Monday, January 24, 2005


Yup, I passed the 50,000 SETI work units milestone yesterday! I now return you to your own obsessions!

I'm not really periodic

If you've been following my blog you really don't need me saying this. If not then you do.

If you do then you need to know that I travel a lot at the moment. The nature of my employer is that I don't really know from one day to the next if I'm going to be in the US, Asia or Europe. There are two constants; first that I won't be in South America; second that I won't be in Australia (bugger). I don't really mind the ambiguity; it's kinda exciting to be travelling from one continent to another.

But this does mean my connection to the internet is somewhat erratic. I'm constantly thinking of things that would make good blog entries, in my opinion if in no one elses :-) and I write em down using our old friend NotePad. Indeed I'm using my old friend right now because I'm connected to the 'net' using Swisscom Euronet. I said that as though it were obvious; but it's not. At this moment as I write I'm connected to the internet and I can check my SETI stats - currently 50077 WU's yet I cannot post to Wdevs through Swisscom Euoronet. I can read Wdevs but it won't let me post. I can also read CP and I can even post to it but Swisscom Euronet won't ever condescend to show me that my post succeeded.

How can this be? I'm paying US$30.22 per day for this connection and yet it works rather less well than my firewalled port limited connection from TI France, let alone my US$39.95 per month connection in the US that only blocks incoming connections to known server ports.

It gets better. I'm using the ethernet cable connection in my room. If I Use that connection I get 24 hours for the aforementioned EU22.00. But let's hope you can read between the lines and know that you must buy the connection after 2 PM - 1400. Don't make the mistake I did of buying the connection at 10:45 AM - if you do your time expires at 2:00 PM the same day!

Is that the end of it? Not on your life! My laptop computer has a wired ethernet port and a wireless port. If you connect via the wireless port you have another option. 30 minutes for 15 Euro.

Is this the fault of the European manifestation of the internet? I very much doubt so. I suspect it's rampant exploitation of business expense accounts.

Lost in Nice

Today was a fun day.

Let me preface this with the comment that I don't have a good memory for street names in an unfamiliar language. If I were writing about driving in Melbourne or Sydney or Dallas or New York I'd remember the names but unfortunately I don't remember the names of the roads here so you're going to have to put up with vague descriptions.

I'm supposed to be here another week and the people I'm here with were, as of this morning (Saturday) supposed to be flying out at various times between now and Tuesday morning; thus I was supposed to be the last one. The guy who hired the car we used to get from the Hotel to the plant flew out today so I hired a car.

Naturally, on my first day behind the wheel in Europe I wanted to go for a drive. And I'm not afraid of ambition; knowing that Italy is about an hours drive away... well you can guess what the thought sequence was.

So I set off from Nice Airport, where I hired the car. I might be very wrong but I have the idea that if I can get onto the A8 heading east I'll end up in Italy. If not I'll end up in Switzerland. Either way I'll be happy. Sounds like a workable theory :-)

It's probably still a workable theory but it has one fatal flaw. It assumes I can get onto the A8 :-)

I found myself in the centre of Nice. They're doing major road works there at the time of writing and there are many diversions. I'm a lazy driver; if I have no idea where I'm going I'll always go with the easier turns (this means that if I'm driving in a country where they drive on the right I take the right turns; and if I'm in a country where they drive on the correct side of the road I'll turn left :-) )

This led me to the 'mini tunnel' which seems to burrow below parts of central Nice. I saw a sign indicating 'Menton - Monaco' and took the indicated direction. Which led me straight into a carpark! Two cars behind me waiting for me to take the parking ticket; I couldn't back out. 1 Euro later and a drive through a carpark that seems designed on the principle of the library in 'The Name of the Rose' and I'm back on the street.

I see a sign that says 'Nice - Nord' and decide to head toward North Nice. Not an unreasonable assumption - south of Nice is the Mediterranean! It also holds out a promise of the A8. A fun drive - narrow narrow streets (by Australian standards) going up a steep hill. I got to the top of the hill and now there's only one way - down! I'm still following those signs that promise the A8.

A few minutes later and I'm back at approximately sea level; there's a river with very busy roads running down both sides. Once again those signs promising the A8. I'm driving east and I follow the indicated direction and get to a point where there are three choices. I take the middle road; it doesn't lead to the A8. Ok, I can turn around. Drive back toward the sun and turn around, eventually find myself back at the same intersection. This time I take the right road. It doesn't lead to the A8! (You thought when I said right I meant correct :-) ). So I turn around again and drive west. Find myself back at the same intersection; surely, given that there's a prominent sign pointing to the A8 I have to find it this time. No such luck. I took the left road and STILL didn't find the A8. I can see the damn road but can I find a way onto it? Not on your life!

It took you a couple of minutes to read this; it took me maybe 10 minutes to write it; and the doing of it took about 2 hours! So I turned around toward the sun yet again and followed the signs back to Nice Centrale. I got lucky; I found the major highway that goes to 'Cannes - Aix en Provence' and that took me back to St Laurent du Var (that's where my hotel is).

That highway was fun to drive. It's a long way above the ground. Remember I was driving it at 80 KM's/Hr and there's no divider between me and oncoming traffic so most of my attention was on the actual driving; nonetheless I could see that we were driving about 6 stories above the ground.

So, ultimately, I was unable to find the A8. I still had a fun day!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

This behaviour is by design

I've just spent a couple of hours tracking a bug in some code I wrote. I use the MFC CMonthCalCtrl control to input a range of dates for use in a database search. I'm also using CRecordSet (yeah yeah, I know) and a parameterised query. Because I'm using CRecordSet I need to use CTime's for the date parameters. Thus it made sense to map the CMonthCalCtrl to a CTime using DDX.

