Wellington.

November 29th, 2015

Yes, this place:

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People who follow my car blog will know that’s where I am presently, and will be, for the next 5 months or so. I’ve been here about a month now. I am working at this place:

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Weta Workshop.

The story basically goes like this (it’s quite long but this is a big thing!):

I’d just been made redundant from my last job. They ran out of money. Actually, worse than that, they had money pulled out by investors who obviously decided it wasn’t worth the risk. I don’t blame them. The company didn’t know who their potential customers were. That didn’t seem to matter though as they had no sales team to sell it anyway. And the marketing people didn’t seem to do any actual marketing (although once they did ask in company chat if anyone had any idea for cool social networking campaigns).

The product didn’t actually work that well either, being mainly a data store, but with no search functionality. I actually raised that once and was poo-poohed by the CEO, who said in the 5 years they’d been developing it no one had asked for a search function before, and the head of support, who said they didn’t need one since a user could simply go into the module they thought had the entry in it, order all the records by the time entered, then search through page by page (a page displayed 10 or so entries at a time) until you found the one you were looking for. This for a product that is meant to contain a lifetime (and that word is in the name of the company even) worth of data.

I knew the writing was on the wall when they decided to throw everything into making an iOS  app and hired a new team to do it at short notice. But apparently no one had read the Apple Developer guidelines (VERY important if you’re doing an iOS app). Any app sold through the Apple app store is either free or Apple gets a cut. And that cut is 30%.  You also can’t use a free app to lead people to a web app the users can pay for (which seemed to be their plan).

The app also used the Apple watch and made use of voice recognition. It never worked that well and they were trying to get something into the app store when the end came for most of us. Oh, they also made a nice video showing the product in use (faked!) but obviously hadn’t read the Apple guidelines for that either. Hint – if you’re showing Apple Watch functionality you shouldn’t be showing it on non Apple devices like Microsoft Surfaces!

Anyway, the upshot of all this was a bunch of us were given the chance of staying (for less money) or leaving. We had to decide, tell them what we wanted in one on one meetings, then management would decide who would stay and who would go. I’ve been through that before and it’s never a good situation. In my meeting I said I was definitely out, I didn’t even have to think about it.  In the end most of the development team was gone and 2/3rds of the test team leaving only the most junior to carry on. Apparently they would get the others, like support, to help with testing. I’ve seen that before and it always shows what management think of their testers when they say ‘anyone can help with testing’. And all the companies that say that end up failing.

Anyway, I was out and starting to think about a new job. I started putting a few feelers out. Now I.T. pays very well (I am thankful for that) but most of what you do in it is pretty pointless! Products that go no where, companies that fail, it all seems a bit unnecessary really. Makes job hunting hard since you of course have to go along to interviews and pretend you really believe in whatever niche thing the company is selling that they think will change the world (but in reality is just there to make someone money).  I have learnt over the years the most important thing is working somewhere with people and a team you like (and I did like the team at the last place) and actually liking the work you do. It can be hard knowing what either of those are going to be until after you start working there. I actually started interviewing and one place looked interesting, the team seemed good and I had heard good things about them but then this chance came up.

Thankfully since from the above rant it should be obvious I was feeling a bit jaded about the whole I.T. and software testing industry!

I’d just finished my Turing Welchman Bombe project and ended up sending a link of it to Richard Taylor at Weta. He’d previously seen my John Steed Puppet project and I knew he was interesting in things that people make. The CEO at a previous start-up I was at had forwarded him the link to Steed. Funnily enough I left that place to start at the last place and had left shortly before the entire dev/test team were let go from there. I didn’t know that was going to happen and hope no one there thinks I had any prior knowledge! It really was just luck I left when I did.

Anyway, Richard and I started chatting a bit and I mentioned, half jokingly, I was fed up with I.T. and had always thought one day I should apply to him for a job making stuff. I’d actually been on the Weta Cave tour last year and had talked to the guide about how did people get jobs there. They have a lot of people apply I imagine! Anyway making stuff is one of the things I like to do (see projects on the right there) and that’s obviously something they like to see. Richard said I should come to Wellington to see them, as soon as possible, they might have an opening for me.

