Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A stab in the dark

The other day at Christmas dinner Andrew was put on the spot by his father. I don't remember the exact circumstances but Dad was asking for a number between 1 and 1000. Andrew screwed up his face for a moment and came up with 1954.

We all burst out laughing and left Andrew wondering why we were laughing. After a few seconds it dawned and a sheepish grin appeared.

A little later I had the oportunity, being that it was Sunday, to do the underpants on the head thing again. But it's truly embarassing to admit that, having had the Friday off so that it didn't 'feel' like Sunday, I'd forgotten. To have forgotten such an ideal moment. I hang my head in shame! But Matt came to the rescue, reminding me, with a wicked grin on his face, what day it was.

I'm sure the kids Dad had no idea what to make of it all!

It's time

to say an almost reluctant goodbye to Visual Studio 6. Hard to believe I've been using it for nearly 8 years. Of course I'll be keeping the install CD's around; you never know when you might need it, but I doubt I'll be reinstalling it on any of my personal machines ever again. Unfortunately we still need to keep it around until we can find the time to port our company codebase to something a little less venerable. Until we can find the time? I doubt that's going to happen until it's time to create an entirely new product from scratch.

It's been a good friend, has VS6, though it held me off learning STL for quite a while. I prefer all my projects to build at warning level 4 with warnings converted to errors and the only way you could achieve that feat was by disabling zillions of warnings. I didn't want to do that because it would turn them off for my code too unless I peppered my source with literally thousands of

#pragma warning(push)
#pragma warning(disable xxxx)
. // STL call that triggered warning xxxx
#pragma warning(pop)

blocks. An alternative was to modify the STL headers to hide all those pragmas but it's an article of faith for me that one does not mess with the headers that come with the development environment. (Nor does one EVER recompile the MFC DLL's - that way madness lies).

I know I'll miss ClassWizard but, on the other hand, I've been switching back and forth between VS6 and VS.NET 2003 for at least two years so I know I'll cope :)

Rest in Peace, VS6.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lovely Lisa

Sometime in the second half of 1997 at Unisys Melbourne we got ourselves a new boss. You understand that it wasn't voluntary. We'd done well with Grumpy, which nickname wasn't deserved but he liked it. He knew how we worked and we knew how he worked and we played it for a win win. But things change and Grumpy moved on to other things and we inherited a new boss.

Bernie was, to be frank, an idiot. Almost the perfect example of someone who goes into management because they can't do anything else. You understand of course that I speak as one who plays the management role reluctantly. But I've been around long enough to have seen many examples of the species and to model my behaviour, when I must play the role, on those I can respect.

On the other hand, if Bernie was an idiot he was an amiable idiot and that made him ripe for the exploitation. All we had to do was make him look like he was halfway acceptable as management material and, as the quid pro quo, we could demand that he let us do our thing.

So one Monday morning in 1998 I walked in to the office, to find Bernie on his knees under a desk, running a network cable. Bernie just didn't do that kind of thing but the explanation was right at hand, in the person of the new secretary, Lisa by name. She had legs and that seemed to be the major reason for Bernie's new found interest in manual labour!

And so, over the next couple of months, Bernie carried a hopeless torch. He was in his forties; she in her twenties. He was married; she single.

Poor bastard!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Cheese piggy

is my affectionate nickname for 'my' cat.

We have five cats as permanent fixtures plus a rotating array of neighbourhood strays who come and go. We leave a window open so that our cats have the same freedom we do; the strays avail themselves of that freedom and take the opportunity to have a good feed. I think if I was in their position I'd do the same!

'My' cat is Kitten. I told the story of how she came to be with us a year ago[^] and as I was without a job when she joined us she attached herself to me. She's had a hard time coping with my travel; it usually takes her a month to regain her confidence in me.

We don't know what happened to her when she was very young but she has no voice. If very scared she can shriek but otherwise she's always silent. I do my best to be sure she's not scared at all.

I take my responsibility as 'her' person very seriously indeed. When she wants to climb into my lap that's just the place she should be. If, when I go to bed, she decides that that is the exact moment she needs many caresses then that is what she gets. If she needs reassurance that she's the best cat in the universe well, what else can I do? :-)

Now you know I'm rather fond of red wine. There are those who might say too fond :-) Yuppie though it might sound I find the thing that goes best with red wine during a late night drinking session is cheese and crackers. Not just any cheese though. I like my cheese sharp and pungent. If I'm enjoying a Botrytis Riesling I'll go for blue vein, if I'm enjoying a ballsy merlot I prefer a very very sharp cheddar.

It so happens that Kitten is also fond of a very very sharp cheddar. She might be asleep on a chair somewhere or she might be outside, or she might be curled up on our bed, but if she happens to hear the sound of me slicing cheese she trots in, head high, eyes wide open, ready for cheese. Correction; demanding her share! And we all know that when a cat demands her share she gets it or else! :-)

Writing about it made me realise I feel like some cheese, so I went and sliced some. And naturally, as night follows day, there was my little cheese piggy making sure she didn't miss out.

So that was another Christmas

My 51st though I don't remember the first 4 or 5.

It seems my ultimatum to the family that I wasn't going to brook any attempts to jolly me into the holiday spirit worked. The buggers let me read 'The Old Curiousity Shop' during that most painful of rituals, the unwrapping of the presents. This is good. This means that we've reached a compromise.

I did get one or two pressies that I appreciate. Foremost is a collection of little balls on elastic that I use to keep my hair in check. I couldn't resist making the joke 'most men have hair on their balls, I'm one of the few who have balls on their hair'. They laughed about as hard as you did reading that! :-)

The other pressie I really appreciate won't even ship until the end of February, a new book by Mark Kurlansky. His Salt: A world history[^] is a fascinating read. Who'd have thought you could write 450 pages about so common a household object as table salt and make it so interesting I couldn't put the book down? The new book seems to be about New York City and Oysters - I'll resist the temptation to google for more detail.

For the rest, Shelby and Matt were, as always, a pleasure to be with. Morgan was a little less self centred than usual and Andrew was, as always, in work-avoidance mode. When, at the end of dinner, it was time to clear the table and do the dishes he pleaded that he couldn't be trusted with Mum's best dishes. Unfortunately, Mum agreed and the little bastard got off scot free. We had words, in private later, about that. I reckon he'll never begin if he's never allowed to take the risk of making a mistake. To her credit, my wife did see the force of my argument. We'll see if he's required to assist next year!

I spent the rest of the day working out how on earth one embeds a WebBrowser control inside an ATL ActiveX object in such a way as to be able to catch the events the WebBrowser fires from within that ATL ActiveX object. I worked it out (it was frightfully obvious once I'd solved the maze of mapping macros and template invocations) and maybe there'll be an article on CodeProject in the near future. Or maybe not; I'm still trying to decide if a lightweight non MFC COM object rework of this[^] would be worth the posting.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

If there's one place you don't want to be

it's in an American airport in the week leading up to Christmas. If the crowding and the delays don't get you the carollers will. Yesterday, at Dallas Love Field, they had not one group of carollers, not two, but three groups, all poisoning the atmosphere with note perfect renditions of such pap as 'Silent Night', 'Winter Wonderland' and 'The little drummer boy'.

I admitted last year[^] that I dislike Christmas intensely. Admitted? I practically shout it from the rooftops :-) My opinion hasn't changed. This year I've put the family on notice that any attempts on Sunday to 'jolly' me into the Christmas spirit will have exactly the opposite effect. Let well enough alone; I'll attend and keep quiet but don't expect me to join in with the saccharine.

Returning home from Dallas was a long winded affair. Given the date I made sure I was at the airport well before departure time; three hours to be exact. Checked my suitcase in and was handed a standby security pass. Standby??? My ticket was booked and paid for on December 12th! When I asked the check-in person I was told that most likely all the other passengers had printed out their boarding passes over the internet and I, as the poor bastard lacking a printer on the road, was one of the last to confirm an intention to travel.

To say that this annoyed me somewhat would be an understatement.

So I whiled away two hours until the gate should be staffed and I could petition for a seat. Not a bad two hours as it happened; I smoked outside, watched planes take off and land and enjoyed the never ending spectacle of people. I neither confirm nor deny the presence of a couple of cuties :-)

At the end of the two hours I was the first in line at the counter and I was fortunate enough to get a boarding pass. Group C of course. Another hour to wait. I wish. My flight out of Dallas started at about the time it had been scheduled to land in El Paso. In other words, an hour and a half late. Given that I'd booked a set of flights with a one hour wait in El Paso this made me somewhat apprehensive about the connection. I needn't have worried. The plane to take me from El Paso to Phoenix was still on the ground in Albuquerque!

Delay piled on delay. In total, it took me 10 hours to travel from Dallas to Phoenix; arriving just in time to catch the traffic gridlock at Sky HarboUr airport.

But I have to tell you; that smoke when I emerged onto the South kerb at the airport made the whole thing almost worthwhile!

After 32 years

I've finally caught up :-)

Yep, I finally like The Dark side of the Moon[^]. I wrote a while ago about my introduction to Pink Floyd[^].

It was love at first hearing back in 1968. I'd never heard a band like them and, to this day, no one comes close in the rock arena as far as this old fart is concerned. The first Pink Floyd album I owned was Ummagumma; that was the first album readily available in Melbourne in 1970. As they grew in popularity it became easier to aquire Pink Floyd albums. I got 'Obscured by clouds' in 1971, the soundtrack to More as a remainder in 1971, 'Echoes' in 1972 and so on.