Worked fine in debug; in release it was adding about 4 years to the desired date. After a bit of headscratching I tracked down this KnowledgeBase[^] article. And that, of course was the problem. In debug mode the compiler was zeroing the SYSTIME structure, in release it wasn't and the random garbage on the stack added a bias of about 4 years to the structure passed to the CTime conversion constructor.

I love the comment at the end of the KB article - this behaviour is by design. Uh huh. I make it a bug because it means you can't use the CTime overloads in release mode.

Ah don't want no cuisine, Ah want 'merican food!

Nope, not my words!

I'm here in Nice with four other people from the company for whom I work. Three others are permanents; one's a contractor from deep in the heart of Texas and at least one of my readers will know who I mean (Yes, my Tempe smoking buddy, I'm thinking of you :-) ). He's been here 6 days. Last night (Monday night) we finished up the days work and were debating where to eat.

We're in Nice as aforesaid - a tourist oriented town if ever I saw one and, naturally, there are about a thousand places to go eat even in the off season. We couldn't make up our minds between Thai, Moroccan. Afghan or Provencal, Nicois, Lyon et al. An embarassment of riches! Eventually we decided upon Moroccan. At this point our contractor piped up with the title of this post.

As a stranger in a strange land I can well understand the hankering for one's native food. I'd almost kill for a plain Aussie Sausage smothered in Tomato sauce or for a nice piece of Flake (shark) at a real Victorian fish and chip shop. But that's after 2 years of being away from Australia.

After 6 days? Give me a break!

Now I hasten to add that this isn't a swipe at Americans as such. The example I heard was from an American using precisely those words. I've heard very similar sentiments from Australians; indeed I was myself guilty of just such a thing the very first time I went to a Chinese restaurant way back in 1973; at the time I had so little knowledge of 'foreign' cuisines that I ordered my meal from the 'Australian' section (for the record it was steak and chips). I very much doubt there's a chinese restaurant left in any of the main Australian population centres that even has an 'Australian' section on the menu!

Sometimes I can be so dumb!

When I stayed here a month or so ago the soap looked like soap; it was packed in plastic and clearly visible in the little basket hoteliers leave in the bathroom next to the shower.

When I got here 3 days ago there was no soap to be seen. I was tired so I made no inquiries and when it came time for my shower I used shampoo (it works almost as well but it doesn't feel as satisfying as a real bar of soap).

Next day it was off to the customers site and by the time I got back to the hotel room I was, once again, somewhat tired (now THERE's a euphemism) so I went with the shampoo again.

Today (tuesday) I get back to the room and, once again, no sign of soap. But this time I'm not too tired so I went down to reception and asked for some soap. They handed me a small plastic container marked 'Derma Fit'. What the hell? There were three identical containers in the bathroom; and upon opening them I found they contained soap!

I'd read the words 'Derma Fit' as 'Dental Fit' and assumed they were packages of dental floss! In retrospect I should have realised the word 'Derma' meant skin and investigated further.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

I know I'm cheating

but this post brings me within 3 posts of passing Anders. I'm sure I can come up with enough random rubbish to pass him.

Riding down from Baguio

(with apologies to George Orwell).

When I go to the Philippines I arrive at Manila Airport and wait impatiently for our driver to arrive. We need a driver because our destination, Baguio City, is about 250 KM's north of Manila. The drive can take anywhere from 5 to 9 hours depending on the weather. The first time I did the trip was in late June 2004 during a Typhoon and thus torrential rain. It took 9 hours. We go through Manila itself (that's an experience, especially during peak hour) and hit the Northern Luzon Motorway which takes us about 80 KM's of the way on good 2 and 3 lane roads.

After that it's one lane each way along the MacArthur Highway (yes, that MacArthur!), through Tarlac and points north of there. On my second trip (August 2004) the rain was coming down so heavily that as we drove through Tarlac I had to put my feet up on the dashboard to keep em dry. Once we'd driven out of the deeper water we opened the doors of the van to let the water out! Philippine TV showed aerial footage of that area the next day - it was 15 feet deep in water!

Eventually, about 30 KM's from Baguio, you reach the point where you make a decision; take the Marcos Highway or take Kennon road. In the rainy season Kennon road is often closed. (Parenthetically, we always stop at the Shell Service station just before the junction - they have a sign board showing the road state. It's a sobering sight to see a security guard patrolling the service station armed with a shotgun with the Shell Logo on the stock! It's also a sobering experience to see the signs warning of anti-hijacking checkpoints along the road - sponsored by Texas Instruments).

On my second trip there Kennon road was closed; we had to take the Marcos Highway. By that time it was maybe 9 PM and pitch black. I was sitting in the front seat next to the driver and I couldn't even see the road through the rain! Neither the middle white line or the white line on the right that marked the edge of the road. The driver was doing 80 KM's an hour on winding single lane mountain roads! Sometimes you just have to trust!

It gets better . It's a single lane each way as aforesaid. It's also a major highway with lots of semi-trailers and buses (to say nothing of trikes and jeepneys). It's nothing unusual to catch up to a convoy of 20 semi-trailers (I'm not exaggerating). Naturally our driver wants to go faster than they do so he pulls over to the left and tries to overtake. At this point it becomes a game of nerves. He's trying to drive fast enough to pass 20 semi-trailers on a two lane road and beat the oncoming traffic. If it's a trike they'll pull out of the way. Likewise with a Jeepney. A bus? It's touch and go. If you're lucky one of the semi-trailers will slow down just enough to leave a van sized gap to duck into. If not, either the bus hits the shoulder on its right or we hit the shoulder on our left (completely the wrong side of the road).

This is terrifying the first time and the second time. About the fifteenth time you realise that driving in the Philippines is different. Everyone knows the game and how to play it. I still don't know how they decide who veers and who holds the road.

