Two podcasts to check out…

So, the cassette player thing is going well! I have a small stack of tapes from some great musicians on Bandcamp — if I get organized, I may blog about one or two of my favorites over the holiday weekend.

In the meantime, I wanted to share two podcasts with you: Norelco Mori and Tabs Out. Both are reviews of new cassette music releases — but in many ways cannot be more different.

Before I contrast them and make some general comments, I should say of both of these that they are very well produced. Audio quality is high throughout — clear, well-enunciated voices, little background noise, and good diction and speech. From that perspective, both are a real pleasure to listen to. I’m actually pretty fussy about this — I try a lot of podcasts, and don’t stick with many past the first half episode. If the audio is noisy, has too much echo, or if the speaker(s) voice(s) annoy me, off it goes. Similarly, what’s said and how it’s said is important too — we all “um” and “ah” somewhat, but there’s only so much of that — or just plain bad writing or poorly organized thoughts — that I can take before I want to drive into the opposite lane of traffic and put myself out of my misery. Both Norelco Mori and Tabs Out do very well in all of these regards — they’re what I’d call “professional” quality, on a par with good podcasts released by radio stations and other serious podcast networks like TWiT.

They are, however, very different. Norelco Mori prides itself as a podcast with “minimal talk”, and in that it delivers. The host, Ted Butler, does a bit at the beginning telling you what you’re going to hear, and then there’s about an hour of different works, and then a bit at the end about each artist and their method. Because of this, you can listen as actively or as passively as you wish (although I think you get a lot more from it from active listening). I’ve loved everything featured on the podcast, and it’s been difficult not to go to the computer after listening and just queue up a bunch of orders for new music.

Tabs Out is styled more as a radio program a la radio DJs. Honestly, I have a harder time following it; Mike Haley is joined by other hosts, each obviously with a different personality. I’ve never really enjoyed radio programming like that, and I kept wondering when they’d get to the music when I listened to the first episode I downloaded. When they finally do, they pick good music, though. But the format, for me, makes it harder to follow the music and really absorb their selections. It may well appeal to you, though, especially if you’re a fan of traditional radio programming.

If you’d like to discover some new, interesting music with a twist on cassette releases, they’re both worth checking out. I’m finding it easier to discover new stuff this way than surfing Bandcamp or Soundcloud, probably because my on-line time at home is somewhat limited, and I find most music recommendation algorithms just plain suck when it comes to knowing what I’ll like. These podcasts give me a chance to hear some great work by independent musicians when I’m driving to and from work, and their web sites let me follow up with them when I get a chance.

A new toy reminding me of old experiences…

So, there are a couple of electronic music artists who release predominantly or only to cassette tape that I wanted to listen to. I have held off buying their work, because I have not owned a tape player since the early 1990’s, and haven’t really had an interest in getting one. All I really remembered was flutter, and my father attempting to fix the Sony WM-R202 I’d saved up to buy that I broke when it fell off my belt, and failing and salvaging a really strong magnet, and me being very disappointed — part of the realization that parents are not infallible that every person goes through, I suppose. When MiniDisc came out, I just gave up on tape completely for making mixes and things, and I had only dabbled in ambient sound recording when I was younger (largely discouraged by my mother, who had very poor childhood memories of growing up with my grandfather who tape-recorded everything. I thought this was an exaggeration until we started cleaning things out of his garage.)

So I decided to get a tape player. At first I figured I’d just get an inexpensive one — did the drug store still sell them? Radio Shack isn’t an option; they’re out of business. I did a bit of Googling and decided I’d get a used one instead; the general consensus online was that it would be difficult to find one new in a store, and the quality of a new one was significantly inferior to an older one of good quality — both the construction and sound quality. I did not want to obsess about sound quality, but I did not want to experience what these artists had done in a manner as poorly as my dim memories of cassette music suggested. So I went on eBay and found a Sony WM-D6C. I picked this one after reading a couple of forums; the fact that it could also record was appealing, as an adjunct to the other music stuff I’ve been doing.

My Walkman

Continue reading A new toy reminding me of old experiences…

Auckland: Birds galore!

It’s been a week since we’ve been back, but I wanted to post a couple photos from the Auckland Zoo. We went there after meeting for worship on our last day in New Zealand before going to the airport, and it was worth it! We saw kiwi up close — I didn’t get any pictures, it was too dark in the kiwi house; they reverse days and nights for the birds so that people can see them doing something other than sleeping — and other indigenous birds, along with other, more common-to-us animals. Here’s a few photos.
OK, so the meerkat is neither a bird nor indigenous, but I love meerkats anyway.

The flight home was uneventful, although we did have members of New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All-Blacks, riding in coach just a few seats ahead of us. 

It was a great trip, and it’s been interesting settling back into the usual routine. I’m having regular dreams of driving in New Zealand, and very thankful for our trip.

