Take the Scenic Route

Monday, January 31, 2005

Olfactory Overload

Dunedin is a city of smells. The warm chocolate scented air wafting over the countdown carpark late on a frosty winter's night, the salt smell of a biting easterly whipping off the harbour, or the rotting rubbish, beer, and charcoal smell of Castle Street...
Cadbury's is cleary a favoured smell, and can provide a lift to an otherwise dreary day, or elicit a sense of excitement and vibrancy on a sunny day.
Then there is the smell that I hate most. Ironically it's a coffee smell, but it's the worst coffee smell in the world. Not the smell of freshly roasted and ground arabic beans, or perfectly extracted espresso. No. I work within a couple of blocks of Cerebos Greggs instant coffee plant. A horribly strong vile-smelling essence of awful coffee. Far, far worse than anything I associate with instant coffee. I'd secretly like to think that the smell is the result of the decaffeination process, where they're stealing all the xanthene goodness from the robusta beans, ready to give mountain dew or no-doze or V it's edge. Whatever causes it, I hate it. I hate it especially much today, as it's hot, and I'd love to go and press the buttons to make all my electrically operated windows open, but I don't want that smell to permeate my consciousness.

Sunday, January 30, 2005


It seems buying presents these days is getting harder. For the second year in a row, someone attempted to buy me Harry Orsman's excellent Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English: A Dictionary of New Zealandisms on Historical Principles. I would have thought it would have been straight forward enough. I already have a lot of dictionaries, and I've moaned about how this one is expensive, but would be cool to have, and how big it is, and how it is a fairly obsessive record of neologisms peculiar to New Zealand. Admittedly, looking around a bookstore, and the two attempts to buy me this so far, I can kind of see why they get confused. Last birthday I got the Reed Dictionary of New Zealand English, which was also originally edited by Orsman. It's a great dictionary actually. It's a general dictionary of English, with a useful number of New Zealandisms. Unfortunately, noboby has bought me the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary either, which is a bigger, more comprehensive general dictionary with an NZ bent.

Then, I was engaged about a week before my birthday on a discussion about Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. As it transpires, having seen how keen I was to go to see the film version of The Motorcycle Diaries, it had been surmised that I might be the greatful recipient of a Che t-shirt. Now unfortunately for the person concerned, I explained how I saw the hilarious stage version of the Motorcycle Diaries (the humour in the moview was much more restrained) on a Friday night a few years ago. Now after a few post-show wines, I detoured into the central libary to to use the facilities, and suddenly became inspired to read a book on Guevara. There was a short-ish book that was on loan, so I settled on the latest 800 page academic biography, replete with 200 pages of endnotes. Apart from a little two much detail, it was an excellent read (the Motorcycle diaries era was about 20 pages!!). A little like the movie you get an interesting sense of how a middle-class brat transforms into a communist revolutionary. Being an exhaustive historical critique (including the first to benefit from interviews with both Castro and Che's wife), I got to see the bad with the good, and to see a fairly tragically flawed figure. Anyway, so I have some deal of admiration for some of his acheivements and principles, but in a somewhat balanced fashion. So to cut a fairly long story short, it's not that I'm averse to Che or wearing his likeness on a t-shirt, I just feel that it would misconstrue what I actually think on the topic. And I don't think my views entirely line up with the views (or lack thereof) of the usual Che t-shirt wearing crowd. Funnily enough, Che the middle-class revolutionary is a popular icon for the wannabe middle-class revolutionaries. Somewhat relatedly, there was quite an interesting article in The Listener, suggesting that the Free Tibet movement was a misguided middle-class action.

CODA: So the t-shirt will be going back if the receipt can be found, otherwise I'll wear it, but not too prominently. And one last present thing, not that I don't love my espresso machine, but I would have bought a grinder first... I'm such a bastard to buy for.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Summer Sifting II

As I've mentioned before, fine weather brings out odd behaviour in my department. I was exceedingly bitter in the middle of a maddening rush yesterday to find at least ten people lounging in the sun on the exterior stairwell. Today, there is a twister mat in the shade of one of the bridges.