I doubt I could cope with driving in the Philippines; the style is so different to the style of driving I know. I've seen things there that would cause road rage here in the US or in Australia but no one seems fazed by it. I think we could learn a lot from Filipinos about how to handle the inevitable driving incidents.

It's possible to fly from Manila to Baguio - the flight is about an hour. But the flight is on a small plane landing on a runway of uncertain quality. I prefer the drive.

I'm off to France

tomorrow. I'll be there for at least 2 weeks - maybe longer. This time I have to write and test code rather than discuss new product features with a customer.

It's really strange you know. After 2 years of not really wanting to be living in Arizona I'm going to miss the place a bit; if I had my druthers I'd be spending a week back home before flying out again (instead of the 2 days I've had). On the other hand...

What I really need is for one of the major semiconductor manufacturers to set up a production plant in Melbourne so I could get company paid travel there! That'd be ideal!

Sometimes you just can't win

When I put this machine together a couple of years ago I used a pair of Maxtor 80 Gig disks mirrored using the Promise RAID controller on the motherboard. Whilst I was away earlier this week one of them decided it'd had enough and the machine blue screened; the RAID BIOS reporting that one drive had failed. Ok, I'm covered. Slip a new drive in to replace the old one, rebuild the mirror and it's as though nothing had happened. That's the theory.

When it came time to buy the new drive I discovered that the original Maxtor's were long since out of production and unavailable. So I bought a Western Digital 80 Gig drive instead. I'm sure you can guess what's coming!

Yup, the new drive, whilst marked as 80 Gig is just a tad smaller than the original drive and a rebuild wasn't possible. Of course, I couldn't take the new drive back either without paying the restocking fee - it was packed in that annoying hard plastic that needs a hacksaw to open. I ended up copying all the stuff I wanted to various networked drives around the house, blowing the old array away and recreating a new slightly smaller array. Yeah, in retrospect I should have spent the extra ten bucks and bought a 100 Gig drive.

And at least I now have a nice shiny clean install.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky

a wonderful opera by John Adams. Nope, not the dead American president - but a very alive American who hails from Massachussets and winters in Arizona. I heard it first on ABC FM Melbourne about 6 years ago (way before I ever thought I'd be living in Arizona) but I'm listening to it as I write. He intertwines the California '3 strikes and you're out' laws with the 1989 earthquake and the experience of a Mexican Illegal Immigrant bewailing the loss of her Spanish language, using music that runs the gamut from Mahler to The Doors. Well worth the hearing!

'I think that this land belongs to a gun,
and we have no rights, standing under the sun...'

How many operas do you know of that have an INS agent as a character?

If there is such a thing as hell

I know it'll be cold - not hot!

I was in Seoul last Saturday and it was snowing. Now I'll admit that I wasn't quite dressed for snow - I was wearing clothing a little heavier than needed for winter in Melbourne or Phoenix but it was way too little to handle the Seoul winter. It's not like I haven't been in cold places before; but those are few and far between. I remember going to school at Yarraville West Primary in 1963 at 8 in the morning and finding puddles of rain water frozen over but by recess they'd melted. These days I doubt a puddle at Yarraville West would get cold enough to freeze (nope, not global warming - merely that inner city areas don't get as cold as outer city areas - and nowadays Yarraville Primary is most definitely in the inner city).

A month or so ago I passed through Minneapolis/St Paul airport on my way to France. At the time that was the coldest I'd ever experienced (well almost). Outside temperatures were lower than in Seoul but I wasn't outside - merely passing from the plane through the air bridge to the terminal.

We don't have a bible in this house (let's not go there) but if I remember rightly it doesn't talk about the temperature in hell.

On December 31 1995 I was in New Orleans, Bourbon street to be precise. Pretty cold but well worth the cold for the experience! On January 1 I flew back to Dallas. Now you have to understand, I'd looked at the map in late November 1995, in the run up to the Australian summer. It didn't look all that far from the equator so this poor naive bastard thought his Melbourne winter clothes would be up to the task! So I found myself, after 4 hours sitting on the ground in Dallas waiting for an open gate, walking through a blizzard trying to find my rented car in the Dallas/Fort Worth aiport car park.

I can easily cope with temperatures of 48C+ but I never ever want to experience 0 C again! I'm just not built for shivering!

A river flows in Phoenix

that's meant to sound a little like 'A tree grows in Brooklyn'. I've seen trees growing in both Brooklyns, the one near Manhattan and the one two suburbs over from West Footscray, Melbourne.

What I never expected to see was the Salt River in Phoenix actually contain water!

I flew home from the Philippines yesterday via Seoul and Los Angeles and as we approached the airport we circled the city. (We came in from the west but for some reason flights arriving in the 5 to 7 PM timeslot approach the airport from the east - ours was no exception). I had a window seat and was rubbernecking; I could hardly believe my eyes! There below me was a wide majestic ribbon of water meandering its way through the city.

When I arrived here two or so years ago to live my wife took me sightseeing - getting me aquainted with my new home. We crossed a sandy waste proudly sign-posted as the Salt River and I insisted we stop. 'Where's the water?' asked I. Alas there was none to be seen. Over the next year I really missed rain and on the infrequent occasions when we did have rain I walked outside to be rained upon. (I still do ).

