Friday 31 July 2009

Rock, paper, car?

Further to my earlier post today, here's the car that cleaned up a cyclist on Lilyfield Rd this morning. The idiot driver overtook the cyclist, then turned left directly in front of him. End result - one broken arm and one broken bike and a trip to hospital in an ambulance, rather than a trip to work on a bike.

It's not like us commuters are making ourselves invisible - check out this bloke with the green fluro jacket and the yellow shorts. Sticks out like dog's balls.

I spotted the female driver of this car preparing to open her door when I was a few car lengths back, so I slowed right down to a crawl and took this photo as she flung the door open. She didn't look in either mirror or turn her head before doing so - I could see her fluffing with something on the passenger seat through the rear window (handbag I bet) and as soon as she was finished packing away her lippy or whatever, she turned and flung the door open. She got a bit of a shock when she poked her head out about a second after I took this photo and found me pointing a camera at her silly mug!

More dog's balls commuters. How hard do we have to try to make ourselves visible? Dress up in clown suits?

A squashed car. I saw this yesterday, and thought it might have had some sort of road safety message, but apart from not stopping where you see "falling rocks" signs, I couldn't figure out what the message was supposed to be.

Turned out it's art. Or Art.

Similar ideas inspired Luca Belgiorno-Nettis, when he and his wife, Anita, spent $440,000 on William Kentridge’s multimedia installation I Am Not Me, The Horse Is Not Mine, on free public display on Cockatoo Island. They also own Jimmie Durham’s Still Life with Stone and Car, which sits on a roundabout at Walsh Bay
Waste of money if you ask me.

Two cyclists knocked down by cars on the way to work

Not a good start to the day. Saw two cyclists who had been knocked down by cars in separate incidents.

The first was at a roundabout that I always treat with a great deal of care. As I got closer, I could hear a siren, but could not tell where it was coming from. Traffic was banked up at it when I approached, waiting for a bus to negotiate the bend. When the bus cleared the roundabout, it showed a cyclist sitting on the grass next to the road being treated by a Fire Brigade type. Ah, I guess that siren would be the ambulance for that guy then. I only saw him for a second or so - I turned left at the roundabout as the bus got out of the way, and suddenly there he was, along with the Fire Brigade vehicle with flashing lights, and a bike lying on the ground.

Number 2 was on Lilyfield Rd. It must have happened only a minute or so before I got there. The cyclist appeared to have been travelling down the bike lane when a white sports car overtook him, then immediately turned left in front of the bike. This happened to the Big T about 30 years ago when we were riding in Perth - a trailer took him out, and I thought the Big T was going to take the driver out - literally, through his car window.

There was another cyclist there already, talking to 000 on his mobile and describing the injuries of the bloke who had been hit - his arm or collar bone was broken, and his bike was a mess - the top tube had been snapped off the frame. He also appeared to have a nice bruise on his forehead, but his helmet saved him from anything serious. He was badly shaken up, and clearly in pain, but he was able to stand up and walk around. I stopped for a minute or so to see if any help was needed, but it looked like none was, so I kept going.

I cursed myself when I got to work for not sticking around longer. The poor bugger would have been in shock, and just staying there to monitor him would have been enough. As I was going over the ANZAC bridge, an ambulance on lights was heading the other way, probably for that prang.

The driver of the car was standing off to one side, jabbering away on his phone. The whole time I was there, he was talking on his phone, and it was left to the other cyclist to stop and ring 000. He didn't help the injured cyclist at all. How's that for being helpful? When I mentioned this to a fellow cyclist at the office, his response was, "I bet the driver was on his phone when he hit the bike, which is why he hit him".

And you wonder why I have a jaundiced view of some motorists.

Being superstitious, I think these things come in threes. I was therefore very careful for the rest of my trip, being intent on not being number 3.

Thursday 30 July 2009

Chicks on bikes

I left a little later than usual this morning - closer to 8am than my usual 7am-ish kick off, and found an entirely different demographic out on the roads. At 7am, I see women walking around the Bay, but usually 0.00% on bikes heading into town. At 7.30am, I might see maybe 1 woman for every 19 guys on bikes. However, closer to 8am, it was chick city.

It wasn't until I caught up with these two that I realised that they were school girls.

Female commuter on the ANZAC bridge.

One of the few blokes that I saw - and I know how he feels. I pulled over to check that he had everything he needed to fix his flat, but he was well prepared and didn't need any help.

A horde of chicks on the Pyrmont Bridge. Yesterday, I posted a photo of a bike snake that forms when men ride across this bridge. One bloke takes the lead, and everyone else tucks in behind. That way, us cyclists have the smallest possible "footprint" (or wheelprint) as we cut through the pedestrian traffic. It's also much easier for oncoming pedestrians to deal with a predictable line of bikes, rather than a gaggle going in all directions.

Look at this photo - instead of a line, we have a "six finger" formation, and there were more behind me meandering to and fro.

What is it with women? Men who have never met before will unconsciously create spontaneous order out of chaos. A line forms without prompting. No words are spoken, no eye contact is made. We simply form a conga line and go. Women on the other hand..... chaos out of order. And none of them seem to think that this is a problem! Sure, there's always a few idiot males who bolt across the bridge on their own at full speed, tearing through the crowds of pedestrians like an insane barracuda, but most blokes just form up and head for the horizon.

The next photo shows the madness at the end of the Pyrmont Bridge. We have to negotiate this narrow walkway, which is usually densely packed with people going both ways. I have never been able to take a photo before, as it is always too risky to takes one's hands off the handlebars for an instant, let alone losing concentration whilst taking a photo. The traffic thinned out for a few seconds and I grabbed a quick snap.

I took an alternative route this morning around Barangaroo, which used to have another name - can't remember what it was. I'm going this way in future - much more sensible than tackling Kent St. And here I found yet another woman on a bike. They were everywhere! I should note at this point that I tore past all the women that I saw today. There are very few women who gun it into work, whilst many blokes treat it as a de facto race. We don't talk about it - first rule of commuting is that no one talks about the racing. Second rule of commuting is that no one talks about the racing. Etc etc.

And here we have the Harbour Bridge again. See the small road bridge that I am going under? That's used for parking for the Sydney Theatre Company, owned by Cate Blanchett, who is something of an environmentalist. I looped around and went past that car park in the sky, and noted that most of the car spots were reserved for the STC wardrobe department. Fascinating that such a committed environmentalist as Cate would allow her minions to drive to work. The STC is quite close to the central ferry terminal, a train station is not far on foot and plenty of buses visit this area. Plus, it is a magic spot for cycling. Why the cars then? Surely this mob should all be riding unicycles to work.

Another view of the Bridge - it's surprisingly massive from down here.

And then I was at the office, and that was that for the morning.

The afternoon ride home was pretty hairy. I was almost doored - except that I heard the "click" of a door being opened from the inside just as I passed the rear bumped of the car in question, and I managed to swerve violently as the driver's door flew open. Then a woman coming towards me turned right across my path - only seeing me at the last moment and braking. To cap it off, a Chinese couple stepped right into my path as I was going around the Casino. I saw the two of them standing on the footpath, then I glanced at the speedo (39km/h), then looked up to see them getting ready to step onto the road.

I figured they would wait for me to pass before walking onto the road, so I glanced over my shoulder to check that I could move into the right lane. When I looked back, they had walked boldly into my path! I don't mean they had stepped onto the road, but lagged back from my intended path to let me pass before resuming their stride - they had stepped directly into my direction of travel!