And then came 1973. For whatever reason we were blitzed by ads for the new Pink Floyd album 'The Dark side of the Moon'. I was one of the first to buy and I hated the album. It didn't sound at all (to my ears) like Pink Floyd. You understand that I didn't, at the time, notice the paradox between my expectation that each new Pink Floyd album would sound like it's predecessor and my corresponding acceptance of the vast difference between Mahlers First Symphony and his last.

Toward the end of 1973 it was impossible to attend a party without being assailed by 'us and them'. Everywhere one went one heard that hated album. I retreated into classical music and pretty much missed the entire rock scene from 1973 until 1997 (my return is the subject of another story I might relate sometime soon).

Strangely enough, 'The Dark side of the Moon' is the first CD I ever owned. Not that I bought it; my first wife Sue gave me my first CD player for my 33rd birthday, 1987. To accompany it she gave me that album on CD. I fear I was so untactful as to remark 'I'd have chosen something else'.

Our marriage collapsed 2 weeks later. Nope, I don't imagine now that it collapsed because of that thoughtless comment; it had been on it's last legs for a while before then though I didn't know it. But for those first few months of feeling abandoned I clung to recent memories of the thoughtless things I'd said and done and wondered 'if I hadn't'. Memory is selective; I don't remember remembering back more than a couple of months at the time but now, 18 years down the track, I see that it was inevitable.

All of this was brought about by watching Pink Floyd - Live at Pompeii[^]. Interesting film; I remember seeing it at Monash University as a student club activity in 1979. 37 years down the track hearing Pink Floyd can still raise goosebumps.

A gimme

Today whilst prowling around the kitchen I found an 'interesting' DVD on the bench. A porn movie no less. Thinking that this was perhaps a little blatant for Andrew I asked my wife why there was a porn film in the kitchen. 'Oh', she said, 'that's Morgan's. She said she'd never seen one and was curious'.

Okay. I can kinda go with that. So when she got home from school I asked her if the movie had lived up to her expectations.

'Oh,' she said, 'everyone looked so bored!'

So then I explained about camera crews around the bed, the sound man pointing his mike, the lighting crew and how it was likely there were multiple takes. 'All in all,' I said, 'it's bloody hard work being a porn star'.

She looked at me and asked 'how do you know?'.

With a gimme like that I had no choice :-) 'Oh,' I replied, 'back in the 1970's I used to act in porn movies under the name 'Buck Nekkid''

I'm pretty sure she didn't believe me!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Two wineglasses, one hand

I had dinner tonight with Chris Austin[^]. Nice guy, interesting, well travelled. Shucks! :-)

We ate at a Bavarian restaurant somewhere in Plano. I don't remember the name but the food was good and the beer better. I may have surprised Chris by not drinking all that much but I was driving.

We started at the bar whilst waiting for a table. It's a busy restaurant with many tables and a small bar so it's only natural that the waiting staff are sometimes queued up waiting for their drinks order. One such order was for two glasses of wine. Down came two glasses and in a moment they were filled. The waitress, unaccountably, grabbed them both in the one hand. And what happens with the traditional shaped wine glass when you do that? The one on the left tilts to the right; the one on the right tilts to the left and wine pours out.

No panic; a bit of a mop up, a refill and the glasses were good to go. So what does she go and do? Uh huh, you guessed it; she grabs them both in the one hand and yada yada.

Hey, not every post is going to be Pulitzer prize winning material! :-)


As I've noted once or twice before I enjoy spare ribs. Quite the best contribution the US has ever made to world cuisine.

Andrew likes ribs too but they're a tad expensive so we only have them occasionally at home. On the other hand, when I'm travelling on the company dollar I treat myself.

Lately I've gotten into the habit of taking a photo of the before and after of my dinner and emailing them to Andrew so he can have the vicarious pleasure of seeing what I'm about to enjoy and he isn't! :-)

Last night I sent the photos, via my wife. She obviously showed him because her reply quoted him as saying:

'Are you serious? He's a bastard!'

I've been a bad bad influence on that boy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Footprints on the ceiling

In September of 1996 I had the good fortune to be sent from Melbourne to Boston on a business trip. I was sent to help in the evaluation of a software product. The good fortune was that the trip was paid for by Australia Post and we scored first class all the way. When you've only travelled economy before the step up to first class is quite the win!

I was one of a team of four; one of the others was Maxine. Strange girl! She had a fondness for the kind of hat that reminded one of the more garish lightshades from the early 70's. Indeed, we used to call her the walking lamp on the strength of those hats. Nonetheless, at the time I got on pretty well with her.

As befits a business trip on the customers dollar we were convivial in the extreme and the libations flowed freely. Too freely one night perhaps; I ended up in a loud argument with one of the team which ended with the pair of us standing on the footpath next to Kendall Station poking each other in the chest. I had a sore chest the next morning but I'm pretty sure he did too!

We patched that one up the next morning and a couple of nights later the four of us went out to enjoy the evening. It was our last evening in Boston and the flight was late afternoon so we knew we'd have ample opportunity to sleep off any slight excess.

Very very late that evening we returned to the hotel, a bottle or two in hand, and retired, the four of us, to Maxine's room for a nightcap. Being Australians we had, of course, a jar of vegemite. I always packed a jar of the vile stuff when I visited the US prior to moving here; I love the look of disgust that most people get when they sniff it!

One thing I didn't mention before is that Maxine is very petite. Barely five feet tall and light to go with it. So it was the work of a moment to coat her feet in vegemite, hoist her upside down and have her walk across the ceiling!

We've often wondered what the hotel staff thought the next morning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Defeating the purpose

As I was whiling away the time at the airport this morning, having a smoke outside, I couldn't help but notice this bloke at the kerb. He had an SUV (I don't remember what it was) and he'd helped load some arrivals luggage into the back. Then he took his keychain, pressed a button and the tailgate closed!

Uh huh, I thought. Just what the world needs. An electric tailgate closer!

So he jumped in the drivers seat, started the engine and then he paused. Stopped the engine, got out and came to the back of the vehicle to grab the tailgate to be sure it was closed. Then he hit the open button on his keychain, watched it open, hit the close button, watched it close, and tested it again.

Then he got back in the drivers seat, started the engine, stopped it again and repeated the process.

Finally, satisfied that the tailgate really was closed, he drove off!

Sometimes simpler is better!

If I hadn't already suspected this

I'm sure Morgan and Andrew did!

You are The Devil

Materiality. Material Force. Material temptation; sometimes obsession

The Devil is often a great card for business success; hard work and ambition.

Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the major arcana, the Devil is not really "Satan" at all, but Pan the half-goat nature god and/or Dionysius. These are gods of pleasure and abandon, of wild behavior and unbridled desires. This is a card about ambitions; it is also synonymous with temptation and addiction. On the flip side, however, the card can be a warning to someone who is too restrained, someone who never allows themselves to get passionate or messy or wild - or ambitious. This, too, is a form of enslavement. As a person, the Devil can stand for a man of money or erotic power, aggressive, controlling, or just persuasive. This is not to say a bad man, but certainly a powerful man who is hard to resist. The important thing is to remember that any chain is freely worn. In most cases, you are enslaved only because you allow it.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

You'd think I'd know better by now, wouldn't you

After all, it's not like this is the first or even the fifth time I've flown Phoenix to Dallas. As I've noted before[^] you have various options when flying that route. You can pay through the nose for a direct flight to Dallas/Fort Worth or you can save a lot of bucks by making it a two leg flight. It ain't my money but even so there's something galling about paying $700 or so to save 6 hours of time. Highly paid consultants need not respond! :)

So I fronted up at the airport this morning and checked my luggage. Technically I didn't have to do that; I travel very light indeed, but it really pisses me off the way people bring large suitcases onto a flight and slow the boarding process by blocking the aisle while they try and stow it. Half the time it ends up in checked baggage anyway. I can't help feeling that if it annoys me enough to comment on then it behooves me not to be a part of the problem. That's the virtuous reason. The real reason is I hate trundling a suitcase around :)

The first flight was late leaving Phoenix and I was starting to regret having left a mere hours waiting time at El Paso. But they managed to make up time and I arrived at El Paso just in time to duck to the end of the group A boarding line and get onto the next flight. Shortest stay I've ever had in that airport! Having a 'tween planes smoke was out of the question.

Arrived at Dallas and that long awaited smoke. Then back in to the terminal to pick up my luggage. Which was not to be seen. A few minutes passed and then the penny dropped; if I made it just in time to catch the next flight obviously my bag hadn't. So I went to the baggage claim office and explained the situation. Uh huh. Nope, that wasn't the problem!

The problem was that when I checked the bag back in Phoenix I hadn't asked for it to be checked through to Dallas. They're quite happy to do that of course, but the fact that we, the travelling public, are forced to buy two tickets each way from Phoenix to Dallas means we, the travelling public, have to remember to tell the checkin staff what our final destination is.

The bag is, as I write, somewhere between here and El Paso with a promise to deliver it tomorrow. Given that it's my fault for not remembering I really can't find it in myself to be too annoyed.

So here I am in a hotel in Dallas needing a shave and debating whether to braze it out on the customer site tomorrow or venture out into the cold to find a supermarket somewhere. I suspect the shave will win.

[stop press]
I found a razor, somewhat blunt but useable, in my laptop carry case. Blessed be that carry case! :)
[/stop press]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Improving the imperfect

Sometime in the late 1970's Robin bought himself an upmarket cassette recorder. Heino remembers it as a SuperScope; I remember it as a SilverScope but I suspect Heino's correct; it was packaged in late 70's silverised plastic. You know the kind of thing, the slightest touch and the coating rubbed off and made the whole thing look tacky, which is probably why I'm remembering the word 'silver'.