I was down there in a shot! A slow shot since I took the train (much prefer the train to flying) but it was still all within a few days of our chat. I took Steed with me and had a sort of interview with Richard (you don’t get to take puppets to I.T. interviews although if I go back into it maybe I should try it!) then spent the afternoon looking around the workshop with the animatronics team lead. The next day they offered me a job doing animatronics working on a film project they are doing. I can’t say what it is, what they do is confidential of course, but there should be 5 or 6 months work. The film industry is fickle though and there are no guarantees, this was all explained to me, but for me the risk is minimal. And how could you say no! And I always have I.T. to fall back on.

I was in Wellington for the rest of the week so I started trying to find a place to live. The plan being to lock up my house and garages in Auckland and move here to Wellington for 6 months to see how things go. Everything came together beautifully. I got to see a fully furnished flat on The Terrace (in the middle of Wellington city) on the Saturday and went back to Auckland on Sunday to sort out how I was going to do every thing.  I was due to start at Weta the day after Labour Day, that gave me about a week! I got the flat so worked out what I would need to bring with me and sorted out sending that down. Very few people work for Weta Workshop as permanent employees. Due to the nature of the industry everyone works as an independent contractor. The work can come and go. I needed to provide my own tools (luckily I had nearly everything I needed). Animatronics is a mix of electronics and mechanics and increasingly I  guess, software, so I have everything I need already since those are all things I do for fun. My house I simply shut up, my parents being literally around the corner are looking after it for me. The plan is to try it for 6 months and see what happens!

I flew down, had a few days to settle in and started work! I’ll get to what that’s like in a bit.

First, my little flat. I own my own house in Auckland. It’s not big but it has all my toys, my TARDIS, my dust collection and all manner of other things as well as my two garages where I work on my cars. My new flat is tiny. I call it my Bacgelirvpaf. This is what my phone came up with when I tried texting ‘bachelor pad’ (badly) to my friend Penny and now the word has stuck. Interestingly, if you search for that in Google it doesn’t exist (errr, until the robots find this entry) but the Google auto correct does translate it back to Bachelor Pad. I think I just invented a new word!

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My new little bacgelirvpaf is even smaller than my house. It is nice though. It’s in an older building full of small flats. Mine is on the second floor at the back of the building and I have outside access. It’s just three rooms and a small hallway. Kitchen, bathroom and living/bed room. Despite there being parking spaces there is no parking for this flat. So I have no car!

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The main room is nice. I have doors so can shut off the kitchen and bathroom. I much prefer that to these modern ‘studio’ apartments where everything is one room really. The windows face west and overlook a small park built on top of the terrace motorway tunnel. It’s surprisingly quiet, I hear the odd noisy car on the motorway, but it’s actually quieter here than my house in Auckland. It’s gets all the afternoon sun and sitting on the bed all I see is the green of the park. It’s very restful!

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It was fully furnished although I had to buy the little table by the window (fold up plastic thing cheap from Bunnings). I bought my signed Steed picture (since Steed got me the job!) and my Brooklands memento I made after last years trip. The kitchen is full of comedy appliances. There is no oven, just a tiny toaster oven and a double hotplate. The fridge is decent thank goodness but the dishwasher and microwave are tiny. I don’t use the dishwasher much. It just doesn’t work well. It’s so small you can barely fit everything then when you do get it in there  it comes out dirty! I don’t have one in Auckland and don’t really like them (dish washing powder is nasty stuff) so I just use the sink! Takes a hell of a lot less time too!

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I bought the worlds tiniest crock-pot (12 dollars from the Warehouse – I got a bargain!)  and can actually make surprisingly good (but small) meals in it in that tiny oven.