Cape Reinga to Auckland by way of the Waipo Forest

Today we drove north to Cape Reinga. It was pretty foggy on the way up; by the time we reached Cape Reinga visibility was down to five meters or so. The cape was very peaceful except for the surf, which we could hear but couldn’t see — it was too foggy to see off the cliff down to the water where the Tasman and the Pacific meet.
After Cape Reinga we headed south on Route 1 — passing kilometer marker 0.0 and the northernmost traffic circle in New Zealand! — until we reached a turnoff for Ninety Mile Beach. Ninety Mile Beach is actually only 64 miles long, and its sand is so hard-packed that residents can drive on it. We didn’t try that in the rental car, but drove out to the beach and wandered around a bit.
After that we continued south until we reached Route 12, and then turned west, going through several towns on our way to the Waipou Kauri Forest. The kauri are the second-biggest trees after the redwoods, and they’re pretty big. Here’s the father of the forest, Tane Mahuta. It’s 17.7 meters in diameter, and over 58 meters tall.

 After that, we drove out of the forest and down to the first big town after the forest, Dargaville. We went to Blah Blah Blah for dinner; I had the squid salad and garlic bread, and Meg had mussel chowder and the fish special.

After that it was just motoring on Route 12 to Route 1 down to Auckland.

A lot of driving today — we set out at 10:00am, and didn’t get in until 10:00pm. But it was worth it.

Tomorrow is worship at Auckland Friends Meeting, and then if the weather holds, the Auckland Zoo. If it doesn’t hold, we’ll go to the museum instead.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds…

Well, we left Waiheke on the 9:00 ferry, and drove through Aukland headed north. There was a lot of traffic, even at 10:3o in the morning.

Three hours later we made it to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Waitangi Treaty of 1840 was signed between the British and the Maori. It was a very simple but pivotal document, promising the Maori freedom of government under British rule. 

The treaty grounds are very impressive, encompassing 400 hectares with the original treaty house, a mast denoting where the treaty was signed, and a traditional whare runanga, or Maori meetinghouse. Here’s where the treaty was signed.

And here’s the inside of the whare runanga.

We did not make it to Cape Reinga today, but Meg says that was according to plan. We are staying in an AirBnB about an hour south, and we’ll head up there first thing tomorrow.

Waiheke Island…

Today was a rest day — I got to sleep in until 8:30, which was heavenly. We got up and walked along the beach at the base of the hill below the Friends’ Meetinghouse, and then met Quakers for lunch. Here’s the beach at the base of the hill:

We had another lovely potluck with members and attenders of Waiheke Friends Meeting, and talked some about New Zealand and US politics before settling in for worship. There was a gentleman from Wales also joining us, so it was a multi-national gathering!

Then we came back to the Friends Meetinghouse and snoozed in the afternoon warmth for a couple of hours, reading and napping before going to Charley Farley’s for dinner. We had the salt and pepper squid with a zucchini-halloumi appetizer, which didn’t really taste of halloumi, but that’s OK. After that we went around the northeastern part of the island on an unimproved road and saw some lovely things just before sunset.



Tomorrow we rise early for the ferry before heading north, to the North Cape and Cape Reinga.


Coromandel Peninsula and Waiheke Island…

Yesterday we drove up from Lake Taupo to the Coromandel Penisnula, and then around to Half Moon Bay to catch the ferry to Waiheke Island. 

Here’s a shot of the tidal flats on the Coromandel.  

 We’re staying at the Waiheke Friends house, a lovely facility with a spacious meeting room, nice kitchen, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms, one done up as a bunk room and the other with a queen-sized bed. Here’s the view from the front deck.  

You can hear the ocean and cicadas quite clearly, and the ocean is within easy walking distance, although we haven’t walked down there yet.

Last night we stretched out on the deck and listened to the surf and the cicadas and watched the stars come out.

The sky is different here, but not as different as I’d imagined. For example, you can see Orion, but it’s high in the sky and upside down in comparison with at home. The Southern Cross is very obvious, even more obvious, I think, than the Big Dipper at home. Looking to the south, you see a lot of unfamiliar things (to me, anyway), of course. I had hoped to look for the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, but the moon is nearly full, and I don’t know where to look. I was told by one of our hosts that on a new moon in a dark sky you can see them quite clearly with the naked eye. Imagine that. 

Today is a rest day; we’re going to go down and walk on the beach soon, and at lunch we’re having lunch with the Quakers that own the meetinghouse.

The other thing I need to do today is think: Packt has asked me for a book proposal. I had sort of decided to give up the technical writing after the fifteenth book, but Packt actually pays pretty well, and seems to have pretty good distribution, and it’s a topic I want to stay proficient in. So I need to decide if I’m willing to do the work or not.

Whakarewarewa and Taupo…

Today we drove from where we’re staying on Lake Taupo to Rotorua, where we went to Whakarewarwa, the Living Village. We hoped to see some Maori culture and volcanic activity, and assumed they were separate. We were wrong! The Maori have a village on the hot springs! We got there just in time for a little cultural performance with some singing and traditional Maori games and poi dancing. Then we went on a walking tour of the village, which was excellent — she told us about the history of the village, and how the Maori use the hot springs for cooking (bag or basket or wrap your food and bury it in a box right on top of a thermal vent!), baths, and so forth.

