Saturday, March 31, 2007

I'm ashamed of you, New Zealand!

Pro-smacking banner: Discipline him with the rod and save his soul from death. We've been together a good few years now, New Zealand. 1992 was when we first met - and I moved in with you a year later. Over 14 years together, with never an angry word between us. Okay, I admit I might be a little obsessive about our relationship - I think my love for you sometimes borders on hero-worship, but still.

I have always been so proud to be seen with you, proud to introduce you to my friends, filled with pride by everything about you - and filled with an equal pride by the fact that you wanted me.

But today I'm ashamed of you - and I never imagined this day would ever come. What happened to you, New Zealand, why is it that part of you thinks it's OK to hit a child?

Why is it that parts of you are fighting tooth and nail to keep the right to "use reasonable force" on your children enshrined in law? Why have I heard people laughing this week as they relate tales of what I would call abuse from their parents - and as they argue forcefully for the right to do the same to their kids if they feel like it - "without The State interfering".

My God. No wonder we have such an appalling record of child abuse in this country - third worst among 27 developed countries for child deaths; a child killed every five weeks by caregivers. Being allowed in law to "use reasonable force" on your children is the pointy end of the stick that eventually leads to the violent deaths of children such as the Kahui twins, in my opinion.

Let me ask you a question, New Zealand. If you were, say, a manager in a company, and one of your staff failed to get an important project in on time, do you think it would be reasonable for you to whack them over the head with the phone book as a punishment? What if you caught one of your employees stealing money from a colleague's purse? Would it be okay for you to grab the hot-water jug and beat them with the electrical cord to "teach them a lesson"? How about if you worked in a stressful environment and in a heated debate one of your colleagues swore at you? What would happen to you if you pulled their pants down and smacked their bare bottom?

You know the answers to those questions, New Zealand. If you did any of those things you'd be had up for assault and you'd be hard-pressed to find any jury willing to let you off. And rightly so.

In a civilised society you can't go around hitting, whacking, beating or smacking people! So how THE HELL can you argue that it's okay for you to do that TO YOUR OWN CHILDREN?????

Frankly, New Zealand, I'm pretty disgusted with parts of you right now.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Otters holding hands

Once in a while you come across something on YouTube that's so unbelievably CUTE, you just have to add it to your blog - in just the same way as hundreds, nay thousands of bloggers are also doing as we speak. I'm sorry! I just had to do it!

Vancouver Aquarium: two sea otters float around, napping, holding hands. Thanks a mill to MissD for linking to this at work today. Bet you can't get through it without melting into a puddle of AWWWWWW - and make sure you watch it to the end - because you don't want to miss the best (and sweetest) bit:

I'm with MissD - can I have two sea otters too please? And is this a form of muskrat love?

UPDATE 07/04/07: They featured this video on the news last night - it was the "cute bit of news so we finish on an upbeat note". How cool is that?

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - cover art released

Bloomsbury has released the cover art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!

The publication date for the final book in JK Rowling's series draws nearer and nearer. I've started re-reading the first 6 books in preparation for book 7. The speculation mounts - who's going to die? Will Harry defeat Voldemort? Will Harry survive? And what of Snape? Is he a baddie through and through, or a super-secret double agent?

Without further ado, let me provide you with yet more source material to ponder over. Here's the complete set of covers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - both the US and UK covers are here. Click on any image to get a larger version.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows US full cover art (front and back).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows US full cover art (front and back)

Hmmm. OK - I see in the background what at first glance appears to be the Coliseum in Rome - except it looks remarkably undamaged - and there are people (depicted only as shadowy figures) seated or standing all around the first level. Is it the Quidditch stadium?

Voldemort and Harry are in the foreground - both reaching for something? Trying to catch something? Or maybe they're both acting - each with an arm raised in dramatic declaration - because at the edges of the book are curtains. Maybe they're stage curtains? Maybe the Coliseum is actually a painted backdrop? The curtains are worn, damaged at the bottom, and there's torn up wooden beams and rocks in the very front of the picture. Will Harry and Voldermort's final showdown be in the ruins of some old theatre somewhere? Or in the middle of the Quidditch stadium? Interesting...

Harry seems to be wearing muggle clothing - a big brown coat and a green jumper, He's also got a leather pouch around his neck - an amulet? Or perhaps a Horcrux - could it be Slytherin's locket maybe?

Note that Harry is alone with Voldemort. Hermione and Ron are nowhere to be seen - and neither are any of their other friends. No Ginny, no Neville, no Luna Lovegood. And no wands. Neither Harry nor Voldemort are holding their wands. Is that what they are both reaching for, or what they have just let go of? Maybe they're both doing Accio spells to get their wands back...

Mind you, as their wands are "brothers", and we know they aren't much use against each other, maybe they're both reaching for something else. I would hope that by the final showdown Harry will have become far more skilled at wandless magic (and especially magic where he doesn't have to speak) - because I think he's going to need it.

UPDATE 30/03/07: After another look, I think Voldemort is trying to magically force something away from himself (look at the position of his hand - it's almost in a classic "STOP!" pose), while Harry is trying to bring something towards himself (again, look at the position of his hand - it's positioned as though he's waiting to catch something). Could be they're aiming at the same thing - Voldemort doesn't want Harry to have it (and doesn't want it himself either), and Harry wants it... Or it could be two different things. We shall see.

Whichever it is, it seems as though the final conflict may be between Harry and Voldemort - solo. I can't wait!

But wait! There's more, much much more...

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows US front cover art.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows US front cover art

Ther's no text shown on the US cover apart from the title and author.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows UK full cover art (front and back).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows UK full cover art (front and back)

Harry, Ron and Hermione are falling into a pile of treasure - coins, precious gems, golden cups and bowls - and a silver suit of armour in separate pieces - the most interesting of which is a helmet with a griffon/gryphon on it (or maybe a dragon?). Hmmm. Although Gryffindor's emblem is a lion, the door knocker on Dumbledore's office is a griffon. Wonder whose armour it is? They look pretty freaked-out to be there...

Behind Harry, Ron and Hermione, is a stone entrance through which they have fallen. At first glance it looks a bit similar to the archways shown in the Coliseum on the American cover, but if you look closely you can see it's actually circular, rather than an arch. A circle of stones marking the entrance to something. Are they falling forwards through it, or are they falling down into it, with the viewer looking up at them falling towards us? Like falling down a well? Or - are they being sucked back into it?

UPDATE 30/03/07: Having looked even more closely, I am now convinced that they are being sucked into the round entrance hole. Look at the direction in which their hair (particularly Ron and Hermione's hair) is blowing. It's being blown forwards - and that would only happen if they were moving backwards. Your hair is blown in the opposite direction to that in which you are moving (unless you're in a very strong wind). Try it! I rest my case.