Let me try and illustrate this. The bike has what I will call a "cone of maneuverability". The closer you are to something, the narrower the cone. The further away something is, the greater your ability to swerve around it. When I first saw this couple, they were at a spot in the cone where I had plenty of options to go around them. I could have jumped into the right hand lane and gone very, very wide, giving them plenty of road space - but I had no expectation that I would need to, as sane people just don't step out in front of you. I pass hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pedestrians each week, and all exhibit reasonably sane and predictable behaviour.

These idiots though displayed nothing of the expected road sense and good manners that we normally see on the roads (yes, there are always idiots, but even idiots are predictable). The most dangerous thing about these two was their unpredictability. After glancing over my shoulder, I found that they had walked right into my cone.

I jammed on the brakes, being thankful it was dry and there was no traffic around. I just managed to squeeze around the woman by going left - the other thing is that they spread themselves out just sufficiently to almost take up an entire car lane from side to side. I know it sounds hard for two people to do that, but it can be done.

I think their problem is cultural - they simply think cyclists are 2nd or 3rd class, and should stop for them, even if they don't have the right of way. They probably aren't used to bikes travelling at nearly 40km/h either. But I put it down to just plain arrogance on their behalf. They thought they could deliberately get in my way and I would just have to deal with it. Pedestrians try this trick with buses from time to time, generally with messy and tragic results. With my speed and mass, the outcome would not have been pretty - not as bad as being hit by a bus perhaps, but still unpleasant and bloody.

Why I have little faith in surveys

I like doing surveys, more so that I can pull apart the questions and see how they are skewed more than anything else. This survey is instructive, because I have seen the same sort of methodology used with climate change surveys. This one was about health and dental care.

"Thinking about your personal situation, how much would you be prepared to pay per annum from your personal income to have universal dental care for all?"

I don't have to think very long at all about this - absolutely zero. Brush your teeth, visit the dentist on a regular basis, and put money aside to pay for scaling and cleaning and so on. If you look after your teeth, they generally tend not to require hideously expensive dental work.

Buy was there an answer that said "$0"? No. The minimum amount I could choose was $15.

So even though I violently object to this whole dental care scam, I have no option to say that I don't want to contribute a red cent. I can't wait to see the results of the survey, but I am sure they will say something like, "Most Australians are willing to contribute $46 per year to dental care" etc etc etc. This number will be skewed by our inability to say "nothing".

I highly recommend you visit the tax check website and find out where the money you give the government this year is going. Apparently I am already tipping at least $3,000 a year into the health budget - why should I now have to tip in another $750 or more for bludgers that can't be bothered to floss and brush on a regular basis?

If I was running this survey, I'd ask the question this way:

Assume you are 18 years old, and just entering the work force. With the pension age going up to 70, you are facing 50 years of wage slavery and paying income taxes to support tit-sucking wastoids. How do you feel about paying the following total amounts to fix the teeth of junkies, welfare fraudsters and ignorant, lazy sods over the next 50 years:

a. $15,000
b. $30,000
c. $50,000
d. $100,000
e. $150,000

Think about option 'b' for a second. It assumes paying an average of $600 per year into a universal dental care scheme over 50 years, and paying $600 per year equates to a taxable income of $80,000 under the current proposal.

I ask you this - would you prefer to put aside $30,000 over your working life to pay for your dental care, and the dental care of your kids, or do you want the government to take that money away from you and then decide how they will spend it and who they will spend it on?

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Wednesday ride

Start time around 7.30am. 8 degrees showing on the dodgy bike thermometer. No wind, clear skies. Opt for fingerless gloves, as they have more grip than the full length ones, and I will be riding home in the early afternoon when it will be 19 or so, and the full finger gloves will simply fill with sweat at that temperature.

Meet many bikes on the way. This guy opted for half-calf length leg warmers - I don't really get that idea. Why not go all the way to the ankle? What is the point of freezing the lower portion of your leg. He's also got a sachel slung across his back - I hate the idea, as they tend to wobble around more than a back pack. But they are cool, and I guess that's what counts.

We formed a small train not long after - a quick over the shoulder snap of my tail gunner.

Green fluro vests and jackets are the item of choice for commuters it seems. Being of the Captain Sensible type, we like to be seen. This guy must have frozen his legs. He's also opted for KT-26 type sneakers on old fashioned pedals, rather than clipping in with cleats. That's an almighty pannier he's got there too.

Another bright green commuter, with big pannier. I wonder what makes them choose left vs right with the panniers?

There's always a gumby that doesn't know the correct spot to queue at this intersection. It's not pleasant having cars turn left in front of you when you are waiting to cross, so most wait where I am standing in the next lane across.

Gumby pedestrians, standing on the pram ramp, unaware that in a few seconds, a horde of cyclists are going to charge across here on the green and jostle to be first up that ramp.

A better photo of the Pyrmont bridge bike train in action. There were 8 or 10 bikes in this train, all snaking across in single file, threading the gaps between the pedestrians.

I was surprised to see the Bridge yesterday as I shot down Argyle St. I looked to my left as I went past a side street, and there it was for a second or so, close as can be.

And then I was at work, and that was it.

Captain Slow

I finally decided this morning that it is time to start venting at stupid pedestrians. I hate pedestrians that cross against the lights, and dawdle as they do so. If you are going to cross against the red, the least you can do is pick up the pace and watch for approaching traffic.
The CBD is infested with sluggish, brainless pedofoots who amble from the footpath to the road with so much as a sideways glance to see if any motorised or unmotorised traffic is heading their way. The very worst are those who are so intent on yapping on their mobile, that they stride onto the road with the phone attached to the side of their face in such a way that it blocks the view of traffic coming their way, and also prevents them from hearing a car, bike or bus that also happens to be sharing that bit of road space.
So there I was this morning, waiting at the bottom of King St for the lights to change, facing a rapid uphill charge up the bike lane (see my post from a day or two ago). I was well rested, and pumped from a good ride in, and there were few bikes around me, so I resolved to absolutely hammer it up the hill to see it I could make it to the top before the bike light went red.
I started rolling from well back on the footpath before the light went green, anticipating the change once the light going the other way went red. I hit the road just as the light went green, and I was already well on my way. By the time I hit the bottom of the slope, I was in 3rd gear, out of the saddle, and really giving the cranks a workout.
Then this fucking stupid slug decided to cross just up from the lights, and she walked right into my path as I was giving it the herberts. I yelled at her, "Move it, Captain Slow!", and you should have seen her jump. She got such a shock she almost leapt in front of a car. It was also a wonderfully motivating thing for me to say to myself (Captain Slow could have applied to her or me), and I steamed up that short slope, making the top just as the bike light went orange.
So I think I have proved to my satisfaction that the phasing of the lights is utterly rooted, and that yelling out a reference to Captain Slow is wonderful for moving idiot pedestrians out of the way.
By the way, I find it interesting that such a car-centric phrase should be the first thing to pop into my head, given that Captain Slow comes from Top Gear.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

The daily grind

A short photo essay on today's ride.

To start with, a haircut for the bushes that line part of the path around the Bay. These things tend to get a bit unruly after a while, and take over the path. They're also the kind of bush that has sharpish leaves, so racy past them too closely can result in paper cuts to the lower legs. I just wish council would work out a way to do this sort of thing without parking their bloody ute smack bang in the middle of the bike path!

