Thursday, 7 June 2007

Issue 19 - Upstate (2), and the pain of a hilly racetrack

The Apteryx Haastii has just come back from a nice weekend in upstate New York. New York "Upstate" is a place which deserves its own name, rather than being lumped in with New York, "The City". Upstate has very little to do with The City, except that neither Upstate nor The City are happy with the idea of having a state government in Albany trying to govern two separate societies and economies. The City believes all of its state tax is spent on roads and infrastructure closer to Canada than to The City, and Upstate believes all of its state tax is spent on welfare payments to inhabitants of Brooklyn and Queens. The only other thing which Upstate and The City agree on is that The City should declare independence from Upstate, leaving both to ignore each other in peace.

On Saturday, we spent the day at the Watkins Glen International Speedway, located on a hill near the town of Watkins Glen, about 5 hours from The City. In a classic bait-and-switch, the Apteryx Haastii was lured to the race track with the promise of Porsche Cup Racing, but arrived to find he had been entered in a duathlon involving running around the infield, then cycling three laps of the track (after the Porsches had all gone home), then another lap of the infield, then another three laps of the track, before stumbling around the infield again. Needless to say, the AH believes watching a 600hp example of precision engineering eat up the track at 100mph is much more fun than hauling his imperfectly engineered carcass around the track at a mere 17mph.

When the AH arrived at the start, it was clear he was well out of his league. The race was endorsed by the US Triathlon Association (with the AH now as their most unlikely member), and there were plenty of carbon-fibre bikes and very fit athletes among the 70 starters.

One thing the AH learned about race tracks is that they are not all built on flat land. In fact, there were three particularly cruel hills which earned a few choice nicknames from the AH, including a long, long, long uphill back straight, which a Porsche would not even feel.

As expected, Kim beat the AH with comfort - coming in 3 minutes faster despite a very sore knee, and placed first in her age group (well, first out of one, but she won a nice trophy all the same). No need to be sarcastic here - to finish at all was a great achievement. After a long, hard 20 miles of riding and 5 miles of running for 2 hours and 23 minutes, the AH was very pleased to beat eight others (avoiding last place being the AH's definition of success in this event), including one with a snazzy carbon-fibre bike.

Next time, I'll read the fine print.

Issue 18 - Blizzard

12 February, 2006 - The Blizzard of 2006.

Maiden Lane - the beginning of our walk downtown. This street is normally buzzing with taxis and trucks.

Wall Street, outside the Federal National Hall (opposite the NYSE). This is one of the most well-defended sites in the US, which means there has to be an armed police presence at all times. Even when the only real threat would be from a crack squad of attack penguins....

I almost feel sorry for these guys - huddled inside a squad car all night, with the engine running to keep the heater on.

The NYSE on Wall Street.

Can you see any attack penguins? Me neither - the police presence makes me feel safer already.

An Angel on Wall St (no, not a penguin. Penguins wear black ski jackets. Really, I would have thought that was obvious).

Kim makes a snow angel in the deep snow where the police usually stand with their assault rifles. It was cold and wet, but it had to be done.

Trinity Church on the corner of Wall St and Broadway. The green dome is the entry to the 4/5 subway line. All of the weekend line work was cancelled this weekend because of the weather forecast, so (ironically), the subway ran more trains and was more reliable during the storm than it would otherwise have been.

Looking North up Broadway from the Trinity Church. I am sure the open-top tour busses which normally fill this stretch of Broadway will be running shortly (and they will still be full).

Bikes on Broadway - funny, there never seem to be any bikes left out on the street when it is NOT snowing.

El Toro at Bowling Green (the bottom of Broadway).

Bowling Green, looking North back up Broadway. Usually the sole preserve of drunks and the homeless at this time ona Sunday morning, Kim and I had the place to ourselves.

Bowling Green station. The fellow with the shovel was fighting a losing battle here, with 3-4 inches of snow falling each hour, the snow kept drifting down in to his station now matter how often he shoveled it out.

Issue 17 - Wind

5 February, 2006

Kim having a laugh in Central Park. Actually, I think she's telling me how cold the wind is. This day was about -12 degrees centigrade with the wind chill.


