when I wear mine.
   The article itself makes a strong case for CD-ROM storage, being more space-saving and better for the environment: it’s interesting to know that the ‘depletion of the ozone layer’ was a concern then, though 30 years later we have been pretty appalling at doing anything about it.



   The second article in the catalogue of any note was on PCGlobe, supplied to the magazine on 5¼-inch diskette.
   Bits & Bytes would have run the catalogue as part of the main magazine, and did a larger run of these inner pages, back in the day when printing was less flexible.
   It’s a fascinating look back at how far we’ve come (on the tech) and how far we haven’t come (on the environment). Next year, we’ll be talking about 1989 as ‘30 years ago,’ yet we live in an age where we’re arguing over Kylie Jenner’s wealth. Progress?

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Posted in design, interests, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, typography, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


In memoriam, Terry Gray, British-born New Zealand composer, 1940–2011

09.07.2018

I sincerely hope I’m wrong when I say that the passing of Kiwi composer, arranger and conductor Terry Gray went unnoticed in our news media.
   I only found out last month that Terry died in 2011. As a kid of the 1970s and a teenager of the 1980s, Terry’s music was a big part of my life. Before we got to New Zealand, he had already composed the Chesdale cheese jingle, which Kiwis above a certain age know. He was the bandleader on Top Dance, what New Zealanders used to watch before the localized version of Strictly. Terry’s music appeared on variety shows and live events (e.g. Telequest, Miss New Zealand) through the decade. Country GP, The Fire-Raiser, Peppermint Twist, and Daphne and Chloë were also among Terry’s works. In the late 1980s, Terry released an album, Solitaire, which was one of the first LPs I bought with my own money as a teen. By the turn of the decade, Terry hosted live big band evenings at the Plaza Hotel in Wellington, sponsored by the AM Network—until the AM Network could no longer fund the fun, regular events and the radio network itself, eventually, vanished. Terry’s Mum used to attend in those days, and I must have gone to at least half a dozen. I also picked up a Top Dance cassette at one of the evenings.
   I still have a nice letter from Terry somewhere, thanking me for my support, in the days when he lived in the Hutt. I learned that he eventually moved down south, to Dunedin, and died of leukemia on July 8, 2011.
   On (nearly) the seventh anniversary of his passing, I want to pay tribute to Terry. Here he is in action in Top Dance, hosted by Lindsay Yeo, in 1982.

   RIP Terry Gray, 1940–2011.

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Posted in culture, interests, media, New Zealand, TV, UK, Wellington | 1 Comment »


How Silicon Valley and the Soviet Union are alike

07.07.2018


Anton Troynikov’s banner on his Twitter account.

I really enjoy Yakov Smirnoff’s old jokes about the Soviet Union, and the Russian reversal that is often associated with him. In the 21st century, I’ve used the odd one, such as, ‘In Russia, Olympics game you!’ and ‘In America, internet watch you!’. I’m sure I’ve done wittier ones, but I’ve yet to post, ‘In America, president Tweet you!’
   Today on Twitter, Anton Troynikov, while not doing exactly the above, had a bunch of Tweets about how similar the USSR was to Silicon Valley today. Although he’s not pointing out opposites, it’s humour in the same spirit. In Tweeting, he outdid the few modernized Russian reversals I’ve used over the years.

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Instagram videos of between 2′50″ and 7′03″: it can be done, but some are hidden

26.04.2018

As you saw in the previous post’s postscripts, it is possible to upload videos of longer than one minute to Instagram, but Instagram may or may not let the public see them. If you want people to see your videos for sure, then keep them to the standard minute. But if you want to chance it, so far my experience is 50–50, and there’s no correlation with length. Like all things Facebook, there is no consistency, and you are at the whim of the technology and its questionable database integrity. Here are the ones that have worked, the first at 2′50″, the second at 4′, the third at 3′51″, and the fourth at 7′03″ (this had to be uploaded twice as Facebook hid the first attempt).

PS., April 28, 12.37 a.m.: A few more tries and the odds of a video lasting longer than one minute being visible to other Instagram users are definitely 1:2. The latest is this, at 7′53″.
   Don’t be surprised if these record zero views on Instagram. I believe their stats only count full views, and no one’s going to sit watching a video there for that long unless it’s particularly compelling.

P.PS., May 4: I attempted a 9′03″ video. No joy. Instagram will allow the upload but the actual process takes an incredibly long time. The progress bar goes back a few times. Eventually it says there is an error. In theory, I think it’s possible, but right now I haven’t managed to exceed 7′53″.

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Posted in interests, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA, Wellington | 5 Comments »


You can post two-minute videos on Instagram, but no one will ever see them

25.04.2018

Updated in a follow-up post: click here.

Since Facebook bought Instagram, it’s been getting buggier, of course.
   I’ve complained about Instagram uploading a series of posts in a totally different order to what I had (which, on ANZAC Day, made it difficult for anyone to follow the story I was trying to tell on my account when the order is 2, 1, 5, 4, 3, 6, 7).
   Video (2) was an interesting one, because Instagram allowed me to post something that was 2 minutes, 6 seconds long, which it had never done before (or since).
   I thought it odd at the time but given that it was twice as long as normal, I didn’t complain. It allowed me to show more of the Air Force band performing ‘Au e ihu’ (Soldier’s Hymn).
   I did complain about one particular video featuring our national anthem which Instagram would say was loading, then on checking again, it would vanish. I made three attempts over a two-hour period before it “stuck” (video no. 3 in the sequence above). I had to wonder if Instagram was picking up the music and flagging it as a copyright violation: after all, YouTube flags static as copyright violations (hat tip to Retrorechercher).