The recorder came with a mini headphone jack but Robins headphones had the large style. They've been manufacturing adaptors for just such problems for at least 40 years that I know of but Robin decided he could do better than that; he was going to replace the headphone jack entirely.

So he cracked the case to check how much space was available. It would be a tight squeeze but it was doable with care and I'd guess it should have taken 15 minutes from go to whoa. Ever watched a hasty man make a chair out of packing crates using a blunt axe? I haven't either but that's exactly how I'd describe Robins approach.

Six or so hours later the recorder was half patched back together. The hole he'd enlarged was too large and the new jack wobbled about. Every so often one of the contacts would short against a pin on the PC board. One of the rubber belts had come off badly in an encounter with the soldering iron, which imparted an interesting stuttering effect to both recording and playback.

But he was proud of the result and, in the end, that's all that really matters, isn't it.

In the category of trivial wins

I remembered to print out my boarding passes for both flights tomorrow and, wonder of wonders, I managed to get group A for both of em. In the larger scheme of things this is somewhat akin to spending two bucks on a scratch-it lottery card and winning back your two bucks, but that's in the larger scheme. During those few minutes tomorrow when I'm focussed on getting onto and off the plane having group A will make all the difference.

For those unfamiliar with Southwest Airlines here in the US, they don't do allocated seating. Instead they do seating by group. One is either in group A (one arrived at the airport very early or printed the boarding pass the night before), or group B or group C. They board in that order and, once you're on the plane, it's a free for all. Grab whatever seat is available and takes your fancy. If the flight is full, and they usually are, group C passengers cop the middle seats. Whenever that happens to me I always seem to be in the back row jammed between two quarterbacks!

Some people take group A too far. There's always some sad bastard camped at the very head of the group A line who's been there for more than an hour, jealously guarding his position as first passenger on the plane. The more sane amongst us take a seat whilst we wait.

Of course coming back I'll be in group C both flights. I won't have the option to print out my boarding pass the night before.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It's the owning that's important

We were at the local Half Price bookshop this afternoon; I needed to buy something weighty to read on the plane to Dallas Monday. Uh huh, I'm travelling again. This time I'm looking forward to it; two and a bit months without travel now feels too long.

This trip has been threatening for a while now. I first expected to return to Dallas in mid October but one thing and another delayed it and delayed it. Naturally the trip happens during the week before Christmas! I'm returning to Phoenix on thursday. Anyone want to guess how crowded that Southwest Airlines plane will be? And anyone want to guess which boarding group I'll be in?

But I digress. There we were at the bookshop, standing in line to pay. I chose 'The Old Curiousity Shop' by Dickens - a good meaty read if I know my Dickens! Beside the register is the LP/CD/DVD VideoDisc section. I'm still trying to decide how anyone could think that a good album cover consists of a shot of a womans mid section from her navel to half way down her thighs, wearing red shorts!

I honestly don't remember when VideoDiscs were released. Sometime in the 1980s but I couldn't get any closer than that. But there they were, packaged in much the same way that LP's were. Curiousity got the better of me and I thumbed through the range - nothing so memorable that now, nine hours after the event, I can remember a single title.

But I was reminded of Robin and the amount of time, money and effort he expended getting hold of a copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey[^] on VideoDisc. Great movie. I must have seen it a couple of hundred times. A pity then, that, having obtained a copy on VideoDisc, he didn't have any hardware to play it!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The end of an era

Seti@home classic has ended after a trifle over six and a half years. I've been participating for a trifle under six and a half years but today is the day they stopped sending out new work units. My count at the time of writing is 85269 though I still have a few dozen work units on hand and they are still accepting results.

Not bad for a project that was originally going to run for two years; they just kept extending it and extending it.

As I've written before[^] it became quite the obsession though I haven't been as bad in the last three or four months as I was. I stopped maintaining that spreadsheet for one thing and when they had an outage I just didn't care :) Nonetheless the experience of obsession is a warning I'm going to heed for now; I'm not planning to take up one of the other shared computing causes for the nonce.

An interesting detail; my total went up by more than 2500 on Monday evening; the count was rising at a rate of three or four per minute. Why? *shrug*

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

School year

Heino sent me an email overnight saying how he'd enjoyed reading the 'You bastards' series of posts. Robin being a mutual friend means he could visualise every situation and he could certainly hear those words that closed each episode.

Heino teaches a Video Production course these days and, since he's in Australia, that means that his teaching year has come to an end and he's on leave. He couldn't resist pointing that out to me. I read that simple sentence and thought...

'You bastard!'

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Birth of Bing

As some of you may remember from previous posts, my wife and I were involved in a trivia website. In fact, that's how we met, through online trivia playing games in live IRC chat rooms. Eventually we started our own website. The website[^] is still out there but we've had nothing to do with it for nearly four years and it seems, as far as I can tell, to be inactive.

But prior to that website I was already heavily involved in writing some of the software we used to run the games. I wasn't the only one of course but I fancy my version of the game software was better than its rivals. Of course, I would say that wouldn't I.

The way it all worked was that the game software would run the question and the players would answer, preceding their answer with a dot .

That dot was very important; without it the game software didn't see your answer at all! At the end of the round the game would score peoples answers and assign points accordingly. If you, the game host, were lucky, a player would have typed an answer that exactly matched what you had in which case marking was automatic. More usually players would type only part of the answer and rely on the host to divine their meaning and score it appropriately. We had a three letter rule; you had to type at least three letters of the answer and many a furious argument would flourish if the host felt that an answer was insufficient.

Usually one had two or three very good players and a bunch of somewhat less good players. As the weeks passed most players would work out who had a high scoring average and it became quite common to 'lem' a good player. Ie, to follow them over the precipice like a lemming. Some of the better players would play a wicked game; they'd fire out an answer at the start but precede it with a comma which didn't count. Other players would lem them and, right at the end of the round, they'd drop the right answer in with a dot. I fixed that one by allowing comma as well! :)

As the author of the software I felt it behooved me to actually run games with it. How else would I know if the software was usable under real world conditions? How else would I be able to guess which features might be valuable and which not? So I ran at least 3 games a week. They say that Television is a voracious consumer of material; to that I'd add that so are trivia games! Finding 105 new questions a week was quite the challenge.

So I (we) would take shortcuts sometimes. The software kept track of how often a given question had been used and how long ago. You could select a random set of questions or you could choose those that had the longest fallow period and so on. And so, one night, I used that feature but I didn't preview what questions comprised the game.

So off we go running the game. Three or four questions in and up comes one where the answer was Bing Crosby. Someone answered .bing and many others lemmed. So far so good.

A couple of questions later and up came another question to which the answer was, you guessed it, Bing Crosby. And again, a little later. This was becoming embarassing! By the time the fourth question to which the answer was Bing Crosby came up everyone was in the swing of things and .binging away like crazy. In fact, they became so enthusiastic that they started answering .bing even when that wasn't the correct answer. So I started scoring .bing with 5 points.

The game ended, I handed the chatroom over to the next host and went and added bing to the game. From that night on, if the host enabled it, answering .bing would earn you 5 points whether you were right or not!

And of course that little change annoyed some players. I even lost a couple of regulars over it. They felt that it diluted the competitive nature of the game. Maybe it did but it was all meant to be fun anyway *shrug*. Bing stayed!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Tasteful rearrangement

Combining a couple of themes that I've been writing about this past week I recall the time that Sue and I went to Robins house. This was sometime in 1979 so I can't remember the why of the visit but when we arrived he was in the shower. His mother showed us in and left us to our own devices in his room. We had about 15 minutes alone. What to do???

I'm sure the answer is obvious. We opened his stash of porno magazines and spread them across the entire room, open to each centrefold. We'd barely finished covering the last few square centimetres of open space when he walked in, took one look and said...

'You bastards!'

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Our little boy is growing up!

where 'our' isn't to be taken in the literal sense of course. I'm just the unsympathetic step-father :-)

In short, Andrew has discovered the female form. We know this because the wallpaper on 'his' computer is now a shot of a young lady who has obviously taken some kind of enhancement medication; that or the world supply of silicone took a sudden dive recently! The fact that she's probably twice his age hasn't occurred to him yet.

I'm reminded of the joke about how a mother found some pornographic magazines under her sons bed and took them straight to the counsellor. The counsellor tried to calm the mother by telling her that this was just a phase her son was going through. 'When will the phase end?' she asked. 'Oh', said the counsellor, 'when he's 78!'

boom boom!!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Dominus ad Nauseam

Back in 1980 Sue, Robin and myself were sharing a house. Quite the grandest house I've ever lived in; it had two (count em, two) bathrooms and three dunnies!

Sometime in March of that year cash was at a low ebb and we were really trying to eat cheap. We went to the local supermarket to do the shopping with about ten bucks in hand and almost a week to provide for. Not quite as bad as it sounds; ten bucks went a reasonable distance in those days if you were willing to eat rice and potatoes. So Sue and I were shopping frugally, selecting the aforementioned foodstuffs, when Robin came trotting up with a plastic cake knife (the triangular sort one uses to lift wedges of cake off the plate) saying 'Guys guys, we have to buy this.' 'Why??' we both chorused. 'What are we going to be eating that we'd need one of those?'. Crestfallen he stammered 'well, we might have a cake'.

We didn't buy it.

