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.

I can do this and I can do that

Andrew awoke this morning with a twisted neck. To tell the truth I slept through the first half of the drama; he, it seems, appeared at the bedroom door at 5:18 AM calling for Mum. I do remember hearing something in the small hours but being the unsympathetic bastard that I am I turned over and went back to sleep.

Rising somewhat later I found him prostrated on the couch protesting loudly at every movement. Some discussion ensued which brought me up to date. Some accident of posture during sleep had caused his neck muscles to cramp and he was paying the price.

Now if there's one thing I've learned about Andrew in the all but 3 years I've lived here it is that he's a drama queen. Somewhere along the way he never learned the fine art of enduring minor aches and pains. A minor graze and he's off, lamenting to the entire world about his misfortune. Thus, today, he was bemoaning his fate as a (as closely as I remember the wording) poor weak tired little boy. He enters High School next year and if he keeps this up they'll eat him alive!

I could not resist standing before him and craning my head to the left; 'I can do this'. Crane the head to the right; 'I can do that'. Look up to the celing; 'oooh look, I can do this'. Then look down; 'and I can do this as well'. Then I did a circle with my head; 'bet you can't do that!'. He tried and ooowwweeeeddddd.

But I'll give him his due; he laughed as I did it.

Later in the evening at the start of dinner I did the underpants on the head routine again. It is Sunday after all! He's still doing the ewww ewww routine when I do the underpants thing and so he turned his head away. Owwww owwww.

Now you have to understand that both Mum and I have advised him that the only way he's going to get rid of the pain is by exercising the muscles. If he holds his head at that odd angle that minimises the pain it won't take long until that's the only angle he CAN hold his head at. He doesn't believe us. He's into pain minimisation big time. So, knowing that the sight of my ugly mug leering at him with a pair of underpants over it would make him turn his head I played it to the max. Much protestation of pain but, lurking behind it, a smile.

He got a payoff later in the evening. The pain is fading.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Delivering the news

I feel sorry for kids today. When was the last time you saw a paper round being advertised, hoping for some eager 12 year old to trundle newspapers around for home delivery come rain or shine? Come to that, when was the last time you saw a shop that sold only newspapers and magazines? I last saw such a shop 3 weeks ago but it sure wasn't here in Phoenix!

I have fond memories of my paper round. Sometime in March 1966 I was recruited (I don't remember who or how) to replace a kid called Chris who was moving on to better things. Misery guts made me a 'horse' (the thing made of wood that you put over the centre bar of the bike to hang the bag containing the newspapers on) and Chris rode with me for my first couple of nights. We started around 4:30 PM with the first edition of the Herald and my route covered an area of Seddon that I reckon I could walk today in 30 minutes. On the bike it took longer! But that was just the first edition. When the first round had finished I'd return to the shop and pick up the second edition. Out I'd head again, delivering it. Each customer was very precise about which edition had to be delivered; woe if I got it wrong.

I remember the night this[^] hit the papers. I read the front page story bit by bit as I delivered the papers; by the end of the round I was on page 7 reading the fine print.

Thursday and Friday nights were more complicated. On Thursday I had to deliver various weekly papers. I don't remember the titles but they were such various things as the 'pink un' (a racing form paper), and the local Catholic newspaper.

Friday night was the worst, for it was on that night that, in addition to delivering the papers, I had to collect the weekly money. I'm 12 years old and I'm trying to convince this drunk guy that he really does have to pay for his papers. Or I'm trying to collect the money from a family so poor they have bare floorboards (this is way before polished floors became the go in Seddon) and they're shivering in winter.

I shivered that winter too, delivering the papers. At least it never snows in Melbourne. It does rain and the papers had to be delivered no matter what the weather. I remember riding through driving rain, taking paper after paper out of the bag, rolling it up and thrusting it into the metal tube provided that was never long enough to protect the newspaper and putting up with complaints the following week that the paper was soaked. Well of course it was you fool; you can't put 24 inches of paper into a 20 inch tube and expect it to be dry in a downpour! Idiots!