I went to a Pegasus Bay tasting last night, and the winemaker was wearing an Emily the Strange t-shirt. He blamed his attire on airnz...
Both Rieslings were stunning. The aria is a late-picked non-dessert wine, sort of Auslese in style, and just mmmmm. The Pinot and the Merlot/CabSauv/CabFranc/Malbec were both very good as well. Mmmmmmm. Pity I'm feeling poor

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Another day of walking to work in expectant heat. Warm, but not yet hot, as the dew burning off soaks up the suns rays. It occurred to me that given my strong predilection for punctuality, that I may as well detour through a different part of the gardens. I think I usually take the most direct route, but there an enormous number of other permutations, which are hardly less direct. And when you're hardly on time anyway, what's another five minutes here or there. I think I actually managed to walk a path I'd never been down before*.

I found my office backing from the morning sun, and am still having trouble settling into work. Or at least trying to think about wine and how it relates to memory is distracting on a hot day. Where is my Pegasus Bay, Neudorf, Mt Difficulty, or Chard Farm Riesling when I want it most?

*I've spent hours and hours wandering round the gardens, "studying", reading, picnicing, having frisbees thrown at my recently reconstructed snozz etc., but it still amazes me that every now and then I stumble upon somewhere I haven't been. (Unless I had been there chasing tissue paper hot air balloons late at night in 1996).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

There is an "I" in depression

So while I'm commiserating with myself about the lack of sexiness but theoretical virtue of the paper I sent out yesterday, I've been for a bit of a trawl back through some of my more favoured interest areas. I was a bit gutted to find that there was a special issue on what I'd like to think is my area of expertise, and I didn't get to contribute.

I did find an interesting article by James Pennebaker, whose work I generally admire (although I do have some problems with his methods occasionally), who has recently found that depressed people use the pronoun "I" more than never-depressed people. Once depressed people start out with a lower frequency of "I", but by the end of their writing, start to use "I" more often. It sounds a bit trivial, but he has done some fascinating work looking at therapeutic uses of writing, and it also neatly ties in with theories of depression relating to over-self-focussing.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Fly my pretty

The whole purpose of my job is basically to sift through old data, and get it into the public arena. Also, generally speaking, I also have an ethical responsibility to ensure that something similar happens with the data I collected prior to my current job. Further, doing so is likely to advance my career prospects if I stay doing what I'm doing.

So anyway, it's over a year since I last sent something out, but today, finally, I got off my first manuscript that I've been working on almost since I started this job in May. It was quite weird. In the past, it has always been making copies in quintuplicate, and entrusting them to the courier gods. This time, electronic submission meant that less than 20 minutes after I'd finished, I'd been assigned a number and and administrator. However, it took me even less time to discover the first glaring error. I hadn't changed the running head, which very unfortunately reflects a now de-emphasised theoretical aspect. Oops. So I've sent my first "I'm very sorry" email already. Grrr. Oh well.

So what's it all about you might ask? Well, it's quite a theoretical paper (i.e., it's not going to seem directly interesting) on prospective memory, which is your memory for things to do in the future (like an appointment at 4pm, or buying milk on the way home). The paper is mostly concerned with the cues which trigger you to remember that there is something you have to do (like a post-it, or seeing a dairy and remembering to buy milk). Basically, a cue elicits a sense of "significance", some discrepancy from other items you encounter, and triggers a search for an associated action. The paper, broadly speaking, is considering how we assign every day things this sense of "significance" so that we view them as a cue, and how we differentiate these from the general environment. As I said, it's kinda theoretical.

But it is exciting to have it out there. Hopefully some more of my pretties will follow it soon. I don't want to have to wait another 12mo+

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Rocket Science

After destroying my previous chair a couple of months ago, I acquire a new one from one of the various basements our technicians use to hide all manner of odd things. So anyway, after a visit to the physio the other day for a general tune-up, I've been trying to sit better at my chair, but it's mostly been making my back painful, rather than having any life changing benefits.

So anyway, I was a bit annoyed at the seat angle, so eventually turned it upside down. there is a large adjustment knob underneath the seat, which to the best of my knowledge does absolutely nothing. I actually screwed it right off, and it doesn't seem to be connected to anything. So that's all well and good, but only after having turned the chair upside down for the second time did I notice the second very large lever, on the opposite side to the uppy/downy one, which controls the back rest angle....

Monday, January 17, 2005

Want fibre with that?

While I mostly like to keep this "intelligent" and "respectful", I hope I'm allowed the occasional slip up. Anyway, the former CEO of one of the world's largest fast food companies has died of colorectal cancer, after an admitted frequent eating of said company's product. Now as a scientist, I know that a sample size of one isn't much, but one does have to wonder...