Almost 10 years later, Tuesday January 9th 1990, we held a 'Roast Robin' night. Heino was involved in that one. Sue and I and Peta and Robbo (about whom I haven't yet written) owned a coffee shop by then and we tricked the premises out for the evening. A fake coffin, a cardboard skeleton, cobwebs hanging from the ceiling and about 600 photocopies of a photo of Robin. He was staring at you wherever you looked! We even taped his face up behind the toilet doors.

Robin, of course, didn't know it was a roast. We lied about the arrival time so we could have everyone in position; when he walked in through the door we were chanting 'Dominus ad Nauseam' around the coffin. He took one look around, then stared at us and said... 'you bastards!'

But it doesn't end quite there. After the consumption of food and drink we took turns at giving a little speech relating some anecdote involving Robin. Of course they followed the pattern laid down for roasts; Robin was always the butt of the joke. When it came our turn we distributed a brown paper bag to each guest. Inside was a copy of the photo aforesaid, some mini mars bars and various other junk that tied in with some story or other about Robin. Also included was a plastic cake knife.

He took one look at it and said...

'You bastards!'

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I want you

In 1979 Sue, Robin and myself were sitting in one of those hole in the wall coffee shops that used to dot Swanston Street Melbourne. They had such tempting names as 'The Krown Kafe' and so on. I honestly can't remember if any of them remain; it's been years since I was an habitue.

Robin doesn't smoke but Sue and I do; we were both enjoying a smoke when an attractive young lady approached and asked me for a light. So I lit her smoke and she wandered back to her own table. I leaned across the table, fixed Robin with my gaze and said.

'You know what happened there don't you mate?'

He had to admit he didn't.

'She wants me.' I lied.

He wanted to know how I knew so I spun him a story about how, if a woman asks a man to light her cigarette, she really means 'I want you!'. Poor bastard fell for it hook line and sinker. That very day he bought himself a cigarette lighter and presumably wandered around the city waiting for the moment when a girl would ask for a light.

A couple of months later he was complaining about how inefficacious the lighter was. Sue started laughing almost hysterically (you have to hear her laugh :-) ) as I explained that I'd been pulling his leg.

He took one look at us and said...

'You bastard!'

Monday, December 05, 2005

Box 1A

Back in 1983 or thereabouts I was asked to help a friend move house. Profuse reassurance that he'd be packed and ready on the day and all we'd have to do was load boxes and furniture into the truck, follow it to the new address and reverse the sequence.

Yeah right! That was the theory; the practice was that when I appeared bright and early that Saturday morning he was still in his dressing gown making coffee. And nothing was packed! Well, almost nothing. There were two medium sized cardboard boxes labelled Box 1A and Box 1B.

When asked what was in them he was remarkably taciturn, indeed, almost embarassed by the question. But a bit of nagging throughout the day and the truth eventually came out. It was his porn collection. Not hard to imagine his priorities.

I'm not going to identify him but if he were to read this post he'd take one look at me and say...

'You bastard!'

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Back in 1981 when Raiders of the Lost Ark[^] was released Robin was one of the first in our circle to see it. He raved about it and insisted that if we saw no other movie that year we had to see Raiders.

Now you have to understand that I'm not a big Spielberg fan. In fact, I'd rate E.T. as one of the three worst movies ever made. So I was rather reluctant to go see it. Indeed, I refused point blank and that was an end of it, for now.

A few weeks later Sue and I went to see a movie at the old Metro theatre in Glenferrie road. I can't remember what movie it was, probably something by Woody Allen. As we came out I noticed that the next movie on the bill was Raiders and an evil idea grew. So we went in to see Raiders.

The evil idea was to remember all the climaxes and, more particularly, the events leading up to them. Then we'd let Robin take us to see the movie next week and, whenever a climax approached, we could predict what was going to happen and convince Robin that the entire movie was a pot-boiler of predictability.

It worked a treat and by the end of the movie when we predicted that the Germans faces would melt he was totally convinced. Afterward we went to dinner somewhere or other and let him in on the secret.

He took a long look at us and said...

'You bastards!'

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The waltzing waters

You've noticed, no doubt, that we do frequent weekend outings. I was going to add 'when I'm in town' but amazingly enough, with the exception of that one night stay in Dallas a month and a half ago, I haven't had to do business travel for more than three months. Quite a contrast with the first 9 months of the year as you'll recall!

I really enjoy these outings. If my first wife Sue is reading she's probably reeling in shock because 20 years ago when we were married she had the devil of a time dragging me away from my computer. My second wife didn't have much better luck. But here I am in a still relatively new city to me in the midst of much natural beauty; the weather has cooled down to the point where it's possible to emerge from air-conditioning so I'm eager to go explore.

On one Sunday afternoon in 1985 or thereabouts Sue persuaded me to go for a drive in the Dandenongs, a small mountain range to the east of Melbourne. It marks what I think of as the eastern edge of the city though, to be sure, suburbia sprawls over and past them. We were driving down one of the main roads (I'm afraid I don't remember its name) when we saw the signs advertising the 'Waltzing Waters' at the Tatra Hut. We were both intrigued so there we stopped. An average buffet restaurant.

The floor show consisted of a bunch of coloured lights flashing in various sequences, lighting up a spray of water produced by water forced through a pipe with a bunch of holes drilled at intervals. Not just the one pipe and not all the holes were in a straight line. The DJ played Strauss's Blue Danube and worked a bunch of levers that rotated the pipes and adjusted the water pressure. Some of the time he managed to be on the beat.

Sue and I sat in surprised amazement, both at the tackiness of the show and the evident delight of most of the other diners. It wouldn't be much of a story if it stopped there but of course it didn't. Feeling 'had' we decided that it was only right we should share that feeling with our friends Robin and Rosemary. I've written about Robin before[^].

So we told Robin we'd seen the most amazing show on the weekend; he just *had* to see it. Robin was gullible in those days and he took the bait. So the following sunday the four of us repaired to the 'Tatra Hut'. Robin was full of anticipation. I don't say that I didn't hint that perhaps semi-naked women were involved.

The lights dimmed, the music played and on came the waters. Robin gave us one long look and said...

'You bastards!'

Friday, December 02, 2005

The day I didn't cry

I've mentioned the cuts[^] before. A strap brought sharply down on the palm of the hand as punishment for some infraction of school rules. Always done in public with an eye to frightening the more timid scholars into obedience.

As previously noted, it hurts like hell. Naturally the ability to take 'six of the best' without tears was highly admired; some of my friends could take it with nary a tear. I, alas, usually couldn't and would return to my seat a snivelling shamefaced mess. You understand that breaking into tears during the cuts didn't usually result in jeers afterward from ones friends; we all knew what it was like. It was more an affront to ones own pride that one had cried.

One afternoon toward the end of 1964 we'd been smoking in the dunnies and some dobbing bastard informed on us. The teacher, Mrs Hodgson, conducted an inquiry. My name had been mentioned and I was paraded at the front of the class. I knew that I was in for six of the best. Unfortunately for me, my name was the only one that had been mentioned, along with the additional information that I hadn't been alone.

Thus began the interrogation. Probably a fairly gentle interrogation as such things go but an interrogation nonetheless. Not made any easier by the fact that my current sweetheart Julie was watching. Mrs Hodgson wanted the names of my accomplices. I wouldn't give them. We lived by our own code of conduct, one I'm sure I need not expatiate on. Out came the strap and the standard intimidation technique, a hard slam of the strap on a desk. Everyone jumped. I realise now that it was intimidation; I didn't then. Then came the hint that if I named names I'd be doing my 'duty' and need not be punished further.

Uh huh. Did she think I was born yesterday? Actually she may well have; as I've written before[^] she retired at the end of that year. She must have been 60 so a 10 year old would be extremely young.

Whichever way I jumped I was going to be punished; either with the strap there and then or later in the court of public opinion if I was so lacking in moral fibre as to dob my mates in. So I refused to name names.

With a heavy sigh she gave in to the inevitable. Sounds a bit like 'this hurts me more than it hurts you' doesn't it? Yet, looking back on that day, I'm less inclined to be cynical about it. She probably would have preferred not to have to strap me but we'd both backed ourselves into corners and the game had to be played out. And so I was strapped.

Norman Lindsay described it well in his novel 'Saturdee'. I can't find a decent link alas. He describes the moment when you feel the pain and catch your breath and survive, dignity intact, or miss the breath and break down (I'm probably misremembering the phrase but that's the gist of it). Luck was with me; I caught my breath and got through the six without a tear.

As I sat down at my desk, palms red hot, I felt triumph. I'd faced danger and stared it down.

And later, after school, as we enjoyed another smoke, I basked, for a moment, in their admiration.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I'm not sure I should admit this

But I finally 'get' Southpark.

When it hit Australia, on SBS, back in 1998 some of my friends raved about it; others hated it. Indeed that's been my experience of how people react to Southpark; you either love it or hate it. And I hated it.

I don't remember just why it was that, a couple of weeks ago, I watched an episode. Probably boredom :-) Whatever, it clicked and I found myself laughing and laughing. One gag in particular (and this just may reveal something about my level of sophistication), revolved around Cartman and the gang stowing away in a USAF plane on the way to Iraq. Stan remarked about being stuck in the cargo hold for the next 20 hours and Kyle asked 'can it get any worse?'. At which point Cartman farted!

I was still laughing 10 minutes later. It's hard to go past a well executed fart gag!

I'm waiting for the Philip Glass episode. I've heard about it and I'm looking forward to seeing how they lampoon my favourite living composer!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Embarassing behaviour

Mine that is!

For the 1992 birthday of my second wife Peta she decided we'd go to a particular restaurant in St Kilda. I don't remember the name of the restaurant and, given the stats for the failure of new restaurants, I doubt it's still there. It was somewhere on Acland Street and was what's called a 'chic' restaurant. That means that one pays rather more than double the value of a dish and five times the bottle shop price for a bottle of wine.

