Sunday, July 20, 2014

Life, the Universe and Everything

One of those days. Quiet, cold, introspective.

Cold.  But - only Auckland-cold, which makes me feel pathetic for feeling it.  But - acclimatisation. Damnit.
Life is so crazy full right now.  I got a grant!  My first grant application, which went in the week before I went to Rarotonga, the week before I started my postdoc, and was written in 2 days.  I'm riding the wave of 100% grant success rate right now (sardonically) - I know it will be the one and only time such a thing will happen.

Of course it also means that in addition to my postdoc project I now have an extra project of my very own (grin) to organise and run, and maintain a budget for. Speaking of which - had a crash course in grant budgeting this week past, where I had to rebuild the budgets for the major project.  Hellish.  So much money - so many cost streams, plus three countries - not easy.

So work is crazy-nuts but awesome, we're putting together the draft of a teaching module book for the Cook Islands at the moment - so scicomm writing and design which is my perfect sweetspot. Doing it in a hurry, which sucks - but is the reality of our work model. I've got a new work computer on order, with a suped-up hard drive etc, the desktop I've been using cannot handle the design programmes and large files. Can't wait.

Book club is brill - a great group of people, I'm so pleased I joined. This week is The Rosie Project, which I've already read but can't wait to discuss. Highly recommend it, if you haven't read it yet. I've just finished re-reading His Dark Materials trilogy again, a bit of comfort reading. The last couple of months were This is how you lose her (disliked it), Wolf Hall (liked it), If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (disliked). Next on my list is A Study in Scarlet (book club, next month most likely), The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Three Bags Full, and The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Silkworm (via The Farm Girl). Just you know, an easy casual list.

Saw The Volcano a couple of weekends ago with random peeps from a movie club. French film, very light hearted (shallow? I certainly wanted to smack the female lead - definitely watched like her part was written by a man), would recommend if you had nothing better to watch, but not something to go out of your way for.  Its been so long, I'm sure there have been a bunch of other movies past. The Fault in Our Stars was beautifully done, as expected. The latest Transformers movie was underwhelming - so much so that I can't honestly remember how it ended (the dinosaurs were cool though). The new Xmen movie was fab - loved it. So much better than the Wolverine. Can't remember what else has been out this year. I missed the Divergent movie due to crazy work sitch - will see it on DVD no doubt.

I moved house! That happened. The new flat is at the top of Parnell and is freaking gorgeous. I have a decent sized room on the ground floor with my own bathroom and a car park in the garage. The kitchen is all granite bench tops and gas hobs - gorgeous. Wood floors and massive bifold window doors onto decks across each wall.  Can see the Sky Tower out one side and the museum out the other. Am loving it.

Have been going to an obscene amount of live classical music. The NZSO, the Auckland Philharmonic, The National Youth Orchestra, a random Organ recital. There was a Jake Bugg concert awhile back. Want to go see The Good Soul of Szechuan by the Auckland Theatre Company, this month coming. So many things! Auckland is fabulous. A work colleague has been in touch with the organiser of the Opera Supper Club (ooo pinkies out) and I'm keen to get in on that too.

Went to visit the parents and animals last weekend, was perfect timing - had been missing the furbabies like crazy. My Auckland life is pet-devoid and it sucks.
The Father has just sold his boat, first time he's been without a boat since before I had the ability to remember as a child - but, onward and upward with different hobbies (they're out in the camper truck all the time). The weekend before I caught up with the Financial One, we went to the World Press Photo Exhibit (not as much blood/guts as I was expecting) and then had brunch at the Food Truck Garage. Pretty good, certainly a refreshing take on most menu items.

I was resisting buying a coat since I had a perfectly good one - but its wool and long and very Dunedin. Its gotten cold here, but not that cold. So I got a purple trench. Like a human-sized blueberry. Not at all subtle and I freaking love it. (cheesy bathroom selfie, coming right up:)
An old friend was in town this last week for an art teachers conference. We lived together some...8 years ago? Crazy. Was brill to catch up. A new element of interest too, since I've been working in the education-science meld space. Made it to the Parnell Chocolate cafe finally (hadn't been) and it was not nearly as good as I was expecting. A bit...too much chocolate? God, am I getting old?!

The last couple of weeks have been fantastic re news overseas - The BigSib's fiancé is in negotiations for a new job - in Sydney. Much more convenient for visiting than London. A friend in Ireland and a friend in Australia handed in their PhD theses (so proud!), a friend in Thailand got a job, and homegirl up north is moving into a newly bought house with her partner (ok, so that one's not technically overseas). Good things! So much change and happiness and excitement.

I am, of course, procrastinating other tasks, but its been good to chat. How've you been? It's been ages. Lets brunch. *Auckland grin*

Peace out homies, its time for soup and hot buttered dinner rolls.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Aere ra Rarotonga

I'm in the Rarotonga Koru lounge with free wifi - what is one to do in such a sitch except use it?!  The boss is working - gross.  To be fair I did catch up on all my emails first (the urgent ones, at least) but still!  Its early morning on a Saturday!

That date-line crossing thing sucks.  Leave Sat morning, get back Sunday - stink weekend.  Good timing for a bank holiday though - washing/life catchup on Monday.

We went for a last-gasp snorkel at Fruits yesterday late avo, even dragged the boss along to show her the wonders.  Was murkey 'cause its been shitty weather for most of this week, but was a bit clearer further out.  I saw giant clams!  Hadn't seen them last time.  So cool.  So cool.  Got fish & chips for din since our supplies were down to rice and one wilted bok choy.  The fish was a huge slab of solid fish-flesh and was delicious.  Nothing like what we get at home.  Better.

