Wednesday, April 30, 2003
What I did on my holidays
What with Easter and Anzac Day holidays falling on conveniently adjacent weekends this year, like all good Australians with a borderline work ethic, I took the intervening three days off and had a ten day weekend. But it was to be no idle period of rest and quiet contemplation, oh no. Enter: Pergolapalooza .
The efforts to renovate the backyard have been well documented herein over the past year, but the opportunity to launch a Final Push had evaded us until now. Probably because there was rather a lot to do. Apart from erecting the pergola itself, there was also the mountainous clods of infertile clay to deal with, about ten years worth of crap accumulated behind the shed, stripping and painting the shed, installing the outstanding bits of watering system, and a dozen other little jobs that reared their ugly little heads during the process.
Although the pergola was the focus of the effort - and the excuse with which we lured an army of volunteers to help us on the Saturday and Sunday - in fact I was quite determined to get the garden work done. After getting in a skip and leaving Fiona and Meagan to begin painting the couple of dozen timber pergola components, I started cleaning up behind the shed, digging out all of the rotten fence palings, rocks, chunks of concrete, bricks, tree stumps and other assorted bits of garbage, not to mention about three tonnes of dirt. It was a marathon, taking the best part of two full days. By the end of the first day I had entirely filled the skip and had to order another one.
Meanwhile Fiona and Meagan attended to the timber. They painted and repainted and lost track of what had been repainted and occasionally stripped back and repainted again. By the time the working bee had rolled around on Saturday, more or less everything was prepped for assembly. That's where the power tools come in.
We got off to a rocky start on Saturday morning when the very first attempt to sink a dynabolt into the concrete slab (to secure the feet of the main posts) went horribly wrong, getting stuck halfway to where it should have been and unable to be removed. A couple of hours and several drill bits were sacrificed in trying to remove it before we just spun the foot 90 degrees and sunk two new bolts in. It was an ominous beginning.
There were quite a lot of people available  and not many were needed on the pergola at any given time, so I concentrated on supervising the dirt shifting. This entire element of the project would have been buggered without the wheelbarrow that Ted gave us for a wedding present, by the way, so thanks for that Toad. Much dirt was removed to Skip 2, and by the afternoon we'd got to the point where we could stop shovelling and just start raking the more noxious bits of glass/concrete/brick/tile/marble/terracotta/metal/etc that seemed to comprise roughly a third of its volume out of our backyard soil. My theory is that after the house was built, there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm for a cleanup, but they did have this really sweet hole out the back that they could just bulldoze all the industrial waste into...
Kath and Brenda busied themselves prepping the shed for painting, by stripping off all the crappy old flaky stuff with wire brushes. I hate that sort of horrible, grimy prep work, so I was hugely grateful that someone else had taken it on.
Towards the end of the afternoon it was all starting to feel very Backyard Blitz-y, as we were racing the failing light to try to get the main bits of the pergola frame together and finish up levelling out the dirt with rakes. We eventually called it quits after it was discovered that we didn't have enough rafters and that purchasing a new one would have to wait until morning. That made it beer o'clock.
We were all deeply in need of beers. Unfortunately I was a little too in need of them, and made quite a pig of myself by the end of the night, with a too-abrupt ejection of the gang. I apologised later, but felt like a heel immediately afterwards and for days later, and rightly so. Thanks for accepting the apology guys.
Sunday morning Fiona and I had planned to go to the hardware store in Braddon, buy an extra rafter and walk home with it. The plan was dashed when they didn't have any timber in the right size, and there was no way that we were going to walk a piece of timber six or so kilometres just to save on a $35 delivery fee (any more than we were going to pay that fee so that a single piece of wood could be delivered...) In the end the carpentry boffins worked out a way to do the job without the extra rafter, and the rest of the day was spent in relatively blissful sawing, drilling and nailing.
I suck with both hammer and drill, although I did get better with practise. The saw we won't even discuss
We didn't quite finish on Sunday - the Laserlite (corrugated plastic roofing) still had to be painstaking attached, and Meagan was having some difficulties with the gutter. Actually, that's an understatement - she had painted, stripped and repainted that damn thing about four times, and I gather that she is still not happy with it (it's still not up, at any rate). I thought it looked fine the first time, but after a couple of glares I surmised that this was not a constructive opinion.
We finally screwed down the last sheet of roofing on Monday morning, so that was done (well, except for that gutter). I had installed popup sprinklers to water the grass, but it turns out that there were too many of them and the water pressure died, so I was forced to rip them all out. And now we are more or less done, bar some pottering and literally waiting for the grass to grow.