There were compensations of course. Coming home after a round and sitting down, the soaked working hero, to a dinner of lamb chops and mashed spuds eaten an hour after the rest of the family had dined, in front of the TV, watching Jackie Gleason.

And then there was Mrs Seductive. Of course, I didn't think of her in those terms in 1966. But, as I've written before, sex[^], or at least thoughts about it, were very much on my mind. There are those who might say that not much has changed! :-) Mrs Seductive played a most subtle game, calling me her 'little man' or 'her lover' and thrusting her boobs in my direction. As much as I was interested, intellectually, in sex, I was most uncomfortable with her. Just not my kind of woman. I fancy she might have been 35 or 40 at the time! She'd come up with some excuse to not pay for this weeks papers, smiling all the while, thrusting those boobs at me and smelling of cheap perfume and some kind of alcohol. I knew it was alcohol though I couldn't identify which type.

The house is still there on Grieg Street. I walked past it 3 weeks ago and I still had those feelings of half disgusted fascination. Nothing has changed about the house that I can notice; it still has the wrought iron decorations, the cream brick topped with concrete patio. For all I know Mrs Seductive still lives there though she must be pushing 80 by now.

After I'd collected the money and returned to the shop it was counting up time. We'd (there were 5 or 6 of us each with a different round) empty our bags onto the counter and pile the coins up, 5 20c coins, 10 10c coins and so on. Rex, the boss, would count it all up, make sure it matched the tally owed and then it was paytime. I don't remember the pay; maybe a couple of bucks. And then came the icing on the cake; we were each allowed a couple of magazines on the house. I chose Electronics Australia[^] and a British electronics magazine.

Good days! :-)

Friday, October 14, 2005

I haven't written in a few days

which is not my usual style. The fact is that not much is happening at the moment that I feel able to blog about. Workplace paranoia has caught up on the one side, on the other side, there's some serious stuff happening with the family that I don't think I should post about for maybe another 20 years. And, at the moment, I can't think of any stories from the old days that would be worth your while reading.

Please bear with me and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible :-)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

New habits die hard

Some time ago I wrote about[^] learning to cross the road when the traffic drives on the 'wrong' side. Having lived 48 years (and crossing roads for 45 of those years) in a place where they drive on the left it was quite the challenge to live in a place where they drive on the right.

In a later post I mentioned that my wife wanted a count of how many times I went to the wrong side of the car[^]. At the time I wrote that post I'd been back in Godzone[^] all of three days but hadn't made the mistake.

I'm coming up to my third anniversary of living in the US (it's November 17th if you're wondering). For about half of that time I've had my own car and maybe for half of the time I've had the car I've actually been here in Phoenix to drive. So you might imagine, given all those halves of halves, that a mere 9 months or so of driving on the 'wrong' side might not be quite enough to engender new habits that are hard to break. I'd have thought so.

So a couple of weeks ago, back in Australia, I was having dinner with an old friend. We ate at a very nice Thai Restaurant in Frankston and, because I had a hired car, we decided that I'd drive. Dinner done we emerged into Melbourne weather at the end of September. Quite the thunderstorm and a deluge of rain. We scurried to the car but she needed some smokes so I followed instructions (Frankston is far enough away from where I used to live that I have no idea of the layout of the suburb) to the local supermarket. We went inside, got the smokes and emerged just as a fresh deluge fell out of the night sky. And so we scurried back to the car. And I went toward the left of the car. She laughed and laughed and I made her promise she wouldn't say a word.

Later that evening I was driving back to Heino's. The car was just about out of petrol so I pulled in to a servo, filled it up and went to pay. Having paid I came back out and got into the car again. Say what? Where's the steering wheel? Doh! It's over there on the right. Uh huh. I'd got into the passenger side.

New habits die hard!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Who are you trying to kid??

