Sunday 31 August 2008

Riding to Disneyland

A perhaps uncommon view of Sydney. There are many places around the harbour to take a photo of the city, but most of the ones that you see published all the time seem to be taken from the same few spots. This one was taken from a ferry wharf in somewhere or another around Drummoyne (navigation is not one of my strong points).

The houses around this area all sell for multiples of millions of dollars, all thanks to the view. The houses themselves are nothing to look at. Check out this place - I bet he asked his architect to build him a castle. I wonder if he keeps a pot of boiling oil on the balcony to repel Mormons.

Here we have Santa's grotto. You wouldn't want to come out of the garage a bit too quickly.

Tran and Nkomo go to lunch

I popped in on Tim Blair today and tried to do this:

And got this:

Same story over at Bolt's den of iniquity.

I used to have to deal with this sort of crap all the time, and it always seemed to occur on a Sunday when I was at the SCG watching the footy, or having a nap, or having a crap, or sitting in a nice restaurant about to start dinner, or whatever. It never happened when I was sitting around with nothing better to do than troubleshoot some infernal problem on a server on the other side of town.

The result of a few hundred of these sorts of things is that I now loathe mobile phones. I hate the blackberry even more. I hate them because to me, they were always the harbinger of bad news, like the priest turning up at the door is a messenger of death. A phone to me is a boat anchor that only transmits messages of doom.

People usually get sick of doing the 3am calls after a few years, so they outsource the management of their equipment. I went through that 4 times. When we managed our own kit (insourced), I had a simple $700 software application sitting on an old PC in the corner of an office which monitored about $20 million worth of stuff. Whenever something went down, the clunky old PC despatched an SMS to the person that owned whatever it was that had ceased to be. If it failed to come back on the air after a certain amount of time, it would send a message to their boss, and so on until someone fixed the flipping thing; whereupon we got another SMS to say that all was ok with the world, and you could go back to having sex with your significant other.

Then we outsourced, and that burden was supposedly lifted from our shoulders. We could have sex whenever we wanted, without worrying about the phone ringing a few seconds off the vinegar stroke.

What happened of course is that I'd be sitting at the footy, and my phone would vibrate, and there would be a message saying that some critical site halfway to Broken Hill was off the air. I'd look at it, smile (knowing that the outsourcer would fix it), and go back to watching the footy.

By about the 3rd term, I'd be getting worried as the "all is right in the world" message had not come through, so I'd ring the outsourcer and say, "What are you doing about critical site X?", to which they would usually respond with a, "Huh? We know nothing about that."

Although we were paying these boneheads millions of dollars per year, they had no monitoring system, and even if they did, they usually had no idea to fix the machine that was sitting halfway to Broken Hill now no longer doing what it was supposed to do. That meant of course that 5 minutes after I rang them to tell them that a critical service died an hour ago, I'd get a phone call from them asking how to fix it. Often as not, I'd have to go into the office and fix it myself.

Consequently, I have an even lower opinion of outsourcers than I do of mobile phones, and I have used 3 of the big international outsourcers and one of the bigger local players. They're worse than consultants, who borrow your watch to tell you the time, and then charge you for it.

But I hope that Tran and Nkomo are having a nice lunch somewhere, and not having to deal with this mysteriously dead server which is keeping Blairdom awfully quiet today. And I am so glad I am out of that game. My phone has not rung in the middle of the night for a few years now, and I am almost at the point where I can pick it up without first putting on a pair of gloves.


PS - I am sure this is all a conspiracy to stop Tim blogging about scorched. Cameron Daddo is probably running denial of service attacks from home, backed up by Georgie Parker marshalling zombiebots to flood Tim's links.

Did anyone actually manage to sit through Wild Hogs?

I tried watching it the other night - had one of those nights where I was awake at 2am and wanted something to keep me vaguely entertained until I conked out.

I gave Wild Hogs a go for all of about 10 minutes before turning it off. Has anyone made it any further into the movie? Is it worth sitting through any more of it in the hope that it might turn good in the 2nd act?

Or is it really a bucket of tripe from start to finish?

Nokia's crap new interface

After 4 days of messing around, I have at last configured my new Nokia N95 to look the way I want it to look - almost. Jeez, what a pain in the arse. Nokia have gone from having the simplest, most intuitive interface on the market to having something that feels like it was designed by Eskimos on smack. I have never, ever read the instruction booklet or help files that come with any phone - until now. It's a sad day for Nokia when one is reduced to reading the manual, which also reads like it was translated from Finnish to English by a German. Who didn't understand either language, but was fluent in Swahili.

I have fiddled with an awful lot of software in my time, and I have generally been able to work out how to use most programs within a few minutes. But the Nokia defeated me. Hell, I've even figured out how to use a Mac (after not touching one for 20 years) and been able to do some passable work on Linux based machines.

But not the Nokia. For crying out loud, I have even configured printers via telnet, or by fiddling with a few buttons and pressing them in a certain order. I'm also old enough to remember when modems had to be manually triggered to dial by typing in things like "atdt" and then a string of commands. If I go back far enough, I can even remember what a Telex machine looks like.

All I wanted to do with the new phone was change the shortcuts on the main interface. The ones it came with sucked. I wanted a shortcut to the camera, another to writing an SMS message, and one to the music function. It took me 4 days to figure that out. Four days. That's like 8,000 years in mobile phone years. Nokia probably released 19 new models onto the market in the time it took me to reconfigure mine. And the logic of their interfaces probably sucks dead dog's balls as well.

When this thing breaks, it's an iPhone for me. That was one very easy decision to make. I had to be burnt by Nokia's stupidity in order to make the switch.

And if someone mentions that getting a 12 year old to configure it for me might have been faster, I will turn it into a rectangular supository.

Saturday 30 August 2008

How gay was Rene?

The rumours are flying around now that Rene Rivkin and Gordon Wood were lovers.

Hmmm, have to delve into the memories of my halcyon youth to think about that.

When I first arrived in Sin City from the Wild West, I was taken under the wing by a group of friends who were almost all plugged into Rene in one form or another. I don't know why they took me in - they had wit and charm and threw wonderful parties, whilst I was crass and loud and better at throwing up than throwing a party. We had sunny picnics in the grass by the Hawkesbury River, arrived at nightclubs by Rolls Royce, and generally lived a Brideshead Revisited style of life, even down to the teddy bears that one of the girls collected.

They were the perfect dinner party crowd - lively, witty, chatty, cultured, learned, well-off, absolutely hilarious to be around and overflowing with gossip. The food was good, the wine was good and the conversation sparkled. Two of them had worked for Rene, and were still very close to him, and everyone else in the group caught up with him from time to time.

By complete accident, I even ended up living across the street from him at one point, although I never met the guy. However, he was all we heard about on some days, because the boys just worshipped the ground he walked on.

