si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: fun

It’s All My Fault

I grew up on a faultline.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since New Zealand only exists because two tectonic plates decided to get together and have a rub-yourself-up-against-each-other party. To the West we have the Indo-Australian plate, to the East the Pacific Plate. Which I guess actually made it something of a “bring your own plate” party. Ohhh, I’ll be here all week, try the veal.

More specifically though, the actual faultline was about 50 metres (160ft) from my house.

What’s it like growing up in this kind of environment? Well, let’s just say, anything under a 5.0 on the Richter scale you might lift your coffee off the table while you assess it & check your nearest safe zone (table, doorway, etc), but other than that you more or less ignore it.

You become blasé surprisingly quickly.

A more interesting question is: what the hell does a faultline actually look like?

Well, my folks have moved since I was a kid, so I’m now living much farther away. About 50 metres farther.

To get there I have to cross this most excellent bridge:

Awesome bridge

I do like well considered architecture (and blues skies).

I also have to pass this rather interesting (non earthquake related) tree:

Because we’re on the other side of the world, the sun goes in circles, confusing plant growth patterns

Definitely an odd tree – there’s only one of them.. ahh!

Anyway, just past that, you get to this rather innocuous looking bank:

Innocuous Bank

Just like any old golf course really. Except for those weird blue poles. What’s up with them?

Well, if you sight along them, they look like this:

Two poles. Perfectly aligned

Notice how they’re perpendicular to the bank. That’s not an accident.

These poles were put in by the government white coats to track plate movement.

That innocent looking bank above? It keeps going in both directions… and there’s an identical looking bank on the other side of the river. That’s the faultline. Twenty years ago that ground was bulldozed flat.

So why do the poles line up, if there’s been all that movement?

Because we’re standing too close. Here are three poles:

Uh oh, someone stuck one of those poles in the wrong place. Yeah, that’s it.

Notice how the two on the other side of the fault are angled off to the right of the viewer (ie, the most distant pole is to the left of the central pole).

That is very, very much out of alignment.

When they were put in, they all lined up perfectly. It would have been done with one of these. Theodolites are great, love me a theodolite. If you’ve never used one, I highly recommend it.

So let’s step even farther back:

Oh dear.

Remember how the most distant one is slightly to the left?

So you can see that drawing a straight line between the two most distant poles goes off to our right. A straight line between the two poles on this side of the fault goes screaming off to the left of the furthest two.

Not only has there been significant vertical movement, but a ton of lateral motion too.

So here’s the odd thing: There’s been no major earthquakes here, certainly nothing like Christchurch.

What’s happening is something that scientists have only really been able to track since about 2002 – slow earthquakes. These are tricky to spot, since they occur over hours or months, and don’t typically register on seismographs (the scientists use GPS to track them instead).

Many of these slow earthquakes are huge though (R7-9) and they’re radically altering New Zealand’s shape. This isn’t a terrible thing though, NZ’s a weird shape to start with, a bit of a haircut might do us some good.

Why can’t we be an elegant, tastefully shaped country, like Italy’s boot?


I found this brilliant overhead view which shows the faultline perfectly:

the overhead view

The middle arrow is about where I was standing when I took the last four pics above.

The view is stolen from this thoroughly informative page on the subject. Kudos to them!


    Nice Night For a Walk

    It’s just turned New Year, 2012.

    Generally for New Year’s Eve I prefer to do something contemplative. Meditate on the past year (or years). Feel my way to a better direction for the coming year. Assess and makes choices that will guide me positively forward.

    With that in mind, around 10pm I took off up a nearby hill (it’s only 345m high at the peak). It was a 45 minute hike in the dark to the lookout point I was aiming for. I chose to use no lights, partly as a more interesting challenge and partly so I could see the glow-worms on the way up.

    Oh boy, they didn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, photos just don’t do those bright little bundles any justice.

