Sunday 31 May 2009


There is something vaguely absurd about riding in the rain on the weekend.

No, forget that.

There is something patently absurd about it.

When you have a house which is warm and dry, with everything but a roaring log fire going in the lounge room, what sort of fool pulls on lycra and a helmet and ventures out into the tempest?

Me, of course. As I get older, I can feel more screws working loose. I must have a drawer-full rattling around up top by now.

Riding in the rain is quite tolerable as long as certain conditions are met.

First, it can't be too cold. Even in the depths of winter, Sydney is never bone-chillingly cold down here in the flat lands. Sure, it can snow up in the Blue Mountains and hail down in the Southern Highlands, but here, it's balmy by comparison. If I lived in the mountains, I'd be cycling in a wet suit at this time of year.

Perversely, you don't want it to be too warm either. I always wear glasses of some sort, even if they are clear plastic, to keep bugs and pollen and flying bits of gravel and so forth out of my eyes. If it rains on a warm day, things are fine so long as you have forward motion - the wind blowing around your face stops the lenses from fogging up. However, stop at a traffic light, and all the steaming sweat rising from your face will fog them instantly. That's not a problem if the day is cold and wet. I never thought I'd say I prefered cold and wet to warm and wet. Cyclists at rest on a warm, wet day look like steam trains with all the clouds of moisture boiling off their heads.

Then there is wind. Nothing beats the misery of grinding into a strong head wind when the rain is pouring down - or more accurately, slamming into your face on a 45 degree angle from the vertical. Or sometimes blowing horizontally into your face. Again, hence the glasses.

What I really hate is that first powerful downpour after a long period without rain. The roads are covered in grit and oil, and all that rises to the surface and is slooshed around in muddy slicks. On days like that, I arrive at work with a rooster tail of oil and mud up my back, and a face that feels like it has been adopted from an oil rig worker. Eau de West Texas Crude feels as horrible as it sounds. I am not ashamed to say that I regularly pinch J's facial scrubbing stuff on wet and wooly days, and use it to remove the road grease from my pores.

But by far, the worst thing about riding in the rain is pulling on wet knicks at the end of the day. Every place that I have ever worked at has lacked any form of drying facilities. If I ever start my own company, I am buying a dryer on the company tab. You get to work in the morning, dripping wet; shower and hang the wet gear in the change room to drip dry as much as possible. It might dry out over 3 or 4 days, but the 8 or 9 hours between arrival and departure are just not enough for a thorough evaporative process.

Ever pulled on wet bathers? That's exactly what it is like. After 4 years of doing that, I had a brainwave tonight in the shower - why not pack a dry pair of knicks in my backpack on rainy days? Has it really taken me that long to think of that idea?

Like I've said before, getting old is hell. The slowing down of one's mental processes is a tragedy to behold.

The problem with that of course is that even though you might have nice, dry knicks, you still have wet socks, wet shoes, wet gloves, a wet helmet, a wet jersey and even a wet backpack.

Oh well, back to square one.

The pitfalls of retaining idiots

Some years ago, I worked for a good boss with a good team of people - except for one barking fuckwit. I liked my boss, but he had a massive blind spot when it came to the turd in the office down the hallway that reported to him. He simply failed to acknowledge that they guy was useless and a hindrance and was dragging us all down. He was also the greatest source of stress in our office, bar none. If he buggered something up (which he did regularly), we all wore it.

If our workplace was Vietnam and we were yanks, he would have been fragged a long time ago.

After a few particular egregious fuckwit-caused disasters, our boss could be persuaded to realise that the guy was a complete write-off, but then his heart would soften and he would let him off the hook for the 92nd time. He could not bring himself to discipline him, let alone sack him.

Fuckwit was particularly annoying because he knew that the rest of us would carry the can for him. Let's say he was on call over the weekend, and a problem cropped up. The normal after hours procedures would kick in and whoever was on duty would phone fuckwit.

Fuckwit would not answer.

So he'd be called again and again and again and again, on both his mobile number and home number and home-office number, and he just wouldn't pick up. He'd be sent emails and text messages (we all had blackberries) and he just wouldn't answer. He'd be goofing around with a pet project, and simply couldn't be shagged to do his duty - which he was being paid for.

Eventually, the person on duty would ring either me or one of the other blokes, and one or both of us would stop what we were doing and troop into town to fix it. I didn't mind doing that once - everyone forgets where they left their mobile phone every once in a while - but this guy pulled this trick all the time. And we wouldn't get paid, because he was on call and we weren't.

The most annoying part was that come Monday, after we had wasted half our weekend solving a problem that fuckwit had created and then run out on, fuckwit would be storming around the office complaining about us "tampering" with his stuff.

Yes, we had tampered with it - it was the only way to fix the problem, and he wouldn't admit that what we had done was actually something that he should have done months ago - in many cases, he would tell us in a management meeting that he had completed a certain task. A month later, something would fail on a weekend and we would discover that he had not completed that task - in fact, he hadn't even started on it. He'd simply lied about it, and moved on. So the only reason I had to work on a weekend was because he had not done his work, and had lied to all concerned about it.

Then we were all given an opportunity to stick with what we were doing, or move on to something else.

The only two people left in our department were our boss and fuckwit. Everyone else opted to split. None of us could bear the thought of working with fuckwit for one minute longer.

Crap eventually catches up with everyone.

An aurora?

No. Monkey getting his mitts on the camera again. I have no idea what this is.

Saturday 30 May 2009


Here's the scenario:

I drive into the office carpark, which is underground. I park near the entrance, in case I need to make a hasty exit, and start walking for the distant elevator. Where I have parked is about as far from the elevator as you can be and still be in the car park, and I have a ramp to climb as well to get there.

A car followed me in. It parked as close to the elevator as is possible without obstructing the doors of the elevator.

I reach the elevator. I press the button. The elevator arrives. I embark.

I hear the driver of the other car heading for the elevator, so I press the button to keep the doors open.

I keep my finger on the button.

It's still on the button.

My finger is getting tired.

Where is this other driver? It's only 20 metres from their car!

The other driver looms in the doorway. She barely comes up to my shoulder, yet she easily weighs 50% more than me. She is wheezing heavily from the 20 metre walk to the elevator, possibly because she has to "floor it" as I was holding the doors open.

She steps into the elevator.


