Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On being sick, skiing and choosing your attitude

Ruapehu skifields: photo copyright René HeldBleagh. I'm sick with a crappy cold/cough thingy, and I hate it. I almost never get sick, and I don't do it well at all. There's no-one to look after me on an hourly basis, no-one to stroke my hair and ask me if I'd like a nice drink of hot blackcurrant juice, no-one to tuck me in and bring me a hot water bottle when I need it. I have to be sick all by myself and I don't like it.

Normally I get rid of colds by telling them to go away - and they go - but I wasn't really onto it this time. It kinda sneaked up on me by manifesting as a horribly sore throat for the first few days, but this morning it finally wiped me out. My head hurts, my face hurts, my eyes hurt, my sinuses hurt, my teeth hurt, my throat hurts. Ugh.

The Chateau: photo copyright Ross Howard www.abitcloser.comWell, at least I managed to keep it at bay during Shift's annual hui. This year we stayed at The Chateau Tongariro, and in addition to organising lots of team-building stuff for us, Shift also arranged for the Auckland and Wellington teams to head on up the mountain for an afternoon's skiing on Friday. It was the most perfect day - warm and sunny - the snow was deep and powdery and the sky was intensely blue. Gorgeous!

Road up to Turoa: photo copyright WebWeaver ProductionsA bunch of us had planned to stay on after the hui was over and catch some more action on the slopes on Saturday afternoon and Sunday, but the weather wasn't that great on Saturday, so we ended up with just a handful of people - and boy, were we glad we stayed.

15cm of fresh snow overnight meant that our route up the mountain was as snowy as Tom (our resident snowboarding expert) has ever seen it, and the view was incredible.

As a fairly inexperienced skier I spent much of Friday and Sunday doing beginner/intermediate classes on the lower slopes, while the others went up to the top of the mountain and hurtled down again - but by the end of the weekend I felt way more confident than I had at the beginning - and the others had quite a hard time getting me off the slopes at the end of the day!

Ruapehu ski field: photo credit René HeldI think Shift absolutely rules - I feel so thrilled being part of the team. It's a great feeling to work for the best web design company in New Zealand. This weekend has allowed me to get to know my colleagues better, and it's great to know what totally excellent people they are.

One of the things we focused on this weekend is that we can choose our attitude every day. We watched this video called Fish! about Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle - and how the guys there have made every workday a day filled with fun and laughter - by playing, by being there (being fully present for one another), by choosing their attitude and by continually looking to make someone's day.

Ruapehu ski field: photo credit René HeldIt was a great video, and the "choose your attitude" really struck a chord with us Shifties. I heard the phrase being used a lot over the weekend, and you always know something's taken hold in people's minds if they start using it in everyday conversation.

I generally choose to be happy and positive - having the best job in the world makes that pretty easy. I'm not so great at being positive when I'm sick, but I'm working on it. So today I took care of myself, stayed in bed and kept warm - and tomorrow hopefully I'll be back at work building great websites again.

Ruapehu skifields: photo copyright René HeldI hope you like the snow pics. I took the one of the road up to Ruapehu, and fellow Shiftie Ross Howard took the one of The Chateau. The other incredible Ruapehu ski field pics are by another Shiftie, René Held. I couldn't just choose one in the end - they're just too good. Click on any of the pics to see a larger version.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Clay Aiken - Without You

Clay Aiken - A Thousand Different Ways - possible album cover. As akcanuck commented on Clay's MySpace page today:



That was just......


My feelings exactly.

We found out today that Clay's first single from his upcoming album A Thousand Different Ways will be the classic Nilsson song, Without You.

Go take a listen to it on Clay's MySpace page. It's an absolute stunner. IMO, this is Clay's best studio recording ever. His voice is front and centre, the orchestration is beautiful, and the production is flawless.

But it's Clay's immaculate voice and the pure, raw emotion that flows through it which just blew me away.

I'm not the kind of person who normally listens to the same song over and over, but this morning, when I heard it for the first time, I just couldn't stop replaying it. He wails! His voice breaks! Your heart breaks...

I can see a whole new generation of teenagers falling in love with this song and forever including it as a stand-out moment in the soundtrack of their lives. Amazing.

* Sigh * - my teevy boyfriend truly has a once-in-a-generation voice :)

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Notes from a weary traveller

I'm writing this in Hong Kong airport - so I'm halfway home now. Yaaay!

I spent Friday shopping for protective cases for all my fragile stuff - so now my laptop is inside a massively strong briefcase in my suitcase - and my camera and iPod are in a special camera case. I've backed up my laptop and protected it with passwords galore.