    I was right about it being an interesting walk. For a start, it’s been raining like crazy the last few days, so everything in the bush is soaking wet. Combine heavy cloud cover with only a quarter new moon, and it wasn’t exactly clear where I was supposed to be walking either. The path was (theoretically) fairly light, except so were the ferns on either side, oh, and the rocks… and the puddles… and the grass. Also, that light coloured path? It was covered in various dark coloured flora, tree branches, grass, leaves, stiles, animals, dead bodies, burning cars, zombies*.

    * some of these items may be a complete lie.

    Mostly it wasn’t too bad though. My eyes adjusted pretty quick and I only slipped over a couple of times.

    I got to the top around 11, but had wildly underestimated how warm it would be trekking up the hill, so promptly stripped down to let my shirt dry out a little. If there were any ghosts up there, I’m sure I scared them off with my stunning whiteness (it’s a sight to behold, I assure you).

    I then spent the next hour meditating, absorbing the essence of the previous year and sipping the delicious coffee I’d taken up with me.

    I also got treated to lightning on the far off ridges and fireworks up and down the valley. Theoretically fireworks are illegal in New Zealand outside of Guy Fawkes‘ week (the week before Nov 5) but people still store them up for New Year’s. I’m happy they do, it makes New Year’s a lot more festive than just a bunch of yahoos yahooing.

    Surprisingly, the march back down the hill was significantly more dangerous than up. My eyes had adjusted so I could see better, but even with that I hit a lot of unexpected drops in terrain. I ended up walking most of the way down in a half crouch. Imagine you’re sitting in an upright chair. Now take the chair away. Yeah, like that. An odd posture, but effective and a lot safer than walking normally (which had left me unharmed but on my arse a couple of times). When I got back closer to civilization, I also had to shield my eyes from the street lights just to see where I was going. It’s hard to comprehend just how much light pollution there is until you’re walking back into it from the pitch black.

    I did end up soaked to the skin up to my knees – it’s hard to see invisible wet grass – but it was totally worth it. Walking down in the dark, brooks burbling by the track, the glow of the worms, giant trees majestic against the skyline, it was an utterly beautiful experience.

    And proof you can take the boy out of Scouts, but never take the Scout out of the boy; other than what I wore, I also took with me and used:

    • hat
    • gloves
    • scarf
    • camera
    • blanket (my Grandma gave it to me over 20 years ago; it’s the only thing I have left connected to her)
    • thermos of coffee

    but took and didn’t use:

    • three torches
    • phone
    • bottle of water
    • fabric tape
    • plastic bag
    • leatherman

    I figured if I accidentally walked off a bank & broke a leg (a reasonable risk) I might as well take enough to be comfortable & safe until morning.

    Turns out I didn’t need most of it, but it was worth it without the added excitement. Partly for the peace & calmness that comes from occasionally detaching completely from the world. Partly for this:

    Here’s to a gorgeous 2012.



      Today I woke up and there was honest to god, real life snow, just lying everywhere, being all lazy.

      Even though it’s winter, around these parts there hasn’t been snow since 1995.

      So, what better way to spend a Monday morning than to go for a walk up a local hill? (rhetorical question)

      Yes. A hill. With actual snow.

      This hill, unsurprisingly.

      Muppet gloves

      Mum brought her gloves, made from 100% genuine Muppet, and we were away!

      We passed a couple of ducks. One looked like this:

      Duck. One. Not to scale.

      The other looked different. Grumpier (I think).

      There were also some wild quail. They hopped away in that bizarre quailly manner, which can’t really be explained. They weren’t particularly scared of us, so I’m guessing there aren’t a whole lot of quail hunters in this suburb. As a side note, guns are rather damn difficult to get your hands on in New Zealand, so that probably helps. I’m not sure, exactly, how quail keep up with current gun legislation, but they did seem to have a   handle on it.

      New Zealand is also very green (you may have heard).

      Here's one of the green bits

      There’s plenty of green to go round. Lots of other bits look like this too.

      Mum got very excited by the first bit of snow we found (I did mention it’s rare here, right?)