A fellow commuter, rugged up against the morning chill. Riding at this time of the year can be a pain, because you have to dress for two seasons. In the morning, with the temperature in single digits, it's jacket, full length gloves, leg warmers and shoe covers. In the afternoon, when the temp can climb to 21, it's time to strip down to summer kit. A backpack is essential to carry all the clothes that are cast off from the morning commute. This is a big difference between commuting and just going for a ride - when going for a ride, it's likely that most of the riding will be done at a reasonably constant temperature (either freezing or warm), so you dress appropriately and don't have to worry about taking extra clothes or storing the bits you've had to remove.

The gathering of a pack in Lilyfield. Riders start to coalesce into a stream as we approach the ANZAC Bridge. The guy just in front of me was checking behind him to see if I was going to overtake - he knew I was there, and was polite enough to make way if I wanted to move forward. I was just jinking around behind him trying to get a good angle on this shot. Note the two big panniers on the back of his bike - a serious commuter, or he uses the bike for shopping.

A WTF moment on the ANZAC Bridge. As I went to overtake this lady, I went, "WTF?"

In case you failed to notice what I am on about - the P plate and the blue fluffy stuff all over her bike.

A pack really starts to form as we wait at the lights before getting onto the Pyrmont Bridge in front of us. There were more riders to my left, and a queue behind me. At this point, the bikes gaggle in the middle of two lanes - the lane to my left is used for cars turning left, and they have an arrow, so we cyclists politely queue to their right so they can turn left without us getting in their way. From here, it is a mad dash across the intersection and then up two "pram ramps" to get onto the path across the bridge. There are not enough ramps for the numbers of cyclists at peak hour, so bikes are usually go everywhere once the lights turn green as we race for a ramp. A few idiot pedestrians always decide to cross the road and walk up the ramp, blocking the path for a horde of speeding cyclists. Some people have no brains.

Cyclists are asked to keep their speed down on the Pyrmont Bridge, and most do, ambling along in a low gear. A few always want to sprint across the bridge, which is madness at most times of the day. This photo shows a very rare event - no pedestrians in front of us. The only reason I could take this photo is because of the dearth of pedestrians around us - normally, I am dodging too and fro to get around the masses of people walking across here.

The bloke in front of me is of course being a mungbean and is talking on his phone as he rides. Way up in the distance in front of us, denoted by arrows, is the rest of the group that we were following. In the morning, the sensible thing for us cyclists to do is to get into single file and follow each other across the bridge like a snake, weaving our way through the pedestrian traffic at about 20km/h. The trick is not to break the snake, but this guy did just that when he answered his phone and slowed down. Once the snake is broken, you have a tougher time picking a line through the meandering crowds, and that is even tougher when you have one hand on the wheel and the brain in neutral!

What I hate about the pedestrian traffic on this bridge is its inconsistency. You'd think that it would keep left, so that everyone going into the city would be on the northern side of the bridge, and everyone walking to Pyrmont would stick to the southern side. But no, that would be too intelligent. People walk all over the place, and not only that, they fail to walk in a straight line across the bridge. About 1 in 4 walk in diagonals as they cross this bridge. The only thing that would complicate matters further would be skydivers landing on the bridge, making it a 3 dimensional moving puzzle.

House price bubble

From the US via Dr Housing Bubble Blog:

Little is mentioned that the median price of a new home fell to $206,200 in June from $219,000 in May (small caveat). A drop of over $13,000 in one month apparently is not important enough to discuss.

Then go and check out this graph of Sydney media prices. It appears to be about $575,000 - nearly triple the US price.

In Australia as a whole, we have this:

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) residential land report shows the weighted median price of undeveloped land in Australia increased by 7.4 per cent in the March 2009 quarter to $172,490, following four consecutive quarterly declines.

The report, conducted in conjunction with RP data, found the most expensive market was Sydney with a median price of $259,000.

That is undeveloped land. In the US, you can get a block on it with a house for not much more these days. Yes, I know there is a difference in exchange rates and so forth, but consider how many multiples of income are required in each country in order to buy a house at the media level.

Household media income in the US is just over $US50,000. In Australia, it is about $AUS53,000.

In the US, you can buy a house on a multiple of 4 times median income.

In Australia, the figure is closer to 11! Just to buy a vacant block takes 5 times media income. I guess you can add another 3 times median income to stick a basic home package on top of it.

This is one reason why I think property prices here are heading for a fall.

Keeping track of the rent, part 2

I started this series a bit over a week ago. My method is to search for all rental properties in the 2046 post code in the range of $600 to $1000 per week, and to follow those properties to see what happens to them.

From 18 July:
  • 434 Great North Road ABBOTSFORD $700 - deposit taken
  • 85 Renwick Street DRUMMOYNE $750 - still available
  • 9a Wrights Road DRUMMOYNE $780 - still available
  • 30 Preston Avenue FIVE DOCK $800 - still available
  • 9 Coralie Street WAREEMBA $800 - gone, but first appeared on 19 June for $900, then dropped on 4 July to $850. It took a drop in rent of $100 per week, and over a month, to move this property.
  • 20 Thornley Street DRUMMOYNE $900 - still available
  • 6 Shackel Avenue CONCORD $950 - still available, and according to Google cache, it has been around since 26 May. That's now two whole months on the market, meaning the owner has lost $7,600 in rent. You have to wonder how long they'll hold out at this price.
  • 32 Polding Street DRUMMOYNE $1,000- still available
  • 7 Burnell Street DRUMMOYNE $1,000- gone, but an ad for it appears in Google cache on 6 July.
  • 32 Barton Avenue HABERFIELD $1,000 - still available, but interesting to note that back on 18 June, it was listed at $670 per week. Something odd going on here.
  • 41 Barton Avenue HABERFIELD $1,000- gone
7 Burnell St sold in March 2009 for $5.6 million. Even at $1000 a week in rent, the owner is getting less than 1% gross yeild on this property. Madness.

We're constantly told that the rental market around here is as tight as a fish's you know what. Well, it might be competitive in the sub-$650 zone, but above that, it seems as soft as gellato left out on a hot summers day.

New appearances this week:
  • 3 Norman St FIVE DOCK - $1,000
  • 18 Fitzroy CROYDON - $900
  • 51 Macnamara Ave CONCORD - $750
  • 31 KINGS ROAD FIVE DOCK - $750

Monday 27 July 2009

Path ends in concrete truck

Walking, running, cycling, rollerblading or whatevering round The Bay Run is a nice way to spend a sunny day. The route circumnavigates a body of water, which is the Bay, and people like to run around it, which I guess is why it is called the Bay Run. It's about 7km long, and goes through 3 different Councils.

If there is one thing that I have learned over the last few years, it's this - councils hate each other with a passion. Being on the border of say Canada Bay and Ashfield must be like living in the Rhineland circa 1939. As far as standardisation goes, if councils were responsible for building railway lines, we'd have 150 different gauges in Sydney alone. The one problem the Bay Run has is that instead of it being a nice, consistent slab of concrete for its entire length, it's a mish-mash of different systems and standards, all in different states of repair (or dis-repair).

The Run seems to reflect the philosophies of the three councils that control it. Our council, Canada Bay, seems to be a fairly pragmatic bunch. They like to build things and maybe, just maybe, put up a small sign afterwards stating what they did.

Ashfield council has elected representatives who think that they should be sitting in state or federal parliament rather than the local council chambers. Instead of worrying around road, rates and rubbish, they are always sticking their noses into things that have nothing to do with local government - electricity privatisation, industrial relations and so on. They are so busy posturing about things that they have utterly no influence over whatsoever that they tend to forget about the basics, like footpaths that won't kill you and drains that are still capable of holding water.

