Getting my geek on

Last night was the first Auckland Girl Geek Dinner of 2013 and the first one that this baby geek has attended.

I managed to wrangle a mate to join me at the last minute (with the promise of a free drink and dinner) after the boy ditched me for urgent work stuff, but I barely needed him there to hold my hand as I knew quite a few people from the lovely geeky land of Twitter. And despite the fact that I mostly hung out with the Twitter posse (plus ‘real life’ friend), I’d put money on it that others in the reasonably large crowd would’ve looked after me, had I needed it. A friendly bunch, they were.

The ticket price was pretty damn cheap for how fab the night was ($20 including a drink and light dinner) and I’m pretty sure that’s thanks to the glorious sponsors of the evening (InternetNZ, Buddle Findlay, Datacom, and Lil Regie). It was welcomed by this IT-interested but charity-waged individual. But yeah, good food from Toto’s and great company… and I haven’t even got to the talks yet!

The lovely organisers had wrangled three great speakers. Julia Raue had me in fits of laughter as she went through her career from dropping out of school at the wise age of 16 to become a hairdresser, to the pretty damn high-powered position of CIO at AirNZ (she’s mah boyfriend’s boss and he wouldn’t mess with her). She made it sound almost achievable for the likes of little old me! I considered approaching her to say “Julia, I’m totes gonna come work for you.” but she disappeared off into the mist after her talk so my opportunity to fangrrl my way into humiliation was not fulfilled. Thank Dog.

Vivian Chandra was next and talked about the frightening things that governments are attempting in order to control the free flow of information that *should* be what the Interwebs is all about. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though! Vivian went on to let us in on the exciting things that Amnesty International has in mind for mobile applications; one was to be able to take photos and add in geo location data when uploading after the fact, in order to prove that photos taken of violence or other suitably dodgy shit were actually from the place where they were geotagged; and the other was to do the opposite, strip out geo data so that you could safely upload photos without fear of authorities using the geo data to arrest you. Exciting developments and great to see Amnesty getting involved in the tech world like that.

The third speaker of the night, Su Yin Khoo, had me laughing again with her great presentation on Grumpy Designers. Her dry sense of humour was amazing. The designer I work with couldn’t be further from the “Grumpy” description but I was able to learn quite a bit from the handy cat illustrations that featured in Su Yin’s presentation and now hopefully she’ll not be cursing me quietly behind her friendly and acquiescent emails.

Anyway, helllllllll yeah I’d go again. It’s a great night out and it’s fab to see something in the IT world to celebrate women, both the speakers and the attendees. Thanks so much to those that put it on, the wonderful speakers, and all the rad people that I got the chance to meet and chat with. See you there next time!

The next event will be in July – keep an eye on the Girl Geek Dinners website, @GGDNZ twitter account, or Girl Geek Dinners NZ Facebook page.

Verbena Bar & Bistro – YUM!

I’ve lived in Beach Haven for a few years now and have been meaning to go to Verbena Bar & Bistro for a while now, pretty much every time I drive past I think to myself “must try that place sometime”, anyway, on Friday night I finally got round to it and am now wishing I’d gone sooner.   I popped up there to treat my Mum & Dad after they looked after my dogs for a few weeks whilst I was away, plus after getting back from Canberra on Friday evening the last thing you want to do is cook for visitors, no matter how lovely they are.

From the outside it doesn’t look like much, however, this is not the case, walk round the back of the bar and there’s a fantastic dining area and garden.

I was expecting something nice and perhaps typical bar/bistro food, but was very pleasantly surprised.   The menu is nice and uncluttered, nothing worse than having a million choices – I’m much happier with a venue who have limited options but cook and present each of those amazingly well.   Here’s the 2012 menu: verbena_menu.

Between us we had a few beers, an onion and steak tart, fish and chips (restaurant stylee), eye fillet steak, apple crumble with hokey pokey ice cream and a dessert tasting dish that was out of this world.    The steak was one of the best I’ve had in a long time and the green beans were perfectly cooked, so hard to get that balance between way too crunchy and soggy, but these were perfect al dente.   Dad totally loved his fish and chips, he said the batter was gorgeous, crispy with no grease.   Mum had the onion tartlett from the entree section of the menu (leaving room for pud), she polished it off and then helped me with my steak and was of the same opinion as me, the steak was awesome.  The total bill came to $108, which for three people eating 2 courses is pretty good, especially considering the fantastic quality of the food.

Try this place out, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  I definitely was.

Here are some photos courtesy of tazzydemon.com.

 

 

Grace Bar

A picture of two beers and a menu on a table. Grace is an update of an old dive. What used to be the Dispensary up on Hobson has had a coat of paint and a change of ownership.

I visited on a weeknight, and was one of the very few customers in the place. The staff were almost too attentive – fetching me beers to the table (there’s Moa on tap), and making recommendations from the rather delightful menu. Toasted sandwiches! Ice cream of the day!