So there we went. And she didn't like the place! A few minutes and we were off. Thus followed a long evening of driving from St Kilda to Malvern to Carlton to Brunswick and eventually we ended up, at 11:30 PM, hungry and tired, at the Hyatt Hotel in the Melbourne CBD. By that time the chefs had gone home and we were left with an overpriced buffet at the fag end of the day. Not much left and what was was tired from long maintenance at temperature.

I learn. Well sometimes I learn :-) For my wifes 1993 birthday I took her out, two weeks ahead of time, to decide upon the restaurant. We did the whole gamut; hamburger joints to $300 a plate places. You understand that this was just looking; we weren't spending a cent at that moment!

We ended up at Stephanies, a restaurant in Hawthorn that occupied a very impressive old mansion. The mansion is still there, less than a hundred metres from the place where I worked in 2001 but it's no longer a restaurant; now it's occupied by wannabe semiconductor design houses who intend to offshore their fabrication to Malaysia or suchlike.

Peta seemed suitably impressed and I thought I had a winner. It was about that time that I shot myself in the foot. You see, the maitre d was a snooty bastard. Maybe it was the way I was dressed, in a jumper (sweater) with holes in both elbows. Or perhaps it was the corduroy dacks (trousers). Whatever. He seemed to turn his nose up at me. Looking back I can't say that I blame him; I certainly wasn't dressed to fit into that decor. On the other hand, I do know how to dress when the occasion suits.

So when he turned his back I couldn't resist. Up went both arms, elbows poking through those holes, waved defiantly not only at the maitre d but also at the diners.

Is it any wonder we divorced?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Elbow Grease

Back in 1978 my domestic arrangements were rather variable. Where I called home changed from week to week for a couple of months. Youthful restlessness combined with the optimism that only a 24 year old can summon.

For a short time I occupied a room in Marg's house. I'd met Marg at the end of 1974 at the music camp where my first symphony was performed. She was quite a bit older than I and it was a purely platonic friendship but we enjoyed each others company even if I was defiantly in the Romantic camp while she preferred Baroque.

I fear I was rather gauche but she tolerated that as part of the price of being a mentor.

After a couple of weeks Kate moved in. We'd met Kate at the music camp in January 1977. Kate was a bit younger than I was; late teens. She'd been a student at one of the more exclusive schools in Melbourne, and let me tell you, some of those schools can be *very* exclusive indeed. I'm told that it's necessary, even for former pupils of Scotch College, to enrol ones offspring at birth or even at the time of ones nuptials in order to ensure a place and even then it's a crap shoot.

Nice girl. I'm not sure what instrument she played; methinks it was the flute. Whatever. We got along pretty well together, the three of us and when Kate needed a place to stay in Melbourne what more natural than to ask Marg for a room for a few weeks while she got on her feet? From which long-winded sentence you might, correctly, surmise that she was a country lass albeit from a wealthy family.

One afternoon I came home to find Kate slaving over a frying pan. Wealthy family or not Kate wasn't afraid to jump in and do her share of the housework. There she was, steel wool in hand, scrubbing and scrubbing away at that frying pan, trying to remove the brown stains. She'd done quite a good job and had already removed three quarters of the teflon!

Monday, November 28, 2005

A bob

In 1959, a newly enrolled scholar at Footscray West Primary School, I was looking forward with intense anticipation to attending a show to be staged in the school grounds by a travelling menagerie. Not that I knew that word then; to me it was 'the animal show'.

They had the usual lineup of suspects for travelling animal shows; snakes, goannas, possums, probably a dog trained to do tricks. I don't remember that they didn't have Koalas and Kangaroos but, given the difficulty of feeding those animals in captivity, I'm completely sure they weren't represented. Indeed, the Koala is so notoriously difficult to feed that the number of zoos featuring them is severely restricted in Australia let alone overseas.

Entrance to the show was a shilling. That was an appreciable sum in 1959 to a family living in West Footscray though I didn't really know much about the matter. I do remember the following year my mother scrimping and saving so she could pay the ten shillings and sixpence for my entry to the Footscray YMCA for three months. You know, I've only just realised that meant a year was 2 pounds and 2 shillings or 2 guineas. Surely the Footscray YMCA weren't working on guineas!

Alas my YMCA days were numbered though Mum didn't know it. Even at the ripe old age of 5 my aversion to organised sports, indeed, sports of any kind, were manifest. That's not the same as saying that I sit around the house; I walk at least 5 miles every day. I just don't get excited over fighting for an inflated ball.

The day of the animal show I was handed my shilling by my grandmother with strict instructions to guard it and hand it over to the teacher. Off to school I trotted, shilling closely guarded in my hand. At this distance of time I don't remember the circumstances of its loss; all I remember is that it was lost!

Sometime during the day those kids who'd fronted up the dosh were herded into the tent pitched on school grounds. I vividly remember walking across the school yard, tears streaming down my (then) cute little face and wailing like a banshee. One of the teachers, doubtless steeling herself for yet another emotional encounter with a child, stopped me and asked what was wrong. I explained.

And somehow a miracle occurred. I was allowed into that tent. Maturity tells me she either contributed a bob or she did some special pleading (or maybe the school had a slush fund for such emergencies). I can't even remember if she was young or old or what her name was (she wasn't my teacher) but she had and has my undying gratitude.

Oh, this is my 500th blog entry. I never imagined when I started, over there in The Philippines last year, that I'd be able to come up with enough rubbish to fill 500 entries! :-)

Saturday, November 26, 2005


I made it into wikipedia[^].

Not sure what else to say :-)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The stuff of nightmares

If you're not an Australian it's quite possible you haven't had the opportunity to know of this[^] case.

I'm not going to canvass the rights or wrongs of the case as such. But I've had nightmares about it, all of them about how the poor bastard sitting on death row must feel. There's an overlay of the mechanics probably brought about by too much reading about the process of executing someone by hanging. Not even the process so much as the grinding of time. We all of us live with the knowledge of mortality but very few of us know the exact moment and method of our exit from this world.

I've been setting off for my nightly walk, unable to not count how many hours Nguyen has left in this world. Unable to stop thinking about what I was doing on December 2 of year 19xx. Some of the reports in the Herald Sun or the Melbourne Age have reduced me to tears.

I don't count down the hours as desperately as he must do and I think I have a reasonable chance of being alive on December 3 this year but I'm sure I'll never be able to pass through Changi Airport Singapore again without thinking of Nguyen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's the day before Thanksgiving

and we're looking forward to a four day weekend sans little bastards (the kids are off to Palm Springs for a weekend with Grandmother). Neither my wife nor I are really into Turkey so we're planning some baked Salmon with Dill and dirty rice. We're also planning a visit to Prescott Arizona, a few miles up the road. It was the capital of the Arizona Territory back in the days before statehood and on the one occasion I passed through it (December 28th 2001) it looked very interesting. I have fond memories of some steak fajitas consumed there. We're going back to take a more relaxed look.

So naturally one of my bosses who is in The Philippines right now decides that he needs me there tout suite! My other boss thinks otherwise. My other other bosses opinion is, at the time of writing, unknown.

We shall see what happens. It's been an almost novel experience not travelling. Apart from that one nighter in Dallas a month or so ago I haven't had to do company travel for almost three months. I'm not sure I remember how to do it. While we're on the subject, have I got a deal for you! Slightly used bridge, excellent river views.

Cross your fingers for me. I suspect I'll be in The Philippines next week but it'd be nice to get at least three of the four days this weekend off. It'd be even nicer to spend some time with my wife without the little bastards! :-)

On the other hand, my feet are starting to itch and I'm thinking it may be time to reaquaint myself with the drive from Manila to Baguio. Decisions decisions!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

They really meant it

when they said Visual Studio 2005 needs a gig of memory. I've been using VS6 since it was released way back in 1998 and VS.NET 2003 for about 2 years; they both work well on my system, which is a 3 and a bit year old dual Athlon MP with half a gig of memory. The IDEs run smoothly and I never wait more than a split second for em to notice that I've changed views. Indeed, VS6 positively screams on a dual proc 2GHz system.

Not so for VS2005. I like what I see; the problem is that I get to see it for far too long whilst waiting for the paging subsystem to catch up. Its slow enough in half a gig that I'm going to hold off on actually using VS2005 until I can afford to double the memory space. That's not as high in the financial queue as finding the US$390 for the citizenship application!

On the other hand I don't want to sound like a luddite. Visual C++ 1.5, when it came out, probably required resources beyond the average; I don't remember. I do recall that in those days 16 megs was high end and installing VS 1.5 from floppies (all 20 of them) took over eight hours if you hadn't had the foresight to install Smartdrive. Installing Smartdrive cut the install time to 2 hours!

My impatience at the performance of VS2005 in half a gig of memory merely tells me that it's time I added memory; I'm not, for the nonce, at the cutting edge!

Sometime in the early 90's the first Pentium machine arrived at Unisys Melbourne. I think it was a 60 MHz box. At the time we had a saleswoman, Sue Anne, on the team. Most unusual for those days. Some of the younger guys grabbed the new machine and ripped the covers off so they could gaze their fill on that purple ceramic wonder. No cooling fans need in those days!