The Little Brother demanded a coconut bra (don't ask) so he now owes me $10 for the purchase and a years worth of shame.  I'll add an extra years worth of shame depending on how it goes tripping through customs at the other end.  Urgh.

I'm happy to be getting home to sort my life out (3 weeks to find a new flat and move!) but it is beautiful here and I love the atmosphere and the people.  The people are brilliant.  I shall have to come back for a holiday proper, at some stage.

Homes James, and don't spare the horses.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fieldwork is Equal Parts

Epic and Horrid, when it occurs in Rarotonga.

Took the weekend off, Saturday was spent swimming, reading and sharing food & drink.  Sunday I went snorkelling at the part of the island/reef called 'Fruits of Rarotonga' with the bungalows' caretaker and it was amazing.  I didn't want to get out.  Fish and coral and omg it freaking blew my mind.  I practically live in the water over summers anyway, but this.  How do the people retired here ever spend any days on land?!  Bill was quite frank - he goes at least 4 times a week.  A cool old kiwi guy burnt brown as a nut.  I've been helping him set up his new computer, and him and his wife came over for dinner with us & the boss's visitors on Friday.  Very funny evening.

Yesterday (it is now Tuesday here) I went for a quick swim in the lagoon at lunch time and saw an octopus hiding in a hole.  So cool.  And an eel further out.  Of course when I tired to go back I couldn't find him.  Probably the best protection they have.

Last night we had dinner at Tamarind house - a beautiful old plantation-style villa that looks out over the ocean.  One of the few remaining original houses left on the island.  Perfect ambience and the food & wine were sublime (it might have been someones birthday, though not mine).  We watched the sun go down behind the coconut palms (photo on right).

The Admin local and I are doing the third school assent and pre-intervention questionnaires tomorrow and then it'll be a whole bunch of paperwork sorting and data logging and urgh.  This afternoon we are running a resource development training session at the big school, I've written and designed a 4 page narrative resource on energy efficient light bulbs to use as an example and template.  Not an easy task when the virtual network link to our files back home either keeps breaking or is too slow to bear.

We went to the market on Saturday - a relatively massive affair with fruit, veges, cooked foods, drinks and souvenirs.  We got some veges for the week, apparently the good stuff is sold out by 7am - the locals all go early.  I picked up a couple of coconuts to pop in the fridge, so my afternoon yesterday was spent working with style.

I'm still stressing about my living sitch back home, which sucks.  Anyone looking to go flatting in Auckland?

Back to work!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gettin' my Bogan on in Rarotonga

Confession time:  I have high suspicions that I'm a dirty bogan speed freak at heart.  I can't help it.  I like going fast, and being high.  High up off the ground, I mean.  Of course.  *cough*  Open air train carriages, boats, convertible cars (always been a dream, though now my guilt says I must get a hybrid, should I ever have enough cash to upgrade), bridges, balconies, up towers or tall buildings, glass bottom lifts...

Which is relevant currently, because apparently learning to ride a scooter in Rarotonga brought it back out.

Mean beast

Fond memories of quad bikes and ride-on lawn mowers in my past were awakened and I'm finding it hard to stick to the speed limit of 40km/hr for non-helmeted tourists.  I say specifically tourists, because it would appear that no locals obey that particular rule.  It becomes a bit frustrating when you're not working to island time, kicking your heels in leisure - but trying to get to the Ministry of Education building or the three schools we have in our research program for work.  And the locals zip past you, and the tourists hold you up.

Excuses - I leave early enough to get there on time at the safer speed limit - but that doesn't have to mean I like it.

Today, the project admin based here, a lovely Cook Island local women, and I got assents and pre-intervention questionnaires done at Titikaveka (all year groups in the study) and Nukutere (year 11's) Colleges.
Titikaveka Year 11's

The schools are very different in that the buildings and resources are somewhat...stuck in the 80's, but then also modern in that the teachers are pretty much the same with regards demand of standards, and there are random tablets and laptops sprinkled about.  So - half the class might not even have an email address, the other half are sneaking in a quick check of facebook on their tablets at the back of the class (I totally snapped a dude).
Some Nukutere Year 11's

The questionnaire takes a good 40 minutes to complete, so we took over a class or two for each school.  I hadn't realised how much I missed teaching/working with kids actually, they were pretty great all round.  The younger years asked lots of questions and were pretty chatty, while the year 11's were quiet across the board.

Nukutere was hit by an arsonist last year and they lost a whole block of classrooms - including the science lab.  So the above pic is of the class in their temporary room, part of the Catholic church on the school grounds, which is also the oldest (Catholic?) church on the island.  Nukutere is a Catholic school, and like Titikaveka only runs up to year 12.  If the students want to sit for year 13, they all go to the main school on the island - Tereora, where we will be doing the questionnaires next week.  Back to Nukutere tomorrow to finish off the other year groups.

Both of the schools we went to today use pate (slit-gong) instead of bells to signal the end of class periods/recess etc.  It seems to be a bit of a treat to get to be the drummer and the kids go nuts on them - making up their own beats etc.  Very cool.

The temp science classroom at Nukutere was pretty much a sauna, and storm clouds were rolling in which upped the general humidity by about a thousand percent.  Urgh.  I really, really don't know how people survive here in either the 'rainy' season, or during summer proper.
I've managed to sneak in a squick snorkel each day, and am looking forward to going all the way out to the reef over the weekend.

I'm also considering parting with some cash to see a 'cultural show' at the weekend, since while I'm getting to know the locals pretty well, they're nothing like the coconut bra-wearing, dancing, frantic-drumming travel brochures.  Had a middle of the road-stop the car and scooter-conversation today with one of the Ministry of Ed staff, it was hilarious.

