Wednesday 30 April 2008

Binge drinking

I just watched the start of the first Indiana Jones movie.

About 10 minutes in, there is a scene where the lady interest is having a drinking competition with a local in Nepal. They are drinking shots of some sort of spirit - probably fermented yak piss - and he eventually passes out.

She wins a stack of cash. The whole thing is watched by dozens of baying (and betting) locals who are having a high old time.

I hope Kevin wasn't watching. I can just imagine his prissy lips being puckered up into that lemon sucking position.

Next thing you know, the smarmy bastard will be deleting scenes like this from our television viewing because they are "harmful to minors", and he has to do it for the children.

Please fuck off.

Keep it local - pah!

Note the yellow sign on the fence over there - it says something like "keep it local - fight the state's pro-developer laws".

Oh spare me this nimby crap. What these clowns forget is that they are living in a beautiful suburb that was built by developers (greedy speculators in their eyes) decades before we got into all this planning crap. Funnily enough, property values are very high in unplanned suburbs, whereas no one wants to live in places that have been planned to death by sociologists.

Here's an example of a house in a lovely street that was built by a developer a long time ago. I'd like to live here. The developer was responding to market demand, and has built something that has withstood the test of time, and people are now clamouring to buy places like this.

Over time, developers will do a better job of building something good that stuff that has been planned and analysed to death by government. That's because if a developer builds something stupid and useless, he'll go broke, and won't get to inflict his particular idea of housing horror on the countryside any longer. However, the state can build a monstrosity, and the continue to do so because the money tap never gets turned off. Just look at most housing commission stuff - it's terrible. If I was in charge, I wouldn't let the housing commission lay another brick.

I cannot bear people who think that developers are horrible people because some of them strike it rich. If you risk your money and build something that people want and you make a buck out of it, I say go for it. Good luck to you. What these nimwits don't seem to realise is that a developer is not paid a wage or salary - they live on their profits. If a development takes 2 years to build and sell, and makes say $300,000 in profit, then the developer has earned on average $150,000 per year over those two years, and he needs to have more developments in the pipeline to go on living. Idiots just see the headline profit, and ignore how long the developer has been living on vegemite sandwiches for.

I suspect these fucking nimbies are all salaried public servants, and they don't have to worry about where the next paycheque is coming from, and they've never risked their own money in their life.


Fire in a Pitt St store

Had to take the bus tonight - I came down with some horrible nasty thing around lunchtime and was in no state to stand up, let alone push the pedals. Catching the bus was almost as bad. As the crow flies, the Sydney Town Hall is about 7km from our place. The most direct route by car is about 10km.

Why then does it take a bus an hour to do that in non-peak hour traffic? An average speed of 10km/h. And you wonder why I ride....

On my way down to the bus stop, I passed this commotion. Three fire engines outside a convenience store on Pitt St, part of the road taped off with "do not cross" tape, some water on the ground and a few firies coming out of the shop wearing breating apparatus. Plus dozens of gawkers.

I was feeling too crook to hang around and watch the proceedings, so I have no idea what happened. Note the firie up the ladder in the shop. Got no idea what he is doing, but there also seems to be a group of them clustered around a fridge up the back. Maybe a short of some sort? Or a tub of exploding yoghurt that went past the use-by date?

Whatever. This was my excitement for the afternoon.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Local govt does not pay very well

The excellent Burning Our Money blog recently covered the enormous salaries paid to local government managers in the UK.

I don't think the same is happening in our patch.....although I'm reliably informed that some years ago, the Perth Town Clerk was the highest paid public servant in the entire country. I have nothing to back that up though.

Intrigued, I had a look at the financial statements for our council. For 297 full time equivalent staff, wages and salaries came to $13.8m, or an average of $46,000 each. I don't think you can say that our local council staff are killing the pig at that rate. The mayor gets an "allowance" of $30,000 a year and the councillors divide up $125,000 between them in allowances and expenses. The gravy train is not rolling through this suburb.

Pity. Might have been nice to hop aboard.

Oot and aboot

Talk about a cool, crisp start to the day. It was a perky 7 degrees when I took this photo around 7am. Funny how water looks black when its cold. I wonder why that is? The Bay was looking more like Loch Ness this morning due to the lack of global warming in the offing.

Here is captain sensible - leg warmers, arm warmers, shoe covers... all rugged up like me. The last thing I want to get on the way to work is hypothermia.

Not what you'd normally expect to find in a bike lane. This is not a granny on a motorised wheelchair - this is a lawn mower. Typical council worker - can't even tell the difference between grass and hot mix.

With clear skies, the fair-weather cyclists have returned. You can't see it in this photo, but apart from this fellow in front of me, there are four other cyclists within 50 metres or so. When it rains, one has the road all to oneself. As soon as the sun makes an appearance, all the "Ooooo, it's wet crowd" come back again.

Within 10 seconds of taking this photo, another collapsible bike went past in the opposite direction. I haven't seen many of these around over the last few years, but it seems they are starting to make an appearance. This guy was making reasonable progress - they might look a bit like a toy, but they still move along alright. I'm not sure how stable they are though.

Anzac memorial

I dropped off my normal route today to take a close look at the statue of the New Zealand soldier on the Anzac Bridge. Putting the statue there is a great idea, but if you want to have a look at it or lay a wreath, I suggest you do it by bike. The very thoughtful authorities have made sure that there is no parking for about a kilometre in any direction. This is the road that leads to the statue, and it is "no parking" all the way there on both sides. It's a great place to ride, but an awful place for stopping. The arrows are pointing to the two monuments.

If you do want to have a look, follow the signs to "Liquidity" (a very fancy restaurant in the boat harbour) and then keep on going until you go under the bridge and then reach a gate where it says "stop". From there, it's a walking path to the statue.

Getting a shot of both statues without standing in the middle of the road was impossible, thanks to these palms trees. I don't know if the trees are somehow significant to NZ, or whether trees are more important these days than monuments.

And here he is.

We will remember them.

Another cooked car

Do we have a lot of French people in town at the moment? It seems everywhere I go, I find cars that have been torched. Spotted this one on the way home tonight.

The thing that gets me is that this car has been here long enough for it to start collecting both rust and rubbish (people have been throwing chip wrappers etc into what was the back seat). It's next to a park, which attracts an awful lot of people every day. Given that this spot is just off the Bay Run, I guess that thousands of people would walk past it every day.

Either no one has reported it, or the council is completely rooted. What is it with people that they look at something like this and go, "Somebody else's problem?" What on earth are the neighbours across the road thinking? Imagine opening your bedroom curtains in the morning and seeing this pile of crap in the middle of your view. I'd be onto the council like Kevin Rudd onto a stripper.

Monday 28 April 2008


Rain, rain, go away. And then the temperature plummets. With no cloud cover for the first time in two weeks, the city was freezing today. A side benefit was a beautiful, clear morning - the first in ages. It was so crisp as to be utterly blinding, since I ride directly into the rising sun if I am up early enough. For most of April, I have been heading off around 7am, and it has been gloomy enough to require lights at that time of the morning. Today, I left at 6.30am and required sunglasses and a visor. I can't even put up any photos of the morning ride, since they are all washed out by glare.

The only photo that vaguely worked is this shot of Canal St, where some little turd has taken the time to climb the power pole and scratch away the first letter of the sign. Very funny.

I bet a few people regretted their choice of clothing this morning. I went the whole hog - jacket, thick knicks, leg warmers and fingered gloves, and even then I felt a chill. I went past quite a few people on the way in and out who wore nothing more than shorts and a T-shirt. All looked frozen. The chill was that bad, my little toes went numb on each foot. My new shoes are beautifully ventilated for summer riding, but the wind howls through them on a winters day. I will be wearing my shoe covers from now on, which means I will be striking a horrendous yoga pose each morning. The covers zip up on the outside of the foot, rather than the inside as you'd expect with say some zippered boots. Since they are made of stretchy stuff, you actually need 3 hands and the body of a contortionist to do them up. I guess it's time I went to work on my flexibility.