It looks good. More than that, it rained for several days last week, and - gutter notwithstanding - things under the pergola stayed dry, so it works as well.
Thank goodness for that.
- Thanks a whole bunch for all your great work to Kath and Hector, Brenda, Adam and Ange (and Isobel, who hopefully will never be exposed to such colourful language ever again), Jimbo, Simon, Chris and Linda, Mistress of Pick Fu.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
I've been riding to work a lot lately, ahead of half-formed plans to finally go and get my motorcycle license sometime shortly after the Easter-Anzac Day break. I need the practise, because I don't have access to the sort of bike that would make it easy to pass the test.
Anyway, one of the streets on my route is lined with dozens of tall maple trees. They're beautiful nearly all year round, but right now, they're magnificent. The leaves are about to fall, but before they do, they go through a khaki-to-brown-to-orange colour transformation. This street is two hundred yards of glorious foliage, bright oranges and reds on both sides of the road. Breathtaking.
Being from a place where autumn does not exist as a season in its own right, this is usually about the time of year when I am reminded just what it is I love about Canberra. It's a singularly beautiful place to live, full of trees and plants and colour. Sometimes, like the last two summers, the "Bush Capital" comes back to bite us. But I still would not want to live anywhere else right now.
Mind you, winter's coming. After a few weeks and months of bitter cold, miserable overcast skies and streets slick with rotting leaves, I might get back to you with a different story.
We had our work planning session this morning. It didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but I think it went better than I expected. I'm not too unhappy about the new allocation of work, although I would rather have had one particular job taken away, but unsurprisingly, nobody else wanted it, and - worse still - it really does fit into the niche that I've more or less fallen into over the past 12 months, so logically I'm the one that needs to do it. Still, I had hoped for a miracle of some kind.
I more or less stood up for myself and said "no" to various things, but didn't really end up with much less of a workload than I had a couple of weeks ago. Still, yesterday it looked as though it would inflate to comically awful proportions, so overall I guess this was a positive result. Time will tell, of course.
Meagan finally twisted our arms last night and insisted that we sit down and watch the next episodes of Buffy and Angel. I complained that I couldn't care less about watching ahead, but I admit that by the time we were on the third or fourth episode, I was jumping up and down and couldn't wait to see what happened next.
It's nice, once in a while, to be reminded of that frisson I used to get when I watched a really good episode of a show I really liked. I haven't really gotten it from a show on a regular basis since the second and third seasons of Babylon 5, which I remember watching with nigh-religious fervour (watch episode, rewind, watch episode, discuss, rewind, watch episode again, discuss again). Buffy and Angel have both done it on occasions, but usually manage to ruin a good run with a total dud or a comical filler episode. If they can both actually sustain the current levels of drama through to the end of their respective seasons - a pretty tall order for any show - I'll be very impressed.
On a related note, doesn't Charmed suck?
Tuesday, April 15, 2003
We're meeting to discuss the section work plan this week. The sole item on my agenda is shifting some of my ridiculous workload - nearly all of which is normally reserved for people with years more experience than me at much higher levels - off my plate. At the moment I have responsibility for four major activities, only one of which is low maintenance and does not require full-time attention. The others all have massive policy development and project design requirements - these are big jobs.
Guess which activity is no longer my responsibility under the first draft of the new work plan? That's right. It's the minnow. The other three (any two of which would be full time work for one person, who incidentally should be at a higher level) have been joined by two new activities, both of which have - you guessed it - some degree of policy development and project design work associated with them.
So now I have to find some middle ground between mildly capitulating to a (roughly) 50% increase in responsibility, and saying "get absolutely fucked" to my director, supervisor and colleagues. My record of politely declining unreasonable work demands is not good. But on the other hand, like everyone else we suffer under the universal Public Service complaint of having more work demanded and fewer resources with which to complete it. In other words, everyone else is loaded up as well, so anything I manage to shift will undoubtedly burden someone else.
Nevertheless, it won't do anyone any good if I am lumped with all this, because if I am, it really will be the last straw. This place is a little too happy to bend the rules when it comes to giving low-ranked staff "opportunities" to do work that will give them experience, but is rarely so accommodating when it comes to actually rewarding that effort. I mean, it's not a Nike sweatshop in southern China or anything, and I'm not so naive to imagine that I wouldn't run into the same problems virtually everywhere else (especially if I want to be paid well, which I do).
(Still, when the time comes, telling AusAID to cram it somewhere subterranean is going to be a matter of principle.)
So I somehow during the next two days' meetings, I either have to somehow produce high level negotiation skills from absolutely nowhere, or I have to ditch my routine work persona as congenial team player and become a demanding, uncooperative bastard who gets what he wants by putting everyone around him through hell.
