It’s ANZAC Day once again – the 101st Anniversary of the allied landings at Gallipoli. A day of remembrance in several areas of the world, but particularly central to the national identities of Australia and New Zealand. It’s a long-adopted part of Australia’s national mythology that our country, then only 14 years old, was actually forged on that beach; hammered into shape and made whole.

That Gallipoli was a resounding, bloody defeat after eight months of ultimately militarily valueless sacrifice may have been very significant. Our remembrance of these events and perhaps therefore the balance of our nation’s wartime experiences have focussed first and foremost on the cost of war, the very real destruction of very real people with very real lives from which they were ripped, the cost to their families, and the cost to our nation, which suffered the highest per-capita losses of the entire First World War. In every town, hamlet and even suburb in the country, the memorials for those that didn’t come home are never hard to find. The individual names of people from every community are listed for posterity. And only a fool would look at all of those names and think other than “There but for the grace of God go I”.

Had Gallipoli been a glorious victory, one wonders if the focus of our commemorations been quite so heavily focussed on the cost of war and the calamitous sacrifices of individuals, and whether our national attitude to war would be so slanted towards prevention. Or whether the melancholy never-again air might have been absent in favour of some kind of unthinking tacit endorsement of war. I like to think not, but it’s an interesting question.

Our annual remembrances are squarely about giving thanks and perhaps an almost apologetic promise to never forget those who let on clunky old ships and never came back, many without so much as a grave or someone to say a few kind words over them as they went to their rest. Rest indeed.

The old song concludes “But year by year, more old men disappear…..soon no-one will march there at all…”; At least this grim prediction has been proven to be incorrect. Our ongoing respect and remembrance are assured now, with perhaps too much fanfare as compared to 40 years ago, but if it serves the ongoing recollection of the legacy of the ANZACs, so be it. Let us also commit to remember the lesson they left behind.

Lest We Forget.



A question has arisen.


I started to think about this.

There has to be at least 8. This is not in dispute. But one cannot rule out additional unviewable holes in the back of the shirt. Making the question relatively difficult to answer.

Further, we must consider the definition of “hole”. If “hole” can be interpreted to mean “gap in the cloth”, then at a small but still marginally macroscopic scale, then the answer is asymptotically close to infinity. In addition, at the quantum level, the sudden departure of an electron from one place and arrival in another without appearing to travel through the intervening space must unarguably involve a hole of some kind. Given the relative liveliness of the average electron, and the cumulative mass of the shirt, the number of these holes must also by asymptotically close to infinity.

This presents us with a problem. We have two simultaneous instances of almost-infinity within the one garment. Since there cannot mathematically or physically be even one infinity, and here we seem to have 1.99999999-recurring infinities, we have a paradox, and, therefore, technically the shirt cannot exist at all.

Which is the correct answer, because it’s just a jpeg.


Disparate Thoughts.

Posted: 31/07/2013 in General

Just a few random thoughts, pent up this last year or so.

1. Technical people can be wrong, no matter how many letters they have after their name. Don’t afford people credibility just because they use big words and tell you they’re right. Make them prove it to you. No matter who they are.

2. Cosmetics companies deliberately set out to confuse and lie to women. Mercilessly. Things having been “Lab Tested” and “Scientifically Studied” are not recommendations – so has the Ebola virus.

3. You do not get to tell people in other countries how to live no matter how much you don’t like it, any more than they get to tell us how to live. Don’t be so damn arrogant.

4. Disliking a particular woman or even group of women is not automatically misogyny.

5. Anyone who thinks protecting someone’s right to own a gun takes absolute precedence over protecting the lives of people does not deserve to own a gun. This is merely a specific example of the general axiom “Zealots should not be given power”.

6. Theoretical physicists are idiots who make it up as they go along. God will enjoy kicking them in the nuts most of all come judgement day, I can’t help feeling.

7. “Consensus” in no way equates to “Accuracy”.

8. Companies should not buy retail computer equipment on which to run their businesses for the very same reasons you should not commute between cities in an ultralight.

9. Physics is always right. So, find out what physics is going to do in any given situation, and you too will always be right. And potentially a lot less dead.

10. The main problem with skydiving is not the possibility of dying. It is that once you discover your ‘chute will not open and you’re going to die, you have all that time on the way down to contemplate the inescapable fact that just a short time before your feet were safely on the ground and you voluntarily got into an aircraft and jumped out you idiot.

11. The road toll is high because of driver incompetence and nothing else. Saving mechanical failure and medical problems, all other causes tie back to this.

12. I find it incongruous and unacceptable that trama doctors fight until the last second to save the lives of people horribly smashed to bits in accidents and wars and yet we tell cancer patients that nothing can be done for them literally months away from their deaths. The saving of every human life should be an emergency right up until the last minute.

13. Marketing is there to manipulate you. That is what it is for. Bear that in mind from now on every time you see advertising of any kind.

14. The dividing line between education and indoctrination is where the majority of the benefit lies. If the majority of the benefit from the process goes to the “educator”, it is indoctrination.

15. There are an increasing number of people in the world who think that there is no such thing as “Wrong” and that everyone should be able to do whatever they like and get whatever they like just because they want it.

16. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation DO matter. Without a uniform way of communicating, communication begins to break down. Apostrophes in plurals are the thin end of the wedge and the wedge should be shoved right up the clacker of anyone who uses apostrophes in plurals. Also, they’re there their your you’re yaw yore it’s not that bloody hard.

17. Once you realise that politicians do pretty much everything purely to retain power, the world swims into focus.

18. People who abdicate their personal responsibility for their own safety and instead demand their right to be safe irrespective of what they do should have their error reinforced to them when they come to grief instead of being allowed to think they are the victim.

19. People might be entitled to their opinions, but that in fact does not say anything about the quality of those opinions.

20. There should be a very clear (legislated) and overt delineation between factual reporting and interpretation or opinion in the media, and any media organisation getting their facts wrong should be penalised.

21. Literacy, numeracy, geography, history, and science should be at the forefront of education. There’s no point churning out generation after generation of people who can’t think for themselves and communicate properly.

I feel better now.


Posted: 25/04/2013 in General, Quick Thoughts

I do worry about the dignity of Anzac Day.

I see young hoards descending upon Gallipoli, a killing field and a cemetery, in bright T-shirts whooping & cheering, I see breakfast TV presenters and their OB crews switching back and forth between locations, interviewing each other keenly, commentating upon proceedings, and rabbitting on about the “celebrations”. I see the whole thing becoming something of a spectacle. The tone of the day is, in places, less about respect than it ought to be.

When I was a kid, they told us about the wars and how so many, many men had gone off and not come home, many ending up simply buried and left to rot under the battlefields upon which they fell in their tens of thousands. I sat there and thanked God that it wasn’t my generation that had had to endure it, and then wondered if ever the same may come to pass for us one day. I truly came to understand the phrase “there but for the grace of God go I”, which to me has always been a central tenet of Anzac Day.

I understand that I was born a mere 26 years after the end of World War Two, and that it, and to some extent even the First World War, were still strong in living memory, and that as the generations roll over the perspective and the understanding of Anzac Day will need to evolve to survive and stay relevant, especially in view of the service and sacrifice of new generations of diggers, fighting some other incompetent diplomat’s pointless wars.

But I really feel that at its core, Anzac Day needs to be a day of quiet reflection, and, yes, profound regret, that, no matter how long ago it was now, ordinary people had to go off and be slaughtered so appallingly at the hands of forces they had no real idea about. And that it is still happening.

The only thought I have on Anzac Day is: Those Poor Bastards.

Lest We Forget.


Margaret Thatcher’s Wake

Posted: 10/04/2013 in General

Reactions to Margaret Thatcher’s passing have ranged from the usual careful official public words, to each extreme end of the commemoration spectrum, from those partisan parties both for and against this woman with a most singular legacy.
As a result, side-discussion has arisen about the appropriate way to discuss so public and so divisive a figure so recently passed. Some feel that it is open season immediately on Mrs Thatcher, in open and deliberate defiance of the usual social mores in her specific case.

I for one revile, albeit understand, the dancing-on-her-grave approach taken by those who were her bitter opponents, or those who see themselves still as the victims of her politics.
The issue here though is basic decency. To assert that someone is undeserving of the basic dignity and respect generally afforded to people who have recently passed just because they have been a controversial public figure is morally bankrupt and intellectually fraudulent.

What we say about people upon their passing, particularly, I think, after a long and somewhat ignominious decline, says a lot more about us than it does about them. We need to make sure that we maintain standards about ourselves that we are happy to live with, because one day we are going to expect the benefit of the same decency. To attack viciously the recently passed is to throw out a little bit of our humanity with the bathwater.

“Don’t speak ill of the dead” does not preclude an honest and open discussion about a person’s life and legacy. Far from it. But it does caution against careless slander and ridicule. It dictates that when someone has passed, they are entitled to fair treatment and honest discourse. It does not mean that we have to universally laud them and their time among us, although some people erroneously or perhaps generously interpret it that way.

And so to Margaret Thatcher. I was too young to really understand anything about her politics; I just remember her as many will – a strong leader who shaped her corner of the world inexorably, and strode the world like a colossus (collossusess…?). One of the triumvirate of world leaders along with Reagan & Gorbachev who steered the world through the 1980s and to the blessed end of the Cold War.

A wise man (to whom I did not concede the appropriate level of credibility at the time) once told me that if one needed to hate a politician, one should hate their politics, not hate the person. At the time I was unable to make that separation. I am seeing half a world full of people with the same problem at the moment. They would all do well to remember themselves and to return to aspiring to be decent people first, and put all other considerations second.

Let us consign Baroness Thatcher to history in a way that will have our society remembered as one that it was worth her time & effort to serve, and one whose legacy it is worth the time & effort of future historians to recall.

Not that I strive to be topical, quite the opposite, but the Alan Jones thing has certainly flooded the media today.

What Jones said was inexcusable. I never had any time for the man or his ilk beforehand anyway; they carry no credibility with me whatsoever, being professionally opinionated bigmouths. But that was bad. Bad by simple community standards of decency, leaving aside considerations of specific personalities or political juxtapositions.

That said, his myriad vocal critics then went on to dismantle their own credibility. On Twitter and elsewhere the wild vitriol was palpable, and meshed in perfectly with our burgeoning culture of outrage-as-a-passtime. One silly old bugger making one off-the-cuff comment at a private function shouldn’t be enough to cause national outrage. In any case, Jones manufactured the ammunition, but it was the reporting journalist that loaded and fired the gun, for his own selfish motives.

Increasingly, it seems that the real-time public feedback loop engendered by chiefly Twitter but other lines of communication also has fostered an atmosphere in which people go looking for things to be utterly outraged at as an exercise, where once a disapproving shake of the head would have sufficed. There seems to be evolving an open-source thought-police model whereby anyone who speaks a heresy, whose definition is broadening daily, is subject to public vitriol and alienation at the whim of what is essentially an instant bandwagon culture. This happens largely in the absence of any collective introspection. This is the most dangerous aspect of it.

Alan Jones’ critics did nothing for their own credibility during the firestorm on Twitter that erupted after the news broke, and it only got worse during the live broadcast of the press conference during which Jones apologised. The jeering masses blotted their own copybook by

– carrying on about a rambling press conference which was i) completely unedited, a genuine Tasmanian-Tiger-level rarity, so of course it looked long & ineloquent, and ii) fuelled and egged on by journalists continually angling for a killer quote/further gaffe.
– resolutely refusing to listen to anything that he actually said, and wilfully & serially misquoting him in real time.
So there was idiocy aplenty on both sides.

