Even more random than usual

Spring is still a month or two away, but it was making its eventual presence known today with blue skies and a lovely warm nor’wester (this is the only time of year when anyone in Christchurch would ever describe a nor’wester as “lovely”!!).  It was rumoured to have reached 20 degrees mid-afternoon – we certainly had all the windows open in the office, and I was regretting the warm top I was wearing.  I’m sure the temperature will plummet again soon enough, but for now it’s nice to have a reminder that winter won’t last forever.


The talented Tartankiwi has issued a challenge to do something new and creative with the pattern she designed for a paper-pieced butterfly.  I think I’ll have to give it a go, although I’ve got no idea what I’ll do – or rather, I’ve got lots of ideas, but I suspect most of them will be impractically complex and way beyond my skill level.  But then, when have I ever let a little thing like not actually knowing how to do something stop me giving it a go?  Half the fun is in the figuring it out as you go along 😉

Anyway, watch this space for further developments…


And talking of challenges, I managed to complete the coding challenge I mentioned one of my workmates had given me.  The challenge involved setting up a page to request images from the incredibly useful Placekitten website (I’m not sure what it’s actually useful for, other than supplying pictures of kittens in varying sizes, but if you’re ever in need of a specifically-sized picture of a kitten, now you know where to find one…).  My webpage had to have a form where you could enter a width and height, and it would retrieve and display the appropriately-sized kitten image from Placekitten.  Not hugely complex in programming terms, but I was determined to try and work this one out from first principles, rather than just Google a solution, and after a few false starts I actually managed it!  I even worked in a little bit of error handling, in the form of some silly messages that display if you enter non-sensible sizes.  So I’m feeling pretty proud of myself!


My personalised Machine of Death game card arrived in the mail today, along with a sticker and a really nice card from the creator.  I don’t know whether the game card will ever make it into actual play though – unfortunately, although I really like the concept of the Machine of Death game, in practice it’s a bit clunky to play.  I’ve only played it once, so it may get better with practice (in fact, it almost certainly will, because the biggest problem was that we spent most of the game trying to figure out how the rules worked, so the game never really got flowing), but I don’t know that it’s good enough to be worth the effort of getting past that barrier.  Though I did read somewhere a suggestion of an alternative mode of gameplay that sounded like it would work better, so maybe next time I’m at a games evening I’ll suggest we give it another chance.

A VIP Visitation

Big excitement at work today was a visit from the Mayor.  She’d been invited by one of our directors to learn more about the archive and what we’re doing, especially as we’ve been working with the City Council on a few projects.  Of course, as soon as senior management heard she was going to be on campus, there were a million other departments they wanted her to visit, but she still gave us nearly an hour before she got whisked away, so we were able to have a really good talk with her.  She was very enthusiastic about what we’re doing and promised to put in a good word for us with the right people, so definitely a successful visit.

I’ve met her a few times before, mainly at union events (she was a local Labour MP before she became Mayor), and I’ve always been very impressed by her.   She seems to be basically a nice person, and always seems to be genuinely interested in talking to you.  So unlike our previous Mayor…

Pretty colours

It’s starting to get a little lighter in the mornings now, and the sun is usually just starting to come up as I leave the house in the mornings.  This morning as I was about to leave I noticed the sky was doing all sorts of pretty colours in the east, so I dashed back inside and grabbed my camera.  I didn’t have time to find anywhere better to stand than the back garden with the view obscured by washing lines and trees, nor to bother with a tripod or to fiddle round with camera settings, and I suspect I missed the best of it, but despite the rush I got one decent photo, plus a couple that were ok once I did a little tweaking of the brightness and contrast.

Catches

Last week I released a few books in the reception area along the corridor from our office. There’s always a queue of students waiting there to see the student advisors, so I thought some of them might appreciate a book to read while they waited.  It worked, too, because the books were snatched up very fast, and even better, I got a couple of catches today: Nine Uses For An Ex-Boyfriend by Sarra Manning and The Spa Decameron by Fay Weldon. The catcher is re-releasing them in another part of the university, so hopefully they’ll keep travelling.