Leichhardt council is run by the Greens, and they are just crazy about symbolism and nimbyism. The mayor has pretensions of knocking off the city Labor member, and might just do it at the next election.

Now that I have described each council, let me describe how their attitudes impact on infrastructure on the ground.

Canada Bay has a nice wide path, properly surfaced and drained and fenced and split into pedestrian and bike lanes for much of its length. Pragmatism has delivered results.

The Ashfield section is a bucket of shit - badly laid asphalt that is constantly being wrecked by tree roots. It's narrow, badly lit and a recipe for pedestrian/dog/pram/cyclist interaction in the worst possible way. Every now and then, the council will dig up a small root-busted section and repair it, and that's it. Instead of fixing their bit of path, council has erected signs telling us that it will all be underwater in 40 years thanks to global warming. That's their way of dealing with the problem.

Leichhardt's section varies from reasonable to plain old dirt. A large section of the path in their sector is simply not there. Roadies like me, who care something for their bikes, are forced to make a major diversion to avoid the missing link. Instead of laying concrete, the council erects signs telling residents that council is going solar. Their idea of environmentalism is to hector and badger everyone to cycle or walk to work, and then refuse to actually build bike paths because that might disturb the habitat of the lesser spotted garden slug.

They are however rebuilding a section of the path in their area. I came across these signs last week - the pink bit on the left, which is the pedestrian path, was plain old mud and gravel not long ago. Now, the mud is gone and we have lovely concrete instead. Note however the sign telling pedestrians to bugger off and use the path by the water - fat lot of good that did. The greener people are, the more they appear to believe that the rules don't apply to them. Their attitude is like, "I recycle my fish heads - why should I have to go out of my way and walk over their instead?"

Not much further on, I found that council had thoughtfully parked a concrete truck in the middle of the bike path. If they were going to park it there, why not tell everyone to use the other path, not just pedestrians? This was after a bit of rain, and the grass was soggy as, so as soon as I left the path to avoid the truck, I practically sunk into the grass up to my hubs - skinny tyres and all that.

Still, I'm not going to complain too much - they're laying concrete, and that is alright by me. Thing is, the idiotic pedestrians, who now have a nice pink path, will continue to walk on the bike path - just as they do now. What is it with these idiots? It makes sense to put slow moving traffic on one side and fast moving traffic on the other - what sort of fool wants to mix the two together?

Which idiot phased these lights?

Ever since man invented the traffic light, those of us who use the roads have been complaining about how they are phased. I am sure things were the same back in the time of Pharaoh, with chariot drivers complaining about the way idiot magistrates controlled traffic flow.

The Sydney CBD is currently undergoing a massive expansion as far as bike lanes are concerned. By that, I mean that 75 metres worth were built in the last six months, which takes the total of bike lanes in the CBD from 0.00km to 0.075km, give or take a metre or two. That's huge!

Here we have the King St bike lane, which opened with much fanfare (I am sure a month or so back). This street has always been one of the major bike entry points into the city for those of us that live westward-ho. I've always avoided it like the plague, as you have fast moving traffic coming off a slipway to your right, before powering up a short and nasty and narrow incline. It's a bad place to mix slow moving cyclists, huffing and puffing up the hill, with cars tearing up behind. I always found it safer to go south and come into the city from around Central Station. That might sound odd, but I always felt happier going the long way.

I don't mind heavy, fast moving traffic so long as I am moving fast as well - if I can keep up with the flow, or be going not much slower than the average car, then I am safe. I have always tried to keep my fitness and power up to a level where I can hammer it when need be, sometimes going faster than the cars can bear. Drivers give you a lot of slack if you aren't seen to be holding them up.

Going way, way slower than cars is a recipe for disaster - some aggro meat brain is bound to try and overtake you in those circumstances, leading to rider being clipped and knocked over.

Anyway, here we are, waiting for the lights at King St to go green. I've just come off the shared bike/pedestrian walkway which runs into the Pyrmont Bridge - a crowded, chaotic disaster area at peak hour. Makes Delhi look sane and organised. We cyclists come off the bridge, after ducking and weaving around pedestrians that amble addle-brained on the left, right and centre of the path with no thought for others, and then we queue up at this point waiting for the green.

Us sensible older guys stay clipped in and lean on this handy railing just before the corner. There's usually up to 10 of us stacked up around this area, waiting to go.

Here's the bike path up the hill - doesn't look like much from this angle, but the camera always flattens things. I never find it a problem - if I am at the front of the pack, or rolling off the walkway when the lights go green, I try to be in 2nd when I hit the bottom of the hill, and then I just stand up and power up the hill as fast as I can go. On a road bike, that represents a reasonable clip. The trick is to try and avoid being stuck behind a mountain bike where the rider decides to go up the hill in 1st - their gearing is about 3 times lower than mine, and they crawl up the hill slower than Michael Moore after a big lunch.

Regardless of where I am in the pack, I have never, ever made it to the next set of lights before the bike light has gone red. You've got 5 seconds from when the light at the bottom goes green to when the one at the top goes red. Not even Alberto Contador could do that from a standing start.

As a consequence, cyclists just blast through the red at the top of the hill. The problem with that is you have cars turning left, and bikes going straight through - recipe for disaster before long. I turn left at the top, and I can sneak into the left hand lane on the street running perpendicular even if cars are turning left as well, as they all end up in the middle lane of the street they are turning into.

But I have to ask, what idiot engineer at the RTA came up with this phasing system? I don't mind sitting at the bottom of this hill, as I can stay clipped in on the flat and have something to hang onto to stay upright. I don't need to keep one or both hands on the brakes to stop from sliding backwards, and take-offs are easy. No cyclist in their right mind stops at the next set of lights, as you end up having to make a really hard start on a narrow, nasty bit of hill - you simply have to keep going, or you are stuffed.

When you look at projects like this, you just know that 50% of the budget was spent on consultants, focus groups, advertising, consultations and architects, and about 3% on actual laying of tarmac. Why couldn't they have spent a bit of cash on an engineer that knows how to create a sensible light phasing system?

Ninjas annoy me

A Ninja - my term for idiot, Darwin-candidate cyclists who tear down dark streets all dressed in black with no lights and no reflectors.

Cretins. Or Cretans, if you prefer to spell it that way.

They believe they are fine doing what they are doing because they can see approaching cars, unaware that approaching drivers can't see them. So when a driver thinks they are the only vehicle on the street and they decide to do a U-turn, almost collecting the cyclist, the cyclist has a go at the driver in righteous indignation, accusing the driver of being anti-cyclist and trying to kill them etc etc. The driver then drives away thinking that all cyclists are meat heads, and one more driver is now bad mouthing everyone that rides a bike as fools, poltroons and law breaking, risk taking maniacs.

I light myself up like a Xmas tree. I have a majorly bright light up front, and if that fades to black, I have a spare as backup. There are two flashing red lights at the rear, and I have not removed the orange reflective disks from my wheels in order to make the bike look cool. I dress in any colour but black - the more fluorescent, the better. I avoid streets with bad lighting. I expect drivers not to see me, and plan accordingly. I ride in the expectation that on every ride, at least one driver will zone out and fail to see me, resulting in them doing something stupid and dangerous.

