Monday, February 28, 2005

The TSA did their job tonight!

TSA == Transport Security Administration.

You remember last night I confessed I'd bought a cask of wine to bring with me to Dallas? Well when I opened my suitcase tonight I found the standard TSA 'we opened your luggage for a security check' disclaimer. Fine. I've seen that more than once before. But they were very thorough this time. They'd opened the wine cask, taken the plastic wine container out, presumably felt if it contained solids (and undoubtedly laughed). Then they put it back in the cardboard box and taped it back together!

I don't have a problem with this though; it proves they're doing their job!



You might have imagined from some previous posts that I don't think much of American cuisine. You'd be wrong. American cuisine has some absolutely wonderful contributions to gastronomic delight. Top of the list, for me, is prime rib. Those who lack class might dismiss prime rib as 'roast beef'. That's rather like describing a sunset as orange light! It's accurate so far as it goes but it totally misses the nuances.

Second on the list are spare ribs. We're talking pork here; marinated overnight in subtle sauces then cooked slowly. If done right the flesh just melts away from the bones. My own preferred recipe (hark at the sight of an Aussie presuming to present a recipe for spare ribs!) is to take the ribs, score them lightly across the bone and marinate them in a mixture of honey, soy sauce and chopped green (spring) onions with just a trace of Worcestershire sauce and a light sprinkling of chili powder, overnight. Cook them in a hot oven (at least 425 F/ 220C) for about 20 minutes then turn the heat way way down - around 300F/150C and let em cook for another 3 hours. Pour more of the marinate over them as time passes. Then turn the oven off and let them cool. When they're cold refrigerate for a day in the sauce (but don't freeze em).

When it comes time to eat you heat them back to about 425F/220C for maybe 15 minutes and serve with a baked potato.

I can't bring myself to eat them the way they're usually eaten here. Everyone else just slices them into individual ribs and then picks them up in their fingers. I'm uncomfortable eating them that way; I use a knife and fork and never need to wipe my face or my fingers! Whenever I order ribs in a restaurant I always ask for a steak knife - I usually get puzzled looks but I can live with those!

I had ribs tonight for dinner. No, I didn't cook them and I felt the barbecue sauce was perhaps a trifle overdone but this is Texas and that's how they serve em. The ribs were still delicious. Andrew loves ribs but we don't have them very often back home; they're a trifle expensive. So I made sure, before I left home this arvo, to tell Andrew I'd be eating ribs for dinner. I also sent email back home to advise on the progress of my dinner :-)

I can be a bastard sometimes!


so I've just got back to the hotel in Dallas. Strangely enough I'm in the same room as last week - it's almost as though I never left...

For a change the flights were both on time and we got to Dallas Airport exactly when I expected we would. This time there are three of us travelling from Phoenix to here; I met up with the other two at Dallas. The plan was that one of them would rent a car and we'd all travel to the same hotel (hardly earth shattering news). So the one who was renting the car fronts up at the desk (he's a trifle higher in the heirarchy than I am). I nipped outside for a smoke and returned just in time to witness him arguing about the price. It seems he'd been quoted $30 a day plus taxes for the car; they were trying to bill him $35 a day plus taxes. He's hiring the car for just the one day!

Now I've just travelled here on a ticket costing something over $350 return and I'm in a hotel room costing about $80 a night. So if I were in that position I'd just sign and have done with it. In the scheme of things 5 bucks isn't worth wasting time over. Not this guy. 25 minutes were wasted. 25 minutes of his time, 25 minutes of the other guys time and 25 minutes of my time! I felt like taking a fiver out of my wallet, slamming it down on the counter and saying 'for Christs sake let's just go!'. I didn't.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Apple pie

it's just under 6 months until I'm eligible to apply for US Citizenship. Assuming I can pass the exam on American History and the Constitution and the English language test (I may be able to claim the age exemption on the language test ) I'll be a US Citizen somewhere from 12 to 18 months from now.

I'm not sure I'll make a good citizen . The problem is I can't stand American apple pie. I like apple pie; just not as she is made and served in the USA. Here apple pie contains cinammon - indeed, to my palate, cinammon is the dominant flavour. And it's served with ice-cream! Yechhh. As if the cinammon weren't enough they have to go and serve it with a flavour that just doesn't match! If there's one place in the world I don't want a battle it's on my plate.

My perfect apple pie is made with flaky pastry and fresh apples cooked with just enough sugar to mitigate the tartness of the apple. The pie itself is brushed with a little milk and sprinkled with sugar just before it enters the oven. It's served with unsweetened whipped cream! The idea is that the flavour of the apple dominates.

I've never actually tried to bake an apple pie the way I like it here. I've never had much success with pastry. You can't buy (at least not at the supermarkets I've visited here) bulk pie apple without the cinammon already included. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that American apples are genetically engineered to include the cinammon flavour .

This is a generational thing in Australia. I mentioned this to some 20something workmates back in 2002 and they expressed puzzlement. To them apple pie should contain cinammon. Of course, they were born after McDonalds invaded and they're used to Hot Apple Pie as fast food. I have to confess that I actually do like McDonalds Hot Apple Pie and I've eaten quite a few of them in my time, but then again I don't consider McDonalds to be real food.

So now the question must be on your lips. Do I like cinammon at all? Of course I do! But not in apple pie or in schnapps either if it comes to that! But a nice cinammon doughnut can be the perfect acommpaniement to strong coffee. Or cinammon and sugar sprinkled on hot buttered toast!


I think I'm getting used to living here!

We just got back from a longish dinner. Dinner itself was at TGIF (Thank God it's Friday). Food was so so. But after dinner we decided to have post-prandial drinks at the restaurant where Morgan works. Morgan will regret our arrival. I have the proof of my own eyes that she knows how to turn off lights, use a broom, straighten up stuff that's falling down and serve food properly.

Anyway, as we were driving home from there, about 9 PM, we stopped at the local Frys Supermarket for sundries (let's not mince words - it was for a cask of wine that will travel with me to Dallas tomorrow so I don't have to pay hotel prices!) and then went home - it's about 200 metres from there to home. This is very hard to describe. There are various trees and shrubs; walls and rocks along that 200 metres. As we drove (my wife was driving) I was recognising each tree, each rock... After 2 years here I should but it felt like I was home and that's the first time I've had that feeling here.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Odd man out

I'm not even sure I should post this but I'll take the chance.