Social ostracism is nothing new, and snooty fools from all walks of life have been using it since time immemorial to mete out punishment to those who have transgressed society’s precious mores. But the bandwagon-full-of-dynamite-rolling-down-a-hill potential of the net in terms of its speed and sheer reach beg some new consideration along the lines of making sure that the facts are served. It’s probably a plaintive cry amidst the mob, but the fact that the mob is so big and loud, and so very very instantly and iteratively self-reinforcing of its own views, make that cry all the more important.

In short, for critics of any kind to maintain the moral and intellectual high ground, and to therefore continue to deserve any kind of audience, cold reason and adherence to the rules of fairness need to prevail at all times. As soon as the usual human mob mentality takes over and emotive garbage starts overwhelming the real conversation that should be taking place, nobody is saying anything useful, and the whole thing descends into a horrible waste of electrons.

So for future reference, all you fun-loving mob revellers out there, put away your pitchforks, listen properly, think carefully, then react rationally. By all means kick the guilty. But make damn sure that when you’re asked about it afterwards you can still defend all of your words with joined-up-reason & confidence. Otherwise you’re just noise.

For the attention of my Service Providers. Those to whom I subscribe for various modern facilities. The financial institutions, the power company, the insurance company, the water authority, and those various govt agencies that fit into the same category, et al.

I am quite sick to death of receiving and accumulating paper-based accostments from you.
Statements. Newsletters. Notifications. Advertising.
Week on week, year on year, this paper conveyor belt arrives in my letter box, to be largely summarily disregarded and discarded.

We are well and truly into the 21st Century here, people. And since well before it started we have had the gift of electronic communication, which has now been refined to the point where it can be used to obviate the vast majority of this archaic influx of paper.

I completely understand that for legal and practical reasons that perhaps invoices, bills, and the like may need to be delivered in hard copy. Until society’s legal framework can have equal confidence in the efficacy of electronic communication perhaps this practice may need to continue. But bills are but a very small proportion of, and do not by association excuse, the bulk of the paper that I pull from my letterbox year on year.

Whist individually these communiques are annoying, superfluous, largely unread, and somewhat wasteful; cumulatively, when everything that gets mailed out to everyone in the country is considered collectively, they are massively costly, contributing in no small part to operating costs and therefore directly to the fees that I am compelled to pay you year on year, they are also massively, hideously wasteful of resources, from the production of the paper through to the energy required for delivery. In this day and age of taking reasonable steps to reduce waste of resources, this bad corporate habit is nothing short of culpable. If this accursed Carbon Tax is to become a reality, then I advocate that you be charged $1 per piece of paper you send to us. Including the envelope.

The electronic option is entirely practical and achievable, and would save you buckets of money on raw materials and postage. You already have the technology available within your walls to convert all of this guff to PDF and to send it to us electronically, so that we can, in the same manner we manage all other communication these days, access it wherever we go, read it, print it if we really need to, and file it in searchable repository which takes up no physical space at all. The convenience value to your increasingly tech-savvy, and, i assume, valuable, customer base should not be underestimated.

I currently and will continue to favour where possible organisations that follow this strategy.

For your consideration.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every runaway success there is an equal and opposite backlash.

So it is with iTunes. Despite being the structural hub of a suite of products that has, without any exaggeration, revolutionized media distribution, telecommunications, home computing, and skateboarding with headphones, there are those that revile it. Most of the complaints are quite vague, some are specific. The chief complaint I hear is that you have to have iTunes to update your Apple devices, and to copy data to and from them. This is too controlling, too restrictive. How dare they tell us how we can copy data to and from our own devices?
The same basic rhetoric spews forth from app developers complaining about the restrictions placed upon their app development.

I am not an Apple fanboy – I lost the love after Sculley ousted Jobs back in ’85. I still love everything they built prior to that – a small part of me still thinks of the Apple ][e as the most advanced thing I’ve ever seen. I look at their later creations objectively and critically. And it is in this spirit that I felt I had to step in to put a few words forward in defense of iTunes and the iDevice ecosystem.

It is quite empirically true that the Apple ecosystem is a fairly prescriptive – that is not to say restrictive – one. But to accuse Apple of maintaining tight control for the sake of that control is quite incorrect.

As anyone who has ever worked in IT support, and in particular in support of corporate desktop fleets, knows, if you don’t design well and then maintain some level of control over the fleet you’re charged with supporting, it will go to hell in a hat box in about five minutes, and then it is All Your Fault, and you are expected to fix it in half the time it took the users to wreck it.
The answer is the Standard Operating Environment, or SOE. Everything is built to a tight specification, which hopefully meets the company’s requirements, and things are locked down to maintain the standard. Support and maintenance structures are built into the background to keep things running. There is a standard way of doing most things, and if it has been built correctly, it just works. At least, that is the utopian ideal. To go into why many SOE implementations fall short would take me the lifecycles of at least a couple of laptops, and despite my accustomed in-print peregrinations, even I will not deign to digress that far.

The point is, Apple are merely doing the same thing. They have set themselves the task of producing products that Just Work(tm), that are very easy for non-technical people to use, and which are easy for them to support successfully across the world. Ultimately this benefits their customers just as much as it does Apple; it’s not some conspiracy designed to rob people of their freedom of choice. It’s this symbiosis that has made the Apple product suite a commercial leviathan and the envy of every other tech company that ever existed.

So the next time you feel like complaining about how Apple does things, you need to remember that there would be no enormous upside to the Apple product in front of you without the extremely well-thought-out supporting infrastructure, of which iTunes is a huge part, that you take completely for granted and in fact complain about. They know what they’re doing and they make it so that you don’t have to. Be grateful someone has gone to all that trouble.

A lot has already been said since we heard the unassimilable news that an ABC chopper had come down near Lake Eyre and that the three men on board, the very well known Paul Lockyer among them, were feared dead. Tributes have been flowing freely.
That these three men were consummate professionals, good men, and very dear to all of their family, friends, and colleagues alike, goes without saying. But there is more to be said.

I am the first to be critical of the excesses of the national media. Some of the nonsense that spews forth, the indulgence of self-interest that is often so apparent, the abandonment of quality standards for the advancement of cynically turning a dollar, all combine to disgust me on a regular basis.

But the ABC, despite the usual background babble of its I-Feel-I-Must-Have-An-Opinion critics, has always been an oasis in the media-ethics desert I sometimes feel we are subject to. Aunty has provided us with coverage of regional, national, and international news that I for one have often clamoured to watch in preference to commercial media, not to mention often being the only friend for some people in remote parts of the country. The coverage it gives us seems natural, down-to-earth, and unaffected. A breath of fresh air at every turn. It has increased and helped us maintain our national awareness and cohesiveness, while asking nothing in return.
In short, it is a genuine national asset.

I watched the coverage of the chopper crash with a sense of loss. The men who lost their lives have been called Journalist, Pilot, Cameraman; but in my view they were not just professionals doing a job. Working for the organisation they worked for, doing the job that they were doing, whether they understood it or not, they were most definitely working in unselfish service of their country. Oh, certainly they wouldn’t have done the job if they didn’t love it, and the intrinsic rewards they derived from their careers were obviously well worth any associated privations. But I only hope that they halfway understood the way in which they made a genuine contribution to the place. Without work like this, by people like these, under the auspices of an organisation like the ABC, we would be blind to so much of our own country, its shape, its upheavals, and the people in it.

We owe Paul Lockyer, Gary Ticehurst, and John Bean a debt of gratitude. We should all of us hang our heads in a long moment’s contemplation of what this country would be like without people like them to tie it together. We are richer for having had the benefit of their brilliant work, and poorer for them having passed from among us.

All comfort to Paul, Gary, and John’s families, friends, and colleagues, and fellowship to our countrymen at the ABC at this sad time.

Living In The Future

Posted: 28/07/2011 in General

I am not particularly old.

When I was a kid, both of my grandmothers cooked on wood stoves out in the country. One, maybe both, baked bread. My grandfathers chopped the wood for the stove. With an axe.

One of them had a party-line telephone, meaning that a handle on the phone connected to a small internal generator was wound vigorously to send a current out and ring a bell at the local switchboard, at which point you could ask the operator to connect you to those with whom you wished to speak. For incoming calls, you had to correctly identify the pattern of rings that came from the phone, otherwise you would be intercepting other peoples phonecalls. Because the party-line was effectively wired in a big local loop, everybody could listen in on everybody else’s phonecalls simply by lifting the receiver.
Even for people in the cities with normal phones, you had to dial your local exchange and ask to be put through to long-distance connections by an operator. On popular trunk lines you even had to “book” calls.

The term “Service Station” did what it said on the tin. The attendant came out and filled your tank up for you, checked your oil and water, and cleaned your windscreen.

ATMs did not exist, or at least had not reached these shores. Credit cards were mostly unheardof. Everybody dealt in cash, and people had to line up at the pay window on pay day to get a yellow envelope. When you went to the supermarket (the concept of the “super”market had not been around all that long), you put your groceries into a wooden frame on the checkout and the check-out girls had to pull it towards them (thus emptying the frame for the next customer) to start ringing them through. Manually, of course, by reading the price labels on each product and entering it into a register that looked like nothing so much as a companion piece to a beige 1946 Ford. And would probably have stood up well in a collision with one.
Shopping hours were strictly 8:30-5pm weekdays. You made sure you had enough cash, petrol, food, and anything else you needed for the whole weekend. The pubs of course were open. And the churches.
The other exception was the corner shop, which may have stocked a few necessities. Their smell of swept wooden floors, and of their groceries, their somewhat dank lighting, and their idiosyncratic shopkeepers is something we’ll not see the like of again.

Air conditioning was a rarely-experienced fantasy in the biggest shops. The concept of air conditioning in cars, homes, and schools was nothing short of laughable.

Mobile phones were strictly in the realm of ridiculous Dick Tracy and Maxwell Smart fantasy. Phones *in the home* weren’t even ubiquitous, let alone phones that you could carry around.

FM Radio…..? What’s that?? AM radios were sold with regionalised dials with the callsigns of local stations on their dials instead of numbers. And there was no such thing as AM stereo.

For state-of-the-art home entertainment, “Hi-Fi” was the standard. Big record players with big speakers and a discrete amplifier. The era of vinyl was still in full swing with no suggestion it could ever end. Kids who handled records in shops were frowned at because of their fragility. And we were never allowed to “put a record on” because of the high chance of little hands scratching the records with the needle.

In the capital cities and periphery, we were fortunate, as we had four TV stations, 0, 2, 7, and 9. In regional areas, there was only half that; the local equivalent of 2 (the government broadcaster) and a local commercial station. Of course, these were all in black and white, and they didn’t even broadcast all day, and to change between them you had to actually walk to the TV after having convinced your parents you weren’t going to break their expensive piece of relatively newfangled technology by touching it, and rotate a heavily-sprung channel dial with accompanying thunk-thunk-thunk noise. There were quite limited broadcast hours, and the “test pattern” in the intervening hours was a dreaded item of boredom.
Home VCRs did not exist. Recording one programme  off the TV whilst watching a second, and then watching the recorded show back later, was a heady dream we did not dare to have lest our little hearts burst.
If you had two TVs in a family you were rich.

Air travel was expensive. Only-taken-by-the-rich expensive. And an elitist thing to indulge in. Real people caught trains.

Seatbelts in cars were not unheardof, however they were generally  restricted to the front seat, and there were plenty of cars still on the road with none at all. Babies were brought home from the hospital in their often unrestrained mothers’ arms.
Manual cars had two- or three-on-the-tree and a front bench seat. A car radio was a rare option. The car heater for the winter months certainly existed, but the smell it emitted generally meant you were better off without it.
Japanese cars were a bit of a niche that certain people indulged in, for some reason. Nobody really took them seriously. Only rich people drove European cars.
If you had two cars in a family you were rich.