Hope I see all my stuff in one piece when I get to Wellington!

Check-in at Heathrow on Saturday morning was not too bad - pretty much like a normal day, actually. They advised me to go straight upstairs to Departures - even though it was two and a half hours until my flight - and after popping out for a final cigarette I went upstairs and realised why. The queue for Departures snaked back and forth across the entire Departures floor - hundreds and hundreds of people waiting in line to go through to Security.

It took well over an hour to get to the front of that queue, and then there was another massive queue to go through the security scanners themselves. Every so often airline staff would walk down the Departures queue calling for anyone due to board a flight leaving - well, pretty much "now" actually. Then they'd hussle them to the head of the queue, and apparently, abandon them there to wait with everyone else in the actual queue for Security.

We'd already been given our see-through plastic bags before we checked in, and all that was allowed was a wallet or purse, travel documents, tissues, keys, vital medication, sanitary products (not in boxes) and baby stuff if needed. They checked our pitiful little plastic bags when we checked in, and then again at the head of the queue for the Departures lounge.

"No chewing gum, no lighters, no cigarettes, no liquids of any kind" called the guy holding the massive rubbish bag at the head of the queue. He was getting quite a collection of stuff, even at that point.

At the security scanners there was a full body pat-down for everyone (even kids) and everything went through the x-ray machine - including shoes. Not all the scanners were working, though - which is pretty lame when you have such a huge volume of people to process.

At some point we also went through passport control - and were then spat out into the duty free area beyond Security.

Thankfully they then let us buy what we needed for the flight - once we were through Security I guess they reckon the stuff sold in there is safe - which, seeing as Heathrow makes its money from the Duty Free and other shops rather than from the planes - I'm guessing Heathrow was pretty happy about. I rushed around buying books and magazines, The Guardian (of course!), tobacco and papers and filters and headache pills - and the most rare and valuable commodity of them all - lip salve.

In fact I was so busy stocking up that I missed the first call for my flight, and ended up having to race through the aiport to my gate in a big old panic. Needn't have worried. We then sat on the tarmac for a further two and a half hours, waiting for the last 40 people to get through Security and board the plane. In the end I think there were about 10 people they just couldn't find, so they took their luggage off again, and finally we were off.

What a mission. I see from the news that British Airways has criticized BAA (which manages Heathrow) for being too slow in processing everyone, and causing flights to be cancelled as a result. I can't see this ban on hand luggage continuing indefinitely - because I think the commercial priorities of the airlines will eventually override their security concerns. The $$ speaks! It's going to be interesting to see how they manage the whole thing. Which will emerge victorious? The safety of passengers or the pursuit of the almighty dollar?

It's only an hour and a half until my 11-hour flight to Auckland. I've had a 2-hour nap in a bed in the Traveller's Lounge - bliss! And then another 3 hours on a nice comfy leather chair in the Lounge itself (you're only allowed a 2-hour nap in the beds!), so I'm feeling fairly human.

I'm going to kiss the ground when I get home to beautiful beautiful (safe and peaceful) Aotearoa/New Zealand. I'm so looking forward to getting home!

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Flying out of Heathrow

Oh, man...

I'm watching the BBC news covering the "Terror Plot" involving plans to blow up aircraft flying from Heathrow to the US - and the chaos that has already ensued due to the cancellation of all flights in and out of Heathrow today.

I'm due to fly home on Saturday - two days from now - and the thing that's really worrying me is the "no hand-luggage" thing. No book to read. No puzzle magazines allowed. No bottle of water. No iPod. And no laptop. Fuckshitbollocks.

What am I going to do with my laptop? My iPod? My digital camera? And how on earth am I going to keep myself occupied for 36 hours (12 hour flight from Heathrow to HK, 12 hours at HK airport and 12 hour flight from HK to NZ) with nothing to read except the in-flight magazine???

I've been checking online about the safety of laptops in checked-in baggage. You're basically looking at three possible scenarios:

  • Your bag gets opened and your valuables are stolen
  • Your delicate and fragile laptop/iPod/camera get crushed and/or broken as the baggage handlers chuck your suitcase around with gay abandon and pile lots of heavy stuff on top
  • Your laptop/iPod/camera get too cold down in the cargo area of the plane and things like LED screens shatter in the cold.

*sigh* Better backup my entire laptop and leave the disks with my sister. Better check I'll be covered by my travel insurance if they get stolen or broken. Wonder if I can buy a really heavy-duty laptop case before I leave.