If you've spent more than 5 minutes or so working in the corporate environment you'll know that most of the activity that takes place bears little relevance to the supposed outputs of said environment. When I first entered the corporate environment about a quarter of a century ago it took me quite a while to understand the subtle nuances; I was naive enough to believe that we were there to perform work and get remuneration.

The place where I work has, of late, become a corporate environment. It's not as though it wasn't needed; believe me, some discipline was needed. But along the way we seem to have accumulated the worst excesses of the corporate environment. Things like 'disciplinary action up to and including termination' accompany every corporate edict. Or things like enforcing 8:30 to 5:15. Never mind that every Tuesday I'm expected to attend a teleconference that starts at 5:15, let alone the expectation that I'll jump on a plane on 3 hours notice and lose yet another weekend.

I'm looking for another job but given that it took me 18 months to find this badly paid slavery you can understand that I'm a trifle reluctant to force the issue. Taking out US Citizenship might help; it's surprising how many jobs in my trade in the Phoenix area require US Citizenship.

The other thing one notices when working in a corporate environment is the way that certain people try to foster the idea that they work 24 hours a day. It's become much easier to perform this fakery since the advent of email. Thus it comes as no surprise that a response to an email I wrote on Thursday morning about 11 AM arrived in my inbox at 10:30 PM on Sunday evening. Presumably we're all supposed to marvel at Ed's dedication.

But Ed doesn't fool me. I know his sort and I've outlived more than one Ed.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

None so blind

20 or so years ago I was married to my first wife Sue. I have to be careful because I gave her the URL to this blog last week when I was in Australia. We might have ceased to be married quite some years ago but neither of us can see that as a serious impediment to still being friends. Sue was the matron of honour at my second wedding and an honoured guest at my third.

Sue, being Sue, chose to take me to task about one or two things I'd written. As I pointed out, this is my blog and I write things the way I remember them. It's not impossible that she might write the occasional comment correcting me :-) I can live with that!

So anyway, 20 or so years ago I was also rather more than obsessed with computers and the writing of code. At the time it was mostly Z80 assembly language and I ate, slept and dreamed PUSH HL and MOV A, [IX] instructions.

My job at the time allowed me to work at home. I spent most of 1984 and 1985 alternating between the bedroom, the shower, the TV room and the computer room. Most time was spent in the computer room. In extenuation I did spend an awful lot of time watching this movie[^] but maybe that doesn't extenuate all that much!

So one morning Sue went to work. Her hair was brown. When she got home later that day I failed to notice a subtle change. I honestly don't remember if it was that day, or the next, or possibly even the day after that, that Sue found it necessary to point out to me that she was now a platinum blonde!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

It took a while

for the penny to drop. We have a new blogger here, the son, no less, of the illustrious Marc Clifton.

I confess that when I read his second blog entry I was more than somewhat irked by the references to the 1800th century. But good manners prevailed (you believe that? Wanna buy a bridge? :-) ) and I let it slide. I'm glad I did because I would have been savaging someone very new to the art of writing.

Welcome, Ian, to Wdevs and be assured that I'll read your posts with interest. Of course, after you've done a hundred I'll start to nitpick :-) That's in the nature of the game. But based on the first two posts you won't have much difficulty getting through my filter unscathed by your hundredth post!

Should I laugh or should I cry?

Last week in Melbourne I caught the tram up St Kilda road. I'd just been to the Unisys building where I used to work and had walked through Fawkner park. It was about 11:30 AM and I needed to be back in town in time for lunch with some former Unisys colleagues. A good lunch; we talked about old times and I proved to be the alcoholic of the group; I was the only one who ordered a beer. On the other hand, I was the only one who didn't have to go back to work that afternoon. Let me indulge in such sophistry!

So I got on the tram[^]. It was pretty full so I stood for a while as we swung up the road. Two old geezers sitting together near the door. At the next stop one of the old geezers got up and departed. The tram took off again. And the other old geezer gestured to me, offering me a seat! How mortifying. Even to old geezers I look like an old geezer :-) But I took the seat and then ensued a typically Australian conversation.

'How you doing mate?' he asked.