Something which I do find frustrating is the lack of fresh fruit and veges available.  Apparently the Saturday market is where you stock up for the week, 'cause the limited selection at the supermarket is ridiculously overpriced.  So I'm hanging out for Saturday.  There are not nearly enough coconuts in my life right now.

The geckos were a bit of a surprise, but the little buggers are just so cute.  And they go out of their way to stay out of yours, so you couldn't ask for a more pleasant house-pest.  I have a big'un in my room called Jim, we've been having great late-evening conversations.  The smaller one in the kitchen/lounge is called Tama but he doesn't like chatting so much; a bit shy, is Tama.  Rubbish pic on iPhone with flash, but Jim is the one on the left.  The boss has a wee enclosed porch-type situation and when we sit out there working later at night they come in droves.  I guess tourists are good for keeping the lights on to attract dinner, if nothing else.

The local paper is completely brilliant and everyone seems to read it to keep up with the news - I saw 2 different students reading it after they'd finished their work with us.  The local TV station is equally hilarious but I haven't really spent any time watching it.

I started on the stock-image taking today on my big camera, but just discovered the Adobe creative suite on my new comp was never activated properly and is currently licence-less.  Edits will have to wait till I get home.

My fro is loving the salt, I'm keen to not bother washing it at all for 2 weeks and just see how much of a beach bum I can become.
Nothing like snapping a selfie while working at a deck table (yesterday).

Speaking of 2 weeks - I've had word that The Flatmate is abandoning me for greener pastures and when I get back I will have 20 days to find (and move in to) a new apartment, and a new flatmate.  Bit of a freakout there, but there's nothing I can do from the Pacific Ocean, so will leave it for when I get home.  Rubbish timing, fo'sure.

I picked up a couple of boys on my way back into town to return the rental car, they were hitching in to pick up scooters too.  Turned out - one was from Opotiki and the other had an Aunt in Ohope; we decided we were practically neighbours (The Mother and Father live in Ohope).  Small world, this.

And now - bed time, I think.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I'm in Rarotonga!

Got off the plane into a freaking bath of an atmosphere.  It is so hot.  Even the locals are saying how unseasonably hot it is - its supposed to be winter here.  I should say, "winter".

Got off the plane, cleared customs with our 5 bags (2 massive crates of sci equipment for the schools here and printed teaching resources) shoved it all into our rental car and then drove to our accom, which is a fairly unknown wee set of beach bungalows at Muri Beach.  We took a stroll along the beach, bought some water and bread and then got dinner at the local market - basically a bunch of locals cooking different foods for far cheaper than the restaurants and resorts.  I had a coconut to drink, it was awesome (can you sense my childlike glee?!)

Then...we worked till half 9pm.

This morning we got up with the dawn, the boss went kayaking while I went snorkelling - it was low tide so pretty shallow in the lagoon, but very warm and nice and clear.  I saw some cool fish, though didn't go all the way out to the reef.  The rest of the day has been spent trying to sort shit out: like getting internet to work, a sim card for me, checking a bajillion emails once the internet was sorted, getting groceries, visiting the schools and meeting the principals, meeting the people at the Ministry of Education and my getting hopelessly disorientated- a ring road is all well and good, but if you go first one direction, then another, then change again to go back to a govt building, then again to go to a different school - I was sure the sun was setting in the exact spot it had risen from, by the end of the day.  The boss is pretty much a local - it seems like everyone knows her.  And of course - everyone is ridiculously nice.

Tomorrow the car is returned, now that all the printing and equipment is delivered, and I get a scooter.  Hilarious times to come, no doubt.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wait, you're making me go to Rarotonga for 2 weeks?

I'm channelling Gandalf this evening.  Three hundred lives of men I have walked this earth and now I have no time.

Melodramatic, I know.  And not in the slightest bit ironic, considering I am taking the time to write a very overdue post.  This year has been full on.  Like the start of a completely new chapter in my life and now the font is changing too.  So many new things.

After my big revelation last year and subsequent decision to ruthlessly abandon academia, I find myself 4 days away from officially being a Research Fellow - a full 6 weeks ahead of schedule, with regards the 'altered plan' of things.  Sure, the field is entirely different (entirely), but all the underlying issues with a career in academia remain.  Lets shelve those for another discussion.

So - in addition to official postdocdom starting on Monday, I am flying out to Rarotonga with the boss for 2 weeks of...lets call it 'fieldwork', though I suspect the more accurate description would be 'administration, organisation and teaching'.  Two weeks, from Monday.  One weeks warning.  I've never been before.  I'm hoping the holiday destination sitch doesn't make it horridly impossible to work, because I suspect I'll be doing the afore-described 'fieldwork' during the day, and the current to-do list of tasks in the evenings.  There will be liberal application of 'swimming breaks' first thing in the morning and hopefully late evening.  And I am determined to flesh out the stock library of usable pacific island images.

I love what I'm doing currently, as Science Writer & Designer, though I don't spend nearly enough time on actual science writing nor design; but the postdoc plan is to combine it with research.  We'll see how well that workload pans out.

Anyway - back to the time thing.  I have no time (does anyone?!).  There are so many things to do, so many directions of work tasks - how can I possibly get everything done?! Not to mention the various delightful social life exploits *big cheesy grin*

But, overall - cool directions.  I've met more people though networking in my current field than I think I ever did in my old one, and the meetings involve epic exciting conversations of which could stretch the entire day.  That is a good reason to be.  I'm so excited.

My mind is all over the place this evening.

I made tentative enquiries a couple of months ago about volunteer work up here in Auckland which I need to get back on track.  Holistic, well rounded existence for the win.  I've also joined more work-related associations than is probably healthy, but gosh the connectivity is fantastic.  And my new book club is a brilliant group, and I have new indie-film buddies, and my apartment living/flatmate sitch is an oasis of calm.