There’s mixtures of seating – long low tables and benches for groups of friends, taller tables for drinks or dates, and private rooms upstairs, which are usually only opened on the weekend, but we got a sneak peak at the Disgrace room, which features taxidermied ducks and deer heads on the walls, and bars over the windows (to keep people in, or keep people out?).

Taxidermy ducks mounted on the wall.Taxidermy deer head mounted on the wall. It is wearing crocheted antler warmers.

The location is technically right in the centre of town, although it’s about a million miles from oh-so-fashionable Britomart. It’s enough to make you worry about that this place will shut down like my dear, departed Library Bar – until you see their Facebook page. Grace is too cool to have a website, but their Facies is as filled with drunken bar snaps as any undergrad’s.

Somethings change, and somethings stay the same: the old Dispensary is hanging on to its party-dive reputation on a weekend. On a weeknight though, it’s a reasonably priced, centrally located place to have a drink and a toasted sammie.

Grace Restaurant and Bar: 103 Victoria street (Corner of Victoria & Hobson), Facebook page.

Rasta Thomas’ Rock the Ballet

When:  Wed 13th June

Where: Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna

What:  Rasta Thomas’ Rock the Ballet

I headed along to this show on Wednesday night not sure what I was expecting to see and therefore with no expectations, however, even if my expectations had been insanely high they would have still been blown out of the water.

This show needs no stage set, they masterfully use dance, lighting, modern and classical music, and a video backdrop to create beautiful pieces of art.  The audience are encouraged to join in before the dancers even grace the stage, with a warning that spontaneous dancing may occur, and the dancers when they appear acknowledge the audience and get everyone clapping along with the music.

The music is loud, the bass thumping, and it’s very hard to avoid tapping your feet in time to the music, the dancers combine the discipline and strength of ballet with modern dance styles such as hip hop and the Michael Jackson trouser grab.  Each piece of music has a beautifully choreographed dance that whilst being a stand alone piece, also blends and merges with the other pieces.

The stand out pieces for me had to be the opener of act II, a musical interlude written by Clint Mansell which for me showed the dancers at their full potential.

This was a show made of ballet, gymnastics, hip-hop and modern dance, that whilst not being the best choreography I’ve seen, there was a lot of repetition, it certainly was entertaining and the crowd all seemed to fully enjoy themselves.

The only downside for me was possibly at the end when they did a bit of a mickey take of male strippers (without the stripping obviously).  It was unnecessary when the rest of the show had been mostly classy apart from the comedy dance to Carmen with inflatable dolls, which managed to avoid seedy by being hugely fun and very funny, it reminded me of the skits the Two Ronnies used to do, totally outrageous without being particularly offensive.

Auckland Art Gallery

Choi Jeong Hwa, Flower ChandelierThe kid and I ventured to the Auckland Art Gallery a couple of weeks ago to try and pretend to be a bit cultured. We even forked out for the Degas to Dali exhibition – which has now been extended until the 17th of June.

The Degas to Dali exhibition was great. I must admit we sped round a bit as we were getting hungry and the kid and I are not really cut out for standing and staring at the best of times. But we saw the requisite Degas ballerinas (print on perspex block purchased) and I was surprised at how much of the collection I recognised from my (clearly) stellar high school art education.

They had a brilliant worksheet to engage kids in the exhibition. Han was quite keen on that and sought out the paintings it asked questions about and allowed us to have a bit of a conversation about the styles through the ages.

A highlight had to be Choi Jeong Hwa’s ‘Flower Chandelier’ (pictured up top). I could’ve watched that thing for hours. It inflates and deflates so the flowers rise and fall. It’s very cool.

The other awesome piece was the mirrored room. Apparently called ‘Environment 111′ by Luc Peire (pictured below).Environment 111 by Luc PeireWe also spent quite a bit of time in the kiddo learning centre where there was a New Zealand artist featured, Reuben Paterson. His had tonnes of glitter. It was reeeeeally glittery. And then they had little kaleidoscope things to look through. More sparkles.In short, the Auckland Art Gallery is definitely worth a visit. The free exhibitions provided just as much, if not more, entertainment than the one that wasn’t free. Only advice I have to give is take public transport if you can. I ended up promising my second-born child to be able to leave the parking building. Only because the gallery cafe had already drained my bank account about half an hour earlier. I’d definitely go again.

Bok Choy – 155 Symonds Street

Bok Choy has the twin advantages of being cheap and close to work. I rounded up a few coworkers to check out the $5 opening special.

Right now, $5 will buy you a noodle box of noodles and a miso soup. Just like any sandwich bar, you choose all the parts — noodles, veggies, meat or tofu and sauce — see them assembled, and then cooked before your eyes. The portions are generous to the point of being ridiculous, the veggies are fresh and tasty and the sauces are flavourful.  The miso soup is decidedly average, but whatever, it’s free.

Bok Choy is a hole-in-the-wall, and only seats a handful of people, so take your noodle box across the street to the park. There doesn’t seem to be any option to dine in on real plates, which makes a visit a bit dodgy, environmentally speaking, but those little noodle boxes with the handles are super-cute.