Here's the rub - the guys in the group all thought the world of Rene. You might almost say that they loved him (they were not what I would call the most robust of men - they loved testosterone pursuits, like drunkenly crashing Rene's speedboat onto some rocks - but they were not in the same league as the uggboot wearing, roo-shootin', ute driving, flannel shirt wearing, footy-playing beer scullers that I was used to. When I put on my tux, it was to go to a B&S, get filthy drunk on Bundy and Coke and perhaps to roll around in the mud on the side of a dam at 3am - if I lasted that long. When they put on a tux, it was to attend a ball at the University and Schools Club, followed by brandy and cigars.

The long and the short of it was that me and a few of the girls were absolutely sure that Rene was doing at least one of the boys on the side. We'd meet for dinner at someone's house and the first few G&T's would be drunk listening to a regurgitation of the wit and wisdom of Rene. Rene had said this, Rene had said that, Rene was buying something or other - so they did to.

Rene ended up buying one of them a Harley Davidson for his birthday. At that point, me and the girls looked at each other and said, "That has to be the final straw - he must be taking it up the bum to get a Harley from Rene."

We were furiously shouted down by two of the other boys in the group, but they were always a bit suss. Neither had a girlfriend, or showed any interest in women, for all the time that I knew them. They took holidays together to Europe, coming back with bags full of Versace. They never set the gaydar off, but years later, I ran into one of the girls, and she told me that they eventually came out of the closet as lovers, so their protests that the Harley-recipient was also not a semen-recipient ring a bit hollow. I have seen the odd photo of Rene and his boys published in the paper, and have noted some familiar faces in a few of them.

From what I can tell, Rene loved to entertain. He loved the company of other people - except that those other people were almost always men. The group I hung with were 50/50 male and female, and they were as tight a group as you'd get, given that they all went to the right schools, grew up in the right suburbs, went to Uni together etc etc etc - but whilst the men were invited to hang with Rene a lot, the women never were. They'd certainly met him quite a few times, but women were not part of his circle.

So what can I say, except that back at that time, I was sure he batted for the other team on a regular basis, and that he was doing a few of the boys in our group. We even used to rag one of them, calling him a toyboy and the like, and he took it pretty well. He might have even be proud of the term. The only evidence I have is circumstantial, but it was just so suss, it wasn't funny.

Friday 29 August 2008

Ron Brunton was so right about the ABC lying to him

I read this post over at Bolta about Ron Brunton and his "interesting" time on the ABC board, and when I read it, I thought - "Yep, been there and seen that".

I used to work in the IT department of a large government organisation. I was in what I guess might be termed the middle level of middle management. Senior enough to see and contribute to a few board papers, technical enough to still mix it with the frontline Dilberts.

We had a complete network catastrophe at one point, thanks to a worm that flooded every network link with traffic. The disaster was so bad, some distant country sites were off the air for over a week. Everyone in IT had to work stupidly long hours to clean it up, and even major sites like head office were down for a few days. Thankfully, it didn't get into what I would call our "operational" network - if it had, Sydneysiders would have had a rough week.

This story might take a while to tell, but in the end, you'll understand what Ron Brunton was on about.

The company in question had offices and sites all over the place, and we also had many server rooms scattered around the country. I was working back a bit one night - kind of the last one there - when the phone rang. It was the Network Manager. His monitoring system had picked up a spike in traffic from the site that I was at, and he was ringing in the hope that a Dilbert was still there and could look at it for him.

Well, a Dilbert was there - me. At this point, it was maybe 6.30pm. He asked me to look at a few servers, which I did, and I couldn't see anything obviously wrong. The network traffic buildup was getting worse, so he hot-footed it over from the site that he was at to my site. We spent about 10 minutes poking around and throwing possible theories about the cause at each other, but none of them panned out when we ran a few tests.

I finally suggested that we might have been hit by the blaster worm. That was a longshot, as the worm had been around for a while at that point, it was well known, and we had been told in one management meeting after another by a certain window licker that every system had been patched to protect us against this worm. Our boss had raised patchaing against worms as an issue in meeting after meeting since the initial devastating release onto the internet of the slammer work, and we had been reassured time and time again that the patch had been applied. We'd been hit by the slammer worm earlier in the year, so patching our systems was top priority.

At that time, there was no anti-virus protection against the worm. The anti-virus software companies were working flat out on a solution, and until they released one, having the latest anti-virus software with up to date virus definitions was no good. The only way to keep it out was to apply the patches from Microsoft.

Now my timeline might get a little tangled here, as it was 5 years ago, and I went through that period with very little sleep. But essentially it started in that server room with me and the other manager trying to figure out what the hell was going on. We'd had yet another management meeting that morning, where the window licker had assured us that all systems were patched, and stupidly, we had all believed him without checking for ourselves (he had a history of being economical with the facts).

So we rang him on his mobile, and got yet another assurance that everything - and I mean everything - had been patched. We had a system for automatically pushing out patches, and he told us that it had been merrily pushing it out since the patch was released. After that, I am pretty sure we then rang our boss to let him know that we had a problem. When we suggested a worm, he poo-poo'd it as we had been repeatedly told that the patch had been pushed out, so it just wasn't possible. That discussion went on for a while as the network manager tried to get approval to apply a meat cleaver to the network to isolate the problem - that was a drastic measure, and not one taking lightly.

Me, be the curious type, decided to test the assertion that we were fully patched. It's quite easy to check a computer to see what patches have been applied. I started at one end of the server room, and checked the servers one by one. The other manager started at the other end of the room. After 5 minutes, we came to the depressing conclusion that not one had been patched.

Not one.

So we rang fuckwit back, and asked him to clarify. We had a whole bunch of server rooms - let's call them A through G - and we were in room C. We asked if he meant had he patched perhaps only all the servers in room A, which was the biggest. No, he responded, all were done. He was quite adamant about that. He had a system for pushing out the patches, and he said it had done its job (although he never provided the reports that we asked for in meetings showing what percentage of systems had been patched - which the system could provide).

That's when my rather fiery colleague exploded and told him that of the 70 servers in room C, none had been done. The worm was in our network, and spreading fast. By the time that call concluded, network links were becoming so congested, we were unable to remotely access other sites (the worm blasted out a huge amount of traffic, which meant that a few infected machines could quickly choke the network).

In short, we were fucked. One way to stop the infection spreading was to take sites off the air, but that meant getting into the network equipment remotely to shut the links down - and by then, the links were too choked to get into them remotely. We couldn't quarantine the uninfected sites. It was too late. If dickhead had told us at the start that he hadn't done any patching, we might have realised straight away what the problem was, giving the network team time to quarantine the infected sites and prevent a disaster from breaking out. As it was, his continual lying screwed us royally.

Afterwards, I figured that I should have known he hadn't done a damned thing. We had a monitoring system for our servers that detected when they were down, and installing the patch required a reboot. That would register on the monitoring system, and it had not picked up a reboot since the patch came out. He hadn't done anything because the reboots could only be done out of hours, and he was not the sort of guy to stay back until 11pm patching and rebooting servers, or to come in on Saturday and do it. I usually worked on Saturday, and I had never seen him in the office on a weekend. The penny should have dropped much earlier.