I walk to work each morning past the global headquarters of JP Morgan Chase, the NYSE, the former home of the great House of Morgan bank, down Broad Street to the very tip of Manhattan, where I have a tiny cubicle in a dark corner of a huge open-plan floor at 1 New York Plaza. I walk this way partly for the fun of passing all of these great monuments to capitalism, but mostly to break up the wind in winter.

In the winter months, the sun may shine, or it may not, it may be cold, or it may be mild. But the wind, the howling, evil, devious, and crippling wind, the wind is constant. My office has a pleasant plaza on Water Street, which sets the building back a little from the road (part of the building code, designed to allow buildings to be very, very tall, but allow light to reach the streets). That is to say, the plaza usually looks good in photos, but the reality is quite the opposite. Being set right next to Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, there is no shelter from the wind which either blows off the harbour (bringing wet weather from the South), off the East River (bringing the icy breath of the North Atlantic), or down Water Street (being a Northerly express line of Arctic air, direct from Canada). It is not a place for unbuttoned coats, long hair, hats or people who did not have an American-over-sized plate of pancakes for breakfast. As for using an umbrella in the rain - fuh-getaboudit. It depends which direction you open it, but after 5 seconds in an arctic blast every umbrella is either a blown-out skeleton, or the user is is wearning a black wire hat/straight-jacket from the shoulders up. Umbrellas sell for $5 at street corners, and no-one will pay more because they will be sacrifices to the Mary Poppins god by the next corner anyway.

Now, I'll admit to anyone who asks that I carry a few extra kilos around my middle, but at least now I know that I have a substantial advantage over those who don't ........... ballast. Once in a while I see men and women with what many would consider perfect figures fighting a losing battle with the wind - stopped in their tracks, blown off course, or spun around like they've been slapped in the face with a frozen fish. I may take up a little more space on the subway than them, but at least I can plot and maintain a consistent course across the plaza, without looking like I'm on an ice rink. Which leads me to the conclusion that the reason so many people in New York are overweight is purely to given them a decent anchor when the wind blows.


Is it redundant to say "flightless Apteryx Haastii", given technically all Apteryx Haastii are flightless?

If I go for a flight in a helicopter, does this mean I am no longer flightless, or am I no longer an Apteryx Haastii?


What the Farnarkle is an Apteryx Haastii? The answer is below:

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People's poll: Does anyone from outside New Zealand really know when (or what) Waitangi Day is?


And now for some recent photos:

Our building at 2 Gold Street. The "two" sculpture was done by the same fellow who thought up the twin towers of light in 2002 on the World Trade Center.

Our building - our apartment is the 8th balcony from the bottom (or 10th from the top) on the right-hand side. If you like to test yourself, you can try to count up to the 29th floor (remembering of course that there is no 13th floor) instead...

Arty photo in the the curved mirror sculpture at Wall St Plaza two blocks from home. The white tower to the right is 88 Pine Street, where I worked for the first couple of months after we arrived. The air-conditioning never worked, and the toilets were often backed up, but I get the feeling the rent is cheap (like the budgie). Not sure I miss this building yet.

Issue 16 - Hillbilly

16 November 2005

This year, Kim and I decided to take our annual holiday in Arkansas.

That little announcement caused no end of consternation amongst my colleagues in the office, who already believe me to be in the same class as the babbling crazy people they cross the road to avoid in the big city. They, like everyone else in the world, only know Arkansas exists because Bill Clinton started his career as a seducer of interns here.

It look us five days of asking people (and everyone is very friendly) before we found anyone who has even been to New York. That makes sense, because in New York, there is simply no-one who would be prepared to be seen dead in Arkansas.


Arkansas suffers from a sort of uncertainty as to its identity, mostly because the entire state disagrees on how to pronounce itself. It took a great deal of internet research (thank goodness for the broadband connection in the apartment), but I have finally established that it was all the fault of the French. The true Indian name for the river which the state is named after is Arkansa (AR-kan-saa), but to say it properly the French explorers who got here first needed to add a letter which had to be silent, and for reasons known only to them, they chose an S. The correct pronounciation is therefore Ar-kan-saw - Arkansas exists for correct spelling purposes only. For the purpose of clarity, and in keeping with the American custom of dropping correct spelling for the purpose of saying things as they are spelt, I will use the Arkansaw version for now on, for the benefit of my international listeners.