As you know, I have an appointment with BCIS next Friday. That's their new acronym - the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services but most people would still think of them as INS, Immigration and Naturalisation Service. I have to take along three photos of myself taken to VERY precise specifications. If the photo's not exactly right you're liable to have to make another appointment and bring along new photos. Given that I'm going back to Dallas on Sunday and returning about 10 hours before the appointment (during which 10 hours I hope to get some sleep) it seemed like a good idea to get those photos today.

My wife told me that I could get the ADIT photos (no, I don't know what ADIT stands for) at the local UPS store. So there I went; but they don't do that kind of photo anymore - BCIS specs are difficult to get right. Ok, next stop Kinkos. They also don't do them anymore; BCIS specs are difficult to get right.

Ok, I'm seeing a pattern here. So then I bethought to myself that I could kill two birds with one stone. I don't know where the BCIS office is so it's probably a good idea to find it and it's likely there'll be at least one business nearby that does know how to make photos to BCIS specs.

Good plan! I knew the address, 2035 Central. I had no idea where the 2000 block is but it seemed reasonable to drive to Camelback, go west toward Central and then drive down there to the 2000 block. Uh nope; you can't do a left from Camelback onto Central. It's not one way there; they just don't want anyone other than buses doing left turns. So I drove a little further, to 7th Avenue and did the left. Drove along there a ways (I hope you're enjoying my Amerispeak ) until I found the 2000 block. I kept going just a little further until I hit MacDowell which is about the 1600 block. Did a left turn there and came back toward Central. Uh huh - I might have known it. You can't do a left turn onto Central from MacDowell. So I kept driving and turned left on (I think) 3rd Avenue. Went up to Virginia (I think it's the 2600 block) and eventually got onto Central. At the 2200 block I saw a rather imposing sign 'Immigration and Naturalization Fotos' sic. So I parked there and went in search of the photo.

There were maybe 20 people in the waiting room. No reception area; just a door that said 'Staff Only'. A bell had rung when I opened the door so I assumed (correctly) that someone would appear. I took a seat and waited. A minute or so passes and someone came to the Staff Only door, singles me out and asks what I want. Photos for my greencard renewal. Ok, come this way.

20 minutes later I have my photos but they're not ADIT style. Somewhat worried I pointed out that I needed Greencard renewal photos. She tells me that BCIS changed the requirements. See here[^] for what they used to require and what they now want.

When I started this whole process almost 3 years ago they did require ADIT style photos and I couldn't find anywhere in Melbourne that had even heard of the style let alone would commit to getting them right. I eventually got a set of photos from Rabbit Photo, Highpoint West Shopping Centre where we just guessed the angle I should turn. I was more than surprised when the US Consulate in Sydney accepted them without demur. You have to understand that this change is good news for me. The old style photo makes my nose look even bigger than it already is!

Oh and why the title? This is why I'm not even sure I should make this post but without a twist it'd be a boring read. Of the 20 or so people in that waiting room I was the only one who couldn't speak Spanish!

Stone soup

or, 'Another family story that's meaningless to outsiders'.

One afternoon a year and a half ago my wife and I were talking about the history of Microprocessors. We're wierd like that! Something she said reminded me of a parable published in Electronics Australia magazine sometime in 1977. It was a retelling of the story of stone soup where the stone was the microprocessor and the vegetables and meat added to make the stone soup even better were all the support chips required to make that 'cheap' microprocessor actually work.

So I said something about stone soup. Andrew piped up. He said...

'Oh, I know that story. There's this kid with a diaper full of soup!'

Then he stopped, realising what he'd just said. My wife laughed. And laughed. And laughed and kept on laughing. I swear I thought she'd wet herself she was laughing so hard!

Poor Andrew. Every time he comes out with another Andrewism we remind him of the diaper full of soup!


my wife grew up in Los Angeles. I can't remember the name of the area but the house she lived in was opposite that of Ronald Reagan when he was Governor of California so it can't have been too shabby. We visited that area about 3 years ago and she showed off the places where she'd lived. That was only fair; when she'd been in Melbourne with me a couple of years earlier I inflicted a visit on most of the places I'd lived in .

The area in which she'd lived has thousands of Eucalyptus trees. For that matter, here where I live right now there are thousands of em.

When she visited Australia for the first time she expressed surprise at just how many Eucalypts we had. Puzzled, I asked, why? It turns out she'd always thought the Eucalyptus was native to North America.

All of which goes to show that we often take things for granted as a result of early exposure. I knew perfectly well the Eucalyptus was an Australian native; we're brought up on that kinda stuff; and where she grew up as a small child there was Eucalyptus; therefore it had to be native.

One afternoon on that first visit to Australia I took her to Anglesea; a small seaside town maybe a hundred kilometres from Melbourne. Every evening from about an hour or so before sunset the Kangaroos come down from the hills and graze on the golf course there. There'll be hundreds of the buggers! The golfers just play around em. They're harmless if you don't scare them. I, of course, didn't let on what she was about to see; we just drove there, parked and walked out onto the green. She was enchanted. So enchanted in fact that she walked right up to a large male and started petting him. 'Uh', said I, 'that's not a good idea'. 'Why not?' she asked. 'Well,' said I, 'these are wild kangaroos - they're not domesticated.' She didn't get the idea. So I asked her if she'd walk up to a bear in the states. Nope she said emphatically. 'Well, you don't walk up to a wild Kangaroo either.' To this day I'm sure she's not convinced. They're so cute and they look so harmless but they can disembowel you if need be!

Friday, February 25, 2005

Andrew was shocked

to learn that he's been the subject of at least one blog entry.

It came up over dinner tonight. I don't remember the exact details (isn't that supposed to be one of the symptoms of Alzeheimers? Long term memory works, short term doesn't?) but we were stirring Andrew about his 'lifestyle' decision and I told him I'd blogged about it. He stared rather uncomprehendingly so I explained what a blog is. I fear I exaggerated a little - he doubtless imagines millions of readers. I should be so lucky!!

He wanted to know what I'd written. A golden opportunity not be to missed. You see, Andrew is lazy. He won't lift a finger if he can get someone else to do it for him. He won't read a book if he can watch a movie about it instead. And he won't google if he can persuade me or mum to answer a simple question. I fear I'm somewhat unsympathetic here; I won't answer his questions directly; I'll tell him where he can find the answer and I'll fill in the detail if he's missing a point; I'll happily explain until the cows come home as long as he expends at least some effort but I'll go to my grave before I'll tell him something he could learn for himself. This is, of course, a value judgement but I refuse to spoon feed him.