I saw a Ninja when I was going to the shops tonight. None of the above happened, because I was on foot. I never walk or ride with an iPod plugged in - I like to have all my senses active when moving around. I heard this fool coming up behind me as I walked along the footpath - his tyres going wsshh-wshhh-wsshhh on the tarmac - and that was the only indicator that there was a cyclist on the road. He blended in so perfectly, I only saw him when he was a few parked cars away.

Dead meat on a stick.

You don't see this very often

I know it is winter, but I bought a new BBQ yesterday for $99. Yes, $99. It's very simple, and not particularly sturdy, but it should see us through the next few years.

What was so astounding about it was the instructions and packaging - they were brilliant. Being so used to dealing with Japlish or Chinglish instructions, I was amazed to find clear, easy to read and simple to follow instructions that did not say things like, "Insert jellyfish into finger, tighten with spon".

The nuts and bolts and washers were not tied up in unidentifiable little bags, or all dumped into one plastic bag - they were thoughtfully arrayed in this neat little tray, and properly tagged with the size and function of each.

The little trays were easy to open too - no rooting around with a box cutter, or set of keys, in an attempt to get at the wingnuts. Assembling it was a doddle.

All this for $99! Funnily enough, it was designed by a company in Morley (Perth, Western Australia) and built for them by Chinese slave labour. Given the wonderful climate that Perth has, you'd expect it to be the BBQ design capital of the planet, and this BBQ proves it.

The steel that the BBQ is made out of probably comes from melted-down Datsun Sunny's - it's cheap and thin looking, and has the tensile strength of a fish finger. The hotplate is so thin, it could have been a part on the moon lander. Still, so long as it cooks steak and chops and things, I will be happy. The only thing I don't like so far is the minuscule drip tray for fat. I like an enormous drip tray - one so big, that it will last for the entire life of the BBQ. You never empty it - you simply throw out the BBQ when it has reached the end of its life, and the drip tray goes with it. By that point, the tray should be 98% full of solid grease.

Pain in the neck

It's 7am, and I've been up for an hour, driven out of bed by a slowly developing headache. It's all part of the hangover of having car meet bike, ejecting bike rider from bike at some velocity. My neck will be fine for a while, then I'll do something (like carry a new BBQ from the car to the backyard) and something will go Pop!, and that's it. Game over. Headaches for days. I can't even type accurately - I normally rattle away at up to 50 words per minute with few errors, but typing this is taking forever. I type a few words, then have to go back and correct all my mistakes.

It's been getting worse since I woke up around 0600. I've had a quick feed and taken an anti-inflammatory, and in an hour's time I will call the physio to make an appointment for a bit of back cracking.

I got a nice little payout from the other guy's insurance to cover stuff like this, but I am starting to think that the payout is about 1/4 of what I'll need over the next few decades. The killer is loss of income - I am a contractor, and if I don't go into work today, I don't earn any money. There are no sick days for me.

I can bull through it some days, but there are others when the pain is just so debilitating, all I can do is lie in bed and try and sleep as weird colours dance behind my eyelids. People love to say "migraine!" at that point, but I never had a headache like this before a car hit me from side on.

I can feel them starting in my back at a point between my shoulder blades - the muscles contract, and the spine locks up and the joints "freeze"; this spreads upwards into my shoulders and then my neck, and from there into the base of my skull. On a bad day, it keeps spreading, sometimes on one side and sometimes on both, until my eyeballs are feeling the pressure. The only way to relieve it is to relieve the tension in my neck, which is where the physio and anti-inflammatories come in.

I have a very simple test for neck tension, and it is a better predictor of headaches than computer models are of climate change - I pull my shoulders back as far as they will go. If I hear a series of clicks and pops from a point midway between my shoulder blades, then things are nice and loose, and the chances of pain are zero. If there are no clicks or pops, then trouble is on the way.

Right now, I am getting the odd creak and groan, which spells trouble.

Avoiding eye contact

The most perilous factor in my cycle into work is dealing with pedestrians. I am a law abiding kind of guy - the lights turn red, I stop. They turn green, I go. I don't ram through stop signs and blast through red lights like some cyclists - I behave on the road like I have a numberplate fore and aft, and there are cops just waiting to take down my number and give me a ticket. I don't believe that being on a bike gives one the right to suddenly ignore all those pesky road rules that motorists have to put up with. I generally ride my bike like I drive my car.

Trouble is, the bike is nowhere as intimidating as the 4WD. There are a few stretches of road in the CBD where I can really open it up and get a good amount of speed going on the flats and downhills, although I usually apply the brakes when the speedo hits 60 (as it does on one major hill) - there are lights at the bottom of that particular hill, and I don't want to ever find myself having to suddenly brake or swerve at speeds over that. The thing is, I'll be howling along at up to 40km/h, and pedestrians will just step off the sidewalk right in front of me and stroll across the road with the expectation that I will stop or go around them - if I can. The worst place for this is right outside a set of law chambers - the bloody barristers cross against the lights all the time, and when I worked down that way, I came close almost every night to cleaning up some bewigged fool.

My biggest bugbear now is the idiots that work in the Symantec building behind Wynyard station. The lemmings come streaming out of the back entrance of the train station and walk straight across the road without regard to the traffic coming in either direction - they must have fallen asleep on the train, and are wandering around in a zombie-like trance prior to an ingestion of coffee.

I encountered the worst possible specimen last week. She was in her 50's, and stout. She reminded me of Mrs Bucket.

Her most striking aspect though, as she waddled across the road in front of me, was her determination to not look in my direction. Just by looking at her body language, I could tell that she knew that I was approaching at a rapid rate of knots; however, that did not stop her from jaywalking across my path. Her approach was clearly that, so long as she didn't so much as glace at me, then I did not exist. If she refused to acknowledge that I was there, then she could break the rules of the road and force me to give way. She was like a young kid that covers his eyes and thereby negates your presence. A less mature version of, "I can't hear you".

I want my old pump back. It was a long one, and at full extension, was about 4 feet long. It would be perfect for clouting old trouts like this one across the arse as you zoom past.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Riding in the Rocks

My current commute provides me with two options for getting to and from work - hammering up George St, which is a silly idea (that's one of the busiest roads in the city) or taking a loop around the back of the city, going past the office and then through part of The Rocks and then back to the office via quiet back streets. Part of the ride takes me through the Argyle Cut - more on that here.

The cut is quite enormous, especially considering that it was hewn out of the surrounding sandstone by convicts. People these days complain about prison being tough - imagine having to chisel this out with hand tools.

The trees at the top of the cut are fantastic - I always think of Harry Potter and the Whomping Willow when I ride past these. It's dark in the cut, and photos always turn out with a spooky flavour.

The guys have been cut out of them, presumably because power lines used to be above ground along this street. The power lines are gone, but the trees remember them.

Teenagers, part 1167

Junior makes a cup of tea.

I walk into the kitchen a minute later.

Cupboard doors still open, torn remains of tea bag sachet on counter, box of tea sitting randomly on counter, sugar container left on bench etc etc.

I tell Junior to come back and clean up after himself.

Grump, grump, grump, off he goes.

20 minutes later, he makes a 2nd cup.

I go into the kitchen. Cupboard doors open, remains of tea bag sachet on counter, box of tea left out, sugar still on bench etc etc.

Junior gets told a 2nd time.

Response: "Why are you always telling me to do things? I hate it!" (another variation is, "I know what to do - stop telling me what to do all the time").

"Well, if you cleaned up after yourself, like you are supposed to, I wouldn't have to tell you to do it, would I?"