It drops at least an inch. My finger slips off the button. The elevator is built to carry 10 people, yet I wonder if it will handle the two of us.

She is too breathless to tell me her floor number. She has to hold up some fingers.

She alights before I do. Again - boing! - the elevator pops up an inch as she departs. The doors close.

I do an experiment. I try dropping jumping up and down a bit to see if I can make the same !boing! sensation.

No dice.

I jump even higher.

No dice. Just a slight bong, no !boing! in sight.

We reach my floor and the doors open. At this point, I am proving that white men can jump, and I am about a metre off the floor, manically bounding up and down. I am at mid point in my arc when the doors fully open and I see several people staring oddly at me, waiting for the elevator.

I slink out, never having replicated that !boing!

How many frickin' hamburgers did you have for breakfast, lady?


This is of course one of the reasons why I ride come hell or high water. Energy in needs to be balanced by energy out, and I am fond of putting the energy in - I like my food. It has to be expended or I will be expanded.


It's been a mucky old day here in Sydney - blue skies and fine one moment, pouring with rain and windy the next. Real Melbourne weather.

I made a break for it during a sunny period, figuring the rain might hold off long enough to let me ride for a few hours. Not wanting to sweat to death during that period, I took my jacket off and left it at home. It was a balmy 23 when I left - too warm for a jacket.

15 minutes later, down came the rain - and out came this rainbow.

I had to cut the ride short. I was icing up. My feet are still frozen solid, even after a nice hot shower. It was a case of "jackets on, jackets off" - and I should have left the damned thing on. I would have been toasty warm if I'd done that.


How do we make solar power affordable?

I should rephrase that to be "how do we make solar power look affordable"?

At present, there is a wide disparity between the price of electricity from coal or gas-fired plants and solar/wind/tidal/moonbeams/unicorn farts. For a long time now, the strategy of the greens/loons/tinfoil hats has been to say, "Look, the price of solar has come down dramatically over the last 5 years/10 years/since the Apollo 11 landings".

Sure, but it is still uneconomic. The disparity is still huge.

So how do we close the gap? Do we strive to make solar/wind/unicorn farts cheaper?

No. Instead, we change tack and make coal-fired electricity more expensive. Once the price has gone up enough, people will say, "Look, solar is now just as cheap as coal - isn't that marvelous"?

You idiots. If that happens, solar will not be as cheap as coal. Coal will be as expensive as solar.

Sure it's marvelous, if you don't mind paying 30% of your income in power bills, or living like a stone age hunter-gatherer.

ETS - a backdoor and nice sounding method of making uneconomic ideas look palatable. I prefer to call it an IEP - Increase Electricity Price.

Thursday 28 May 2009

What is this?

Part of the Death Star, of course!


The results of my semi-regular visit to the butcher. It's amazing what a growing teenager will get through in a few weeks. There are 22 meals worth in this photo.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Australia's future

Australia's future what?

Drug dealers? Welfare cheats? Tax dodgers? Wife beaters? Car thieves?

Signs like this make me see red. Platitudes. A lot like that "we are the world" muck.

Funnily enough, I have listened to a few Obama speeches, and they are simply a whole list of platitudes like this strung together.

Last post reprised

I posted earlier this week about doing no more posts on care packs for diggers overseas. That's not because I am not sending any further packs - it's because Nilk had a brainwave and started up a new blog devoted to this very topic, and very kindly asked me to participate.

It's called Ocean, Sky and Khaki - which refers to our sailors, air scouts and troops.

Kae, Nilk and I want OSK to be a point of reference and meeting for those who wish to support Australia's Military and for members to contact us to let us know what to put in those care packages to make their lives alittle easier.

If anyone has any links or ideas for the blog please let us know at OSK.

Blurb shamelessly ripped from Nilk, who ripped it from Kae.

Just gobsmacked

Junior regaled us last week with the events at a school sports carnival. J and I were waiting for him to tell us how he did in the 100 metres, 200 metres, long jump and so on. And we waited. And waited.

Eventually, we got an answer as to what he did all day.

"We sat around doing nothing, then a lady lent us a basketball, so we spent the afternoon playing basketball".

Hello? Wasn't this supposed to be an athletics day? What has basketball got to do with athletics?

I assumed that the teachers had taken over running the show, so I said, "In my day, the year 12's ran the show. The prefects in each house decided who was going to run in each heat, or which field event you would do, and that was that".

I had stupidly assumed that in this age of uselessness, the prefects no longer had a role in running this sort of show, and the teachers were too overrun with work to get the kids organised.

Junior's answer just about knocked J and I off our chairs: "Yeah, the prefects run the show, but they spent all day running around trying to get kids to participate".

WHAT???? They had to ASK!!!!!

J just about blew a gasket. When we were at school, there was none of this "asking" rubbish - there was doing. As in, "You will do this or that. You may not like it, you may not be any good at it, but you will do it. Anyone who objects can take it up with Brad."

Brad* being a none-too-intelligent year 12 from a sheep farm, who was quite capable of carrying a keg under each arm - and running with them - and who also harboured a strange fondness for thumping younger kids who failed to "respect mah authoritay".

I am still in shock. I am gobsmacked. Who said teenagers have the common sense and wisdom to make decisions? Bugger me, I certainly didn't at that age.

J was most riled because these little cotton balls are going to get the shock of their lives when they hit the workforce. They'll be told to do this or do that and they'll say they don't want to, and then they'll be standing on the street with all their possessions in a bag wondering what happened; and then complaining what a cruel bastard their ex-boss was.

*Brad was in fact a composite every year 12 at our school. They all seemed to take a perverse delight in thumping arrogant little snots. Funnily enough, when I reached year 12, I developed a particular knack for chasing down, catching and whacking snotty little gobshites.

Pain II

I have the answer to the busted muscle under my tit - tennis. I had a whack on the weekend, and as usual, attempted to pound the furry cover off the little green thing.

Damn this getting old!

I don't get it

When Sol Trujilo's Hispanic heritage is pointed out, it is racism.

When Obama picks a new Supreme Court judge that is Hispanic, a huge deal is made of it and the luvvies think it is a good thing.

Am I missing something here?

By the way, I can see Sotomayer being a disaster. As soon as I heard Obama mention the word "empathy" to describe her, all I could think of was "bleeding heart".