      There was (spoiler alert!) more snow to come, but compared to zero snow, this was LOTS

      It was also crunchy under foot (always a nice sound).

      The first of many snowball fights

      I told Mum I was going to take a photo of myself throwing a snowball at her. Thus, this is blurry – as I’m frantically clicking with one hand & biffing with the other. However, note, just left of her left shoulder – voila! Snowball! In the air! I claim victory! (even if this one did miss her, dammit)

      We also saw lots of crazy gorse. Flowering (in winter), in the snow:

      Pesky Gorse

      Gorse is something of a huge pest here in NZ. This is similar to many innovative & brilliant ideas we gained from the British, who brought gorse over to use as hedges. They didn’t allow for the fact that NZ is on the other side of the planet (surprise!), thus has a completely different climate.. and voila! Gorse The (now) Noxious Pest took  over the country. See also: rabbits, and possums. Thanks England! (I’m signalling my disapproval with two thumbs up!)

      Gorse is, however, rather pretty (aww).

      We’re also pretty good at growing ferns over here:

      Mum loves ferns. Doubly so when covered in snow.

      Mum insisted I get this pic. The framing is crazy coz the ferns were so giant, and the track so small, the only way I could get the pic was by holding my camera over my head (ie, I really had no idea where it was pointing).

      When we got to the top, there were a ton of gums & pines (it’s forestry area, sorta), all looking as pretty as a picture:

      Ooh look, trees!

      So, you know, here’s a picture.

      I also made a snow man (I said I would!). Well, a snow alien:

      Snow Alien (I like his antenna the best)

      He was tiny but cute (kinda like me – at least some of the time).

      Mum reckoned he was starting to look like a rabbit, but No! He’s An Alien!

      Mum did her best to look like an alien too

      Mum did try to twizzle her hair up into antenna, but since everything was pretty wet by now (snow! it’s wet! who knew?) it didn’t work so well. I reckon she’s got the arms pretty much perfect though.

      Which was good timing, coz about a minute later one of the arms fell off the alien (who obviously didn’t have quite such a strong grasp on the whole arm/body concept).

      The view from the top was pretty spectacular:

      Look! Snow! Also, Wellington off in the distance

      You can just (if you tilt your head and squint) see the blue of the sea, right off in the distance between those two hills. Trick is, the river runs down into it. They do that sometimes, I’m told.

      I also took enough shots to get a panorama of sorts, but I need to figure out how to do that (without wasting hours of my life painstakingly aligning everything & adjusting brightnesses etc).

      Aww, pretty!

      Everything in general was pretty damn pretty.

      Also, we had coffee from a thermos, which made everything more awesome.

      This gum was quite beautiful too:

      Don't leave it stuck to your bedstead overnight

      I’ve always had a soft spot for gum trees, but I think five years in Australia has made me love them more than ever.

      Oh, and proof that the five or six snowball fights weren’t all one sided?

      Covered in snow. Thanks Mum!

      All that snow on me? That was after I’d brushed myself off. I was covered in it! All thanks to my Mum. Sheesh! I used to think she loved me! What a meanie.

      One reason I’m laughing so much was that she’d never used my camera before, so picked it up the wrong way. She was about to take a giant photo of her face – which of course I could see perfectly, since the screen was facing me. Oh Mum!

      On the way back down, we found a giant branch that had fallen onto the road, so we dragged it off to the side so no-one would come round the corner & drive their truck into it.

      We also found the perfect picnic spot:

      The perfect picnic spot!

      And that was in the middle of a snow storm! Now imagine how beautiful that’ll be in the summer!



        Random Thursday Night Adventure

        I was sitting at home the other night, minding my own business when a text message flashed in on my intra-planetary communicator:

        “I’m coming to pick you up. I’ll be there at 9:50pm. Pack a toothbrush”

        Well, okay then.

        (Secretly? I adore these kind of spontaneous adventures.)