The pile of treasure looks very shiny and well-kept, not like it's been mouldering at the bottom of a well of hundreds of years. Magically polished maybe? Could they have fallen into a vault at Gringott's? Through the entranceway you can see what looks like a sunset behind them - which is very similar to the sunset sky depicted on the US cover.

Hermione and especially Harry look very bruised and battered. Harry's robes are torn in places and he has scrapes on his arms - as does Hermione. It's obviously not been an easy journey thus far. Hermione and Ron appear to be wearing their dress robes. Ron's are green, Hermione's purple. Harry seems to be wearing ordinary black robes. Are they at Hogwart's? Were they at a ball or their graduation ceremony or something?

The most interesting thing of all is that there's something or someone on Harry's back - holding Godric Gryffindor's sword raised in its hand. There are rubies on the pommel, so I know it's his sword. As for who is on Harry's back - I can see a bald head and long pointy ears, so I'm guessing it might be Dobby or another house elf - or maybe it's a new character we haven't met yet. Or perhaps it's Kreacher! As Voldemort is now back to (nearly) full strength I don't think it's him - plus I think they would all be looking far more freaked out if it were Voldemort - whereas Harry looks like he's giving the creature a piggy-back.

On the back cover is the outside of Hogwart's at night, with a full moon. On the inside front cover we see Harry's patronus - a stag - in all its glory.

On the inside back cover is an interesting illustration - a snake inside a crystal ball. Is it Voldemort's snake, Nagini? Or a representation of the fact that Harry (the possible Heir of Gryffindor) must battle against Voldemort, the Heir of Slytherin (whose symbol is a snake)? Maybe it's a reference to Harry's ability to speak parseltongue, or perhaps it's a hint that once again Professor Trelawney will see the future in her crystal ball. Is Nagini a Horcrux - or is Harry the final Horcrux? Who can tell?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows UK front cover art.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows UK front cover art

Here's what it says on the inside front flap:

Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task; that of locating and destroying Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes. Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows. But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given. He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him...

In this final, seventh installment of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling unveils in spectacular fashion the answers to the many questions that have been so eagerly awaited. The spellbinding, richly woven narrative, which plunges, twists and turns at a breathtaking pace, confirms the author as a mistress of storytelling, whose books will be read, re-read and read again.

And on the back cover:
Harry is waiting in Privet Drive. The Order of the Phoenix is comingf to escort him safely away without Voldemort and his supporters knowing - if they can. But what will Harry do then? How can he fulfil the momentous and seemingly impossible task that Professor Dumbledore has left him with?

And on the back cover flap:
JK (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling has written fiction since she was a child, and always wanted to be an author. Her parents loved reading, and their house in Chepstow was full of books. In fact, JK Rowling wrote her first 'book' at the age of six - a story about a rabbit called Rabbit!

The idea for Harry Potter occurred to JK Rowling on the train from Manchester to London, where she says Harry Potter 'just strolled into my head fully-formed', and by the time she had arrived at King's Cross, many of the characters had taken shape. During the next five years she outlined the plots for each book and began writing the first in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which was first published by Bloomsbury in 1997. The other Harry Potter titles: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, followed. JK Rowling has also written two other companion books, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, in aid of Comic Relief.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows UK adult full cover art (front and back)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows UK adult full cover art (front and back)

The only image on the adult UK cover version (apart from a rather nice photo of JK) is Slytherin's locket - in gold, on a thick gold chain. It's one of those lockets that opens to reveal something - usually a lock of hair or a picture - inside. Wonder what will be inside this locket. It's engraved with a richly-decorated "S", encrusted with emeralds.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows UK adult front cover art.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows UK adult front cover art

The text on the inside front flap is exactly the same as on the UK (kids) version.

Nothing's written on the back cover - it's filled with the photo of JK. She has some interesting books on her bookshelves - James Joyce, Jane Austen, Adrian Mole, Freud, The Metropolitan Museum, an atlas...

And on the back cover flap:
JK (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling has written fiction since she was a child. Born in 1965, she grew up in Chepstow and wrote her first 'book' at the age of six - a story about a rabbit called Rabbit. She studied French and Classics at Exeter University, then moved to London to work at Amnesty International, and then to Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, before settling in Edinburgh.

The idea for Harry Potter occurred to her on the train from Manchester to London, where she says Harry Potter 'just strolled into my head fully-formed', and by the time she had arrived at King's Cross, many of the characters had taken shape. During the next five years she outlined the plots for each book and began writing the first in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which was first published by Bloomsbury in 1997. The other Harry Potter titles: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, followed. JK Rowling has also written two other companion books, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, in aid of Comic Relief.

As befits the release of more info about possibly the most eagerly anticipated book of all time, there's lots of coverage and speculation already. As well as having some truly massive cover images - which is where I got these ones from (thanks for the email, guys!) - the Leaky Cauldron's Leaky Lounge has some pretty interesting dicussions going on. Check them out!

Only 112 days and 23 hours to go! Woohoo! Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows countdown clock courtesy of The Leaky Cauldron - get your Harry Potter countdown clock here!

MTV has an impressively thoughtful article on the covers - there's obviously at least one Harry Potter fan working at MTV. Wikipedia has a very detailed summary of what we know about the book so far.

MuggleNet does by far the best editorials - I'm sure there will be a very in-depth one about the cover very soon. In the meantime, here's the MuggleNet Editorial index page - browse away! And here's an interesting take from Beyond Hogwart's - Judging a book by its cover - check out the comments, too. And here's a good piece from the TimesOnline: Final Harry Potter cover unveiled and one from the St Petersburg Times: Spell in the binding. Enjoy!

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

WOMAD March 2007, Taranaki, New Zealand. Part two - Saturday.

Here's my review of day one of WOMAD, in case you haven't read it already.

On Friday night, after Lou, Jason and I left WOMAD, we settled down in our little 1970s rented-for-the-weekend house and worked our way through the programme for the rest of the weekend, with each of use deciding what we most wanted to see on Saturday. We also made a list of things we reallyreally needed in order to make the next two days in the Great Outdoors as comfortable as possible.

*sigh* you know you're getting older when you absolutely have to have something to sit on at a festival that isn't a piece of cardboard or a discarded plastic bag. Heh.

Saturday morning dawned ok-ish - but the rain was definitely threatening by the time we drove into town to get our supplies. I have written on the back of my programme the following:

Stuff to get:
- space blanket
- cushion
- memory cards - camera

- coat & inner
- blanket
- sunhat
- sunnies
- sunblock

I love the Warehouse! It always has such great (cheap) stuff. It's brilliant for nutty things you only need for festivals, for example. The New Plymouth Warehouse has obviously got this WOMAD thing completely sussed. Right at the front door was a great big display table with Welcome to WOMAD on it, just full of the weird and wonderful things you suddenly realise you desperately need but haven't brought with you.

