Friday, April 20, 2007

Answer to a riddle

I have to say I'm a little disappointed no one took up the challenge of the meaning of 'Erewhon.' I am going to assume the blog was so exciting you all forgot about it by the time you reached the end of the blog. I'm going to tell you anyway because I think it's rather clever.

Samuel Butler named a part of New Zealand 'Erewhon,' because it is 'Nowhere' spelt backwards.

Okay, you might say, the 'w' and the 'h' have not been translated properly and I tell you that was simply in the interest of phonetics.

The people who live on Erewhon station literally live - nowhere!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Back to Geekery

Hi Team.

I know I've been very picturesque and romantic and exciting lately but it's time to get back to something a little more ... techie.

Take 1x XBox

Now, with a special tool and a bit of careful work (Voiding the waranty in the process...)

You get something that looks like this;

I had two goals in mind. First of all, everyone (well, except for the mad hatters who really go crazy) has the same stock standard white and grey Xbox.


So Ju's Little Sister decided she wanted to spice things up a bit. I have searched the sites, Xbox-scene, Trademe, and many more. The easiest thing to do is buy a vinyl 'skin' which is can come looking like anything, pictures, patterns, abstract - you name it, they've got it. Vinyl skins can be removed and changed at will, though I understand they're a little tricky to get on just right. But while I think white is boring (because it's the same as everyone else) I don't like clutter or too much activity all over my possessions. So I was always looking for a plain colour, which I eventually found as a complete new case. I chose black. Original, I know BUT!

Goal two: With a bit of soldering;

I've shown you all my robot PCBs (green square thing with shiny bits ) so you should recognise this no worries! There were four tiny little diodes about 3-4 mm long and 1mm wide and one even smaller which I removed (trying not to damage the board as I did so) and five diodes about 2mm long and >1mm wide which I soldered on - not as they would normally, but sitting on their sides and facing inwards along the board. I took the board into work to do as they have precision temperature soldering irons and tiny little tips to make it easier. Not to mention vices for PCBs and a myriad of other handy tools like heat sinking tweezers and flux etc. When I was finished I was sure I had broken two of the diodes from heat alone and was not looking foward to having to buy more.

I brought it home and reassembled the Xbox (with the black case) and with trepidation I turned it on.


The diodes (which were Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs) all worked, and now instead of a white box with green lights, I had a black one with blue lights!

Oh, did I mention I replaced the shell for the controller as well?

Okay, so it looks silly in the photos (which I will be the first to admit, aren't that good.) but it actually looks quite stylie in real life. Ah yes, another moment of pure geek satisfaction.

Now I have a spare case just lying around. What shall I do with it? Well, one of the trades in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (called Safety & Surface trade) specialises, amongst other things, in painting. AND, not only are they brilliant at spray painting things like planes and cars and bikes and whatever you can think of, but they are also pretty good at making and placing decals as well. I've asked around and for the price of some beers or some baking there are one or two who are happy to take my little project under their wing. Tomorrow Matt is going to bring in a couple of colour books for me to choose the colour and I'll go talk to Tab since I hear she has already designed a sticker based on Alice in Wonderland.
As you probably won't recall from my post on the XBox LAN my name was Alice, since I am a little like the afore mentioned character when it comes to computer games. However when you try to play XBox over the 'real' internet no two players in the world are allowed to have the same name (or Gamertag). So I had to think of something else.
During the LANs I usually get killed more than I kill others, so when I did sneak up behind a player and knock him over the head, as it were, he would often call out the words from a popular song - "Alice? Who the [expletive] is Alice?" So after much trail and error, I ended up with a gamertag of: Who tF is Alice.
No bull.

I have in my mind exactly what I'd like to have stuck to the side of the Xbox, but because of the delicate nature of the wording I am hesitant about whether I should display any of it here on blogspot. However, in the interests of the story, I think it would be rude not to. So I have posted the ummm, moderated version. Of course, there's no guarantee I'll use this case (if the stickers can even be made) , it will live in the wardrobe for the most part. And it certainly will not be visible in certain company. Family for instance, and young children. ;-)
On the other hand, it certainly will be original.