But anyway, for the last couple of weeks the rain has been pouring down with a vengeance. On the last day of last year I tried to drive to the office but gave up a quarter of the way there; there was way too much water on the roads and Arizona drivers have too little experience of rain; they don't slow down. (The fact that it was a good excuse to not show at the office will be ignored ). I made the kind of error only a newbie could have made when I turned back. I didn't like the idea of driving back along Tatum Boulevard (having already negotiated a few spots 4 inches deep in water) so I turned left on Mockingbird Lane (with a name like that it has to be a lane - the same as in Dallas) and went east toward 64th Street. What I didn't know then is that whenever there's heavy rain the entire area around 64th and Mockingbird is flooded. By the time I found out it was too late to turn back - so I drove most of the way back to Bell Road in 6 inches of water. (Enough of the local colour !).

So now I've seen the thing I didn't believe was possible; floods in Phoenix. I can now die happy but not for a while yet I hope.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Reaping what you sow!

I'm a smoker and I make no bones about it. I started when I was 9 years old and 41 years later I still enjoy a good smoke. Of course, when I was 9 it was a surreptitious smoke here and there - more out of bravado than enjoyment. A way to be 'one of the boys' in much the same way that one engaged in those contests to see who could piss the highest. Only once did I manage to make it over the dunny wall . (for years I thought that was an Australian thing until I saw the final episode of the BBC series 'Pennies from Heaven'. But there it was, in Arthur Parkers death cell 15 hours before he was led to the gallows; a bunch of men talking about exactly the same thing I'd competed in when I was a kid).

I stopped smoking about 1970 but took it up again in 1975. Those were the golden days for smokers. One could smoke as one pushed shopping trolleys around the supermarket. And one did! I wish I could remember what we did with the butts; I don't remember ashtrays but surely we didn't grind the butt into the lino tiles? Or did we?

Effective October 1 1976 the Victorian Government did the unthinkable; they banned smoking on all of Melbournes public transport. No smoking on trains, buses or trams! Yikes! The world as we knew it was crashing down around our ears.

That didn't affect me all that much; long before then I had my car and drove to work. Sometime in the 1980's it became unacceptable to smoke in supermarkets; I no longer remember when - just that at the start of the decade we smoked whilst we shopped and at the end of the decade we didn't.

And in a remarkable coincidence of dates, on October 1 1993 the building where I worked went non smoking; suddenly we had to go outside rain or shine if we wanted to smoke. So I did.

The thing is that I can't find it in myself to feel overly outraged by these restrictions. In some ways I think it's gone too far (more a little later) but I think we smokers brought it on ourselves. In that same office building prior to 1993 I remember attending team meetings where there were 3 smokers and 3 non smokers; the meetings were held in a room the size of the average bedroom. Two of we smokers were willing to hold off for the hour the meeting took; the third insisted loudly upon his right to smoke and thus three non smokers were made uncomfortable. Heck, one of the non smokers had asthma and was prone to disastrous reactions in the presence of cigarette smoke but even that didn't prevent the insistence on rights.

No wonder the anti smoking brigade has fought back!

In June 2000 I was working in Perth Australia. One day I had breakfast at a local eatery, dining at an outside table (Perth even in winter is pretty comfortable). Bacon and eggs for brekky and excellent they were too!. Two smokers sat down at the very next table. They had 15 tables to choose from and they chose the one next to mine. I wasn't smoking at the time so they don't have that excuse. So there I was eating and there they are smoking; the smoke wafted my way and even I, a confirmed smoker of 36 years didn't enjoy it. My thoughts were along the lines of 'go away you inconsiderate bastards - I'm trying to eat!' God knows how a non smoker would have felt.

Nonetheless, it can be taken too far. 3 years ago I was at Disneyland in California. If you've been there you know the layout; classic Disneyland on the right and a newish theme park, California, on the left (my wife, who grew up in Los Angeles in the 50's and 60's, tells me the California park is built on what used to be the car park). Between the two is an open air plaza maybe a hundred metres wide. We came out of classic Disneyland (you can't smoke inside) and lit up. A man about 60 metres away saw us enjoying a smoke and came over to complain loudly; 'your smoke is affecting my health'. Uh huh. He has to walk 60 metres (which might have improved his health) to come into proximity with two people smoking (which might have reduced his health) to complain loudly (which might have increased his blood pressure).

I'm not making a special pleading for smoking in restaurants; I've long since conceded that one. Nor am I arguing for the restoration of smoking on airplanes (that one never made sense even to me). But the next time one of you non-smokers sees someone smoking in the open air do me a favour. Walk on by without that derisive sniff. Walk on by without the snide remark. Walk on by.

Duck's off

From late August until early October 2004 I was in the Philippines; 38 nights to be precise. On maybe half of those nights I ate here at the hotel, Camp John Hay Manor at Baguio City. The history of the location is interesting; it was established in 1903 by Theodore Roosevelt as a US Military base in a cool climate to provide an R&R base in the Philippines and it seems it was, during the entirety of the US occupation of the site, off limits to Filipinos. It was returned to the Philippine government in 1993. The camp is named after the US Secretary of Defence at the time it was established.

Would that all US Military bases were like this one. Because it was an R&R base it's geared toward, you guessed it, R&R. Golf courses (I've always thought that golf was an excellent way to spoil a nice walk in the park), a butterfly sanctuary, the cemetery of negativism[^] and some very nice walks. Along the road we travel from the hotel to TI there are two cemeteries; both fly the flags of The Philippines and of the United States and the inscriptions at the gates to both pay homage to the memory of deceased US and Filipino soldiers.

Anyway, I digress. I was here for 38 nights and ate at the hotel about half of those nights. The menu here tries to be cosmopolitan. They offer steaks, lamb chops, fish and chips, Chilean Sea Bass, Thai noodles etc etc. They also offer roast duck. I'm a sucker for duck; if it's on the menu that's the dish I want! So my first night I ask for roast duck. Negotiations with the chef; duck's off. Ok, I ordered lamb chops (my second favourite dish).