I certainly need to do more work on my fitness. I joined a group of three blokes tonight as we went through Pyrmont - they seemed to be a regular group that meet and train together, and they looked like they were going my way, so I jumped on their tail.

By the time we got across the Anzac Bridge, I was winded. Totally winded. By the way, here is a photo of the new statue on the Anzac Bridge - now we have a kiwi as well, which makes sense. Otherwise, it would have been the Aac bridge.

Anyway, back to riding. These guys were cruising at a fast tempo, and they just ripped my lungs out when I tried to keep up. I could match them on the flat quite easily, but as usual, died a sudden death on the hills.

Then again, they all looked at least a decade younger and 20 kilos lighter. At least that is what I told myself as I puffed into our street, totally winded and knackered.

About the only reason why I kept in contact with them is that I finally managed to clean and tune the bike on the weekend. After several weeks of riding in the rain, every part of it had collected a thick coating of mud, and the drive train was starting to sound like the Amityville Horror - you've never heard so much shrieking, creaking and groaning from a simple chain and sprocket. Nothing like a bit of degreasing and oiling to banish the demons from the cogs. The bike was almost silent, which meant that I was able to sneak up on joggers and scare the crap out of them (unintentionally of course). I'm used to being audible at 100 paces, so I couldn't figure out why the buggers were not getting out of my way this morning. Maybe I've taken this cleaning business too far.

Sunday 27 April 2008

Boy falls through high school's roof

What the hell was he doing on the school roof, given that it is the last week of school holidays this week?

If the little bastard was trying to break in to set the place on fire, he's found out the hard way that crime doesn't pay.

Hope they charge him when he gets out of hospital.


When was the last time a new pair of shoes gave you blisters? For me, I think it was my last pair of school shoes, for back in the day, school shoes were made of leather, came out of the box as stiff and unbending as iron, and we seemed to do a lot more walking and running around than the current generation of tubbies. My heels always used to become a sea of weeping goo with each new pair, but the shoes were gradually broken in, and I developed thick calouses on the back of each ankle.

Modern shoes don't seem to blister like the old ones did. I don't know if they leather is softer, or whether the fit is better, or they are just cut to a more pliable style, but I have not had a blister in about a decade and a half.

The last time I got blisters is when I was a recruit, and compared to my fellow recruits, I came off pretty well. On our first day as recruits, we were issued a pair of boots. That involved sitting on a bench, having our foot size roughly taken and then having a pair tossed at us. I have bought shoes at the Athletes Foot, where they get you to walk over a machine that scans how your foot interacts with the ground, and they take lots of measurements, and you generally end up with a really well fitting and suitable shoe.

The army could learn a lot from that approach. Some got boots too small, others too big. Mine were about the right size to start with, but your feet swell under certain conditions, and the boots had no give in them, so everyone copped a bushel of blisters. I got off reasonably easy because I took my own pair of boots to camp - a pair that I had broken in long before, so my feet survived better than the rest. I still had to wear the regulation set of boots from time to time, since my old boots looked like crap and refused to gleam when polished, but it was better than blistering from toe to ankle.

There were several different treatments for blisters, but my favourite has always been to pop the blister and then rub lots of metho into it - as in methylated spirits. It hurts like hell, but the metho seems to dry the blister and it heals hard. Another option is to tip Betadine into a popped blister - that also hurts like hell, but it produces a wickedly hard callouse.

I had several seasons of rowing under my belt before I joined the reserves, so I was used to blisters galore. Each season of rowing had produced a crop of at least 20 blisters per hand, with one of my crewmates setting a record with 36 on each hand. We went through a lot of Betadine and metho, and I was well used to the pain of dealing with blisters. But it seemed that for some of my fellow recruits, the blisters that appeared after a day of square bashing were the first they'd ever had, and they whinged and whined and wanted to get a doctor to look at their ankles and they wanted gauze and strapping and all that sort of crap.

Those of us who had been through the blistering process simply sat down and showed them how to pop a blister with a sewing needle and then fill the blister with Betadine. Rough, messy and painful - but it always works. Needless to say, it was common to see recruits hobbling around the base, and reasonably common to see someone with a particular bad case of feet being ordered to sit on the side of the parade ground and watch what we were doing. Some lucky bastards also got dispensation to wear trainers on parade instead of boots.

The thing is though, trainers do not make a lovely "crash" when you stand to attention. You make that loud crashing noise by lifting the knee up high and ramming the foot down into the ground, rather than simply dragging it across the tarmac from the "at ease" position. I spent an awful lot of time ramming one foot into the tarmac, as we practiced whalloping the parade ground with our boots. When a company comes to attention, it should do so with a single loud "crack", and that crack should be audible from one end of the parade ground to the other. You don't need hobnails on your boots to achieve the affect - you just need to get that knee up high and ram it down hard.

We spent an awful lot of time trying to polish and soften our boots. Just as I was preparing to leave in 1991, the army started issuing lovely soft brown boots to replace the old black boot. I never got a pair (the reserves being at the back of the queue, and our regiment at the back of the reserves queue), but someone in the army had finally figured out that we'd be a bit more effective with a modern comfortable boot.

Some tried soaking the boots in a bucket of water overnight, then wearing the wet boot in order to make it mould to the foot. Others swore that urine was the best softening agent, so they urinated in their boots at every opportunity (and yes, the smell is something to behold). The more refined believed that using the right boot polish could make a difference, and they were madly protective of their semi-liquid pots of polish. People would do anything to end up with a comfortable boot.

But no matter how the smelt or how comfortable they were, they had to shine. Much time was spent every morning and evening trying to get the toecap to glisten. Woe betide anyone who accidently trod on the gleaming toecap of someone else - punches might be thrown if a dusty footprint resulted. There are two ways to get a gleaming toecap. One is to have the cap professionally buffed and then varnished, but you can't get that done whilst in camp. Therefore we had to rely on the old method of spit and polish.

Yes, spit and polish. I don't know how spit and polish combine to produce a gleaming shine, but they do, and we did it an awful lot. We had no access to a radio or TV or newspapers, let alone the internet or an X-box. All our free time, of which there was not an awful lot, was spent cleaning, polishing and ironing.

Was it a waste of time?

No. Partly because it kept us busy, and as the old saying goes, idle hands make for the devil's work. And partly because it gave us pride in our appearance. A good soldier is a proud soldier - even being a bit cocky is not a bad thing. There is nothing worse than a soldier who is a bag of shit, and that was an expression that I heard an awful lot during my time in the reserves. Looking like a bag of shit was a no-no, and one way to overcome that was to be starched, ironed and polished.

So we polished like demons. The four of us would sit around in a circle in our room, somewhat like our grannies did when they were sewing I guess, and we polished and polished and polished. We might share a single tin of polish, which we would all dip from with our fingers or polishing cloths, and we'd polish and gossip and yarn and we got to know each other a little better. If we weren't polishing our boots, we were sewing our uniforms (taking them in here or there) or cleaning our rifles or polishing our brass. Yes, we had a few brass buckles on our belts, and we had to polish the belts with boot polish and then polish the brass as well. Even the hardest worked cleaning lady would not polish as much in a year as we did in those two weeks.

And as we polished and ironed and starched and scrubbed, we slowly came to look less like bags of shit civilians, and more like soldiers. You don't create a soldier by simply stuffing a civilian into a uniform - there are hundreds of little changes and adjustments that have to be made to produce a soldier from a bag of shit, and bit by bit, we made the change.

Boots help to make a soldier in various ways. The weight of a boot changes the way that you walk - you can't slob along like you've got thongs or ugg boots on. You walk with deliberation and determination, because it takes more effort to take each step, and the tread is heavier. The weight of the boot provides confidence, such as when a door needs kicking in (trying doing that in thongs or a pair of Nikes). The solidity and roughness of the boot reflects the soldier, and when things get rough, and aggression is required, it's nice to have a big nasty boot on each foot. "Putting the boot in" is an expressive term that denotes a certain frame of mind, and it needs to be remembered that a soldier, particularly an infrantryman, needs to be very aggressive in battle.