We have a kind of cool car from Enterprise rentals. Apparently, the Arkansaw state department of motor vehicles insist all rental cars are registered with Hillbilly plates (as opposed to other states, which allow you to display out-of-town plates on rental cars, so that locals can ensure they can treat you with the disdain you deserve for choosing to live in another state). The funny thing is that you don't have to register your rental car for 30 days after it arrives in Arkansaw, so for 30 days you get to drive around without a number plate at all.

Our super-cheap-please-upgrade-me-what-are-you-serious-you-refused-to-pay-a-measly-4-dollars-a-day-upgrade-fee rental car is a black Saturn Ion - with absolutely no number plates at all. It looks like it has been stolen, except no-one would steal a Saturn (because it would break down during the getaway, and it would rattle too much if you put hip-hop on the stereo). It's definitely black, so from a distance, it looks kind of mean without any tags - a bit like a mafia staff car for Soccer Moms.


Having no tag should be cool - we can go as fast as we want past speed cameras and be safe from tickets.

Except there are no speed cameras in the US. No-one knows exactly why: some argue it is because there is a clause in the constitution which say you must be able to confront your accuser in court (making a speed camera tricky to call as a witness); others because posted speed limits are simply too low; but most simply say they would vote against any politician who supports them. Sadly, speed cameras have been shown to be an effective deterrent to excess speed in any country they have been used in. Sometimes lawmakers in the most developed country in the world fall for the most self-servingly simplistic and childish arguments which Tanzania or Bangaldesh would instantly reject.

Some amusing limitations imposed by courts and state legislatures are summarised by Wikipedia at

In the absence of speed cameras, Arkansaw uses blanket coverage of highways by State Troopers to ensure compliance with traffic laws - we pass 2-3 police cars on every 20 minute trip, except after dark, when all state troopers (and drunk or speeding drivers) are in bed of course.


We are staying in a timeshare apartment, in a gated community about 20 miles from Hot Springs. The apartment is very nice, and the location on a lake in the forest is beautiful. The scary thing is that we are by 40 years the youngest people between here and the nearest international airport.

A gated community "Down South" appears to be a retirement village or subdivision, complete with a guard at each entrance, and its own police force and tax regime. This particular community seems to be a good 20,000 people, all retired, and all with an overpowering desire to live next to a golf course (there are 8 golf courses surrounded by luxourious houses here, all in a row along the main road through the town).

The interesting thing about the population being 99.99% over 65 is that the only available labour force is also over 65. This means that the staff in the post office, in the Walmart, and acting as security staff at the gate house look likely to keel over if you crept up behind them and said "boo" too loudly.

It is definitely peaceful here in the village - we just can't find a restaurant with anyone in it after 6pm.


We had lunch in a local restaurant in Hot Springs, on the main strip ("Bathhouse Row" - named for the bath-houses built side-by-side on top of the springs at the turn of the century).

The decor was basic (as with all the restaurants in town) - sort of a cross between dodgy London greasy-spoon cafe, and desperately depressing retirement home. The staff were local (y'all'r not from arouwn' heeer urrrr' ya?), and the menu was deep-fried scary with a side order of something deep-fried. I'm pretty sure the napkins would have come deep-fried if we'd asked for them that way.

I opted for the deep-fried fish, and asked which of the complementary vegetables was most recommended. Passing up the suggested deep-fried french fries and deep-fried corn puffs, I tried another approach and asked what would be the healthiest of the complementary vegetable options.

I am not sure that question has ever been seriously asked in any Arkansaw restaurant before - it seemed to elicit the hillbilly equivalent of a syntax error.

I'm sure they will be debating the answer in the kitchen of that restaurant for weeks to come.


The city of Hot Springs is certainly not famous for its night life. As any tourist town of 11,000 people will tell you, it's hard attracting international entertainment out of season. After spending the first four days asking around, we did manage to find one person under the age of 60 working in a crystal shop, who directed us to the entertainment district. The directions were perfect, but the description was optimistic. There are three buildings in a block housing restaurants in Hot Springs, all of them owned by the same family. We did have a reasonable meal in what was clearly the best restaurant in town, and were tempted by the invitation to the martini bar with live music upstairs. Upstairs however, the Thursday night crowd consisted of three sad souls keeping the bartender company at the bar, and at least 100 empty seats surrounding a similar empty stage. Take me back to New York, all is forgiven.