Teenagers spent their 20c pieces in pinball machines. There was nothing else. Rich households may have procured a TV-connectable game of “Tennis” which was a $300 game of pong. Thus was the harbinger of our modern times.

As I look back at all of this, it all seems very familiar. These days it probably seems as though it is the collected dim rememberings of an octogenarian trying to justify how “everything was better back then”. But I am 40. All of this stuff was the norm a bit over 30 years ago. Which no longer feels like a very long time.

Now…..tonight I sat and helped my daughter put a virtual ensemble outfit on a virtual doll in an app on the iPad, a touchscreen device that can be bent to almost any purpose, including, very easily, face-to-face communication with anyone anywhere in the world at a few moments’ notice. I can get pretty much any information, see any vision, hear any song, buy any damn thing I like, communicate with whomever I like…….watch the world……..all through moving my fingers around on a single pane of glass.

I can…..
– Fly to the other side of the country with as little as a day’s notice for a few hundred dollars;
– Get most things I could want 24 hours a day 7 days a week;
– Be contacted anywhere via pretty much any means I choose by virtue of a small device I carry around in my pocket, on which I can also take brilliant photographs and distribute them to any part of the world in a matter of seconds, get any news I like, buy anything I like, sell anything I like, read any book I like, find my way around reliably with the help of a network of satellites up in space, and do pretty much anything else I can think of;
– Watch NASA missions in space *LIVE* and in high definition (okay, not any more as such but until recently);
– Watch TV and movies in my car;
– Choose from, hell, I don’t even know how many TV channels for free, all in huge high-definition colour, and I can buy access to more TV if I want (but, honestly, why??);
– Get music and movies to enjoy at home that are crystal clear on disks that are unbreakable excepting by dint of considerable effort;
– Sit in comfort in a T-shirt regardless of the prevailing weather pretty much anywhere I choose to go;
– And, for the most part, any combination of the above.

I sometimes find reconciling the above catalogue of amenities of a world gone by (to borrow a phrase from David Brin) with my life these days difficult, and that’s coming from someone who has worked in IT for 15 years. The old-timey list of life’s realities above still feels so very familiar, and yet nary a trace of any of it is still apparent from day to day. Is the world a more fun place? Definitely, I think. Is is better? I dunno. That’s subjective.

But I do know that my generation was the last to have the experience of the old world, at least the suburbia portion of which was a fairly consistent place between 1946 and 1980, by and large. We were the last to live in the time prior to the crashing wave of the technological revolution. For those that came after us, the world of pervasive, rampaging technological advance is all that they have ever known.
We knew what was happening. We could see the revolution hitting. Even with the first wave. The pocket calculators, the VCRs, the hand-held LCD games, the portable tape players, the digital watches along with all of the other digital readouts that suddenly appeared, the ATMs. We knew what was going on, even if we couldn’t really conceive of where it would lead or that the pace of change would only and ever accelerate.
We are in fact one of few generations to bestride the change. And I wonder about the effect of that. I sometimes feel that despite the fact we have taken to the new world like fish to water, there is an element of automatic comparison to how things were “before”. Perhaps it’s as simple as nostalgia. But something in me wonders how later generations would cope if presented with things as they once were. I sometimes wonder how well *we’re* coping. The term “Future Shock” was first used in my presence probably 30 years ago in reference to a story about someone from a hundred years ago turning up in the present day. But the term can probably be applied to people living during such times as these. I wonder if it will apply to every generation from now on.

In any case, the times we live in are exciting and unique – to a much greater extent than most people realise. I for one am grateful for the opportunity to see come to pass almost everything cool that we used to think of as coming “in the future” when we were kids. Well, the future is here. All the more sobering when you consider how a society such as ours would have been thought of by, for example, the Romans with our voice-activated lighting, long-distance travel, and astounding medicine. More sobering still are the possibilities that await people another two thousand years hence. It’s quite something to consider our place on the timeline of history.

I retain a strong affection for the time before 1980 when I was a kid. Probably a lot to do with the fact that I was a kid, all play no work, kind of thing. There will always be stuff I miss about it. But also that we didn’t have everything, and not everything was easy.
Now of course, pretty much everything *is* easy. I wouldn’t trade our current advantages for anything. Living In The Future is, invariably, awesome.

I hate shopping.

Men hate shopping. This is immutable. Okay, yes, one can easily point out special categories of exception, and woe betide me, I realise, should I errantly neglect to point this out, but for the most part, your average index male hates shopping.

Grocery shopping, being a subset of the set “shopping”, fits neatly beneath the crosshairs. Grocery shopping can represent a special kind of hell for the males of the species, most of whom struggle with domestic blindness at the best of times1, and so suffer the inherent disability of not knowing where on earth any bloody thing is in the supermarket, although over time a certain slight familiarity creeps in. Sending a man to a new supermarket, then, is  very special kind of torture, ladies, eclipsing by some degrees what you think of as your most withering Look2.

One of my pet hates whilst in a busy supermarket is that you cannot pause for precious breath but some inconsiderate loon comes up and wants something on the shelf behind you and you have to bleat the standard perfunctory “Sorry” and move along. Then, no sooner have you moved than another son of a motherless goat3 comes up and….rinse, repeat….rinse, repeat….it is infuriating.

One day befell the worst of all possible circumstances; tired, hungry, running late, and having been vouchsafed a truly hideous grocery list, a portion of the entries upon which I could not visualise, let along successfully locate.
As is my wont, I was standing with my back to a shelf in an aisle, vainly scanning the shelves opposite for some item of culinary miscellany, when someone came up and politely indicated that they wanted something on the shelf behind me. I grunted my assent and moved. Not a minute later, I was accosted again. This went on. The sixth time was a dear little old lady with a kind look on her face. Sadly, I was forced to tell her what I felt she needed to hear, viz: “NO! You do NOT need the Tena Lady thingos! Piss off and leave me alone!!”
The speed of her departure belied her apparent age.

I made my way away from the shelves to the back corner of the store, to the strains of “Cleanup in Aisle Six!”, which, on reflection, I should have thought more about, as I may have made a vital connection. I needed a rest; I just needed one solitary minute without people trying to usher me left and right. I leaned gratefully up against the firehose cabinet to catch my breath.

And the bloody fire alarm went off.

I managed to hold the bastards off until I ran out of cans.

I have no idea what I am headed for after I shuffle off this mortal coil should my record of conduct be found slightly wanting, but my most cynical demons fill my mind’s eye with a plane of existence filled with garish fluorescent lighting, maddening muzak, endless shelves full of unfamiliar and largely pointless foodstuffs, a list of items so esoteric that I go crosseyed just trying to read it, a basket with wheels which will only permit motion at 45° to any propulsion applied to it, and a sad little old lady weeing on my shoes.


2. For the record, we’re not scared of your Look. We’re not. You can’t really do anything to us we’re scared of short of sneak-attack physical violence, so anything short of that is of little consequence. We just let you think we’re scared of your Look so you’ll stop there instead of doing something tiresome like throwing our things out of the window or telling us about Grey’s Anatomy.

3. Happily for my local crime statistics, my more rational synapses recognise that the people in question are actually just going about their blameless occasions, not at all possessed with the evil irritatory intent with which I privately imbue them. This does not however prevent me from thinking very poorly of them indeed. Some of them would be shocked.

It strikes me as the height of self-serving hypocrisy and totally intellectually bankrupt the way people treat sentiments and views based on their vintage.

On the one hand, we have people, largely motivated by their own personal and trendy social politics, vibrating with sanctimonious outrage at the fact that someone should have the infernal temerity to quote an idea that was mainstream thought thirty, forty, or fifty years ago. Such obviously indefensible viewpoints are derided and demonized as out of touch, old fashioned, and no longer having a place in modern society. This is on the implied basis that we now have better ideas based upon having several additional decades to develop and percolate. The latest thinking *must* be better, surely?

And yet. On the other hand, we routinely see thinking and ideas that pre-date our grandfather’s obviously outmoded mindset by millennia being preserved and trotted out, and yes, positively revered, on a daily basis. We quote the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Chinese and the Tibetans, and many other historical figures, chapter and verse, we by default assume that Ancient Knowledge is somehow of a much finer ilk than the mucky, plastic thinking you get These Days(tm), and we model our very society on a single, very old, book, that is by its very nature apocryphal: The Bible.

Both of the above attitudes can’t be right. Whomever mixes both of them in their personal philosophy marks themselves as in severe need of a blow to the head.

But they can both be *wrong*.

Assessing thinking based upon vintage is the worst kind of stupidity if done in earnest, and a deplorable mendacity if done for any other reason. Ideas have merit, potential, malice, and menace. They do not have a use-by date. There is no such thing as old-fashioned thinking. And anyone who tries to tell you that is trying to manipulate for their own subjective ends.

Think, assess, accept or reject. But do so adhering strictly to the tenets of objectivity and reason. Any other approach……well……that went out with the ark, surely……?

Turning 40

Posted: 22/04/2011 in General

Billy Joel wrote “We Didn’t Start The Fire” to cope with turning 40 back in 1989. It felt pretty significant at the time, and served to emphasize the mythology surrounding the marker. I feel no such need per se, but if my blog post to mark the occasion gets as many hits as he sold copies of the single, I will be satisfied that I have achieved just as much. Insofar as there is such a thing as “defensibly self-serving”, You Are Here.

I turned 40 today. More words have been written, I am sure, about turning 40 than any other of our symbolic ontogeny markers based, I can’t help feeling, a little heliodeifically, on laps around the sun. People usually bemoan the milestone, hand in hand with annoying platitudinous waffle along the lines of “Life Begins At 40” as some act of psychological karmic balancing. I am convinced that if you feel the need to say this, it is not going to work for you anyway.  They complain that their life is over, etc, in spite of the really quite obvious diametrically opposed empirical evidence. I always thought I would be the same, but as I got closer to it, I got more serene about the whole thing.

The fact is, I’m glad I’m 40. Oh, there are downsides, like an increasing prevalence of Old Man Noises when getting up or down, general little aches and pains, all the Kids listening to their damn doof doof music (Music? Ha. That’s not music),  and an encroaching habit of, when in pharmacies, idly wondering when I will start requiring the bevvy of “assisted lifestyle” goods ubiquitous therein, and even issuing a grateful nod to their existence in a sort of clinical anticipation.

But being 40 is good for a range of reasons.
I have all of the trappings of adulthood we sacrifice so many of our younger years to achieve – a house, a great family, and a pretty decent job. All of the stuff I slogged towards for years – the payoff has happened.
Being 40 confers a feeling of no longer having to fight for credibility from older people. I’ve lived most of my life in a latent self-righteous rage about being ignored or overruled purely because of my age. Rightly so, in all likelihood, for it is oh so true that you can’t put an old head on young shoulders, but that’s very beside the point. Also, being younger is such an angsty thing. I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything, but the self-assurance that comes with the trappings of just a modicum of geriatricity is hard to beat. Nothing beats a bit of seniority. And of course it’s only 15 years now until I get my Senior Discount Card.

The big thing though: I’m still here. I have known too many good and blameless people, my contemporaries, and younger, who aren’t. Life has an attrition rate, ultimately 100%, in the end, but it-only-happens-to-somebody-else stats like the fact that only two-thirds of men make it to retirement age get very real when you see it in action. People may complain about turning 40, but they never stop to think that it’s a whole lot better than that which is the only other alternative.
In short, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.

So. Onward. I think Einstein may have had a point about spacetime not being all nice and linear and organised. Because now-vague and meaningless concepts like 20 and 30 seem to be soooo far behind, and yet 50 and 60, numerically equidistant, seem to be looming gratuitously large on the horizon. But by and large, if from now 80 takes as long to come around as 40 did, I’ll be happy enough.