Waterproof trousers in a little bag, glow-sticks, tarps - and the thing I was most keen on finding - little cushions that were small enough to fold up and put in your bag, big enough for your bum, nice and squashy without being too bulky, and kinda sorta waterproof, being covered with that classic stripey fabric you normally only get on 1950s camping gear.

They had space blankets too, but I decided that I wouldn't need one now I had my magic cushion. Two down, one to go.

I ended up getting a huge 1GB memory card for my camera. I figured that should keep me going for the whole festival, in addition to the bunch of smaller ones I already have. Funny thing - when I put the card into my camera it said I had 999 seconds of video recording time available, but the number didn't go down the entire time I was there. I wonder if my camera display can only show 3 figures, and I actually had way more time than this, but the number wouldn't have changed until I got below the last 999 secs?

Finally I decided to try and find something not on my list from the night before - a bigger daypack to put all my stuff in. The one I use all the time is quite small, and definitely not waterproof, and certainly isn't big enough for blankets, cushions, warm and waterproof clothes, sunhat, sunblock etc - and the zip's going, which is really annoying when you're dancing and not aware that the zip's come down and all your stuff is falling out all over the place.

I found the best most primo daypack in the entire world at some random surf/skate shop. It's absolutely huge, has about 10 different compartments including a chilly-bag one, and a completely waterproof one separated from the others where you can put your wet gear without getting everything else wet. Plus the whole bag is waterproof, including the zips. This was rather important, as will soon become apparent. Awesome!

By the time we'd got all our shit together it was time to head back to WOMAD, for Day Two. Yaay!

I'm a bit vague at this point on whom I saw what with. Sometimes I was with Lou and/or Jason, other times I was with Zef and/or Sarah and/or Toki and/or Zef & Sarah's kids Eesha and Esther, and sometimes I was by myself. It was very cool actually. By the end of Friday we'd figured out the layout of the festival site, and we all had our programmes and cellphones handy, so it was easy to decide on an individual basis who we wanted to see on Saturday, and to all head off in different directions, meeting up again later.

The cellphone companies must do a roaring trade with txt messaging at festivals. It seemed like everyone had their cellphone out - even the little old ladies and gents there were txting like crazy. Our most common msg was "Where u?".

How did we ever manage before cellphones? I'll tell you how. You had to stick with your mates for the entire festival, otherwise you'd lose them and never find them again. Or at least if you did venture off on your own you had to make darned sure you had a meeting-up-again-afterwards plan - and that you didn't stray one iota from the plan in case you ended up alone-in-the-midst-of-200,000-people.

Mind you, Glastonbury was quite famous for creating its own kind of meeting-up magic. I remember at one Glastonbury in the late 80s I had to get there separately from Sandra and Sean (we usually always went together, but that year I was working and couldn't get away until the Friday). We had a vague plan of where they would be camping, and an even vaguer plan to meet up at the message board at some time on Friday afternoon. I had just arrived, and was walking along the path towards the message board, and there was Sean, walking towards me. He'd totally forgotten about the meeting-up plan, but there he was anyway. Miraculous!

But I digress. Back to WOMAD 2007.

I figured it would be nice to start the day with some Tibetan monkish meditative chanting from the Gyuto Monks, so I headed off to the Pagoda Stage, near where their meeting tent was set up. I found a place to sit, settled down... and the first few drops of rain began to fall. D'oh! Of course, being sensible Kiwi folk, prepared for every weather condition known to exist (because you know that in a typical Kiwi day you're probably going to experience them all at least once), we all had our raingear, cushions, chairs, umbrellas, sunhats, sunnies, sunblock, warm clothes, cool T-shirts, woolly hats, warm blankets, tarps, space blankets... you name it, we had it.

Waterproof coats went on, umbrellas went up, and everyone continued doing whatever it was they were already doing. No wimping out and rushing to the nearest bit of shelter for us! (Not that there was much shelter to be had, but still...)

The Gyuto Monks were lovely. Their chanting was hypnotic, and uplifting, and included a fair bit of throat singing in with the humming. They did a piece called Sounds of Transformation which is a meditative puja - a powerful traditional chanting ritual designed to remove obstacles and problems encountered in everyday life, as a means of bringing about health, happiness and prosperity.

It was also supposed to make the rain go away. Hmmm. Well I suppose you could say they half-succeeded in that endeavour - it rained on and off all day, but there was lots of sunshine in between the showers. Here are the monks:

After their performance the monks began the creation of the sand mandala - the Lotus Mandala of Compassion - with a single bright blue spot in the centre of the table - laid by the Master monk to initiate the process. Each sand mandala represents the architectural layout of the entire palace of a specific deity.

They use a long cone-shaped metal tool (with a tiny hole at the pointy end of the cone) to place the brightly-coloured sand, grain by grain, exactly where it needs to go. A small amount of brightly-coloured sand is poured into the top, and a metal rod is scraped up and down across concentric ridges on the lower part of the cone. This vibration causes a tiny amount of sand to fall through the hole at the bottom of the cone, which can then be directed very accurately onto the table in just the right spot.

The mandala takes all weekend to complete, and after it's finished, it is deliberately destroyed. The Buddha's last words were "All things are impermanent, work out your salvation with diligence" and the destruction of the mandala upholds this principle that life is transient. The monks traditionally sweep up the mandala and place the sand in a river, lake, or ocean as an offering to purify the surrounding environment. Here's a fascinating look at the creation of a sand mandala.

After the monks I decided to head on over to the Gables Stage to see Shivkumar Sharma again - and I caught up with Zef, Sarah, Toki, Eesha and Esther for the first time that weekend. Yaay! Zef is an old hand at WOMAD - I think he's been to every WOMAD in NZ so far - and has been trying to get us to come along for years. This year he gave up asking - and this was the year that Lou and Jason decided to go, and to ask me along too. Wow! How can I have ignored your suggestion for so long, Zef? Crazy crazy crazy. WOMAD is awesome!!!!

I had a lovely time sitting in the (mostly) sun, digging Shivkumar, Rahul and Yogesh and watching Esther, Eesha, Zef and Toki making freaky animals from multicoloured bits of plasticine. I'm so glad I went to see Shivkumar again. Last night they were having problems with the sound levels, and I think it made them all a little tense. This performance was somehow more joyful, more uplifting, and even better than Friday's show. Yaay!

I'm so impressed by the fact that Zef and Sarah make the effort to come to WOMAD and bring the kids with them. It's not an easy task - in fact I think it has to be planned something like a military campaign [peaceful non-violent version of course] - but they do it so well, and with such enthusiasm. They had this really cool pair of waterproof-backed blankets to sit on, and a suitcase full of food already prepared, and a pushchair for Esther and all their rain gear, earplugs for the kids, warm clothes, sunhats - everything you could need.