I remember watching Sue Anne watching them crowing over the new processor. She was moving her hips back and forth in a deliberately suggestive manner, chanting "Pentium, Pentium". She knew I was watching. We laughed.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tonto National Park

Today we decided to visit Goldfield Ghost Town[^]. A fairly typical specimen of reconstructed mythology though it certainly does look real. As befits a ghost town from the wild west they do re-enactments of cowboy gunfights in the main street. Lots of smoke and noise and everyone looks suitably impressed. I say that with rather more snideness (is that a word?) than it deserves; it's a lot of fun to watch and I'd certainly recommend going to see one if you have the opportunity. I've seen the re-enactments of the shoot out at the OK Corral in Tombstone; well worth seeing.

As an aside I remember when I was six years old or so watching a western on TV. Afterward I asked my grandmother how she'd rather die; in a cattle stampede or a gunfight. It never occurred to me that maybe she'd rather it wasn't by either method!

After the mock gunfight we did the mine tour. A bit of a fake; they herd you into a tin elevator that takes forever to descend 20 feet! You emerge into darkness and get a lecture on mining conditions in Arizona in the 1890's. Andrew was particularly taken by the description of the Honeywaggon. A euphimism for the necessary office of portable latrine. The guy who runs the tour is well worth the admission price; a born showman who sounds like he knows his stuff. His description of working conditions underground was harrowing and totally believable. It went straight over Andrews head but then, why wouldn't it? Andrew has no experience of such things. My own experience is but peripheral.

After lunch we decided to follow the Apache Trail through the Tonto National Park. A great drive. Lots of scenery; all of it impressive. Rough road unmade in places but lots of places to pull over and whip out the camera. My gallery[^] shows 11 shots; I must have taken 200!

This excursion did answer my question about the source of the water at the Arizona Waterfall[^].

On the way back we had a little bit of drama. My wife did the Apache Trail a decade or so ago in the opposite direction; she started out at Saguaro Lake and ended up in Mesa so that's how she remembered the drive. We started in Mesa going north and she imagined we'd emerge onto the 87 (Beeline Highway) at Saguaro Lake. Uh huh. We must have missed the turn off because by the time we hit the 87 we were 72 miles from Phoenix with an eighth of a tank of petrol and sunset imminent.

I had dire images going through my head of how I'd manage to hitchhike from where we stalled to the nearest petrol station; fill up a can and hitchhike back. It was the hitchhike back that had me worried; how would I find them again?

I have no idea how we managed it but we made it from there to the Fort MacDowell Casino (about 40 miles) on that eighth of a tank. As we pulled up at the first set of traffic lights we'd seen in 6 hours I glanced to the left and there was a Conoco Petrol Station. Saved!

I reckon it was sheer willpower that got us that far; all three of us urging the car on!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sheer willpower

I remember 1995 as a cold year. It seemed like someone had opened the fridge door in early March and we shivered all the way through to November with the exception of one day in June where the temperature hit 30C. Doubtless an inspection of the meteorological records for Melbourne would reveal 1995 as a year much like it's siblings but that's how I remember it.

Ten years ago this week the weather picked up and suddenly it wasn't cold any more. One evening Heino, Joe and I were on our way from the office to the car park. Heino remembers the day as somewhat dark but warm. I remember the sun shining through a gap in the cloud cover and the usual Melbourne late spring gusty winds. Before us was a young lady wearing the kind of skirt susceptible to sudden lifting. A gust and up it went but she was too quick and we were treated to the sight of a young lady walking along with her hands stiffly by her sides, holding that skirt down! The wind died down and she relaxed her grip on the skirt. And we waited for the next gust!

If sheer willpower could have done the trick I'm sure her skirt would have been up around her ears.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


A few weeks ago we went visiting the Phoenix Museum of History[^]. Not a bad museum as museums go though I've seen better. I was fascinated to count how many members of the one extended family were named on the benefactors board; I counted 23.

As the name implies, it's a museum of the history of Phoenix though not just Phoenix; it tries to cover all of Arizona. I have to admit that Arizona seems to have it all in terms of natural wonders. Geologically it's one of the most interesting places I've ever been to. Culturally it often feels like a wilderness though the extensive collection of Russian Movies at the library helps a lot.

My wife and I were both intrigued by a particular photograph on display at the museum; a waterfall in Phoenix a hundred or more years ago. They gave the address, the north eastern corner of Indian School Rd and 56th street. Naturally, as it was but a minor detour from our route home, we went to see if it was still there. Actually, even if it had been 20 miles out of our way I'd have wanted to go see; the major river running through Phoenix, the Salt River, is a bed of sand most of the year and I wanted to see running water if such existed.

And sure enough, there's still a waterfall at Indian School and 56th. Whether the waterfall predates the canal I can't yet say though the history of the canal running through Phoenix interests me enough to want to follow it up. What particularly puzzles me is that the flow of water is from east to west; I'd assumed that the canal was funneling water from the Colorado River to Phoenix but if that were so then the flow would be the other way.

It's not just a waterfall anymore. There's a tiny hydroelectric power station there. The sign proudly proclaims that it generates the power for 750 homes in the area. Not much compared to the size of Phoenix but every little bit helps.

I didn't have my camera with me at the time so I went back last weekend to take some shots[^]. I was halfway through shooting when it occurred to me to worry that the security guy on duty might assume I was taking shots in preparation for some terrorist activity. I half expected the local SWAT team to descend and impound my camera. Such is modern paranoia!

Friday, November 18, 2005

An Aha moment

As you've noticed I'm rather fond of silly gags and jokes. I've been repeating them for almost as long as I can remember (I must have been an annoying kid). For instance, one cold winters morning in 1967 Misery Guts (my stepfather) discovered, in a hurry on his way to work, that he had a flat tyre. I, of course, pointed out that it was only flat on the bottom!

Andrew's rather fond of pretending that he's confused. Maybe it's not pretence; only time will tell. He's been pulling the 'I'm a naive kid, I'm confused' act for a couple of years now. I suspect it's a blind; if he can convince all those around him that it's true he hopes it'll buy some slack. Which may work, for a while. But that's hardly the way to approach his not so distant adulthood. Thus, as the caring stepfather, it behooves me to snap him out of it. My first approach was to try ridicule. I remember as a kid that the one thing I hated above all others was ridicule.

So out I came with the old gag; 'How do you confuse Andrew? Stick him in a 44 gallon drum and tell him to piss in the corner!'. Blank looks. Okay, that didn't work. Let's think of something else.

Today at the office in conversation over a smoke out the back of the building someone mentioned a 55 gallon drum and suddenly the penny dropped. What I'm used to thinking of as a 44 gallon drum is a 55 gallon drum here. The same size drum because the size of the gallon[^] is different. So maybe that's why Andrew didn't understand the joke!

Over dinner the perfect opportunity arose to repeat the gag; 'How do you confuse Andrew? Stick him in a 55 gallon drum and tell him to piss in the corner!'.

Blank look!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Three years

Today was a mixed day. Most days are of course; it's seldom that everything goes exactly the way you'd like but, thankfully, it's also seldom that everything goes awry. And this particular instance of today was much like any other day; some things went well and nothing went particularly pear shaped.

But today is also the third anniversary of my leaving Australia and my third anniversary of living in the USA. For the most part it's been good though there have been bad moments. I always knew I'd go through periods of homesickness but periodic visits back home combined with this blog have helped immensely. The odd trip to France helped too; when I was a kid I never imagined I'd travel as much as I have.

On my first night here in Phoenix after the move my wife and I disappeared from view for a while :-) (We'd been married for half a year but living on different continents...). Morgan noticed, after a few minutes, that we were absent and called out for Mum. Mum answered 'we're in here'. We could almost see the penny drop!

And yes, I do still think of Australia as home. I'm not a visitor here anymore as my last visit to Melbourne showed me but deep down in the way that I think and see the world I'm an Australian no matter where I live. You can take the boy out of Melbourne but you can't take the Melbourne out of the boy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Purple Haze

Not, as it happens, the Jimi Hendrix song, good though it is. Nope, this evening I had the good fortune for my drive home from the salt mines to coincide almost exactly with sunset and moonrise. My route takes me north along the Hohokam Expressway (the nearest thing to a freeway I'm prepared to drive on here in Arizona). To the left is Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport, to the right a vast expanse with a mountain range in the middle distance, sharp edges revealing their geological youth.

This time of year at that time of night a gentle purple haze settles to the east. Let's not dwell on it's likely provenance; sufficient for now is that it has it's own beauty. And, to crown the beauty, there, just grazing the mountain tops, was the full moon, many shaded, bloated, aircraft on their landing approach dotting the sky around with untwinkling lights. It was quite the struggle to concentrate on speeding traffic instead of gazing my fill.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yeah, I didn't believe it either

You'd expect that if I write the kinda stuff I write here relating some of the sillier things I've done that I'd also relate those stories over dinner. Which I do of course.

Tonight we were discussing some of the sillier fashions of todays youth and somehow or other I got into relating the stuff I used to wear back in the mid 1970's. I used to wear a top hat and tails. Well, to be honest, it wasn't a real top hat; I couldn't afford one of those, but it was a reasonable fake seen from a distance. I kid you not, I used to wear a tailcoat as everyday wear. I can't remember when I stopped; I suspect it was sometime around 1976 though I still had those tails as late as 1994.

What Andrew heard was something rather different. I said 'tail coat' and instantly he started with the old familiar ewww ewww. I thought not much of that; it's a common enough sound in these here parts. But in the spew of words coming out were some seemingly unrelated ones to do with cats. So we probed a little deeper. It seems that he thought I had once worn a coat made from the tails of cats.