The other thing about applying patches back then is that on some occasions, they screwed the server you were patching. Any server administrator was stuck between the rock of getting wormed and the hard place of having angry users abusing you because one of the servers you patched just died and refused to restart. I don't know if he was too chicken to face an occasional dead server, or whether he was just plain lazy, but whatever his problem was, he lied to his fellow managers, and he lied to our boss. And he lied about this again and again and again.

But we were too busy to rip his head off - we had a network to clean up. The first thing we had to do was patch, by hand, every bloody server. Because every network link was choked, we couldn't download the patch from a central server like we normally did. We had to copy the patch onto a floppy or CD and go from server to server, applying it like we did back in the stone age.

The desktop staff had to visit every single PC in the company and do the same - there were over 5000 of them, scattered over more than 200 sites right across the country. Blokes got in their cars the next morning, packed enough clothes to last them the week, plus a CD with the patch, and simply started driving. One went north, another south and the last went west. They got home over a week later, utterly knackered, after visiting every two-bit outpost in our far-flung empire. They were less than impressed. Their users, many of whom were off the air for a week, were also less than impressed. We normally had a big backlog of work - that was now even bigger because we'd lost over a week, and were so exhausted, a few days off were required before normal operations could start again.

Fuckwit tried to be nice to everyone, but he got the cold shoulder. I think someone told him to lie low for a while.

But here is the kicker, and for my comparison with the ABC.

When it was all over, my boss had to write a report explaining what had happened. I thought it was pretty simple - fuckwit had failed to do his job and lied about it in our weekly meetings, then he'd lied about it when the infection broke out, and he continued to lie about it until we laid out the evidence of his slackness in front of our mutual boss. The only way to convince our boss was to take a screen dump from an unpatched system and stick it in front of him, and then tell him that was typical of all our servers.

Our boss tore fuckwit to shreds, and he finally admitted that maybe he meant he had only patched the servers that sat under his desk!

Our boss was a very loyal bloke - perhaps too loyal - for he proceeded to write a report that whilst technically feasible, failed to mention any of the above. It talked about many other organisations being hit, like banks and so on, and the fact that no antivirus protection existed at the time (antivirus fixes were released a day or two into the outbreak, but we couldn't push them out due to the network links being choked, and you still had to patch the server or PC before the fix was effective) etc etc etc. It talked about all the hard work our staff did to clean it up. But essentially, it was a crock.

I read the report and exploded. I put my feelings on the record by sending our boss an email saying that I could accept a lot of things that fuckwit had done, but I could never accept blatant lying. How could he expect me to work with someone that I could no longer trust? For that reason alone, I wanted the bastard sacked. He'd lied to us, he'd lied to our boss - that could not be tolerated.

My boss quietly ignored my rant, plus the rants from my other angry managers and our furious staff (who all knew the truth), and submitted a report that pretty much whitewashed the whole affair. For all I know, that report made it all the way to the Premier, since our organisation was an "essential services" one. It was really sensitive stuff.

How "sanitised" was the report?

There is a scene in Buffalo Soldiers where a tank crew shoot up heroin, and then go on a wasted rampage through a town before finally destroying a petrol station. The tank drives over the petrol pumps, crushing them, which results in petrol spraying everywhere before igniting in a huge fireball. The tank drives off, with the crew being none the wiser.

Imagine writing a report that said that the petrol station was destroyed by a "stray spark", whilst ignoring the fact that a heroin-addled crew drove a tank through the station in the first place. The report was truthful, so far as leaving out the bit about the tank and the heroin gave you the full and complete picture about what actually happened.

Why did no one speak out?

I have no idea. Many of our users knew the truth - they'd ask the guys who came to fix their PC what was going on, and they didn't hold back from telling them the facts. Pretty much the entire company soon knew that fuckwit had fucked up, and many knew that he'd lied about it. Many that I spoke to just shrugged their shoulders when I mentioned fuckwit, since they'd had dealings with him, and they knew what he was like. This was simply added to the catalogue of "misfortunes" that he had inflicted on the company and those he worked with.

So, what happened in the end?

Fuckwit didn't get sacked - he got a pay rise.

Most of us involved in that fiasco later left the company. Fuckwit was retained. As far as I know, he is still there.

Ron Brunton doesn't know half of what goes on down in the engine room, and the crap that management spins from time to time.

Window lickers and their phones

I was forced to move into the 21st century yesterday. I broke the latest incarnation of my venerable Nokia 6210 - a phone that was discontinued around the time of the Sydney Olympics (I think). My first one was a work issued phone, and I liked it so much, I stuck to the model through thick and thin. The company I worked for bought hundreds of them, and people were always returning used (but serviceable) models as they retired, resigned, died etc. If I broke my handset, I simply went and saw the phone guy and he would pull one out of his bottom drawer for me.

The other thing that saw me stick to it was that I have a car kit installed for that model, and Nokia, being bastards, changed the fittings on newer phones so that a handset made after about 2003 won't fit into it. Yes, you can buy adaptors and things to help with the changeover, but I couldn't be bothered going to all that trouble to move away from something that met my needs perfectly well.

I view a phone like a hammer - it is a strictly utilitarian device used to perform a few simple functions. I even used my old handset to bang in the odd nail, so you can't accuse me of being a luddite when it comes to using technology in new ways.

It all came to an end yesterday when I broke handset number 7. I won't go into the "how", but I snapped the power button off the motherboard, and that was the end of that. I could have bought another replacement on e-bay, but it would take a week to arrive. On top of that, the pins in the car kit are shot - the phone gave up recognising the car kit about a month ago. That car kit has seen an awful lot of use.

And to cap it all off, handset 7 of 7 went through power like a desalination plant in a drought. I'd get barely a day out of a battery, when that same battery would last 6 of 7 for a week. Something was wrong with its innards. I decided that there would be no more reconditioned phones for me.

So I bought a Nokia N95. A fancy phone. One that has a camera, can play videos, has a radio, an MP3 player, a GPS and all sorts of other stuff that I will probably hardly ever use. I got it home, stuck the SIM card into it and then went to perform a very simple, but vital function. I had to send a text message to a work colleague.

Do you think I could work out how to send a simple SMS message? Nooooooooo. I managed to take some photos, view a bit of video, backup the memory card to my PC, find my location with the GPS and upload a few hundred songs to it; but I could not send or recieve an SMS.

Now I only used my old phone for a few things - storing phone numbers in the address book; talking to people and sending and recieving the odd text message. (Actually, since I used to be connected to an automated alarm system, I used the phone to read thousands of text messages that basically told me to get out of bed at 3am and fix something that was busted at work. That gave me a very good reason to hate mobile phones with a passion).

What use is a phone that won't do SMS? I'll tell you - no use at all. It might as well be a $500 brick.

In the end, I had to reload the firmware in order to get the entire messaging function to work (which includes mobile email and other useless fruit that I'll probably never bother with). That finished about midnight. So the urgent text message that I had to send at 2pm got send at 7am this morning.

The amazing thing is that with phones 1 of 7 through to 7 of 7, I just pulled them out of the box (or the bottom drawer), turned them on and started using them. It was like buying a car, inserting keys in the ignition and driving away. This bloody N95 - using it was more like assembling and launching a space shuttle. What a frigging rigmarole.