        On the agenda? Sitting in an outdoor jacuzzi half the night; a glass or two of red wine; catching up on old times; watching the lights from the ships coasting in and out of the harbour:

        This was the jacuzzi view.. except, you know, black. Night time, see.

        We eventually crashed about 4ish. Then up at 8 for breakfast in bed (bacon & mushroom omelette, toast, camomile tea) and a quick drive into town.

        I suspect the breakfast was to buy me off so I could drive my mate to an appointment. He went to that, and since it was a super gorgeous day I grabbed a coffee and walked along the beach.

        Beach! (well, obviously) Also: City.

        As isolated as New Zealand is from the rest of the world, it really is one incredibly picturesque place. As the song goes, you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.

        the local marina (was looking for a friend's exquisitely restored 1800s boat, but couldn't find it)

        As I was wandering around, i got to thinking about mistakes. Now, I have (historically) been something of a type-A personality. Hard charging, ambitious, etc. The upside is, you get a lot done. The downside is you tend to be a pain in the ass to be around, but that’s a whole other conversation. Oh, also, there’s the ever-so-slight issue of perfectionism and the attendant self-criticism.

        Now, as an example: I know I look good when I have about two days of beard growth. Now, I don’t think of this as attractive. No, I think of it as “optimally hairy.”

        In other words, except for about 6 hours two days in, my facial hair is permanently sub-optimal. Wow, self-criticism much? *laugh*

        Walking in the sun, I suddenly realised that I haven’t been making mistakes my whole life (or having sub-optimal facial hair, now we’re on the subject). What I’m really doing is experiencing previous karma. In other words, there’s no way, at any given time and place with the knowledge and experience I had then, that I could have chosen otherwise. This is stuff I have had to get wrong, so I could learn from it.

        Of course, we do dumb shit, suffer the consequences & thus (hopefully) grow, heal, unwind that karma. That is how we progress through life.

        The key point is this: We may have to experience the same “mistakes” over and over and over. This isn’t because we keep making them. It’s because we have to keep growing, until such time as everything is in place, and we’re finally ready to learn the whole lesson, not just the obvious, surface stuff.

        The mistake is in looking too closely at any given action. “Oh, I went out with the same kind of shitbag again.” What we’re missing is that we’re learning a ton of other things, and we’re just working our way down through the layers, little by little, at a pace which is right for us.

        Things are always perfect, even when they suck. All we’ve gotta do is just keep paying attention. Keep learning when we can, and keep loving ourselves.

        Why? Because giving ourselves a hard time just adds to our misery. It doesn’t help us learn, or grow, or heal. As much as our ego might like to convince us otherwise, it also doesn’t prevent us making the same mistake in the future. Healing, learning and growing does that, not self-flagellation.

        When we’ve truly grown past it, the opportunities for that mistake generally won’t even appear. The shitbags disappear (of their own volition) out of our lives. And trust me, I’ve seen this, ohhh, many times.

        So, you know, mini-satoris like this are always nice, but I still had more heavy duty walking around to get done!

        Also, mental note: Buy a beard trimmer.

        Because I’m such a raging narcissist, I simply had to take a self pic.

        Self portrait, with boatsheds (note the Very Important Peace Sign)

        I learned everything I need to know about posing for photographs from the Japanese tourists who used to endlessly harass us when I was training Aikido in Melbourne. (You have never seen such polite & deferential harassment in your life.)

        For reference, these are the best swings (that I know of) in central Wellington. Look at the view from the top – wow!

        I spent a LOT of time on these swings when I was last in town

        I didn’t get a chance to have a play – but that’s ok, cute blondes take precedence, and anyway, I had to hurry along.

        I also saw a perfect family outing:

        Mum with the baby, daughter, dad

        How cool is that? Dad’s on a long board (kinda like a skateboard, but super long and very flexible). Note also his beanie: Official Hat of Wellington.

        Oh, and if you were curious just how far my home is from here? (ie, looking in the other direction for once):

        land of the long white cloud...