The poor old seppos really are copping it on all fronts at the moment.

Tuesday 26 May 2009


After nearly a month of miserable weather, today was a doozy - clear blue skies, 28 degrees, hardly a breath of wind. I bailed out of work as early as possible and hit the road for a couple of hours - photos from a couple of sites that I stopped at are displayed in the next few posts.

It was not the greatest of rides though. I started out feeling flat and winded. Small hills left me short of breath, where normally I'd be hardly puffing. I seemed to be 25% off my usual pace, like I hadn't been on the bike for a year rather than a month. I think I've shaken off the flu - but perhaps a bit is still hanging around?

I was hoping to ride for 3 hours, but the lack of oomph early on dictated a shorter ride. There are days when you feel that the wind is at your back and you could ride forever, and then there are days when you feel like you are dragging a tree trunk around behind you. Today was one of those "days with trees" sort of days. I took a lot of photos because I needed plenty of excuses to stop and recover - and it was a great day for taking photos too.

The kicker was when I was only about 5 minutes from home. I was sitting at a red light, and decided to swap my water bottles around - moving the empty one to the rear holder and bringing the full one forward. That might seem like a strange thing to do when so close to home, but I like to guzzle a lot of water as I wind down on the home stretch.

That simple act of reaching for the rear water bottle set off something terrible in my pecs. It felt like I had been stabbed with a hot knitting needle in the arm pit, with the needle being pushed slowly across my pec to my nipple. It was absolutely excruciating - a muscle tear in slow motion. It's happened before a few times when I have been riding - the first time when I was trying to get a bulky camera out of my back pocket (I have opted for flat-pack cameras ever since). It seems that I can't combine rides of a few hours with certain arm movements - I probably need a physiotherapist to explain why.

The lights went green, and I had to struggle off with one arm held across my chest - it hurt too much to lean forward and hold the handlebars with the bung arm. I managed to ride a few hundreds metres, and then I had to stop. When this has happened in the past, I've ridden through it - the pain being bad, but manageable. This time, there was no way I could keep going, even though I could almost see home. I had to pull over and stand on the foot path for a few minutes until it subsided.

It just so happened that I was on a busy road, and I got to see many motorists driving by with bemused looks on their faces, wondering what the hell I was doing standing there with one arm held across my body. I tried stretching the arm this way and that - nothing worked. I was going to have to wait it out.

Eventually, the knitting needle was withdrawn from my pectoral muscle, and I was able to continue. It doesn't hurt at all now, and I was able to pick up heavy stuff when I got home. Maybe it was a cramp or spasm rather than a tear?

Who cares what it was - it hurt like all buggery. Damn this getting old.

On second thoughts, it might have been the subclavius muscle giving grief - it depresses the shoulder, bring it forward and down, which is what I was doing in order to swap the water bottles around. How on earth do you perform stretches on a muscle like that before a ride?

Trolleys of despair

What is it with people who like to dump trolleys and canals?

Great trucking poems of the renaissance

Not quite Great Trucking Songs of the Renaissance... instead, we have trucking poems from Homebush. This sign explains all:

Your tax dollars at work presumably... again.

There were lots of them. I noticed no one has been stealing them to take home. That says all you need to know.


A crane at the old Armory Wharf at Homebush. I think the Navy used these to transfer ammunition to ships docked at the wharf.

I had to stand at this spot for a few minutes in order to catch this Police launch going by - and it was moving. I was lucky to snap it at just the right moment.

I tried getting tricky with the camera settings. I wanted to take a black and white shot of this scene, but the camera does not appear to do black and white.

It certainly does fade-out though.

I like this shot - it evokes this old wharf and the rusting train tracks slowly fading away.... blah blah blah, give me an arts grant so that I can go to the pub and get on the turps.


Olympic Park, today.

Last time I had anything to do with a fountain, I went straight over on my side and lay there on the ground groaning in pain for a minute or so. I was really, really careful around this fountain.

My previous visit to this spot was on a Sunday morning. The fountains were not running then. Until today, I didn't even realise this was a fountain - I thought it was wierd modern art. Why is it that they run them on a Tuesday, when no one is around; but not on a Sunday, when there are people everywhere?

This would suck

Both front tyres being replaced. My guess he was pulled over by the cops and done for baldies.

Monday 25 May 2009

Staying out of the way

For all intents and purposes, bikes and cars might as well exist in parallel universes.  When I drive, I take the most direct route using main roads.  When I ride, I try to avoid main roads like the plague, preferring wide, quiet backstreets and routes that skirt nasty hills.  

The photo below shows a main-ish road around here, but it is tremendously wide, and easily supports a bike lane up the side.  It can get quite a lot of traffic on it, but that traffic is rarely a problem because there is room for us and them to co-exist without getting in each other's hair - or more importantly, without me getting in their bumpers.  

This is another quiet street, this time paralleling Victoria Road, which is one of Sydney's busiest roads - 3 or 4 lanes of snarling traffic in each direction.  I much prefer a quiet, tree lined street like this, and firmly believe that any cyclist using Victoria Road is mental and should be locked up immediately.  The road here is narrower, but the traffic is so light, it doesn't matter - if a car needs extra room to go around me (even if I am in the bike lane), they can cross the broken line without worrying about oncoming traffic - because there is hardly ever any of that.  When I ride this street, I occasionally hear the traffic roaring past one block to the side - but otherwise, it's just me and my breathing as I do the hills.

Here's a Google map of the area between Drummoyne (on the right) and Five Wog (on the left). Victoria Road is the yellow road on the far right going north-south, and Lyons Rd (another main aretery around here) branches off that and runs east-west through the middle of the map.

Here is my life vs death interpretation of the map.  The roads marked in red are shockers if you are on a bike.  Lyons Rd is so rough, the surface is like the Giant's Causeway - it's bad enough driving along it in a 4WD built for shocking outback tracks.  On a bike, it is worse.  The road itself is narrow, with no room on the left for a bike lane.  Cars barrel along it well over the speed limit, and they take no prisoners on this stretch.  It's fine once it crosses Great North Rd in the bottom left - at that point, it becomes one lane, and there is room for bikes.  I never, ever ride on Lyons Road.  Not even at 7am on Sunday when just the grannies are going to church.