The following evening we went to Muoang Thai (absolutely the best restaurant in Baguio though that's not saying much.) The third evening I tried for the roast duck again. Sorry, duck's off.

As the weeks passed we ate at various restaurants here in Baguio; Central Park, a chinese restaurant where I tried, for the first time, chickens feet. Tasted much like spicy rubber to me I'll give em a try again when I'm in China. The Sizzling Plate, where steaks cost the equivalent of US$3 and are worth about that. On my second and subsequent times at the sizzling plate I ordered the boneless bangu - very tasty!

And during those weeks I also ate here at the hotel on and off. Every time I asked for roast duck and every time, you guessed it, duck's off.

On my final night, October 1 2004 I was eating here when a family walked in, were seated and perused the menu. The father asked for the duck! Sorry, duck's off. But what grabbed my interest was not so much the failure, once more, of duck, but the accent. This man was an Australian!!! It turns out he and his family are from Melbourne and we spent a very pleasant hour gossiping about AFL football (which game I normally have less interest in than an abscess) and, well, you get the gist.

Three or so months pass and I'm back here in Baguio (but not for long. I'm writing this in the hotel but I'll be posting it from the US - there's no internet here!). Once again I'm dining in the hotel and in walk two women (mother and daughter). They sit down and the daughter (she's an adult - don't get any ideas :-) ) orders some dish with blue cheese. This was on the Sunday night. Negotiations with the chef - sorry, blue cheese is off! Seeing a pattern here? Tonight, Tuesday night and they're back and once again the daughter wants blue cheese. Sorry, blue cheese is off. I couldn't resist; I went over and related the tale of the duck!

Oh, and they were Australians. On Sunday I admit I spent an hour earwigging them. Not that I was interested in what they were talking about; merely that it was such a pleasure after 2 years of living in the US to hear Australian accents again!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

It's a small world

one of the things I'm looking forward to tomorrow, when I return to the Philippines, is to renew my supply of timeouts. Say what?

A timeout is a chocolate bar that was introduced to the Australian market sometime in the late 1990's. It's made by Cadburys in Melbourne Australia. I can't buy em in the states! But I can buy em in the Philippines - in a wrapper that proudly states they were made in my hometown. The really strange thing? I can buy a timeout there for about half the price they sell in Australia.


If I remember rightly, SBS TV started in Australia in March 1981. SBS TV is the Australian Multicultural TV network - it runs mostly non english language programs though it's agnostic; they also run American movies that no one else wants to pick up!

Until SBS TV started I'd never felt the need to know another language. The desire? Yes! The need? Never.

I started listening to German opera in 1973 with Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Sometime in 1975 I started enjoying Berlioz, defiantly French! 1976 and Shostakovich's Stepan Razin in Russian. 1977 Weill/Brecht Der Dreigroschenoper and 1978 Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahahogonny!

All of which led to the desire to understand at least one (for me) foreign language. I chose German and spent years reading various German/English lexicons - culminating in a course in 1979 at Monash University (the only course I passed ). If a German speaker talks slowly enough I can understand what is said - when I reply I know I massacre the language - I can't get my head around the grammatical structure though I can always pick a native German speaker using English.

Then along came SBS TV. In 1983 I learned to love Russian films made during the thaw (see previous blog entries). Likewise Italian and Serbian films, all of which I prefer to listen to in the original language with English subtitles. To be honest, if a film is set in Scotland or those parts of England where they speak a dialect I'm not familiar with I'd still rather it was presented in the native dialect and, if need be, I'll pick up the gist using subtitles. What's important is the sound! (I”ll always remember the 1973 broadcast of the Russian version of War and Peace with American accents doing the overdubs. It just sounded silly. And who can forget Tom Hulce as Mozart? I wish I could!)

As you're probably sick of hearing by now, my job requires me to visit various Asian locations. This week I've been in America, Korea, Japan and right now I'm back in Korea. Tomorrow I'm going to the Philippines. As far as I'm concerned, the yanks have no excuse. We speak almost the same language and read the same printed matter - so if they can't understand me it's sheer laziness (I'm getting monumentally tired of having to cope with American aural laziness).

In Korea and Japan it's a different story. I'm amazed at how carefully and how hard they try to understand what I'm saying. I'm also humbled by how much they know of my language when compared with how much I know of theirs. They might only have a vocabulary of 100 English words, but that's about 98 more words than I have of their languages. If my travels over the last three months have taught me nothing else, they've taught me immense respect for Asia. I need to take some language courses.

And in the Philippines? I've probably met 300 different people in that country over the last half year and every one of them, every one, can speak English. That impresses the hell out of me - especially as the official language is Tagalog!

In the second summer of 1965

that is to say, in December 1965, I was 11 years old. Go read this[^] and come back.

Back? Good. On the afternoon of Sunday December 19th 1965 I was in Queens Park Coburg, a stones throw north of Pentridge Prison, Melbourne. The alarms went off and, being a dumb kid, I remember running toward the alarms all agog to know what was happening. What was happening was an escape from prison.

What I saw was this; two men running away from the prison toward Sydney Road and a third man some distance behind running in the same direction. The third man suddenly fell and the other two men kept running. I later knew that the first two men were the escapees - the third man was the warder, George Hodson, who died during the escape attempt.

I reiterate; what I saw was three men running in the same direction; one of them fell and the other two kept running. At no time did I see either of the first two men turn and shoot a gun.

Alas I didn't speak up during the months following and an innocent man went to the gallows. I'm 9 years older now than Ronald Ryan was when he was hanged.

I told my step-father what I'd seen but he didn't believe me and ridiculed me. In time I came to believe that I hadn't seen what I'd seen. Until 1974 - in that year the debate over capital punishment came to a head and, finally, my home state of Victoria abolished it. The debate at the time brought it all back and I was passionately in favour of abolition. I still am!