What would Morgan Spurlock have to say?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A bit scarily, one of the very first houses I got all excited by this year is back on the market!!!!!

I was scared off it because the piles were rotten and/or missing, the eaves were rotting, the roof was shot, the walls were rotting, and I'm not that much of a handyman. It's been somewhat fixed up since then, and correspondingly had a massive jump in price. It still has a great location, and layout etc., and I guess I'll have to go through the open home ... masochist that I am. However, I still think I'm better off with what I have. I just need to keep telling myself that.

Dr Uggs

Dr Uggs was part of an aborted send-up the year I was in the capping show. It comprised four separate instalments, so the canning was really a big thing -- in fact, it may have been scrapped after failing to go off the first night. It was loosely based round the [some petrol brand] mystery shopper ads that were going down.

Anyway, I'm trying to keep political ranting to a minimum, but one of the servers is down at work, so I'm off working on some of my old projects that are not stored on that server, including one looking at `Adolescent Risk Taking'. I've long `known' (or at least vaguely recollect an authoritative source saying) that the D.A.R.E. program was ineffective, but I've actually been scouting out the science. The evidence is over- or under-welming depending on your perspective. The shit doesn't work. Most of the studies I've dug up find no effect of the program, and for every study that finds that D.A.R.E. keeps kids off drugs, there's one that suggests that indoctrinated children are more likely to take drugs. It would be funny if there wasn't so much time and money tied up in it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I like to cook...

It's not to say that I'm unhappy with my new place, but I realised how truly small the kitchen was when I discovered that I couldn't get my favoured knife in the sink. This is of course in part that the knife is big. The blade is 260mm plus handle. You and I both know that size isn't everything, but being heavy as well as big, it slides through carrots or just about anything like butter. I can wash it. It just needs to be on the diagon both horizontally and vertically with a moderately full sink.

Thinking of cooking things, I've long ago realised that basmati is superior to Basics for Indian cooking (as is Jasmine for Asian), but a tip from the ODT recently has tipped me over the edge.

In addition to rinsing your rice (soak rice in water, swirl with fingers, empty, repeat, soak again for 30min, empty) and add a few crushed Cardamon pods (so easy with such a large knife), crushed black peppercorns, and a couple of slices of fresh ginger. And Wala! (as the french say), rice as good as an Indian resturant.

Monday, January 10, 2005


I sometimes feel like I'm being a bit dull, having not ended up with a job far from home. I did have an interview for a job in Cardiff, which would have been pretty cool, but in the end, I'm still in Dunedin, and with a house here, am unlikely to move in the near future.

Thus, I was relieved to read this piece by ex-Critic editor Patrick Crewdson based on the doctoral research of a Lincoln student. She found that on the whole, the "overseas" compononent in the OE was pretty minimal. When I was in London (on my way to fall in love with Cardiff as it happens), my impression was that people were going to work and the gym, then flatting and getting drunk with people they knew from New Zealand. Apart from a lack of space, taking the tube to work, and a weekend in Paris every couple of months, they may as well have been in Ashburton.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The song remains the same...

I'm a bit of a closet fan of electronica, in addition to my other musical loves. I wouldn't claim to be an expert, I've just found a few things that I love, such as Jet Jaguar and Can *. I like the piece that
Kraftwerk did for Expo 2000 (although perhaps in part because I was
there), but I find most of their stuff a bit out there for my tastes.

So anyway, I got up early this Sunday morning, and turned on Radio 1 because I was after something a bit mellow. They were playing this quite cool electronic piece. After making 2 espressos and preparing the weetbix, it occurred to me that the music didn't appear to have
changed. It could have been a CD skipping, unbeknownst to the Radio 1 robot, unattended by humankind, or it could merely have been a bit more of an experimental piece, with a long interlude of very similar repeating sounds slowly morphing over time. Anyway, after breakfast and dropping L* at work, I flicked back to Radio 1. Still going. And now, almost 90 minutes later, it's still going. It still sounds quite cool, but it's got to be skipping now.

CODA: So I called up; turns out the computer is on the blink and was
stuck doing whatever.

* And yes, I'm a bit gutted that Damo Suzuki has been playing Auckland and Wellington but not made it this far south.