Sunday 28 January 2007

weekend wanders

It's Sunday evening here in High Street, central Auckland on a warm muggy evening which is typical of this time of year, something the rest of New Zealand likes to throw in Auckland's face, the muggy humid part being a personal afront to the country, and yet another example of Auckland's perversity, and determination to be different since its founding in 1840.

This anniversary is celebrated with a public holiday tomorrow, and, as is also usual, there is a regatta on the big wide Waitemate harbour. Sailing of course, is a public sport, and access to the water a human right here.

I've spent the weekend in what has become a series of habits since moving into the inner city and setting up camp in an apartment in the High Street. I love it.

I also love a Saturday. Usually it begins with a bus ride up Queen Street, and away from the water side to the rim of the the hill of K Road, to while away a morning drinking coffee, note taking , reading, or just musing away the time in the Alleluia cafe in St Kevin's Arcade. The arcade was build, I guess in the 1920's, has a wide open common space around which the shops cluster, while down the back, massive metal framed windows look back down through the gully of Myers Park.

The cafe takes up this window end of the arcade, the tables a motley collection of tongued and grooved deal trestle tables, the odd square old mahogany classic, and a collection of chairs which seem to move around the tables on different days, just to be sociable, or maybe its to keep the regulars from getting too attached to a fixed position.

Out of the window you see the park. In the middle of the arcade a big stone staircase takes you to it.

It's a joy, and like so much of New Zealand, a bit of a secret; the big European exotics, like the oaks and ash, happily sharing with a whole bunch of Norfolk palms, which pass the parcel down the winding path back down the old Queen Street gully, passing a kids playground, and an occasional bunch of teenagers huddled on the grass planning their next move.

This weekend, I changed my mind, and began by walking up Lorne Street to call into Jasons Books to check out their new arrivals.

Saying they do second hand books feels like a lapse of taste. What they do best is recycle the most recent quality fiction, and a parallel track in non fiction which ranges from recent USA/European/local politics, new biographies, the best of the the current publishers vogue for literary and religious history, not forgetting the odd bit of science and art history.

And that's just the new arrivals table

Being on the first floor it feels more like an attic big room, so the shelves have a high backed intimacy, which for some reason reminds me of the Edinburgh of my teens, but I can't remember the connection - maybe the first floor coffee shop/bookshop that used to be in George Street, where three life times ago, aged 15, I nervously skirted around the beards and sandals. Though I might have dreamt that?

Back in Jasons, the shelves range all round the room leaving lots of space on the floor for lounging in chairs. On the shelves you can either go for the literary fiction, or current popular [Ian Rankin seems to be in both?] , or head for the usual subject sections - art - new zealand - lit. crit - business etc.

I go there , and to three four others of the same ilk, to continue the book buying plan I began last year - for sure, indulge in new books, but also, take the chance to recycle the books I will never want again, and replace them with really nice sets, or, subject, to funds, editions of classic authors which I want to reread, or read for the first time - and, while I am at it, make sure they are nice ones.

And it works! It's a brilliant way to have fun, as well as keep connected to the world of print, and the wee boy who used to scour the old bookshops in Stockbridge in Edinburgh where ,once, I scored a 26 volume set of the Waverly novels, and promptly gave them away to my big brother Michael.

I think he still has them.

So far, I've managed to a set of Proust from a lovely second hand shop in central Wellington [reference, I promise to come!] - a hansome 3 vol set of Hugo's, Les Miserables - a brilliant little bunch of E.M. Forster, from Busy Bees in Courtney Place, Wellington -and, just for the art deco covers alone, a 3 vol set of Agatha Christie, Miss Marple's, as well as a really nice volume of Rabelais.

And last, but not least, I have this eccentric notion to collect a set of Dickens with each one a different publisher, with a special mention to the old Nelson classics that came out of Edinburgh.

On the brand new front, I'm also occasionally [courtesy of book tokens - my preferred koha of choice for a speaking spot ] buying new copies of old favourites in brand new livery.