So I pointed him to our friend - Google. Told him exactly what to use as the search term. My name as it happens. Thus far it looks like he'll never know what I wrote.

Gawd knows what'll happen if Morgan finds out I've blogged about her. She WILL go read.

Phoenix 101

I moved from Australia to the US on November 17th 2002. In other words, I moved from a climate that was building up toward summer to a climate that was just winding down toward winter. It was cold in Phoenix, no doubt of it. Not bitterly so but I did go a year and a half without a summer.

My wife and I met in Australia in January 2000. Not one of the hotter summers on record for Melbourne. She, it seems, came away with the idea that Melbourne doesn't get all that warm. So, when I moved, she felt it incumbent upon herself to warn me about what was ahead of me. She overdid it somewhat. All those stories of temperatures in the 115 F range and how I was going to find it unendurable. I, of course, was used to summers that reach 105 F and, rarely, peaked at 112. (That peak occurred in February 1968. There was a higher peak of 114 in February 2003 but I'd moved by then).

So came the summer of 2003. I can be a stubborn and contrary bastard when I want to be, as I'm sure you've noticed. There was no way I was going to admit that it was perhaps a trifle on the warm side.

Along the way I learned perhaps the most valuable lesson you can learn in Phoenix. If you're going for a walk take water. You can get amazingly thirsty on even a short walk. This is the middle of a desert!

Quite some years ago I got into the habit of taking daily walks. This particular obsession reached its peak in 2002 - I'd do at least 8 Km's a day. In Melbourne I could do that kind of distance and not feel all that thirsty. Not in Phoenix. It's so dry that in midsummer a 100 metre walk can leave you dry mouthed. Even in winter you get thirsty much more quickly than I was used to.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Three Shillings

every family has at least one story that comes up year after year, is meaningless to outsiders and is embarassing to the participants. This is my families story (the family in Australia).

In 1962 my mother had just remarried and we'd moved into a house in Seddon. At the time the gas meter was coin fed and it expected to be fed in shillings. One shilling gave you so much gas; when that much gas had been consumed it cut out. Since everything in that house was gas fed (well not quite everything - gas lighting had, by 1962, fallen into disuse even in Seddon ) my parents took care to keep a small pile of shillings beside the gas meter.

So one day we came home from school, myself and my two younger sisters. I was 8, Sharon was 7 and Deb was 5. Now this is way before the phenomenon of the latch-key kid; we didn't have a key to the house but it wasn't difficult to work out that if one rocked the sliding door at the back of the house back and forth the nail attached to a piece of string which was poked into a hole in the door would, eventually, fall out. Once it had we had entrance to the house!

I'm sure you can see what happened next!

We found 3 shillings in a neat little pile beside the gas meter. Being a thieving little bastard I pocketed em. And then we went a-spending... Three Golden Gaytimes later (a kind of icecream still sold in Australia but at that time new on the market) and we came home. (I can remember this scene so exactly - down the to shop where we bought the icecreams - alas long since demolished (it was on the corner of Charles Street and Victoria Street - it's now a computer shop) and even the little old lady behind the counter who has probably been dead these 40 years).

Sometime later the olds came home and it was time to cook dinner. I imagine there was still some gas credit though I don't remember. So I imagine they got part way through the cooking and the credit ran out. So they reached for that pile of shillings and they were gone! Thus began the interrogation. I of course had no knowledge of what became of the three shillings! . Nor did Sharon. But Deb, not understanding the stakes (it was MY bum that was going to be beaten) piped up and said 'Robbie took them'. Sure enough my bum was warmed.

Over time, and I think it was in the late 1960's it started, the story grew a life of it's own and was quoted at every Christmas. By 1980 it had become a tradition and I remember both my first and my second wives groaning when, at a family Christmas, one of us would ask 'have you heard the story of the three shillings'. After the third Christmas each wife would attempt to forestall it but we were implacable .

I have a similar story with my American family - it's nowhere near as old but I'm determined to elevate it to three shilling status - sometime soon I'll relate it.

11 Kilometres up

in my previous post I told the tale of returning to Phoenix tonight.

The journey from Dallas to El Paso took place mostly over cloud and I had a window seat. I saw, for the first time, a thunderstorm from above. It was awesomely beautiful. It took a moment or two to realise what I was seeing; it looked rather like a series of Hollywood explosions but the brevity of each flash of orange soon convinced me I was seeing lightning through cloud...

I have to admit I quite enjoy returning to Phoenix by night. I'm getting to the point where I know the layout of the city well enough (even if I don't know all the placenames yet) to know that there's the I-10, that's the SR143 that I drive to and from the office, there's the 101 East and that bendy road is either the I-17 or SR51 etc. Tonight our flight path took us past Scottsdale Airport which is tiny in comparison with Phoenix Sky Harbour. I doubt our plane could have landed there if they'd tried!

Driving home (on those infrequent occasions of late when I get to do it) from the office on the SR143 at about 5PM or a little later always provides me with a distraction. At that time of day flights land going east to west and, when I look to the right, I can usually see between 6 and 8 jets in their final approach. With that many flights landing pretty much simultaneously there's obviously a lot of juggling going on to vacate the runway for the next plane. It can be unnerving on taxi to the take off position to see a plane approaching just as the plane you're on does a turn and immediately accelerates. No, I don't know if that approaching plane lands on the runway we just used but it sure looks like it.

Criss cross

nope, not across the entire country, just between Dallas and Phoenix with the obligatory stop at El Paso or Albuquerque. Yup, I'm back in Phoenix but not for long.

I've been in Dallas on a task that requires co-ordination between 3 of us. Each of us is on the others critical paths. I do my bit then I have to wait whilst the second one does his part; then the two of us wait while the third does his part and so on... Each part can take from 2 days to a week. I did as much of my task as was possible by Monday and since then I've been waiting for other tasks to conclude. I haven't been idle since then of course; but what I've been doing could just as easily have been done in my hotel room or at home or at the office in Phoenix or pretty much anywhere in the world where I have an internet connection available. So, as you'll remember from a couple of days ago, I put the case to come home for a week or so. Today they finally agreed to let me come home.

Of course, they couldn't possibly make that decision early in the day. That'd be too easy. The decision was made at 5PM and I spent a whirlwind hour checking out of the hotel and getting to the airport. Packing didn't take long - I learned many years ago that no matter how long you're going to be in a hotel room you always live out of the suitcase and never ever use the drawers and wardrobes they so kindly provide. I got home at midnight (an hour or so ago).