'Any better and I'd be dangerous.' I replied.

He smiled.

'Terrific weather ain't it?' I said.

He nodded in assent.

'You wouldn't be dead for quids mate would you?' I said.

'No mate', he said, 'you wouldn't'. We nodded in agreement as the tram rattled to a stop. Some young things got on and we took off again.

I got off two stops before Flinders Street; I wanted to walk through the Kings Domain and take some shots of the Myer Music bowl[^]. As I stood I said,

'Have a great day mate!'.

He smiled.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

It's been a while

since I rattled on at length about a favourite cultural influence. I've been at home trying to recuperate from a mild dose of the flu. Yeah, that'd be right; I travel all over the world for more than a year and never contract so much as a cold but when I go to Australia for a couple of weeks I come down with the flu. My wife, understandably, wants to keep me at arms length while I recover. Even the dags at the office agreed that perhaps it would be better for all concerned if I took my virus infected exhalations elsewhere.

So I've been alternating between sleep, Sherlock Holmes and some favourite movies[^]. Yeah, that one again. This is the third time I've mentioned it. But this time I want to talk about the man who wrote the soundtrack for the 2002 (or thereabouts) DVD release. You understand that the original release in 1929, though nominally a 'silent film' probably had a piano accompaniement; what that accompaniement might have been is something I don't know and is probably lost forever. The version I've grown to love over the past two months has a soundtrack written by Michael Nyman[^]. Fascinating music.

I first heard Michael Nymans music in 1990 one cold July night as the woman who became my second wife and I were driving to 'The Green Lantern', a coffee shop in which we had a half interest. We were listening to ABC FM and there was this strangely exciting mix of string music and operatic voices but in a distinctly 'modern' mode. A sung discussion of a chess game no less. We arrived at the coffee shop just as the chess game came to an end and the music changed to a discussion, in song, of abstract art. I was hooked. My girlfriend was somewhat less than impressed when I said I had to sit it out to the end; I had to know who had written this music and what it was.

It was 'The man who mistook his wife for a hat'. Wonderful music. Once I had the answer (and a note to buy the CD the next morning) I went into the coffee shop and enjoyed the live music. One of my favourite regular performers was Ian Paulin[^] who did a song called 'Terra Antarctica' on 12 string guitar that was awesome. He came to hate it when I appeared :-) He knew I'd ask for Terra Antarctica!

I've been a fan of Nyman ever since. His string writing is amazing. I've always admired the way that Wagner could send a shiver up and down the spine with the 'Liebestod' from 'Tristan und Isolde'. The second movement of Kalinikkov's 2nd symphony with it's almost unique string writing, or the second movement of Rachmaninovs 1st symphony; Ernst Tubin's Violin Concerto. But Nyman outdoes them all for subtlety. Not bad for a man who plays the piano!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

I've posted some more photos

of the Melbourne I know[^]. I took about 600 shots in total. Digital cameras are great. Zero shot cost. Just shoot and shoot and throw away what didn't quite work. What I now need is one of those anti-shake cameras with software that compensates for my tremor, for I fear that one or two of my shots don't quite show the crispness of which a digital camera is capable.

I'm also hoping that the internet plan to which our illustrious host, Michael, subscribes, can cope with the size of the photos (roughly a meg each). If it can't let me know and I'll cut em down to size.

Today was the return to the office. The powers that be haven't yet communicated a change in priorities though, given this company, I know changes have happened. I did make it pretty clear that in the absence of any clear directive I had no intention of changing my own priorities, which are to release a major new version in January, one which doesn't require admin credentials. My predecessor relied on the registry to an extreme but, what's worse, he opened every key with KEY_ALL_ACCESS permissions. No big deal if you're dealing with a key in HKEY_CURRENT_USER but of course our app saves all it's persistent data in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE. Hence the requirement for an admin login. Our customers network people don't like that; nor do I. More than once I've travelled to the Philippines to diagnose a problem caused by the operator deleting a registry key.

