30 March 2013

New job

IAL had been begun in 1981 by Phil Norman and Julian Passfield - wonderful what you can find on the Web:

I was told, when I started working there, that it had been owned, for a while, by a company called Kerridge Odeon - which I had always thought of as a chain of cinema theatres - but when I was employed, it had been purchased by another (apparently also now defunct) company called Paxus - how quickly they come and how quickly they go!

Paxus had bought IAL in early 1984, I think.  What I learned whilst working there was that Paxus had been created - by New Zealand Insurance (itself owned by Australian insurance giant IAG - one wonders who owns IAG :-)) - as a tool for purchasing a large number of small computer companies, consolidating them, digesting them, and ... well, doing what you do with the bits of your food that you don't absorb into your system.

IAL was a small company.  I think there were about 25 employees.  A number of us were called to a meeting in September or October, 1985.  Hemming and hahing aside, the dozen or so of us who were there were to be made redundant.

In fact, the situation was somewhat more complex than that.  IAL's software had started out developed for CP/M computers, later for DOS .  In early 1985, I think, IAL began development for Unix and Unix-derived computers - Xenix and Linux.  Some of IAL's programmers were to leave and form their own company, about the same time the rest of us were made redundant, producing business software for Unix-based systems.

But I was one of the redundant ones.

IAL was, in fact, very good to me.  My last day of work was to be Friday, 29 November, 1985.  I was given paid work time to look for a new job.  Roger Hicks, my boss's boss:

spent some considerable time pointing me to a variety of possible jobs, though none quite worked out.

I thought of the place I had worked at before: the University of Auckland.  Nevil Brownlee was, I found, still working at the University.  Leaving no stone unturned, I 'phoned Nevil.  Did he know of anything?

Well, he said, he had heard that the Faculty of Commerce was looking for someone as a computer support person.  I might try that.

Sometime in November, I was interviewed by Michael Morris of the Accountancy Department.  The Accountancy Department had just, the year before, set up a computer lab, with 20 terminals (not computers) talking to a Xenix machine (with a MB of RAM and 200MB of hard disc!).  During the year, they had purchased several (about twelve, I think) floppy-only DOS machines, and a single IBM AT with 512KB of RAM and 20MB hard disc - and the lot were networked together using IBM PC Net (NetBIOS was the firmware in these devices) with thickwire coax.  These network cards were very expensive.  I know.  I broke one, and breathed a sigh of relief when IBM replaced the $1800 (1985 dollars!) device on warranty.

I had given Mr Morris my CV.  It mentioned nothing of networking?  What did I know about networks? he asked.  Nothing whatever, I replied.

Perhaps he decided no one else at the time did.  He hired me.  My last day at IAL was Friday 29 November, 1985.  I started work at the University, in room 320 in the Commerce Building - a full-sized academic office - on Monday 2 December, 1985.  My office has changed since then.  The name of the part of the University I work for has changed.  My job is still the same one - and I know a fair bit about networking now.

The University of Auckland job was, in fact, the second one I was offered at that time.  The choice between the two jobs (the other was at a mortgage company) turned on transport.

24 March 2013

Halloween and the Queen of Ethiopia

Candace, my younger sister by three years, seemed to always have something special happening.  I wasn't a very nice older sister to her and my parents reminded me of this often.  I would like to think that Candace doesn't remember that part of our childhood but I bet she does.

It all started when she was born on the 31st of October.  It is a special day in the US for kids - Halloween.  She got to have her birthday party on that day AND also go trick-or-treating.  It must have been crazy for my mother sorting all of that out at the same time but I didn't see it like that.

Then there was the fact that Candace's name meant Queen of Ethiopia - taken from the Bible.  My name didn't mean much, really.  I was named after a family friend who I never met.  Candace has never been to Ethiopia but her name certainly seemed much more important then mine did to me.

So, I was jealous about all of that and many other things.

The family story of Candace's first day at school is another shameful episode in my life involving her.