Remember I commented that it's not a good idea to travel on a one way ticket? It's also not a good idea to front up at the airline desk with a flight booked a week hence and requesting it be brought forward to the next available flight. Uh huh - the dreaded secondary inspection yet again. Fortunately Wednesdays seem to be off peak for both Dallas Love Field and El Paso - I was the only one in secondary inspection and, given that I knew the drill, it went very quickly. On a side note, I've noticed that the TSA people are, if approached in a friendly manner, most affable. Doesn't stop em doing their job (nor should it) but they enjoy a (non threatening) joke* every bit as much as the rest of us.

Of course I'm only here for a few days; I have to fly back to Dallas on Sunday in time to be back at work Monday morning. Well I'm only doing that if the critical path has cleared so that I have something useful to do on Monday morning; otherwise I intend to delay travel until I do have something useful to do that can only be done in Dallas. This is complicated somewhat by the fact that on Friday March 4th I have an appointment with Phoenix INS to kick-start the processing of my replacement green card. Now shhh, don't tell management this but I can cancel that appointment any time. The INS web site indeed, specifically requests that if we can't make the appointment we cancel it and promises no penalty for doing so. I'm reluctant to tell management this because I know what will happen if they know about it; appointment after appointment will be cancelled and suddenly I'll be out of status and deportable.

And then, having flown back to Phoenix on Thursday next week for the appointment I'm expected to go back to Dallas the following Sunday for another stay of indeterminate length. Sometimes I hate this job!

*If your job ever involves Bills of Materials you'd be wise to use the full expression if discussing the subject with a co-worker in line at airport security :-)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The big red switch

was not so much thrown as fused into a molten mass .

Maybe 5 minutes after I made the last post I was startled to see a flash of light coming from behind. Given that I'm on the 10th floor with my back to the outside window this made me wonder more than somewhat.

Well we've just had a thunderstorm. Awesome stuff. I don't remember how I felt about them when I was 5 years old but ever since I understood the physics (at about age 8) I've enjoyed em. There's something about seeing large scale physics at work with nary a project manager in sight that's incredibly satisfying.

I've never had much time for the 'oh that' crowd. If the universe is prepared to give me a free show it would be churlish, would it not, to refuse to enjoy. Thus I've always enjoyed that moment when, just after dusk, the full moon rises. I've been known to plan beforehand the best place to be to get the perfect view of the moon as it rises.

Similarly, I usually go for a window seat on planes. This varies of course. If it's a one or two hour flight it's a no brainer - window every time. 7 or 8 hours? Depends on how sleepy I'm feeling. If I'm sleeping do I really want to be awakened by a passenger who is busting? 14 to 18 hours? Usually a window because I know ahead of time not to overdo the liquids.

As for why the window? Even travelling as much as I have been recently it's not every day I get to see a city from way above. Or that magic moment when the plane dips below the topmost layer of cloud and you see cloud above and below. Or the time I saw a rainbow 10 kilometres above the ground. Did you know that a rainbow seen from that height is a series of concentric circles?

A couple of years ago I flew into Los Angeles just after dark. LA was covered with cloud and the view was unbelievable. A pink light on the cloud coming from the Pacific Ocean highlighted by pink and orange from the street lighting below the clouds. The odd break in the clouds revealing LA below. It was magical.

Back in the 90's I was in the office (7th floor) just as the sun set. It was one of those sunsets - you know the ones; striated clouds and crepuscular beams; delicate pinks in the west turning to purple north and south. I couldn't resist pointing it out to a workmate. She took one glance and returned to her computer. Oh, she said, sunset. Does nothing for me. I was appalled.


this fits rather neatly with some other posts I've made .

Sometime in 1964 my parents, after dinner, made an unorthodox suggestion. Maybe we kids might like to wash the dishes and dry em. Being unsuspicious little bastards we fell for it. I can't remember if I washed or dried but I do remember the finish. Mum asked 'was that fun?'. 'Oh yes', we chorused, eager to please. 'Well' said Mum, 'you can do it each night from now on'. I still remember the sinking sensation of being had!

In later years I rationalise my suckerdom to myself; it was character building; it taught me to do things for myself - you know the litany. But honestly, I felt suckered at the time.

I want to know

who hit the big red switch!

Last week here in Dallas it was bitterly cold. Dallasites may laugh at the sun-child but I've gotta tell you; standing out there in the cold smoking a fag with a light wind from the north that carried arctic cold cut through my Phoenix winter wear like a knife. It was bloody cold!

Come Sunday and it was balmy here. Monday was better and today was fantastic. We hit 27 C according to a sign we passed at lunchtime (translated of course from Fahrenheit).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A wake to remember

my fathers sister died on January 7th 1995; her funeral took place on January 11th. It was a stinking hot day - it must have been over 40 C with humidity to match.

After the funeral service we went back to my aunts house for the wake.

I remember the day well; we drank, we ate, we told jokes and laughed; we remembered my aunt in all her glory and with much affection. I learned, for the first time, that she'd been a typewriter mechanic during World War 2 doing her bit for the war effort. It was exactly the sort of party that my aunt would have revelled in.

Very late in the evening as the sun sank we drank to her memory one more time and my cousin Kerryn unveiled a photo montage of my aunts life. Photos from 1926 when she was naked upon a rug before the fire (she was 1 year old). Photos from the 1940's when she was astonishingly beautiful; photos from the early 1960's (I appear in one or two of those ).

I lost contact with her in the late 1960's but one afternoon in 1973 I turned a corner in Ascot Vale and ran across this woman. She started, stopped and gazed at me. I was not quite sure who she was. She asked; 'you're Rob Manderson aren't you?'. I couldn't deny it! About half a second later I knew she was my aunt! Cordial reunion time. We swapped stories and addresses and went upon our ways. A day or so later I went to the address she'd given me. It was a boarding house in St Leonards Street, Ascot Vale and as I went in I realised how down-market it was. My aunt and Kerryn were living in a single room. I had little or no tact in those days; without even thinking I blurted out 'Betty, you're poor'. To my dying day I'll remember the expression in her eyes.

We lost contact again in the late 1970's but (as I remember it) one of my sisters ran across one of my cousins in the late 1980's and we were reunited once again. This time I made sure we didn't lose contact. By that time things were looking up and she was in relative prosperity. Many's the time she and I sat on warm summer evenings, me with a glass of red wine, she with her beer, reminiscing about our family. But how I wish I'd thought to tape our conversations!