I'll cover aggression later, but without it, an army is useless; a hollow shell. No moral fibre. Modern men are not natural killers - we do not seek to bump off our fellow man on a regular basis (except for the psychopathic). Men like you and me actually need a long period of intensive training before we are ready to deliberately pull the trigger on someone else. And I refer to men only, since women are generally kept out of the combat arms. The infantry are issued with bayonets for a reason - to stick them into someone else if the need arises. I don't know about you, but I never liked the idea of bayoneting someone else, and still don't, but the army has to put you into a frame of mind where you'll do it willingly.

You can't reach that frame of mind by slothing about in ugg boots. Heavy, nasty, solid leather boots are just the thing to notch up the aggression level a bit. That's why they have always been so popular with punk rockers and skinheads - it puts them into a frame of mind where they are much more prepared to "kick off" (see, another boot related term referring to violence).

A clear symbol of what boots represent could be seen during the invasion of Iraq. The Iraqi army just melted away when faced with the onslaught that the yanks delivered. In some areas, the roads were littered with boots where the soldiers simply dumped their uniforms and split, heading for home. The shedding of the boots was a clear symbol that they had given up soldiering and returned to civilian life (if only most of them had stayed that way).

There are many other shoe related concepts that I could cover, but I'd be at it all night. Let me finish this topic on this note: as a reservist, you flit back and forth between two worlds - the civilian and military. We used to talk about "putting on our civilian head", or "putting on our green (army) head". For me, I put on my green head the moment I pulled my boots on. Pulling on the uniform never really altered my mental state, but lacing the boots was all that I needed to switch to my military personality.

Don't think that's possible? Are you the same person at work, or do you put on your "work head" when you leave for the workplace in the morning? Do you take it off when you get home, or do you stress out because you can't unscrew your work head at the end of the day?

Boots maketh the soldier.

Recruit camp

These days, the expression "boot camp" seems to have taken over from "recruit camp". More Americanisation of the language I guess, or an example of how perceptions from Hollywood are more powerful than the reality on the ground. More people have seen a movie like Platoon than have served in the army.

We simply referred to it as "recruits", as in, "When did you do recruits?" (once we had gotten through it of course). We were not referred to as "boots", we were recruits. We weren't private soldiers - we were lower than that. Until we passed the course, we were the lowest form of life - "Recruit Bike".

Our recruit camp was held at HMAS Leeuwin, on the banks of the Swan River in Fremantle. You might have noticed the "HMAS" - what was a bunch of army recruits doing at a naval base? Beats me. I guess it just made sense for all the services to share the one facility. It was a reasonably modern place for its time, with three story brick barracks, a proper mess, a large gym and an asphalt parade ground. That was the stuff that faced the road and was presumably shown to visiting VIPs when they were shown around. We actually did most of our lessons in WWII era (or earlier) huts out the back of the base - away from prying eyes. Bits of the base looked like leftovers from the Boer War.

One thing that comes back to me now is the paperwork, or lack of it. Every bit of paper that we got looked like it had been mimeographed, and given that personal computers were extremely thin on the ground back then, we were spared the sight of clerks sitting in offices creating new forms for us to fill out all day. Back then, I thought we were drowning in paperwork, but compared to now, it was a paper free zone. Interesting how the rise of the PC has not created a paperless world, but has instead created a voracious demand for paper. It's simply allowed clerks and beauracrats to easily create and publish forms for everything. If you took away the ability to produce forms, we'd quickly find that we needed fewer of them.

In the leadup to the camp, I was sent or given a 2 or 3 page form listing what I was to bring. Things like a toothbrush, boot polish, laundry powder etc etc. It was very simple and straightforward, having been typed out on what looked like a manual typewriter and then duplicated. It was for all I know the same forms that they handed out to recruits back in 1914. I must go to the War Memorial one day and simply go to the archives and poke around in the files. I'm sure all the paperwork will look familiar.

Like most of the recruits, I was dropped off on day one - mainly because there was no parking for our cars. There might have been 150-200 of us. After gaggling around on the parade ground, we were divided into 6 or 7 platoons of 30 each, and then further divided into three sections of 10. At this point, we were probably assigned to an instructor, and then shown where to drop our kit in the barracks.

The rooms were very simple affairs - four recruits per room, one single bed with plasticised mattress over a wire frame, and a built in wardrobe for each person. Lino floors, brick walls, no curtains and no doors. Who needed curtains to keep out the sun when we got up at dawn? The place was very bare and spartan. No frippery anywhere. Each floor had a fire escape at one end and some communal showers and toilets at the other. The laundry was on the ground floor. It was a simple, well laid out, no nonsense affair. No excess fat or unnecessary stuff.

I think it was one platoon per floor, and I don't think the three instructors per platoon and the platoon sargeant got their own room - from memory, they shared a room just like us. The only person who got their own room was the platoon commander - a lieutenant. I'm pretty sure all the officers were housed somewhere else.

Our instructors were all corporals and lance-corporals. None of this Marine drill sergeant stuff for us. Some had loads of experience and had been in the regular army for years, whilst others were reservists like us, and had probably been in for only 2 years at that point. But we didn't know that - we were wet behind the ears recruits, and we knew less than nothing about military life.

At this point, I will mention Full Metal Jacket. This is one of my top five favourite war movies. There are many aspects of the first half of the movie that any recruit will recognise - the drill, the weapons instruction, the physical exercise, the spartan barracks and most of all, the loud, profane instructors. Regular army recruits go through a much longer course - usually 8 to 12 weeks (depending on which army you are joining), so we got a rather truncated introduction to the army. A lot had to be crammed into that two weeks, and cram is what our instructors did.

Our corporal had seen service in Vietnam in the infantry, had stayed in the regular army after the war and then moved onto the reserves when his time was up. He was short, slightly dumpy and easily the quietest and most humane of all the instructors on the camp. Which made him slightly less loud and less abusive than the rest. Although he had seen longer service than every other instructor put together, he spent the first few minutes of every lesson boning up on the contents from his notebook. Looking back now, I think he was pretty fond of a beer, which might explain why he didn't yell so much in the morning. Sore head and all that.

So we turned up, got split up into our various platoons, had a quick march around the barracks to show us this and that, and then it was time to issue us with kit. That meant marching back and forth from the Q store time and time again to be issued with boots, uniforms, webbing, bedding and all the other stuff that a soldier needs, before finally being marched to the armoury to collect a rifle. Each stage involved completing a bit of paperwork, because the Q store never hands anything over without a signature.

The first day was one of either standing in line, being bored beyond belief, or being yelled at and hurried from one task to another. We were shown all the usual recruit stuff - how to make a bed that the instructor would not destroy on sight, how to put our webbing together, how to lace our boots, how to polish out boots etc etc etc. Once we had a semblance of a uniform on (jungle greens, giggle hat and black boots, along with a web belt), we started drill instruction.

We spent part of every day doing drill. I don't know how many hours - maybe four hours a day? A few hours in the morning and a few more after lunch. It's amazing how difficult it was for some people to even march properly - that is, to keep in step and to swing the arms in the correct fashion. It might seem strange to a civilian, but it actually takes weeks to learn how to march properly. It might seem like glorified walking to some, but it takes a lot of practice to get 30 people to line up in three rows and walk in one direction without bumping into each other and tripping over each others feet.

Marching involves learning lots of little things. The correct way to clench the fist (I can't describe it to you, but the thumb should always be pointing rigidly down). The correct height to swing the arms to (shoulder height). Holding the shoulders back. Keeping the elbows stiff. Getting the right posture involved a lot of yelling and endless marching up and down the parade ground. And that was just the moving in one direction. We also had to know how to start marching, and how to stop. Then came changing direction, being dismissed and all that. And of course the correct way to come to attention and to stand at ease. And you can't forget saluting.