Disbelief! He hadn't applied the most basic plausibility test. He knows I'm a big cat fan so one can only imagine what was going on in his head. Of course, I might have muddied the waters a little earlier when I mentioned the tombstone of Alice Cooper I stole from Williamstown cemetery and that resided in my room for a couple of years. I was younger then. A pretty poor excuse.

Oh, the tombstone was returned to it's rightful place though, strangely enough, I couldn't find it when I was last in that cemetery a couple of months ago. Methinks some other idiot has abstracted it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Andrew's getting good

that or he knows my jokes by now. The other day we were at the zoo and we saw some hummingbirds. I didn't know they were native to hereabouts but apparently they are; you learn something new every day. So, setting up for an old joke, I said...

'Hey Andrew, why do hummingbirds hum'.

Little bastard replied 'because they don't know the words!' :-)

I've been a bad influence on that boy!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The unexpected

If you've been following my writings for any length of time you'll have realised that my interests are not, perhaps, mainstream. Most of the movies I really enjoy, most of the music that excites me, even my preferred literature (late 19th century British). That's not to say that I can't enjoy other things; Shrek, The Lord of the Rings and Aqua's 'I'm a Barbie Girl'. But, for the most part, I'm happier in the more obscure reaches of Soviet movies, Minimalist music and long forgotten authors.

One thing I can't stand is Disney. I could launch into a diatribe but sufficient unto the day is the observation that I prefer my entertainment to be the sort that makes me think.

So today Andrew, my wife and I were playing Hearts on Pogo. Somehow the conversation veered into the forthcoming Harry Potter movie and I, having suffered through the first two, announced that they could go and see it without me. My wife asked me if there was any mainstream activity I was interested in. Andrew chimed in with a 'yeah'. I thought a moment and replied, well, yes, I DO like sex!

My wife laughed and Andrew went ewww ewww :-)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Your knowledge domain isn't mine

and, conversely, mine isn't yours.

Back in 1988 I had the misfortune to be assigned as a 'resource' to Geoff. Life in the corporate environment is like that if you're not a manager; one finds oneself being reassigned at the raise of an eyebrow. Then follows a round of breaking in the new manager. Most of the time, if you can deliver, you manage to train the new guy but sometimes you run across some ungrateful bastard who doesn't understand the principle of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'.

Geoff was just such a bastard. In addition to the usual traits exhibited by such managers he had the rather irritating trait of needing to prove that he was the source of all knowledge and, more importantly to him, that if you lacked his special knowledge you were a useless turd. Thus, one afternoon, in a discussion totally unrelated to work, it came to light that I had never heard of some, at the time, popular musician. I think it was Jimmy Buffet but I certainly wouldn't swear to it in a court of law.

Failing to recognise the name Geoff sneered. 'Oh', I said, 'you're familiar with Berg's violin concerto[^]? Do you think he managed to pull off the 12 tone system?' Baffled look in reply. Being a vindictive bastard when provoked I went for the kill. 'oh, and what do you think of Szymanowski[^]?

Moral of the story? We all have individual interests. What interests me might not interest you (but I'm going to write about it here anyway :-) ).

Monday, October 31, 2005

Burton Barr

One of the things that keeps me going here in Phoenix is the public library. I've waxed lyrical in the past about its resources. A couple of weeks ago we, my wife and I, went to the Burton Barr Central Branch[^] for no better reason than we wanted to. Fascinating building! We spent a couple of hours in the bound magazine area, thumbing through 1879 editions of the Atlantic Weekly and reading the 1948 Phoenix directory. According to both the 1948 and 1956 directories there were no Mandersons living in Phoenix!

A stones throw from that branch is the Tram museum. I use the word tram because that's what I'd call the street railroad[^] that used to run here in Phoenix. They closed in 1947 or thereabouts when cities across the world were abandoning trams. Thankfully Melbourne didn't though I do remember watching a street crew in Gamon Street, Seddon, in late 1962, tearing up the tram tracks.

The other day I was doing another search, online, through the Phoenix Public Library DVD collection, looking for more Russian films. I found quite a few that I wanted to see. The first was Father of a Soldier[^]. I'm a little biassed and I don't know why but it seems to me that if you want to see the definitive films depicting World War 2 you can't beat the Russians. Yeah, I know, this film is Georgian, not Russian.

It's a little mixed. There's a scene where the protagonist, an old man who cultivates grapes in civilian life, confronts a soviet tank crew who are destroying a vineyard in enemy territory. Cut to a shot of two german infants. Cut back to soviet soldiers and an argument. Would you kill children of the enemy? Then why kill grapes of the enemy? Are you fascists too? Perhaps the current US administration ought to consider that question!

There's one scene where I stopped, rewound and asked my wife to watch it. Did it remind her of anything she'd seen? Soviet soldiers crossing a snowscape raked by enemy fire. One of them finds a sign buried in the snow; he scrapes the snow off and reveals the letters CCCP (USSR). He calls his comrades back and they raise the sign anew. My wife had the same thought I had; it looked like that famous photo of US Soldiers on Iwo Jima[^] raising the Stars and Stripes.

Toward the end the film moves into pure hollywood but I'll forgive it that; much of the imagery we've seen leading up to the final 15 minutes is pure genius. How many films have you seen where the hero sings to a grapevine?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A chinese curse

It's been a weekend of drama. We had all the fun of an ex-boyfriend taking his frustration out, in a violent manner, against Morgan. I can't honestly say that I believe she was blameless in all of this; she can be a most provoking young lady at times and there have been moments when I've had to remind myself that, step-father or no, one is no longer permitted to administer a curative slap.

Misery Guts (my step-father) had it much easier; back in the 1960's no one batted an eyelid if he chose to take his belt to our bums. Of course, we also had hidden domestic violence and hidden incest; we have those today as well but people are rather less likely to turn a blind eye. *shrug*.

So I spent some of the afternoon at the local police station, or, as I think of it, the local cop shop. I suppose it's a reflection of the reality of a gun owning society that the cop shop was nothing like the police stations I'm familiar with. High security entrance; bullet proof glass between us and the receptionist. Doors leading from the reception area to the interior that looked like they could withstand a nuclear blast. Cameras trained on the side road leading to the station and razor wire on the entrance to the police car park. Well I suppose some desperate criminal could break free during the walk from the patrol car to the cells...

So we sat outside while the officer asked Morgan pertinent questions about the perp. After he'd ascertained the particulars they were preparing for picking him up and the first question was; does he carry a gun? Now please understand that, even though Australia holds the world record for the highest number of people killed in a shooting spree[^]such a question still rings alarms in me. That's just not something that I worry about in Australia.

And what is it with the word precinct? The such and such precinct station instead of the such and such police station? If my wife hadn't told me that building was the police station I would never have known though I drive past it most days! The police officers wear a badge of office but you can search until your face turns blue before you'll find a representation of that badge on the building! Fortunately a police car looks like a police car pretty much wherever you are in the world.

I remember driving home that Sunday afternoon, April 28th 1996, a sunny day in Melbourne. I was driving from North Melbourne toward Dynon Road Footscray and had just emerged from beneath the railway line when ABC Melbourne interrupted the program with news of a shooting in Tasmania. First reports were of one or two dead but as the afternoon wore on the numbers kept rising and rising. It took a couple of days for the final toll to be known.

I'm living in interesting times!

Friday, October 28, 2005

An Andrewism

The other night one of our cats was ensconced on the stairs being cute. Being a cat she couldn't help that of course; it goes with the territory.

Andrew noticed her and started to pat her by reaching through the banisters with his left hand (he's a southpaw). Buttons responded appropriately and so Andrew put his right hand through the banisters. Buttons liked the attention so he picked her up to give her a cuddle, and then realised that he had his left hand through one aperture and his right through another. Poor cat!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

George Washingtons Axe

Today is the 20th anniversary of my first PC. Not my first computer, just my first IBM clone PC. It was a Chendai (a long forgotten clone company in Melbourne) with all the extras; a 20 Meg Hard disk, 640 K of RAM, Intel 8088 CPU running at 4.77 Mhz, Hercules Graphics card and a green screen mono monitor. Oh, and a 5.25 inch floppy drive. No sound, no CD, no network card, no modem. It came with DOS 2.11 and it cost me the princely sum of 2810 Australian dollars. A pretty significant sum for 1985. Still a significant sum in 2005!

The interesting thing was the way the sales guy handled the software requirements. They had a rack with maybe a couple of hundred floppies and the deal was that I could, at the time of pickup, bring as many floppies as I liked and copy whatever I wanted. I had to do the copies myself. And so I stole copies of Lattice C version 2, Borlands Sidekick, Wordstar 3.3, dBase II, Lotus 123 and suchlike.

In those days computers came with paper manuals and the manuals themselves told of the times. The manuals I received included a clone copy of the IBM PC reference guide which contained a full source code listing of the BIOS and circuit diagrams for the motherboard and plug in cards. Of course the diagrams referred to the IBM XT computer and not the clone I had but strangely enough the BIOS source code was an exact match. I wonder how that happened?

For some reason I've never understood my hard disk drive was drive E: even after a reformat and reinstall it stubbornly refused to become drive C: Taught me to never hardcode the drive letter.

After my Micropolis floppy drive based system the move to one with a hard disk was an order of magnitude faster! Though I no longer remember the detail the move to MS-DOS felt like a backward move though I did like the ability to save files in a directory structure.

That was October 1985, a month before the release of Windows 1.0. I upgraded to a 40 meg voice coil hard drive in February 1989 because the pressure of keeping file usage within 20 megs finally became too much! It wasn't until sometime in late 1988 that I had accumulated as much as 13 megs of files, operating system and development environment included!