I don’t think I’ve made a catch report since about February, so I’ve got a few others to report on too:

As I always say when I post these lists, I really must release more books!  Reading through all those journal entries has reminded me what fun it is :-)

(Re) Openings

There aren’t a huge number of bright sides to living in a seriously damaged city, but one of them definitely is the excitement of seeing repaired buildings and brand new buildings opened.  Harvestbird and I got to see three today, all within the space of a couple of hours.

First was Cunningham House, the Victorian glasshouse in the botanic gardens.  They’ve finally completed repairs, so it’s been reopened to the public.  It was so lovely to be able to explore it again (even if we couldn’t see where they’d made any repairs!).  The big tropical trees seemed to all be intact (not that I’d probably have known if any were missing, but there were no glaringly obvious gaps), but some of the statuary was gone (I assume damaged beyond repair), including the one which Littlemaeve famously released The Greek Goddess on during the 2009 convention.

Across the lawn from Cunningham House is a much more modern glasshouse, just opened.  It combines a plant nursery (not open to the public, but with glass walls you can see inside and watch the staff working) and the garden’s visitor centre.  The visitor centre part isn’t huge, but it has a interesting wee display on the history of gardens in Christchurch (including a section on the plants cultivated in pre-European times), quite a large cafe, and a gift shop I could happily have spent a lot of money in (lots of V&A-branded stuff).

Then over to the Arts Centre, where they’ve reopened another building, the old gymnasium.  The structure of the building (which used to house the Academy Cinema) had been mostly hidden for the past few decades by an ugly modern extension, which has been demolished, so it actually looks much better than before the earthquakes.  I was very impressed with how they’d done the inside, with very minimal refurbishment – there’s mis-matched layers of paint where internal walls must have been, and spray-painted markings that I assume are survey marks from when they were assessing the earthquake damage. They’ve kept the old court markings on the floor too. The new tenants are going to be an alternative theatre and a circus company, so the unfinished look will work perfectly.

I loved this so-very-Christchurch sculpture outside:

The writing on the pillar reads “We’re still living here”, and on the reverse was “Ahi kā”, which refers to the signal fires burnt to show occupation of land.  You don’t really get it from the photo, but in person there’s a real feeling of the rubble being protectively gathered around the pillar.  Very cool.

Project report

After spending most of the morning cutting scraps of material into strips, and most of the afternoon sewing them back together again (who ever said quilting was a logical sort of hobby…), I’ve managed to complete a whole six blocks of my quilt.  Good thing I’m not working to a deadline this time!

Pretty pictures of the work in progress:

The stripes are deliberately all different widths, and occasionally on weird angles, and a random mish-mash of colours, so that there’s just that central stripe of the backing material (which is actually an old sheet cut up) to bring them together.  Hopefully it should look really colourful and interesting by the time I’ve finished all the squares and sewn them together.  I like the effect so far, anyway :-)

The technique is quite fun, too – it’s a bit like paper piecing, but free-hand (and without the paper ;-)).  You basically just lay each strip face down and sew along the inside edge, then fold it over and iron it flat, then lay the next strip so that when it’s folded it will cover the raw edge of the previous one and so on.  Looks incredibly messy until you trim it back into a square again, then (I think, anyway) it suddenly looks really good – like a proper quilt square :-)

Challenging

I‘m feeling pretty proud of myself – I actually managed to write a little javascript app that works!  Doesn’t do anything particularly useful, but that can come later :-)  The more important thing is, it won me a challenge set by one of my workmates.

Because we’re all at different levels of ability as far as programming goes, we’ve been setting each other challenges to expand our skills.  I was given the challenge to make a bookmarklet (a mini-app that runs in your browser via a bookmark) that would allow you to highlight a word on any website and have it automatically search for that word in the university library’s catalogue. So yeah, not really something anyone is likely to ever actually need to use, but it was still a fun exercise trying to figure out how to do it.

The big thing I’m having to learn about the difference between programming in 1980-something and 2014 is the fact that the internet exists now,so it’s no longer necessary to try and figure out every bit of code from scratch – a bit of quick Googling is usually enough to find someone who’s done something roughly similar that you can steal the code from.  Then it’s just a matter of figuring out which bits to change.  Once I remembered that, the challenge turned out to be almost trivial, because I found a bookmarklet that does exactly the same thing except it searches on Wikipedia, so all I needed to do was work out how to construct a search URL for the library and substitute it in.