The local elementary school had a bus that was sent to pick children up in the morning and take them home at night.  It stopped across the main road from our house - in clear view of the front yard.  My parents had talked to me a lot about Candace getting on the bus her first day of school.  I knew that they wanted me to let her go first and I was to follow.

The bus pulled up. My parents were standing in the front yard watching the  bus door open - and I ran up the stairs ahead of my sister -   the next thing I remember is coming home that evening and my parents asking me what had happened.  Why hadn't Candace got on the bus first?  Well, I told them - I ran up the stairs first to show her how it was done.  It was a lie.  I just wanted to be first and couldn't stand that the bus driver would pay a lot of attention to her.

Candace had a hearing problem.  I do not remember too much about it except that I do know she had a wonderful teacher in the first or second grade - maybe both years - who loved her.  From what I remember, this teacher was very kind and helped both Candace and my mother a lot with the problems caused by  the hearing loss.

I believe that  most people would not know about this hearing loss of my sister's.  She has never made much of it - she has just coped with it and to me that is amazing.  I remember that she had a variety of treatments when she was younger and some of them were not easy, according to my mother.  I always had the feeling that Candace just felt she would not give into the problem this might cause her.

She has mentioned, in the past, that we might share stories we remember about our pasts - I hope that she is reading this as I would like to start that.  It might help me to be a better sister.

What do you think, Candace?


In the to-us-new culture of 1980s New Zealand - new after eight years in Yap, and after eight years during which, by all accounts, New Zealand's own culture had changed radically - we felt overwhelmed by the flood of possibilities for recreation for our children.  Our new friends pressed on us sport, dance, riding, groups of the Scout and Guides type - and music.  We had four children, limited money, limited time.  After some initial experiments with sport - I think Eddie did cricket for a while, Johnny soccer - we decided to concentrate on music.

My mother had been an accomplished pianist.  I wish I knew more about her musical background.  Her ability was very impressive to me.  She made, one way and another, musicians of her children.

We had no television set in Bakersfield.  When we moved to Oroville, in 1954, at some time after that - perhaps by 1956? - my father built a television receiver.  Nevertheless, watching tv in the evening was not, for us, what I think it sometimes is - even was, then - for some families.  Instead, we played music.

My mother bought small ensemble arrangements of popular 1940s and '50s music - Lerner and Loew, Hoagy Carmichael, that sort of thing - and we played: she on the piano, I on the cornet, Peter on the clarinet, Robin on the saxophone - and, I think, at times, my father on percussion.  I have said elsewhere that from primary school on I played the cornet.  In high school I took up the horn as well.  When, after two years of University, I had no longer had a horn to play, I took up (in a small way) classical guitar.  Music was so much a part of me that I seriously considered, when starting University, majoring in horn rather than astronomy (though I was never so committed as my sister, who is a professional musician today; and nor, at the time, as my brother, who paid part of his University costs playing in a band).

So when, sometime during, I think, 1985, we heard (from Aileen Darby and Janette Bagrie) about the music schools that are run out of school hours in primary and intermediate schools - and, specifically, about the Papakura Music School - I decided that what we should do is to concentrate.  I had experience in music.  The kids would enjoy the social side of it, and, I hoped, the musical as well.  Susan and the children attended an open day in late 1985.  At the beginning of the school year, in February, 1986, Johnny, Helen, and Eddie began recorder lessons (Adele, three and a half at the time, had to wait until the next year to start).

My mother's music had lifelong effects on her children.  At least, I still play the horn (in the Manukau Symphony.  My sister spent much of her life as a professional musician, and still plays professionally when she can.  I think my brother does not play any longer.

Of our children, Johnny has not remained a performer - though he played clarinet keenly and well until about the time he had finished high school.  Eddie played the violin through his school days (the music school starts them on recorder as an easy first instrument).  He is now a serious and accomplished electric guitarist - performs for money occasionally.