Now let's fast forward to January 17th 1996, a cold winter in Texas. I'd been in Texas 6 weeks at the time (with 2 weeks still to go). A young girl, Amber Hagerman was kidnapped, raped and murdered. She is the young girl after whom the Amber alerts in the United States are named. This dreadful event took place within a mile or so of where I was living at the time. I remember the hue and cry and I remember the sick feeling when it was announced that she'd been found; not so much because she'd been found but because of the condition in which she'd been found.

What's the connection? The FBI issued a profile of the suspect. And I matched the profile! I really hope I don't have to say it wasn't me but just in case, it wasn't me! Of course probably 10,000 other people also matched the profile. But I have first hand experience as a witness of how things that didn't happen are presented as truth; and I also know how witnesses who could disprove something don't come forward.

Ronald Ryan, there, but for the grace of god, go I.

And that is why I am now and will forever be opposed to capital punishment!

Homage to the humble wick

who, these days, would think of such a simple invention? Take a small amount of oil, suspend a wick in it, wait a few minutes for capillary action to draw the oil up to the top of the wick and then light it! Genius! I'm sure it's been in use for more than 5 millenia and for most of that time no one had the faintest idea how it worked.

Friday, January 07, 2005

So long and thanks for the Fugu

tonight we went out with our Japanese host. He fixed me with a glance and asked what I was prepared to eat. With only minor misgivings I admitted I'd try anything, with the only caveat being that I'd prefer my food be dead before it was served up.

So we ended up at a local restaurant where, once again, the menus had not one character I could recognise. I let our host (it was the host, myself and my boss) order for us. He asked if I drank - of course I do. Did I prefer beer or would I like Sake? I'd never tried Sake so of course I had to. Very enjoyable drink - I now understand why it's served warm. Just put some on your tongue, close your mouth and let the vapours rise. Wonderful!

The first dish was tame - prawns, oysters and fish cooked tempura style and very delicious it was. Then came the second course. Slices of chilled meat that looked rather like prosciutto. I tried a slice and it was only after I'd swallowed that our host informed me that what I'd just eaten was a local delicacy - uncooked, cured horse! It was very tasty! So tasty in fact that I finished the plate.

After negotiating that hurdle out came another dish - crumbed deep fried balls of something. Our host said - this one's a challenge. A dim suspicion arose - was this perhaps puffer fish? It was indeed and our host (enjoying himself immensely) described the licensing requirements for a chef to prepare Fugu. He also warned of the symptoms of impending Fugu poisoning. Somewhat gingerly I took my first mouthful. No sign of numbness of the tongue.

Along the way we also had Sashimi which I approached rather gingerly - the few times I've tried raw fish I've found it a profoundly unrewarding experience. But this was also delicious.

All in all - a very enjoyable and delicious meal. I don't want to know what it cost!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Greetings from Beppu

which is a small town on the south western coast of Japan.

Tonight was an experience. The hotel doesn't do room service (and I felt like getting out anyway) so I went wandering, looking for a restaurant that takes Visa (not so common as you might imagine). I found one and walked in - one of the waiters approaches and immediately I know we have a language problem :-) But I do chewing motions and he ushers me to a table, presents me with a menu and waits expectantly. I open the menu and there isn't a single Roman character! All I could do was look helplessly at him!

He evidently could also see problems ahead - he disappeared and a moment later a young lady appeared. She also had as much English as I have Japanese. Fortunately I was seated close to another diner who had ordered food that looked and smelled delicious - so I gestured in his direction. He grinned at me! The waitress grasped my general meaning and disappeared for a moment; reappearing with a dish of skewers of uncooked meat. I pointed at this and at that and we agreed on a set of 4! She disappeared and I thought all was ordered. Nope! She returned with a dish of vegetables. Once again I pointed at this and that! Smiles and nods and she disappears again. And once more returned, this time with a drinks menu. I asked, rather helplessly, for red wine. No spark of comprehension. I know neither the word for red or the word for wine in Japanese (and, as it turns out, I was in a beer tavern) but she prompted me with the word beer. Ok I nodded - a beer sounds good. Now for the difficult question. Which kind of beer? But she helped me out by showing a bottle of Kirrin beer. By this time I'm not up to the nuances of varieties of beers! The Kirrin was fine by me (and it was a very good beer indeed).

The food was fantastic!!! So good that I ordered a second serving.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


is different!

When I first visited the US in 1982 I couldn't make head or tail of the strange plumbing in the hotel rooms. The thing is that the plumbing I was used to (I'm talking a shared bath/show fixture) had two sets of taps. One set was used to control hot and cold water to the bath outlet; the other set controlled the shower.

What I found in the US was one set of hot/cold taps that controlled both and it wasn't at all obvious to me how to make the water come out of the shower; it stubbornly insisted in coming out of the bath outlet about halfway between my feet and my knees. I rang reception at the hotel and asked - and they, having no concept of how unfamiliar it might be, were about as useful as a one legged man in a bum kicking contest. I contented myself with taking baths instead of showers for the first couple of weeks (hell I even tried blocking the bath outlet with dunny paper in a vain attempt to get the water to come out of the shower rose) and then, with an insight that takes my breath away I suddenly realised the purpose of that little thingy on the bath outlet. Turn on the water and then pull that little thingy up and voila! water out of the shower rose! Wow!!!

Ok, I put it comically but I really hadn't seen that kind of thing before.