Unfortunately, that astounding logic has not penetrated his teenage brain covering.

The more I think about it, the more I reckon the voting age should be lifted to 30.

He's currently in that state of mind where he likes to do the pleasurable things in life - the fun and interesting things - but is totally uninterested in lifting a finger to do the unpleasant, dirty and difficult tasks. Like cleaning up after himself. I know he will snap out of it one day (or, pending that, J will beat him out of it), but it makes me wonder about the welfare mentality where people carry on at age 45 for instance like they did when they were 12. They refuse to accept that as an adult, you have adult responsibilities - the welfare state allows them to dump those responsibilities on their "parents" (ie, the taxpayer).

Junior still expects that someone else will clean up after him - us, the house fairy, whatever. He thinks he can just drop his dirty socks on the floor, and they will reappear magically in his sock drawer some time later, clean, dry and folded. The bit in the middle - usually known as "work" - is an alien concept to be avoided at all costs; and if forced to undertake it, it should be done as slowly as possible, with the maximum amount of complaining about "rights" and other such nonsense.

It's no wonder I was packed off to boarding school by my parents. So much less stressful to just avoid your kids until they turn 20 or so, and become reasonably sentient humans.

Friday 24 July 2009

I still don't get it

I must be thick, because I still don't get these Reconciliation Australia ads. I think they are supposed to encourage us to be colour blind, but how is that possible when the SMH keeps throwing stories like these at us?

Story 1:

The new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found life expectancy for Aborigines was 67.2 years for men and 72.9 years for women.

This is about ten years less than non-indigenous Australians.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the figures show that more needs to be done.

"Reducing the life expectancy gap (is) both a national priority and a national responsibility," Ms Macklin says.

Story 2:

The Rudd government is being urged to take control of Aboriginal health from its state and territory counterparts.

Efforts to close the 17-year gap in life expectancy are being hampered by a lack of coordination, vision and service duplication, says Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance NT (AMSANT) chair Stephanie Bell.

Australian Medical Association Northern Territory president Peter Beaumont said efforts to close the gap were being stonewalled and a massive injection of health dollars had made little difference on the ground.

Story 3:

More than half the Aboriginal male inmates in prison for violent crimes are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, an academic says.

And without effective intervention, the "stressors" for the disorder will be passed on to other generations, perpetuating the cycles of crime.

Dr Caroline Atkinson said most violent inmates had suffered from some form of family violence, alcohol and drug use, as well as profound grief and loss

A government report in 2007 found Aborigines were 11 times more likely to be imprisoned than other Australians, while indigenous juveniles were 20 times more likely to be detained.

Story 4:

Australian of the Year Mick Dodson says ensuring indigenous children attend school is one of the keys to improving Aboriginal health and closing the life expectancy gap.

The fact 30 per cent of indigenous adults lacked basic literacy had a "significant impact" on their health, he said.

Story 5:

INDIGENOUS Australians are 10 times more likely to develop kidney failure, but a study of more than 2200 children in NSW has failed to find any risk factors that predispose Aborigines to serious kidney disease.

Story 6:

Racism, discrimination and a lack of employment have contributed to a spate of suicides in a small West Australian town, grief-stricken Aborigines say.

More indigenous police aides would go some way to help domestic violence problems, he said.

"If we had the police to just quieten down the domestic violence and that, then that would probably help," he said.

Mr Calma said after the meeting that racism was a major issue alongside the need to encourage indigenous students to complete high school, health concerns and interactions with police.

Story 7:

Legislation designed to protect children from sex abuse in the Northern Territory look set to be "tweaked" because of a public outcry.

The laws formed part of the Labor government's response to reports of widespread sexual activity by minors in remote Aboriginal communities.

"I have seen horrific stories and you probably know horrific stories of children being abused in indigenous communities and in mainstream cities," he told ABC Radio.

Story 8:

In the six months to December 2006, 20 per cent of children were anaemic. A year later the figure had increased to 36 per cent, and by June last year it had reached 55 per cent, where it stayed in the last six months of 2008.

There is also a worrying rise in low birth weight among babies. In the six months leading up to the intervention, 9 per cent of children had low birth weights. This rose to 12 per cent in December 2007, and to 18 per cent six months later. By the end of last year, it was 19 per cent, double the figure at the start of the intervention.

Since compulsory income management of welfare payments began in the region in late 2007, there have been documented instances when it affected people's capacity to buy food. This included diabetics, who with no local store access were unable to access food for weeks at a time. Their response to this situation was to sleep until food became available.

There was strong agreement about the need to protect women and children from violence and to improve the socioeconomic position of Aboriginal families between those who designed and welcomed the intervention and those who questioned its methods.

The SMH is one of the soggiest papers in this country, barring those total nutbag rags like Green Left. It embraces reconciliation with a passion, and if the good burghers of this paper had their way, we'd all be relieved of a good chunk of our wealth to compensate the "original inhabitants" for something or other.

On the one hand, the SMH preaches to us that we should be colour blind, tolerant and feel all warm in gooey in our secret places when anything regarding Aboriginals is mentioned. Ever seen a review of an Aboriginal interpretive dance act that says, "This is crap"? Ever read a review of an Aboriginal art exhibition which says, "Complete rubbish and a waste of time"?

Surely there must be terrible flops in the Aboriginal arts world. Some productions will be great, others mediocre and some awful disasters. Just look at what whitey does with the output of Hollywood - for every Patton we get a Rendition. For every Titanic, we get a stack of Waterworlds. When I see that an art critic at the SMH has dared to pan an Aboriginal show, I'll know that reconciliation is within our grasp.

Anyway, my point was that if you read your way through that crop of thoroughly depressing stories that I have linked to, you'd quickly gain the following impression of Aboriginal people in Australia - short lived, violent, unhealthy, criminalised, unemployable, uneducated, suicidal people who like raping kids, eating badly, smoking, drinking to excess, bashing women and then offing themselves once they are finally locked up after a life of crime.

That's not me speaking - that's our wonderfully liberal SMH laying on the description with a trowel. If you were constantly fed a diet of news like this about Aboriginals, wouldn't you start crossing the street when you saw one walking towards you, let alone thinking about employing one, or wanting to live next door to one?

Personally, my biases are few. I like nice people and hate fuckwits. I don't care if you are a half Laotian/half Ukrainian lesbian dwarf - if you are a nice person, you are a nice person. If you're a fuckwit, I'll be reasonably polite, but don't expect me to like you or employ you because of all the labels that you've attached to yourself. In my world, you get by on your ability and your personality.

Thursday 23 July 2009

What's in a name?

Thanks to Slatts for the pointer to this story. Check out the names:

  • Dionta RaShad Cochran
  • Eric Ra'shad Antonio Smith
WTF is wrong with these people? Dionta? Ra'shad? Or is it RaShad?

What a bunch of spanners.

It snot fair

Who cares about swine flu - this blasted lurgie that I contracted nearly a month ago is just refusing to quit. After being too crook to ride for a few weeks, I clambered back into the saddle this week and started riding to work on a consistent basis.

Riding has been wonderful for clearing all the crud out of my pipes, especially on the colder mornings. The frigid air racing through the nostrils acts like a cold nasal enema. I calculated this morning that I had to blow my nose every 2.5 kms, and the amount of muck discharged on each ocasion was quite incredible. I left a trail of green pavement slugs all the way into the city, but there was one that failed to get away properly.