The blue line on the right is the quiet street in the photo above.  It still gets me where I am going, but without the hassle of mixing it up with angry, impatient drivers.  Yes, it adds a minute or two to my journey, but riding a bike is not just about getting to your destination - the journey there is half the fun.  Once I step into a car, I become quite mono-maniacal about getting where I am going, and I will happily run down grannies if they get in my way.  I stop for no one and nothing.  But the bike produces a different mindset - it's going to take longer to get there than by car, so you might as well accept that and enjoy the experience.

I see a lot of bikes on the back streets, which makes me think that drivers that never ride seriously underestimate how many cyclists are out there.  Just because they don't see them on the freeway that they are taking to work, doesn't mean they don't exist.  The bikes may be pottering along underneath the freeway (if it is raised), out of sight and out of mind.

Pics from today's ride

Another short jaunt around the place before it got cold and dark. Here's how The Bay looks without my orange tinted glasses:

And here is how I think it looked with my orange tinted glasses. Much more spectacular.

I stopped to have a quick look at the marine life near a rowing club. There are plenty of beds like this along the sea wall where the mussels or oysters have been removed by fishermen in need of a feed. I took this particular photo because who in their right mind would eat shellfish that grew right next to a big drain like this one?

Add Image

A question for urban planners

A long time ago, in a job far far away, I worked with urban planners. I worked with them for some years. One thing I learned is that they absolutely and completely and totally detest the outer suburbs, and everyone living in them. Everything more than 15km from the CBD is a leper colony as far as they are concerned.

During my time interacting with them, they tried to cook up all sorts of wheezes, ruses and stratagems to keep people away from what they wanted - ie, a free standing house of good size on a quarter acre block. The planners managed to lock up plenty of land on the urban fringe, and they invented all sorts of taxes and levies that buyers of fresh blocks had to pay in order to provide "infrastructure".

One of the stated reasons for their disdain, hatred and disgust was the infernal combustion engine. The planners hate the air pollution that it creates, the time people "lose" sitting in traffic congestion and of course oil consumption. All that is bad. Bad, bad, bad. You are so naughty if you prefer not to live in a rabbit hutch, jammed cheek by jowl with your loud, stinky neighbours.

So I have this question for the black-clad urban planning brigades:

Let's say that solar power becomes wonderously cheap and electric cars become workable and affordable. Both technologies become so cheap, people choose of their own accord to move away from the infernal consumption engine towards small, non-polluting, quiet electric cars. We also prefer to buy "smart" cars that can self drive a foot behind the car in front, allowing much higher traffic densities, thus eliminating a lot of congestion. In essence, we would travel in "trains" consisting of our own personal transport, where we wouldn't have to interact with the Great Unwashed.

Doing so eliminates all the problems that planners hate about sprawl. It even introduces a word they love - "train". If we reach that point, will they still vociferously object to McMansions and large blocks on the urban fringe, because they have been trained to do so reflexively; or will they accept the stated preferences of the market, and shut the fuck up?

Sunday 24 May 2009

Last post

No, I am not giving up blogging after a year in the saddle. I was born to babble, both verbally and in writing. I can't turn the tap off that easily.

For reasons that will hopefully become clear soon, this will be my last post about sending care packs to our diggers in Afghanistan. I found today that I had enough stuff to make up another box, so it is packed and ready for the trip to the post office tomorrow.

The nice lady at our local post office gave me a swag of customs forms on my last visit. I will feel guilty as hell if I don't use them all over the next few months - she has unwittingly placed in my hands a huge incentive to keep packing and sending.

The customs forms are the same forms you use when sending any parcels overseas - they want to know your name and address, what is in the box and an approximate value.

Out of curiosity, I weighed the box itself. It came in at 174 grams - nearly 10% of your allowable weight limit.

A 190gm box of Shapes weighs in at 223 grams.

The packaging for Milo is a killer - a 200gm tin actually weighs 262 grams.

I'm going to try chasing up two people this week about what to pack - a friend who spent a few months over there last year, doing construction work, and a bloke who went to school with J, who is about to go back again shortly. She's caught up with him via the wonders of Faceplant.

I'm on the road again

I'm on the road again
Can't wait to get back on the road again
Go sniff some arseholes with my friends

I managed to achieve the first two lines of that today. The third will have to wait for... I don't know what.

The evil confluence of me with flu, kids with flu, weather Noah would be proud of and an overabundance of work finally dissipated today. I managed a whole hour on the road! Whoopee!

It was a beautiful ride - a balmy 22 degrees with just a hint of breeze. Dark clouds threatened the odd shower when I left home, which is why I chose a short route that would not take me far from a nice, dry couch, but they had departed by the time I turned for home, leaving me to ride until a spotless blue sky. The expected hordes of walkers, driven stir crazy by the recent spell of bad weather, did not emerge to clog the paths that I had to navigate. I should have grown a ticker and gone west for a much longer perambulation.

In honour of my first ride this month, I bring to you another in my series of rotting shopping trolleys. I love these as a metaphor for FoolWatch. Take a good look at this trolley slowly rusting and decaying in the filthy, turgid water of this backwater canal. Check out the slime and goo on the banks of the canal.

Can you not think of a better metaphor for idiotic web sites launched in a fit of moral panic by a government with no qualms about blowing our money on the most ridiculous of schemes?

My legs hurt like hell by the way. I think I overdid it badly.

Role models and austerity

Another day, another rant about education, and how much better it was in the good old days.

The school I went to was expensive, but it didn't splash money around unnecessarily. Did you grow up eating creamed honey on white bread with butter? I did. Remember the plastic tubs the honey came it? Maybe not. Anyway, our rather pricey school recycled those plastic tubs and used them as sugar bowls in the dining hall. Why shell out for sugar bowls when we have plenty of perfectly good plastic tubs, just the right size, sitting around in the kitchen?

I always remember those tubs because of a small scene I caused with one. When I was in junior school, we had a boy from the senior school sit at the head of our table to keep us under control. For those of you that have never seen a boarding school in operation, think of the dining hall in Hogwarts. Then replace all the yummy food with yucky food. But otherwise, they got it about right - except for the owls and things.