I've just got out of the shower here in Seoul and here's a new nuance. I'm sure (meaning I'm not so sure) we've all seen the kind of shower control that consists of just one valve - how far you turn it controls the mix of hot and cold water and how far you pull it out controls the amount. Well this is a new one on me! There's one valve which, if turned to the left, causes water to come out of the bath outlet; turned to the right and the water comes out of the shower rose. Ok I can go with the flow (boom boom). But the water was awfully hot. Hmmm how to control the temperature? The valve doesn't have a second axis of control - there's no way to pull it out to adjust the temperature. Then I notice a flap with a blue circle on it - I pulled it out and suddenly the temperature was lowered.

At least it only took 2 minutes to realise how to work the controls this time - that's a big improvement on 2 weeks!

Greetings from Seoul

I got here in one piece :-) Brrrr it's cold!!! It's about 26 degrees F or, in civilised measurements, about -4 degrees and boy did I know it the moment I walked outside for that first smoke.

I'm in downtown Seoul, at the Holiday Inn Seoul. Wow, I thought Melbourne Airport was a fair distance out but that's nothing compared to the drive from Incheon airport to downtown. On my way out of Japan I think I'm going to stay at the airport Hyatt :-)

I've just had a wonderful grilled salmon at the Italian restaurant here in the hotel.

The flight was 'only' 13 hours but I thought it was never going to end. I've just had 18 hours of daylight - maybe that's why it seemed so long. It was interesting however, to crack the window shade and look down and see Japan passing by. As far as I could tell from the in-flight display we went right over the airport I'm returning to tomorrow morning, Fukukoa International.

I'm piggy backing on some unsecured wireless connection; by the time they realise what's happening I'll be gone and untraceable :-)

I won't get to see any of Seoul by daylight until Saturday; but what I've seen so far I like. They make no concessions to the English mono-lingual person - all the street signs are in Korean but given I'm travelling by shuttle to and fro that really doesn't matter all that much.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Changing plans

Ok, so three weeks ago I came home thinking I was going to Japan but instead ended up in France. Tonight I came home thinking I was going back to France and, you guessed it, I'm going to Japan tomorrow morning. Actually Seoul first for an overnight stay, thence to Japan, thence to Manila and another week or so in Baguio City Philippines. All being well I'll be back week after next. Damn, that'll give that Clifton fellow a chance to put some distance between us on blog stats

Monday, January 03, 2005


Nope, not the Brian De Palma movie[^].

You'll surely have noticed, down there on the left, a link to my SETI stats page. As I write this my count is 47245 work units.

Go on, click on it, you know you want to!

Back? Good.

Now you'd have noticed that I've been crunching SETI for 5 and a half years. You didn't notice? Go click on the link again! For the last half a decade or so I've been installing the SETI client on various computers; checking the stats; writing a service[^] to hide the SETI client from unsuspecting users (my family) and generally being a fusspot whenever the SETI server goes down and my computers sit idle because they can't connect. Hell I even run a spreadsheet that records daily output and calculates a 7 day average - current 7 day average is 165 work units a day.

Now that's an obsession!

George Orwell meets Ray Bradbury

Yet another movie blog. This time the movie is Fahrenheit 451[^]. Nope, not the Michael Moore movie of similar and deliberately resonant title (I haven't seen that one yet but I will soon). This movie dates from 1966 and it has a wonderful soundtrack by Bernard Herrman.

I've read many reviews of the movie that pan it; the problem is that it was then, and is still now, billed as a Science Fiction movie. Somewhere along the line people came up with the idea that if a movie is set in a parallel universe or at some indeterminate time in the near/far future, it has to be Sci Fi. Well that's a simpler classification than that of 'possible outcomes from current trends'. Which is actually a pretty good description of good Sci Fi but unfortunately Sci Fi has been cast as 'flying saucers', 'ray guns' and all the other crap one finds in Star Wars. Thus, if a movie lacks those staples of Sci Fi it is, if it is set in the future, a bad Sci Fi movie.

Well I happen to think it's a very good movie. The first time I saw it was about 1977, which is to say that I saw it before reading much of George Orwells work. The fact that I watched it tonight is a direct outcome of my current focus on the work of repression. When I watched 1984 a week or so ago I was immediately reminded of F451 so I checked online if the Phoenix Public Library had a copy. To my delight they did and the reservation system brought it to my screen tonight . First time I've seen it in 20 years.

Anyway I'm watching it and during the scene where the old lady burns herself with her books rather than fall into the hands of the instruments of state repression they show many many pages from many novels, each page burning. What intrigued me was that there was a page from a Raffles novel followed by a page from a 1939 novel by James Hadley Chase called No Orchids for Miss Blandish. I haven't read the novel but I've read George Orwells comparison of the literature of the early 1900's and the literature from the Age of Fascism. In his essay, published in August 1944, Orwell chose the Raffles novels of E. F. Hornung and the aforesaid James Hadley Chase novel.

It seems highly unlikely to me that this is coincidence. In the pre-Solzhenitsyn age (that is to say before 1973) Orwells 1984 would have been the best known essay into the totalitarian mindset. On the other hand, a direct reference to Winston Smith might have been seen as gratuitous.

It's a beautiful and ultimately uplifting film. The final 10 minutes or so concentrates on the 'book people' - literally people who've memorised an entire book in order to preserve it against the forces of repression.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

So I'm confused (so what else is new)?

(Note - none of what follows is to be construed as criticisim).

Shotkeeper goes open source and Anders posts to that effect over on CP. I respond on CP saying I'm interested in participating. A day or so later and YAPO appears headed by Marc. Thinking I'm signing on to ShotkeeperOS I sign up and am accepted. Then Anders posts about ShotkeeperOS (to which I've applied). Is this synchronicity or did I miss something? Someone enlighten me.

And if it should turn out that it's two separate projects as I suspect I'm more than happy to be involved with both; it'll be a learning experience if nothing else.


So I've just watched and immensely enjoyed this movie[^] I listen to the Philip Glass soundtrack sung in French. I'll talk about Philip Glass in another post soon.