I know it sounds stupid to be worrying about things at a time like this - maybe I'm focusing on that instead of the much more scary thought of a bomb on the plane. My sister reassured me by saying it's probably the safest time to travel - just because of the increased level of security - and that's true - and it did make me feel better. I don't particularly like flying at the best of times, so this certainly doesn't make me feel any better.

I'm not too worried about delays - I know there will be massive delays at Heathrow - the backlog won't be sorted out by Saturday, I'm sure - but at least I have 12 hours in Hong Kong, which hopefully will cover any delay in arriving from London.

*double sigh*

I hate flying.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

What I don't understand about Lebanon

Thousands Of Israelis Hold Anti-War Protest In Tel Aviv. Getty Images News - David Silverman. Okay - I must be really stupid or something. Perhaps those terribly wise and open-minded 'world leaders' George Dubya or Tony "I'm no US poodle" Blair could enlighten me because I really really don't get it.

Why THE F**K is it OK for Israel to bomb the crap out of Lebanon today and every day since 12 July, killing many hundreds of civilians, up to half of whom are innocent children - and for Hezbollah to do the same (although to a far lesser extent) to innocent civilians in Israel - but at some point in the future - perhaps next Tuesday or whatever day the US decide - the UN will finally be allowed to pass a ceasefire resolution and both parties will be told in no uncertain terms to lay off?

So in other words, they (and IMO the Israeli people in particular) are being told "OK guys - you have X number of days to kill as many civilians as you like - and to destroy as much infrastructure as possible during that time - and then we're going to tell you to stop, because what you're doing is a really really bad thing."

It makes no sense to me. Either the reaction of Israel is disproportionate right now or it's not. Either a ceasefire is necessary right now or it's not. Either the rules of war are being broken right now, or they're not. How is it possible for Bush and Blair and all the other hypocrites to keep a straight face and announce that a ceasefire will be ordered sometime in the future?


And yes - I'm aware of the fact that I am expressing a one-sided view of the situation. I know that innocent Israelis are being killed as well as Lebanese, and it pains me. The death of anyone in war is a terrible thing and it's all utterly appalling. But what pains me far more right now is the complete one-sidedness of this conflict, of its utter stupidity, the disproportionate reaction of Israel to the initial provocation from Hezbollah, and the complete hypocrisy of the way a number of world leaders are dealing with this situation.


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Friday, August 04, 2006

Clay Aiken's new CD

Clay Aiken's new look - crop and photoshop by Brandilyne. The thing I find most interesting about my - er - little obsession with Clay Aiken is that his taste in music is probably about as far as I could get from my own.

I was a punk the first time around, people!

I was rubbing soap in my hair and wearing old grandad shirts, jeans so tight you had to lie down to get into them and 3 belts (and a few safety pins) and pogoing around in the mosh pit to The Stranglers, Stiff Little Fingers, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and The Jam from 1977 onwards... I consider The Velvet Underground to be the greatest band ever, and Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker are amongst my favourite vocalists of all time.

And then there's Clay.

Entertainment Tonight - exclusive album photoshoot. I sometimes think Clay is so completely uncool he's come full circle and is cool again. Certainly I could potentially have lost every cool point I ever possessed by becoming a Clay fan - but I have discovered that I may actually have retained those points because I freely admit that I lurve Clay - and I don't care what anyone else thinks.

My love of Clay began with the VOX. It's a voice that knocks my socks off, and that can reduce me to tears with its total beauty and utter purity. Remember this is a girl who generally loves scratchy, strange, emotive voices like Tom, Lou, Janis, and Joe - none of which could be described - even by their mothers - as pure and beautiful.

I have tried on many occasions to analyse just what it is about his voice that does this to me - and what it is that I love so much - and it's very hard to put into words. I think that's because, in the end, what I feel in response to his voice is so visceral, so involuntary, and so primal - that it can't be expressed in words. It just is. If you get it, you get it, and if you don't, then you never will. And that's fine.

Entertainment Tonight - Clay's album photoshoot exclusive. I happen to think that a voice as good as Clay's comes along only once in a generation - but it doesn't bother me if you can't stand the guy, or if you think he is the cheesiest cheese that ever cheesed. In fact, I might sometimes agree with you (about the cheese levels). The fact is, being a fan of Clay Aiken makes me happy, and that's what matters to me.

So, today on Clay's Offical Fan Club there's a press release about Clay's new CD A Thousand Different Ways.