And - a gold fish.  I want to get a gold fish.  I miss my animals.

I'm currently trying to finish off a first draft of a grant application due Friday, which I got on Monday.  Its so exciting, planning out your own research.  If I can think of it, and justify it, and get it funded - there's no reason why I can't do it, right?!  That is so cool.

A spot of work writing went up last week.

Lets all go and pretend to be adults now, yeah?  And maybe have some more chamomile to settle this crazy mind down (can you blame me?! effectively a new job, and, well - Rarotonga.  Arghh!)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Behind the Scenes of a Broadcast

So, two weeks ago we held a massive live-streamed seminar special event to high schools around the country.

I was one of the team running the chat session, where kids who were watching via the internet (as opposed to being in the studio audience) could ask questions, talk with other students/teachers/us/guest scientists, and have some of their questions read out loud for our VIP to answer.

It was very cool.  We were all set up in the kitchen of the venue, with the production crew, the IT internet dude and the sound guy.  I had the extra task of writing the live text - the words that show up on your TV screen to introduce a person or show a question in its entirety.  I've never worried more about my spelling in my life.

Heaps of very cool equipment, and seeing the way they all worked, and the way the tech team all worked together, was awesome.

Very keen to do something like that again.  Fingers crossed, eh?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Random Cool for a Week

Had dinner out with The Hopkins One last week, and we popped up Mount Eden for a looksie after.  It was gorgeous.  She's a local, and grew up Under the Mountain, so it was cool hearing names put to sights.

Friday night The Financial One got us last minute tickets to the last Breakers game in town, at Vector Arena.  I'd never seen Basketball live, nor been to the Vector, so it was pretty cool on both counts.  Not as good as ice hockey, but...

The place was fairly packed, apparently the biggest crowd they'd had.  I was surprised at the noise and music - making noise when the opposing team is trying to shoot is encouraged, and they play some beat-laden pop every time the home team has possession.  Very strange.  But fairly infectious - there were some hilarious kids in the crowd.  And basket-ballers are exactly my kind of tall.  So it was, indeed, fun.

It was The Financial One's birthday on Saturday, and we went for dessert at Milse.  It was amazing.  We got seats at the 'chef's table' so we could watch everything being made.  So cool.  I had a pumpkin, maple and walnut flavoured dessert - very weird and different, not at all that sweet; overall it feels like a palate education.  One of the chef's was hilarious, keen on photo bombing our pic; we just invited him right on in.

Milse does desserts only - out the front you can get wee desserts in jars, macarons, chocolates and frozen stick-icecreams which are fancy in the extreme.  Exotic flavours, the lot.  Out the back there is only seating for about 16 people, and they don't take bookings.  So - you rock up, put your name on the list and then go away for an hour or so to wait for them to call.  Very cool.

The beetroot-based dessert included a 'chocolate balloon' filled with beetroot mousse - they actually put the chocolate in a balloon and pump it up a bit before chucking the lot into liquid nitrogen.  They then cut the balloon off, punch a small hole, and pump it full of mousse.

We could see the eggs they're preparing to go on sale next week - epic Easter eggs.  Hate to think how much they cost, but I'm tempted to get one to take home to the whanau for Easter.

Whittakers has a Big Egg Hunt promotion going on for Easter - some of them are pretty cool.  Big egg art, scattered about the city - 4 (?) of which are in Britomart.

I'm getting the feeling that Easter might be coming...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Highest High Tea

Part of The Bustling Metropolis One and my's fabulous Cyclone Lusi Weekend was high tea up the Sky Tower.

Yep - we went for high tea up the Sky Tower on the day of the cyclone.

Because we laugh in the face of danger.

...yeah ok, the cyclone was practically non-existent, on the cyclone-scale of things.

But look!  Rain on only one side of the tower proper!  I thought that was kind of cool.

That morning we went to smash through some personal boundaries - we got neck and shoulder massages.  Not at all a big deal for TBMO, but if you know me -  a big deal letting this happen.  Turns out - it was great!  The lady pummelled the crap out of my shoulder muscles (damn computers and that shitty stressy week) and I felt wonderful after.  My shoulders were lower, I swear.  I'd never had one before, so am pleased I gave it a go (seems to be the year for new things, big and small).  TBMO is back in town at the end of this week for another Master's Supe meeting, so we might just have to go do it again.

With all of the crazy warnings about the cyclone on Friday night, the three of us thought it best to act like good little kiwi kids and prepare a survival kit.  Turns out our basis for 'survival' has been somewhat skewed (Dunedin?  Yeah, lets blame Dunedin).
The pot and wee teapot had water in, I swear.

But, back on track - the high tea was good, if a little non-traditional.  The food was fabulous, as you would expect from the Orbit restaurant.

There was oxtail patty things and spinach & feta quiche (which was so light and fluffy I imagine they had unicorns breathing into the mix), baked salmon, wee sliders with lamb (?) and sauerkraut, and then the middle-layer-of-dreams was lemon meringue pie, strawberry custard tart, chocolate dipped berry (?) macaron, whiskey trifle cups and opera cake.  The only thing I was disappointed in were the macarons, but then we all know I have a soft spot for good macarons. (their middles were rubbish, and the chocolate made them a bit soft/stale).

The view was, as always, fabulous - we could see the dark storm clouds skirting us, and I had fun showing off my knowledge of my new city to TBMO.

I can see my house from here!

The tea sitch itself was a bit sad - they kept trying to offer us coffee instead; I definitely got the impression not many people actually wanted to drink tea with it.  *shakes head* Aucklanders, eh?  So we had a big white pot of hot water and two...tea bags.  Yep.

