Another day, another byte 
I've managed to dig out the old bicycle from the tangle of jasmine and got it working again. It was part of an office competition. There was a campaign to get people riding bicycles, and since we already had two keen cyclists, we decided the team might be in with a chance. Got second place in our division, largely because we got extra points for encouraging everyone to ride. And I finally made it to the top of the hill. I used to do a lot of cycling, but gave up when I came here because there's a big hill on every road out of here. But after several weeks getting slowly further, I finally made it to the top. Now I'm trying to keep it up by doing that once a day. Feel noticeably fitter now; it certainly helps after spending the day slaving over a hot laptop.

Got out my Dad's old clarinet too. Started playing it just after Christmas, and now I can play in six sharps. I'm focussing on sharps because it's a Bb instrument and I have to add two sharps to everything. Plus the guitars LOVE sharps. I should be fine, just so long as I don't have to play in flats.

The internet has been poor lately. We do have a copper line, but it kept breaking down every time it rained, and in the days when we had a standard phone, it was very good at picking up the radio. Then it was out for six weeks. The whole valley. So we managed to get a connection with Vodafone using a mobile modem. It's pointed at the cellphone tower in town, which is about 5 miles away.

It was good for a while, but then times changed. The town got congested, and we got crowded out. Some days we couldn't get anything at all. Other times, a packet eventually returned, grubby and trampled, over a minute late. Dad did his best to bring home a little bandwidth from town, but it was never enough to go round, and we had to sit hunched around the old satellite TV because it was the only thing still working. Some days, Sarah would go barefoot down to the village; on a good day you could pick up a few kilobytes down by the stream. But mostly, we had to satisfy ourselves with Rachael's pigeons. Old Mrs Simpson said we had it easy, and in her day they had to send email by smoke signals and the old Maori telegraph. Maybe one day they'll finally cut their way through the bush and run the fibre down the hill. We mustn't lose hope...

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A small country 
Two events showed the true nature of New Zealand recently. The first was when a certain group of tourists decided to do everything in their power not to fit in. Now, round here, you can get away with dumping rubbish. You can also get away with being a bit obnoxious. And petty thefts, well it happens all the time. But not all together. I'm not sure how they expected to stay under the radar. We only have one national daily newspaper, and they quickly made it to the front page. Every day. They stood out a mile. People were spotting them and tracking their position. Hobbiton went on alert as they drove nearby. I'm told that the same happened when the Rainbow Warrior was sunk. Two Frenchmen behaving oddly? Got to be them. Phone the Herald. You just can't hide round here without a bush survival kit.
And the other event of course was last week. The whole country reacted by pulling together. For a bunch of people they've never met, but an event that challenged to the core of everything we stand for. New Zealand knows how to welcome you. I can't describe the feeling of seeing a bunch of young men giving the haka 110% right in front of you, and knowing that they're doing it in your honour. And they truly are genuine about it. So our pastor decided to organise a prayer night yesterday. All welcome. Really. It was an emotional event. We had all the pastors bring a prayer, and then a representative from a muslim college in Auckland said a few words. He thanked us all, and said it was their duty to visit each of these meetings and then bring the message down to Christchurch. He got a round of applause. There was a bit of a queue to hug him afterwards.

Rach is now settled into university, doing Physics with a smattering of Philosophy and Ethics. She missed out on maths last year, so I'm teaching her the basics of calculus. I'm trying to wean her off her list of formulas, and get her to understand how they were created. She's doing well so far...

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Been a while... 
After a very wet Christmas, it stopped raining. We got hardly any rain for six weeks. Most of the grass is dead. Except for the Kikuyu. Apparently that came from Kenya and was brought in because it can cope with extreme dry. (It also does very nicely in extreme wet, and grows underground... everywhere!) But we've just had some rain for once. Hopefully that'll keep the sheep alive for a bit longer. At least we have lots of hay from the rain last year!

Rachael has made it into university. It took a while for them to sort out all the credits, and she also did a couple of assignments over summer in order to catch up. She's doing BSc Physics, and picked Anthropology and Ethics as additional options. It's been quite an effort getting this far, so hopefully she'll still have the will to take on the course material and cope with the year. She'll have to do calculus because she missed it last year. Someone's lent her an enormous book!

Currently at 4 cars. Bronwyn's, Rachael's, and my old one, plus a newer one I bought to replace the old one. The old one seems to drive fine after overheating last year, so I'm cleaning it up and I fixed the rust myself. And found the right paint for it! Now (after scraping another lot of swallow droppings off it) we just need to sell it.

Window frames all painted, plus the back door. I also shaved down many of the windows because they were sticking. There's still a few areas that got missed last year, and one of the kitchen windows is only held in by a few tiny nails. And a lot of rotten wood.

Sarah is back at school, and it's been odd only taking one to the school bus. But she had another bump on the head, which has brought back her concussion, so she's had to be very careful, and she's missed a few days off school. She's grown a lot since this time last year. She's taller than me now!