I was going to talk about window lickers, wasn't I?

When we first got the 6210 at work, it was a very fancy model. About 10 of us in the office got them on the same day, and we all got them with a plain, silver cover. Except for Fuckwit - he had to be different. He insisted on getting the next model up, which had bluetooth, and I suspect the real reason he wanted it was because it had a very cool, dark green and bronze cover. He never used the bluetooth feature in all the time he had the phone, but he talked about it an awful lot.

What a window licker. I'm so glad I don't work with him anymore.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Airlines shooting old ladies?

It's a sad day when a major paper can't tell the difference between shoot and chute.

It's not like they've used the word "shoot" only once as well.

It's in the title.

It's in the text.

It's also in the link:

Looks like fairfax has made a bunch of 40 year olds who can spell redundant, and employed a cheaper bunch of high school dropouts. Then again, given the state of education these days, the goose that passed this probably has a PhD in English Lit.

Correction - they've also used it on the link on the front page as well.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

How to be robbed by Gypsies

The time was 1991. The Big T and I were traipsing around Europe, dashing in and out of cities in a day in a whirlwind of museums, drinking and train journeys into the unknown. We'd frozen in Edinburgh, slummed it in amazingly disgusting French "hotels", slept in the corridor of a TGV, consumed much cheap French plonk (sold in 2 litre plastic bottles like Coke), and managed to persuade an Italian pizza restaurant to make us a Hawiian pizza.

It had been an amazing, fun filled journey, but after 5 weeks, we had to part as the Big T had to go back to somewhere in the middle of nowhere to bang rocks together. He was flying home from Rome, so we were to say our farewells at the train station where he would catch a train to the airport.

We'd spent a couple of weeks in Italy, going through Venice, Genoa, Naples and lots of other cities, looking at art galleries, statues of nude men and leaning towers and all that sort of thing, and in that time, we'd seen a lot of gypsy kids robbing tourists. We'd also experienced the fun of overnight train travel, where you essentially had to superglue your valuable possessions to your body so that you wouldn't be robbed during a bit of shuteye.

The worst place for the gypsy kids was the Spanish Steps in Rome. We watched a van load of plod turn up as we were buying ice cream. They jumped out of the van, pointed submachine guns at the kids and had them turn their pockets inside out. Of course the kids were wise to this, and the one with the stolen wallet had already done a runner (the police were accompanied by an irate looking American tourist - we could work out what had happened even with our bad Italian language skills). By that stage, we had stayed in a lot of youth hostels and spoken to an awful lot of travellers that we had met along the road. All passed on stories of being robbed, or nearly robbed by these bands of rapacious thieves.

We had made it through the trip with only one robbery - we went out for dinner when we were in France, Big T left his camera in our room and we came back to find it gone. Luckily, Big T spotted the miscreant making off with it, and he was collared and the camera handed back. I call Big T the Big T because we had rowed together, he was a ferocious rugby player and he's the sort of farmer's son that you'd see walking across a field with a sheep under each arm. The Big T probably only weighed 100 kilos at that point, but he was so broad, he had trouble walking up some of the narrow staircases in those ancient French pensions that we stayed in (don't even think of asking about the horror of the beds). The French thief was lucky to have not sailed off the roof of that pension.

Anyway, there we were, in Rome, with the main train station on the other side of a fairly major road. All we had to do was cross 6 lanes of traffic (never a simple thing to do in Italy), get into the train station, shake hands and go our separate ways. I think I was heading for Naples, and then Greece, Turkey and so on.

We get partway across the road when we are accosted by a band of Gypsy women. Don't ask how I knew they were gypsies - spend a month on the road in Europe, and you'll pick up the knowledge. They got in really close to us, and one of them pressed a baby up against the chest of Big T. All the time, their hands were out and they were wailing and begging for money.

The baby was a new trick. We'd heard of gypsy pickpockets sticking a newspaper into the chest of a Mark so that they couldn't see the hands underneath the paper emptying their pockets. But the idea of the baby was the same - distract the Mark, pick their pockets.

Given that the Big T was flying out in a few hours, and that his pockets contained his ticket, passport and wallet, that might have been slightly disastrous. Luckily, he felt a hand in his pocket, and he reacted. Remember, this guy was about 100 kilos and had played a lot of rugby. But even he had an enormous amount of trouble fending off this little woman with the baby - she was so intent on getting his wallet, she was attached like a limpet.

In the end, he swung and connected and flattened her in the middle of this 6 lane road (with mad Italian traffic roaring past in both directions). At that point, the gypsies gave up and split. When we got into the safety of the station, Big T pulled out his wallet and showed it to me - it was leather, but her fingernail had taken a huge gouge out of the leather. She had been really intent on robbing him.

I forget what happened next, but they got away, the Big T safely boarded his plane and went home to bang rocks together and I went on to a boozy week on Corfu, followed by another month or more of travelling.

But no one ever reproached the Big T for absolutely flattening this woman with the baby in the middle of a major road. The Italians had seen it all before, and were thoroughly sick of it. Some witnesses might have even shaken his hand.

If the Italians ever decide to rebuild the Colloseum, the first sport they could put on would be gypsies vs lions. I'd pay good money to see that.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

How to ruin a succesful education outcome

From the Australian this morning comes a story on the WA Libs election launch.

I notice it was held in the Octagon Lecture Theatre at UWA. That's where I used to fall asleep during Economics 100 classes, alternated with making hundreds of paper planes to throw at the lecturer. I even managed to get one to skid across the plate of the overhead projector at one point.

Education? I know all about education.

Mr Barnett said Labor had mismanaged energy, education and justice. He said his top priority if elected on September 6 would be education.

"Look at Labor's record," he said. "There are now 14,000 less students in our government school system than there were in 2001. For the first time in our state's history, our government schools system has actually declined. We will restore confidence in government education in this state - and we will start with our teachers." Mr Barnett promised to boost the Government's pay offer to teachers by $120 million, regardless of the outcome of a teachers' ballot.

He pledged $300 million for 14new schools and $50 million for school upgrades.

If you ask me, a smaller state education system is a better system. I still can't figure out why the state is as involved in education as it is. How about this for an idea - the state stops trying to compete with the private sector by hurling useless battalions of bureaucrats at schools, hamstrung by the Teachers Union and a million petty policies and rules, and instead concentrates on things like setting the curriculum (and then leaving it alone), inspecting schools for quality and funneling cash to schools (preferably via vouchers).

The worst thing that the state can do is to run around building more schools and employing more teachers, because teachers and schools only bring grief. It's like they're saying, "I want a bigger hammer to hit myself in the forehead with". Education is one of those areas where a government can never win, so it is best off divesting itself of as much of it as possible.

It seems Labor was smarter here - if the number of kids being educated falls, less teachers need to be hired by the state system, so the power of the teachers union is at least checked, if not reduced.

Personally, I'd be happy if the state was reduced to running about 10% of the schools that it does now, with the rest being run along the Swedish model. That 10% would represent the most difficult and intractible schools, which might get some focus for once in a much reduced system.