After the walking tour, we had lunch,  a traditional Maori hangi, which is chicken and fish and vegetables boiled in the hot springs. Here’s a hangi box preparing what may have been the pudding we had for dessert:

The hangi was very good — as you might imagine, the food is all very moist. The chicken just fell off the bone; the beef was moist with very little fat, and the vegetables — cabbage, two kinds of potatoes, corn, and carrots — were done without being overdone. Apparently the Maori that live in the village — and many still do — actually use the same hangi in the evenings to cook their dinner. The small houses in the village all have the usual amenities of stoves, microwaves, and so forth, but many prefer to cook using the hangi in the traditional way.

We drove back a different route around Lake Taupo, and stopped at Cafe Ninety-Nine for an espresso on the way back. It’s worth observing that there appear to be two kinds of coffee in New Zealand — excellent, and instant. We’ve had very good espresso every cafe we’ve stopped at (including the airport on the first day!). Most pulls are double shots, and served with hot water so you can make an americano if you prefer. However, when you stay with people, most people have electric tea kettles, so if they offer you coffee, it’s instant from frozen crystals. That’s not nearly as good, of course, but in the morning it’s strong and hot and caffeinated, which is enough to get you going.

Wanganui to Lake Taupo via Ruakuri Cave…

This morning after meeting for worship at the Quaker Settlement, we headed north on Route 3 along the Wanganui River to the Waitomo cave region. It took about three and a half hours to get there. The road was good, and we only encountered a few cars along the way, but there were a lot of twists and turns and construction — apparently there were a series of slides and washouts this last winter along the route, and the road is still being worked on in places. There were lots of one-way stretches, including a scary one where the signal was out and we had to reverse out of the way of oncoming traffic.

We arrived at the main visitor center for the cave complexes at about 2:30, but the next tour we could book wasn’t available until four, so we had an espresso and settled down on the lawn outside to wait. They had a number of tours going to different caves, including a rafting excursion. We picked the walking one, which was about 900m underground, and the only one where you could bring cameras. 

My little Olympus Pen has a pretty slow sensor, and I prefer shooting with no flash, but I still got some OK pictures of the caves:


The highlight of the caves wasn’t the formations, though, but the glow worms. Glow worms really aren’t worms, they’re fly larva, but as the tour guide pointed out, “glow maggot”just doesn’t have the same marketing appeal. I took some pictures of them, too, although they look more like sensor noise than glowing worms!

The glow worms were quite impressive in person, especially once you let your eyes adjust to the darkness. There was one part of the cave where we were all asked to turn off our cameras so it would get really dark, and they popped out like stars in a planetarium.

After the cave we retraced our steps most of the way and then headed out to Lake Taupo, where the AirBnB we’re staying at for the next two nights is. We were met by Linda, our host, and her dog Jacky, a little Jack Russell terrier. We had a lovely cup of tea and some fresh-baked lemon bread and a nice conversation. 

Tomorrow we head off to Rotorua and to some of the local Maori sites.

Wellington to Wanganui…

This morning we slept late — I had night terrors and snored, which woke Meg up, who woke me up and chewed me out and asked me to stay awake, which I couldn’t do — followed by breakfast with the other guest, Alan, at George Fox House.

We then went next door to the Quaker Meetinghouse, built in the 1930’s, and had a lovely meeting for worship with twenty-five members and attenders from around Wellington. Meeting was completely silent, but otherwise the structure was what you’d expect, except that at the rise of meeting, before announcements (which they call “notices” there was a call for “almost ministry”, an opportunity for anyone to speak who had ministry forming but hadn’t had it crystallize yet. I’m not sure how I feel about the practice — I know that Santa Cruz meeting has experimented with something similar, which they called “Afterthoughts” when we were there.

After the rise of meeting, we partook in a lovely prepared lunch potluck — just what they were doing, nothing special for us — and had lively conversation with a number of the Friends there before loading up and heading out.

We stopped about two and a half hours later in Palmerston North, where we had homemade cake with Liz, the sister of Janet, who’s watching our dog and is a regular attended at our meeting. Liz was a very gracious host, and we had a lovely conversation about a lot of things, including New Zealand politics and places to see on the North Island.

Then we headed to The Quaker Settlement, an intentional community of Quakers where we were going to spend the night. We got here around 6:30, just in time for a shared meal we didn’t know about, so we didn’t even have to go out to find food — we sat down and talked with a number of students on retreat here from Earlham School of Religion over dinner and chocolate zucchini cake.

After dinner, we got a tour of the twenty acres — a lot of it is being recovered, having originally been a Quaker school and operating farm until 1975. The folks living here are working to recover the land, which is mostly sandy soil dunes, with a combination of existing (mostly invasive) species and native species. They take a hybrid approach to the project, creating micro habitats for animals where there were none before. It’s really an excellent example of stewardship and recovering the land for future generations.

Tomorrow morning we’ll have breakfast and then join them in their morning worship before continuing on our way.