Not terrible, just not...high tea.  It was Dilmah though, so at least it wasn't (shudder) Bell.

Both TBMO and I love tea, but the increasing swayiness of the tower was a bit unsettling.

We both got dressed up for the event, it was great fun waltzing in our finery up through town and then up the tower, if a bit windy.  As we were leaving I asked if they ever had to evacuate the tower - we were promptly informed that they were starting to evacuate right now.  It was rather perfect timing.  I didn't fancy their having to work up there with swaying-induced seasickness; it was a bit ick, at the end.

And finally, I call you all to witness the remarkable transformation from crazy, to crazy, to..."normal", that tea is capable of inducing in me.  Heh.  Love tea.

Peace out homies.  Go enjoy a cup of tea!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Apartment Livin'

Apartment living is...different.  Especially noticeable going from a house and lawn I own, to not even being able to have my dog live with me.

New tenants in my house, btw.  Good news on that front.

Anyway - apartment.  The search was...unpleasant.  It was early January and what felt like every single person in the city was looking.  All the people kicked out from their old leases (there was a spate of sellings, apparently) and bloody students.  I started out looking at spare rooms in established flats and it was impossible.  Flats were having ~20 people through each day and the entire process was ridiculous.  At one flat viewing the next viewee turned up when I was still there chatting and turned out to be an old friend (The Financial One).  We decided after that to look for a two bedroom lease together.  A definite improvement, but fraught with its own issues.  The rent prices in Auckland are extremely variable, you pay way more for a flat in summer than you do in winter - the market is that flooded.

But eventually (took a month) we found a place (and got in early enough) that ticked the majority of our requirement-boxes (a kitchen you can actually cook in, two bedrooms you can actually fit beds in, and a car park).  Its at the top end of my decided budget, but is liveable (its actually lovely - I just have issues with the window sitch).

It's by no means perfect (is a 'fully secure building' so the windows don't open), but we were getting desperate to make a decision, and the lease is only for 4 months, so we have time to find something better, and in a better rental climate - which is a win all round.

The agent/building manager pictures manage to make any apartment look huge, but these aren't too bad:

We have a full sized kitchen, which is fairly unheard of, and the bathroom is positively spacious in comparison to some of the apartments I saw through.  Apparently they had professional cleaners through before we moved in, and were told the dark stain in the bottom of the toilet and the murky glass of the shower were permanent - one round in the toilet bowl with duck and a brush took care of the first and some elbow grease and a good cleaner took care of the second.  These so called 'professional cleaners' need to take lessons from my mother.

Took us ages to sort out furniture, though TFO got off her airbed before I did, but her new mattress has yet to acquire a base.  I managed to pick up a rimu bed off trademe (and a set of restored rimu drawers), a lovely low-profile thing which takes up no more space than the mattress itself, which is exactly what you want in such restricted space living-styles.  All of the kitchen stuff I had in storage from Dunedin, and I picked up a new cheap-and-half-cheerful couch for the mean time.  We still lack a table and chairs, and a TV, but don't really feel the lack of either - especially now that we have internet.

From sitting in the lounge, panorama from couch, 'dining area' to the massive window through which we can see many, many weird and terrible things in our neighbours apartments.  (seriously - what have Auckland people got against curtains?!):

And from standing in the 'dining area' (it doesn't deserve to be said without the quotation marks).  Bathroom is in the space behind the couch, my bedroom is immediately to the right of the front door and TFO's room is the one immediately to the right of the 'dining area':

And then my bedroom with last year's gorgeous quilt.  Can't even imagine when I'll have time to make another such.  Pretty tight, but with economic furniture choice - not bad.  The lack of openable window sitch means both of us have fans in our rooms, and apparently this is normal in Auckland in summer.  I found it hideously hot and humid in comparison to Dunedin (and even Ohope), but I've been informed it was a relatively cool and low-humidity summer (it's just started to cool down).  Hopefully by next year I have acclimatised.

The apartment complex according to Google:

My goal is, of course, to make things exceptionally easy for stalkers.  (I kid.  Who would bother?!).

I honestly thought I would hate living in Auckland, but with the exception of boys making retarded decisions, I completely love it.  And I actually love living downtown.  We're so on top of everything, it's awesome.  Britomart is right there, and Queen St is just around the corner.  I have a season pass to the NZSO, the Aux Museum has always been my second fav, the art galleries are pretty fly, there's always something on or a new place/suburb/restaurant to go explore.  Plus all of the theatre.  There are ferry's to jaunt across the harbour for brunch, the coffee is epic and the people are getting better the more I meet.  And of course, flying out to anywhere in the world is easier here than anywhere in the country.  (haven't been out yet this year, but boy do I have plans).

And, for the first time in my adult life, I can feasibly/realistically pop over to visit the whanau for a weekend.

Not bad, Auckland, not bad.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Internet and Karmic Excrement

Finally.  It only took us a month to sort that out.  But now - internet!!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.  It's goooooooood.

I think The Financial One and I have been in withdrawal, because since Friday at about midnight when I finally got the wireless modem set up, we've been drinking from the internet tap pretty solidly.  I think neither of us got to bed before 2 am Friday night.  ...this perhaps does nothing but paint us with the label of 'geek'.

I'm fine with that.

So - an update!  Umm, I don't even know where to start.  Bare with me while I back read for a mo.

*elevator music*

Ok, so you got the job update and the 'I'm an Aucklander now, boohoo' updates - the only other major thing has been the finding of an apartment...and things I want to keep private (Hah!).

Ah, the sporadic draft-writing of the busy.  The above is now a week old, and hideously out of date.  How can things change so, within a single week?  Very easily, apparently.