They certainly weren't alone in bringing the kids to WOMAD - there were heaps of families ranging in age from babes-in-arms to happily rowdy teenagers who were allowed to go off in giggly groups to explore and dance on their own. In fact, I would have to say that the WOMAD audience was the most diverse I've ever seen at a festival. There was every age represented, from tiny babies to really really old people (complete with cellphones!), every nationality and skin tone you could imagine, and every "tribe" - from the dance party kids and hippies with dreadlocks to Mr and Mrs Straight NZ complete with folding chairs, picnic baskets, umbrellas and head-to-toe waterproofs. It was brilliant.

It was also one of the most well-behaved, well-mannered, safe and good-humoured festivals I've ever been to. It felt like The Gathering for Grownups in terms of the sheer smiliness of it. I don't think I saw a single grumpy face the whole weekend - even when it was raining everyone was still smiling and happy. And the loos (as I mentioned in Part One) were awesome too. What more could you wish for? Oh - and the music wasn't bad, either! :)

After Shivkumar we wandered back to the main stage to meet up with Lou and Jason again, and caught some of the show by Etran Finatawa from Niger. The group is made up of musicians from both the Tuareg and Wodaabe nomadic tribes, who together have created a new musical form - Nomad Desert Blues. Here's a nice description from the WOMAD website:
Wodaabe and Tuaregs share the same regions for living, but their music is very different. Wodaabe sing in a traditional matter, wearing traditional costumes and make up. They do not use any instruments but sing in a multivocal way while they dance in slow motion. Their dance, their costumes and their rhythm is unique in the world.

Tuareg people have always used instruments, violins and drums to animate their songs and dances. Since the 1970s the guitar has found its way into Tuareg music. This style is called Ichumar and is a part of Etran Finatawa's repertoire. Etran Finatawa combines the two rich cultures: Their songs are in two languages, Tuareg language (tamasheck) and Wodaabe language (fulfulde). The band instrumentalises the polyphonic songs of the Wodaabe people by means of traditional percussion like calebashes and tende, a traditional tuareg drum, with guitar-rhythm. The polyphonic choir of Wodaabe singers gives a special note to their music. Handclapping and the rich percussion leads the songs and invites people to dance.

Here's the crew gathered on the slope looking down onto the main stage as Etran Finatawa do a bit of tuning up. You'll see Jason, Lou, Esther, Sarah, Zef, Eesha, Toki and a few thousand other people. And my voice. And the fabulous venue that is WOMAD Taranaki. Lovely!

I didn't pay quite as much attention to Etran Finatawa as they deserved (we were socialising at the same time which is never conducive to complete and rapt musician-attention), but I really enjoyed them - enough to want to go and see them again on Sunday. I found it really interesting how many of the dance party kids were down the front dancing away, and I realised (not for the last time during WOMAD) just how much of an influence World Music has been on the creation and development of electronica. There really is a crystal-clear relationship between the two, and not just in ambient electronica either (although that genre probably displays the most obvious influential pathways).

I hadn't really thought about the hippies and the dance kids being into WOMAD - although I should certainly have realised that the hippies would be there - but somehow I thought the dance party kids would have been too cool to go to WOMAD. How silly of me! In fact throughout the weekend I kept on spotting people I used to know at The Gathering - 10 years older than they were then, and still dancing, full of joy and happiness. Awesome.

Here's more of Etran Finatawa:

And here are Sarah, Toki, Esther and Zef dancing to the final song - with Eesha not quite so sure about the whole dancing thing:

The next act (whom I was really excited to be seeing) was master jazz drummer Bill Cobham. He's played with all the greats during his 50-year career, including Thelonius Monk, Stan Getz, and Miles Davis. And as I'm all about the drumming... well, I just had to see him.

He did a master class in the afternoon on the Pagoda stage, and while we were waiting for him to get set up we got to hear the end of the dDub show on the Gables stage next door. Wow. They sounded awesome - and were received incredibly enthusiastically by their leaping, dancing audience. If I hadn't been waiting patiently for Bill I would have raced over there and got stuck in. Next time, next time...

To my surprise, Bill was joined onstage by an old friend of mine, Chris O'Connor. Hi Chris! I knew Chris when I was in the drumming/world music band Many Hands, and I seem to remember he even played with us once or twice. He was an awesome drummer then (I think we were all a bit in awe of him) and he's even better now (and quite famous, too, I think!) Anyway, Bill had co-opted him into his show a couple of hours earlier, which I guess was probably quite a thrill for Chris.

The point of the master class was for Bill (with the help of Chris) to show us some of the drumming techniques he uses, to try and break them down into their most basic patterns so that we could understand them, and to talk a little about how to drum, how to be a drummer, and how to be the best. They were helped in this regard by a lovely MC, who introduced them, suggested what they should show us, and who asked lots of questions such as "can you make it really simple so we get it?" which Bill proceeded to ignore almost completely. I don't think he can play "simple".

It was pretty cool watching Bill do his thing. His technique is truly amazing - he's so dexterous, so skillful, so fast - and his innate sense of rhythm is obviously so well-honed that he can hear (and play) the off-beats and the off-off beats without even thinking about it.

The thing is, he's so good, he's completely impossible to dance to. In fact it's even a challenge to sway along rhythmically when he's playing, because he's constantly changing the tempo and throwing in so many off-beats it's hard sometimes to even hold onto the bass beat. Before Bill, I had never met a drum rhythm I couldn't dance to - in fact I'd never met a drum rhythm that didn't pick me up by the scruff of my neck and force me to dance to it, but I think Bill managed to do what no-one else ever has. He stopped me in my tracks. Nice one, Bill! Here he is, together with Chris O'Connor and the nice MC:

After Bill, I raced down to the Dell Stage, which is in a sweet tree-embraced spot near the main stage, to catch the Huun Huur Tu workshop. Huun Huur Tu are traditional throat-singers from the south Siberian republic of Tuva, and they can produce two and sometimes three harmonious notes simultaneously. Here's how Wikipedia explains it. Throat singing is one of the most ancient musical forms anywhere in the world and ethnomusicologists see it as an integral part in the ancient pastoral animism that is still practiced today in Tuva.

It's the most weirdly wonderful and other-worldly sound, and I've loved it ever since I saw (and) heard throat singers at a WOMAD concert in Wellington, in the days before the WOMAD festival became a permanent fixture here. And then there was that awesome documentary, Genghis Blues, that screened at the Film Festival a few years ago. Still one of my favourite documentaries of all time. So really, seeing Huun Huur Tu's workshop was a must for me.