So, any ideas for the background colour?

(They can do anything, even that cameleon paint!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I went up my mountain in a fog, and then got above the mist; going higher and higher, I would look down upon a sea of whiteness, through which would be thrust innumerable mountain-tops that looked like islands. I am there now, as I write, I fancy that I can see the downs, the huts, the plain and the river-bed - that torrent pathway of desolation, with its distant roar of water, oh wonderful! Wonderful! So lonely, and so solemn, with the sad grey clouds above and no sounds save a lost lamb bleating upon the mountain-side, as though its little heart were breaking.

Erewhon, Samuel Butler

Post script: This excerpt was first read to me by my mother, who holds a talent few who I have met can claim to share. From her mouth this is not an excerpt, not a reading, not simply words on a page - but an experience. When she comes to the end she pauses and tries not to cry as she feels every ounce of lonelines that Samuel Butler is trying to convey. I know that she would do anything to take the imaginary lamb to her own breast and love it as her own. When Mother reads it, it makes me cry. When I read it, it is not Butler's voice nor my own I hear, but Mother's, and the lonliness, beauty and homesickness rises up and is so powerful, that I cry again.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tui's namesake

This is a photo of one of the lawns around our house. In the forground on the left is a toi toi bush. These are also sometimes called tui tui bushes, it's a matter of pronounciation. There is a stream on our farm which has quite a number of these pretty plants and not suprisingly it's called (wait for it...) Tui Creek.

The next time I go home (probably not until Christamas I am afraid) I will try and get a more expressive photo for you.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Notes on the last

I just wanted to mention one or two things about my post: Easter at Helms Deep.

1. I seem to have consistenty misspelled "Butler" by swapping the t and the l.
2. My Grandfather, Malcom V. Prouting, bought Messy from the bank long before it went to his sons.
3.A note on my description of travelling upstream to find some water (Priority1. Get the dog some water);
The terrain that the Alma flows across and through once it leaves the gully is ancient gravel river bed. The land was formed by glacier, then claimed by glacial and snow-fed rivers. This is why the Rangitata is known as a braided riverbed. It is free to wind about and make its own path across the wide flat valley floor, and carves new 'streams' each year as it floods with the spring melt. Where the Alma emerges from the mountains to the side it has shifted its own fair share of broken down greywacke rock and built up a high causeway of gravel that follows its path from the mouth of the gully out to the Rangitata. You could see how high this was in the pictures, we had to scramble down one bank and the stream has since eaten into its own creation another level again.

When we aproached the Alma from the side, following a rough hunters track, and made our way up onto the causeway, we discovered old stream bed but no water. None. The place was as dry as a lizard's back. But only a few metres upstream, say 50m, there was a trickle of beautiful clear snow-fed water. And another 50-100m up the stream the water was rushing so fast and deep I could only wade through in places (and you saw how high my 'gumboots' were) and the dog didn't want to attempt it at all.
The madly rushing water upstream was gradually soaked in through the gravel until it was running underground and would have come out into the Rangitata again somewhere lower.

Now isn't that amazing???

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easter at Helms Deep

This Good Friday I flew with my friend Megsie and her four month old German Wire-haired Pointer 'Orion' from the North to the South Island of New Zealand. From Christchurch we drove three hours south and inland until we came to the entrance to the beautiful valley where I grew up. Welcome to the Rangitata Gorge. Our journey continued right up to the head of the valley in the above picture until we reached my parents' farm and the house where I grew up. That evening we settled in and Megs met my sister and brother, my parents she had met before. My older sister Mel (Ju's twin) manages the farm while Dad looks on and tries to let go. Brother Andrew has worked for over a year as a well-paid tractor driver but has recently shifted this job to the weekends so that he can attend an apprenticship at an engineering firm. Since he had the weekend off he came up home as well since I rarely get to see any of them anymore.