I had the pleasure, about 1991, of conducting her through Footscray Cemetery to her parents grave. By then I was the only one left who knew the location and that only because I'd done the search in 1972. It's not marked (and isn't to this day so far as I know). Along the way I was able to show her the grave of her grandparents (my great grandparents).

Her dying wish was to be buried with her parents and her brother (my father) but it was not to be. There wasn't enough depth available; so she was cremated and her ashes strewn over her parents grave.

Rest in Peace Aunt Betty!

For a brief moment

I thought I saw light at the end of the tunnel; namely that I could go home. Alas it was not to be. Not, you understand, that Dallas is all that bad a place to be but it's not home is it?

Without going into too much detail (now that's a change for me ain't it - but given that this page is findable from Google I really don't want to say too much) various events occurred today that lead me to believe it would be a waste of the next 3 or 4 days of my time to remain here. So I presented my case quite succintly I thought; it's going to cost you bastards about US$500 to keep me here for those three days; a return ticket to Phoenix will cost you about US$300; do the arithmetic!

Ah, they countered; you'll be travelling back Tuesday and possibly returning on Friday. For those two days we lose your productivity. It was about this time that I shot myself in the foot. Oh no, said I, I won't be returning on Friday. Monday will be soon enough! Now you have to understand that we're working on the customers site and they'd prefer we weren't there on weekends. So if I travelled back on Friday I'd be just in time to spend 2 days not working whilst occupying a hotel room at company expense. Wouldn't any reasonable human being with a modicum of intelligence do the arithmetic and realise that flying me back tomorrow just might be the best balance of company dollars and employee satisfaction?

Uh huh. I knew you'd see it my way.

Hanging at the mall

about a year or so ago my step daughter Morgan and I went shopping at Paradise Vally Mall in Phoenix. Morgan can be a real bitch at times but she can also be fun - this was an occasion of fun. She wanted to buy clothes of course (what 16 year old girl doesn't?) and I played the role of embarassed step dad. I can play the game when necessary!

She was somewhat surprised, knowing that I hadn't been to this particular mall before, that I could predict with a fair degree of accuracy what kinds of shops we'd find around the next corner. The food court just HAD to be over there; the phone shops down that way; the homewares would be there; the surfer clothes and record shops were going to be thataway and the cinema megaplex was opposite the food court. I wasn't completely accurate but I fancy my hit rate was better than 80%.

She asked me how I knew. Well how did she think I knew? I'd been in exactly the same mall half a world away. Even down to the same smiling teenagers clustered in groups giggling, flirting and sporting those strange lumps on the side of the head called, in the US, cellphones! Literally the only things that differed were some of the brand names (Osh Kosh Bigosh aren't, so far as I know, in Australia yet) and the accents. Cut the sound and the environments are almost indistinguishable.

Imagine my surprise when I found exactly the same mall in St Laurent du Var, France.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The fine art of bastardry

if you've been following my blog and you're not an Australian you've probably noticed that I use the word 'bastard' a lot. Australians, of course, don't even notice the word anymore .

To an Australian the word 'bastard' has many many more coloUrs and shades than it does for others. For instance, I call my best friend Heino a 'real bastard' and he takes it as a high compliment (as I do when he calls me a 'real bastard'). On the other hand, if I didn't think very highly of someone I might refer to him as a 'bit of a bastard'.

Once you've established the context it's not necessary to say 'real'. 'Bastard' is enough .

You'd have realised that we don't use the word in the dictionary sense. Heino's parents were definitely married well before he was concieved. As for the 'bit of a bastard', I probably don't know him well enough to know his parents marital status at the time of his birth let alone his conception.

Nope, for Australians the status of 'real bastard' means among other things (this is by no means an exhaustive list) someone with a good sense of humour, someone who can hold their drink, someone who looks after him/herself, someone who can take a joke and dish it back, someone whom you can trust with your life. A 'bit of a bastard' is someone who can't quite be trusted; someone who you really don't want to associate with.

Just remember that if an Australian calls you a bastard don't take offence. You'll have really had to have pissed him off for it to be an insult. When in doubt just assume it's a warm compliment! Better than 99% of the time you'll have made the right assumption!

Thus, to my friend Heino, I'm a 'real bastard'. In 1975 he was 14, I was 20ish :-) I sent him a telegram (via his school). It read 'ignore previous telegram - please come immediately!'. He apparently spent half the afternoon badgering the local post office for a copy of the previous telegram! There was, of course, no previous telegram .

Heino pretends to be outraged by this. The truth is it gave him the perfect excuse to escape an afternoon of school but to this day (almost 30 years later) he's vowing revenge when I least expect it. I'm still waiting .

I suspect this is getting out of date in much the same way that 'bonzer' and 'sheila' are now out of date. Heino might object but he's over 40 and i'm 50 - and I think the subtlelty of the Australian bastard is as out of date as 'bonzer' is. Sigh...

I'm seriously impressed

I've just spent a fascinating hour looking at Colin Angus Mackay's photo gallery on Flickr[^] and link from there ). There are some great photos in there.

I hadn't realised just how many place names from my home state, Victoria, had been nicked from Scotland (well I kinda did but Colin's photo captions really reminded me).

The spirit of scientific enquiry

sometime in 1963 - I don't remember any more accurately than that .

I'd been reading about how hot air rises and the flow of air from the bottom of a door is from the cold room toward the warm room. The book I'd been reading gave a simple test; hold a lighted match to the top of the door and notice how the air flows from the warm room toward the cold; then repeat the experiment at the bottom of the door and see how it flows in the opposite direction.

So I tried it. Top of the door; yes, it flowed from the lounge room in which my parents were watching TV toward the somewhat colder room I was in. Bottom of the door. Yes, it flowed the other way.

Then disaster! My step-father's glance had strayed that way and he'd seen the lit match! I was the only one who slept on that side of the lounge room; my sisters were on the other side and fast asleep! One rather sore bum later I retired to bed.

Well, Galileo suffered rather more than I did...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Old Jock

if he's still alive, would be about 100 years old. It's not likely he's still breathing.

I met him in 1970 at my first full time job. I was 15 and employed as an apprentice radio mechanic for a company called AWA (Amalgamated Wireless Australasia). Jock worked behind the spares counter. He was (to a 15 year old) an irascible old bastard. Doubtless he was also an irascible old bastard to someone aged 60!