Drill is all about repetition. I know that hippies love to point at soldiers and laugh when they are standing in the hot sun, endlessly being ordered to attention, and then to stand at ease.... it all looks pretty mindless and robotic, and a sane person would wonder why a supposedly intelligent person would voluntarily submit themselves to it. I know that people that like to think of themselves as intellectuals always scoff at the stupidity of the sheep like lower orders that submit to this sort of thing.

Why do it?

Because an army is not a mob. An army is a controlled instrument of terrible violence. Such a terrible instrument needs to be kept on a tight leash - very strong controls are required when you are dealing with a bunch of 19 year olds armed with high powered rifles, machine guns, grenades, grenade launchers, anti-tank rockets and a radio that can call in artillery fire and air strikes. If you want to see what a well armed mob looks like, have a look at footage of places like the Congo and Somalia. Mobs create chaos and destruction and utter ruin wherever they go.

A western army can also create utter devastation - but only when it wants to. In fact a western army will go out of its way to not turn the countryside into a moonscape. With a mob, the provision of arms to 19 year olds allows power to go to their heads, and raping, pillaging and destruction follows as night follows day.

The way to exercise control over well armed 19 year olds (in fact I was 18 at the time, but I'll take my cue from "I was only 19") is to drill them and drill them and drill them and then drill them some more so that they obey orders. Yes, I know that bowing to authority is another thing that hippies love to disdain, but like I said, you don't allow someone to run around with a loaded 7.62mm self loading rifle unless they are going to do what they are bloody well told to do. Not unless you want a hole in your head. The Romans understood the importance of drill, and look where it got them.

So we spent our days marching up and down the parade ground, breaking mid-morning for a cup of tea and a bikkie. Big urns of tea would be wheeled out by the catering staff, and we'd stand around and have a 15 minute break and a biscuit. The smokers would have a fag, and we'd wiggle our blistered feet.

OK, let me try and describe a normal day.

We'd be rousted from our beds before dawn. I can't remember the exact order of things, but in the course of the first two hours or so after being woken up, we'd do a quick parade in our PT gear (to count heads and ensure that no one went over the wall during the night), then do some form of PT. That would vary between put through a series of horrible exercises by an evil PT instructor (like star jumps, push ups, knee bends and the like) or going on a 5k run around Fremantle. Or both. I think we generally did both. But I was young and fit back then, so it wasn't that hard. Some of the older guys (25 year olds) would be a bit stiff afterwards, but us youngsters recovered quickly and felt little pain after a while.

We'd then have to shower, shave, clean up our rooms and change into the uniform of the day for breakfast. All of this was accompanied by inspections to ensure that we were fit to spend all day marching up and down. Several beds would be ripped up by the instructors for failing to meet the required standard.

I don't remember anyone having a problem with the communal arrangements - I certainly didn't. I'd been to boarding school, and it really wasn't that much different - except that the marching was stricter and my housemaster at school never issued me with a rifle.

Breakfast was usually quite impressive, with a good selection of food and plenty of it. An army does march on its stomach, and the Australian army feeds its troops very well. Ok, it's not the sort of stuff that you'd find in a fancy restaurant, and it can be a bit monotonous and there is not a huge menu to choose from, but it did the trick. It kept us marching from sun up to sun down, and I don't remember any whingeing about it. Well, ok, I do remember some whingeing, because someone was always complaining about something. The boots. The marching. The teabags. The giggle hats. The instructors. The short period at night during which the boozer was opened. The PT instructors. All were cause for complaint. Apparently the only time to every worry about an army is when the complaining ceases - that's when the mutiny is about to break out.

More later.

Saturday 26 April 2008

Joining up

Australia has a population of around 20 million. How many of those alive today have served in the armed forces? Given that there are only 51,000 in uniform now (with another 19,000 in the reserves), I would estimate that less than half a million have ever put on a uniform. At present, the ADF needs to recruit 6,500 people per year to maintain current manning levels. If we were to assume that resignations/recruiting had stayed at this level for 50 years, then around 300,000 people would have passed through the military.

So let's assume 500,000 out of 20 million. That's 2.5% of the population. So 97.5% of Australians have little or no idea how the military functions, and what it is like to serve.

I joined the Army Reserve (ARES) in 1985 and resigned in 1991. From now on, when I feel like it, I'm going to write about what it was like to serve as a choco in peacetime (choco, as in chocolate soldier - one that melts in the sun). Many people have written about their combat experiences in many wars, but I don't know of anyone that has written about going nowhere and doing nothing. I doubt it would sell too many copies. A blog however is perfect for telling useless stories about non-events that happened a long time ago.

Why did I join?

Fucked if I know really. I didn't really know at the time, and I still don't know. I told the recruiter a few lies, which he accepted, so it never really mattered to me why I did it. The only reason that ever comes close is simple - duty. If that word strikes a chord with you, then you'll understand why I chose to put on a uniform. If you're scratching your armpit and trying to figure out what duty means (it is not cheap grog that you buy on the way back from Bali), then I am not going to waste my keyboard springs in trying to explain it.

Let's just accept duty and move on.

I really should have joined the Naval Reserve, since Dad was a sailor in WWII. However, a mate at Uni was in the Army Reserve, so that's where I went (thanks Paul). He was doing OCTU (officer training), which sounded like an awful lot of hard work, so I joined as a grunt. Silly bloody decision really - officers have a nicer boozer - but if you're not prepared to put the work in, you don't deserve the pips (officers rank is denoted by the pips they wear on their shoulders).

Joining up was a relatively straightforward exercise, but it was daunting enough that very few people do it each year. Since I was at uni, the only suitable regiment for me was the Uni Regiment, WAUR. That was because it was the only unit in WA that didn't hold exercises during the university term - and especially during exam times. It might have been a bit inconvenient to have to ask a lecturer (most of whom were rabid lefties) for an extension on an assignment because I had to go on an exercise with the US Marines or some such thing. So I made a few inquiries and went along to WAUR.

After showing a bit of interest in joining, I was invited to visit the barracks on a Tuesday night to view what happened when the unit paraded. By "parade", I don't mean that everyone spent all night marching around in formation going left turn-right turn-halt etc etc. Everyone would show up by the appointed time, which I think was 7pm, a short assembly would be held (the parade) and then everyone was dismissed to get on with whatever was on their training program for the night. Signallers might practice radio stuff. Medics would kiss plastic dolls. The actual fighting soldiers might sit around scratching their arses until it was knock off time. We probably got shown a few rifles and a spade and that was that. Everyone would be assembled again, dismissed and then it was off to the boozer for a few beers before going home around 11pm to midnight.

It didn't seem that arduous. Kind of like a grown-up version of boy scouts.

At the time, WAUR was located in an old wooden building in the middle of Perth. Parking there was an absolute bastard, and it was crowded, noisy and possibly falling to bits. But it was the home of the regiment, and like military formations everywhere, the boys had done their bit to spruce it up as best as possible.

But it was still a dump. Back then, Labor was in power and defence was not high on the spending priority list. The Air Force and Navy got all the money and the fun kit, whilst the Army got by on scraps. The Regular Army got first dibs at funds and new stuff, then the "active" reserve units got what was left over. WAUR got what was left over from that. We were not just the poor relations. We were the poor relations from the boondocks - the type that marries your first cousin and keeps the farm animals in the lounge room.

But they had rifles - things that go bang. And they had machine guns - things that go bang-bang-bang, and that was enough for me.

The formal part of the process was that after doing a bit of paperwork to establish who I was (laughable by todays standards - it's more difficult to open an account at a video shop than it was to join the Army), I was told to report to Karrakatta Barracks on a Saturday or Sunday morning to go through a bunch of medical and psychological tests.

I have no idea what day it was that I attended. I know it was a weekend, because I got blotto the night before, so it had to be a morning after the night before. I have no idea how I got to the appointed screening depot at 7am, or whenever it was we were supposed to arrive. It was early in the morning, and I was still half cut. I might have had a nap on the lawn out the front, along with several other potential recruits that had also had a big night out. I do know that I was lying on the ground when a car came skidding through the gravel car park and crunched into the coppers log fence not far from us. Another drunk disembarked, staggered over to the trees and vomited copiously. That set off one of my fellow lawn recliners, who also had a chuck.