Why a government wants to employ lots of teachers is beyond me. It's like the government wanting to build cars. You want to know how effective state education is? Think British Leyland and the P76.

Monday 25 August 2008

Rodd Island

This post may only be of passing interest if you are keen on death to rabbits.

Rodd Island was originally used as a research station for studying the use of chicken cholera to kill rabbits. I ride past it everytime I go around the Bay, and I finally stopped this week to read a plaque on the foreshore that tells you some useless information that can be trotted out at dinner parties.

I'm not sure how deep the water is out there. You could probably walk halfway to it at low tide.

Sunday 24 August 2008

What is a scientist?

Thanks to global warming, we hear a lot about scientists.

We hear that a majority think this, or the majority think that, or that such-and-such has signed a something-or-other.

Today, the SMH even made mention of an "emminent scientist", but that had something to do with turning "Colin" the whale into sushi - "colin in my colon", so to speak.

That got me thinking - what is a scientist, and even more curiously, what is an "emminent" scientist? How do you become a scientist?

The accepted wisdom seems to be that a scientist was someone that had completed a science degree. But that is a very modern condition. I am not going to bother researching this (too little sleep last night), but I presume that great scientists like Franklin, Archimedes, Edison, Pasteur, Curie and Newton didn't exactly follow that route. A degree is only thought of as a necessary condition in these times of educational achievement inflation. It used to be that a member of the aristocracy or the upper classes could develop say an interest in rocks, send away for a few books on the subject, have dinner with a local expert once a month and then build a collection from their estate in the conservatory. Next thing you know, this upper-crust twit with a taste for Oxford cloth and plus-fours has developed a new theory on plate techtonics or something like that (I made all that up - simply as an insight into how "amateur" scientists actually did a lot of the work until our degree factories started turning out white coated lab technicians without a spark of insight in their newly mortar-boarded skulls).

What about being published? Is that a necessary condition? I write quite a bit of stuff (mostly crap), have been published from time to time in various newspapers and magazines (I even made it into Penthouse once) - but I would never call myself a "writer", let alone an "author". Many "scientists" only want to get published in order to secure a job, or to help their application for their next research grant. The volume of publications that a scientist gets into is more a sign of their desperation for tenure or cash than an indicator of their achievements in advancing the field of human knowledge.

I went to uni with a bloke who was completely brilliant, and he became what I would call a scientist. He was the smartest guy in the state, as judged by the statewide final year exams at school. He walked away with the University Medal, which goes to the student with the highest marks. He went on to study at Oxford, where his lab was showered with cash from some patent or another so that he could poke the AIDS virus with machines that went "ping". From there, he moved on to UCLA and a nice lab in San Francisco that was awash with even more money for AIDS research. I figured that this guy was so bright, if someone discovers the cure for AIDS, it will be him. (He is also insanely hard working).

Anyway, about 10 years ago, Chris and I did a little round the world sojourn and dropped in on him in San Fran for a couple of nights of beer and catching up. Chris had a big advantage over me, in that he had 4 years of Ag Science under his belt, so he was able to tell one end of a sheep from the other. Believe me, that helps when discussing breakthroughs in AIDS research over a few dozen beers.

We got to talking, and we popped the big question after touring the lab and looking at lots of machines that went "ping", examining hordes of rats and seeing legions of white coated researchers scurrying this way and that. The question was this:

"JC, what exactly is it that you do?"

His answer was quite simple. And remember, this is the smartest, best educated, hardest working individual you are ever likely to meet.

"I spend my days writing applications for grant money".

Us: "OK, and after that? Do you poke around the insides of cell DNA with an electron microscope? Have a video conference with the smart cookies at MIT? Peer into test tubes?"

JC: "No, that's my day. I just write grant applications. And occasionally go to meetings."

Us: "And what do you discuss at these meetings? New methods for deciphering how the virus works? Ways to prevent transmission? New analysis methods?"

JC: "No, we generally talk about how our grant applications are going. And if we've been succesful, we fight over how many graduate students each lab gets."

Us: "Ummmmmmmmmmmm....... where can we get some proper American style ribs?"

So that's how the biggest brains on the planet spend their days.

JC did relent after a while and took us back to the rat lab to show us his favourite rats. He had lots of rats. He explained how many millions of dollars a year he spent on buying, feeding and housing rats. It was a lot of money. You could feed half of Ethiopia on the money that he spent on rats.

Us: "So what do you do with your rats?"

JC: (Stroking a fine looking specimen) "We inject them with stuff, then we kill them, chop their tails off, put the tails in a blender, and then test samples of the tail soup."

Us: "And how often does that happen around here?"

JC: "About every 5 minutes".

That is still the best explanation that I can give anyone as to how research labs work. A cure for AIDS will be delivered on the tails of a million expensive, well fed rats. In a blender.

JC did come through with the great American ribs. Trouble is, he directed us to a place that was deep in a suburb that had never seen white men before. It was a pretty cool sort of joint - I guess the owner had played basketball at one point, for photos of black basketballers adorned almost every surface of the interior. We ordered, acted like Martians from another planet (ie, sat around and were completely oggled by about two dozen locals who could not believe the temerity of one honky, let alone two, walking into their turf.

We collected our ribs and split. The next day, we mentioned to someone we met that we'd been to wherever it was. The expression on their face would be like if you walked into Faluja a few years back with a herd of pigs and a sign saying, "If you're sick of rooting goats, try a pig for once".

Anyway, I have a slightly jaundiced view now of scientific research, and people purporting to be scientists.

This is my view of a real scientist.

When we were at uni, we went on a road trip one weekend to JC's farm. Or his parent's farm, to be more specific. We spent Saturday night making petrol bombs and trying to set a recently fallen and rather wet tree on fire. The tree had to go, so we were performing a valuable service for this parents.

The petrol bombs were made from empty beer bottles, and the empty beers bottles were made by drinking the beer that they contained. The more we felt like burning things, the more bottles we required, so the faster we drank them, so the faster we got drunk.

JC, having an enquiring mind, wondered whether a mix of diesel and petrol would do better service as the oil in the diesel would stick to the tree and burn longer. That progressed to mixing up a mild form of napalm, which we set off by perching molotov cocktails with a burning wick on the tree and then shooting at them with various rifles. JC then progressed by trying to evaluate the probability of one or all of us ending up in Casualty before the night was over... and calculating whether we would run out of beer before we all passed out, or ended up with 3rd degree burns.
I have no idea how the night finished up, and I think JC's note book became indecipherable about the point where we ran out of beer and start on VO Invalid port.

But the next morning, we had one scorched tree and a herd of rather frightened cows.

So we blew up the tree with dynamite and went home.

Now that's science.

Friday 22 August 2008

Scorched.TV is a crock of crap

What a pile of badly put together crap.

On the advice of Tim Blair, I decided to shoot a short clip of the rain falling in our backyard, and the water puddling on the lawn and turning it into an impassable swamp.

I tried to upload my clip to scorched. No matter what link I clicked on anywhere in the website (like the one below that says UPLOAD VIDEO), up pops.... guess what?