It rained on Friday night while we were all tucked up in our respective beds, and Saturday dawned dull and grey, and threatening to rain again at any moment. Nevertheless I was keen to show Megs the land where I grew up and she was just as keen to discover it. The photos on the blog were taken on her camera, so there might be some things I mention but don't have photos for.
Mesopotamia Station sits right at the very head of the valley and was originally settled by an English scholar and author, Samuel Butler.

Samuel Butler's Original Homestead

Butler named the place 'Mesopotamia' after ancient Mesopotamia which lies between the Euphrates and Tigiris Rivers in what is today Iraq. The word is greek, and is made of mesos meaning 'between' and potamos meaning 'river.' -ia is a suffix which denotes the name of a place. Therefore Mesopotamia literally means "the land between two rivers." In Iraq these were the previously mentioned bodies of water, and here in South Canterbury, New Zealand Butler refers to Forest Creek and Bush Stream. Not rivers perhaps, but romantic and fitting. But Mesopotamia has never really been resistricted by the Bush Stream, though Forest creek is in fact its southerly border.
He also named the land directly on the other side of the river too, and even wrote a book about it. The name of the country across the river is called Erewhon, even today. The origin of the word Erewhon is not greek. I challenge readers to tell me what it means. If you already know then don't spoil it for the rest!

My grandfather was employed as a manager for Mesopotamia when it was owned by the bank (long after Butler was gone) and then later bought it from the bank and ran it himself (with a myriad of sheperds and other farm hands...). When his sons were grown the massive station was split into three farms, and given to three of those sons. My Uncle Laurie took over the main station, still called Mesopotamia, my own father owns the farm next door "The Tui" Station, and my Uncle Ray and his family took over Garondale Station, which borders Forest Creek. (This has since been sold and renamed Forest Creek Station.) As I was growing up I went to Mesopotamia Primary school - school roll of ten - and learned a great deal about the history of the area I called my home.
The one-room primary school is situated right next to the site of Butler's original homestead and you can still see the outline of the sod-walls were they have sunk into the ground with time. I wish I had a photo. More impressive is the ruins of his dairy, made of stone and crumbling next to the homestead. The door frame (though wooden) is still there. But not all the history (and I'm sure the brits reading this will be laughing at my idea of history, but New Zealand is very young so you have to gove her a chance.) is about Butler. The wagon in the picture below has never been out of the shed as long as I have been driving past it on the way to school or visit my cousins, but my Dad can remember a childhood with it in full service.

I haven't posted the close up, but it is marked with 'Mesopotamia' in a semi-circle on the side, which I have always thought was pretty darn cool.

After visiting the school we ducked a few hundred metres up the road to drop in on my cousins who are now running the station, and on the way back my brother was good enough to take Megs and I in the truck out the back of The Tui.
My Dad farms perendale sheep, aberdeen angus cattle and red deer - all for meat. Megs and her husband hunt wild fellow deer in the North Island, so she was impressed to catch sight of our magnificent specimens, and she even heard one of them having a good roar! She tried to get some photos of them without the fences, all to show her husband and make him jealous, but unfortunately the ones we were looking at were in quite a small paddock.

Two stags and their hinds.
(hind = doe)

Easter Sunday dawned beautiful and sunny - perfect for a picnic. The sandwiches were made in no time, the billy packed and off we went. We were going to help Megs discover Middle Earth. I'm not sure if I have mentioned this, but there are two places - one over the river by Erewhon (have you figure it out yet?) and one further up the river on Mesopotamia. Mt Sunday lies across the river from us. Compared to all the mountains around us it look like an insignificant mound, but this little glacial remenant was the site of Rohan's Edoras.