By the time the medical staff opened the doors to commence examining us, there were possibly 30 young men flaked out on the lawn, with a variety of crappy old cars parked at odd angles throughout the car park. I guess they figured that if we had made it that far, and could put up with sleeping on the dewy ground, then we were fit for service.

I remember having to do the usual strip naked thing in order to be poked by a doctor. What was possibly unusual about my exam is that I threw up in his rubbish bin - stark naked and all that. I spent the rest of the morning carrying that bin around - clutching it to my chest actually - as I continued to vomit up beer, vodka and other hideous drinks, as well as bits of Whopper and chips. I was not the only one.

We had to do a multiple choice psych exam, which was so easy, you'd have to be absolutely mental not to fake it through. A few of the questions were interesting:

- do you wet your bed?

- if you get to the top of a tall building, do you feel like jumping off?

- do you wake up feeling refreshed in the morning?

I distinctly remember the last question because I answered "no" to it. It was the only question out of 100 that I got wrong. The shrink asked me why I gave that answer. He wanted to know as the 13 blokes before me had given the same response.

I pointed to all the drunks currently sprawled over chairs in the waiting area, snoring and farting and occasionally vomiting into a bin. I gave him my best bloodshot eyes look over the rim of the rubbish bin that I was clutching, and explained that I had been to several pubs the night before, then gone to a nightclub, and had left that club at 6.30am to attend this induction. The only sleep I'd had was on some wet grass out the front of his office.

He seemed rather shocked by all that. I thought that since he was in the army, he'd be used to this by now, but it turned out that he was not in the army. He was a civilian quack contracted in to do a bit of weekend work. The army was as foreign to him as it was to us, and by the look he gave us, it was also quite repugnant. I get the feeling that he thought the sooner we were all mown down in some muddy hell hole, the better off the country would be.

No one failed. If we could go out drinking all night, survive on no sleep, navigate to a place we'd never been before (whilst completely pissed), and put up with 6 hours of bullshit, then we were the perfect recruits.

I have no idea what happened next. All that I know is that some time later (a few weeks perhaps?) I was attending a two week recruit camp. Somewhere along the line, I did a bit more paperwork, swore an oath and was given a list of things that I would need for recruit camp.

And there the story ends for now.

Anzac day reprised

I've posted this elsewhere, but thought I'd put it here for posterity.

Just been on the blower to the old man. Although he spent 5 years of the war in the Navy, and a reasonable amount of that afloat in theatres on the other side of the planet, he doesn’t march. He’s always gone to his naval reunions (which generally involves flying to somewhere like Adelaide), but he’s never gotten into the Anzac Day thing. Dad was the baby of his ship, and he’s about the last one of his crew left.

I think this story might shed some light on the reason for that.

His brother spent 3 years in PNG with the Army, generally collecting every tropical disease known to man. He was too crook to stay in the Army after the war, even though he had a hankering to do so. When he was demobbed, his first job was secretary to an RSL big wig. He liked the job, liked the people and looked set to make something of it.

Then came Anzac Day. It was raining, so he stayed in bed. The next day, he was carpeted. His boss wanted to know why he didn’t march.

“Because it was raining”.

Boss: “I don’t give a bugger if it was raining - if you want to do this job, you’ll march on Anzac Day, rain or not”.

Uncle: “I spent 3 years marching in the rain in New Guinea so that I wouldn’t have to march in the rain when I got home. You can stick this job up your arse.”

He collected his hat and walked out to pursue a succesful career in other fields.

The old diggers. God bless ‘em. Wouldn’t take crap from anyone. My uncle knocked on the pearly gates just a few years back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he told St Peter where to stick his key.

On another note, another uncle had his merchant ship shot out from under him by a sub. Some of the crew (including my uncle) stayed on board, manned the gun and blasted the sub as the ship sank under them. The captain, who had taken to the lifeboats, got a nice gong for the effort. My uncle got a pat on the head. Such is life!

Dad also told me that my uncle's unit had a nice little business in PNG where they produced samurai swords for the American market - as in the US Army. Uncle was in a RAEME unit, and they had all the kit required to turn scavenged jeep springs (leaf springs) into swords.


Did a bit of work this week that involved spending some time with a very large, very agro and very smelly old bugger. He turned up at the office in thongs, a torn and very grubby blue singlet (which contained a Russ Hinze style beer gut) and a pair of equally filthy and baggy jeans. He wheezed the athsmatic wheeze of a chronic smoker, and had the look about him of wanting to be propping up the bar rather than doing some work for me.

Trust me - I didn't hire him. I just had to deal with him for an hour.

How big was his gut?

Well, he had to do some paperwork, and he was too big to sit at a desk. He had to do it on top of a filing cabinet, and he could only do that by leaning towards the cabinet at about a 30 degree angle. He was rather large.

I also found that I couldn't walk behind him - he stank too much. Stale cigarettes and no shower for 3 days will do that for you. I started off walking behind him, but thankfully he couldn't wheeze along at more than a slow crawl, so I was able to scoot around him and get into the fresh air up ahead.

Cripes, the things I have to put up with. They never mentioned this at the AGSM at the "managing people for high performance" course.

Friday 25 April 2008

Clover on dogs

A wild debate erupted in Sydney a few weeks ago when the idiotic Lord Mayor (Clover Moore) suggested that many parks should have fences erected to keep kids in so that dogs could run free.

I can't stand that sort of idea for numerous reasons. The first is that fences shit me - the only reasonable place to erect a fence is around a cricket ground so that when the batsman hits a 4, the fielder doesn't have to run onto the road to collect the ball. Not much you can do if he whacks a 6, but it helps to keep fours within the boundary. All other fences in public parks should be torn down, ripped to shreds and set on fire.

But what about the kiddies, I hear you say? What about the dogs? Won't the kiddies get eaten by dogs?

No. I like dogs. No, scratch that. I like well behaved dogs that have not been driven mental by their batshit-mad owners. I like dogs that are like you and me. Ok, dogs that are like me. Level headed. Not prone to fits of barking madness. Lacking a tendency to bite, even when provoked.

I have met a lot of dogs in my time, and I think that many of them do truly reflect their owner. I don't think that people that own poodles look like poodles - I think the personality of the dog reflects the owner. If the owner is calm, organised and has it together, chances are they will have a lovely, well trained dog. If the owner is a strung-out junkie, chances are the dog will be a little bit around the twist, and have a tendency to break into houses and steal laptops.

When I rule the state, dogs and children will be free to intermingle. Except that all the parents will be carrying pistols, and all dogs that are not quite right in the head will be shot on sight. Shooting the owners will be optional.

That should solve the problem of dogs biting children. I'm not sure what we can do about children biting dogs, but hey, if the dog is brought up properly, it won't mind the odd nibble from the rugrats.

I developed this theory when standing on a street corner earlier this week. I was waiting for the lights to change when this odd threesome stopped beside me. The first thing I noticed was this big black dog that almost came up to my hip. It was enormous and mean looking and it viewed the world through squinting,piggy eyes. It looked like the kind of dog that Afrikaneers used to chase blacks with, except meaner and better fed.

After doing an almighty double-take at the dog (and almost jumping in front of a taxi with shock), I had a look at the owners.

Both were middle-aged junkies. I can't describe the look for you, but if you've ever seen a middle-aged junkie, you'd recognise them immediately. Think a slightly younger looking version of Ozzie Osbourne, except without the money. They were 40 going on 70. Shuffling, shambling, half out of their head morons. With a fucking enormous dog that could rip the arms of Mike Tyson in a second.

Dogs are not the problem. Badly behaved, badly trained (or not at all trained) dogs are the problem. Eliminate the bad dogs and their bad owners, and you eliminate the problem.