If you buy a Ford truck here, the dealer will throw in a free 22-gauge shotgun.

I'm not kidding.

If you buy the redneck truck, the redneck toy comes free.

It seems only fair that deer in Arkansaw should be issued with kevlar vests.


We actually came here to learn to play golf.

So far, after some lessons, three visits to a driving range, and two rounds of a par-3 golf course, I have established one thing - golf is a really sh*t game if you are not very good at it.

Enough said - it will spoil the rest of the holiday if I summarise all of the disappointments which go with the golf we have played this week.

Suffice to say, my tee shot on the 18th today was good enough to allow me to retire forever from golf on a high. There were a LOT of practice shots this week leading up to my final 18th hole, so it was fortunate that there is something good to remember.

Who knows, once I can afford to retire to a gated community where there it simply nothing to do but play golf, then I will take it up again.

But not before.


Photos to follow.....

Issue 15 - 100 kms

17 September 2005

This weekend was the annual charity bike ride for the benefit of Mulitple Sclerosis. For the benefit of my sponsors who helped me raise almost $1,000, here are some photos to prove I did actually cycle the entire 64 miles (103.7 kms). What you cannot see are the soul-destroying hills in Pallisades Park, or the 40-knot wind which sandblasted me with grit both times I had to ride down the West Side.

Photos attached:

Mile 17, just after the first rest stop at the top of Manhattan. I look relatively fresh here!

Mile 28, coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel in Hoboken (New Jersey). I am sure the ride through this tunnel was faster than any time I have done it in a car!

Mile 35 - Pallisades Park in New Jersey. It was very beautiful, but the hills were starting to sap my enthusiasm by this stage.

Mile 53 - Manhattan from the George Washington Bridge (which joins Manhattan at 176th Street). A mere 10 or so miles to go - down to 12 blocks past that tall building waaay off in the distance!

Issue 14 - Back but still bad

24 September 2004

Downtown from the Big B - a taxi driver's worst nightmare once they pass the last numbered street.

Now, I know for a fact you missed me.

As the tide of derisory comments began to rise (“I don’t know how you can write so much about nothing,” quipped one brazen hack from a long way upstate), I thought it would make more sense to simply let you sit and stew without some of my unique insight for a while.

In reality, as Kim would say, life got in the way of living, and my job and Kim’s assignments got in the way of everything other than sleeping and breathing.

It’s not necessarily the case that we are past the long hours and high stress – more that we have reached the limit of human endurance, and need to take a few evenings off (and one day a weekend or so) for ourselves. In the interests of brevity, I can sum up the past two and half months as follows: work, assignments, work, assignments, work, assignments, work, assignments, Kim's sister Keryle had a healthy baby girl (Thalia Rose), work, assignments, work, assignments, weekend camping in Hammonasset, work, assignments, work, assignments, work, assignments, saw the final of the US Women’s Open tennis in Queens, work, assignments, work, assignments, work, assignments, etc, etc.

Thursday last week was our six month anniversary since we arrived in New York. Now, six months is not a long time unless you’ve worked as many long hours and weekends as we have, and the reality is that the six years in Switzerland already feels like the distant memories of last year’s holiday.

So, what do we think of the place after six months? There’s certainly plenty to think of, so for the benefit of being able to hold your attention without moving pictures, I’ll do this in bullet-form:

1. I can find my way around now – knowing the downtown area gives me a huge advantage over 90% of New Yorkers who prefer to navigate by the numbered avenues north of 14th Street. When the Morgan Stanley finance department moved downtown three months ago, everyone looking for restaurants, shops and bars seemed to rely on the local knowledge of the Kiwi who had just moved from Switzerland. Scary.

2. When going away for the weekend, fly or take the train – but try not to drive. The American love affair with massive automobiles also appears to extend to a love of stationary Sunday evenings on the I-95 coming back in to New York.

3. Tourists are a pain in the backside. Times Square is the unique preserve of Tourists – so much so that there should be checkpoints between 42nd and 50th streets to keep them penned in there. Businesses which I need to visit should then be forced to relocate to a tourist-free-zone.