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I should point out it doesn’t magically convert beef to chicken and that I only photograph my food in the privacy of my own home, I am not one of those freaks who do it in public! I also discovered you can get tiny gluten free pizza bases so I can make comedy sized pizza too (that was a boring one to see if it would work)!

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I am actually eating far less which is probably a good thing. I also get more exercise as I am catching the bus to Miramar and back each day which is where the workshop is. The bus stops are only 5 minutes walk away either end but at the home end I am at nearly the highest part of the terrace which is on a ridge running above the city. There is a walkway down right over the road from the flat which is handy. But there are about 180 steps to travel!

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It’s ok going down but coming up after a long day carrying my heavy laptop and shopping is a killer. I call it the Eiger, after The Eiger Sanction, as it will probably kill me. I am enjoying catching the bus again though, mainly because I get to read on it. I joined the library which is less than a 10 minute walk away. It’s one thing I missed when I was working from home, time to read. Public transport is perfect for that.

There was some interesting graffiti on that stairway but it’s gone now.

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Wellington itself is a nice city. Very compact in the centre, you can walk everywhere. There is a New World Metro just down the road. Handy but expensive and it can get horrendously busy. There are other New Worlds either end, the one near Te Papa is very good and if needed I can get off the bus near there and walk home. There is also a VERY good fruit and veggie market near there on Sunday mornings.  There is a similar, smaller one, even closer to home.  Excellent quality fruit and veggies at very cheap prices. I get a whole weeks worth of vege and salad stuff for about $10. It does help that a decent stew in my little crock pot consists of only half a potato, half a carrot, half an onion, one small mushroom and what ever meat I want. I make salads for lunches and Weta provide free fruit which is nice.

The weather is odd in Wellington. I am pretty sure the Met service just make up the forecasts randomly.  It’s know for the wind and it can get very windy. If it happens to be raining too it can be a bit unpleasant. Sideways rain! And Wellington is not a place for umbrellas. But when it is a nice, calm day it is actually very nice! It can get chilly but I actually like that. I like hats and scarves and long coats so it actually suits me. I am known for wearing wool vests all though summer.

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The city itself is more relaxed than Auckland. And people make use of it. You see people relaxing all over the place. There are cool streets, good shops, places to sit and a very pleasant waterfront. I’ve lived in Auckland for most of 40 years and just never liked it much. Less so over the years. A few things are improving now. But it’s one of the things I have noticed. It’s a try hard type place. The sort of place where they go on a lot about being one of the world most desirable to live in cities (even those those sort of surveys are all bollocks). They’ll make a lot of noise and song and dance about it. Wellington strikes me as the kind of place that just quietly gets on with things.

It’s not all perfect though. Shops in the city close early and open late in the weekends. A bugger if you work long hours and need to get to some thing like a bank or post office. And I gave up on recycling. Apparently you need special bags from the council to put it out in. I haven’t worked out how to get them. I think what happens is they send them to house holds once a year. But I am in a flat and the previous tenants didn’t leave any or even have any. According to the council web site you can get more from the public libraries. So I asked at the city public library. They don’t have them because they are next door to the council service offices and you can get them there. I asked if they are open in the weekends. Nope, only during the week. And they shut at 5! So I gave up. This building seems to have it’s own collection and everyone else seems to put it in there so I do too. I doubt it’s being recycled though!

I have found people are friendlier here though. In shops especially, people are quite chatty. There are also tons of restaurants and bars and cafes. I am not much of a cafe person really. I don’t see the attraction of going somewhere that’s mad busy to be rushed and jostled and have to shout to talk. Same with pubs. I prefer quieter places these days. Rather just sit in the corner of a quiet pub with a beer and book to be honest! I actually miss The Crap House where I could go have a quiet beer and a moan about I.T. work with Dave and Ralph! I don’t have any drinking buddies here. I avoid Courtney Place (where the young people and tourists go – young girls pretending to be wearing skirts!) and am instead finding all the out of the way places. There are a few of them around.