Above: Instagram says these two are loading, but the one featuring our national anthem (the top one) kept vanishing. It never made it on to my account without three attempts.

   This morning, on checking the stats, I noticed that no one had viewed the longer video, and, after asking some friends on Twitter, learned that Instagram blocked anyone from seeing it. It’s like shadow-banning on Twitter: you can see your own stuff, but no one else can. Try it for yourself—here’s the link Instagram claims it’s at.



Look at the eighth post down. On my account (top), I can see it. When logged in as someone else (above), I can’t. Instagram’s version of shadow-banning?


Above: What my friend Happyfishmedia saw when clicking through to the link Instagram gave me.

   I can still play it straight from Instagram on the web and on my phone.
   You can give the MP4 a shot here (and note the URL, which is an Instagram one, and the duration). The thumbnail is here.
   However, I can’t embed the video the normal way, and any link that it lets me share results in a 404. It all feels very familiar, because this is the sort of bug that Facebook used to cook up, e.g. on days when you couldn’t post, like, comment or share, or tag yourself in a photograph.
   I might save the two-minute-long video separately in case there’s a way you can tell that it was edited inside Instagram.
   To sum up: Instagram will not load content in the same order you do (we already know this); it will permit much longer videos that exceed one minute, but if they let it through, no one will ever see it except you.
   We also know that Facebook will pump through any advertising on to Instagram, even in categories you have expressly asked not to be shown.
   There you have it, Instagram in 2018.

PS., April 25, 1.19 a.m. GMT: I’ve just tried a 2 minute 50 second video, and it appears it is visible. For how long, I don’t know. Check it out here, or, if the embed’s visible below, have a look.

P.PS., 1.59 a.m. GMT: Looks like four minutes is fine, too. While the first one is still invisible, it does appear Instagram has lifted the one-minute limit, and that’s not something I can find documented anywhere. Still, I’m grateful, because it makes far more sense to show two- to four-minute vids.

P.P.PS., 8.54 a.m. GMT: Just tried one at seven minutes, and it’s hidden. Seems Instagram is very inconsistent on what it shows and what it doesn’t. Link is here (it won’t work) and the MP4 is here.

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Posted in interests, internet, New Zealand, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Instagram-created art

27.02.2018

I don’t know if Instagram does this on all phones, but when I make multi-photo posts, it often leaves behind a very interesting image. Sometimes, the result is very artistic, such as this one of a Lotus–Ford Cortina Mk II.

You can see the rear three-quarter shot just peer in through the centre. I’ve a few others on my Tumblr, but this is the best one. Sometimes technology accidentally makes decent art. I’m still claiming copyright given it’s derived directly from my work.

PS., March 3: Here’s a fun one from my visit to Emerson’s Brewery.

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Posted in cars, interests, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | 3 Comments »


The last American Falcon

25.01.2018

I’m fascinated by the 1970½ Ford Falcon for a number of reasons. The first is the obvious one: rarity. This car was built for only half a model year, from January to August 1970. If you think it looks like a contemporary Torino, you’re right: it’s basically a very stripped-down Torino. Yet you could spec it with any of the engines from the Torino, including the 429 in³ V8 (and some did). Which brings me to the second reason: why would anyone really bother with it, if you could get a Torino for a bit more? (That answers why this car only lasted half a model year.) And that leads me to the third reason: what was going through Ford’s mind at the time? That’s where it gets interesting.
   At this time, Ford was undergoing managerial changes, with Henry Ford II firing Bunkie Knudsen (who had been lured away from GM). That happened in September 1969, by which time the decision to go ahead with the Falcon had already been made. This is, in other words, a Knudsen initiative.
   Federal regulations made the 1966–70 Falcon obsolete because it had a dash-mounted starter—the rule was that they had to be in the column. However, it’s curious that Ford made this call to put the Falcon nameplate on a mid-sizer, considering it had made its name as an ‘economy’ car (by US standards). If you read the brochure, you’ll find that this was all about size. Ford bragged that the car was 2 ft longer. Yet for this half-model year, it was still marketed as an ‘economy’ car.
   I imagine as the US headed into the 1970s, there was no sign of the fuel crisis on the horizon, so there was nothing wrong about size. Why not spoil the average Falcon buyer, used to a smaller car, with something much larger? Hadn’t upsizing already happened on every other model line out there—by this point the Mustang was about to grow into a monstrosity with massive C-pillars and terrible rear visibility?
   Ford (and the other Big Four makers) had been known to blow one model line up, then start another little one, and the Maverick had already been launched for 1970, and was now doing the compact work. By that logic, Falcon could grow more, even though other solutions might have been to either replace the Falcon with the Maverick or simply shift the Falcon nameplate to the Maverick—but both would have involved “downsizing”, and in 1970 that was not in the US car industry’s vocab. The panic hadn’t set in yet.
   Fourthly, this is a beautiful shape. Unnecessarily big (till you consider it had to accommodate the 429), but a beautiful shape. The 1970s hadn’t really started in earnest, so we hadn’t seen some of the really garish shapes that were to come. This has that 1960s classicism coupled with 1970s uncertainty. There’s still some optimism with jet-age inspiration, but the lack of practicality foreshadowed the style-first, single-digit mpg “road-hugging weight” cars that were round the corner, cars which no one truly needed but Detroit, in its optimism (or blindness), believed Americans did. There’s still something very honest about the last US Falcon. After this, only the Australians and Argentinians kept things alive, but those are other stories.

Also published at Drivetribe.

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