I read an article during the nominally historic period just after the 2010 federal election, shortly after the independent actors in the federal lower house had their glowing regigenetic moment in the sun, carrying the hopes of a nation like no-one since Phar-Lap, in the process making deals to, among other things, bring about a better tone in the houses of parliament. Everybody was full of high hopes for a new era. The cynics sneered.
The article contained reference to a political observer from the UK observing our lower house during Question Time. He commented that he couldn’t believe the atrocious conduct. One of the local journos responded that if he thought this was bad, he should have seen it prior to the “new era”.
This should be a national embarrassment, nay, outrage. Over the past week it seems to have deteriorated even further.

The behaviour we see from our politicians would not be tolerated in any other sphere of life. We expect higher standards of behaviour from our kids at school, in dealing with people in public from day to day, and in the workplace. Especially in the workplace. In that context, it would not be unreasonable to expect someone to be disciplined for such an abandonment of acceptable standards.

One of the gaps between theory & implementation, and hence central flaws, in Democracy, is the basic assumption that ultimate accountability awaits at the ballot box. This is supposed to be the grand remedy, the ultimate balancing factor. Get rid of those that do not perform or who fail to implement the public’s will. Sadly, it’s not that simple.

We have what is largely a binary democratic system in this country – we either pick Option A or Option B. There is of late some fuzziness around the edges with the independents and Greens gaining the balance of power in the lower house – a novelty which, while refreshing at the time, may not capture the imagination of the electorate in a sustained fashion. Time will tell. But this, despite the best of intentions, didn’t appear to change the basic reality.
The result of this binary system is that if in any respect both sides are as bad as each other, there is basically no hope for improvement in that context, and the accountability-at-the-ballot-box theory goes out the window. This strikes at the heart of the touted benefits of democracy. Candidate parties don’t need to be particularly principled, they just need to be the least worst, and often not by much of a margin.
This situation is not helped by a political media which tacitly accepts this situation in a fatalistic kind of way. They get to know the players and their general levels of performance, and allow them to maintain a kind of minimum status quo instead of enforcing on our behalf higher standards, the role they claim to occupy in the political process, and they way they justify their existence. In any case, there’s no point in them pursuing the offenders because they’re all as bad as each other. So the system is fundamentally broken in this respect.

If the fundamental assumption of accountability-at-the-ballot-box is broken in this way – in that there are aspects of political behaviour that cannot be enforced by the electorate in this way – then we mustn’t capitulate to this. We need to force the issue. The only way to do this is to co-opt the media into making parliamentary behaviour an election issue. Not in a fleeting, politically expedient sense, either. We need to yell at our pollies to legislate to enforce a minimum standard of behaviour.
The idea is in a way laughable, but is it so different to any other election issue? If the media’s attention can be gotten – probably unlikely given their generally self-interested ethos (after all, what have they got to gain from less entertaining politics?) – not all that different from those that they claim to police, unfortunately (quis custodiet ipsos custard indeed) – then just maybe it could become one of these national discussions the pollies are so in favour of us having when it distracts from their peccadilloes.

Never has the federal electoral situation been so conducive to getting community priorities addressed. An election could well be triggered early, because our mainstream political parties *really* don’t like being dictated to by the independents & the Greens, and as soon as one side decides they have enough electoral petrol in the tank they will attempt to force an election. Ergo, any issue in which they can grab the initiative will be like gold to them.

It will probably never happen. But with the new power of social media, it’s nice to play What If. What if the net commentariat took this up to the powers that be? What if the media was pressured into getting this issue onto the national agenda? What if we forced our politicians to behave like the decorous, professional adults we deserve?

It’s a nice thought. That’s what I would call Democracy.

Our Imminent Peril

Posted: 22/02/2011 in General, Humour

I mowed Sunday afternoon. I was told I was mad. It was 32⁰ in the shade. It had to be done though – the yard was a proto-jungle, and I had started getting paranoid about snakes again, as you do, in this part of the world.

The grass had grown more in the last two weeks than I had ever seen in an equivalent period. Previously irreparably bare sandy patches (bloody dog) had accumulated 6 inches of grass for example, which, while superficially refreshing, served really only to conceal the ankle-turning deathtraps the dog’s excavations had wrought.
Even when we used to go to the coast for a whole month over Christmas when I was a kid the grass never got this long. The plants have gone mad, too. I swear the monsterio has doubled in size.

As I battled to cut through it, stopping every 5 minutes or so to put the mower’s cracked and perished spark-plug cap back on after it had fallen off, and getting a zap from the magneto half the time for my trouble (patience is a virtue), I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. Soon, a cold, creeping fear began to come over me…..of what might be happening to our world such that everything would grow in such a way…..could we be facing….

Global Lawning…..

It seems clear that if our current rate of CO2 output continues, we are going to be overrun by grass. Couch, Kikuyu, Paspalum, Crab Grass. We’ll be up to our arses in grasses. And not in a good way. We’ll be mowing every day of the week. Well, our kids will, obviously. But it’ll be tough to sit in the aircon and watch.

Then the full, unthinkable implications hit me. If the worst-case scenario comes to pass and the icecaps in Antarctica and Greenland melt……some poor bastard will have to bloody MOW them. And I can tell you right now, IT’S NOT GOING TO BE ME. So we need to do something NOW. I just hope we can reverse this before the Arabs run out of two-stroke.
If we can’t keep this frightening phenomenon in check, then eventually someone is going to have a full-time job cutting down all of the bloody rain-forest trees that have a nasty habit of springing up whenever it gets a bit warm. And then you’ll have to muck about chasing out all of those pesky pygmy tribes that seem to turn up every time you get rainforest. They get everywhere if you don’t watch them. Cunning little buggers.
THEN we’ll be up to our necks in cheap heavy bloody timber furniture our wives will want shifted around the house until it looks just right in the first place you tried it. Orthopaedic surgeons, chainsaw manufacturers, and mower repairmen everywhere are rubbing their house-extension blueprints with glee.

It has been several generations since we have faced anything so serious. I don’t know how this will end. But all we can do is train our kids from birth to counter this threat with vigorous and ongoing use of garden implements. We owe it to our future.

New Dogs and Old Tricks

Posted: 15/02/2011 in General

There is a lot of conventional wisdom out there about how and when it is best to train dogs. Most of it has annoyed me for most of my life. A lot of it is counter-intuitive, which nags at me like a pebble in a shoe.

Self-confessed experts annoy me, particularly so when it is concerning a topic which I have to freely admit that I know absolutely nothing about, as in this case. To reiterate (or, technically, only iterate), I know so little about dogs compared to most people that I would readily defer to a two-year-old sucking on a plush Schnauzer.


I have made observations in reference to my dog (well, our family dog, but she has drawn the most blood from me since we’ve had her so I presuppose that this grants me supremacy in the matter) over the two years that we have had her which I cannot help let lead me to unpopular conclusions, guaranteed to get me ostracised by bona (ahaha) fido (ahaha) members of the fancy. Since I am always up for a good argument (no, no, you came here for an argument), I felt I should record my observations here for better or for worse and see if they struck a chord. And, whilst I should hesitate to do so, I will have to draw a conclusion from these observations. No doubt those that cannot conceive of deviation from the conventional wisdom on the subject will howl me down, and what subject would render itself more appropriate than the current one, certainly, still, I am inclined to maintain my position.

And so.

When we first got Millie (such is her name, a little Beagle-Cavalier cross called a ‘Beaglier’ – utterly delightful) she was about 6 weeks old. Utterly clueless but cuteness distilled, the first time she saw me she ran to me in a valiant attempt to lick me stupid, and in an hour she was happily dozing on my lap.
People were onto us straight away “Oh, you’ll have to get her to puppy pre-school and get her trained”. This was Conventional Wisdom. We had no genuine cause to disagree, although the old doubts were nagging at me as strongly as ever.

So, when she reached about 4 months of age (which some experts authoritatively told us was getting too old) we trotted off to Puppy Preschool, run by a self-proclaimed Dog-Whisperer. The woman looked disinclined to whisper anything, to my mind, but I kept my observation to myself. She demonstrated some very impressive feats of obedience with her own adult dog, at which point I couldn’t help feeling that people like her might just get what’s coming to them when the canine revolution finally comes2.
She then proceeded to try and teach us how to Whisper to/at our own dogs. A lot of the tips sounds like good sense, but she might as well have been giving me tips on quantity surveying in Sanskrit for all of the good it did. Millie was utterly disinclined to pay any attention. She was overexcited, highly distracted in the presence of the other dogs, and totally unruly. She was, in short, totally unmanageable. This persisted for the remainder of our sessions and any time I spent with her in between times. By the end of the class the dog whisperer was looking at me with thinly veiled disdain as if it couldn’t possibly be her methods that were failing.
Millie’s untrainability3 persisted until she was about 12 months old. After that her ridiculous excitability began to taper off slowly, and her attention span began to…..exist.

Lately, now that Mille has gotten a bit older, and progressively over the past 6 months, really, she has been more and more inclined to listen and to try to do what is asked of her. The other day I got her to lie down on a mat on the first attempt without having tried to train her to do it since the age of 6 months with an even 0% success rate. She is picking other things up readily as well, and obeys most commands unless she’s highly excited. I am confident that she could pick up almost anything I try to teach her now.

The inescapable conclusion I come to is in line with what I have always believed in my heart: that it is pointless to try and train dogs when they are too young to accept that training. I am sure this varies wildly between breeds and individual dogs, but as far as I am concerned, it is an immutable fact. To hell with those that preach a doctrine of The Earlier The Better. I can’t see any reason to support that point of view.

Don’t get me wrong. I would have loved to have Millie settled down and trained up as a young pup. But it truly was pointless trying. As a result we had a truly miserable Puppy Stage.

The biting irony, by the way, is that whenever she associates with other dogs, she picks up bad habits. This is bloody irritating. The Experts say that socilaising your dog is a must. But she always gets on just fine with other dogs, and whenever she spends any time around them she picks up bad habits. She learnt to bark at Puppy Preschool (the only bloody thing she DID learn there) and on another occasion she was with a friend’s dog pack once and when she came home she summarily started escaping. They talk. They do. The revolution is coming, I tells ya.

But anyway, now she’s a great young dog with the best nature you could ever hope for and she’s still great to look at4. And I wouldn’t trade her for anything.
Except for the barking. But that’s another story.

1 A better class of ‘But’. And presumably less smelly. But again, I would have to defer to a dog’s opinion on that, them seemingly being the expert in that area. I just hope they record their wisdom for posterity. Um.

2 At which point I should pause to make a note to take Millie home a T-Bone tonight.

3 Shutup spellchecker.

4 Not like some of them. Gods, I don’t know what possesses some people who have, well, dog-ugly dogs. I mean, these things are ugly even for dogs. A face only a mother could love? More like a face only a mother could look at long enough to hit with a lump of wood. My Gods.

I’m a bit annoyed. I have been for years around about Australia Day, but I haven’t been able to articulate it properly until now.

I am seeing an increasing amount of talk each year from the capital-city self-confessed-expert set about how Europeans invaded this continent and how we inherit some sort of burden of guilt as a result, thus rendering Australia Day a day of shame, etc. This is poisonous nonsense. Uttering views like this without reference to the context of history is completely disingenuous and can’t be taken seriously from a logical point of view.

There’s almost no example in history of establishing a nation without upsetting or displacing someone. Throughout history, it is what we have consistently done as a species. Perhaps Iceland and Greenland escaped this fate, but I’m not even sure of that. People displace other people.

In the context of Australia, it was utterly inevitable that someone was going to come here and claim the continent for their country, be it the French, the Dutch, the Spanish, or someone else. That it was the British who finally did is more of an accident of history. Probably somewhat fortunately, all things considered.