Clearing the nasal passages whilst riding requires commitment and follow through. Once you lean your head out to one side and start to blow, you have to give that nostril a complete lung full of expelled air, and you have to blast away until the lung has no more to give. The faint of heart pay a price, as I did this week. You see, if you fail to honk away at full power, your snot fails to achieve escape velocity, and won't clear your body properly. I gave up halfway through a blow, thinking that my nose was empty, but there was a bit of follow-through at the back that was slow to make itself known. Just as I gave up on the puff, out it came.

However, instead of hurling itself past my body at high speed, like people desperate to get away from a Kevin Rudd speech, it half-heartedly dribbled out of my nose and finished up on my sleeve. I had created a green, slimy version of the Nike swoosh - something I doubt that company will adopt anytime soon.

Commitment and follow through. That's what you need.


We watch very little TV in Castle Bike, so I am not up with any of the current crop of TV ads. I even missed Masterchef, which I think I might have liked.

As I've been riding around, I've noticed ads like this one on billboards:

They've had me mightily confused. You've got someone that looks like Al Gore on the left, and maybe a Pakistani or Indian bloke on the right, or perhaps an Italian, and the text is "Which one of these men had a drug and alcohol addiction?"

And I'm riding along and thinking, "WTF?"

My thought processes initially went something like, "It can't be the Paki, because he's likely to be Muslim and not drink etc", and then I was looking for a hidden subtext and so on and wondering whether there was a trick to it.

Yes, apparently there is. I'm not supposed to be able to tell because the bloke on the left is not Al Gore, and the bloke on the right is Aboriginal. Could have fooled me.

Then again, that might be the point of the ads all along. I don't even pick the bloke on the right as being a blackfella. In fact, he is a dead ringer for a very nice Indian bloke I was working with last month.

Now that I think I understand these ads, let me just say that these ads shit me.

PS - posting has been lite as I've been hell busy at work.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Either this is bollocks, or Rudd is an idiot

Therese Rein says the Prime Minister gets by on three hours a night

If you so much as glance at the literature on sleep, you'll see that statements like that are rubbish. The myth of "great men" being light sleepers has been well and truly debunked. Thomas Edison was one of the worst for boasting about sleeping little at night, but he cat-napped all day.

James B. Maas, Ph.D., sleep researcher at Cornell University and author of Power Sleep, says that "when people are severely sleep-deprived, they lose verbal and problem-solving skills, can't concentrate and undergo rapid mood swings." Many disasters over the past 20 years have involved worker exhaustion, including Chernobyl, the Challenger explosion and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Mood swings? Three hours a night might well explain why Rudd is so rude to his staff, and such a prick to work for. Plus the way he talks could also be explained by sleep deprivation - I make no sense when I've been up all night, and he sounds that way most of the time.

However, making decisions while deprived of sleep hurts productivity. A National Sleep Foundation study found that people who work more than 60 hours a week make almost 10 percent more mistakes on the job than people who work less.
I guess that explains Fuelwatch, Grocerywatch and all those other idiocies that this government has thought up. And the stimulus package - probably put together by shagged out Treasury wonks at 3am.

Rudd might want to ponder this:

Napoleon is not less frequently referred to in the context of napping or polyphasic sleep than da Vinci. And his case is rather easy to falsify through historical records. When compared with an artistic genius of Leonardo, it seems even more preposterous than a brilliant military commander could possibly retire for a nap during a prolonged battle or during his intense life peppered with plethora of engagements. He is indeed said to have slept little and frequently suffer from insomnia at times of great stress. He was also often interrupted by messengers that might perhaps increase his propensity to napping at daylight. Yet he was to be woken up only with bad news. The hard rule was that the good news could wait. His memoirs indicate that he did not mind dying young. Consequently, he would disregard his doctors on the matter of sleeping little and drinking buckets of strong coffee. As Napoleon's life was jam-packed with stress, his short sleep might have been a consequence of his lifestyle. Low sleep diet did not translate well to Napoleon's military skills. Some contemporaries attribute his errors at Waterloo to sleep deprivation. Yet, during slower days he would sleep for sound seven hours, waking up at 7 and often lazing until 8. Then he would yet add an nap in the afternoon. Records also indicate that at Saint Helena he was a normal sleeper, and while stress was replaced with boredom, he often slept late.
This is even more classic - a comment on bloggers who try polyphasic sleep:

All blogs seem to roughly evolve through similar stages. They are invariably written by males, usually young and full of youthful optimism. There is a cultish aura around the whole concept. It parallels the work ethic and self-imposed or super-imposed sleep deprivation of Aum, Branch Davidians, OTS, or Peoples Temple. This monastic appeal is accentuated by the fact that the ambitious adopters often run various forms of diets as part of their "reform". There are lots of hopes associated with the "polyphasic experiment". Those usually revolve around being able to do more, and experiencing "increased energy"

Rudd is up there with the Branch Davidians of Waco fame!

Disclaimer - I usually got very little sleep when on exercise with the Army Reserve. I think we were lucky to get more than 4-5 hours over a 2 week period, yet it usually felt like we were getting 3 or less. Some nights, we got none at all.

When combined with a great deal of physical effort (attacking up hills with an M-60 gets the heart rate going), sleeping on rough ground and/or in wet clothes, being cold and miserable etc etc, it was not surprising that some were a mental wreck by the end of each exercise. I saw people get into fist fights over trival things, I was as irritable as hell, and I even managed to fall asleep standing up on a few occasions. I saw people confuse north with south (which is a small problem when reading maps), and watched as people became utterly incapable of making decisions. They had no idea what planet they were on, and some were reduced to tears because their brains had essentially locked up from lack of sleep.

I have yet to meet anyone who can run on 3 hours of sleep every night, and remain sane, mentally alert and pleasant.

Which is why the article in the SMH is either bullshit, or Rudd is a great flaming idiot who has no idea how to manage his own health and mental wellbeing.

Housing the homeless - for how long?

If you dig through my recent posts, you'll find my summary of a recent report on homelessness. The federal government is intent on building 20,000 more units of public housing in order to combat homelessness.

Well, that sounds good, you say.

But I ask this question - to what end are we building more public housing?

Close reading of the report shows that only 1 in 8 of those classified as "homeless" are sleeping rough in parks and under bridges - most are either living in hostels, or renting where they do not have security of tenure.

I'm not sure what the big deal is about living in a hostel. I've spent months of my life moving from hostel to hostel on a daily basis. Part of that was during a 3 month tour of Europe, and another was a sojourn across the US. Hostels range from the execrable to first class, and my fellow travellers ranged from fantastic funny people who I loved having a beer with, to low class thieves and rip-off merchants.

We slept on bunk beds in barracks that held anywhere from 4 to 40 snoring people (men and women), and we definitely didn't have en suite bathrooms. The food served up at breakfast was highly variable, as were the quality of the beds and the temperature of the water in the showers (some featured cold showers only).

I shared dorms with drunks, Jesus-freaks, jumbo jet level snorers, itinerant salesmen, old people, young people and people from just about every country you can name. I even slept on trains, memorably waking up one morning in the wrong country (having overslept my stop). One train was rather full, and required bedding down in the corridor on the carpet.

I never imagined that staying in a hostel made me a different class of person. I got a good nights sleep most nights, there were facilities for washing clothes, I started every day clean and scrubbed, and I could have ironed my shirt if I felt like it. The food was generally not to my taste, but I hit the road with a full stomach and a sense of purpose, even on those days when I had indulged in too much cheap French plonk.