The final link with that computer was broken sometime in 1995 when the last component, the case, was replaced in an upgrade cycle. It was somewhat akin to George Washingtons axe. The same axe, just three new heads and four new handles.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lateral thinking

Back in 1973 I was attending trade school, being taught the fine art of repairing consumer electronics. You can't even begin to imagine how much things have changed in the intervening 32 years unless you've lived through them. The TV set of the era was based on technology that was pretty much the same as that used in the late 1920's when the new fangled wireless was making its way into the world.

One of my courses covered TV repair. Theory and practice where the practice was provided on the first pre-production run of the Astor SJ chassis from 1955/56. Astor, having got the bugs out of their production line, donated the entire run to RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) for their trade school and RMIT were still using those ancient sets 17 or so years later. At the time it made little difference; a 1972 model TV set was pretty much the same as a 1956 model.

So one week we'd be discussing the audio chain, the next week the vertical deflection, the following week EHT and so on and the prac class involved us leaving the classroom long enough for the instructor to simulate various faults in the area of interest. Simulation involved unsoldering a good part and substituting a known bad part. Upon our return to the classroom we had to diagnose the symptoms and point at the offending component.

It didn't take us long to realise that it was far quicker, given that we already knew which area of operation was being taught, to quickly examine each solder joint looking for that 'new' look that indicated a recent reheat. I reckon we got a better than 90% hit rate within the first minute. Of course, we merely used that knowledge as a hint :-)

One of our instructors struck one, at first, as a strange customer. He seemed totally focussed on the technology to the total exclusion of everything else. Quite the martinet at first aquaintance! After the first week of his teaching we concluded, rather harshly, that he probably made love to an 807[^]. He also had an obsession with the Hewlett Packard HP45 Scientific Calculator. We later learned, through another instructor, the tragedy of that mans life. His wife passed away on the day they were married and he was never the same afterward. We never did find out how she died but I do know that it changed our feelings toward him. I remember his name well but won't mention it. Let this be a lesson to all of us not to make harsh judgements.

My other instructor was a great guy. I wish I could remember his name; I have a vague idea his first name was Jack. He was particularly proud of the fact that he was born on the day the Titanic sank. My class was the last he taught; he retired at the end of that year. We'd got pretty chummy with him, my little group of friends and I, and we'd occasionally call in on him at his apartment in St Kilda after night school in 1974. We seemed to be always welcome; we'd sit and drink a beer and talk about technology and he and his wife would insist that we eat something. He and his wife made that little snack into both a pleasure and something of a solemn ritual; you really felt as if you were doing something special.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn he's still kicking at 93 - he always struck me as the kind of man who had so many interests in life (Classical Music, Internal Combustion Engines, Computers, History, Geography, Travelling, Teaching, Reading, Beer, Food, yada yada) that he'd never let a little thing like retirement get in his way.

Geeze, if he really is still kicking he's only 42 years older than I am! There's a sobering thought :-)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


A Wednesday afternoon in October 1968. Mud on the playing field behind our school and a bunch of shivering urchins, myself among them, trying to keep warm in the breeze.

Our PE teacher was trying to leverage the Olympics, working, no doubt, on the idea that if it was on TV it might inspire us to greater efforts. Javelins, Discus and the Shot Putt! Fortunately we weren't expected to compete naked!

One of our number was inspired by the Shot Putt to an act of juvenile insanity. He picked up a Shot and put it down his shorts. A second Shot and the other side of his shorts was bulging. 'Hey guys! Check out my balls!' We all laughed, first at the grotesque effect but later when he discovered the dangers of placing 10 kilograms of metal inside a pair of shorts not designed to hold it.

Guess what his nickname was after the event!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Phoenix Sunset

Strange weekend. It started, perhaps a day or two earlier than most weekends do, with a whirlwind visit to Dallas. I had, of course, arranged to go bowling with Vern and LaMont, wherein lay my first error. We started the arranging of the bowling a whole week ahead of time. Came Wednesday night and it was arranged that we would hurl overgrown aniseed balls down a polished wooden lane the following evening. And, of course, at noon on Thursday I had to go to Dallas. Vern was a most understanding guy though; he laughed and suggested that the next time we go bowling we don't plan it; he'll ring me at 5 PM expecting me to be at the alley at 6 PM. That might work.

So back in Phoenix late Friday night, the eve of an intervention. If you don't know what an intervention is, it's where a bunch of well meaning people gang up on someone who enjoys a drink or eleven and badgers them into stopping drinking. Nope, I wasn't the target. I won't say who was, just that I felt it was better for all concerned if I wasn't present. Since the intervention was taking place at our apartment that meant I had to spend most of Saturday afternoon elsewhere. So I jumped in the car and went driving. I knew where I wanted to be at sunset; around 44th and MacDonald quite close to the 'head' end of Camelback Mountain, to get some shots of Phoenix at sunset. They're here[^] if you're interested. I *did* do a brightness correction on one or two; my camera is a cheapo digital point and shoot.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

One way to lose a friend

If you were around in the early 1970's you'll remember that 'streaking' became a new phenomenon. Streaking was the fine art of stripping all your clothes off and running naked through some public venue. In Australia it was usually a cricket match. Let's be honest here; few of us have the kind of bodies that would make streaking a pleasure for the witnesses; I certainly don't!

One night in late 1974 I was on my way home from ballroom dancing. Yes, I used to do ballroom dancing. Quite enjoyed it. There's something about dancing where one actually touches ones partner that is quite appealing. I enjoyed waltzing but the dance I most enjoyed was the Charlotte. Alas, at this late date I can't remember a single move of the Charlotte but I'm sure it would come back to me if I saw it danced again.

So that night in 1974 I was on my way home. I was the one with the car; thus I was the driver. Me and a couple of mates, one of whom was siezed with the desire, that friday night, to streak. We stopped not far west of the intersection of Ashley Street and Ballarat Road. If you know the western suburbs of Melbourne at all you'll be able to picture the location; close to the Eta factory and right in the heart of low income public housing.

Enjoined to pull over I did and we waited while my friend stripped. We promised to pick him up a hundred yards down the road. Out he leapt, naked to the world!

Need I say that we drove off and left him there? It seemed a great joke at the time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Messing with his mind

I wrote[^] a few months ago about Steve. He was somewhat reluctant to go to Nice for a few days and did everything he could to avoid the trip. Last week they sent him to The Philippines. He was even more reluctant about this trip yet strangely resigned to it. As a veteran of the trip he asked me for advice and information.

So I drew him diagrams of the airport; instructions on where to change money (and how much money to exchange to cover likely needs), how to find the driver he's never met; advice on which hotel to stay in. The standard stuff. I'm glad that, on my first trip to The Philippines, I accompanied someone who'd been there more than once before and knew the ropes. He was on his own!

So today he phoned, mainly to discuss some issues of a nature irrelevant to this post. But along the way he asked me about the hotel. 'Were all the bathrooms tiled?' 'Uh huh' I confirmed. 'Even the showers?' 'Uh huh' I said. In some ways I've become rather Americanised in my speech! :-)

'You do realise', he said, 'that tiles have grout?'. 'Uh huh' I concurred as the penny dropped. 'Oh Steve', I said. 'They have a fungus over there that eats into your toenails. But don't worry, they grow back in about 3 months'.

It's a good thing he can take it as well as dish it out. I'm pretty sure he realised I was yanking his chain.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

An old joke

So tonight my wife mentioned that her computer was humming. Andrew just happened to be within earshot as I shot back with the old line...

*drum roll*

'Why, doesn't it know the words?'

*boom boom!*

Well, I thought it was funny! But what had us both in stitches was that Andrew, even when it was explained to him, totally misunderstood the joke.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Interesting stars

Yesterday we went to a craft fair held at a local primary (elementary) school. Andrew scored a job that pays him 50 bucks for 8 hours of unspecified work. Not bad money for a 14 year old unskilled worker methinks.

Not having grown up in this country you'll understand that I've spent very little time in a US elementary school. The fact that during the school day they're locked up like Fort Knox makes it all the harder to actually see what they're like inside. And here in Arizona, due, I'm told, to climate, most of the elementary schools I drive past look rather like secure biological research facilities.

So there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to accompany Andrew to his first day of paid work. Fascinatingly kitsch rubbish for sale. The sad thing was that my wife would pick up this or that knick-knack and say she liked it. After about the fifth such knick-knack I asked for a divorce. Just kidding!

Fortunately some of the larger school indoor spaces were open. One such space was the auditorium, packed with stalls selling all kinds of rubbish. But what drew my attention was a large US flag on the wall. US flags are, of course, rampant here but this one was different. The stars were hands but hands in a specific gesture that made me laugh. For they were in a gesture that isn't offensive at all here but is very offensive where I come from. The middle finger and forefinger raised in a V - and the back of the hand toward the viewer.

The V sign associated with Victory is the same gesture but with the palm of the hand toward the viewer. Reverse the hand and it becomes a gesture somewhat equivalent to 'flipping the bird' (all fingers down but for the middle finger).

I'm told that the reversed V sign originates from the wars between Britain and France; it seems that the British had the long bow and the French didn't. So the French, whenever they captured an archer, would cut off those two fingers. Thus, showing the two fingers to the foe at the end of a battle became a symbol of defiance and, over time, devolved into an obscene gesture.

I'd gotten into the habit of 'flipping the bird' back in Australia before I moved here. A fine compromise between insult and the currying of favour and a gesture that carried no meaning. And a habit that I needed to break once I got here. Fortunately the mere fact of being here made me hyperaware of not accidentally saying or doing something that in my culture would be harmless but that might get me into hot water here.