A stupid pop-up box inviting you to send an email. How are you supposed to upload a fucking video clip using an email box that does not allow you to attach an attachment?

As a fucking idiot put it some time ago, these people are cretans.

PS - the sand pit is now a mud pit. It looks like I won't get to have my daily ride today because it is just too WET and fucking DAMP and NOT DRY out there for it to be pleasant.

To the Harbour Bridge - and beyond!

I'm trying to ride 100 miles a week. To stave off boredom, I try to head for a different point of the compass every day. Yesterday was North Sydney day.

Here's a panoramic shot from the Sydney Observatory, looking west. Click for bigger view. This is where all the fitness fanatics hang out at lunch time - there must have been 50 trim people running around, doing situps, boxing etc etc.

Here is the view looking east. Not so attractive. But when I see all those RTA breakdown trucks parked there, it makes me wonder how many idiots run out of petrol on the bridge. Must be a lot. Is it getting worse with higher petrol prices - ie, people running their tank emptier and emptier as their wallets get lighter and lighter?

Here is the observatory itself (this one's for you, Ross). If I had bothered to take my bike lock, I might have popped in for a decko.

Clover Moore is spending big on building bike lanes, which I like. But the construction work is a bit hard to get around - here is a lane under construction near the Slip Inn (don't ask me about street names in Sydney - I navigate from pub to pub). This is a bastard of a hill to get up with two lanes missing, being squashed into traffic and having agro drivers behind you fuming at the road works.

Another bastard of a hill - you have to ride up this to get onto the bike lane on the bridge. When people walk down this hill, they hang onto the rail and lean back about 20 degrees.

There and back was almost 2 hours exactly on the road (including stops to take photos). Not a bad bit of exercise.

Thursday 21 August 2008

Memories of cars ancient

I was reading this fascinating story over at Flight Level 390 about a brake failure when it reminded me of a beast I used to own - a Rover 3500 like the one shown below.

How did I make the connection?

Fi-fi (the plane) had a broken skid sensor wire in the brake system. Fi-fi is some sort of new-fangled Airbus, the model of which I am always forgetting, but it was the bit about the sensor that triggered a memory.

This Rover, from 1969 (or thereabouts) had a brake pad wear sensor for the front pads. It was a very simple arrangement - the pad had a wire embedded in it so that when the pad wore down to that point, it made contact with the brake disk, completed a circuit and triggered a warning light on the dash. From memory, it was the same light as the handbrake - if you disengaged the handbrake and the light stayed red, it was time to replace the pads.

Those old Rovers also had a really simple method of telling you when an indicator bulb had blown - the indicators would fail to "blink" on that side on the dashboard. If you indicated to go left and the little green arrow light came on and stayed on, it meant either the forward or rear bulb had blown. I guess it just took a bit of forward thinking in the design of the electrical wiring to make that work.

I don't know why they had the brake wear sensor - perhaps pads wore faster in those days (although since they were probably full of asbestos, they might have lasted longer than a modern set). Maybe pads weren't checked at the regular service, or so many people did their servicing themselves at home that they generally forgot to check the pads.... who knows. But I thought it was a great bit of engineering, and an interesting safety feature.

Given the number of cars that I see driving around these days with no working tail lights, you'd think some sort of blown globe warning system would be engineered into every car on the road. If they could do it in 1969, I'm sure it could be done today.

My only stipulation would be that they didn't use a British wiring harness. I never drove my old Rovers anywhere without a can of WD-40 handy. Or two. I used it a lot.

Little fuckers

Found another franger in the street today - an ansell ultra thin number.

I am going to have fun with these fuckers if I ever catch them at it.

Your choice - feed them or shoot them

There's a nice little story over at Bolta's about feral dogs eating a dead bloke.

I blogged a while back about a mate of mine who was a cop in WA back in the late 1980's/early 1990's and what he had to go through when dealing with our indigenous brethren.

One of his postings was to Kalgoorlie. He told me how they used to drive around at night in a paddy wagon shooting feral dogs with their Police issue pistols (using privately bought sub-sonic ammo, which makes less noise). He thought it was great target practice, and by the sound of it, he shot an awful lot of dogs.

Collecting the dogs was easy. They'd pick up a drunken blackfella to start with, put him in the back of the wagon, and tell him to get out and collect the carcases after they'd shot each one. They'd then drive to the tip, and have him offload all the dead dogs and cover them up with garbage.

They'd then give him a lift to wherever it was he wanted to go - back to his dossing spot, or the pub, or a fast food outlet.

What they were doing was so totally illegal in so many ways, it's not funny. But it helped to keep a really serious problem under control - a problem so bad, him and other Police risked their careers to do it. I'm sure he also had a lot of fun shooting the dogs, but that wasn't the motivating factor. He was more worried about all the people who were being treated for dog bites, especially young kids.

If I was him, I would have done the same. I hope there are still coppers out there that would do the same today.

Who gave this bonehead a car?

Yesterday must have been the annual "Death on the road day", but I guess I missed the announcements for it. Check out this bonehead at the eastern approach to the ANZAC Bridge, turning across several lanes of traffic after he realises "Oops, I don't want to go to the land of bogans".

It's not clear in this video, but you should have seen the shocked look on his face when he realised I was filming him - that's when J and I start laughing.

You, sunshine, are an utter bonehead.

I say that it must have been the annual "Death on the roads day" as I went for a ride in the afternoon and was nearly cleaned up at two separate roundabouts. The worst time to go for a ride is around the time when school finishes for the day - by far, the worst drivers on the roads are distracted parents picking up their kids. I have been guilty of leaning back and searching around on the floor for a dropped Buzz Lightyear, but only at red lights and things like that. Many parents seem to think that it's fine to turn around and feed their offspring as they hurtle down a packed freeway at 100km/h.

Anyway, I was not on a packed freeway. I was cruising the backstreets of bogan land, checking out real estate. Mainly real estate that I can't afford to buy, but a bike is a great way to look at houses. You can pull over really quickly, park anywhere, travel quickly enough to see a lot of them in a short time, yet slowly enough to have a good look at what you are passing without holding up the traffic behind you.

Both miscreants were driving small, 3 door hatchbacks. The first was a woman who was deep in conversation with her friend in the passenger seat. I saw her coming down the road towards me (I was turning right through the roundabout) and at no point did her eyes flick left or right to look for traffic coming from anywhere in the known universe - she just zoomed through the roundabout like she was wrapped in some sort of God-like protective bubble. I thought about chasing her and yelling in her ear, but got over it.

I minute later, a Boxster went past a mite too close, and I did chase him and caught him a few hundred yards up the road. I was about to bollock him very loudly from six inches away, when I noticed that he had one of those WWI waxed fighter pilot moustaches (he was about 50 I'd say), and I was so impressed, I just said, "You got a bit close back there", which I had to repeat once, but I think he got the message.

About 5 minutes after that, another little sub-$12,000 piece of Korean shit just about took me out at another roundabout - and even though I had the right of way, the guy beeped at me! He beeped at me!