It seems, even to me, that of late I've been watching a lot of foreign language movies. Everything from 'I am Cuba' (a very interesting 1964 Soviet/Cuban co-production borrowed from the Phoenix Public Library) to 'Wozzeck' in German and 'Mishima' in Japanese. Don't get me wrong - I also enjoyed 'Dude, where's my car' and 'American Pie'. It's just that of late I'm feeling drawn to the outre (I know the last letter of outre ought to be accented - but I don't know which accent to use).

Which is the point. I grew up with English as my native tongue in an English speaking country which divided education (at the time) into two main streams. Those who would become blue collar workers and those who would become white collar. The blue collar stream (the one I was in) taught technical subjects - metal working, wood work, 3D geometry etc; the white collar stream taught 'humanities' including a choice of foreign language. The choices (I'm talking the mid 60's in Australia)? French or German. Both excellent languages but of doubtful relevance to a country at the bottom of the world. I'm told that these days the choices include Indonesian and Japanese. The stream I was in taught two languages - English and Filth .

But it went a little deeper than that. The Australia I remember from the late 1950's was very intolerant of languages other than English. Our history was of migration from Britain until the late 1940's and very little immigration from elsewhere. Heck, the first law passed by the brand new Australian Parliament (every member of which was either an immigrant or the son of an immigrant) in 1901 was a restriction of immigration to the white races. This isn't a part of my heritage I'm particularly proud of (and let's not even go into the way my ancestors treated the Aborigines). After World War 2 the 'yellow hordes' doctrine took over and the government encouraged migration from the 'white' countries. Thus thousands and hundreds of thousands of immigrants from not just Britain but from Europe. They were called reffos (refugees) and other less complimentary terms. I've mentioned before that my father has been dead 44 years and not much loss to humanity. His term for them was the term used by many - anyone who came from anywhere other than Britain was a 'wog'. The presssure on those immigrants to learn and speak English and only English was immense!

Be that as it may. Somewhere along the line I forgot I was supposed to be a blue collar worker and developed an interest in Opera. I have very clear (to me) memories of the transition from an Electronics Geek to a classical music and opera geek but I'll talk about that another time as well. Anyway I found myself listening to a lot of German Opera. I started with the 'classics'. Wagner et al. By 1977 I'd started listening to Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht with a style characterised by Songspiel (literally, spoken song). By comparison with Wagner, Songspiel was understandable at the level of making out individual words. I didn't know what the individual words meant - hell, they were German. But it wasn't difficult to follow what was spoken in a foreign language and correlate it to the English in the bi-lingual libretto that was packed with each LP. Und so ich versteht eine kliene Deutsch. You're allowed to laugh at that clumsy attempt .

Which led me to take a course in German in 1979. I passed!

Since then I've not taken another course in a language other than English. We won't count computer languages. Time the eternal enemy and all that!

Now we fast forward from the late 1950's/early 1960's to 1993. In that year I moved back to the suburb of Melbourne I'd grown up in. Ah, West Footscray, how I love thee! In 1993 the Sunrise Hotel on the corner of Geelong Road and Williamstown Road was still in business. If you've ever read a novel called 'A Bunch of Ratbags' you've read about it. Remember we've jumped from the early 60's to the early 90's. In that 30 or so years the Vietnam War came to prominence (the war itself dates back to the year of my birth, 1954), caused street violence and augmented the population of Canada and came to an end. (Parenthetically, I've found that most Americans don't remember the date it ended - April 30th 1975. I remember watching the newscasts of that day, the helicopters over the US Embassy in Saigon and the last to leave climbing up the rope ladders from the roof of the embassy to the helicopter. And I remember the flickering footage taken from those helicopters of the invading army overrunning Saigon. Somehow that time seems innocent nowadays...). And in 1975 Vietnamese boat people made their way down from Vietnam to the northern coast of Australia. Those new refugees made their homes in Sydney and in Melbourne; in Melbourne they found their way to Springvale, Sunshine and West Footscray.

In 1993 most of the Vietnamese refugees had been in Australia 15 or more years. I moved back into a suburb I hadn't lived in for 14 years but knew well. Now you have to understand that until the late 1980's Footscray was a low rent low income entry suburb. It was the place you started out in and hoped for something better. When I lived there from 1954 until 1966 it was a slum area. We moved out of Footscray in 1966 and went to St Albans. At the time it was roughly equivalent to moving two social levels upward.

In 1993 I moved back into Footscray. I found myself frequenting the Footscray Market on Saturday mornings; I could buy chinese cabbage, green prawns and hear 20 languages spoken in the space of 20 minutes. Russian, Polish, Estonian, Italian, Greek, French, Vietnamese, Chinese.... you get the idea. And in 1993 I remember seeing white Australians showing anger at the presence of Vietnamese immigrants. More, I remember being shocked and disgusted by the anger shown by those White Australians.

And the delicious irony was that by 1993 West Footscray had become an up and coming suburb (it's 7 KM's and a 10 minute drive from the CBD and thus, these days, desirable property).

Saturday, January 01, 2005

I heard it all today

I have a love hate relationship with talk radio here in Phoenix. I hate it but, rather in the fashion of a man with a sore tooth who keeps prodding at it with his tongue (doubtless to determine if it's still sore) I find myself still listening to it.

So today's subject was 'The US is being stingy about aid for the Tsunami victims'. And on comes someone who thinks that the US is to blame for the Tsunami itself. His line of reasoning goes like this. The US uses a lot of petrol; that petrol was extracted from the earth; the earth shifted to fill in the holes left after the petrol was extracted. Ergo, the US is to blame for the Tsunami!

I'm still undecided whether to laugh or cry!