Since moving to Auckland I have been delightfully busy.  A brilliant state of affairs, inclusive of a fabulous job, catching up with old friends now within same-city (or island), and a boy.  I know - you're shocked.  I was too.  But it was great.  Great.

This last week was completely crazy, and now, at Sunday evening, I am more than ready for it to wane in a burning ball of fiery doom.

Monday we had a VIP visit the classrooms at work, Tuesday I got dumped, Wednesday we had the dress-rehearsals from hell, and a 14 hour day at work for me, (which finished at 1:30am).  Thursday we had 2 live-streamed broadcasts to thousands of students around the country (more on this later, despite the stress and issues (and my sporadic moments of melancholy), it was so, so fun) and I started work at 7:30 am (tired, as you can imagine; after no sleep from Tuesday post-dumpage, then ~4 hours Weds night), Friday started at 7:30 again since The Bustling Metropolis One was visiting (thank god for coincidentally perfect timing) and had an early meeting with her Masters Supe.  We were supposed to go to the zoo Friday avo, but general exhaustion and the promise of Cyclone Lusi had us staying home with a Sherlock marathon and wine.

Red wine is my homeboy.  And my friends are some of the most brilliant people on the planet.  Feelin' the love.  With the exception of one (whom obviously needs to lose the title) they were so there.  God, love.

Saturday was fun and deserves its own post, but ended with the work twitter account being hacked and my having to scramble to fix that.  I am baffled at the speed a bot can work, but can only say - thank god I was on twitter and follow the work account.  I shudder to think what it would have been like had I not caught it till Monday.  We lost a bunch of followers, which sucks.  I feel personally responsible, which is ridiculous - but it has been a week of 'feeling personally responsible' for things.  Not healthy.  Acknowledged - dealt with.

Today has included a brunch, an airport run, and a phone call from my bank to tell me that my credit card has been hacked and has been solidly racking up charges since 9am this morning.  They must have some impressive scripts running to pick up abnormal activity, but they caught it pretty damn quick and I've only lost ~$3; the rest is reversible.  Since I had not lost nor had the card stolen they said it was most likely a vendor I had used were hacked and my details obtained, or a vendor I had used had sold my credit card details.  Now I have no credit card till they send the new one to Mum and Dad's (the post box here is...dodgy) and I visit at Easter.  Will wait and see how desperate I get for it before then...Easter is so far away.  Good reaffirmation of lessons, though - my credit card has a low limit and all internet purchases go through it.  Def recommend the same to others.  Big ups to ANZ, the first time you've impressed me since you swallowed my beloved National Bank.

So yeah.  First world problems, I know.  But seriously, karma, are you done shitting on me for a while?!  I would offer to sacrifice a goat, but even that thought is now tainted.

No goats for you, karma, you bastard.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My obligatory 'how I quit academia after PhD' story

I was invited to be profiled in an article this past week and the questions prompted the scripting of several points that I have been meaning to get out of my head for awhile now.  Since some of it is not at all appropriate for inspiring high school students to study science - I am reproducing the first version here.

My new job is summarised, along with my 'quitting academia' story - and in line with recent revelations; a surprising twist at the end.


How do you describe what you do?
I am the Science Writer & Designer for LENScience, a research group at the Liggins Institute, University of Auckland.  The institute researches the developmental origins of health and disease (the DOHaD field), and we translate that research for use within the community – high school teaching modules for joint intervention programmes and science literacy development, through to primary end users (people like nurses and midwives) for reaching the wider community.

My job description includes a wide variety of things circling around science communication – I help to write papers, I write blog copy and manage the social media accounts (Twitter, for example), I have been coordinating the redesign of our web community page & will mediate that after the re-launch, I help mentor the PhD students in our group and any summer students that happen along.  I amend illustrations for use in teaching resources (for example altering the clothes and tanning the kid cartoons used in our Pacific Islands module books), design print media, and design and write scientific posters for presentation at international conferences.  And, strangely enough, a lot of generic comms administration.

Writing, graphic design and talking a lot – pretty much my dream job!

What do you love about working in science?
I love science in general – I’m one of those people who just love learning random new things.  Any piece of trivia will grab my attention, and sharing that knowledge is one of the best things in life.  I love the academic traditions and community (most of the time) but I especially love the front line clash between scientists and the rest of the population; I fully believe that every person should hold a basic understanding of science.  Every person should know the basics of how the world and our society works.  A whole raft of problems could be tackled, or just discussed in a more productive manner: water fluoridation, genetically modified food, non-communicable diseases, biofuel development, vaccination, eco-conservation – I could go on for ever.

The people too, are fantastic.  The inspiration from hearing a scientist speak with passion about their field of research and their brand new discoveries is ridiculously exciting.  As is being at any large gathering of scientists – this typically happens at conferences, but is basically Comic-Con for that particular scientific field: such great energy.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in your field?
I actually quit academic science after my PhD – I was sick of the stifling of creativity (in that particular career-track situation), the inherent sexism in the industry and the ridiculous expectations around a complete lack of work-life balance.  I heard the old “you just don’t love it enough to put up with it” reprimand very often after my decision; but I don’t believe science has to remain to be that way.  

I believe (or at this point hope very much so) that you can have an academic career and also see your children for more than 3 hours a week.  That you can take evenings off and pursue ‘normal’ hobbies.  That when a woman and a man are both due for promotion; they will be judged against each other by the quality of their work, not their sex (for example; the possibility that they might take time off to have a baby).

The bias between scientists and educators is evident of this prejudice also: ‘scientists are stereotypically socially maladjusted and disconnected from the reality of the normal person’, verses ‘educators falling into their role because they couldn't get any other job’.