The older boy running our table was Twiggy Forrest - I am not sure if he is still Australia's richest man or not. Back then, he was just a big, boofy bloke with a wide, cocksure grin; another country boy with big, meaty hands and more chutzpah than brains. He kept us under control in the usual fashion - by yelling loudly at us, or threatening violence if need be. He is six years older than me, and the differences in physical size between someone who is 10 and someone who is 16 are generally enough for the younger person to warrant compliance. I kept me head down.

Until the day he asked me to pass the sugar. The usual thing to do was to simply flick the sugar bowl down the table - the tables were highly polished wood, and the sugar bowls would zip down the table like a puck on an ice hockey rink. So I flicked it at him from the far end of the table, and he chose that moment to look away.

The sugar bowl sailed merrily off the end of the table and exploded across the floor. A deathly hush settled on the dining hall - making a mess, particularly an unnecessary or deliberate mess, was a major catastrophe. I was in deep shit.

I have no idea what happened next - it must have been too traumatic. All I do know is that from that point on, Twiggy always denied asking for the sugar. Even when I bailed him up at a reunion ten years later, he remembered the sugar spewing across the floor, but still denied that he had told me to send it up.

Not much of a role model then, was he?

But like I said, the school did not spend money on anything unless it had to. Our classroom desks and chairs would have been 20 years old when we got them, and I'm sure they outlasted us by another decade. Classrooms were not fitted with expensive things like fans, heaters, air conditioners and carpet. Lino is much easier to clean than carpet, and lasts much longer. Air conditioners and heaters take money to run, and they don't last forever, requiring expensive replacement from time to time.

Electronic whiteboards? Ha! Why bother with that when a black chalkboard works just as well. If a two year old whiteboard breaks down, it is useless. If a fifty year old blackboard looks a bit faded, just touch it up with some black paint and it will do another 50 years. Even the chalk sticks were used until they were no more than nibs the size of you little fingernail.

I remember our delight when the pre-WWII iron frame beds with chicken wire frames were replaced with solid base wooden beds. The chicken wire had stretched to the point where the mattress sagged into the shape of a coffin when you lay on it.

Did our education suffer from this? No. Thinking about it, we were educated in much the same way, with much the same methods, as are being used in say Afghanistan today. To teach a subject, all you need is a blackboard, some attentive pupils with exercise books and a teacher who can lead a class without referring to notes.

Yes, it was primitive. But did we require anything else to get a solid education in maths, English, geography, history, biology, physics, chemistry, economics, English Lit, French, German and geology?

Consider this. The people that invented all the marvels of the modern world were educated via those same "primitive" methods, via blackboards in unheated classrooms, perhaps, dressed in ties and polished black shoes, and drilled by teachers in silence. The inventors and engineers who came up with radar, the MRI, Concorde, the F-22, the internet, every medical marvel known to man, the space shuttle, nuclear power, LCD screens, mobile phones, iPods, the electric guitar, TV, satellites and so on all started out in a basic classroom with a blackboard in front of them and a teacher who was more interested in drill and discipline than expression and creativity.

That system turned out our country's richest man, along with many doctors, engineers, lawyers, farmers, geologists, politicians, managers, architects, stock brokers, wine makers, artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, business owners, accountants, scientists and bureaucrats.

It turned out the smartest people I have ever met - both University medalists; one now working in AIDS research and the other running a supercomputer lab doing stuff I can't even start to get my head around. Funnily enough, neither came from a wealthy background. Both got their initial education in one room, demountable school houses in tiny country towns that are better described as villages.

It makes me wonder why we strive to throw so much crap at the education of our youth. I have employed dozens of uni graduates, and all have arrived on my doorstep having grown up surrounded by Twitter and Myspace and text messaging and instant messaging - and they think that being able to develop a wicked Myspace page makes them an IT guru. Half usually wanted to quit within a few weeks because they found that using the internet and building the internet are two quite different kettles of fish.

We are confusing familiarity with a thing with the ability to build that thing, or to think up and design and build the thing that replaces that thing. Just because I can drive a car, doesn't mean I can build one. Politicians and education numbnuts seem to think that equipping kids with laptops will prepare them for a brave new world.

I say, "hogwash".

A computer is just a tool, like a chainsaw or a die stamping machine or a tractor or an oxy torch. If someone at age 12 expresses a desire to be a welder, do we provide them with an arc welding set and have them practice welding all day? No, there is no need. That is a skill that they can pick up once they get an apprenticeship. In the meantime, it is more important that they learn how to read and write and add up, so they can read instructions and safety manuals and know how to measure up lengths of iron that they are about to weld into a something or other, and calculate temperatures and so forth.

Because before computers came along, what were the most important tools for the business person of say the 1960's and 1970's?

I'd say they were the telephone (on a desk of course) and a telex machine. I remember dad having a telex machine in his office. I loved playing with that punched tape as a kid.

I don't remember school kids in my era being issued with a desk phone, and having to lug it to every class and show some aptitude in its use. I don't recall seeing a telex machine in the back of every classroom.

I really wonder whether we are about to embark on the most expensive exercise in stupidity in the history of mankind - giving laptops to kids that is.

Stupid, annoying, useless bloody computer

I am so glad that critical things like nuclear power plants and space shuttles don't run on Windows Vista. As an operating system, I like it. It's much smoother and cooler and more reliable and stable than what came before it - but it's still not perfect. Every few weeks, my PC just rolls over on its back and refuses to do what it is supposed to do. That generally happens after an update of some sort has been installed. The key sign of the PC going pear shaped is iTunes failing to launch, and that is a disaster, since I need to regularly replenish the iPod in the car with fresh podcasts. How can I survive the trip to and from work without podcasts?

I have just spent the morning removing all the most recent updates, as well as trawling through my list of installed software and chucking out what I don't regularly use. I said goodbye to my TomTom GPS software, which I used once or twice when I bought the GPS, and have never used since. Away went a batch of utilities that I used for a specific purpose, and have not used again. Out went printers that we no longer have. The PC has been rebooted more times than I can count. Some things are still not working as they should - I sense a total wipe and rebuild is on the horizon, but that is something I am not looking forward to. I will just have to struggle on for the moment, backing up my vital stuff and hoping that this flaming clunker holds together.

It's times like these that a Mac starts to look really good.

Damn, missed my birthday

Every blog around me is having a birthday party at the moment. Everyone except me. I feel like the kid at school who never gets invited to all the cool parties. It must be the nerdy, black rimmed glasses that I wear, the braces, the clothes-chosen-by-mother and the pudding-bowl haircut.