He must have seen the look on my face, which was KILL KILL KILL, for he pulled alongside, wound down the passenger window and apologised profusely for beeping, and even more so for trying to kill me. That calmed me down in an instant - so much so, that I said sorry as well and wondered for a moment if he in fact had the right of way. No, I had the right of way, and was well in front of him in the roundabout - so much so that if he hadn't stopped, he would have hit me from behind. He had simply approached the roundabout too fast and with no intention of looking to his right for entering traffic.

I notice that the abuse that 4WD's used to cop in the media has subsided. Good. 98% of the grief that I cop as a cyclist comes from the following vehicles:

  • small hatchbacks
  • tradesmen in utes
  • vans, especially couriers
  • taxis
  • any form of fuckwit in something like a WRX
Yesterday, I could have added a 2.5 tonne truck as well. The idiot tradesman driving it overtook me with about 2 inches to spare. The traffic built up, I overtook him, then a few minutes later, he did it again. He did it four times in the end - I was getting ready to reach into his tray and throw his toolbox onto the road when he turned right and got out of my life. (Before throwing his toolbox out, I had a good look at him and found that he was really fat, so if he tried to chase me on foot, he would have no chance).

I think the trick to throwing a toolbox onto the road from a truck is to make sure they are really stuck in stalled traffic, find an escape route and then do it. Never do it where they have a chance to catch you.

Anyway, from now on, I am going to avoid the 2.30pm to 4.00pm timeslot like the plague.

And in case you are wondering, most of my riding yesterday was on roads with marked and separate bike lanes, so it's not like I was getting in the way of any cars.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Header photo

Loonies who frequent this site might have noticed the absence of my usual photo at the top of the page. I've taken it down until I find something interesting to put up.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

How pissed would you need to be to not notice you are on fire?

The wierd and wacky world of pubs and their patrons.

Is improving policing really this simple?

I'm going to copy the entire text of this article from the Daily Telegraph, just in case it gets archived into the bowels of their site where even Google can't find it:


Muggings and robberies drop as police ordered from desks

By Gemma Jones

August 18, 2008 12:00am

A DRAMATIC change in the approach to crime-fighting in central Sydney has slashed muggings in half and reduced the incidence of other serious crimes.

Police have been ordered out from behind their desks and less important tasks have been shelved to get as many as 30 more officers into the CBD to target criminals.

Detective Inspector Jenny Hayes said the fundamental shift, which began three months ago, was already reaping dramatic rewards.

Muggings have fallen from a monthly average of 38 to 19 in July, and robberies have dropped by as many as 100 a month.

In July last year, there were 229 thefts from vehicles in the city. Last month, there were 126.

"Policing operations have changed in the city. It's very different from three months ago in that a lot of police are on the street," Insp Hayes said.

"It's a complete change: that is, flood the city with visible police and target offenders or suspects.

"We have different priorities. We redeploy police now, we use more drug dogs to show a lot of high visibility, we take police from less important tasks."

Instead of being ordered into the street in a show of force, officers - many of them plainclothes detectives - are targeting specific crimes.

Police released further figures on Friday showing an almost 400 per cent increase in drug searches compared with the corresponding three months last year.

Officers have doubled the number of regular searches, and "move-on" orders to potential troublemakers have increased by 23 per cent.

Break, enter and steal offences have plummeted by more than a third compared with this time last year.

Officers are working with licensed premises to fight alcohol-related crime, but it is too early to tell if voluntary lockdowns and the introduction of plastic glasses are reducing assaults.

Insp Hayes hoped there would be a marked reduction in assaults during the next six months.

"We're trying different sorts of policing strategies; you really want to see a difference," she said.

Sydney Chamber of Commerce executive director Patricia Forsythe said the reduction in crime was being noticed by business owners on the notorious George St cinema strip.

"There were previously a few hot spots. There was a period when we were seeing regular high-profile crimes along that George St area," she said.

Ms Forsythe said the benefits of the police change were evident.

"It seems to be having some positive effect," she said.

"Police on the beat and street lighting are two of the most simple, but most effective, strategies you can employ."


Well, who would have thunk it.

I'm sure Inspector Hayes will shortly be moved on to other things - punishment for being too effective.

Sunday 17 August 2008

Guess what this came out of

Here it is, with the flash turned on. Guessed yet?

It came out of my mixmaster. It's a roll of chocolate chip mix. You make the mix and then roll it into a long turd, wrap it in gladwrap and chill it for an hour in the fridge. You then slice off rounds about 1.5cm thick and bake for 12 minutes at 175 degrees.

Absolutely delicious. From a Stephanie Alexander cook book.

If you thought differently, you are either one sick puppy, or German.

Angela D'Amore MP - how symbolic

Angela and her minions were handing out balloons today, so I grabbed one for Monkey. He had just exploded a Westpac balloon, so I was desperate for something to molify him.

"The results" here are of course that she has succesfully managed to inflate a balloon and tie it off without leaks. A big achievement - possibly the most she has achieved in her time as the local MP.

I ran into one of her Labor party fellow travellers a short time later and asked him if he would be getting a similar balloon for his kids.

The answer was a very quiet, "Not fucking likely", for his kids were standing nearby and neither of us likes mouthing off in front of the impressionable ones. He didn't mind saying "fuck" in front of them - he just didn't want to say the words "Angela D'Amore".

He did comment that the balloon was the wrong colour for her - it should have been red. Conservatives like me might not like her that much, but her fellow party members absolutely fucking loathe her. If John Howard were to pay a visit on the same night that she organised a free piss up with strippers, unlimited prawns, beer and a big screen TV showing the footy, most of the Labor party members would be lining up on the other side of the suburb to shake Howard's hand.

I also spotted our Mayor just down the street. He's a Labor man through and through, and he should be sitting in Parliament instead of her. He glanced up the street at Angela's office, saw that she had arrived to press the flesh, so he crossed the road and walked up the other side. There's no love lost there.

Fools with Fiats

Today was the biggest day of the year in Five Wog - an annual festival called Ferragosto. I think that it means "day of garlic breath", although it could also be the patron saint of white string singlets. The festival involves closing off about half a kilometre of street and then filling it with 10 types of tacky, tacky stalls. I had the worst hot dog since... since... since a trip to the footy a few years ago. But I also had some good gellato, and found that the shop that makes it is within easy walking distance of home.

A festival like this always brings out the wogs in droves. It's almost as bad as a World Cup soccer match against a country like Brazil or Namibia. Maybe not Namibia. One sign of that is a street full of wacky Fiats. I had no idea that of the tens of thousands of Fiats that we imported during the 1970's that as many as a dozen across the whole country would still be in working order and not rusted into seven or more major bits.

The festival always rams one thing home - how shockingly bad our roads are. This is the one time of the year when pedestrians can walk down the street, and it is not an experience that I would recommend. I'm sure the Ambulance service brought in a few buses to take away the people with rolled ankles from all the pot holes and ditches in the tarmac.

I don't know if these Fiat's made it here under their own steam or not, but I am sure that several roads will be blocked on the way home tonight whilst the owners of broken down Fiat's await a tow truck.