Word’s already got around about Bok Choy – on the two occasion’s I’ve visited, there’s been a line out the door. The management seems to be aware this is an issue – on my second visit, the number of staff had doubled, cutting the wait time.

The final word comes from a coworker: “This is really good – and for $5, this is amazing.”

Reliving “the olden days”* at MOTAT

Car ferry from the olden days at MOTAT

Photo of Auckland Car ferry from the olden days at MOTAT

Nothing like taking a seven year old around MOTAT to make you appreciate how far we’ve come in the last 60 years!

This month entry to MOTAT is free, while MOTAT celebrates the glorious work of volunteers.

It’s a pretty neat place, MOTAT. I haven’t visited since a forced school trip during my intermediate years. I’d say kiddos of the transport-obsessed would prefer to hang around longer (obvs) but there was plenty to learn about with the My-Little-Pony and Princess obsessed varieties of children that I was escorting and we didn’t even get around half of it.

The boy (grown up version) was hard to drag away from all the engines and history of transport, and I loved the walk through the 1950s in the Golden Years exhibition especially. And I’ve just found that I missed a damn tea drinking exhibition. I’d have been all over that!

Head on down before the end of June to check it all out. The MOTAT website has information that you may like to peruse before you make the trip so you can ensure you don’t miss preferred exhibits about tea and get stuck for hours looking at planes instead.

*Child’s words. Usually referring to my childhood the 1980s) but this time remarked with much awe at the REAL olden days.

Britomart: it’s got lots of awards

While the Aucklandista has been dormant, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s happened. For example, Britomart! It was a bunch of crappy old buildings, and now it is full of good bars and restaurants. When did that happen? In fact, many of the places are so good they’reaward-winning now. Here’s a press release!

Six of the prestigious Lewisham Awards for 2012 have been awarded to people and businesses based at Britomart. The wins further signaling the precinct as the major player in Auckland’s hospitality industry.

Awards for bars, restaurants and cafes also highlight the diversity and quality of the offerings at Britomart, an area which just three years ago was little more than a wasteland.

The awards include

  • Emerging Talent- Adam Neal, Racket Bar
  • Outstanding Bar- Britomart Country Club
  • Outstanding Coffee Establishment/Barista- Rob Rivers, Shaky Isles
  • Outstanding Bartender- Alan Raythorne, 1885
  • Outstanding Maitre d’- Ally Thompson, District Dining
  • Outstanding Restaurateur- Mimi Gilmour, District Dining

Now in their tenth year, the Lewisham Awards are widely regarded as the industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. Awarded by their peers, they are recognition for those individuals and establishments, which are leading the way in the New Zealand hospitality industry.

Best takeaways in Auckland

You know you’ve found a gem of a take-away place, when on a Friday night you’re willing to park your car on a random street and walk inside the RWC road-block to collect your Chicken and Cashews. That’s how much I love Fat Boy Thai on Sandringham road, just down the road from Eden Park. It’s awesome, and even if it’s gone from the catchy “Ten dollar Thai” to the significantly less catchy “Eleven dollar fifty Thai” it’s still awesome value.

Today’s Herald pull-out Viva names some of the best take-aways in Auckland, and it’s hardly an exhaustive list. I’m pleased it doesn’t have my friend Fat Boy though, that’s a little secret between you and me. Good to see awesome Dominion Road dumplings make the list though (http://www.dineout.co.nz/restaurant.php?rest=3852).

But since we don’t all live in Ponsonby or Mount Eden, what are some of your faves?

Get your camera out and photograph the laydeeez!

YWCA Auckland is celebrating their 125th year with a photography comptetition in partnership with The Aucklander, looking out for photos of what it means to be a woman in Auckland today.

YWCA is calling for “inspired and inspiring” photographs of women in Auckland, “empowered and embracing leadership in all roles in their lives”  - and we know there are tonnes of ‘em around here!

Details from the competition page:

Competition closes on November 25th at 5pm.

Winners – announced in The Aucklander on December 2nd – must be able attend a YWCA cocktail evening in Newmarket on Wednesday, December 1st.

All entries must be in jpeg format, at least 15x10cm and 300dpi, and must be emailed to:photo@theaucklander.co.nz

Categories and prizes* are:

Overall winner: Wins a Google Nexus One mobile phone and a two-hour tutorial with photographer Becky Nunes, combined worth $1500.

Public vote (one from all three categories): Wins Nokia E75, another high-end handset worth $900.

The three categories and prizes are: Portrait winner receives a Vodafone 845 smartphone worth $399; Youth (aged between 12 and 18) winner gets a Samsung digital photo frame in black (SPF-107H) 10″ screen, 1GB built-in memory, ultra slim, worth $244; and Creative Interpretation wins the latest Polaroid 300 and 1 pack of film worth $230.

* Phone prizes do not come with contracts.