As the lowest of the low in the pecking order it was part of my job, at 5 PM, to roll down the shutters at the main entrance to the building. At 5PM old Jock finished his work. We both went by the same clock on the workshop wall. Jock had to wait until the big hand hit... well you know the drill... before he could put on his scarf, grab his gladstone bag and leave the counter. I had to wait until the little hand hit (and so on and so forth)... and then grab the chain and start hauling. Thus, at about 1 minute past 5 PM the shutter was almost down to the ground; and at the same time Jock arrived at the shutter. Every day we had the same argument. He'd order me to raise the shutter so he could pass through. I'd refuse. I had my orders!* He'd grumble and swear at me and stump away toward the other door. This took place every day that I was working throughout 1970. In 1971 we had another first year apprentice and that task passed to him. Old Jock probably retired in 1971 though I don't remember him departing.

The other door was 45 metres away. His counter was 25 metres along the same path. He could have saved himself 70 metres of walking every day but he preferred to spend it arguing with me about that shutter. For years that puzzled me. Surely it would have been easier to just walk the 20 metres in the other direction, pass through the officially sanctioned gate and walk back 45 metres (for a total walk of 65 metres) to be in the exact same position?

I now understand, although I still don't agree, that this was Jock's way of trying to claw back a sense of superiority over someone half a century younger. Such a pity (in retrospect) that I never gave him his much coveted prize!

*Nuremberg anyone?

The excuses kids come up with

my 13 year old step-son Andrew lets his room accumulate considerable entropy. This doesn't surprise me (I didn't learn the basic rule of housekeeping until I was 42*)

So one day a while ago I was playing the role of wicked step-father. You probably know the deal. One ascends the stairs and enters the room; if you're lucky you don't need to hold your breath. Then you espy the 17 empty coke cans, the 4 glasses each containing various amounts of fermenting milk (I refer to it as kvass - Andrew would be one of the few kids in North America who now knows what kvass is) and the 7 plates containing remnants of cake or pie from a week or so ago.

So on this occasion he decided to rebel a little. He said 'This is my lifestyle.' It took a while to stop laughing. And yes, I was a complete bastard; I didn't accept his lifestyle decision and he, with a considerable amount of disgruntlement, took each plate and each glass downstairs, scrubbed them by hand under hot water and deposited them in the dishwasher. He then, under my instruction, filled the appropriate receptacles with detergent and rinser and learned how to operate the machine. Fat lot of good it did. A week later we repeated the performance. And again a week later. We're still repeating the performance. I know what's happening - he hopes I'll give up and let him go his own way (rather in the way that Old Jock did) - but I'm a stubborn old fart; I won't give in. And suddenly, sometime in the future Andrew will discover that he CAN do things for himself; he can operate machinery and can't hide behind being a kid any longer.

*the basic rule of housekeeping is 'clean as you go'. It's a lot less painful to rinse that plate and put it in the dishwasher now than it will be in 24 hours time... you get the idea.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Age appropriateness

part of the process of becoming an immigrant to the US is to pass a physical examination. They require the would be immigrant to not have certain diseases such as HIV or TB. Nor should the immigrant have diseases with other long term implications. The immigrant also needs to either have documented proof of immunisation against a whole raft of diseases or s/he has to undergo such immunisation.

You'll understand then, that I was somewhat nervous about the exam. I'd had all the common immunisations but I didn't have documentary proof. Many's the day in 1962 to 1965 that I'd stood in a queue waiting for the next jab.

So came the day. Monday April 8th 2002. The usual kind of medical exam. Stick out your tongue - say aaah... Take off your clothes behind that screen (like the screen makes much of a difference when you're going to have to emerge naked ). And I don't care how often it happens, it's just plain uncomfortable to have another man feeling your testicles - I'll never get used to that!

Then, after retreating to the safety of my underpants, came the questions about the inoculations. I told the unvarnished truth - I had no documents to prove that I'd had them. He tutted a bit and ticked off a series of boxes on the form. I read the title of the column, upside down.

It said - Age Inappropriate!

The object instance is unique but the label is the same

whilst playing in the sandpit at school in bubs (the year between kindergarten and grade one) I heard someone call my name. Robert! Robert! Puzzled but eager I confronted the urchin calling my name, wondering how he knew me. He didn't, of course. Oh, the crushing blow when I learned that there was someone else in the world called Robert .

Given that my father was also a Robert perhaps I should already have known this but he was called variously (depending on whom you listened to) Bob or 'that drunk'.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Accents and phrases

my best mate, Heino, used to stir me about being an Aussie in the US. 'You'll lose your accent mate' he'd say. Well, given that I was 48 when I moved, that wasn't terribly likely and he's since admitted that I still sound the same.

But I've been noticing a creeping change in the phrases and words I use.

'Say what'* is the one that distresses me the most!

But perhaps the most embarassing one occurred more than 2 years ago, before I moved. I was having a conversation with a workmate, Vadim, and whilst I don't remember what we were talking about I do remember that I said (rendered phonetically).

'it's as easy as ex, wy, zee'. Then I stopped myself. 'Mate', said I, 'did you hear what I just said?'. The look on his face showed he had. 'Just bitch slap me upside of the face' I said.

So what was my sin? I'd said zee instead of zed.

I'm not sure how to treat the subject. If you're an American you're probably scratching your head and wondering what I'm going on about. If not, you're shaking your head and thinking (in Australian terms) 'you poor bastard' . Whichever way you cut it, zee/zed is a problem. I can't bring myself, consciously, to say zee the first time, but the people to whom I say zed never grasp my meaning. Geeze, I've even resorted to the lame device of saying 'the last letter of the English alphabet'.

*(parenthetically) it really annoys me when my step kids, having failed to hear what I said the first time, peremptorily demand 'what!'. I know it's a part of their culture but it still comes across, to me, as very rude. I've tried to get the little bastards to soften it by the use of the word 'pardon' but it's not working.


in 1969 I was living in St Albans, a western suburb of Melbourne and not all that far from Tullamarine Airport. At the time Tulla was still being constructed and I as a newly turned 15 year old rode my bike everywhere, including across the steep valley sculpted by the Maribyrnong River between St Albans and Keilor. From Keilor it's a short ride to Tulla.

So one afternoon in late 1969 I found myself riding along a very wide ribbon of concrete. This was one of the runways for the new airport (and doesn't that tell you of the innocence of the time - this was pretty much before the age of hijacking - can you imagine being able to get within a kilometre of an airport runway these days - even for an airport still under construction?).

By the luck of timing I had arrived just as the work gang were finishing up; and there in front of me was a freshly laid batch of concrete. Admit it, you'd have done the exact same thing I did. I made a palm print in the fresh concrete.

I'd be enormously surprised if it was still there; and I never had the opportunity to go back and check.