As of about the middle of the 20th century, the world really started to wake up to the fact that all men really were created equal, and to take the idea seriously; obviously a great thing. Only since then has this talk of invasion etc come along. It’s a concept invented by the more careless and sanctimonious descendants of those who were actually there.

So let’s stop whining about historical inevitabilities that happened 220 years ago, realise that the human race is what it is, even if we are inclined to try and learn from history and thereby improve the current version of the world (which is no bad thing), and take a moment just to consider how lucky we are. None of us are going back to Europe, so this talk of invasion is hypocrisy.

Revisionism is poison. It’s fine to look at history and say “We shouldn’t ever let that happen again, knowing what we know now”. But anyone who says of people in history whose culture was still learning about the world and their fellow man “They’re bad people for not getting this or that right” are themselves bad people and just making a fool of themselves into the bargain.

In short: Move forward, getting things right from here. Don’t try to judge the past with your 21st century eyes.

I am usually incredulous when someone – usually clutching an iPhone or an iPod, or even the owner of a Mac  – professes ignorance as to who Steve Jobs is. I find it incredible. Given his role in the personal computing and now wider electronic media industries, it defies logic that he should be anything but a household name. But it seems he remains invisible to many outside the geekosphere.

I’m not going to attempt to explain Steve Jobs to the world. That’s Wikipedia’s job.

This week came the news that Steve Jobs is to go on indefinite medical leave. Again. The speculation has of course started as to how long he will be away and who would ultimately replace him. Or at least, who would take the reins (cum reign) at Apple.

All of the cold, practical considerations around Steve Jobs’ succession planning, and the effect his absence will have on Apple’s fortunes and share price, are all well and good, and it’s a necessary discussion. But as a guy in the industry who cut my teeth on, and still have massive affection for, Apple ][s, and who from my early teens took a deep interest in all of the stories surrounding the germination of the personal computer industry in the 70s & early 80s, and who lived through the times that saw its initial genesis, I can’t help putting all of the intellectualism aside and just hoping that this doesn’t signal the end of Steve’s career, or indeed an inexorably downward spiral in his health.

Steve’s an icon and a giant of the industry. This sounds blindingly obvious to say. But for many of us around my age, he is in a very real sense the father of our careers, and the founder of a not insignificant proportion of our way of life. I just hope all of the non-geek Apple customers out there can appreciate what the man has achieved in his lifetime. If & when Steve is lost to us, whenever that may occur, it will really feel like the captain has left the bridge.

Long Live Steve Jobs. And I’m not even an Apple fanboy.

I am not looking forward to the inevitable conversion of the Brisbane flood into just another political football. As an issue it deserves so much more than that – this is a major regional disaster in which people, People, lost everything, probably in some cases up to and including their minds. It would be a terrible thing to have to suffer. I remember vividly a primary school teacher of mine whose house went under in ’74 telling us that the worst thing was the smell. Not the first day or the second day after. The fact that it hung around for years.
Yet the relevant opposition leaders are already in on the game (even during the peak of the crisis, in the case of Tony Abbott), and Bob Brown is waving the Global Warming flag in resolute denial of well-documented history.

The papers today started talking about how they had conducted an analysis of the releases from Wivenhoe Dam and how it has transpired that the releases were not done in an optimal fashion. Let’s assume the papers are completely right and that errors were made. So what. The people operating the dams were doing the best they could according to guidelines that they would have had prescribed for them under difficult and ever-changing conditions. Even if the commission of inquiry finds some fault there, they are to be thanked for their efforts nonetheless. They deserve no ignominy. The dam releases are a very small point in a much bigger issue.

The real fault concerning the Brisbane & Ipswich floods lies with the culture in South-East QLD stretching back 30 years.
As a lifelong denizen of the area, I know the mantra well: “There’ll never be another flood like ’74. Wivenhoe will stop it”. This has been repeated throughout the region at any time when flooding has come up as a topic of conversation – the absolute certainty that Wivenhoe Dam would infallibly prevent any future inundation of anything downstream from it.
Now, at last, Brisbane knows that there is absolutely nothing standing in the way of it happening again. The Wivenhoe Doctrine, as I have come to call it, is dead.

Whilst Wivenhoe is a brilliant piece of the arsenal that we have to mitigate flooding, the fact that it has finite capacity (its flood mitigation capacity was about enough for a mere 2 days’ worth of inflows during the recent stupidly heavy catchment-wide rain), and the fact that it constrains 50% or less of the total catchment of the Brisbane River, mean that it was never going to guarantee to stop all future floods. The people who conceived it probably never thought that it would.

The flood we had in Brisbane & Ipswich last week was utterly  inevitable. The damage and loss we had last week downstream from Wivenhoe was, in part at least, avoidable.

It wasn’t the fault of governments or councils. It wasn’t the fault of engineers, scientists, or meterologists. The fault lies squarely with human nature. We embraced and put all of our blind faith in a single silver-bullet solution, as is so often the case – we love simple answers to complex problems, and we haven’t yet learnt that those two things seldom mix. It was folly from the start, and it was this blind unreasoning faith that led to wildly inappropriate land use downstream of Wivenhoe, and the neglect of other valid flood mitigation strategies like levee banks in appropriate places.

Now, though, we have a problem that we know lacks a solution. At long last the right people can swing into action and take the next steps, whatever they might turn out to be. It’s well overdue.

There are many people who derive inexplicable pleasure from taking their 4WDs offroad for its own sake, just for the hell of it, with no other end in mind. They call this Adventure. The beautiful, beautiful irony is that if they encounter something out of the ordinary….a breakdown, getting bogged, etc…..they suddenly stop calling it Adventure (interp: “Something fun and, yes, intrepid that we can do that involves peeking slightly beyond the bounds of the cotton wool society we so totally enjoy being ensconced in, and about which we can brag at parties for 12 months hence….but what do you *mean* we can’t get cellphone reception???”), and start calling it Nightmare. These people have either conveniently  forgotten, or were totally ignorant of in the first place, the real meaning of the word Adventure, which, when you get right down to it, probably best translates as something like “Jesus H. Christ, we only just got out of that one – bandage that up and let’s get the hell out of here.”

I don’t go 4WDing with people any more. Not recreationally. If we’re going fishing or camping or something and need the fourbees to actually get to somewhere, great, brilliant. But I take no pleasure in getting into a 4WD and heading out bush for the sake of it. 4WDing is no picnic. That’s the bit they don’t tell you. That’s the Big Lie. Real off-roading (ie, Having By Necessity To Get To Places Where There Are No Roads) involves getting bounced around mercilessly as a passenger to the point where your lungs hurt, and as a driver, being forced to concentrate to the point of popping a temple-vein *and* hanging on for dear life because you’re also getting thrown around violently even at walking pace (and knowing that if you get it wrong, you may be coming back another day for your vehicle with a tractor). You get to be an expert at oscillating madly between arse-cheeks on the seat in an effort to maintain some sort of positional stasis. Occasionally it is hard to prevent your motion relative to the inside of the cab affecting the direction of the vehicle because you are hugging the wheel so bloody tightly to stay with the ship.

Case in point. Years ago, in a previous professional life, I was a passenger in a vehicle crossing a wide, dry creek bed up north, miles from anywhere. The creek had steep sides, and the creek bed was populated entirely with rounded boulders grading up to about the size of a soccer ball. We had been told that it couldn’t be crossed. This had the predictable effect as soon as it was uttered, the end result of which was me having to wind down my window (no mean feat of coordination in itself, under the circumstances) to stop myself being concussed. But we crossed it.

In the end, and this is the biggest problem, I invariably end up helping to dig someone else’s vehicle out, or to otherwise recover it. This is not Recreation, this is Hard Work. And I am sick to death of it. It would be okay had I been the one that bogged it, that would be a fair cop. But people never want anyone else to drive their vehicle. Again, beautiful irony.

I’ve had some fascinating experiences offroad:

–  A friend & I went on a tour of central Australia a few years back with a busload of European tourists in a 4WD bus with an expat Dutch girl as the driver-cum-tour-guide. She was mostly pretty competent with it until she decided to get a closer look at some camels and donkeys off the side of the road in, without a breath of exaggeration, The Middle Of Nowhere. As luck would have it, it had rained the week before, and the vehicle got bogged1. Guess who had to get it out. I decided to intervene before she had successfully rested the diffs on the ground.
On the same trip, I watched as a middle-aged German woman was almost literally shaken to bits as we drove along a bush track. She looked bloody miserable.

Digging out the tour bus.

–  A guy I was working with once decided to cross the bottom of a deep, somewhat steep-sided, sharply V-shaped gully with half of the bottom of it washed out. I refused to even be in the vehicle during the attempt, as it looked unnavigable to me, and I feared a rollover into the ditch at the bottom. The vehicle was unable to get across the bottom of the gully, and unable to reverse back up the track, it being so steep that the rear wheels just spun, and in so doing slid ever closer to the edge, past which was fresh air for about 15 feet straight down1. The only way we could prevent it from rolling sideways down the hill was to completely unwind the winch rope and to route it around the downhill/passengers’ side of the vehicle and the tray, then take the hook up the hill and secure it to a tree in order to pull the rear of the vehicle sideways away from the precipice. We broke 5 of the 7 strands of the winch rope in so doing.
In the end we had to completely reshape the bottom of the gully with pick & shovel to allow the vehicle to cross in safety. 4 hours’ digging and shifting-of-big-rocks later, we were out. By which time I had completed the sampling task on the far side of the gully for which we wanted to cross it in the first place (2km of walking involved) and so we promptly turned around and drove back out again.

Our usual field accommodations on the job, with the submarine Landcruiser just in left of picture.

–  We1 were driving along a concrete causeway across a gulf river which was under about two feet of flowing water at the end of the wet season when the front of the vehicle dived down into the water, and I thought we had plunged off the end. Water surged up over the windscreen. Just as I was getting ready to exit through the sunroof at speeds not achievable with conventional propulsion (and if it hadn’t had a sunroof, it was jolly-well about to have), the bow of the ship rose out of the deep and we were back on the causeway. Somehow a pothole big enough to swallow an 80-series Landcruiser had developed in the causeway. Thankfully the sides weren’t vertical. We stopped on the opposite bank to watch the vehicle following us have the same Adventure.

–  The piece de resistance: We got bogged1 at an old abandoned alluvial gold mine bloody miles from anywhere3,144.161101&spn=0.003295,0.005681&t=h&z=18
It was 9:30am on a Monday morning. By lunchtime, despite our best efforts, the driver’s side of the ‘cruiser had sunk down to the doorhandles1, while the passenger’s side stayed on the surface………so:

  • We dug mostly with our hands because the stuff we were bogged in was too gluggly to get onto the shovel, and too sticky to get off it once it did get on there;
  • The hole filled with water and diff oil, and the mixture was nauseating;
  • There were no trees or anything else to attach the winch rope to. We buried the spare tyre, but the hole kept collapsing when we were trying to winch the vehicle out because the ground was too soft. Eventually this hole had to be engineered such that the front wall was angled as an overhang so that the spare tyre couldn’t just fly out, PLUS there had to be a deep notch in this front wall to accommodate the winch rope, PLUS the front wall had to be reinforced with two cross-hatched layers of sapling logs;
  • The vehicle kept sinking because the ground was too soft;
  • So we had to dig a hole the full length & ½ the width of the vehicle and 3 feet deep, plus a ramp in front of it about 15 feet long to enable the vehicle to roll up & out;
  • We had to cut down 45 saplings with a blunt axe2, then cut them up into pieces, and cross-hatch them so as to act as reinforcing for the ramp, the bottom of the vehicle hole, under the high-lift jack, and the hole for the spare tyre;
  • We jacked up the entire driver’s side of the vehicle by the front corner of the tray and then winched it forward so that the wheels essentially fell onto the timber reinforcing, which then gave us support and traction of a sort;
  • In the end we pulled the vehicle out of the hole by gaslight at 7:30pm on the Tuesday night. By this time I was vomiting and seeing double, and I rather suspected that I had burst a couple of blood vessels in the back of my throat, because swallowing stung a bit;
  • And THEN, in order to get back to town, 4 hours away, we had to negotiate a the first km or so of the track out, which was a washed-out, rutted idiot track with sheer drops into massive gutters on either side, some of which actually crossed the road, etc etc – I had to walk in front of the vehicle for that distance, telling the guy driving where to put his wheels in order that we not *really* put the thing beyond our reach;
  • After that, it was a 30km drive on a 2-wheel-track goat track through the trees back to the corrugated dirt cattle-station road that would get us back to town, a further 25km or so away. We got back to town about 3 hours after we had become overdue in the middle of the night – they were coming looking for us in the morning.