Didn't get to have a holiday this summer, although we've had a day out at a regional park, and Rachael had a number of friends around to camp out on the paddock. She wanted to let them watch the stars away from the city lights. Sounds like it all went well, and kudos to Rach for bringing home six boys at once. Don't think she's ever brought one home before!

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At last! Carolling is over; no more parades. No more Jingle Bells and Rudolf for another year! Now we can sit back and enjoy the actual Christmas. Although I do pity those who are out camping, and probably booked their spot a year ago. It's raining. It was raining yesterday, and it'll rain tomorrow. One campsite has been flooded after the river burst its banks, and I suspect there may be others. I haven't bothered checking the water tank. It's been like this for several years now, and it generally gets drier just at the start of February when everybody goes back to work and school.

I am grateful. I wasn't injured. the engine didn't burst into flames and I managed to pull over safely. But it did smoke a bit. I'll forgive it for that; it was probably a little stressed. And our John managed to free it up quite easily, and put in a new radiator. Seems to be running fine, but we've been told not to push our luck! Bronwyn got in touch with a friend who wanted to sell her car quick, and was willing to go half price. And it's quite a useful car for me too. The trombone fits easily in the back! So now we have rather a lot of cars outside. I'll have to sell my old one. Somehow. Darn. Now I still need to fix the rust!

Casey is still with us, but seems to be keeping to the grass and leaving the roses alone. We've given up trying to keep her out. Need to chase up the woman who was going to make Casey a movie star. I'm guessing it's been a busy time of year.

Bronwyn has done her last children's activity for the year, packaged up sixty presents for the teachers at school, finished her assignments and drenched all the sheep. Now the kitchen smells of baking and pastry. Several trays full for tomorrow! Hopefully then it'll quieten down for a few weeks.

I had a works outing to Great Barrier Island last Tuesday. OK, me, my colleague Dave, and several from a sister company that teamed up with us for the day. One of them could fly a plane, so he hired one and took three of us over. I was still rather tired, and my eyes were a bit blurry. We climbed to about 1000 feet, and he put my hand on the control and got me to fly the plane. I've been on a little turboprop in Botswana, but nothing this small. When you lean into a bend on a bicycle, your local gravity still goes through the bike. Not with a plane. And especially not when it's tipped at 45 degrees to the horizontal and I haven't had a chance to work out which dial was which!

Did a bit of snorkeling (I think I prefer free diving - I ended up with a mouth full of seawater) and a bit of a hike along a ridge. Very nice views, and vertical volcanic cliffs. On the way back he decided to try following the ridges to get some lift. It worked, but I'm not used to riding a roller coaster without any rails!

Rach is doing some extra assignments to get as many credits as possible for university. Haven't had any replies back apart from one place that offered her Chemistry. She wanted to do a quantum physics course. Would be nice if we could get some confirmation of what grades they're asking for. I remember there was a very organised system when I did it; you applied to five colleges, you go for an interview to each one, they reply with the required grades, you get your results and then receive the acceptances. Or you put your name in the clearing pool to see if anywhere has spare places. Seems to be quite chaotic here; they all operate individually.

It's been quite a year. I started off feeling frustrated and struggling to find something useful to do. Now I seem to have the opposite problem; I'm getting a bit worn out and having to learn to say no! I certainly won't be idle over Christmas. Might get a pot of paint and finish off the bits of the house that didn't get done last year.

Once it stops raining.

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Cars, Christmas, Casey... 
Still haven't fixed the rust on my car. But it's running a lot better now.
The engine light came on. I took it in, and did the service and warrant at the same time. The engine control unit was complaining about the RPM sensor. This came as a surprise, since I wasn't aware there was an engine control unit, and I'm still not sure what it, um, controls. So we decided it wasn't worth worrying about. However, the engine had started juddering a bit, and losing power. So I took it back. They changed the spark plugs and one of the leads, and pulled out a bit of copper fluff from the distributor. Was that causing a short circuit, I asked? No, that was the RPM sensor! Somehow though, the RPM dial on the dashboard still works. As far as I can tell, the engine control unit just controls the engine light on the dashboard! Very reliable cars, Old Corollas. Nothing much there to break.

Rachael's been shut up in her room studying for the exams. Sarah's been pretty quiet too. She's on two hours a day school after being assaulted by a bookcase. She's probably bored. We now have the Christmas decorations down, and the tree is already up! Bronwyn's been out at the national Baptist conference. It's been quiet. But Casey has been sighted in various locations. Someone found her on the road about 300 metres away, so they put her in the nearest paddock. She made her way back and has spent a lot of time in the back garden. No fence is safe. At least she's focussing on the back garden instead of the roses and the veggie patch!

I've been working on a website for a friend, and it's about ready to publish, so feel free to have a play. He's an artist, and has made lots of inspirational paintings. He's picked a few with the idea of people being able to merge them with their photos, and order prints if they like the result. Here's an example below. Have a look at Graham Braddock Personalised Art

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