They had enlisted the help of their manager, a Russian who spoke great English, to help in the workshop. He explained the different types of throat singing, and the fact that it's intimately entwined with their expression of love for the land in which the Tuvans live - the deserts, steppes, forests and mountains. The animistic world view of this region identifies the spirituality of natural objects through the sounds htey make, as well as where they are and what they look like. Many of the sounds made by voice and traditional instruments in Tuvan music mimic the sounds of the landscape, and the birds and animals which live there, and the songs include lyrics that describe the Tuvan landscape and the way of life of the people.

There are also a lot of songs about horses. This is because (as the manager explained), when you live with your family in a yurt in the middle of a vast plain, and the nearest other family is 25km away in their yurt in the middle of the vast plain, and you're looking for love... you're gonna need your horse in order to go get you some of that lovin'. So love songs and horse songs are inextricably linked in the Tuvan culture. I'm sure they love their horses, too.

Except for (or maybe especially when) they need them to make instruments with, of course. Guitars covered in horse-skin, horse tail hairs used for making violin strings, drumskins made of horse - and the clip-cloppy percussion instruments that make a noise like a pair of horse's hooves when two are banged together? Are made out of a pair of horse's hooves. Obvious really - there aren't many coconut trees growing in Tuva. Heh.

Here are Huun Huur Tu with a lovely song about horses (which is now completely stuck in my head and won't go away. Not that I mind!). It includes examples of the Sygyt or whistling technique (reminiscent of birds singing and the gentle breezes of summer), as well as the Khoomei and Kargyraa styles:

After a song or two we were shown some of the different kinds of throat singing. Here's the Khoomei style. Khoomei is the Tuvan name for throat singing as a whole, but it also denotes a technique where the drone is in the middle-range of the voice, with harmonics between one and two octaves above. Singing in this style gives the impression of wind swirling among rocks:

And here's Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, the co-founder of Huun Huur Tu, demonstrating the deep-noted "undertone" technique of Kargyraa. I think this is the dag or "mountain" kargyraa, which is the lower of the two forms of kargyraa. This style can be described as the howling winds of winter or the plaintive cries of a mother camel after losing her calf:

See, this is something I love about WOMAD. Where else could you attend a master class from a master jazz drummer followed by a workshop demonstrating the most ancient form of singing in the world, followed by... a tango class in the rain, taught by the foremost exponents of Argentinian tango in Australasia? Just bloody brilliant.

One thing I would HIGHLY recommend at WOMAD is not to fill your daily calendar too full, and to go with the flow from time to time, and just wander along with your mates to see whoever they want to see. I discovered some real gems that way, including, back at the Dell Stage, Fabio Robles and Ana Andre's tango class.

Zef and Sarah were there already when I arrived, together with Eesha and Esther, so we all settled down to watch the show. Well, we started off by settling down. We weren't sat down for long, though.

Fabio and Ana. Fabio is this lovely, warm, handsome Argentinian with a hint of an Aussie accent, which is really rather endearing, and Ana is from Portugal. When she was introduced and walked out on stage a collective "ooh!" went up from the crowd because she was just.beautiful. Tall and incredibly slender, wearing a fantastically sexy dress that was slit right up the front as far as it would go (and then some!) - she was just a vision.

They began by dancing for us, and then they started the class. "Everyone up on their feet! Come on!" So we all dutifully stood up, and prepared to tango. It was raining quite heavily by this point, but it really didn't matter. We scooped up all our stuff into a pile on and around the pushchair, covered it with one of the waterproof blankets, waterproof side out, and each found a partner.

Initially Zef and Sarah were dancing together, and I was with Eesha, but she decided she'd rather tango with her dad, so we all swapped around and I ended up with Sarah (with Esther on her hip.) She danced the man to my woman, which was pretty funny, especially when Esther got thirsty and decided to head for the boobie. I never imagined I'd ever get the chance to tango with a womanfriend, in a glade, with 200 other people, in the rain, while she breastfeeds her baby at the same time as manoeuvering me around the dancefloor (glade). Classic!

Bit by bit we all learned the steps, practiced them separately and then put them all together, bit by bit. It was very funny, and heaps of fun, and we all got really wet, and no-one cared at all. Each time we learned a new step they'd pull another couple onto the stage with them until there were about 10 couples up there, all tangoing away with varying levels of success.

By the end of it we were all step-slide, step-slide, back, back, step-slide, step-slide, forwards, forwards, step in front-flick! front-flick! front-flick! front-flick! step behind-flick!, behind-flick!, behind-flick! behind-flick! and round-two-three-four-five-flick! change direction-two-three-four-five-flick! leg up and round behind the man's legs/bum, other leg up and over the first leg (jump!) and down again second leg, first leg... woohoo!

W00t! Once we'd (sorta, kinda) mastered it, Fabio made us all swap partners and dance with someone we didn't know. Hi new partner! Not having a babe-on-hip to contend with, my new partner was able to do the whole lifting thing at the end, so I actually did manage to do the leg-around-his-leg/bum and jump! thing, which made me very happy. And then Sarah gave Esther to Zef and we did it too - just to show we could. Brilliant!

I had quite a gap until the next show I really wanted to see, so I did a bit of shopping in the marketplace (I hardly ever shop! What came over me? It was lovely actually) and bought the most beautiful kitē (that's the Māori flax-woven bag/basket, not the flying-on-a-string thing) by Jasmine Clark from Kare Kare, aka seaweed. It's enormous, and so beautifully woven that it's a work of art more than simply a practical way of carrying your togs to the beach. I think I'll put it on my wall. Or have it on display somewhere. I left it at the stall, planning to pick it up later when it stopped raining, and then bought a lovely hand-painted shirt in shades of smoky mauve, blue and grey. It's that hippy costume thing again, you see.

Checked out the global food village, got something to eat (the food really was fab), wandered around some more and then headed off to the Pagoda Stage to see Bill Cobham's main performance. We had to wait quite a while - the Jonathan Crayford Project were still doing their thing on the Gables Stage next door, and we really couldn't begin until they had finished. They ended with this massive jam session and drumming thing that seemed to go on for about 15 minutes. It sounded pretty good, and again if I hadn't been waiting for Bill I'd have gone over and checked it out, but anyway...

Finally Bill did his thing - and he basically drummed without pause for 45 or 50 minutes. It was pretty amazing actually. Completely ambidexterous, sometimes with two sticks, sometimes with four (two in each hand, each playing a different drum). Here are two bits of it. You'll see why it's impossible to dance to, but very impressive, nonetheless:

After Bill, I met up with Lou and Jason, and we went over to the Brooklands stage to see Huun Huur Tu again. The dance party kids were out in force, dancing very happily at the front (in the rain once more) and I had the most lovely time, dancing by myself further back, occasionally worrying that the rain drifting blowily across the front of the stage was actually blowing onto the group and damaging their horse-y instruments. Lou and Jason sat on their portable stools nearby, and I hope they had a lovely time too.