We got out due to our sheer bloody-mindedness and the fact that the bloke I was working with was a physical superman relative to me. The day after all of this we took a day off to recover and to clean the vehicle, which consisted of jacking the entire driver’s side up with the high-lift jack, taking both wheels off, and hitting the entire thing with a high-pressure hose. Out of fatigue I hosed my own bare feet twice. This hurts like hell. Don’t do it. I literally counted my toes both times.
We had a beer in the one-of-two pubs in the same small bush town the following year when we went back to continue the fieldwork. We had a chat about the old adage that you eventually look back and laugh at most things. Neither of us were. I’m still not. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.

I don’t go 4WDing with people any more.

1. NB: I was not driving at the time.

2. I will be eternally grateful I had steelcaps on *that* day, I can tell you.

3. Before anyone starts piously banging on about lack of preparation, unnecessary risk, etc etc, let me say that we were supremely well prepared. We were a 2-man exploration/reconnaissance crew with a fully-expertly-prepared vehicle, heaps of water (there was plenty of water around the place anyway), a winch, recovery equipment, two first aid kits, a HF radio, and people knew where to find us had we become seriously overdue. A second vehicle on this occasion was simply not an option. The way this unfolded was due to us being very bloody determined to get out under our own steam. And we did.

Wikileaks. The unassailable, inescapable subject-du-jour. I have done my level best not to blog about it, but I should have known it would be impossible for me to avoid getting sucked into the massive vortex of online opinion, rhetoric, posturing, and sanctimony, not to mention self-interested-cum-uninformed media coverage, that the issue has become.

I have been unable to make my mind up about the ethics of Wikileaks thus far. The whole thing is a much bigger and much more complicated subject than a lot of commentators can appreciate – certainly far too big for me to deal with comprehensively in a blog post. To fully consider it, one has to have one eye on its immediate effects, one eye on history, one eye on the various ethical interpretations being placed upon it, and a seagull’s eye-view of the whole thing. You just end up cross-eyed.

A few commentators have gone so far as to call this the first Information War. Whilst that is yet to be literally true, at least conceptually it’s a good place to start. Oh, there has been damaging information come out concerning both sides, and there have been a few skirmishes, with Anonymous taking it upon themselves to attack various organisations, and ddos attacks hitting Wikileaks, but these amount to little more than street brawls, to date.

The net has been bubbling for years over increasing attempts by authorities to regulate it and its content. The classic, if low-key indicator for this is that fact that Slashdot has had a “Your Rights Online” category of article for as long as I can remember containing in part many stories about encroaching regulation and other exertion of influence online. The net’s denizens subscribe to the philosophy that the net is beyond central regulation, in effect a digital High Seas, and that it should remain this way. The feeling is that the net started out as a free and unfettered thing, and for governments to attempt to exert control over it is unacceptable. Now, one could of course dismantle that logic in terms of the specifics, but the sentiment is more important and influential than the fine detail.

This is all about a lot more than transparency and honesty. Since 9/11, the towering paranoia of western world governments about the terrorism bogeyman has led to an inexorable tightening of regulation around day-to-day life. There seem to be a lot more rules than there used to be, and the net has been no exception. Couple that with the default background level of suspicion about the clandestine activities of government (witness cultural phenomena like the X-Files), its alleged murky ties to the business world, the increased military and intelligence-gathering activity over the past decade, and the slightly strange correlated increased levels of civilian authoritarianism that we keep hearing  more and more about – the restrictions on photographers in London being a classic example – and people have started looking for justifications. Some people are starting to interpret the current state of affairs as the beginnings of repression. And the backlash has started.

This is an old story. Whenever ruling hierarchies of whatever ilk are perceived to have over-governed their citizenry to too great an extent, the citizenry reacts. Revolts, rebellions, revolutions, are all built upon the same foundation. The Wikileaks phenomenon and all of the support it has been receiving are the beginnings of a rebellion, and Assange is the revolutionary at its head. Like all revolutionaries, he is ideologically driven, which, whilst an expected piece of the picture, does serve to undermine the ostensible altruism in his motives. To what extent this matters has not yet been made clear. His martyrdom seems assured, however. He will likely be the William Wallace of the piece.
The thing about revolutionaries is that you can never tell how they are going to end up being judged by history. They usually end up with blood on their hands and have no compunction about it – revolutions generally demand blood. There is a certain amount of “the winners write the history books” at play, certainly, but even those rebels that ultimately lost can be remembered fondly – any number of Native American chiefs, Peter Lalor, Ned Kelly, Guy Fawkes, the American Confederacy, and the People’s Front of Judea (not so much the “Popular Front”, obviously).
But ultimately, we’re not going to be able to work out who’s good or bad in this one. It’s just going to have to play out, and history will have to be the judge. Come back in 20 years to see who ended up immortalised by the minstrels.

The fact of the matter is that, given the technology available to us in the 21st century, something like Wikileaks was always going to come along. It was inevitable. Inevitable also was the split that has just occurred therein to precipitate the advent of Openleaks. More and more organisations like this will spring up, split, merge, flourish, and wane. But the paradigm is here to stay, Pandora’s box is open.
The concept behind these sites and their place in the world will evolve with time, and they will become normalised. Their collective sense of ethics will develop to a point where all sides can live with their conduct, and ultimately they will form a natural part of the public information pipeline.

Democracy, for all of its lauded values, merely guarantees the people a vote concerning who is going to rule on their behalf. It promises nothing in the way of openness and honesty, and it says absolutely nothing whatsoever about corporate conduct. People’s expectations of democracy are a little high, really. This will be reflected in the fact that governments & corporations will initially try to stamp Wikileaks and its kind out of existence. They will of course fail, and only succeed in generating the impetus for more such organisations. They will eventually realise that the options they have are to be honest with the people to the extent that the whistleblowers have nothing to catch them out doing, or face the consequences of public humiliation having been caught out. Government & corporate secrecy in some matters is completely understandable, and should be accommodated by the rest of us. But government & corporate mendacities are unacceptable at any time. This change is not going to happen over night. Even in the democracies, the ruling classes have again risen to the top, and they have no interest in being assailed nor questioned. There is an air of privilege there still. It is this which is now under assault.

It is worth remembering that in the absence of one side being utterly annihilated in a conflict, and neither side here seem likely to fall thusly due to their fundamental natures, political, that is to say, agreed, solutions are the way that resolutions are achieved. There is belligerence and hubris aplenty on both sides. Once these are put to one side, a negotiated peace that everyone can live with can be achieved.

We all know about the National Australia Bank snafu that has rendered thousands of people unable to get to their funds over the past week. We can have nothing but sympathy for their customers’ position, obviously. Banking is one of the fundamental planks of our societal infrastructure, and when it fails, its repercussions are often disastrous for people.

Last night came the “revelation” that the outage was caused by human error. Having been in the IT industry for 15 years, this came as no surprise. It was going to be human error irrespective – either at the level that the architecture of the system that failed was inadequate right from the start, that processes were flawed, or that someone had Pressed The Wrong Button. Unfortunately, it turns out it was the latter. I feel for the guy.

As a senior tech and architect, I am well acquainted with the risks of being in the IT game. People fail to appreciate the position we put ourselves in every day when we go to work. IT systems are by their very nature an intricate, complicated bitch of a house of cards, and we know that the balance of probability is that at some time in our careers we’re going to bump one and knock it down. This knowledge in some ways renders getting out of bed of a morning clinically insane. You never know when it is going to be your turn. One little mistake can take out a company for several days. When systems do break and break but good, they take Time to get going again. We have to wait on vendors, or rebuild systems from scratch, or restore terabytes of data from tape. It’s not always as simple as “Have a backup system”, as much as we like to think so.

Because computer technology pervades modern life, we as its keepers have the potential to take companies offline and adversely affect hundreds or even thousands of people. And there is just nowhere to hide.
This is compounded by the fact that mostly the systems we look after run on products bought, strictly as-is, with no liability express or implied, from software vendors whose myriad developers may or may not have been up to the task allotted to them. This extends down into the hardware these systems run on, because even it has embedded code, written by humans.
We rely upon these faceless people to get not only their code right,  but also the documentation – the advice and procedures – that they publish. If it is not right, we will be steering the ship straight at the rocks full speed ahead.

So we tiptoe through, we check everything six times, and we test religiously, if we know what’s good for us. Things take a long time to get done because we’re making sure that whatever action is proposed is going to be right, because if it’s wrong, the Big Boss tends to come calling.

As you move along in the industry, you can move into architectural/design positions, where you have the scope to screw up larger and larger systems and cause larger and larger outages. You would think there would be some commensurate prestige for the added responsibility, but the truth of the matter is that the field is so bloody esoteric that people just don’t get what goes on behind the scenes. Compounding the thanklessness of the job is the fact that whilst any outage or even slight degradation in service results in outraged screams from users, huge improvements in performance or functionality are quickly forgotten and taken for granted as the new minimum requirement of service if indeed they’re noticed at all.

It begs the question why do we do it and how do we cope? Sometimes we wonder, we really do. But we do it because we’re good at it and deep down we don’t trust anybody else to do it. We cope by getting Good, and by getting acquainted with every support resource in existence for the technology we support. It’s get good or get out.

So next time you want to have a go at an IT guy for not getting things fixed fast enough or for things being down in the first place, remember that he is constrained by the quality of the systems his managers let him buy & build, by the quality of the products and support resources supplied by the vendors he is told to use, the limitations in terms of speed of how fast data can get from place to place, and a dozen other things. He’s going as fast as he is physically able to.

If you want to get things moving as fast as they possibly can, bring coffee and pizza. And then let him work.

Google’s doodle today commemorates the 160th anniversary of Robert Louis Stevenson’s birth. The popup text reads simply “Robert Louis Stevenson’s 160th birthday”, as if he was still alive.
I started to wonder if this was strictly appropriate, but then I quickly remembered something I once heard said as part of a tribute to someone who had recently passed – whether it was in fiction or a real person I remember not, but that’s irrelevant. The speaker said that a person’s life wasn’t truly over until the effects of their having lived were no longer felt. That’s a lovely sentiment, and one not without some significant truth to it.

So long live Robert Louis Stevenson, I say, and the same goes for every other magnificent bastard who ever did something to make the world a better place.

And let’s all of us maybe try to live our lives such that we may be perhaps counted as a magnificent bastard one day ourselves.


Posted: 22/10/2010 in General, Humour

Some things stay with you.

When I was a wee nipper – an introductory phrase which, in fact, reveals nothing of the speed at which I progressed through toilet training, for those of you with a less charitable turn of mind – my grandfather had a dog. A Chihuahua¹. A small companion dog, known for not very much excepting perhaps a temperament that belied, or, perhaps with the wisdom of the years I can now see underlined, his size.
Yet he was deceptive. He’d give the occasional asthmatic bark, and pretty much just ignore you. He looked for all the world like he was a supremely benign, and in fact generally half-asleep little pup; sitting quietly on his blanket, just watching the world go by.