If you know your Australian history you'll know that the country was formed from 6 British colonies established on the Australian Continent between 1788 and 1851. Each colony was, by the 1880's, pretty much self governing and by 1890 it had become fashionable to think of uniting the colonies into a federation. That federation came into being in 1901 and the first Australian Federal Parliament sat in the Exhibition Buildings, Melbourne, on May 9th 1901. (I'm not going to play the game of looking up the day of the week ).

My fathers parents were born in 1892 and 1895 - my grandmother was the elder. Oswald, my grandfather, died on October 8th 1942 so obviously I never knew him. I used (some years ago) to tell people that my grandfather had died during the siege of Stalingrad which is true as far as it goes, but the statement carries implications I'd no longer claim. One might as well claim that coconuts were growing during the siege which is also true but a fat lot of good it did the Stalingraders...

I've mentioned in previous posts that we lived with my paternal grandmother until I was 8 so it would come as no surprise that she was a major influence on me during my formative years. She's the one who overrode my mothers concerns that I was reading unsuitable books (Fred Hoyle's 'Frontiers of Astronomy' published in 1954) and encouraged me to read anything that came to hand. Of course, I doubt she'd have approved if a copy of Playboy had come my way . I think I would have been one of the few ten year olds who'd ever read about Chandrasekhars limit let alone the fusion of hydrogen into helium inside stars.

To the best of my knowledge my grandmother never travelled more than a thousand kilometers from the place where she was born. I know she worked as a domestic servant in southern New South Wales in the 1910's and that she visited Tasmania in 1959* but beyond that I don't think she travelled much. This is based on conversations with my aunt, her daughter, who was a mine of information. I wish I'd thought to tape those conversations; what's left to me is only imperfect memory.

She died in 1966, Friday July 8th. By that time it had been well established in our house that we kids did the wash up after dinner. On that night I was drying the dishes. My mother broke the news that Gran had died that morning. I think I took it well; I said 'oh..' and kept on drying that damn plate. And dried it and dried it and... well you get the idea...

So what has this to do with home? Well, truth to tell, when I started this post it was going elsewhere but here we are. My grandmother, who had, so far as I can tell, never been outside of Australia, always referred to England as 'home'. Born as she was into colonial society she had been taught to regard England as home.

*I remember waving at every plane that flew over our house on the afternoon she flew to Tasmania. I also remember asking, upon her return, if she'd waved back. 'Of course', she lied. I was delighted.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

The urban landscape has its beauties

from my 10th floor hotel window I have a view directly over the North Central Expressway here in Dallas. It's 9:30PM as I write and the expressway still has a lot of traffic, most of it heading north out of the city. Directly opposite me, on the other side of the expressway, is an office tower, probably 12 stories high and glassed without as is usual these days. This is the direct link[^] to a shot of the view. The reflections on that glass tower are amazing. Alas, the shot, being a still, doesn't capture them but the traffic passing by on the expressway casts a many changing kaleidoscope of colour and movement. It's really quite mesmerising.

A totally unscientifc poll

have you ever seen anyone use one of those paper bags they provide on airplanes for vomit? I never have!

Back in Dallas again

after 4 whole days and 5 whole nights at home. Those of you who, like me, are expected to work when travelling rather than attending meetings (yeah, I know, cheap shot ) are probably wondering why?

As originally planned, I was to be in Dallas for an indeterminate amount of time measured in weeks. But our sales guy told the customer we'd do a software release on shiny CD's as described in posts from November 2004. The first I knew of this was on the Monday night, here in Dallas, last week.So, on Tuesday morning last week I took him aside (for the purpose of this post let's call him Kevin - it's his real name ).

'Kevin' said I. 'You know that software release you promised the customer for the 15th?'. He nods.

'Well mate', said I, 'it ain't going to happen!'.

'But it's gotta happen - I promised it'. says Kevin.

'Well it's not going to happen while I'm in Dallas' said I.

'Why not?' he ripostes.

'Well mate, who do you think does the software release process?'.

I watch as the penny drops.

Silly things to say

on the flight from Albuquerque to Dallas today I was seated next to a woman reading a copy of Salman Rushdies 'The Satanic Verses'. Having noticed this I couldn't resist saying 'you'd better hope there are no islamic terrorists on this flight'. Polite laughter.

In retrospect, as far as it goes it wasn't necessarily a silly thing to say; except that this was on a US flight. If there'd been an islamic terrorist on board I don't think one's choice of reading matter would make a lot of difference to the outcome.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


like me you've possibly noticed that the US gallon and the British gallon aren't the same. I'm going to explain why but you're going to have to go the long way around !

Back in 1996 I wrote MindProbe, a live trivia game program that runs on IRCX networks. (It also runs on IRC networks but with considerable loss of features). Why I wrote it is perhaps the subject of another post. Nonetheless write it I did. Naturally, as author, it behooved me to actually run trivia games and I think I was pretty good at it. It takes a certain amount of talent to 'work' a chat room and ensure everyone playing the game enjoys the experience. I ran 3 or 4 games a week from 1996 until 2001. In 1999 my now wife and I launched a website[^] and chatserver that's still going though neither of us is involved anymore.

So my game client debuted on Friday November 29th 1996, on MSN. For the most part it worked though there were some bugs. On that night I ran a game that included the following question (it may seem trivial but that was the whole point). 'How many ounces in a pint'. My answer was 20 and I marked 16 as incorrect. This, of course, provoked indignant protests from the American players but I stuck, wrongly as it turned out, to my guns.

When I was a kid Australia used the imperial system; we didn't go metric until the 70's. So in the 60's we were taught the standard litany; 12 inches to the foot, 20 fluid ounces to the pint, 2 pints to the quart, 4 quarts to the gallon. My American readers are already saying WTF? 20 fluid ounces to a pint?

Uh huh. Yet in the US it's 16 fluid ounces to a pint. What gives? The question has bugged me for years; and recently I googled for an answer. No, I can't remember what combination of words I used but eventually I found an answer.

It seems that in 1776 when the yanks* decided they'd had enough of Britain the measurement was the same on both sides of the Atlantic. But in the mid 1820's (I think it was 1824 though I'm not sure) the British Parliament legislated to change the size of a pint from 16 fluid ounces to 20 fluid ounces. Naturally, the Americans, with the war of 1812 well within living memory, didn't change. They haven't changed to this day! As for why the British changed? It seems that it was a half-hearted attempt at a compromise between the older measurement system and the basis of the metric system (I don't mean the way that metric is related to the size of the planet - rather I mean the way that metric is decimal based). But with the Napoleonic Wars well within living memory it was possibly difficult for the British to embrace metric.