Both Helen and Adele have done considerably more:

  • Helen - played the flute from about age nine.  She completed Trinity School of Music grade eight in piano and flute - and her BMus (Hons) from the University of Auckland and Victoria University (Wellington).
  • Adele - who started the Papakura Music School before she was five - finished grade eight (trumpet), seven (piano).
Both girls were section leaders from the beginning in the Manukau Symphony, and played solo concerti.  Adele isn't actively playing at the moment, but, I am sure, will again.  Helen has been teaching until this year, and, again, will probably do so again.

Shows that you never know when you start something where it will lead.

That is true also about employment.  By the time we started with the Music School, I was no longer working at IAL.

15 March 2013


I have said to people that we home-schooled our children - at least, we home-schooled the boys until Fifth Form (approximately US 11th grade), when they went to college (= US high school); Adele went off to College at Third Form; and Helen went straight from home to University.

I have said this, but it is misleading.  We did not home-school them; Susan did.  At least, all the work, and most of the inspiration, was her doing.  I was very enthusiastic.  Considering that I did not have to bear the burden of struggling with the children, with the authorities, with self-doubt, one may well conclude that my enthusiasm was not dearly bought.

When we returned to New Zealand in May, 1984, Johnny was not quite 9, Helen not quite 7.  Eddie was four, Adele only 17 months.  Formal schooling only applied to Johnny and Helen.  May is about one-third through the New Zealand school year, which begins in early February, and ends in mid- to late-December.  Johnny and Helen were certainly required by law to be in school.  What did we do about this?  I do not recall.

We certainly applied for - and received - Education Department permission to teach them at home.  In fact, the Education Department was very helpful and cooperative in the matter.  We had the invaluable help of Peter Butler in finding out about the requirements.  The requirements involved annual visits from the Department - which, Susan found, were less matters of checking up on you than of having someone help her in doing her job.

But I don't think we actually applied for and received this permission until the end of 1984 or early 1985.

I suppose we were simply in breach of the law for half of 1984.

It is, I suppose, natural that schooling constitutes a central focus for families with children and it was not different for us.  Our friendships were often made with home-schooling in mind.  Susan, with a number of other mothers (mostly; a few fathers were involved), began a home-schoolers group - Pukekohe families, for the most part, but some from Waiuku and Tuakau which met fornightly (and, for what I know, still does).  Quite soon we discovered that we were eligible for free teaching materials from the New Zealand Correspondence School.  Originally intended for the children of families living in remote locations, too far from a regular school, these included supervision by Correspondence School staff as well, and were very good - and free.

It soon became apparent that the choice to home-school was financially even more attractive.  Whereas we had to pay for materials from Christian Liberty Academy, the Education Department gave us some sort of stipend for expenses - in addition to the materials from the Correspondence School.

I do not think things are like that today.  It is still possible to home-school.  I do not think there is a stipend any longer, and I believe home-schoolers are no longer eligible for the Correspondence School.  Things were made very easy for us when our children were young.

Formal schooling is only a part of a child's life.  New Zealand, after Yap, offered an enormous variety of possibilities for recreational activities.  We needed to choose.

11 March 2013

These Shoes were Made for Walking

These Shoes are Made for Walking

There are things in one's life that seem to always "be there".  They may not  be highlights but they are fairly important in the development of a young person.  For me one of those things was the kind of  shoes I wore when I was age six until I was twelve.

Why would I remember the shoes that I wore?  Kid's shoes in those days were quite ugly - not the large choice of type, style or colour of today.  But mine were even uglier because they were different from my friends.

I was born with a very low arches -  flat feet.  They were not much problem until I went to school at age six and had to wear shoes all day long. 

My parents were advised that I needed to wear "corrective shoes".  If I wore these shoes for a number of years, my arches would improve.  If I did foot excerises - twisting my feet to strengthen the muscles, walking with marbles inbetween my toes, etc...that would also help.  If I paid attention to my posture, paid attention to the way that I walked (heel, toe), did my foot exercises,  wore the corrective shoes with the huge, stiff arch supports in them - well, all would be fine in the future.