BOAB turned 1 on the 5th of May, an event unheralded even in this household. How time flies - is it really a year since Blair screwed the pooch?

A fine life

I've mentioned before that Maralyn Parker drives me nuts. Our views of how the education system should run and what it should provide are world's apart. Then again, what would I know - I'm just a stupid parent. I don't have a degree in whatever that enables me to speak Education Gobbledegook, and I am not a paid up member of the Socialist Internationale.

Here is a little story that illustrates the wide gulf between the state system and the private school system. It has little to do with money, and everything to do with passion, dedication, discipline, persistence and excellence.

A few years ago, one of my teachers retired. He started teaching at my school long before I was born, and he taught there for a further 15 years after I left. He was an institution - gruff, angry and a tough task master, both in the class and on the sports field. He left an indelible mark on everyone he dealt with, including the foreheads of students silly enough to doze off in his class. He had an excellent throwing arm, and he would hurl with great velocity one of those wooden chalk board cleaners straight at the head of the snoozer. He'd didn't care if snoozy woke up in time and dodged the wooden block and it hit the kid behind - he'd simply tell the kid who got hit that it was his job to keep dopey awake. No one was innocent in his world.

He was also a terrific character - I doubt he would survive any form of job interview in the modern world, but that did not stop him from rising through the teaching ranks on sheer ability and performance. It didn't matter if you were no good at the subject he taught - he ensured that you had a good grasp of it by the time you finished, even if it meant terrorising you for a year. I was pretty mediocre at his subject when I started, and went on to do the hardest units of it in my final year - those units only attempted by the top 10% in the state, and I achieved a good result.

He was truly a legend. Let me redo that as Legend.

When he retired, the school organised a farewell dinner for past students. Hundreds turned up, paying over $100 a ticket, to see him off and hear one final rousing speech. That dinner was so successful, dinners were organised in other cities so that the diaspora could do the same - he flew over to Sydney, and about 80 former students turned out for a great night. He repeated that in Melbourne and Brisbane and several country towns in WA. It was a night that brought tears to the eye.

He did that tour with a couple of other long-time teachers, and their former pupils flocked to have a beer and a chat with them. They were all tough cookies of the old school. I found out last year that one of them, who arrived from Rhodesia as it was then, had been in military intelligence before he left, and he was watched by ASIO for a while. He was truly made of iron, and I presume he had been forged by some nasty experiences in the bush war.

For unlike today, almost all my teachers were male. I was taught by women up to grade 3, and then exclusively men from that point on. And when I say "men", I mean MEN. They were ex-footy players, ex-army, ex-Olympians and so on. Most had been high achievers in another discipline before they took up teaching, and even if we could not scale the same lofty heights as they had, they made damned sure that we were pushed to our own individual limits and beyond. Regardless of whether you were sporty or not, academic or not, musical or not, you were pushed and pushed and pushed to give it your all.

We hated some of them for it at the time. Revenge was plotted by many a pupil.

But in the end, they knew best. What they did was right for us. We worked out better for it, and it was clear that they loved us. Not loved, as in some weird catholic man-alter boy way, but loved in that they got a kick out of watching us grow and develop and mature into men; men they could be proud of.

And we reciprocated that love by turning out in numbers for the retirement of one of the best of them. Later this year, I will fly to Perth for another reunion - something I do every few years - and I will have a great night of catching up with the blokes, but I'll also enjoy yarning with my old teachers - telling tall tales and letting them in on some of the dastardly things that we did when they weren't looking. If the family comes as well, that trip will cost us a pretty penny, but it will be worth it.

The thing is, whilst that particular teacher got the royal treatment on account of his exceptionally long and dedicated service, there were many others who were like him. I still look up to them all. When they visit Sydney and a dinner is held, I do my utmost to attend.

These teachers were not paid enormous sums. They were not paid lots more than state school teachers. Yet they put in extra hours every day coaching sports teams or running drama classes or organising school plays and band practice and all the rest of it, and they spent each Saturday on a sports field umpiring this or refereeing that. The Headmaster lived in a house on the school grounds, and would pop up unexpectedly at any time of the day or night to see what we were up to. The teacher's car park was always full until after 5pm.

As much as Maralyn loves to trumpet the wonders of the state system, I wonder how many of her contemporaries could say that they expect something similar will happen to them when they retire, or that they know of a fellow teacher who might get this treatment?

For the sake of our kids, I wish there were many. However, I think what she doesn't get is that few teachers in the state system are motivated to go that extra mile. There is something wrong with the culture, the atmosphere, the environment. The dead hand of the state system simply crushes those who are outstanding, and I don't see more money as being the answer. If you give an education department more money, the first thing they will do is employ more bureaucrats in head office, and it is they who are the problem.

Besides, I bet there is a stupid state government policy somewhere which prevents teachers from fraternising over an alcoholic beverage with former pupils. There's nothing like government for crushing the life out of anything worthwhile.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Another box takes to the skies

I managed to post another care pack to Afghanistan this week. The same postie was about to try and charge me $7 to post it - again - when I pre-empted her and told her it was going to an AFPO. I think she now knows who I am - she gave me a stack of blank customs forms to take home, so I can fill them out before going to the post office. I take it that is her way of giving me a hint to send more!

I have another bag full of stuff that should make up another care pack with ease - except that I have to go back to the post office to buy another BM sized box, and they don't open on Saturday. I checked with Office Works this week - they sell all sorts of postal boxes, but not the size I need.


I slipped a letter and blank envelope into the last box and asked whoever gets it to essentially do a survey and tell me what he wants - that's the idea behind the envelope. I wonder if I'll get a letter with an Afghan stamp on it, or whether the troops pay for Australian stamps? I listed all the stuff we have been talking about sending, and told him/her to circle the good stuff and cross out the useless stuff.

Regardless of whether I get something back or not, I hope it makes someone's day.

Hitting the books

Bleah, I am studying again after a break of nearly 20 years. I'm not back at Uni or doing an MBA or anything silly like that - I've done a work related course, and now have to prepare for an exam. I sat a few short trial exams, and was bloody hopeless! I managed to score between 50 and 60%, but the pass mark is higher than that. Must do better.