The picture above is almost split in two horizontally. Tussock and black matagouri in the foreground, and mountains and sky in the background.
From the left of the photo, follow the line along the top of the black vegetation, just inside the edge of the picture is a little hill lying in front of the larger hills behind it. It doesn't even stretch into the middle of the image. That is Mt Sunday, and perched atop was the village of Edoras.

On our side of the river, and much further up yet lies the mouth and delta of a stream which emerges from the deep gully it has carved from the mountains. This is where we were headed, and this is where we would stop for a traditional kiwi 'billy-tea.'

But before we reached our destination we came across a little two (TWO!!) roomed musterer's hut. This is known as the Black Mountain Hut, but is also sometimes refered to as the Alma Hut. The hut itself is rather boring to look at from the outside, and inside there is a fireplace, bench and some bunk beds. There are more bunk beds in the tiny ajoining room. There is no running water and for a long time there had been no electricity. But now if you want to bring a generator with you then you can run it outside and you'll have lights at night. As far as hygeine is concerned, there is a shielded space designed for you to hang up a bladder of water for a shower and pictured below is the loo-with-a-view. A long-drop, or 'dunny' as its refered to in NZ, is a hole in the ground with a seat build over it. This one has three walls and the view fortunately faces away from the hut. Megs took a photo of the back of it.


After a poke around and watering the dog, we headed on for another ten minutes or so to reach the mouth of the Alma Stream, and Helms Deep.

Priority 1:
Get the dog some water.

Orion and I scramble down to the first level of stream-bed

Then we clamber up-stream to find some water
(running through the second level of the stream bed)

At last! Orion drinks his fill

Priority 1a:
Boil the Billy.

Boiling the billy is a Kiwi term for boiling water and making a cup of tea. The Billy is the soot-black pot you can see swinging over the fire. The water is boiled then a handful of tea-leaves is thrown in (almost literally) and the 'billy' stews.

Then it's off-the-fire! with anything that's handy and poured straight from the billy into your cup. So the next time you turn on the jug for a cuppa, have a think about the effort it took us to make this one!

But finally the tea was drunk, the sandwiches eaten and we made our way up the Alma to where it emerged from the gully. This was were Peter Jackson had the studio-built replica of Helms Deep transposed by computer. I tried to get the magnificent (and I really mean that) MAGNIFICENT arial view of the fortress from the movie, where it is full day and you can see the fort nestled right inside the valley - an impenterable marvel of design and build. Unfortunately the internet only seems to have dark, night-time, stormy pre-battle images, so here are the two for your comparison;

I really think the angles are all wrong!

So to finish off this rather long-winded post, I have added a couple of shots from the movie Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers;

As I mentioned, the village of Edoras (Riders of Rohan) was built on top of little Mt Sunday, which lies across the river from us. In this shot you can see Eowyn (Miranda Otto) as she steps out of the main hall. The mountains on the other side of the river belong to Mesopotamia Station, and the flats to the far left (also on the far side of the river) are known as Butler Downs. What you can see of the Butler Downs is owned by "Messy Station" too, but most of the downs make up "The Tui" Station, my father's property (further to the left, out of shot.)

You can only just see the edge of 'old' Mesopotamia under the mountain on the very right of the picture. As you must really have been able to appreciate - where I grew up there are mountains all around!

Thank you for sticking through the whole of this post. It took a while to write it, and I hope you enjoyed it. Megs, Orion and I made it safely back into horrid Auckland City on Monday afternoon, and I have been dying slowly inside to be back in front of a computer screen at work instead of out in the glorious South Canterbury High Country!

Notes on copyright for last two images:

Eowyn (Miranda Otto) niece of King Theoden, stands at the magnificent Rohan capital of Edoras Photo by Pierre Vinet/New Line Productions 2002 - © 2002 - New Line Productions - All Rights Reserved

Lord of the Rings: The Two TowersPhoto by Pierre Vinet - © 2002 - New Line Productions - All Rights Reserve