Clover, in her stupid, touchy-feely way, doesn't see the use of deadly force as an option. However, putting up fences is an exercise in force, albeit in a different way. A fence forces you to stay out of a certain area. You might say that it is the embodiment of using passive force, rather than active force. But it is force nonetheless, and I say "Stop pussyfooting around". Shoot the damned mongrel mutts and let kids and good dogs roam free.

Unions do not own our infrastructure

I've spotted a few Energy Australia trucks recently that had stickers on them opposing the privatisation of the NSW power industry. That ticked me off.

Then I spotted this today - but signs put up by the ETU outside the front of an Eneserve depot (I think Eneserve are the infrastructure division of Energy Australia).

What gripes me is that these twits are unable to tell the difference between their own private possessions (their house, their car, their frontyard) and publicly owned stuff, like work vehicles and work buildings.

You pricks do not own those Energy Australia vehicles. They are not yours. They should not be used to display your political opinions. Feel free to stick a sign up on your front door, or a sticker on your car - but not on your bloody work vehicle. And certainly not at the front gate of your workplace. It's not yours - got it?

Now, if the message has sunk in, get off your fat lazy arse and go and clean up crap like this. Go and do your god-damned job.

Alternative definition of doing a burn out

I took a wrong turn as I was going through Homebush today and ended up riding into this carpark. Actually, I didn't ride into the carpark at all. I saw this cooked car, then saw a bunch of yobs in hoodies hanging around looking like trouble, so I grabbed a photo and did a U turn.

Numerous questions come to mind when I see something like this.

Is this a stolen car that's been burnt after a robbery or a joyride?

Do the cops know about it? Have they been out to have a look?

Do the council know about it? Are they waiting for Police clearance before picking it up? Or are they blissfully unaware, and this car will sit there until it is naught but a collapsed pile of rust?

Other people are clearly using the carpark - have any of them tried to do something about it, or have they ignored it, thinking it is someone elses problem?

Personally, I'd like to see a lot more bogan cars going up in flames - but I just wish the council would take them away as quickly as possible. They're eyesores when they're running, and they're eyesores when they've been burnt out.

At least this thing won't be cruising around our suburb tonight going doof-doof-doof. There is something to be said for the odd bit of firebombing.

Anzac Day

As I rode west today, I passed a small war memorial at Concord and stopped to take this photo. I thought afterwards that I'd see how many other memorials I could photograph on my travels today, but lucked out at this one. I know there is a big memorial in Burwood (I have photographed it previously), but there didn't appear to be enough further west for me to stumble on them.

Note the flag in the background. It's actually a long, long way away, meaning that it is absolutely enormous. It pains me to say that I was unable to get out of bed this morning before sunrise to attend a service at a site like this. Put it down to an early morning attack of Monkey.

Yob snobs

I have come to understand why yobs (such as wogs with bling) are such arrogant arseholes.

It's because they are snobs.

Yes, that's right. The idiot with the bad haircut and the loud stereo in the Nissan Silvia next to you at the lights is an out and out snob.

He think he is so much better than you and me. Presumably because he drives a Silvia with an exhaust the size of a two litre Coke bottle.

That explains why these turkeys drive around with the window down, the seat cranked right back, cigarette in one hand and mobile in the other - they think they are vastly superior to you and me, and thus the only way we can be looked at is down ones nose.

These people have a problem with "respect" because they are snobs. Snobs expect to be respected. Take away the stupid baseball cap and the Nike shoes and jacket and put them in a suit with plus-fours and insert a monocle and the picture becomes oh so very clear.
This is so good, I just had to nick a copy for posterity:

“Ian McFadyen:

24 Apr 2008 9:51:15pm

As a skeptic, denier, contrarian, delusionist of what ever you want to call me, I’m happy to tell you what I think.

The climate change question is not one question but three.

  1. Is the world getting warmer?
  2. Is it because of human activity?
  3. Will the warming cause a disaster for humans?

My answers are as follows.

One: we don’t know if the world is getting warmer. Why not? Because we can NEVER know if the world - or anything else - is getting warmer. We can only know if it HAS warmed. It is something we can only measure AFTER the event, not during and certainly not BEFORE. Some scientists claim that the correlation between CO2 and temperature has been established and therefore as CO2 increases, temperatures must increase but correlations do NOT prove causality and even if there is such a causal relationshop, the effects relationship cannot be predicted by simple extrapolation because climate is a chaotic system with many unknown factors, feedback loops, homeostatic controls and butterfly effects. The warming predictors are putting forward a hypothesis that the world will get warmer, and then claiming that the hypothesis has been confirmed BEFORE it has been tested. This is not science.

Second. even if the world has been getting significantly, and I stress significantly warmer, (the increase in temperatures over the 20th century has been in the order of 1/500th), we cannot know if it is because of human activity. Again, not “do not” but “cannot”. Because we do not have a Control - i.e. planet that is identical to Earth but with no humans we can never isolate the human factor from all the others. There is simply no statistical way to separate the human from the natural factors - especially since we don’t even know all the natural factors yet.

Three: even if the world IS getting warmer, why might the benefits not be equal to or greater than the problems. e.g. longer growing seasons in high latitudes, less need for heating fuel in cold climates, permanent sea access around Canada, more rain in desert areas etc. Given all these uknowns, some of which are unknowables, the assurance and dogmatism of many climate scientists is a betrayal of the scientific method and represents not real scientific rigour but conjecture, hypothesising and perhaps even wishful thinking.”

Thanks to Pogria for doing the original copying from the ABC (no link).

Thursday 24 April 2008

Where's Noah when you need him?

Bugger me with a blunt stick - what's with all the rain recently here in Sydney-town? I've given up all hope of mowing the lawn - the ground is so soggy, you'd need a hovercraft to move the lawnmower more than an inch across the grass. The skies are leaden grey from horizon to horizon, and according to one of the local fishwraps, the lack of sunshine is getting everyone down. Depression is the new black. Everyone will be on prozac before we know it.

If that's the case, why wasn't everyone so happy during the drought? Surely all that extra sunshine would have put a smile on all the dials? It didn't? What is it with people - too little sunshine, get depressed. Too much sunshine, get depressed. What is the perfect amount of sunshine? 7 hours and 21 minutes a day?

But it's not getting me down. After two days out of the saddle (due to a non-riding medical problem), I hit the pedals again today. Of course it started to bucket down around one minute after the first turn of the crank, and by the 2km mark, I had water running up my legs. I gotta tell you, having streams of water running up your calves is the wierdest feeling. I'm not sure what caused it - probably some sort of osmosis effect caused by my leggings and sodden shoes.

The thing about the rain is that it winnows the wheat from the chaff, and those that are left on the road are the happy or the mad. Or possibly both. At one red light, I swapped happy greetings with a similarly sodden woman who looked like she had just climbed out of the bath (except she was wearing clothes instead of bubbles, and sitting on a bike), and we both shook our heads at the dickwad who went rumbling past us through the red, then sailed down the wrong side of the road..... in the pissing rain and darkness without a headlight. Sometimes you really have to wonder how some people make it from one day to the next. The woman next to me got quite agro and expressed an opinion that I have used before - "He's making us all look bad - dickhead".

Exactly. I am going to have to practice a Ninja throw with my bike pump. See if I can toss it through the front spokes of knobduster bikes in order to throw the twits over the handlebars.

Anyway, if you're riding in the rain, you might as well enjoy it. I do. And when I get home, I climb into a nice hot bath and soak myself some more. What's there to not enjoy about that?

Many years ago, I went to a music festival out at Eastern Creek. Can't remember what it was called. It was supposed to take off as a competitor to things like the Big Day Out, but the weather in Sydney was so bad, ticket sales were awful and the promoters went bankrupt. Alternative Nation? Whatever it was, I remember that Lou Reed was just dreadful, the Violent Femmes had lost the plot, Tool blew me away and Nine Inch Nails were unbelievably good.... except that one of the guys I was with had a bad Acid trip in the middle of their set and started seeing flying rats and we had to carry him back to the car and leave the show. I am pretty sure we saw Faith No More, but I have no memory of seeing them. L7 are another band that I can't remember seeing at all. Apparently Powderfinger also played the gig - back when they were a bunch of nobodies - and I certainly can't remember them. I did go straight out and buy a Primus CD after this gig though. I mainly remember the rain, the mud and the steam. And the guy with the rat halucinations.