The trackisting looks like this:

Originally recorded by: Richard Marx
Written by: Richard Marx / Produced by: John Fields

Originally recorded by: John Waite
Written by: Diane Warren / Produced by: John Fields

Originally recorded by: Badfinger and then Harry Nilsson
Written by: William Collings, Thomas Evans, Michael Gibbins, Peter Ham, & J.C. Molland
Produced by: John Fields

LONELY NO MORE (new song)
Written by: Andreas Carlsson, Samuel Waermo, Mimmi Waermo & Clay Aiken
Produced by: Andreas Carlsson and Samuel Waermo

Originally recorded by: Elton John
Written by: Elton John & Bernie Taupin
Producer by: Per Magnusson & David Kreuger

Originally recorded by: Paul Young
Written by: Daryl Hall
Produced by: Adam Anders

Originally recorded by: Bryan Adams
Written by: Bryan Adams, Michael Kamen & Robert John "Mutt" Lange
Produced by: John Fields

I WANT TO KNOW WHAT LOVE IS - guest vocals by Suzie McNeil
Originally recorded by: Foreigner
Written by: Michael Jones
Produced by: Russ Irwin, Marti Frederiksen & Charlton Pettus

THESE OPEN ARMS (new song)
Written by: Jon Bon Jovi & Desmond Childs
Produced by: John Fields

Originally recorded by: Celine Dion
Written by: Diane Warren
Produced by: Eman

Originally recorded by: Dolly Parton
Written by: Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

EVERYTHING I HAVE - featuring William Joseph on piano (new song)
Written by: Jeremy Bose
Arranged by: Jeremy Lubbock

A THOUSAND DAYS (new song)
Written by: Christian Leuzzi, Aldo Nova & Emanuel Olsson
Produced by: John Fields

Originally recorded by: Mr. Mister
Written by: Richard Page, John Lang & Steve George
Produced by: Eman

You'll notice that there are 10 covers and 4 new songs, and that Clay shares writing credits on one of the new songs, Lonely No More. Jon Bon Jovi also has co-writing credits on new song These Open Arms.

From the press release:

"This is an album of love songs," he [Clay] explains, "but they are about all different kinds of love. Romantic love, Friendship, Unconditional love. There are a thousand different kinds of love; a thousand different ways to tell someone you love them. And, on top of that, since so many of these songs are covers, it's realistic to say that many of them have been or could be sung a thousand different ways."

In fact, Aiken has put his own spin on some of the well-known songs he has recorded for his new album. "These are songs I heard growing up. I loved them then and I still love them today, but we decided to do them a little differently. They have new arrangements and we put our own style on some of them."

"Those who have come to expect Aiken to belt out a song won't be disappointed. The album shows off Aiken's vocals in a big way with songs like the Bad English hit When I See You Smile and Harry Nillsson's Without You. But Aiken will surprise fans by singing in a more relaxed style on some tracks than they have heard before, showing a different, sexier side."

Clay Aiken's new look - ET photoshoot exclusive. What's interesting to me is that there are some songs on this CD which I probably wouldn't be that into if anyone else but Clay were singing them - but which, by the pure power of his voice, he will make me fall in love with.

The ClayNation has discovered clips of three of the songs on Promosquad over the last couple of days - A Thousand Days, I Want To Know What Love Is and Without You.

So far I'm a bit meh on A Thousand Days, but I can definitely see the potential of I Want To Know What Love Is. I'm wildly impressed that this is a duet with Sweet Suzie McNeil from last years's Rock Star: INXS - she's FAB - the girl can rock! And she has a great voice, too. Hey! Suzie has a nose-ring. Suzie's singing a duet with Clay. I have a nose-ring. EEEEE! Clay and I have a con.nec.tion! Ha!

ET - album cover shoot. The third song, Without You has simply kilt me dead. Oh.my.god. BEAUTIFUL. This is a true singer's song. You have to have a fantastic voice just to be able to attempt it, because there's such a huge range to cover - and yet Clay sings it so effortlessly. You know the glory note when it gets to "I can't liiiiiiiive" - oh my Lordy Lord. I was practically in a heap on the floor when he sang that bit. Just fantastic. I can't wait to hear Without You in its entirety - and I can't wait to hear the rest of the album either.

There are a couple of songs I wish were on there, but aren't - Back for More was an original song that was a huge hit on Clay's Jukebox Tour last year - as was Clay's rendition of I Can't Make You Love Me - which reduced every member of the audience to a weeping mess, and is probably my favourite ClaySong ever - but you can't have everything, and I do have those fantastic live preformances to look back on instead.