Huun Huur Tu's melodies are quite amazing in that although they are so ancient, and come from such a long tradition, they are also somehow very recognisable. I found myself humming along with almost all their songs, even new ones they hadn't played at the workshop. Interesting. There were a few bands on Sunday where I felt like I knew the music before I knew it, too. I love it when that happens. It feels like there's an infinite connection between you and the musicians and their music. Maybe that's why the dance party kids (and I include myself in that group) are drawn to this kind of music.

One thing you have to be aware of when you go to any festival with a bunch of friends, is that everyone has their own body rhythm, and their own high- and low-energy points. Esther and Eesha had reached theirs sometime after the tango class, so Sarah took them home, while Zef stayed on. Lou reached hers sometime during Huun Huur Tu. I was more than a bit sad about that, but you have to practice the art of compromise when you do festivals together, so I reluctantly let them tear me away from my lovely throat singers, in preparation for going home.

I'd got a txt from Zef, who was grooving on down to Mr Scruff at the Dell Stage, so we headed back down there in the rainrainrain, to pick him and Toki up and give them a ride home. Oh my lordy was Mr Scruff playing some great grooves or WHAT? Jazzy, funky, reggae-ish - I just HAD to dance. Lou and Jason graciously practiced their art of compromise and agreed to stick around for a while - and because they didn't feel like dancing they looked after my bag while I headed into the heaving mass of soaking wet wildly-grinning people on the dancefloor. Thanks a million, guys!

We had so much fun, and all got completely soaking wet, which didn't matter because we were dancing so hard-out that our clothes were drying as fast as they were being rained on. I realise I haven't danced outdoors to a DJ in anything remotely resembling a field in FAR too long - and I truly miss it. I really have to do it more often. Welli has never really been much of an outdoor party place (apart from the ClearLight parties in the 90s) so I guess I'd have to venture down south to find them - maybe around ChCh or Dunners. Not that that's any hardship - I love the south island!

Eventually I got a txt from Jason saying "c u back at the car" and I figured this might possibly be a subtle hint that they really would like to go now please, so I gathered up the boys and we headed off, all completely determined to be back for Mr Scruff's entire set on Sunday night.

On the way home Toki demonstrated to us all that he can actually do throat-singing, which is pretty amazing (No bull! He can really do it!), especially as at the workshop we'd been told it's not really something you can learn, you just "know" (assuming you've been brought up in a yurt in Tuva, of course!)

What a brilliant day. More tomorrow.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

WOMAD March 2007, Taranaki, New Zealand. Part one - Friday.

WOMAD - the Bowl stage. This time last week I was at WOMAD 2007, in New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand. It was the most wonderful festival I've been to in a long time. I reckon WOMAD, and the incredible venue of Brooklands Park and the Bowl, are two of this country's best-kept secrets. Well - to the 20,000 other people at the sold-out event I guess WOMAD is not so secret, and of course the citizens of New Plymouth have long been aware of the wonders of this particular venue, but for the rest of the country? Not so much.

Our introduction to the venue was spectacular, to say the least. We parked out on the road (to save being jammed up in exiting traffic later on), and then walked across the racecourse to the WOMAD site. It was late Friday afternoon, the sun was still shining, and we joined the end of a long queue of people making their way down the bush-clad path towards the entrance to the venue. Sunlight glinted through the thick trees and native bush - and it was just about the most beautiful location for a queue I think I've ever seen. Quite magical, in fact.

After about half an hour we finally reached the gates to WOMAD, had our bags checked and wristbands put on - and I was standing there in awe, not quite believing what an amazing place we'd found ourselves in. We were at the foot of a huge natural amphitheatre, edged on two sides by beautiful native trees. To our right as we came through the gates was the main stage - the Bowl Stage - a sweeping curved permanent construction set within a little lake.

The grass-covered slope of the amphitheatre flowed right up from the water's edge to the top of the hill, and the entire area was just full of people. Thousands were already sitting on the grass watching the performance on the main stage, others were walking up the path which took you to the top of the hill and towards the global food village, global village (market) area and 3 other stages, while others were milling around, greeting friends and generally being thrilled to be there. It was quite awesome. What a gorgeous place!

We arrived just as Huun Huur Tu - the Tuvan throat-singers - were doing their thing on the main stage, and we decided that we'd have a bit of an explore of the site first, and catch them the following day.

I've been to WOMAD once before - the first year it came to NZ and was held in Aotea Square in Auckland (not the ideal venue for WOMAD, but never mind) - and the performer who'd completely and unexpectedly blown me away was Shivkumar Sharma, the Indian santoor player. I was so pleased to see he was at WOMAD again this year, and Lou, Jason and I decided to go see him on the Brooklands Stage.

Shivkumar Sharma has been playing the Indian folk instrument, the santoor, for over 50 years, and his son Rahul Sharma is now a master santoor player too. Their performance is accompanied by the most amazing tabla player Yogesh Samsi, and it's incredibly hypnotic - and absolutely compelling.

The santoor's a shallow open wooden box, and has 100 metal strings stretched across it, somewhat like a zither or dulcimer. It's played using a pair of wooden rods, upturned at the ends. Shivkumar and Rahul play in the jugalbandhi style - where their two instruments compete and contrast with each other in an on-stage improvisation based on a classical raga. I love this description by Wellingtonista so much, I think I'll just borrow it:

Using a 100-string santoor in chromatic arrangement Sharma creates complex webs of beautiful, ethereal, shimmering sound, mounting improvisation within improvisation within the raga form, climaxing in furious blowouts with fiery tabla virtuosos and frenzied, ecstatic glissando.

Shivkumar describes the effect of Santoor music as "something like a whisper and a cascade of a waterfall." Which interestingly enough is almost exactly how Sarah described it, after seeing him perform the following day.

Here they are. The deepdeep throbbing notes you can hear are the sound of the bass tabla underlying the melodies:

We decided we'd take a look at the Bowl Stage next, and catch a little of the Gotan Project. I seem to remember we were a wee bit hungry by that point, so we stopped at the global food village on the way. YUMMY food from all over the world, great coffee and a lovely atmosphere. And recycling bins everywhere, clearly labelled with what should go inside them (plastic, paper, cans etc). "Hmmm", we thought "wouldn't it have been lovely if we could have done that kind of thing at The Gathering..." We spent quite a lot of WOMAD comparing its organisation with that of The Gathering. A very interesting exercise.

The Gotan Project were pretty good (lots of people have asked me this week if I saw them), but I have to admit (to my shame) that they didn't grab me like some of the other performers did over the weekend. I think perhaps it's because we didn't see the whole show, as we were busy filling our faces first, and we were sitting pretty far up the slope of the amphitheatre, which means you're miles away from the stage - plus there were plenty of other distractions (see next video). Anyway, everyone else seemed to be massively enjoying them, so there you go. My loss!