Sigh. I can do that. Doesn't mean I want to, though.
Keeping a blog up to date is pretty hard work, especially if you are desperate to maintain the illusion that you have something to offer your correspondents other than bitter complaint. (Especially if you are really busy at work). Nevertheless, I can offer the following miniscule motes of positive-sounding news:
- Social weekend - Picnicked with Polly and the gang at Commonwealth Park on Saturday afternoon, ate dinner with Alastair, Jacqui and Bruce at "The Chairman and Yip" (classy Chinese restaurant in Civic) on Saturday night, and lunched at Erika (Fi's cousin) and Chey's on Sunday. At the latter, I ate beetroot soup and liked it. It was great to see Pol again, even if it did mean that I was present for the coining of a new and grotesque culinary expression: "handful" (noun. - a sandwich, typically salad, meat or a combination, containing no bread).
- Pergola - The construction of the backyard pergola will take place this forthcoming Easter weekend, if all goes to plan and it doesn't rain like a bastard. Fiona's meticulous planning (down to the cost of the last nut and bolt) is amazing to behold. The measurements are set, the required tools are (mostly) available, the materials have been selected and ordered. The only thing that can go wrong now I leave as an exercise for the reader (hint: it involves power tools and people that by and large do not have relevant power tool-handling skills).
- Lawn - The backup Easter project is to complete the last remaining work on transforming our backyard dirt pile into an award-winning, groundforced landscape. This will involve the removal of a lot of dirt (and chunks of cement, partial roof tiles, timber, rocks, odd and unidentifiable lumps of plastic and metal, large numbers of bricks, and a variety of other subsurface inhabitants of the backyard that are in no way dirt) into a mini-skip, followed by lots of raking, seeding and fertilising of a bare patch of dirt in order to turn it into lawn. Our pilot patch of dirt, which was sown about four weeks ago, is a lush jungle of grass that awaits mowing as we speak, so in principle the bare-earth-to-green-paradise transformation ought to be a doddle. Unless it rains like a bastard, of course.
- Games - I set everybody in the D&D game some homework, to come up with some background details for their characters. Only Chris has done his in full (Jimbo and Linda did some before they were asked, and I have heard suspiciously little from Simon). Chris' character's background is that he was abandoned on the doorstep of a church as a baby and raised as a ward of the priesthood. Sigh. The classics are still the best, eh? Still, it means I can do all sorts of horrible things to him and call it "destiny". Heh.
Thursday, April 10, 2003
The truth is out there
It's been a while since I just posted some krazee links. Hmm, how about Legos In Black? Woah!
Tuesday, April 08, 2003
Oh, and the garden too
Work is nearly complete on the massive backyard revegetation project, with the last bed now planted with more hebe shrubs, lavender and some groundcovers. We still have to install the watering system, which should take about an hour and could conceivably get done this weekend, except that we're pretty fully booked socially. A picnic, a dinner and a backyard barbecue are all competing with gardening and doing nothing for our time.
Despite the relatively positive outlook that I am currently able to maintain due to a distraction-proof mountain of paperwork, the prospects for promotion in the short term continue to be elusive. I missed the deadline for getting an application in for the much more open APS 6 round (and thus skipping a promotion level) because I had no time to prepare it at work and no desire whatsoever to waste what little spare time I have at home. Not only that, APS 6 level is pretty much as far as I have any real intention of going in the public service (since beyond that point the degree of pressure and responsibility and demands on one's time, to my mind at least, wholly overwhelms the compensation of the pay) and right at the moment I am disinclined to hit the peaks.
That leaves me in the position of having to wait to see how many APS 5 positions are freed up by people who are successful in the 6 round. Which means waiting at least another 8-10 weeks. Which means at least another 8-10 weeks of working well in excess of my duty statement without any possibility of compensation.
It's pretty hard to stay motivated, but I'm hanging in there. Fiona's in a slightly leakier boat the moment, because her workplace are no longer in a position to ignore the fact that she is working to an excess level as well, and are upgrading her position to an EL1. Which means that she will have to apply for her own job. Just another one of those cute little quirks of the Public Service. Of course the incumbent usually has the home ground advantage in these situations, and she's excellent at her job, so she has nothing much to worry about.
But my natural pessimistic streak is just a little alarmed right at the moment that household breadwinning responsibilities could, however briefly, fall to me alone. Best not to think about it really.