So I'm back to using the same technique that got me through school and uni - reading the text book, then re-reading it and marking up the important bits, then re-reading it again and writing out those important bits in a condensed note form. I'll then go back through my notes and write them out again, condensing them even further.

I've got 12 chapters to wade through - 300 pages or so. I'm trying to crack a chapter per day, which takes 2-3 hours. Yesterday was tricky - I had to look after the kids at the same time, so I sat at the dining table and had Mr Squishy sitting in his high chair next to me playing with bits of paper, and Monkey at the other end of the table chopping things up with his safety scissors and drawing pictures. I'd be interrupted every few minutes by Mr Squishy dropping his paper on the floor and demanding it back, or Monkey wanting help with peeling a sticker off its backing sheet. Even with those distractions, I still managed to plow through the chapter and do a good job on my notes. I'm good at shutting out external influences and simply concentrating utterly on the task at hand.

I'm a bit notorious for losing myself in books. I can be sitting in a room with 10 other people, and they can be talking and carrying on, and I won't hear a word that they've said for hours. If they want me to respond to something, they need to give me a poke in the ribs to get my head out of the book.

This sort of hard slog through the books seems to be passe these days as a teaching method. Too much hard work I guess. At school, I'd put in 6 or so hours of study per day from year 10 onwards. I'd mix that in with playing cricket and footy with the other boarders, or going to the swimming pool, or going for a run or a ride. I wasn't a complete swot, but as we had very limited TV viewing time (half an hour or so per day), and no computers or computer games, we had a tremendous amount of time for study. Plus we had no commute to worry about - I guess that gave us an extra 2 hours per day to study.

I did quite well by the way. All that skull sweat paid off. Then I utterly bludged through uni, doing the absolute minimum work required to scrape a pass.

Here's how things have changed since our time.

We played footy and cricket indoors and out. A rubbish bin, tatty old cricket bat with no tape on the handle and half a dozen tennis balls were all that was required to start a game of backyard cricket with up to 30 fielders. Hitting a ball into the headmaster's garden was a good way to get out automatically. One hand, one bounce. Tip and run.

If it was wet, we'd play inside the boarding house - fast bowlers would start their run up in one room, come charging through a doorway and hurl a thunderbolt across the rec room. If we played in a dorm, they had to run in through a door in the side of the room, do a 90 degree turn between the beds and then bowl.

If we couldn't find a tennis ball, we'd use the pool balls from the pool table. Ever faced a pool ball from a fast bowler? I don't recommend it, especially as we never wore pads. We smashed a lot of light fittings and windows, and the odd pool ball was smashed through the thin plywood doors that our boarding house was dotted with.

Footy was the same - we'd play kick to kick (aussie rules style) and that involved some heavy duty ruck work at both ends. Again, if it was wet, we'd kick the footy in the dorms (we slept 14-18 in open dorms). Plenty of light fittings met their end that way, and the ceiling in every dorm was covered end to end in the red scuff marks left by footies that went too high. We became good at kicking the footy in a fast, flat trajectory. Most of the time. The lights were all fluorescent tubes - if you kicked a footy into one, the tube would dislodge and come crashing down. I'd say we were all full of mercury by the time we left school. We broke a lot of tubes.

As for swimming - we had a 50m pool at school (unfenced). The rule was that it could only open if you had two life savers on duty. I did the life saving course, and along with quite a few others, could open the pool from age 15 onwards. On a hot weekend, someone would walk through the boarding house yelling for a life saver to get off their bum and open the pool. I'd put down the books, grab a towel and open the pool (opening the pool simply meant I'd walk down to the pool and declare it open). Discipline was strong enough that kids didn't just walk down to the pool and jump in without it being properly opened.

Some life savers were bastards - if you jumped in before they had done their "inspection" and made their declaration, they'd boot you out of the pool. Again, discipline was strong enough that if a 15 year old kid told a younger kid that they were banned for the day, they took the ban and left the pool. To do otherwise, or answer back, was to risk nasty retribution. Closing the pool was also easy. You'd simply stand up and yell, "Pool closed!", and that was it. 100 or more kids would get out of the pool and troop back to their respective boarding houses.

Imagine giving kids that sort of responsibility these days. Our boarding houses pretty much ran themselves without an adult in sight for days at a time. We sometimes only saw our house master once a week - on pocket money day (he was the only one authorised to dish it out). If you saw him more than once a week, it meant you had been sent to him to be caned (an experience you never wanted to go through more than once).

You wouldn't be escorted to see him - a prefect would simply tell you to go and see the house master and explain that you had been sent down to be caned, and what you had done. He would then decide how many strokes to give you. He'd then send you back to the prefect, who would check that you had in fact fronted for punishment.

These days, they lock the kids in after dark and wrap them in cotton wool (the external doors on our boarding houses lacked locks - and even then, the doors were only ever closed during really wet and stormy days). Nothing was locked. We had lockers, and most had keys, but they were rarely used - lockers were simply left open. To be caught thieving didn't bear thinking about.

We had enormous potential to run amok (and we did from time to time), but that was tempered by the knowledge that the consequences could be particularly nasty and painful.

When I describe these things to Junior, he looks at me like I am mad. He can't fathom such a world. He thinks I am making it up. Boy, have things changed in just one generation.

Friday 22 May 2009

Blah blah blah

What is it with some people and their inability to shut up?

I work with a bloke who just can't close his trap. He's nice enough, and he's competent - but he has no off button. Worst of all he repeats himself. Then he repeats himself again. Did I mention he repeats himself several times? And of course he goes on to repeat himself. Each repeat is slightly different to what he said 5 seconds earlier. Just slightly different to what he said 5 seconds earlier. But he said the same thing 5 seconds earlier, and then repeated himself in a slightly different vein.

What drives me spare is that he is a "verbal thinker" - he can't visualise something in his head unless he is talking about it. If we were talking about painting a room green, he'd sound like this:

"So, we're going to paint this room? We'll paint this room over here? This room? What colour will we do it? Green? You like green? You want to paint this room green? We'll paint this room green. Should we do it in green? Are you sure you want green? Why green? You like green? Is green ok? You sure you want green? It's this room isn't it? What colour was that again - blue? No, green. That's right, green. This room. You like green. Green is ok. We'll paint this room green. When do we start? Tomorrow? Tomorrow is Saturday. We start Saturday? We work on Saturday? We paint on Saturday? We paint this room on Saturday? Which room are we painting? This room? We're going to use green paint, aren't we? On Saturday? Not Sunday? Sunday is no good for you? I can't do Sunday anyway. Saturday is good for me. Hey, did you see that Manchester United are playing on Saturday? Are you going to watch the game? Did you watch them last weekend? It was a great game. We'll do it on Saturday. This room...." and on and on he goes.