Of course, being me, I wasn’t satisfied with that, so had to spend the next hour trying to actually understand what all the bits in the code I’d copied actually did…  I think I figured most of it out (apart from one wee step that I could only interpret as “and then some magic happens” 😉 ).  But I certainly learnt a lot, which was the whole point of the exercise.
Maybe one day I’ll get to a point where I can actually apply some of this to something that actually helps us do our work better (or more likely, I’ll just keep making silly stuff – the next challenge I’ve been given involves pictures of kittens…)

Nokay

Harvestbird taught me a new word at lunch today, “Nokay”.  It was invented by one of the mini-Harvestbirds, and apparently it means “No, I’m not going to do what you want me to, but I’m going to be really sweet and polite about it so you don’t realise I’m actually being defiant”.   Harvestbird reports that the mini-Harvestbird has perfected its use around the issue of bedtime, as in:

“Mini-Harvestbird, time for bed.”

“Nokay Mummy, I’m playing now.”

The possibilities are endless.  “Would you like to serve on this committee?” “Nokay.”  “The cat’s been sick again – it’s your turn to clean it up.”  “Nokay.”  “Please submit to this intrusion into your privacy in the interests of pretending to improve security.”  “Nokay.”


Whittakers has come out with a new variety of chocolate, based on the Hundreds and Thousands biscuits that have featured at every Kiwi kid’s birthday party ever.  It’s pink, and overly sweet, and filled with chunks of biscuit and hundreds and thousands (i.e. sprinkles, for those of you in foreign parts).  So of course we had to buy a bar for the office this afternoon.  The general verdict: utterly disgusting, but somehow addictively good – we certainly managed to get through a lot of it while discussing how much we didn’t really like it :-)

Art and Science

One of the (many) things I really love about my job is the cool people I get to meet. Yesterday afternoon, for example, I had a meeting with Julia Holden, the artist who painted the Wish You Were Here series of billboards that were displayed in Auckland,  and now Wellington.  She was telling us about the reactions she’d had to them, which have been mostly positive,  even from Christchurch people, which is quite different to the flak that Gaylene Preston has been getting over Hope and Wire, despite the fact that both are non-Christchurch people creating works about Christchurch.  I wonder if the difference is that Holden’s work is overtly about reminding the rest of the country that there are still huge problems here, while Preston’s is perceived as just making entertainment out of Christchurch’s misery (even though she has also said that one of her aims was to draw attention to Christchurch – obviously that message hasn’t been well communicated down here).

Another fun thing I’ve been doing at work is slowly bringing my programming skills into the twenty first century. I learnt some basic programming at school (literally BASIC), and did a programming paper at university in the 80s when I learnt a couple of more advanced languages, but that was a very long time ago, and computers are very different now.  So I’ve been feeling a bit lost with some of the web app development that our more skilled team members have been doing using Python and Javascript. But I’ve been teaching myself some of the basics, and it’s slowly starting to make more sense. Luckily a lot of the basic principles are the same, in terms of the kind of logic you need to use, but I’ve still got a huge amount to learn.  I’ve been playing with css too (which you need to use to display the programming going on behind the scenes), so lots of exciting new skills.

I’m (a tiny bit) famous!

A while back I supported a kickstarter for a game called Machine of Death (based on the excellent book of short stories of the same name).  The kickstarter succeeded, and the game was duly produced and sent out, with a request from the creator (who writes the Wondermark comic) that people send him photos of the game in exotic locations when it arrived.  So naturally, I took my copy into the Square and took a photo in front of the ruins of the Cathedral (and then spent ages second-guessing myself over whether that was an incredibly tasteless thing to do…)

Anyway, I got an email today thanking me for the photo, which he’s posted on his Tumblr (along with my rambling description of post-earthquake Christchurch), and he’s sending me a custom card for the game, for “A ruined place”!

This to me is everything that’s cool about the internet – making connections with people in far off places who you’d never have the chance to meet in “real life”.