Living in a hostel is not every one's cup of tea, but you can carry on a reasonably regular life whilst living there. People like fruit pickers manage to live in hostels for months on end and work every day. If you look carefully in many a country town, you'll find a hostel or two dedicated to housing these sorts of workers, who travel the countryside following the work.

One of my grandfathers was a train driver, and he spent most of his life sleeping in a room at the pub in a country town before starting the following days shift. A great uncle was a travelling salesman, who lived most of his life on the road, staying at commercial pubs. Ever wondered why many towns have a pub called the "Commercial"? That's where all the commercial travellers stayed. Even judges and lawyers did that when the circuit courts actually moved around, doing a "circuit" of the area. Geologists may spend weeks on end sleeping in a swag under the stars next to their Landcruiser, camped in the middle of nowhere.

Hell, we've even had the case of a federal politician who chose to sleep in his car on some nights in order to pocket his travel expenses.

My point is this - you don't necessarily need to have a permanent roof over your head to lead a happy and fulfilling life. You can work, socialise and even study whilst being officially "homeless".

So to what end are we, the taxpayer, paying for all this new public housing?

I am sure that if I make the above points to someone in the "charity-homeless complex", they will say, "Oh, but these people have drug and alcohol and mental health issues".


So what you are saying is that you're going to take someone who is a meth-freak, completely incapable of managing their life, and you're going to build them a nice, shiny house with all mod-cons and put them in it.

Then what?


Then what?

Well, they have a roof over their head and security of tenure, so that should solve all their problems.

Hmm. I don't buy that argument.

For starters, our meth-freak had to come from somewhere. People are not born homeless, spend their youth homeless, then their teenage years homeless, and continue on into their 20's and 30's as homeless. We all start with a roof over our heads to some degree. At some point, something happens to trigger homelessness. A drug habit or drink habit that spirals out of control, a messy divorce, a mental breakdown - perhaps triggered by a bad drug habit. Whatever. Perhaps we should be treating the disease rather than the outcomes.

Theoretically though, using the official measures of homelessness, I became homeless at 8, when I went to boarding school. I spent the next 9 years sleeping in open dorms with 15 or so other kids, showering in open bathrooms and eating collectively in a dining hall. I then spent a year being officially homeless in a university college until finally becoming housed at 19 in a flat with two other drunks. During my time at uni, I served in the Army Reserve, and spent at least 3 months over a number of years sleeping rough on the ground in a, military training ground.

I've lived in demountable homes for months on end, whilst working at wheat bins. I've spent gawd-knows how many nights sleeping in cars at music festivals, B&S's, or just after a big night at the pub. I've even slept in a rose garden in a park, after trying unsuccessfully to walk home from the pub one night.

When I finished uni, I then became homeless again by embarking on a tour of Europe, and on my return, spent a few months camping on a sofa with friends until they kicked me out.

None of that prevented me from eventually settling down, getting a job, starting a career (of sorts) and having a family. I previously mentioned a mate of mine who has started and run several successful businesses whilst living in a caravan.

But back to our meth-freak, who due to his meth habit, has severe mental problems and a predilection for petty crime. He prefers to spend his money on meth, rather than rent, so he has housing issues. And dental issues, and so on. I had a similar problem with beer when I was at uni, although I usually set my priorities this way:
  1. Rent
  2. Food
  3. Petrol
  4. Beer
  5. Sundries
Often as not, I didn't get any sundries. Some weeks, if money was tight and expenses were high, I got no beer. But then I had a small measure of self control. Too many others ordered things this way:

  1. Beer
  2. Sundries
  3. Food
  4. Petrol
  5. Rent
Oops, recipe for becoming homeless. Our meth-freak probably has this list of priorities:
  1. Meth
  2. Grog
  3. Party drugs
  4. Taxi fares (to score drugs)
  5. Food
  6. Rent
His problem is not being homeless. His problem is his drug habit, and how he sets the priorities in his life. Not everyone has a dream of living in a renovated 19th century manor house, or in a newly built McMansion. For some, housing is not a priority. Decorating is not at the top of their list of things to do. They care nought about plumbing, matching tiles with curtains and what sort of dimmer switches they should install. Unfortunately, our public policy appears to be being made by inveterate readers of Vogue Living and House and Garden. They think that just because they want the dream home with the 6 burner stove and the 50 inch plasma in the media room, that's what everyone else wants, and should have.

Anyway, we put our meth-freak into a new house. Then what? What do you suppose happens next?

In some cases, they will treat the place so badly (no cleaning, no maintenance, wild parties), that they will be evicted 6 or 12 months later (ok, maybe 5 years later, when the neighbours can take no more) and they will be back in a hostel, and the taxpayer will be stuck with cleaning a ruined house.

For too many soft heads, they see the problem as this:

"I am homeless, therefore I am a drug addict/junkie/useless loser welfare recipient/mental patient".

I see the problem as this:

"I am a drug addict/junkie/useless loser welfare recipient/mental patient, therefore I am homeless".

You don't cure their problems with housing. You cure their problems by drying them out, or getting them into work, or getting mental health treatment, then you worry about their housing.

In fact, if you treat the problems, you shouldn't have to worry about their housing, because then they will be in a fit state to deal with it themselves.

Instead, the government seems hell bent on creating another generation of the client class. You park someone in government housing, and then what? I expect that they will never leave, that they will sit there until they die. Those who are moving in and out of hostels are transient homeless people - one would hope that they would spend some months in a hostel, then get their act together and find somewhere proper to live. That's my expectation. If you take them out of that and park them in a government supplied house, where is the incentive to get one's act together and find your own place to live? All incentives to behave and move on are removed, and in fact there are incentives to misbehave in order to hang onto your nice, new taxpayer provided house.

I will end with the story of a bloke that I met briefly one day in a dusty paddock in a fruit growing area. He was an Afghan refugee with few words of English. He was sitting in the dirt, making bundles of cuttings of fruit trees. It's the sort of work that I've done a few times in my life. He was living in a hostel in town, and he was picked up and dropped off each day by the farmer. He'd been in the country for 6 months or more, having arrived by leaky boat. He was not supposed to be working, but he was.

I doubt he was down at the pub each night, blowing his wages. I bet he was the richest man living in that hostel. When the fruit season came to an end in that town, he packed up and moved to the next area of work. You can make a reasonable living doing that sort of thing - picking grapes, pruning trees, putting up trellises, digging in irrigation pipes, chipping weeds and so on. The pay is not great, but many pay in cash, and your expenses are low. His sort always find themselves at the front of the queue when it comes to being picked for this sort of work, as they are hard working, selfless and dependable. They do not view this sort of work as beneath them, and work as something only to be indulged in when they feel like it.

It would not surprise me if that bloke, who I will call Abdul the Afghan, is now living with his family in a nice house in an outer suburban area somewhere, and he is steadily paying off his mortgage like so many others. He came here with nothing, unable to speak the lingo, possibly illiterate in his own language, but his work ethic and thriftiness will see him rise in our society, whilst we are doing our best to trap so many of those born here at the lowest level.

So once again, I ask of this homeless policy - what is the end game? Are we seeking to help the homeless to stand on their own two feet and to make their own way in the world, or are we seeking to trap them for the rest of their lives in government housing and welfare dependency?

For if it is the latter, we have put ourselves on an endless treadmill where every decade or so, we need to fund another massive expansion in government housing to house the next crop of homeless.