One day I hope Clay releases a live album, because he is utterly compelling live (and very very funny in between songs!) - but until then I have A Thousand Different Ways to look forward to - and hopefully to hear many times in concert. The album is released on 19 September. I can't wait! Yaaay!


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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Feel the fear - and do it anyway

The Gathering logoA few years ago when I was The Gathering's publicist I was invited to enter a pitching competition at the New Zealand Film and Television Conference. Each competitor had exactly five minutes to make their pitch to the audience of film and television executives, for whatever TV show they wanted to make. The first prize was $6,000 and TV3 would consider screening your winning entry once it was made.

I had a week to prepare, and decided I would pitch to make a documentary of the Millennium Gathering. We had already made a Gathering documentary a couple of years before, so with an editor friend I made a 5-minute show-reel using the best footage from that doco. I included sound at the beginning and end, and the rest was silent. It would be shown on the big screen behind me as I made my presentation.

Still from Subterranean Homesick Blues videoI decided to use the "Bob Dylan" technique and accompany my speech with large cue cards - like in his video for Subterranean Homesick Blues. I practiced my presentation until I had it timed exactly at 5 minutes, and prepared as thoroughly as I possibly could.

The night before the conference I lay awake practically half the night, sick with nerves, absolutely terrified, wondering why the hell I had ever agreed to enter this stupid competition. If anyone had given me the option, I would have quit right then, because I truly didn't see how I could possibly go through with it.

But I couldn't back out, because I had promised I would take part - which I did. As luck would have it, I was picked to go first, and delivered a pretty good presentation, timed to perfection. Apart from a bit of "nervous dry mouth" halfway through, I did just fine.

I won the competition.

Imagine if I hadn't gone through with it because of my nerves the previous night (and the following morning)! I felt (and still feel) so proud of myself for "feeling the fear and doing it anyway". Winning was a fantastic added bonus - but I think for me it was actually going through with it that made me feel the proudest. Granted, I would probably have piked out had anyone given me the chance, but they didn't, so there you go.

I was reminded of this challenge today, when we took niece #1 and nephew #1 on the open-topped bus that takes tourists around the city where my sister lives. I think many people (adults and children) are frightened of the unknown, and nervous when asked to do something they haven't done before, and many people are uncomfortable with change. Although we had prepared the children as well as we could beforehand, by talking about our upcoming adventure, they were still quite freaked out by the prospect - especially niece #1.

So we did it in baby steps.

Once we were on the bus (with a lot of comforting help for niece #1 by mummy), we stayed downstairs for ages. Being on a bus was enough of a new experience for it to be absolutely fascinating just sitting on it. Not really looking out of the windows, not really listening to the commentary - just being there. It was actually a very cool tour - even my sister found out stuff she didn't know - and we were so proud of how quickly both children calmed down and began to take an interest in their surroundings.

The bus stopped occasionally to let people on or off, which again was interesting enough to keep the children occupied, without needing to do anything more. Each time we stopped, we casually asked them if they would be interested in going to have a look upstairs, and for ages they absolutely weren't.

But after an hour or so, completely out of the blue, niece #1 decided she'd like to go and have a look. We went upstairs together, had a look round, sat down for two seconds and then she decided to go back down again. We met mummy and nephew #1 about to come up the stairs! We all had a little rest, and then almost immediately both children decided that upstairs was where they really wanted to be, so back up we went - and stayed there for the rest of the journey.

I think what today's adventure has reinforced for me is the importance of taking manageable steps towards a goal. Sometimes you plan to do something that's just so daunting, you don't know how you're ever going to achieve it. And sometimes the fear of what you're planning to do can be so debilitating that it stops you in your tracks, and you can't even begin.

Sometimes I think it's actually a good idea to put yourself in a position where you actually can't back out - like I experienced with the pitching competition - because then you really are going to have to feel the fear and do it anyway. And then you make sure you're thoroughly prepared, and if you can, you break it down into bite-sized chunks.

Feel scared about this little bit. Do it. Feel great that I did it. Feel a bit more scared about this next bit. Do it anyway. Feel even greater. And on and on, a bit at a time, until you achieve your goal. The fear is almost always worse than the actual thing - but this is something you only figure out if you actually do the things that you're afraid of.

Because, as niece #1 so neatly put it "I didn't want to go on the bus at first, and now I really like it!"

ADDED 3 AUG: We went swimming yesterday and practiced our techniques of infinite patience and teeny weeny baby steps. After an initial total meltdown in the changing rooms we finally ended up 2 hours later with niece and nephew #1 actually SWIMMING and telling us they really really loved it and they didn't want to go home. Wow!

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