Until your fingers descended below the 12-inch hard deck². Then either you moved your hands real quick, or ended up being able to count only to nine.

He bit me once. I don’t remember when it was – I think I was too young. I just remember remembering. It was a rite of passage, in that house. Everybody got bitten sooner or later; usually sooner – Tiny wasted no time whatsoever making himself known. The first time you got bitten, it was funny. Ha ha, the little bugger got you, joke’s on you. After that, Right, you’ve been warned, stay our of his way, or serve yourself bloody right, ya drongo. The bottom 12 inches of that house were full of teeth, and that was just the way it was; rather unfairly, it seemed to me at the time. I had little option but to occupy exactly the same airspace. I wish to Christ he HAD been in the bathroom3. The only safe place in the house for me was up on the couch.

One of my earliest memories is of being on my hands and knees beside the dining table on the floor in that house, snapping my fingers at Tiny in the clichéd come-here-little-doggy way we all adopted as kids probably as a result of watching American television shows about faithful, friendly dogs playfully licking faces and rescuing children from down wells, and which in reality works almost never. But it worked on this occasion. Tiny turned to look at me, and what happened next I can still see, even though it was probably 35 years ago. Tiny couldn’t work his little legs fast enough in an effort to get over to me – the claws on all four of his feet making scrit-scrit-scrit sounds on the lino in the kitchen as he desperately sought for traction. He finally shot forward and was accelerating towards my little fingers with ill-intent. It was then that some sainted relative did me a favour that…..well, let’s face it, doesn’t really matter because my handwriting is terrible and I’m only using a small subset of my fingers to type this anyway…..nonetheless saved me a lot of anguish and….come to think of it, probably robbed me of some consolatory icecream. I just remember these large hands grabbing me around the ribcage from either side and lifting me out of the way just as the Teeth arrived. Tiny fell away below me looking like a disappointed buzz-saw.

As I grew up, Tiny became less and less of a threat, more of one of life’s simple cautions that we take for granted….don’t cross the street without looking because you’ll get hit by a car……don’t run into long grass or put your hands into logs and such because you’ll get bitten by a snake……don’t allow your fingers anywhere near Tiny. After a while it was just second nature and you could largely ignore it.

Tiny’s been gone for almost 30 years now. I miss him in a way. Without the threat it takes some of the familiarity out of those visits. Oh, there’s a poodle there now that bites people occasionally, but it’s pretty pissweak in comparison, frankly. He hardly even breaks the skin, the big sook.

Tiny gave me a fear of dogs that lasted well into my teens; even now I find it hard…unnatural…dangerous, to sit on the floor in that house. And without a word of a lie, to this day, every time I hear a chihuahua bark, it makes me want to jump up on a couch.

1. I recognise there may be some degree of debate at this juncture as to where the definition of “dog” starts and stops. Sort it out amongst yourselves, but out of respect for everyone involved, I’ll stick to the traditional taxonomy.

2. Top Gun reference. Get some culture.


The Trouble With Bathurst

Posted: 18/10/2010 in General

Probably a bit esoteric, this one. Nonetheless.

The race that has become the Bathurst 1000 (neglecting the evolution of venue, format, and sponsor naming-rights over the years for simplicity) has been iconic in this country for most of its 50-year history. It’s certainly a big circle on my calendar, and I am aggrieved if ever I am caused to miss one. Yet I speak to an increasing number of people who have utterly lost interest in it. To me this is fairly heinous, although I acknowledge my several biases that predispose me to this – I’m a Ford man, into cars generally, and do what I can to maintain statutory levels of yobbism;rising above ones origins being, ideologically at least, a general no-no. Please forgive my heavy use of jargon. I grew up watching Bathurst, and it has always been close to being the best 6 hours of my year, akin to an all-day footy grand final.

And yet, and yet, even I have started to ponder….is the Bathurst I grew up with dead? It’s a horrible thought, one almost unable to be contemplated by the 10-year-old in me. The below is a discussion of the factors affecting the current incarnation (no pun intended) of the race.

  • The current formula is a bit barren. AVESCO rely way too heavily on the Ford v Holden thing, which, whilst it’s enjoyed a fairly central role in the race since about 1967, it was never meant to be the sole attraction. Bathurst was always fascinating because of the variety of cars that used to run in it. Now that it’s a two-horse race, the interest amongst genuine car people is proportionately reduced. I’m as one-eyed a Ford man as you can get, but I still want to see other cars going around. Never was it so good as when we had a 55-car starting grid ranging right down to Corollas. This is a true price of allowing AVESCO to run it.
  • The safety car has killed the character of the race. Every time the safety car is deployed the field closes up and the leaders’ efforts to garner a lead are nullified. It’s a diabolical penalty for no justifiable reason. Yes, obviously safety has to be the top priority, but that doesn’t mean a satisfactory mechanism can’t be employed that also preserves the character of the race. For example, if the track was divided into 1km sectors, and if the sector in which an incident occurs, plus the sector immediately before the affected sector, are flagged as yellow, and some form of speed-limiting is employed, a-la pit lane, then the imperatives of safety would be served, and racing margins would be preserved. The technology exists to do this, and do it cheaply.
    Moreover, there are those that contend that the close racing that this engenders is good for the race. But the fact of the matter is that close racing has never been what Bathurst was about., It has always been an extreme enduro, and the object was to finish.
  • Another issue that the current formula brings is the relative lack of risk of failure. Certainly, there are cars that fail to finish the race for mechanical reasons. But these cars are purpose-built racers, and the teams involved have adequate budget to build cars that will go the distance with ease. This removes a certain amount of tension from the race. And it is against the original spirit of the race.
  • The other consideration that results from the considerable budget is that the barriers to entry are quite high.
  • Tied to some preceding points is the fact that the current formula only pays lip-service to the marques it purports to represent. It is in fact a shadow-formula, with more or less standard, prescribed cars for everyone, with panels and engines the only differentiations. This removes much of the spirit of the race for those that know precisely what they are looking at. I’m not advocating a return to production racing as such – the expectations of the public have surpassed that which production racing can provide, even if, frankly, I personally would rather watch a production car race than the current formula.

I’m an advocate for getting rid of the safety car in favour of a system that is just as safe but which preserves racing margins; of going back to a motorsport formula more akin to genuine modified production, not unlike the old Group C formula, even if it is defunct elsewhere in the world, which should consequently bring many other marques into the race; and of restricting team budgets per car to reduce barriers to entry and to maximise the effectiveness of the available sponsorship dollars.

I’ll still continue to watch Bathurst irrespective of what form it takes(although I confess I didn’t bother with the super-tourer years – they were an abomination), but if they bring back a decent range of cars that genuinely represent those which are on our roads, then I’ll be cheering that much louder.

A prominent and popular Brisbane journalist once wrote of touring Germany in a car and getting lost; in such a huge country it’s no wonder, of course. He told of stopping to ask for directions. However, as his German was quite poor, he was concerned along the lines that “for all I knew I could have been saying ‘The dog is in the bathroom’ “.

This article amused me greatly and stuck with me, as some things inexplicably do. Some years later, when I was in a job requiring me to deal with French people¹, I rather spontaneously asked how you said “The dog is in the bathroom”².

Things snowballed, albeit irrationally, from there. Working for an international firm, it was easy to feed the obsession, pestering travelling colleagues to inquire of the locals for the translation of the phrase, which in turn quickly evolved into also grabbing a wav file of them reciting it. This led invariably to quizzical looks and a spreading reputation for me as someone who, technically perhaps, was in possession of both oars, and who, it was possible, was possessed of a good working knowledge of water, but who in fact had no inherent ability to bring the two together in any meaningful way.
Still, I was able to recruit most of the department I was working in to help out. It’s good to spread the crazy.

Inevitably, there were some….incidents….in following this little hobby:

  • I had to be prepared to tell the whole back-story to each new donor and pretty much anyone else who heard about it – this got tedious to the point where I considered producing some laminated cards, but I reconsidered on the basis that anyone that went to that sort of length even I would have had to concede was unwell.
  • We thought up a secret project name for the whole thing to mock similarly-impenetrably-cloaked company M&A projects. We thought we had better stop when we were on the verge of being granted a budget – some things can be carried too far.
  • I started giving the phrase to secretaries in the pertinent language as a recommended greeting for visiting businessmen from overseas. This generally amused me greatly, until of course they found me afterwards. A visiting Frenchman eyed the secretarial victim-de-jour when it came his turn and said “Hmmm. I know exactly who you’ve been talking to.”
  • There were apparently some dirty looks when the Zulu translation was sought because there was no direct Zulu translation for “bathroom”.
  • When a geologist friend of mine asked a local colleague in Colombia how to say it in Spanish and if there were any other dialects in which it might easily be procured, he was only too happy to oblige.
    This resulted in his poor, agèd, sainted grandmother on the other side of the country being press-ganged into climbing a mountain near her home to find and ask the local Arawak Indians the translation in their language. The Arawak Indian chief initially recoiled and refused to give it to her because he feared that the strange foreign woman was a witch and that she was planning to use the phrase in an incantation in order to curse his people.3
  • On New Years Eve at the turn of the century, our host’s dogs actually were locked in the bathroom. When I discovered this, my delight, in concert with the inevitable levels of prevailing conviviality (shall we say), I was heard to be wandering around the party excitedly uttering the phrase in as many languages as I could remember at the time. Some kind people suggested I might benefit from some sort of personal attention (specific suggestions, I am informed, varied wildly), but since I was doing little more than babbling and mugging like an idiot, everybody settled for avoiding me in as non-obvious a fashion as was practicable. From my perspective at the time this was probably entirely redundant but in retrospect I appreciate the consideration.

I still have this kicking around in an Access database somewhere – there are well over 50 translations. One day, when the collection is suitably large so as not to be embarrassing (culpable irony, I do realise) I hope to email all of this to the journalist in question complete with the whole story.

And then I can start collecting restraining orders.

1 It’s not as bad as people make out.
Le chien est dans la salle de bains, as it turns out.
3 I am not making this up.

An Opinion Piece.

Posted: 01/10/2010 in General

It seems to me to be an odd irony that the left-leaning in our midst (possibly more particularly those toward the younger end of the nonetheless socio-politically aware spectrum, but let’s not get too focussed on age) are major proponents of personal freedoms, rights, etc, and as a broad statement have what is traditionally considered to be the more touchy-feely type of manifesto, and yet, when it comes to people speaking their minds in good faith and expressing honest, considered opinions in line with their own conscience,  these same freedom-spreaders are the ones shouting them down for saying things that are not in line with the prevailing please-all-of-the-people-all-of-the-time societal climate we live in.

It’s a ridiculous contradiction that these people would like a world where everybody’s rights are assured and in which everyone gets a fair go, and yet, then in order to achieve that, via their firey cum sanctimonious wrath, they implicitly limit the freedoms of anyone who seeks to dissent from the left-wing line1, even if said dissent was an honest analysis and/or  (as it so often is) an agent for positive change.

The other common cry is that someone’s opinion is “offensive” on the basis that it might prick the sensibilities of some special-interest group. I am afraid that I cannot conceive of a world where we are obligated to avoid offending people. Anyone who thinks this way needs to sit down and have a good hard look at the implications.
And besides, we are instilled from childhood with the old sticks-and-stones adage. Should we then abandon its lesson when we grow up? Surely we cannot grow up to think that people have an inalienable right to go through life never being offended?? And yet there are those who think exactly that. The classic recent example is, not that I want to flog an already long-dead-horse into unrecognizable carrion (but what a carry-on it was, ahahaha…) was Stephanie Rice being publicly flogged to within an inch of her public career over a single misplaced word. We may take the view that she should not have uttered the phrase that she did, but who is so toweringly conceited that they see fit to pariah her for it?? And yet plenty of people were.

