Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A year in review

One good thing about blogs is the luxury of being able to clearly look back on the previous year. This has been a good year after a lull between 2004 and 2005.

It started with me considering my business which I had always said was an 'unsustainable' undertaking. I had come off a failed application for my dream job as a translator, and the complete failure the previous year to get a teaching job.

I was determined to let it be my year of health - yet this is one year to forget healthwise. My back has troubled me the whole year and my ankles are still not 100% and assorted maladies harried me throughout.

In January I murmured that I should get back into chess - this took me until December to do.

In February, I lost my wisdom teeth. March passed without a single blog!

April was defined by the challenge of the Oxfam Trailwalker and my failure to get to the end.

May I started considering jumping professions to Speech Language Therapy, which required some extramural study as well as practical experience with people affected by strokes. Now the extramural study didn't happen but I've happily accommodated doing some volunteer work with a stroke sufferer into my weekly schedule.

May also held the leads that resulted in my second client, and the lifeline for me. It also was the month that I leaped back into crosswords as my intellectual challenge of choice.

Early June also saw Xin's mum move out of home and back to China. I filled the vacancy and haven't looked back. Moving out of home had been something I had been saying I would be doing for so long, especially since late 2004 when I was going to move out as soon as I got my first primary teaching job. Neither ever eventuated and I was in limbo. Moving into Xin's home has been wonderful - it is such a release of the annoying burden of living apart.

This year has been the year of the book for me. Being something of a tortoise with book in hand, and occasionally going through periods of holding anti-literature attititudes, it is rather surprising to consider how much I've read. At the start of the year I ran through Guns, Germs and Steel. In mid-year, I read The Myths that Make us and The Simpsons and Philosophy. The Sutra of Weilang and The Science of Realisation followed in August. Lately I've chewed through the massive Ideas book and followed it up with A Brief History of Almost Everything. I'm already onto two other books yet to be completed.

July saw a crisis of ability when I started to doubt my competence at pretty much anything. My faculties worsening - disasters left and right. While that crisis eased - the factors remain the same. The filmfest also came to town and was enjoyed. And so were my first lessons at my second client.

August saw me returning to natural cycles: waking up early, making food, growing sprouts, planting trees and cultivating a garden. August also saw our car window smashed.

September saw a busy hosting period when it seemed like we were inviting everyone into our home.

October saw only two blogs - one in the aftermath of my birthday party and another in 'gloomy' prognostication of a work-tsunami. The work really was charging forth in October and reached a pitch in November when I was rather exhausted.

December saw my first serious over-the-board chess games in seven years and the beginnings of a new Trailwalker campaign.

Overall, it has been an important and successful year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Trailwalker campaign 2007 underway!

After the experience of Trailwalker 2006, I have decided to participate again in the event April next year. This is a 100km walk - one that I failed to finish at my first attempt. But my body is stronger and I feel like I can finish it this year.

James is back for a second round of punishment. Chris Quill and Myles Arkell are in for their first attempts. We trained for the first time last weekend and we have a name:

The MDRs! (Most Direct Routes)

It is all for a good cause, raising money for OXFAM to help the impoverished around the world. If you are feeling generous, please visit our fundraising site:

Sponsor us here

Monday, December 04, 2006


For the first time in seven years, I participated in a chess tournament and overall it was a pleasant experience. It was a five round rapid tournament - rapid in chess terms though with 25 minutes for each player for the whole game plus five seconds for every move you make. It makes for a rather intense game as there is just enough time to consider plans and attacks but not deeply enough for anyone to be 100% that they are doing the right move.

The first shock of the tournament for me was that the directors of play elected to use my 1999 standard chess rating as a basis for draw. Without explaining the system, that means that I started on the top board (out of around 25 boards). This helps in a way as it is intimidating. But it was quite annoying too as my first game showed.

The first game was against a young player, definitely still at primary school. The first round is a usually a massacre as the highest rated players are given the lowest rated players. This is to ensure that the final rounds are full of tough tussles and no-one is too exhausted by early round clashes. However, I struggled to defeat this young boy; in fact it was the last game to be completed. This is quite embarrassing because people were surrounding the board watching as I struggled to find a decent plan. Eventually I used a school-boy tactic to defeat him.

The second was my first over-the-board game against a family of chess players, the Maroroa family. It was the youngest - a boy still in Intermediate. He played quickly, scarcely using more than 10 seconds per move. And they were all reasonable moves that caused me problems. However, I used a straightforward yet overwhelmingly strong plan which he could not deal with in his haste. After I finally seized the advantage, he finally took several minutes to take stock of the carnage - then ripped out the poorest move possible to eliminate any doubt.

That was good for the confidence as it was a well executed win (as compared to the first game).

The third game was against a veteran of chess, finally someone older than me. We played a solid game in which I accumulated small advantages that in the end won me the game. At the end, he had only 5 seconds on the clock before he couldn't defend any longer and let the time slip away.

There was a five way tie for the lead - three older players and one junior and me. So four of the bunch fought it out with one person left over to maul someone on a lower score. I played one of the senior players who had recently won two consecutive tournaments. He faltered early in the game and I missed an obviously winning move. He hit back and my advantage dissipated leaving him in with a good chance. He missed one clear win (I saw it immediately after one of my moves) and then it was a tight endgame which could have been won by either of us. In the end, it was a draw. Coincidentally, the other game with leaders was a draw t00.

So going into the last round there was one person on 4, and a bunch of four on 3.5 points. I was to play the junior, another Maroroa, the older sister. I had destroyed her online earlier in the year - but she had improved since then - as a rule Juniors do, the inexorably improve till they're about 20. We played a solid start but I went astray in the middlegame exposing myself to a crippling onslaught. Defending against that tied one hand behind my back and halted my attack. She then swung to the other side of the board and eventually found a method to exchange pieces to a won endgame. I had lost.

Overall, I learnt a lot especially from the loss and the draw. I still have to decide whether I'll persist with chess. I may join the nearby club if I have a weeknight free in the new year.