The future was looking a long way off for all of us involved.

These shoes were not available at the local shoe shop.  We had to go to a special shoe store.  The shoes were always made out of leather and they were just plain ugly.  I had a pair of brown ones for school and white for church or anything else.  The heels were very important and I was constantly running them down - off they went  to the repair shop.  I would then have to wear the white ones to school. They got dirty easily - my parents taught me how to clean them up and polish them.

The cost of these shoes was high and the arch supports had to be made to fit them.  I had only one pair of the supports and if I lost one - more would have to be made.

This was something I just lived with.  I had my whole family - grandmothers, uncles and aunts, etc....encouraging me to keep going - they kept telling me that I would be glad to have done this when I was older.  I think that the whole thing was much harder on my mother then it was on me.  She was in charge of the shoes, the exercises  which I just hated - she would often do them with me - and telling me to stand up straight.  Endless.

The best day was when I was twelve.  We drove into downtown Portland to a regular shoe shop - a well known one - and I got to buy a pair of white, leather loafers with my babysitting money.  They were deluxe.  I was allowed to wear them to church and other events and slowly the corrective shoes were forgotten.

Seven years I wore those things - they were not the only thing I spent a lot of time being involved with.

10 March 2013

Going to church

When I first came to Auckland, in 1973, a Christian of a little over two years, I was very fortunate to make friends with Richard Flinn and Ross Jackson.  They two were post-grad students at Auckland University (Richard was doing political studies, Ross chemistry), i.e. a newly-minted lecturer, and still a post-grad student myself, working on my PhD in linguistics.  I was keen to know more of my faith; they of theirs.  Ross, and, I think, Richard, had been brought up Baptists.  I, of course, was a convert, but was, then, a Baptist.  By the time I left New Zealand for Yap in 1976, I was Reformed.  Ross had either become Reformed by then, or was on the way.

And Richard had left to do a theology degree at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, and, unsurprisingly, returned to Auckland Reformed and was ordained a minister.  Mangere Reformed Church planted the North Shore Reformed Church as a missionary initiative, with Richard as minister.  So when we returned from Yap, with the intention, under Richard's sponsorship, of starting a Reformed Church in Pukekohe, it was, naturally, the North Shore Reformed Church that was our missionary sponsor.  Thus, on our return, our membership was transferred from Avondale Reformed Church, where it had been, officially, during our eight years in Yap.

Every Sunday we bundled our four children into the Morris Oxford, and set off for the 65 Km trip to church in the North Shore - including the hour-and-a-half service, three and a half hours were involved.  The chilly bin in the boot with sandwiches and drinks was a fixed institution.  We were excused, because of distance, from the evening service.

I keenly recall the first few times that we attended church there.  I think, now - alas, I paid too little attention to their feelings at the time - that it was distressing for the children, particularly Johnny and Helen.  To be brought into the society of strangers of your own age, who all know one another well, is a challenge for all of us.  For young people, old enough to recognise the fact that 'them vs us' is important, but not old enough to have developed their own ways of dealing with new situations, it is doubly challenging.  For our children, brought up until that point in an environment in Yap where their association with others was almost exclusively limited to their own family and family friends, it must have been, at least, bewildering.  I recall one or two things that support this: Helen's evident real fear, when we would get out of the car, of being separated from us - of being left behind, I think!; Adele's reversion - she was only eighteen months old - to a diet exclusively of breast milk and mashed bananas, though she had been eating commercial baby food for a long time before that.

We continued to drive to the Shore to church through, I think, to mid-1986 - or it may have been mid-1987? - when Michael, Richard's brother, had been ordained and was to become our minister.  We began meeting in the St John's Ambulance Hall in Pukekohe.  Our driving to the Shore was at an end.

We had also now to deal with the question of home-schooling.  Yap presumably had compulsory education laws.  We never had to deal with them.  We just home-schooled our children from the start.  New Zealand was a different matter.