On Friday I totally overindulged with brilliant new Penquin editions of Homer's Iliad and The Odyssey. They seem to be some kind of special edition - they have lovely rough edges as if mimicking the old cut pages of the 19th century, the paper almost creamy? Beautiful.

I left Jason's empty handed this time round - although did spot a couple of likely suspects for another day, including a 3vol set of Montaigne's essays for a ridiculous $30. On the latter, I have a notion, currently under review ,that he, and the likes of Johnson and his Rambler , were the bloggers of their time.

My next port of call was Auckland City Library for a cup of coffee in their cafe, and a quick squiz of what was new. Nothing caught my eye immediately, 'til I saw the display for a new campaign they are running called, Books for the Beach .

Four minutes later, I'm back in the cafe stroking John Steinbeck's, East of Eden. I've never read it. The Grapes of Wrath still haunts me, and, more pleasantly, dog eared copies of Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat circumnavigated the Brixton /Stockwell housing coop world in the 1980's.


And if you are wondering what all this has to do with that internet thing, apart from the links on offer here, I suggest you do yourself a favour and check out some brilliant web sites currently on offer from your local public library, for example - Auckland City, or Christchurch City, or Puke Ariki in New Plymouth.

As for the second hand book world - check out . and yep, there are plenty of New Zealand vendors there - try searching for Gone West as a start.

As I write, the storm has broke, and the rain is tipping it down. The rest of New Zealand can sigh in relief - the world is as it should be - in Auckland, its pouring of rain!

Wednesday 24 January 2007

Sculpture in the Gulf 2005

This week is special for Auckland. On Friday the bi-annual Sculpture in the Gulf exhibition. Imagine a beautiful Island in the Waitemata harbour [the same one Guardian travel writer, Simon Millar fell in love with]. Then picture this beautiful parkland skirted round the shore line. Enter Waiheke Community Art Gallery, and you have a biennial outdoor sculpture exhibition placed on a two kilometre long public walkway at Matiatia Harbour, the gateway to Waiheke Island, Waitemata, New Zealand.

A total of 27 artists are selected from an anonomous pool of entrants. Then the works are placed aroud the park - each one a living integration with the landscape it inhabits. It is a stunning concept. It begins on Friday, 26 January and runs to 11th February 2007.

The image is from the web site, and shows my favourite from the 2005 exhibition from Sean Burke. The red balls float above the earth, sea and sky, caught by the thermals, weaving in an out in their own kinetic dance. It was stunning.
See the web site

iphone, et al

I began the week early with my fortnightly spot on TVNZ Breakfast Show. It's an interesting challenge. You get three, or at most, four minutes to say something pertinent and intelligent about some development in, or around, the Internet.

Three or four minutes aren’t much. So, for some, it's an opportunity to say that television is by definition incapable of saying, or covering anything in depth, or with intelligence. I'm happy to confess I once was of that opinion - and perhaps, it's still true, and all thats happened is I've been beguiled by the medium.

But I've also discovered that it’s also a challenge. People, especially at this time in the morning don’t especially want to be made to pause, marshal their thoughts, and engage in a civic dialogue.

Rather, it's a chance to offer up a topic - make a point - and then try and leave a question, or a pause for thought. In short, it it's a challenge to do something really well - and, while you are at it, connect to an issue that will push the revolution on one more time.

This week was the first session back from the New Zealand summer holiday break. Kay Gregory and I discussed what Apple was up to with the iPhone - was it a mistake - Steve Jobs making one of his rare [ but not unknown] mistakes while everyone else, especially the applecenti applauds in wonder at the elegance of the screenshots. There being no product even in the USA 'till later in the year.

My opinion is that this is a defensive move by apple to protect the iTunes channel. However, I also think it’s a big ask to make it work - who, for example, are they going to partner with in New Zealand? It won’t work at all on Telecom if the tech specs are accurate. So that leaves Vodafone, unless someone else comes to the party here in NZ.