        See those clouds, right off in the distance there? I’m staying juuuuust to the right of centre, right back there. Wouldn’t want to swim there – for a start, the last 25kms is over solid ground. Luckily there’s a motorway.

        After that, I picked my mate up, and we went for a picnic in the gardens of Isengard (you remember them, right?)

        Picnic. Not shown: food.

        Those are my boots. I’m being utterly shameless today, I know.

        Oh, and how could I possibly go past this?

        Flying fox! FLYING FOX!!!!

        This scared the living crap out of me when I first went on it (age: maybe 8 or 9).

        It’s quite vigorous when it hits the end.  Ok, ok, so these days I take a running jump off the platform to get maximum speed up, but still! It’s definitely an activity that stands the test of time. I.e., still awesome. I love it!

        I also saw a bunch of fantails, skipping around and being all fantaily (as is their wont)

        Three guesses why it has the name it does...

        They’re an Australasian peculiarity, although this type is only found here in NZ. They’re super cute, very flighty, and about the size of a sparrow. One came up to within a foot of us eating. Pretty amazing.

        Bet you never thought you’d learn about birds coming here, now did you? Do I make you ‘orni, baby?

        And on that note, something utterly ridiculous. This is a local stationery company:

        Seriously guys, buy a dictionary. Please.

        It’s like the company was named by someone who’d never used a writing implement before (*cough*illiterate*cough*). The. Mind. Boggles.

        All in all, quite a delightful Thursday night/Friday morning adventure. A+++ would run delightedly out of the house clutching my toothbrush again.


          Rebecca Black vs The Internet

          In case you weren’t paying attention (or were distracted by, I don’t know, important things) Rebecca Black has become something of an internet sensation.

          The short story: Rebecca Black’s mother paid a company $4000 to produce a music video for 13 year old Rebecca, which was then released on Feb 10 2011. It received a thousand YouTube views in the first month and around 87 million in the second. Yes, those numbers are correct.

          How is it? Well, I’ll let you see for yourself (this is totally optional. I’ll explain why below):

          (If you watched it) did you catch all that? Obviously terrible lyrics, auto-tuned to hell & back, and what are thirteen year olds doing driving anyway?

          The Internet’s response was succinct:

          The criticism quickly mounted, and the song instantly became the most hated song on YouTube (1.7 million negative votes, and climbing).

          The great thing about six billion creative monkeys being clustered on a tiny rock is that you can always rely on them to be, well, creative.

          And create they did. Now, this is where the Rebecca Black story gets genuinely entertaining (rather than merely cringingly confusing).

          Remember back when I said watching it was optional? Rather than waste 3:48 of your life let me save you some time. Here’s the entire vid in 50 seconds (you won’t miss any detail):

          Got that?

          (Oh I’m sorry, you wanted to waste your day? Ok, here’s the slowed down version. It’s 15 minutes long. No I am not embedding that, hell no)

          How about the censored version?

          Oddly, this make it all seem very much more appealing.

          Or if the song was interpreted by a (very) bad lip reader?

          Including such delightful lyrics as “Have I brought this chicken for us to thaw?” and yes, nazis are mentioned (does that Godwin this post?)

          The nominative sequel “Saturday” (with an incredibly life like simulacra)

          Manages to capture the essence of the original quite effectively.

          Or Bob Dylan’s version (obviously not him, but oh boy, so wish it was)

          which while unfortunately highlighting the banality of the lyrics, is actually quite a fantastic song.

          Or the most utterly disturbing (yet equally brilliant version) yet. Please do not, NOT let small children watch this (it won’t embed, unfortunately).

          A couple of slightly cute versions: The Ice Cube/Chris Rock version (she sings, they act). Finally, her singing it acoustically (no, she really didn’t deserve that much auto-tune)

          Ok, enough of this. If you want more, search YouTube, there are currently 22,000 (yes, thousand) videos variously mocking, praising, reproducing or otherwise dissecting her song. Yes, all created in the last month. Oh human monkey people, you’re so awesome.