4. Who is Robbie Williams? Isn’t he related to Serena and Venus?

5. Acronyms are efficient, but do not on their own represent a valid language. For example, I work for Morgan Stanley ISG, in the MSCI Barra FCG team at 5/1NYP. Speaking in complete sentences seems to necessitate an exceptional attention span.

6. David Beckham, yes I’ve heard of him. Isn’t he the one in the grubby video with Paris Hilton?

7. Paris Hilton is a tramp – she is so naaasty, I hate her. Oh wow that’s funny - she’s on the cover of the OK, Cosmopolitan, GQ and Redneck Gun Club magazines on my coffee table.

8. Baseball is a game of long breaks between sporadic action played over 3-5 hours, with unbelievably unhealthy junk food consumed during the especially long breaks. American Football is a 60-minute game played over 3-5 hours, which implies at best two minutes of inactivity for every minute of action. As my good friend Snowflake says, it’s all a bit like watching Leicester City play, except that the boredom only lasts 90 minutes at Filbert Street

9. Mariah Carey is a pop goddess. What do you mean you don’t like her? She made it all the way to stardom from suburban Long Island, and I’m going to be just like her. Who is this Robbie Williams guy again?

10. We’re going for dinner at Paris Hilton’s favourite restaurant tonight - she is no naaasty, I hate her. I wonder if she’ll be there. It would be great if Mariah was there as well, wouldn’t that be cool?


Hurricanes are a serious business.

New Orleans was apparently already a scary place before all of the people who are actual or potential Bush supporters left ahead of hurricane Katrina. The fact that it became even scarier afterwards is due to the ability of those left behind(evidently not Bush supporters) to be unpleasant to each other in adversity. Would this behaviour have been repeated in other countries if the circumstances were the same? Of that I am not sure.

The Washington Post quoted an interview with the police captain at the New Orleans convention centre who said that they had 10 officers trying to patrol five large halls in total darkness. In the end, they had to dress in SWAT anti-riot kit, and raid for the rapists and murderers guided only by the muzzle-flashes of guns being randomly fired by thugs. After three days of this, they all wanted to simply resign and save themselves, but they stuck at it rather than leave the weak and infirm alone in the presence of men behaving like alligators. From the sound of it, it was safer being a white American living in downtown Baghdad than it was in New Orleans after the hurricane.

One other story in the NY Times tells of three trucks of bottled water headed to New Orleans which were held up in upstate Louisiana for three days because FEMA officials would not let anyone go to New Orleans without a delivery consignment. No-one (including the FEMA officials) knew what a delivery consignment was, except that this delivery did not have one. People were dying in the 40-degree heat for lack of clean drinking water, and all FEMA could do to help was set up a bureaucracy which actively prevented any help from getting through. It seems that if you need to organize something very big and important, the best way to ensure that absolutely nothing gets done is to create a federal agency run by your least qualified best friend to aggravate the crisis.

The popularity of the previously teflon-coated Mr Bush appears to have genuinely taken a blow over Hurricane Katrina. With Hurricane Rita having hit Texas last month, people will be starting to ask whether the President is to blame. The President will respond by announcing a global “War on Hurricanism,” which will require an invasion of Iran, who the CIA will determine have the capacity to launch a Hurricane on the mainland USA with 45 minutes’ notice. At the same time, new CIA evidence will find that a North Korean underwater nuclear test was responsible for the Boxing Day Tsunami last year, necessitating air strikes on rice fields near Pyongyang.

The War on Sanity continues.

Here’s a little note borrowed from a deep-thinking friend of mine – I’ll try to be faithful to his analogy here, with his permission so long as I don’t give away his identity.

The argument goes that anyone fighting the US knows they are totally outgunned and have no real chance of success. Before the US administration started using the interrogation tactics in use at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, they also believed they were really only facing the cast of “Friends”, but with guns. This was a useful tool in the minds of opposing soldiers – they could fight to glorious but inevitable death, or give up and be treated fairly, and get a hot meal before going back to their families.

Now the Bush administration has decided that prisoners of war can be “entertained as enemy aliens” at Guantánamo without the right to petition an independent court for their release, or even worse become “ghost detainees” in places like Pakistan or Turkey, the option of giving up and having it easy is pretty much off the table. What does this mean? I can tell you that I would fight to the death if the alternative was interrogation under torture. And I wouldn’t exactly be very nice to the occupying forces afterwards, that’s for sure.