Here are the freaky stiltwalking Quidams making their way across the site. You can hear the Gotan Project in the background:

The next performer we saw was to be one of my stand-out shows of the whole festival - and I am SO grateful to Lou for suggesting we go and see her.

Mariza is a fado singer from Portugal. I suppose I should say the fado singer, because although she's still pretty young she's already being compared to Portugal's greatest fado icon Amalia Rodrigues.

I guess you could describe fado as a bit like the French torch song. Passionate pieces about love, and life, about joy and tragedy - not simply sung but felt with every ounce of the singer's soul. Mariza was completely amazing in this regard. She's charismatic, gorgeous, sexy and absolutely charming - she had us in the palm of her hand throughout the set - and she has a KILLER voice. Really - it's truly fantastic.

But I think it was the emotion and passion that she poured into every song - both with the tone of her voice and movements of her body - that really blew me away. Mariza secured a new fan that night - and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Here she is singing Primavera - in two parts because my little camera can only do 3 minutes at a time.

Apologies in advance for the way the camera strays from the subject matter from time to time in the first clip. I was trying not to annoy those around me with my bright camera screen by closing it up while filming and only checking it once in a while. About halfway through I thought "fuck this" and started filming properly. Thank goodness. Here's Mariza...

During Mariza's performance we (and everyone else around us) were assailed by the only annoying people we encountered during the entire festival. This pair of drunken middle-aged men were intent on having the loudest conversation possible, extolling the virtues of Mariza's voice, her body, her passion - and just about everything else you can think of. "We're in the presence of greatness here, Richard!!" (yes I know we are, but do you have to share your every thought with Richard quite so loudly?) Honestly, I thought the guy was going to come in his pants right then and there... Eventually Lou turned around and shushed him very firmly, and he pretty much shut up after that. He gave us daggers when the lights came up afterwards, but who cares?

Oh! I must mention the (normally) dreaded subject of festival toilets at this point. When you gotta go, you gotta go, and I decided sometime during Mariza's set that I hadda go.

Anyone who's ever been to a festival will tell you that the toilets are generally a complete nightmare. It's either converted cattle stalls over a shitty pit (Glastonbury for many years) or stinky, overflowing port-a-loos (The Gathering, I'm afraid - however hard we tried to get them emptied regularly). You hold on as long as you can, and then you have to take your own loo paper and put a peg on your nose, and get in and out as fast as possible before you're overcome by the grossness... you know what it's like. Not so at WOMAD.

The loos at WOMAD were a complete revelation. Every single loo I used throughout the festival was a flush loo, properly plumbed, clean as a new pin, sweet-smelling, with its own loo paper, basins with running water, soap and their own supply of paper hand towels... it was quite amazing. Wow. You might think a festival's not a festival without disgusting loos, but let me tell you - nice loos are a truly wonderful thing - even (or especially) at a festival. Huge props to the organisers for having it so beautifully organised and under control.

At some point during the evening it got pretty cold - the threatening rain had held off, but that meant a clear and starry night - and the temperature dropped quite dramatically. I found a gorgeous Indian blanket at one of the stalls in the global village market, and after that I was one happy and snuggly bunny. We also rooted around in the pirate's treasure chest that was the bead stall (thousands of bangles for sale in all shapes, sizes and colors) and I found six lovely bead bangles in natural materials in shades of orange, brown and ochre. Well, if you can't stock up on your hippy costumes at WOMAD, where can you do it?

We wandered back to the Bowl stage after Mariza and caught a bit of Femi Kuti, but we were all pretty tired by that point (it's a 5+ hour drive from Wellington to New Plymouth), so we decided to head home to our rented 1970's throwback house and get some shut-eye in preparation for the 2-day, 12 hour day marathon that was ahead...

More later, gentle reader, more later...

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Stop the War!

On this day, the fourth anniversary of America's War on Iraq, I thought I'd bring you some images from anti-war demonstrations around the world. (Thanks, Yahoo News!)

Thousands of anti-war banners fill the streets.
Anti-war demonstrators arrive at the Pentagon during a march to protest the US presence in Iraq, 17 March 2007.

Impeach Bush posters.
Anti-war protesters march across 42nd Street in New York City, 18 March 2007.

Code Pink's Impeach banner.
Members of the anti-war group Code Pink protest outside the San Francisco City Hall during a demonstration to mark the 4th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, in San Francisco, California March 18, 2007.

Stop War - face painting.
Against the war : A Muslim demonstrator gets her face painted with anti-war slogans during a protest against the fourth-year anniversary of the US-led occupation of Iraq, in front of the United States embassy in downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Ant-war banners in San Fran.
Anti-war protesters march through the streets of San Francisco on Sunday, March 18, 2007, to mark the fourth anniversary of U.S. invasion of Iraq.

I'm 88. The war's a mistake. WWII vet.
Wearing his original uniform and a Purple Heart medal, Harold Unsicker, 88, joins thousands of anti-war demonstrators gathered in San Francisco on Sunday, March 18, 2007. Unsicker received his Purple Heart while serving in Italy during World War II.

Wage Peace - Impeach Cheney & Bush now. War is terrorism.
Joan Shapiro marches during an anti-war protest in New York, Sunday, March 18, 2007. Hundreds of anti-war activists, calling for the 'defunding' of the war in Iraq or the immediate return of U.S. troops, marched through Manhattan on Sunday and took their case to the offices of the state's two Democratic senators.

Jesus is not a Republican. And God is not in the White House.
Pat Meany marches during an anti-war protest in New York, Sunday, Mar. 18, 2007.

Demonstrators in the snow.
Demonstrators hold signs and sing during a protest against the Iraq war, Sunday, March 18, 2007, in Bangor, Maine. Antiwar activists gathered in dozen of towns and cities across Maine on Sunday in a storm-delayed show of opposition to the Iraq war timed to coincide with its fourth anniversary.

Not one more death. Not one more dollar. Bring them home.
Fred Bailey of Bangor, Maine, heads home after protesting the Iraq war, Sunday, March 18, 2007, in Bangor. About 500 people participated in the rally.

Bush, blood on your hands.
A protester wearing a mask of U.S. President George W. Bush, holds a banner reading "Bush, blood on your hands" in red, during an anti-war protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Brussels, marking the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, March 18, 2007.

Ant-war protest in Tokyo.
Around 2,000 demonstrators marched through Tokyo on Sunday, protesting the Iraq war as well as hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's attempt to revise the pacifist constitution.

Flag-draped coffins in Hollywood.

A fleet of coffins.
Demonstrators carry mock coffins during an anti-war rally to mark the fourth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, in Hollywood, California March 17, 2007.