A more sober view of events than mine:

Another disaster was 1995's Alternative Nation, a series of concerts held in three cities during the Easter long weekend in which Gudinski's Frontier Touring teamed with rival Michael Coppel Presents. Everything went wrong although the bill was a strong one. Two major acts, headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers and Stone Temple Pilots, pulled out. They were replaced by Nine Inch Nails and Lou Reed, who were paid a fortune to get them on board at short notice, but who added nothing to boosting extra ticket sales. A last minute change in venue in Sydney meant that the kids had to work out whether they wanted to make the trek way out to the boondocks. The Brisbane venue was right next to a church and the faithful were less than impressed with American rapper Ice T's copious and highly amplified use of the word "motherfucker" during his set. The kids thought the tour was a cash-in on the highly successful Big Day Out tour which shifted 250,000 tickets over six cities. Alternative Nation's broadcast partner Triple M playlist did not include most of the "alternative" acts to provide publicity. Finally torrential rains wiped out Alternative Nation. The talk was that the festival lost $500,000 each day.

Anyway, my point is that it rained and rained and rained and rained and Eastern Creek turned into a bog from one end to the other. At one spot, there was a slight hill, and people would trudge to the top of the hill, run down from the apex and then belly flop onto the grass and slide all the way to the bottom. Before long, the grass was gone and it was just one long sluice of mud. There were no clean people there. There were only mud people. Wet mud people.

At one point, a mud fight started in the mosh pit. The promoter, who was a really stupid bastard, came out mid-set and grabbed the mic and told the half dozen mudthrowers that if they didn't desist, he would shut the whole show down.

You could feel the mood shift in an instant. A ripple of savage indignation ran through the crowd like a shockwave. Before you knew it, thousands of happy music fans were ripping up all the turf and sod and mud underfoot and hurling it at the stage. I have never seen one person infuriate some many people in such a short time. He abandoned the stage, but the band kept on playing. Maybe it was L7? They had spirit. The mud was going absolutely everywhere - all of them, their instruments, their speakers, the stage - the whole thing - and they kept playing like proper troupers. They got a bit ragged as the mud built up on the drums and got into the guitar strings and mouths and eyes and ears and things, but they did their best.

Afterwards, roadies came out with shovels to clear the stage. It was a foot deep in what looked like churned up cricket pitch. I think that was the main reason why NIN started their set about an hour late. Which was probably why the bloke we were with started seeing flying rats, or bats, or cats, or whatever it was. Being a NIN show, he might not have been halucinating. But he was certainly freaked sufficiently for us to bug out.

The steam was the other thing. I have no idea who was playing - could have been Faith No More - but the mosh pit was going off. Absolutely heaving, and it stretched back from the stage for at least 50 metres. It was not a narrow strip say 20 people deep from the stage - it stretched back far and wide; possibly the largest moshing I have ever seen. This mosh pit was so frenetic, it generated its own weather. Even though it was still pissing down, enough heat was generated near the centre for all that wet clothing to start to steam, and before you knew it, we couldn't see the stage for the enormous clouds of steam that were rising up into the air. There are not many times when I have sweated in the rain, but that was one of them. It was so hot in that pit that although the air temp was probably about 14 degrees outside, it was warm enough for a lot of people to be jumping around without shirts on. Since then, I have never seen humans create their own outdoor sauna. I've seen it rain indoors at Selinas from a really sweaty mosh (Hunters and Collectors, Rollins Band), but not something like the outdoor spectacle at Alternative Nation.

The thing is, rain does not have to be miserable stuff. It all depends on your mental attitude.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Bullshit detection system

The screengrab below from the Energex website shows the output from their lightning detection system. The way it works is that a private company has a network of lightning detectors along the east coast of Australia (essentially AM radio recievers) and they detect and triangulate all lightning strikes. The system can detect lightning strikes all the way out to NZ (well, strong strikes).

Once the strikes are detected and triangulated, they are fed out to customers via the internet. The customers tend to be companies like electricity suppliers - people with the kind of infrastructure that gets damaged by lightning strikes (like Energex).

In the old days, it used to take over 24 hours for electrical system repairs to be made after a storm. There were two reasons for that. One was that before damage could be repaired, it had to be found - and that's not as simple as it sounds when you have thousands of kilometres of stuff to check. The other reason is that maintenance crews work shifts, and for a lot of these companies, most of the staff work from say 7am to 3pm. At 3pm, they all knock off and go to the pub - and are therefore very difficult to recall afterwards if there is damage to be fixed.

Once they got a lightning detection system in place, repair times plumetted. Firstly, because the controllers could look at the location of strikes plotted against a map of their infrastructure and work out with some accuracy where damage had occured. Crews didn't have to spend hours trawling up and down the line looking for a strike.

The second reason is that the system allows you to see a storm approaching, and the plotting allows you to predict with some accuracy where it is going to go. If you see a storm coming in at say 2pm, you ring the depot and tell all crews not to go home - they are now on overtime. You can even tell them to load up the trucks and head for suburb X, since a storm will hit there in two hours time. That way, crews can be pre-positioned and alerted as to the likely points of damage. You can't stop stuff being blown up by a strike, but you can speed up the time to fix it.

These systems work by colour coding the strikes and ageing out the old strikes. The screengrab shows the colour coding system. That way, you can easily see the path of a storm by looking at the pattern of colours.

It's a great system. It even tells you the strength of a strike, so you can filter out the low powered strikes and just look for ones that blow everything up when they hit. It also detects some in-cloud strikes - I didn't know until I saw this system that not all lightning hits the ground. Some just bangs around in clouds.

Pity we don't have a similar thing for detecting bullshit. Well, we do have bullshit detectors, but until now, no one has plotted bullshit pronouncements on a map, and then aged them using colour codes. It would have been good to have started around election time, and then plotted all the Kruddy announcements up until now. Stupid election promises would now be fading to a dark blue, whilst the crap that we heard on the weekend from 2020 would light up the map in a blaze of white - something like a nuclear blast.

I'll have to think about this.

Photographing clouds and things

I don't know why, but I like to photograph clouds and things when I am out and about. Got no idea why they are so fascinating, but I am obviously not the only one that feels that funny looking fluffy things are worthy of digital capture.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

The letter vs email

I'm running a little experiment at the moment. I'm examining the effectiveness of writing letters to people vs sending them a fax or an email.

All the stuff I am sending is purely in a private capacity - there's no business related stuff - but the letters that I have been despatching have been a request to someone to do something.

The response has been interesting.

Sending an email is a waste of time. Unless you are personally known to the recipient, it appears that most unsolicited emails end up being caught by a spam filter.

Faxes are sometimes treated as official correspondence, but not that often. None of the faxes that I have sent has resulted in a succesful outcome - that being, something being done about the thing I wrote about.

Filling in a web request form usually gets you nowhere as well, since no one seems to have been given the job of monitoring the output of those web pages. Or someone was given the job, and they have now left the company, and no one has picked up the baton.

I'm pleased to report that a good old fashioned letter works almost every time, unless you are dealing with our dopey local MP. A cluebat wouldn't work on her either. Waving a cheque under her nose might do the trick.

So after years of being promised that email will improve communications, lower costs, speed things up etc etc etc, I have come full circle and have reverted to writing letters. This from someone who was an early adopter of bulletin boards and Compuserve and wrote emails home from what I regard as the worlds first internet cafe in Seattle... at a time when the web did not exist.

That meant going to the post office today and stocking up on $10 worth of stamps, and I can sense that a visit to the supermarket to buy more envelopes is fast approaching.

Why has it come to this?

It all comes down to the seriousness of intent. An email costs nothing to send, and takes seconds to write. It lacks substance - it's too easy. It's too instant.

A fax is not much better. At least it has a signature on the bottom, and comes out on paper, but a fax only costs as much as a local call.