I'm about to pull a swifty on the team (and as software supervisor I intend to abuse my power). I'm going to add the access mode to the constructor of our registry class and not make it default. Each team member is going to face code that won't compile; and by not setting a default value they're going to have to examine each situation and make the appropriate decision. For the most part I suspect that the other team members will get away with KEY_READ access which will work regardless of admin rights. This is going to hit the code for which I'm responsible the most.

I've been doing a big refactor; pulling code out of the user interface that doesn't belong there and moving it into a config utility that checks to be sure it has write access to our root key. Unfortunately there are one or two places where I can't really remove the need for write access; for those cases I've had to write some impersonation code and thus code to store encrypted username/password combinations. And as a result, configuration utilities to set the username/password. The config utility grew into a framework with various plugins to configure this or that aspect. I'm up to 5 plugin DLL's and I've barely scratched the surface.

We're getting better at this though; my predecessor used to store SQL Server passwords as clear text in the registry. If that reads as I think I do a better job than he did you'd be right. It never crossed my mind that I could get away with storing passwords as clear text. I take it one step further though. I store the domain, username and password as a single encrypted entity. The scheme I use is a simplified version of this[^] No one, scanning our root key, could easily determine even the username we use. This is as it should be.

Monday, October 03, 2005

A more innocent age

High on my priority list back in Melbourne was to visit all the places I knew so well. Saying that is rather like pointing out that the sun sets in the west; it was an obvious. I won't burden you right now with an exahaustive list; just the highlights. West Footscray. Flinders Street Station and the Royal Domain. The scene driving from Gisborne to Toolern Vale. You get the idea.

One of the things I wanted to see again was this[^]. The plaque is in Fawkner Park, named after one of the earliest settlers of Melbourne and they do indeed still play American Softball there on Saturday mornings. This was one of my daily walks at lunchtime in 1999. The US Consulate in Melbourne is maybe 200 metres away.

The other shot (alas somewhat blurred) is of a softball changing pavilion dating from around 1950. I can well remember seeing buildings such as that one about 1960.

In Melbourne in 1958/59 the most popular TV clowns with small fry such as myself were Zig and Zag[^]. Geeze, they were still going in the late 1980's and though I was way past hero worship of them they still held a special place in my heart.

One afternoon in what I fancy was the year 1959 Zig and Zag announced, on Channel 7, that they would be at Fawkner Park on the following Saturday. Being an enthusiastic 5 year old I raced from the TV set to Mum full of the news. Tripped and hit my chin on the edge of the table. I couldn't believe the amount of blood that shot from my chin. My grandmother and my mother both panicked but someone (I think it must have been my father in a rare moment of sobriety) took charge of the situation. A short visit to hospital later (during which visit I fancied (and I still remember it to this day) they stitched a bedsheet to my chin) and I was as right as rain. I didn't get to see Zig and Zag but I still well remember those ice cream cone hats they wore over the greasepaint. I still have the faint scar on my chin.

Zig erred in later life. For all I know Zag might have been a friend of my Uncle Keith in Changi Prison. But for a 5 year old they were important people and they earned their position by the standards that 5 year olds apply. They made us laugh and they made us feel that there was something outside the arbitrary rules that our olds imposed.

Rest in Peace Zag, and when you leave this world Zig, rest in peace too.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Sadly it's all over

bar the travelling. Yup, my 16 days in Australia has come to an end and I'm about 10 and a half hours from getting on the plane back to the US. I really need to be sleeping around about now but I know it's going to be hurry up and wait tomorrow morning and no access to the internet. I have my matches ready for when they take my cigarette lighter away and enough smokes to get me as far as the duty free in Sydney. From there it's 14 or so hours of no smoking until I emerge into San Francisco airport with a 5 hour wait for the homeward flight to Phoenix. I've had my last meal of fish and chips for a couple of years but not, I hope, my last Timeout. Those I can get in the Philippines as well as here!

I'll see you back stateside with more time to write about adventures in Melbourne and some photos.