Stop US war.
A protester holds a couple of candles to mark the 4th anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Iraq during a protest near the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines Tuesday March 20, 2007. Peace activists in the Philippines, joining a global protest, mark its fourth anniversary by calling an end to the war in Iraq.

US fatalities: 3,217.

US wounded: over 24,000.

Iraqi fatalities: no-one knows, because America doesn't care enough to count. Estimates vary between 65,000 and 600,000.

Cost of war to America: $2 billion per day. Currently at $463 billion and counting.

Weapons of Mass Destruction found: 0.


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Problems with Site Meter not working

Screenshot showing broken Site Meter stats on my blog. Since March 8 I have had no stats at all from Site Meter. Initially when I logged in, it read "The statistics from the last 1720 minutes are not available". So I waited, and waited, and checked again and again - and after a while it stopped showing that message, and instead just showed my summary page with no visitors at all that day (see screenshot). And it's been like that ever since.

What's worse is that every single one of my Site Meter pages now contains no data - even historical data from before it all went pear-shaped has disappeared!

At first I thought it might have been caused by me adding Google Analytics to my blog, which I did around the same time I lost data from Site Meter. Well, I reckon you can never have too many site stats, eh? Now I'm not so sure - because having Googled around a bit I see I'm not the only one having problems.

I pay for my Site Meter service, because I'm inordinately interested in my visitor stats and I figure it's worth the small amount I pay per year to see what people are searching on, and where they come from, where they go to - all that good stuff. As a paying customer I'd expect at least an acknowledgement of the two emails I have sent so far to Site Meter. But I haven't heard a thing. Not great service, guys!

But OK - let's say that every blogger on the planet uses Site Meter (and I know many of us do), and let's say 10% of them are having problems at the moment, and let's say that 10% of them email Site Meter about it - so maybe the guys are a bit snowed under at the moment. Understandable - and forgivable - but then why can't the Site Meter team at least update their blog a bit more regularly? Keep us in the loop that way?

I'm on server s25 at Site Meter (I know that because it's the first bit of my username), and there is a mention of s25 on the blog from a few days ago, describing a "lag" which should have been fixed by the end of the weekend. Problem is, I don't hink the complete loss of data I've experienced on Site Meter really counts as a "lag". Here's a screenshot of what every one of my pages look like right now...

My Site Meter visits graph. Ah! Interesting! I just went over to Site Meter to get a screenshot of all my blank pages and the missing data has miraculously returned! Woohoo! Up until March 8, that is. There's still absolutely nothing from March 8 until now. Maybe it is just a "lag" - a HUUUUUUUGE lag - but a lag nonetheless.

We shall see. I love Site Meter! I miss my stats! I don't love not hearing from them, though.

Is anyone else having problems with Site Meter? What server are you on?

UPDATE 3.25PM: Yaay! The Site Meter crew have put an update on their blog! They say that not all the stats categories have updated since March 3rd, and that they're looking into it. They also say that s25 is still lagging heavily so they're fixing that too. Brilliant! That's all we ask - just keep us up-to-date with what's happening and we'll be happy. Thanks guys!

UPDATE 15/03/07: Hooray! I'm all caught up on Site Meter - and my visitor stats have hit the 40,000 mark! Woohoo! Thanks Site Meter guys for all your hard work in getting the server working properly again. It's much appreciated.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Swiss invade country by mistake

Oh yes I know this news is days old now - but I just read it today in my Guardian Weekly and it tickled me so much I had to include it in my blog.

A company of 170 soldiers on a night training exercise in neutral Switzerland accidentally "invaded" Liechtenstein when they became lost and crossed the unmarked border. They retreated quickly on realising their mistake after an advance of 1.66km.


Perhaps, as Ross commented when I read it out to him - perhaps that's what the US is doing! They accidentally invaded Iraq when someone put their foot too hard on the gas pedal of a Hummer and inadvertantly crossed the border! Maybe they'll all come back once they realise their mistake!

Ah - if only....

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hooray! Things to be happy about today :)

There are heaps of things for me to feel happy about today:

Marsden B
Greenpeace activists taking part in the global day of action on climate change outside the proposed coal burning power station Marsden B at Ruakaka, Northland. First and foremost the plan to recommission Marsden B has been scrapped! Hooray! Woohoo!! Yaaay! A victory for every greenie in the country, and a victory for commonsense.

Here's the Green party press release: Mighty River Power sees the light - at last. And here's Greenpeace's take on it: VICTORY! Marsden B is no more - with some suggestions for futher action over the coming months.

I celebrated by switching power companies. I used to be with Genesis, but I will soon be a proud user of Meridian Energy's electricity - New Zealand's only certified carbon neutral electricity generator. Why don't you make the switch too? Just think how much less CO2 we'd produce if enough of us made the switch to clean energy! Check out the Clean Energy Guide to find out more about your power company - and how to make the change.

Scooter Libby
Scooter Libby outside the courtroom. So ol' Scooter went 4 for 5 in the old "guilty" verdicts yesterday. Hooray for a sensible jury who listened to the arguments and then took a massive 10 days to make up their minds. Wonder how he feels, knowing that he's the fall guy for some pretty high-up people in the Bush administration (I'm looking at you, Dick and Karl!).

Here's some background on Lewis "Scooter" Libby by Wikipedia - and here is the most fascinating account of the trial by Denis Collins, Juror #9: Inside the Jury Room. It's brilliant.

(My Teevy boyfriend) Clay Aiken
Yummy Clay. I was over at Technorati today, checking out what everyones' searching on, and to my complete amazement, there was Clay at #3 in the most popular searches! Apparently he's been there for a couple of days at least. Interesting!

As I haven't been around the CH very much recently I had to race over to Clay Blogs to see what was happening - and what massive piece of ClayNews I had missed. I'm not quite sure, but I think it's that there might possibly be some news about his upcoming summer tour at some point. Soon. Maybe.

Apparently so far we know of two concerts - July 20 at Chautauqua Institution, NY (tickets go on sale April 2nd) and August 2 at Embarcadero Marina Park South, San Diego, CA (tickets go on sale April 2nd).

Ahhhh - the power of the ClayNation. Two measly tour dates announced and Clay shoots into the top #3 at Technorati. I love it! Looks like there might be another trip to the US on my horizon...

The person I like
I seem to be getting on extra-well with the person I rather like. Which is very nice indeed. I have no idea if anything will ever happen - I may be in the grip of a massively unrequited crush, or it just might be taking them a while to realise the wonderfulness that is me. Whichever it is, our developing friendship is making me very happy. Yaay!

Canoeing down the Whanganui River
A bunch of us from Shift (me and four of the boyz) just spent three days canoeing down the Whanganui River. It.was.bloody.wonderful. Watch out for my blog post (complete with Ross's pics and crazy video) coming soon!

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