A letter on the other hand indicates that the writer is dead serious. No one writes letters anymore, so to start with, it's clear that the author is mad. It always pays to be attentive to mad letter writers - you might wake up one night and find them sitting on the end of your bed with an axe and a half plucked chicken and a mouthful of feathers.

A letter also costs serious money to send. The writer has to fork out for paper, an envelope and a 50 cent stamp. The writer has to be wound up enough about whatever it is they are writing about to sit down, write a properly formatted missive, sign it, fold it, find an envelope, stick a stamp on it - and then, most of all - walk down the road and post it. I think it is the walking down the road to post the letter that really implies intent, since it demonstrates that the author is willing to give up his or her time to the cause. When you get a letter from a lunatic like me, the reader can generally visualise a very steamed-up person stomping down the road to the letter box, yanking open the handle, slamming in the letter and bashing the slot shut. You just know that unless they get a quick and satisfactory response, they will march up to your office, kick the door in and set fire to your nostril hairs.

I think that also implies that if a response is not made, then the author will be walking down to the letter box repeatedly until they get what they want. Email is send and forget. Letter writers probably have a filing system that ensures that if a response is not recieved within 30 days, a follow up is sent.

Letter writers are also patient. They are like snipers. Never mess with snipers or letter writers. They are patient enough to write something, and post it....... and then wait a week or two for a reply. In our society of instant gratification, that illuminates a person like a beacon. No one is crazy enough to wait weeks for a response - except the mad letter writer.

If you want something done, reach for a stamp.

The BMWs that ate public housing

As usual, the Silly has a silly story in it today, this time about public housing.

From the title of the story, you can see that it is partly about public housing tenants driving fancy BMWs, which raises the question of why they are still sponging off public housing.

If you ask me, the whole area of "public housing" has become terribly confused. I don't think those at the higher echelons really have a clear policy as to who should get public housing, where and for how long.

I would have thought that it would be possible to divide tennants into two groups initially - those that should be transient public housing users, and those that will be permanent.

The "transient" group should only be offered housing for a relatively short time. These are people who are going through some sort of crisis - divorce, loss of job, accident etc - and they need somewhere cheap for up to a few years. Even mums with kids should not need public housing forever. Let's say you get divorced and you have two kids aged 2 and 4. In three years time, both will be at school, so it should be possible for mum to get a job, get some cash together and move onto privately rented housing. People in that position should not need public housing for say 20 years, and the expectation needs to be set that once the kids are at school, you bugger off.

And if you decide to have another kid in the meantime as a way to stay in cheap housing - too bad. Get the father to support you, because you are not sticking around.

Some tough love is required.

The permanent bunch are a different group altogether. The circumstances of aged pensioners for instance are unlikely to change (except through death or disability). There's no sense in expecting them to get a job and be able to afford a privately rented place, so they should get a lease until death or dementia.

The mixed bag in the middle are the mental cases. They are the people that probably would have been institutionalised 30 years ago, but they are now supposed to live in the "community" - except that no one wants to live next to them. Who wants a raving nutter for a neighbour? I don't. I want peace and quiet - respectable, law abiding sane people are the people I want to agglomerate with. I don't see how closing the mental institutions has saved the state any money - instead of sticking all the loonies in a boarding school type environment where they can be cheaply fed, washed, monitored and drugged, we've put them into expensive individual units scattered all over the countryside that require an army of social workers to ensure that they feed themselves, medicate themselves and remember to wipe their bottoms once in a while. The result has been a lot of badly fed, un-medicated smelly people running around the place.

And we've also ended up with a huge queue of people looking for public housing. Apparently 70,000 are on the list in NSW alone.

Why are there so many people waiting? Is it because fewer public housing units are being built, or is because the "temporary" type of tennants are never being moved on? Once someone gets a bit of public housing, do they now expect to stay there for life? If that's the case, they should be moved into an institution of some sort.

There really are times when I want to turn the clock back to about 1958, simply because public policy seems to have been driven more by the head back then than the heart. Yes, it's nice and warm and fluffy to have loonies living in the community, but I'm not sure that the loonies are really benefiting from all this. If you were a bit mad, what would you prefer? An environment where you got three hots and a cot per day, had pills handed to you on a regular basis and got to sleep in a clean bed each night. A place that was heated in winter and cooled in summer. A place where you could talk to other people, because they are mad as well, and don't mind talking to other lunatics.

Or would they prefer to live next to me - someone that doesn't give a fuck about them - in a place where they have to remember to shop for food, work out how to cook it, clean up after themselves, remember to pay the power and gas bills and all that stuff. Option 1 treats them like children, whilst option 2 treats them like adults - but are they really capable of being adults?

Social workers and community activists really should be shot, since they're the ones that got us into this mess.

Burning eyes

How can your eyes burn when it is absolutely pissing down rain?

That is an interesting question.

Monday morning was solid drizzle. Most rainy mornings, I will leave the house during a dry spell, thus having a bit of time to warm up before running into a patch of rain. Monday was different. I walked out to my bike in the rain. I saddled up in the rain. I rode all the way to work in the rain.

I got very, very wet. Even my ear canals were full of water. I had water up my nose. I am sure my bladder was fuller than usual from water being forced up the end of my knob. It was that kind of day.

What I did not expect was piercing, burning pain in my eyes about halfway in. I was rolling down a slight incline when it happened - it was like acid being poured into my eyes. It was agony to keep them open, but keep them open I had to do to avoid smashing into the back of a parked car. I managed to pull over in one peice, and a quick rub cleared the pain. I have no idea what caused it, but I have my suspicions.

I think the likely culprit is my helmet. Namely, the lining of my helmet. I reckon the lining is full of salt from sweat coming off my head, and that salt got washed out by the rain, accumulated in my eyebrows and then ran into my eyes as a concentrated brine solution.


Either that, or we are suffering from localised patches of acid rain.

I don't believe the acid rain option. I am simply going to wash out my helmet more often.

Sunday 20 April 2008

Oh fucking hell

If you can read this without wetting your pants, you are retarded.

Fuck a dead duck

I was reading the comments on a story at Blackfive this evening when I hit this:

I like to be optimistic, I'll look to more training time vs. being unemployed. I already have my training schedule at around 400 miles a week to start.....

Strike a light - 400 miles a week! Good grief. 640km. I'm lucky to crank that out in a month.

Some people must be impervious to pain.

Forget plastic bags - ban shopping trolleys

I rarely ride on the weekend, but had to today in order to collect my bike from work. The weekend is my time away from the saddle - time to let the legs loosen up and the sweat pimples on my bum to heal a bit.

Riding on the weekend is a completely different experience for me, since there is no time pressure to be anywhere, and the people out and about are in a different frame of mind. At 6.30am on a weekday morning, The Bay Run will be chockers with power walkers and dog walkers and bike commuters - all of them in a hurry - and all the cyclists will be sticking to a tried and tested route and everyone will be hell bent on getting to where they are going. No deviation from the planned route is allowed - focus on the job at hand.

A weekend ride though is completely freeform for me. I don't do pack rides, since I have no desire to ride 10 times per week and then get up at sparrow fart on the weekend and ride again. Everyone needs a bit of time off. So I just do the solitary thing, meandering wherever the great spirit takes, wherever the fuck I feel like.

One diversion today had me riding alongside this canal, and what should be sticking up out of the water?

A shopping trolley. This one is really well disguised as it has obviously been there for some time, and it has collected all sorts of detritus in its frame. This is the third trolley that I have spotted in the last 12 months sticking up out of one of our local water features.

The answer surely is to ban them. Yep, get rid of shopping trolleys. They are more of a hazard to navigation than plastic shopping bags. So what if you've got six kids to feed and the daily shop consists of 2 gallons of milk, 5 kilos of washing powder and a small moutain of food and meat? You'll just have to do without the trolley. Bring a wheelbarrow from home instead.

That of course is the sort of stupid policy some Green is going to come up with one day. It pollutes the waterways! It has to go!