The lack of respect for other fields, careers and life goals is especially bad in traditional research science.  I think it is so hard to succeed, and the commitment and sacrifice so great, that you lose sight of the value of any other choice.  This bias is not at all productive for inter-sectorial collaboration.  I grew up with a teacher-mother, who did not just fall into the job, and a lasting scientific curiosity: I see great value in the best examples of each profession, and a staggering potential for the two to work together.

After I ‘quit’ academia I started looking at my other options; options that utilised my creative and interpersonal skills rather than disregarded them as superfluous.  One of the first industries I stumbled upon was Medical Writing, and through a grapevine begun at the Australasian Medical Writers Association with Sarah McKay (@SarahMMcKay), I ended up grabbing Blair Hesp (@kainicmedical) as a mentor.  Blair completely opened my eyes towards a model run through business and market sense, rather than ivory towers, and I am immensely grateful for his teaching and support.

I nabbed a short-term contract and then through that reconnected with a researcher who I had worked with as extracurricular, during my PhD.  I am now working full time in her group and completely love it.

Were you interested in science at school, and what was your academic path after school?
I loved science during school.  I used to volunteer to help clean up the labs just to get more time within them.  I was one of the last years to go through bursary, but took all the science subjects every year and got scholarship in biology.  Perhaps indicative of my eventual career path, I studied the mis-matched English, Stats and Accounting too.  During summer holidays I went on the various science camps offered to school kids by the universities, with Otago’s Hands on Science program eventually cementing my desire to study down there.

During undergraduate study at Otago University, I took an eclectic group of papers.  Initially enrolled under a BSc Genetics and BCom Management double degree, I took extra philosophy and psychology papers in first year.  I ended up bored with- and dropping the BCom, to complete a minor in Psychology and Honours in Genetics.  A lot of people fall into the trap of a prescribed first year course such as a Health Sciences First Year – this is perhaps essential if you want to get direct Med admission, but for developing varied interests and skills it is particularly detrimental.  Universities offer so many diverse opportunities; you should definitely consider exploring them.

After my Honours year in the Microbiology department, I jumped straight into a PhD in molecular genetics based in the Biochemistry Department, also at the University of Otago.  My PhD was investigating the genome of fruit flies for a genetic switch responding to changes in nutrition and resulting in extended lifespan.  I did a lot of molecular genetics, and bench-based protocols.  While I loved the experiments, I loved the undergrad lab teaching PhD students typically do, equally as much.  My PhD years were stuffed full of extracurricular activities.  I taught in undergraduate labs, I spent a year in student politics as the Science rep on the Otago University Students Association board of executives.  This student rep role included crazy things like sitting on the University Board of Graduate Studies and the Board of First Year Health Sciences – I learnt a lot about the inner workings of the university.  I also helped to found and then ran the Genetics Postgrad Student colloquium for several years, and acted as the post grad student support contact for several more.  I wrote blog copy for my supe’s collaborative group blog and developed my own personal blogging and twitter skills.  I attended conferences in Christchurch, Queenstown, Auckland, Edinburgh and Washington DC; I worked experiments in a lab in Sydney for 3 months and visited labs in London.  I developed my graphics skills through designing first my own and then others posters for conferences, and playing around with photography of the lab and research subjects.

After my PhD and aforementioned revelation, I worked a couple of short term contracts; one writing and designing print media for a museum day and the other coordinating the writing & construction of a very, very big government grant application.

All of my previous random and eclectic skills and experience appear to have coalesced into the perfect CV for my current job, and I love it so much I can’t wait to go into work in the mornings.

How do you think your job might change over the next five or ten years?
We are actually looking to switch me back from professional staff to academic staff around mid-2014, and start working on a research project or two.  After ‘quitting’ academic science this strikes me as delightfully ironic – but the research is so far removed from that which I was doing during my PhD, I am confident it will be a better match for my skills and personality. And it means I can continue to fight for equality, and inter-sectorial opportunities and collaboration, from ‘inside the fence’ so to speak.

For me, the best things about science are learning things that have never been known, the people, the travel, the interaction with the lay community from a scientist’s perspective, and occasionally; the opportunity to influence change for the better.

It might work out that a traditional career path in science is not for you, or it might happen that you are just walking on the wrong footpath.  Science is a fantastic setup for life – there are so many different career paths, a lot of them unexpected.  The skills you develop in curiosity, creativity, hard work and problem solving are useful in almost every other employment sector.  

And, you know, science is cool.


This piece was reproduced here, on the New Zealand Association of Science Educators website.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Symposium Dinner 2013: photo from the archives

While I was working on contract last year I was invited to the annual Symposium, the same one I used to go to as a PhD student funded by the same group.  So of course, it largely involved catching up with friends who are still students and postdocs around the country.  This gorgeous group is The Token Boy, me, The Crazy One and The Honours Student who are still in the old supe's lab (or were, late-2013).

There was a professional photographer, which makes a difference.  (If you look closely you can see TCO's engagement ring on the side!).

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Cabin In The Lupins at Lake Ohau

The weekend I was in the South Isl in December, I went with a bunch of The Authoress's friends to a log cabin at Lake Ohau.  It was a crazy cool building - I've never been in a log cabin before and the complete solidity of the structure astounded me.

The weather was practically perfect, and if it hadn't been for the fact that I had a massive amount of work I was supposed to be doing (I'd thought the place had internet access...nope.  No writing retreat for me) and the horrific hayfever - it would have been idyllic.

There was a wee copse behind the cabin, and a path through the lupins and woods to the wee Lake Middleton.

I walked around Lake Middleton (there was a tiny bit of bush-bashing involved) one afternoon, but mostly kicked back with my kindle on the deck.