Will Vodafone partner with a new recruit and in the process undermine their own plans of a triple play of voice, TV, and data courtesy of their recent acquisition of iHUG? They have also taken on board Stephen Smith the recent deputy CEO of TVNZ, who once lead their interactive division, and is now reported to be right up there in his ideas for IPTV, et al.

And what about the phone makers? Motorola and Nokia have over 50% of the 1 billion a year handset market? They are going to sit back and watch Apple wander onto their turf and tell them all how to do it? Unlikely.

Sumsung MP3 player/ iMate
Then we have the competition right now. I have been playing with the Samsung [YP- T9B], MP3 player.

It is beautiful. Definitely a match for the iPod. And it has a radio - plus images - documents. I connected it to the Vista build I am running on a Toshiba Portégé notebook which arrived just before Christmas for me to play with. It all worked fine - RSS/pod cast feed - music - talking books - transfer to the player - all sorted!

I've also use an iMate Smart Flip as my mobile on a Vodafone 1 gig data plan. The gives me a mobile phone - e-mail to our exchange server - Mp3 layer, web browser - web camera, [whose photos can straight to Flickr]. This all works just fine as well!

All up, this is a very busy space. But better, it’s a fun space. Can Apple play in it? Despite my skepticism, I hope so - they do bring elegance to the space - and there is nothing wrong in giving the established players a run for there money.

So is it all toys for boys - nah - not for me. For the record - my favorite podcast - bar none is the truly brilliant talking head radio series, In Our Time, from Melvyn Bragg - BBC Radio 4. The last one was on The Jesuits. It wasn't one of the absolute best - try the archive - e.g. The Siege of Constantinople, or Alexander Pope [early blogger?] The archive is here.

In short - whatever the toy or the tool - for me content wins every time. And yes, I'm more than happy to see/hear about other people's favorite podcast.

Friday 19 January 2007

Easing into the water

I have been playing in the shallow end of various blogging pools for a while now, but, here, at the beginning of 2007, it feels time to at least strike on out into the deep end, making sure the sun is shining and I have a safe way back to the shore, should I choose.

Excuse the swimming and water metaphors. Here in auckland, new zealand/aotearoa we are now settling into some decent summer weather, unlike northern europe which, I'm informed, is now in the middle of winter storms. I still have family and friends in London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, so I can sympathise. Not sure how much I can drag up for those poor Californian people who are seeing snow for the first time in 28 years. For example, check these winter pics submitted to the BBC on Scottish snow.

Back here in Auckland we have 2 weeks left of the school holidays, though most workers are back this week. Last weekend we had the traditional traffic stories of people trying to drive back to Auckland on state highways which struggle to cope with big traffic flows. But hey - that's New Zealand for you, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Even after 17 years , it feels a joy to be here.

But to our tale.
[hidden cultural reference #1]

The Alfie factor
If this blog has any use in the world it needs to satisfy some criteria. First, It needs to be a vechicle for me to attempt useful contributions, or opinions, on the online revolution that I have been privlidged to be a part of.

For me the Internet, the web , and now web. 2.0 , social networking, et al, are all ways of capturing a techncal and cultural revolution which continues to fascinate me. So to keep making, however small a contribution to its ongoing health and vitality is mandatory. End of story.

I'm also lucky that the small [but pefectly formed], web company , mcgovernonline, I started , with my partner Helen Smith, some 12 years ago has had the chance to make some contributions to this revolution, and, yep, on occasion, I am not going to hesitate to tell you what they are.

Also, by saying, "you", I am straight up saying that what I am writing is for publication, and that, for sure I am looking for responses and feedback, plus any contributions to some of the debates that might arise wether here or as a part of some other part of the web conversartion.

Arts, culture / libraries/ museums , et al
As to range and focus, I leave the option to talk about most things - however, there will be an ongoing interest in what the arts , cultural and library and museum space are trying to do with - and specifically, there will often be a New Zealand focus, albiet from the perspective of an expat Scot who spends almost all his professional live on and among international linkages and pathways.

So let us begin!