Well, this is unacceptable. We cannot accept a situation where people are castigated for holding honest opinions and expressing them, or for merely saying things that “people don’t like”. Yes, some people have opinions we would rather not hear, yes, we can argue with them, yes, we can ask them to look at the facts again and reconsider. But to tell them they’re lesser people for holding those opinions or making those utterances is an outrage. People need to live and let live in this regard. It is the height of arrogance to expect people to kow-tow to what you consider to be Correct Thinking just because you do so, irrespective of what numerical authority you may think you have at your back.

We should all reserve the right to dissent from those that tell us what to think, and to think whatever we like. We should all reserve the right to make up our own minds in our own good time. And at no point should we ever concede that we should go along with the crowd because of the simple fact the crowd exists.

Consider, analyse, decide. And for the sake of society in general, say Bugger You to the Thought Police, because we really, really need to be rid of them.

Of course, that’s just my opinion.

1 I should at this point say that I am not using the term “left-wing” in a pejorative sense. Merely as a description in line with how most people perceive this kind of perspective. I have no problem with people adopting certain opinions about how the way the world should be, especially if those people are of good conscience and earnest intent. And I’ll not tell them what they can and cannot think or say. I take to heart no particular political leanings myself, preferring to clinically and objectively analyse each issue on its merits and from first principles, because I believe in arriving at the *right* answer, whatever that may be, and in no way am I in love with my own opinion (and I love it when people dissent from same – I enjoy the process of argument).

On The Nature Of Fandom.

Posted: 15/09/2010 in General

Admit it, we’re all fans of something. Irrespective of our subcultural and individual predispositions, there is something which, at some stage, has caught our attention and held it, and, given that leverage, reeled in our imagination, admiration, and intractable loyalty in that approximate order. These objects of our attention can be animate (or indeed physical) or not, any colour you like, and range in subjectively-perceived virtue from here to way the hell over there.
We’ll stand in line for days to see/get, defend to our last breath, and clamour to be in the immediate vicinity of, that which we admire. It fits some parts of the definition of insanity, yet to be observed in the proportion of people that it is, it can’t be interpreted as anything but normal human behaviour.

So. What is it? What drives it? Why are people fanatical about all of these people, objects, even abstract concepts like “42”?

It’s because these people, these things, quite literally play a part in improving the quality of our lives, and we love them for it. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly from a holistic perspective, they give us something to burn our spare otherwise-cobwebbed CPU cycles, and, much more importantly, our excess in-built passions and our need to believe out on, rather than becoming obsessed with something harmful like fringe fundamentalism & going and invading some poor sap for having the wrong number of legs on his spidergoat-god statue. Or something.

We are all in our hearts ideologues. Those of us that don’t find something harmless to follow as an ideology become a problem in society. We become in-your-face zealots, a pain in the bum to all we encounter. We obsess about causes, get into cults, join pyramid marketing schemes, or in extreme cases we go and get PhDs in something so massively esoteric that we become utterly disconnected from the rest of society. Spare belief is ultimately very destructive. Human passion (sensu lato; the more narrow vernacular sense of the phrase requires no explanation, and if you’re inclined to disagree there are most certainly blogs for that) needs to be spent on something. It would be called a flaw if it weren’t for the axiom that all morphology is functional – that every shred of our makeup has a purpose, however obscure.

So, we yell at football teams (and yell louder at the refs, the mugs), argue in a violent & diametric fashion over whether Ford or Holden enjoys God’s favour (and indeed which make he drove at Bathurst back in ’71 – Ford, for the record), we read every word ever written by our favourite author & quote the funny bits to anyone who’ll listen, and we couldn’t possibly miss our soaps. It’s no coincidence that church attendance has gone down as opportunities for other such outlets have increased a thousandfold. Irrespective of what your position on religion is (and I make no judgement nor do I indicate a viewpoint in so saying), it’s becoming redundant as an ideological catharsis. Besides, people at the football don’t tell you how to live your lives. Not with any particular authority, in any case.

The moral, then, is not to trust your time to anyone who’s not prepared to “waste” some of their own on casual pursuits. Don’t complain about someone who attempts to evangelise you into devotion to their footy team. Because it could be worse…..

On Being From Somewhere

Posted: 12/09/2010 in General

On Facebook and elsewhere, people quote their “Home Town”. It’s interesting to see what people write. It’s a subjective term. Some people nominate where they live. Others quote where they’re from. There’s a difference.

Recently I had occasion to visit my home town. The one in which I grew up. I actually go there regularly (in Australian terms, it’s Just Up The Road[1]) but usually just to the family home, via the same old back-road route, not really seeing anything between point A and point B.

On this occasion, they were naming the new library at my old primary school after my mother and I was speaking at the function. The route I took was therefore quite different to the usual run. I drove through the main part of town for the first time in a while, quietly noting some of the changes, and positively gaping at others; the town I thought I knew so well was elbowing me in the ribs and chiding me for the fact that in real terms it’s been 20 years since I really lived there. I felt something of a traitor for a moment before Getting Over It, adult rationalisation winning out over my overdeveloped sentimentality.


The spirit of “Flame Trees” ringing in my head, it started to dawn on me that nowhere else I will ever live will provoke the depth of reflexive familiarity that that place does, as obvious as it sounds. I’ve lived in other places, and generally liked them a lot, some more than others. But I was, at all times, a visitor. Up until 2 years ago I’d never lived anywhere else that I was able to regard as some semblance of a permanent home. And 2 years is not a History.

A lot of people happily shake the dust of their original home town from their boots as soon as they’re practically able. This is not merely the act of leaving; obviously there is a subset of people with purely practical motivations. It’s Leaving With Prejudice. I’ve never understood this well. For some people, this act is just a reflection of the place itself. Others are moving away from something other than pure Geography. For some others though, I’m sure it’s a ritual they feel they need to perform in order to take themselves seriously as an adult. Or some highly personal mix of the above.
Many people then go on to describe themselves as being “from” the place where they have laid their hat. This is despite the fact that they complain about the habits of the local drivers, occasionally get lost in the back streets, find the demographic mix unfamiliar, have a vague feeling that ‘the stuff on the supermarket shelves here isn’t quite right’.

Being from somewhere isn’t a function of mere residency. Being from somewhere is in your bones. It’s about knowing where the bumps are in the streets, about remembering three generations of buildings on any given patch of dirt, about driving past the furniture place that used to be the cinema and wondering how the hell they did *that* conversion, about driving past churches and recalling the good people whose weddings and funerals you’ve been to in each one, about wondering what the hell happened to the pubs that aren’t there any more. It’s about never having to think about navigating across town, and about being genuinely shocked when some pencil-necked bastard changes the streets so that you have to. And it’s about, despite whatever failings the place might have, always having your compass pointing Due Home. Always.

The point is that to try and escape where you’re from is folly. It follows you like a bum – attached to you regardless of how much you might think it stinks. And to forgot where you’re from…..if you do that, you’re lost, because you’ve lost a part of yourself – the first part, the part that everything else is built on.

[1] Anything up to 2 hours’ drive, generally, but probably at least double this in more sparsely populated areas.

I get into trouble all the time for not being able to find things. Constantly. And I always have. I swear it’s not my fault. “You had a ‘Boy-Look’, didn’t you? LOOK! There it is right there!! Dufus!!”
This is common littany, spoken of furtively in gentle sobs wherever men gather to share their tribulations.

Thing is, it’s not laziness, stupidity, or the vague general inadequacy that women love to tell each other, and us, we’re the very personification of. It’s the inbuilt search technique.

See¹, looking for something is Hard Work. Moreso if you only a vague idea where to start looking, and there’s seldom anything so frustrating. So we seek to make it easier on ourselves by selectively scanning based upon the characteristics we expect the object in question to have. If we think it’s blue, we look for “blue”, to the exclusion of all else. If we’re looking for what we think is a blue stapler, and it happens to be red, we haven’t got a snowflakes’ of finding it. Like, ever. Even if it’s right in front of us.
If it’s square and we thinks it’s supposed to be another shape, no cigar. Unless it’s actually cigar-shaped, in which case we stave off cries of “Useless!!” for one more day.

This trait is so common among men that it has to be an evolved functional characteristic. All morphology is functional – this is axiomatic. The trait therefore must have its place, and that place is not looking for stuff right in front of us around the house. I’d guess that scanning for particular physical characteristics is useful in long-range scanning in a range of lighting conditions, when the full detail of the object being sought is not available.

So the next time a woman in your life decides to lambaste you for being blind, stupid, lazy, or some soul-dampening combination thereof, rest easy and, yes, quietly smug, in the knowledge that you’re filling your evolutionary niche admirably, and that if she wanted the bloody stapler she should bought a blue one.

1 No pun intended.

As soon as she walked in the door, I ceased to exist. This is probably as it should be – daycare is a reality where Daddy is Elsewhere, and where this is in fact just fine. It’s just interesting to watch the transition.
The immediate repercussion of her arrival, once the Surrendering-Of-The-Favourite-Toy ritual had been observed, was that her and a partner in crime proceeded to flood the place with coloured balls, sourced from an inexhaustible wellspring of the things in the corner. This to my conservative sensibilities seemed effronterous, however chastising one’s child in what is essentially her territory would have been tricky at best, and in any case I had other things holding my attention by the ears. I barely had time to conduct some administrivia with the daycare Mum and flee with my life before having to run for it, Indiana-Jones-style, being borne down on by an inexorable coloured ball avalanche.
Then, as per spec, the natives gibbered something incomprehensible at me as I made good my escape, holding onto my hat for effect.

I don’t like reading blogs. They somehow fail to hold my attention. Quite apart from the fact I was an A.D.D. child, those that aren’t simply too long often present to me as the esoteric ventings of it-doesn’t-matter-how-minor zealots of one kind or another, pushing their own petty squealbarrow for all they’re worth. I abhor the apparent inherent narcissism with which I so automatically imbue so many of them. And yet….there are some out there well worth reading. Some of them lack all of the vile elements that plague the paradigm. This, of course, has to be the case. Without these exceptions, blogging would have degenerated to the one-sided talkback-radio-in-print it would have been destined to be without rescue from the net literati. And I doff my hat to them by, let’s face it, failing to shut up and going to bed when that is precisely what I should have done.

This of course is my inaugural blog post. Following the root of the word in an effort to make a lame joke, I hope this inaugers well for the future. I have thus far avoided blogging, rather easily as it turned out, because in order to believe the contents of the first paragraph, one would have to be a rank hypocrite to then take up the keyboard and sally forth. What temerity, to assume that anyone would bother to spend any mental-or-otherwise CPU cycles on what are essentially my un-vetted, certainly vain thoughts, posted for reasons lacking both objectivity and basis in The Public Good.

However, having joined Twitter a ways back and finding it a good forum for concise & focussed thoughts, there are times when issues strike me as needing more than 140 characters worth of treatment. Some serious, some not so much. Hence my culpable hypocrisy.

Nonetheless. This blog promises to be irregular in timing and length, varied in subject, and definite in its intent in any particular instance. I have no cool emotional problems with which I will deign to enthrall you, so rest easy on that point. There is a chance it may be funny, however this is something that people who know me may choose to contend. Which is why I am not giving them the URL. Whilst I intend to keep things mercifully brief in relative terms, I have been known to run off at the keyboard, hence there might be times when a nice cup of tea and a bikkie are requisite to reading it, should you deign to do so at all. I like writing, and I may indulge myself overmuch on occasion. For this I would truly like to be sorry. However.

I welcome all comments of every colour. I find profanity in this context rather pointless but value the candour it intimates.

And now to think of a signoff catchcry. Nothing springs to mind, so perhaps some sort of esoteric venting might be in order. We shall see.