There's an interesting - if ultimately unproductive - little power struggle going on in my work area, between one of my colleagues and the new director. The latter, from the POV of the troops, is not displaying strong leadership and decision making qualities with respect to the practical implementation of the program. My feeling is that she's still finding her feet and working out her directorial style and she probably needs to feel her way into it, but we've been stalled on this question for months, and we're all starting to feel that we're going backwards. My colleague, who has been largely responsible for drafting the strategic plan for the next five years, is obviously becoming frustrated, and she is none-too-gently trying to push and prod the director into producing something tangible rather than talk.
It's obvious neither of them wants to get into a full-blown argument about it, but not having a frank and open discussion about it is just creating more tension every day. The body language at section meetings starts at "closed" and works its way up through "I'd rather be anywhere else than here" and beyond. Discussions are circular, suggestions are made and not followed up, nothing practical gets done.
If I cared even slightly about the "new work", I'd probably pick a side and try to move things along. I can see various ways that we could all be more constructive about it. But quite frankly I'm feeling right at the moment that I have a heavier workload than just about anyone in the section, and there's no way I'm taking on something that's essentially a management issue. Yawn. It will sort itself out, I'm sure.
Monday, April 07, 2003
Who's got the time?
Work seems to be insanely busy at the moment, with no apparent possibility of letup. I wish they would damn well promote so at least I could be overcompensated for the ridiculous expectations being held of me, but at least I'm not bored. It does rather cut down on the blogging time though. Short entries today.
In a return to traditional Lexifab values, that was the word we coined for the six-months-married date that rolled around on Saturday 5th April. It hardly seems possible that so much time has passed, but to be fair, two of those months were spent on holidays, which contracts the apparent passage of time noticeably. To celebrate the day, I ordered an extravagant bunch of flowers, which, while incredibly decorative, may prove to have been a tactical error when the actual anniversary comes round and I discover I have to top it somehow.
Had another one of our famous dinner parties on Saturday night, this time with Peter (the head of Fiona's web development team) and his partner Maggie, and Jo (who introduced us, and who we repaid in bitter and embarrassing coin by telling everyone that at the wedding) and her partner Mark. Once again, we experimented with a variety of new dishes never previously attempted, and once again we met with mixed success. The minted carrot soup was fabulous, but the chicken and raspberry filo rolls were merely so-so. Also, three of the guests were not really drinking, which put a bit of a dent in our tradition of having a different bottle of wine to go with every course. Still, that meant there was a lot of the very nice chardonnay left over for the next day. The night was a bit flat (everyone, including us, seemed to be too tired to really put in with the sparkling witticisms) but not at all disagreeable.
Saw Lilo and Stitch and xXx on DVD yesterday. One of them was terrific, and the other one sucked beyond my immediate power to describe. I won't say which was which, but let's just say that if I was to rewatch a favourite Vin Deisel movie in the future, I'd go for The Iron Giant. Or having my teeth pulled. Either's good.
Fiona has two sibs - sister Jacqui and brother Alastair - with birthdays tomorrow. Same day, ten years apart. To celebrate, we're eating Italian, so that's good. It's also Dad's birthday on Wednesday. I haven't gotten him anything yet. He's notoriously difficult to shop for. He will get a phone call though, because I know he likes to talking...
The end of warblogging
Chris and Marco are soldiering valiantly on with the discussions of the peace movement, the history of American interventionism and various other topics. I still have strong opinions and various agree and disagree with a number of their points, but I really don't have time to weigh in at the moment. Sorry guys. Hopefully the war will keep going long enough that I can join in again when the workload eases...
I didn't just say that.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
It never rains, but gah! Downpour!
So, no sooner do I resolve to make more of an effort to keep Lexifab up to date, so that Mum knows what I'm up to, than the gentle snowdrift settled in my in-tray turns into a full-blown paper blizzard. Brr!
Er, by which I mean, I'm rather busy and don't have time for proper updates.
I'm not a warblogger, but I play one on email
At Mr Fellows prompting, Marco, Chris and I (and Andrew, but he hasn't said much) have been debating the pros and cons of the Unpleasantness, and particularly Australia's role therein. I find I have a far stronger opinion of the whole affair than I thought I did, and my contributions have gone on rather at length. I have a feeling I wouldn't have gone to as much effort, had Marco not taken as given a thesis I find untenable, implausible and incongruous. So naturally my innate contrariness instantly kicked in and we started back-and-forthing. It's winding down now, but it was interesting while it lasted.
A toast to the bride and groom
Fiona's dad is getting married again in a couple of weeks. Fiona has been asked to do a speech toasting the bride and groom, so last night we met David and Betty and the pub and got some details to put into the speech.
From the draft Fiona was working on this morning, the speech may contain a number of milkmaid jokes (Betty grew up on a dairy farm...).