Wellington does have a lot of small craft breweries. Although it is hard to tell a lot of the beers apart I find. And it is hard to find a good hand pulled pint sometimes. I have found a nice place just down the road that’s hidden a bit that good though. They have a couple of beers on the hand pumps. And I found I can get some Galbraiths bottled beer that the supermarket just down the road!

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I haven’t seen too many old cars yet. The oldest is a 1953 Morris Minor that parks on The Terrace sometimes. I did see an MGB on a trip out to Petone once though. Nothing vintage though.

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I am slowly settling in. Internet was a mission to get connected. That’s because I am unfortunately with Vodafone and they excel at incompetence. I arranged to have my connection from Ak moved. They said I would have to be home in the flat (why I wondered?) so I arranged for them to come round the same day I was home to take delivery of the things I had sent down. I had to take a day off work for that. I was looking out the window and actually saw the van turn up. The guy never came to the door though. I know that for certain as I was waiting for both him and the delivery men. I figured he’d done something in the building and that was all that he needed.

Next day, no Internet. Interacting with Vodafone support is a nightmare. They are one of these companies who think it is a good idea to offshore their support. I think it’s in the Philippines somewhere. If you are lucky you’ll get connected to someone speaking understandable English. Chances are you won’t. Either way when you do get though you have to go through the whole story with yet another new person every time. And chances are they’ll transfer you to someone else and you have to go through it all again! Eventually I was left the following voice mail.

You can read the rest of the saga in the YouTube description. Eventually it was sorted and luckily it wasn’t cut off. This time I rang back the NZ woman who had helped me sort it out directly and she checked and said it was all fine. Seems to be working now.

I have slowly been sorting out my hobbies. I had to choose what to bring with me. In the end I bought my film cameras (well, only 2 of them) and film developing gear, my microscope and my model making stuff. I had a mission trying to get my film negative scanner working on my laptop. The laptop is running Windows 10 and you just can’t get the scanner to work on it. The manufacturers know this and their suggestion is to just buy their latest scanner which will work even though the hardware is no better. Planned obsolescence, I hate that! In the end I did get it going by using it as a simple web camera with appropriate software (which in reality is all it is).

I have been doing model making. Plastic models and lately a little rubber band powered balsa and tissue one. I made a couple of those as a kid and find it quite relaxing now. I  sit at the window at my little table in the sun and do a little at a time. They are repainting and replacing the carpet in my flat in a month or so and will have to get a big drop cloth I think so there is no danger of dropping things onto new carpet!

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I can take the model to the park behind the flat to see if it flies! I haven’t missed the garages too much yet although I would like to be building the Austin engine and starting on the Brooklands. Most of the time I have just been reading and listening to music and relaxing. I have an unlimited broadband connection so I just stream music all the time. Lots of classical stuff.  And watch a lot of films and old documentaries on YouTube. I am actually enjoying the lazy weekends! I miss my big computer a bit. Can’t really play FPS games on my laptop and I used to like a bit of Nazi killing. I have been playing some older adventure games from GOG though which are fun.

Electronics I am doing at work. That’s probably what most people want to know about. What am I doing at Weta and what is it like? I can only actually say so much! What we work on is confidential and you can’t take any photos in the workshop itself (they don’t even allow them on the tour). But I can give some general comments I guess.

In another post!

If you think it must be an amazing place to work, you’d be right!

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3 Responses to “Wellington.”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Wellington is a great city but stop doing cool things while I am out of the country!

  2. Les Says:

    This was good reading, thanks for all the typing sir! I’ve been checking back, expecting some of that “what is it like to work for Weta” info to leak out but nothing yet. I suppose it’s always a fine line to talk about the place you work for, doubly so when you have a confidentiality agreement.

    I too will be working for a company in Wellington soon – one you are familiar with. Though I’ll not be moving, just working from home. Keep up the great adventures!

  3. David Says:

    Looking for the new house blog post 😉