I know the lupins make for gorgeous photography (The Hobbit!) but Christ they're a choking weed.  Central Otago through to rural Canturbury is covered in them.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The House Elf Theory

Went down to Wellington from my last stint in Auckland for 2013, then Dunedin for the Authoress' PhD graduation (Whoop!), then Ohau, then Cust (4hr drive), then Christchurch (briefly - for bus), then back to Dunedin (6 hour bus), then back to Wellington, then I bussed up to Rotorua (~8hrs) & got picked up by The Lovely Mother to drive back to Ohope.

It's exhausting just remembering it.

The Saturday before I left I caught up with a Honours student from my old PhD lab, he was in Auckland with his lovely gf for a powerlifting competition - they're living and working in Sydney, so the traitor was representing Australia.  I went along to thrown in my support and to assuage my curiosity - I was fully expecting oiled bodies and general hilarity.  In actuality it was very sport-like, serious and competitive (top photo - dude breaks world record easy-peasy).  'Power Lifting' is three things - squat, bench press, and dead lift; and they have 3 goes at each, increasing lifted-weight at each.  You win if your combined lift-total is higher than everyone else's.

On the way up to Lake Ohau for that weekend, we stopped in Oamaru for lunch and I saw the Steampunk quarter for the first time.  Its very impressive, and the extra details make the buildings exceptionally beautiful.

The second half-week I was hoping to catch up with a bunch of science people in Dunedin, a couple of whom were only in town for the Health Sci grad that weekend, but ended going up to Christchurch instead, and then hanging with the Crazy One-Builder One combo for my last evening.  It was weird catching the bus in the centre of Christchurch - I hadn't been back since the boxing day earthquake, and the mess that remains still, is incomprehensible.

Dunedin was gorgeous, as ever.

Both times in Welly I caught up with The Doctors' Married, on the return version we saw The Hobbit at the fancy-dancy Gold Lounge Theatre with dinner delivered to out recliners and it was awesome.  If the third movie continues the trend (of the second outshining the first) it will be hella-amazing.  TDM are now both ensconced in New York with snow and postdocs.  I'm looking forward to visiting at some point.

And finally - this is The Crazy One's dog, Maddie.  TCO's brother has a theory that she's a house elf that was given clothes; I think he has a valid point there.  House elves who get given clothes, and then can't find work in the Wizarding world, retreat to the Muggle world to be pets.  There's no other explanation for the existence of 'miniature greyhounds'.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

New Job! New City! New Year! New Exclamation Mark!

Good god, how is it suddenly 2014?

In the interim (between the last post in November and now) I have turned 28 (gasp!) finished a work contract, travelled around the country a bit and caught up with some people, though not as many as I would have liked, moved up to Auckland, and started a 'new' job.

Holy crap - I'm an 'Aucklander' now.  How did this happen?!

Ignoring that, I say 'new job' because I am now working full time on the contract I had as secondary last year, and didn't have nearly enough time to work on, due to the first and major contract.

It's fantastic so far and I quite love it.  I moved up here last weekend and am house-sitting for my boss while she is on a very well deserved holiday.  It's been a pretty quiet week, most of the team don't get back until next Monday so it has just been me and two students kicking it about in the office.  Brill opportunity to get a whole lot of stuff done, however, and to settle in to my new grown-up person desk (look at that view!) & role.  The Doctor and Amy are in place to keep an eye on things.

The flat hunting has been....interesting.  I've had two gems and a couple of duds.  I should find out this weekend if I get my No#1 choice, and if not I'll put myself in 100% for the second place.  If neither, I'll start again; I have the luxury of time to be able to do so.  It's quite a different experience flat hunting in Auckland than what I am used to in Dunedin, as a student.  For one thing I have a much bigger living budget now that I am gainfully employed - it makes a huge difference looking at lovely places with numerous bathrooms etc compared to student hovels.  Very exciting.

In continuing the comparison of cities, the traffic is obviously crazy - but not unmanageable thus far.  And it is a complete novelty to be able to pop over to see the whanau & my dog in the Bay of Plenty on a weekend.  The entertainment opportunities are more vast - I am buying a full subscription to the New Zealand Symphonic Orchestra's Auckland concerts, and the Auckland Theatre Company's 2014 programme.  Very cool.  Can't wait for a good opera and some ballet, too.  Yay!  Good things!

Also, hilariously, I have signed up for a spot of online dating, so that is sure to lend equal measures of entertainment and despair in this new year.

I'll have to find a moment to edit some photos from our weekend at Lake Ohau in December - the lupins were flowering and it was completely magical.  In that hayfever-ridden, snotty-and-weeping-eyes kind of way.

Christmas was cool, I got a beautiful new handbag (it's bright orange and blue!) amongst my loot, and then for my birthday I got the HP box set from Mum and Dad and a beautiful necklace from the BigSib.  Christmas dinner was as gorgeous as ever - Mum's steamed pudding was particularly good this year, as was Dad's BBQ rotisserie cooked scotch-fillet-roast.  Some extra whanau came down for NYs and we took the boat to the lake on NYE.  We all got a touch sunburnt, tricksie wind.  Fun holiday times.

I've read a massive stack of books in the last 3 months, but mostly over the Christmas-New Year holiday: The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska by John Green, Unbreakable by Kami Garcia and Unbreakable by Elizabeth Norris, The Infernal Devices series and The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy (am just finishing the end of the third book, Allegiant)....and some others I can't even remember off the top of my head (not a very good recommendation!).

I'm expecting good things to come from 2014: a couple of friends are getting married in addition to the BigSib, a new job, new city, some holiday travel (fingers crossed), an abundance of culture and a nicer climate (nicer than Dunedin, not nicer than the Bay of Plenty).  Delightful.