The worst of it is that we commonly organise work by conference call, and this guy ties up the line endlessly because once he starts on one of his verbal thinking monologues, no one else can get a word in. You can't talk over the top of him - he just won't shut up. We have a mute button on the phone so we can prevent others from hearing what we say, but there is no mute button that allows the call organiser to shut him off. We need the equivalent of a remote "cone of silence", where we press a button on our end and he is thrown into the cone of silence.

But I haven't finished yet.

Let's say we are on a call that is booked to last half an hour, and the conversation that I started with happened in the first 2 minutes. After 28 minutes, we have finished our business and are saying goodbye. Mr Blabbermouth will cut in with:

"I just want to clarify an issue before we go. We're working on Saturday, right? Saturday morning? Not Sunday? We're painting that room red?"

At which point the line is jammed with people yelling and swearing and shouting out "GREEN!!", closely followed by all the parties except him hanging up. I have learned to be ruthless with him - he doesn't know how to end a conversation. When we say, "Good bye", we generally mean that as meaning, "good bye, end of story, time to cut the line". He takes that as the start of a whole new thread of conversation, centred around saying good bye. I simply yell "see ya" and hit the end call button, cutting him off in mid flow. The look of relief on the faces around me is palpable - everyone knows that the more time we spend listening to him ramble, the more time we have to spend at work.

I'm sure I could cut my time at work by 10% by installing a remote cone of silence at his end.

Wednesday 20 May 2009


How to become a skin head, in one painful lesson.

Sorry, I meant how to lose a pile of skin from your head.

Seventeen hours later I emerged from Chelsea & Westminster with 21 stitches in my head, having spent an hour and a half on an operating table. As head injuries go, it really wasn’t bad, particularly considering I’d been hit by a car. I sustained some minor nerve damage, but my brain seemed okay. There was no haemorrhaging, no memory loss. The only serious injury was to my forehead. There was an area on the left-hand side, about the diameter of a Coca-Cola can, that had literally burst on hitting the asphalt. Odd word to use, but that’s what the doctor called it: a burst injury. It looked like a firework had exploded just beneath my scalp.
This is why I believe in wearing a helmet.

Why do I bother reading this rubbish?

Electricity bills to soar 20 per cent

NSW Greens MP John Kaye said the price hike was just the start of an escalation in electricity prices, with the state government planning to privatise energy retailers.

"Private owners will treat households as cash cows," Dr Kaye said in a statement.
Kaye, you turd, you bloody greenies want to put the price up massively so that we consume lesselectricity. A 20% price hike is a drop in the bucket compared to what an idiotic carbon tax would cause. I can't stand hypocrites, especially green hypocrites.

Cancer treatment shock - third miss out: study

One-third of NSW cancer patients who could benefit from radiation therapy do not receive it, according to analysis from the Cancer Council NSW, which has called on the Government to fund new machines immediately to deliver the service.

About 51,000 people missed out on adequate radiation treatment in the decade to 2006, said the report, which also calculated that collectively they had lost 40,000 years of life.
The State Government should immediately start paying private hospitals to treat public patients in areas where there was a shortage of services
Sounds to me like the answer is to buy private health insurance and not rely on the useless government sector to keep you alive. What's the first rule of state-run health systems? Rationing. Treatments have to be rationed because supply cannot keep up with demand in the state sector. You want to live? Buy private health insurance and get treated privately. In the end, to the government, you are just a number, and they don't care about your welfare or your family or your situation.

Where is the bicycle?

Sadly, it's been parked for a few weeks. I got the flu, then the kids got the flu, then J got busy at work, then I got busy at work, then the weather turned to poo.... it just goes on and on. The only time I seem to have to go riding is around 10pm, and that is not a terribly attractive time to be on the road.

It just reinforces my opinion that the best way to fit exercise into a busy schedule is to make your commute your exercise time. It doesn't help if you live 50km or more from your place of work, but a hell of a lot of people have a commute of only 10-15km. That's a reasonably easy ride, once you work up to it. If you're within 5-6km, you can walk instead. I met a bloke once that commuted to his office in North Sydney by kayak.

Someone once said to me that you should work out where you want to live, then find a job that supports you living in that location. I know that is easier said than done, but it is an interesting goal to aim for. Too many people get a job, then work out where they are going to live. That's getting the whole work/life balance thing wrong from the start.

I'm looking forward to working a few days in the city from the week after next - even though winter is coming, and it is getting cold and wet, I relish the idea of getting out of my car and back on my bike for part of the week for the trip to work.

One down, one to go

One box packed and sent to Afghanistan, the 2nd awaiting a few more goodies to flesh it out. As usual, the postie tried to charge me $7 to send it, until I pointed out that it was going to an AFPO (Armed Forces Post Office?) - at that point, she got incredibly embarassed and put it through with alacrity.

It was only after I had packed and sealed the box that I realised that I'd forgotten to stick a letter in with the goodies. I was going to ask for feedback from the recipient, requesting info on what the troops are short of. Duh. I'll stick one in the second box.

I went on a short hunt tonight for Australiana to stick in the box - flag pins and that sort of thing. It's amazing how hard it is to find that sort of stuff when you actually want some of it. I couldn't find a single appropriate thing anywhere. I have this horrible feeling that I'll have to visit some of the tourist shops at Darling Harbour in order to track some down.

Monday 18 May 2009

Bob the Builder vs TISM

Here is a Bob the Builder show from the weekend (excuse the lousy sound). I was listening to the music and it just screamed TISM at me - but I couldn't quite work out which TISM song in particular. I am now going to listen to their entire catalogue to try and figure this mystery out.

In the meantime, here are three TISM classics. The first time I saw these guys, I was so blotto, I failed to remember almost the entire show. I vaguely remember one of them swinging from the scaffolding supporting the lights. I thought I was halucinating, until I watched a YouTube clip of that show from the early 90's and saw.... one of the guys swinging from the lights. God, those were the days....