Apparently a new statue was unveiled on Friday to commemorate Ferragosto. I saw it when it was still under wraps - the tarp was at least 20 or 30 feet high.

I am not sure why we need a garlic statue that big around here.

Gillard ices kiddies

The Daily Telegraph has kindly drawn to my attention the fact that kiddies at Balmain Public School are freezing their nads off because the outdated electrical system at the school can support heaters or computers, but not both.

That's an interesting choice. I give you heating, or I give you death by computer-induced pneumonia. Way to go, Julia. You really thought that one through.

Personally, I reckon the problem could be overcome by installing large human-driven power generating systems, like the wheel that Conan pushed as a kid in Conan the Barbarian. Pushing that wheel was the reason why Conan grew up big and strong. The kiddies in the photo in the Tele all look a bit aenemic, so a bit of exercise pushing a big wheel around to produce power for the computers would have the advantages of keeping them warm and encouraging them to grow up to look like this:

I guess the alternative is obesity. You don't hear about fat kids complaining about being cold much. Then again, if I was faced with the choice of running into a present day skinny Balmain junkie off his nut on crystal meth, or a future Balmain junkie (like the above) off his nut on crystal meth, I think I'd prefer that we stuffed the kids full of hot chips with mayonaise on top in order to keep them warm.

Heat would have been a complete luxury at the rather austere boarding school that I attended. We were allowed to undo our top buttons and loosen our ties when the temperature hit 40 degrees in the classrooms, and we kept warm in winter by playing an awful lot of sport. We didn't have time to get cold.

We even had to put up with cold showers, unless we were in year 11 or 12. The way our boarding house operated was that the bell to get out of bed went off at 7am. At that point, there was a run for the showers. We had two lots of showers - one at each end of the boarding house, and the showers consisted of a single open room with 5 shower heads dotted around the walls. One stood around in a "waiting area" just outside the showers, wrapped in a towel, waiting for your turn for a shower. As there were about 70 kids in our boarding house, and 10 showers, one could wait a while. Especially since one shower was known as the "power shower" - ie, it usually produced no more than a trickle of water.

The thing is, the boiler was just not big enough for 70 kids to all get a hot shower. It would last about 20 minutes, and that was it. I suspect it was all part of a cunning plan to ensure that we were induced to be showered and dressed and ready for breakfast in record time. The reason the younger kids might end up with a cold shower is that the youngest always went last. They were last in line for breakfast. Last in line for lunch. Last in line for dinner, and last in line for hot showers. The rule was that older kids just pushed in front, and everyone respected it. Some newly arrived year 8's didn't appreciate that rule at the start of the year, but the odd black eye usually sorted them out.

So the younger kids would all be waiting at the doors to the dorms at 6.58am, waiting for the bell to go - kind of like a running of the bulls, but without the bulls - and the doors would fly open at 7am and they would dash for the showers, trying to get in first, or at least be first in line. Some dorms had a rule that you had to wait in bed, so beds nearest the door were always sought after at the start of the year (I think the first to arrive at the start of the school year got to select their bed). The doors were made of thin plywood, and I remember the odd kid being too slow to turn the door handle as they ran for the door, and they would end up smashing partway through the door. We were always having doors repaired.

The downside of a bed near the door was that if a dorm raid took place, you were always the first to cop a pillow in the face or a head covered in shaving cream, or finding yourself lying on the cold lino floor with your now upside down bed sitting on top of you.

The older kids would lazily rise a few minutes later and saunter out to the showers, pushing to the front of the queue. Some might simply walk into the showers and throw a younger kid out, but most had the grace to give you a 10 second warning to wash the soap off before tossing you out.

The kids these days have it soft. Pussies.

Saturday 16 August 2008

The old and the new

Two railway bridges side by side, somewhere out towards Meadowbank (I think - my geographic knowledge of western Sydney is pretty patchy. I generally point towards the Blue Mountains and say, "There be bogans" when people ask me what is out there).

The bridge on the left, as you might hope, has not carried railway traffic for many a year. It looks worse close up than it does in this photo. It's been converted into a bike/pedestrian bridge, and I now wish that I hadn't been underneath for a look. It always feels pretty creaky when I ride over it, and I'll now worry that I'll go crashing through the boards Indiana Jones style one day.

Visiting a housing commission area

Leichhardt hosts one of the less notorious housing commission developments in Sydney - an area called Orange Grove. As is typical of these developments, there are no orange trees. There are no groves for that matter - except perhaps groves of weeds. The only orange thing in the entire area is this orange mechanical contraption, which will presumably be used shortly to demolish some of the apartment blocks. As you can see here, several blocks have been boarded up and fenced off, and although I don't have a clue as to what is planned, I hope they will be running bulldozers through the area until there is nothing left.

The Orange Grove "estate" consists of several parallel streets of apartment blocks like these, and only about 1/3 of them seem to be slated for demolition or redevelopment. The rest are still occupied. As far as I can tell, the occupants all wear tracksuit pants of some description, don't own a pair of leather, lace-up shoes, smoke, think a rats tail is the perfect adornment for a 4 year old child and prefer to spend their days slop-slopping around in ugg boots.

The hilarious thing about this development (sorry, grove) is the limited amount of parking. I guess when the place was designed in the 1960's, being poor meant not owning a car. It probably also meant not owning a TV, and being lucky to own a small, 3rd hand fridge. Furniture would have been pretty sparse as well, and might have been provided by a charity. Eating out would have been having a serve of fish and chips once a month as a treat. Or an icecream.

Now of course the place is overrun with late model cars, and I presume being poor means having an XBox rather than an Xbox 360, and having to put up with a flat screen TV of less than 100cm across.


A simple test of the 12x zoom on my Canon Ixus, when mated with the stabilising influence of a badly made Chinese piece of crap tripod.

Our garden is normally full of lizards, but as soon as I pulled the camera out, they all ran away. Maybe they thought the tripod was some sort of alien anal probe. Only this brave little sucker stuck around for some happy snaps.

Not bad for a 12x digital zoom.

Thursday 14 August 2008

For Bruce - some canals

Five Wog is not the Venice of the West.

But look in the bottom left hand corner - is that another shopping trolley that I spy?

Bruce - this is the cricket oval at Timbrell Park you were thinking of.

And the cricket nets.

This is the canal beside Timbrell Park - currently undergoing a cleanup.

Like I said, it ain't the Venice of the West.

More on railway carparks

Here are three aerial photos of the carparks at Meadowbank Railway station and Concord Hospital. I have not changed the scale when moving from one photo to another, so the size of the carparks is directly comparable.

The first is the railway carpark - it is in the middle of the photo just below the yellow lines.

Here is Concord Hospital and its carpark.

I tried cutting and pasting the railway carpark into the hospital carpark - with my inexact non-photoshop software tools, I found that it would go in roughly 35 times.

I am sure though that if you told the nurses to catch a train home at 2am, they'd lock you up in one of the mental wards.

Another sound reason why cars rule the planet, and those that think otherwise should visit Concord for a refill on their medication.