The battle for hearts and minds doesn’t seem to come up in news stories any more.


And now for the photos:

The Snowflake trying hard to convince himself those glasses make him look like a male model (or South American dictator)

The Gunks on a normal Monday in summer (Kim's weekly climbing retreat)

Sunset at Hammonasset State Park campground in Connetticut.

Issue 13 - Coffee

Issue 13 - 10 July, 2005

Here's a good one - the transit authority have managed to persuade the city to pass a law which makes it illegal to have a cup of coffee on the subway. You don't even have to drink from it, simple possession is illegal, thereby moving coffee into the same category as class A drugs and concealed firearms. When asked what their problem was, a spokesperson for the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) said that coffee is dangerous, because you can spill it on others, and then the spillee could sue the MTA.

Well MTA - let's work through this. (I wanted to say, "I have a news flash for you", but I can't make my point in less than 15 seconds like all news stories here, given the limited attention span of the average news watcher who obviously prefers chewing gum to food with nutritional value. Not sure I can give it a sensationalist headline either, but give me a minute).

Negligence 101: The law of Tort (which the locals love to sue for so much) requires; (1) a victim to whom you owe a duty of care (duty of care); (2) actual damage to that victim (damage); (3) a reasonably foreseeable event which would give rise to that damage (reasonably foreseeable); and (4) recklessness as to whether damage follows the event or not (fault).

Don't be scared off by the legalese - I prefer to call it the "idiot" test.

So, follow my logic:

1. If someone spills coffee on you in the subway, they are an idiot. In legalese: they need to be nice to other subway users (duty of care); the train jerks all the time so don't be surprised by it (reasonably foreseeable); and if you don't hold on or put the lid on tight you are an idiot (fault). If you can demonstrate damage, then you can sue the idiot.

2. What you can't do is sue the MTA. They need to be nice to subway users (duty of care), they can foresee that people will spill things (reasonably foreseeable), but it's not their fault that people are idiots because in reality the idiots are at fault (so, no fault). No court would ever hold the MTA responsible for all the foolish things that people do on the subway (otherwise they could be sued for all the crazy people - and the fares would be a thousand dollars a trip just to pay their legal insurance). The MTA are not the idiots here, so you can't sue them.

3. BUT, what if it is their responsibility to enforce the law? This means that now it is illegal, they have to check for coffee before someone brings it on to the subway. And if they don't, and one slips through? Well, are they at fault? I'll bet there is a lawyer somewhere who would love to test out in court whether they are. So there you have it - all of requirement met: duty of care, reasonable foreseeability, and now fault. Good thinking - the MTA are now the idiots because they've just created the risk they were passing the law to avoid.

I have a much harder question though - what does this mean for American legislation now? Do city, state and federal assemblies need to pass laws to make simple stupidity a criminal act? That's a pretty high standard - there are a lot of idiots in the world - are they all going to be criminals by definition in America? To all idiots now have to be arrested and tried through the legal system? Are the police now responsible for catching all stupid people and locking them up until their trial? Given I think that the idiots who passed this law are stupid, should they be the first to be locked up?

I really would love to do my state bar exam and be a laywer in this city. I could be sooooooooo irritating!

Legally a very scary place this.

[Time for the inevitable dislaimer: real lawyers - please correct me offline, I did my law degree more than ten years ago. Potential plaintiffs - does this look like legal advice? (let me me help you answer this one - NO!) I owe you no duty of care here, so I don't need to be careful about whether I am right or not. Find an idiot.]

I thought up my sensationalist headline though:

"Congress arrests its own idiots."

Bet they'll buy that if you put it on the front page of the New York Post.


This week's blog was brought to you by the letter H for HOT - 32 degrees today (95 in old money), and the number zero, being the number of people in other teams who came in today on a Sunday to work in the office. Sadly we had very close to a full house in my group, on the day with the best weather of the summer as well - the better days are coming guys, I promise.


I wrote this tonight on the roof of my building. It's a very civilised place when the sun is setting (but suitable only for desert-raised frilly-necked lizards during the day). A photos for you of the Woolworth Building in the sunset:

Did you miss the blog about our trip to St Paul, Minnesota? Have a look here.