*I really hope those few American readers I have aren't offended by this word.

Luxury is also relative

You know how motels used, a few years ago, to have signboards proudly proclaiming that each room had coloUr TV? When that became old hat they'd proclaim that they had Cable TV (usually highlighting HBO).

Well, in Baguio City, Philippines, there's a motel that proudly proclaims 'hot and cold running water'.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Messing with the locals minds

yup - another story or two from my first trip to the US, 1982. It was a company trip; I went to Santa Rosa California for training on Microwave Spectrum Analysers at Hewlett Packard. Another Australian made the same trip for somewhat different training at the same location. One night we went out for dinner and solemnly told the waitress that we wanted to start with coffee and dessert, followed by the main course and finishing with the appetizer. She was somewhat surprised but we assured her that's how Australians eat their meals. There's probably an ex waitress somewhere in California who, to this day, believes that Australians eat their meals backwards. I imagine we caused havoc in the kitchen that night!

I got on very well with the engineers who ran the training course. They, of course, were curious about the southern hemisphere; specifically they wanted to know if the water really does swirl the other way. I've never noticed a difference. But I did take cruel advantage of their curiousity. I told them that because of the coriolis effect clocks down south actually have to run the other way or else they'll lose time and how when we're reading northern hemisphere technical manuals that say 'turn Pot B clockwise' we have to remember to turn them anti-clockwise from our point of view. They were somewhat doubtful at first, until I pointed at the clock on the wall and read the numbers backward. That convinced em. Of course, the fact that my wristwatch was digital helped.

Somewhat later I told them a true story; about the 6 foot (or longer) earthworms found in Gippsland, eastern Victoria, my home state. They refused to believe that one and alas, this was in the days before the WWW so I was unable to convince them I was telling the truth.

In 1986 I went back to Santa Rosa for a second round of training on the newer all digital Spectrum Analysers. I was delighted to learn, before travelling, that the same two guys would be running the training. We (myself and the other guys in the Microwave department at HP Melbourne) made a special clock for me to take to them. It was a cheap alarm clock with the spring reversed so it ran backward. We spray painted the original face and used Letraset (remember that stuff?) to put the numbers on in the reverse order. As a final touch we put 'made in the USA' at the bottom.

Tom, one of the engineers, was delighted!

Some things just don't register on the radar

Valentine's day being one of them. 30 or so years ago it wasn't even noticed in Australia; we knew about it from TV and the movies but it was just one of those things those 'crazy yanks' did. But commercialism won and it's become something of an event back in Australia. Not that I ever did anything about it (maybe that's why I'm in my third marriage ).

Last week in Dallas I happened to notice a rather prominent sign attached to a restaurant. It read 'Get your chocolate dipped strawberries early!'. I wondered; 'early for what?'. It wasn't until today that the penny dropped.

Oh and did I do anything about it this year? Nope!

Monday, February 14, 2005


by Emile Zola. It's part of the Rougon-Macquart series, 20 or so novels covering the period from the middle of the French Second Empire to the beginning of the third. Maybe from about 1848 until about 1890 (I may be a little rusty on the dates). I've read maybe half the series, alas, in English. Which is possibly why I've only read half the series. Some installments exist in 5 or 6 translations; others seem never to have been translated or if they were it was in 1927 and it's impossible to track down a copy.

I managed to find a copy of Pot-Bouille at the local Half Price Books shop here in Phoenix. It's a bit slow to start but well worth the persistence. But my favourite of the series is L'Assomoir. I know when I read it that I'm really seeing scenes from Melbourne in the late 1950's and early 1960's but I could almost place every single scene of the novel into a location in Footscray or Seddon or Collingwood. Of course, I'm remembering the Seddon of 1962; slum city, where houses were falling apart and the paint had peeled off every surface. I'm also remembering my father; a drunkard who beat my mother and who once, in front of me, broke an empty beer bottle over my grandmothers head because she refused to give him money for more beer. I can remember crying over her blooded head as he triumphantly took her purse and the money for the following day or two's food. You understand of course that this is an adult retrospective; I very much doubt I was thinking in those terms at the time.

Another time he stubbed out a cigarette on my knee.

He died on a Wednesday (just so's Johann Gerell isn't disappointed it was September 7th 1960 - and please Johann, don't be offended ). My very last memory of him alive is from the Tuesday before, when I came home from school and asked for threepence for lollies (sweets, candy). This would have been about 3:45 in the afternoon and already he was well in his cups. After the usual serving of swear words I was flung against a wall. It was almost expected; which proves how hope springs eternal in the human breast etc etc yadda yadda. Or maybe it proves how a 6 year old hasn't yet learned to hate.

Many years later my mother told my sisters and I the story of that morning (the morning he died). Now I'm trusting you lot. Don't let me down!

He awoke that morning at about 7 am, complaining that he felt crook. Chest pains etc. His mother (forgetting the broken beer bottle) diagnosed it as a possible heart attack and enjoined my mother to run to the doctors (we didn't have a telephone). My mother says that she walked slowly to the doctors house. I know the route well; it's maybe 200 metres.

When the doctor got to the house it was all over.

I slept through all of this. Sometime later my youngest sister, who slept in their room in a cot against the wall, came skipping into the kitchen. She was chanting 'Daddy's dead, daddy's dead.'. She was 3 and a half years old so I think we'll all agree she didn't really understand.

On Friday September 9th 1960 my father was buried. I know this because in late 1972 I went searching for his grave in Footscray Cemetery and found the date in the records (indeed that's how I know he died on the 7th). I wasn't allowed to attend the funeral; I was in school instead. I have memories I know are false of his coffin on the kitchen table surrounded by cupcakes and sardine sandwiches. I know I saw his coffin but it strains belief that it was on the kitchen table; much more likely it was in the lounge room.

How do I feel about all of this? Remember I said I was trusting you. Going on the memories I have of my father I say my mother made the right decision. Nonetheless, I sometimes, to this day, feel the lack of a father. But I will never feel anything other than gratitude to my mother for her decision on that day.

How's that for a Zola Pot-Bouille?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Lonely salad

on my first visit to the US back in 1982 I was rather younger than I am now and somewhat less aware of cultural differences. Thus it was that I found myself in a restaurant ordering dinner. I wanted a steak but was first interrogated within inches of my life about the salad! Did I want a green salad, a ceasar or bean? I went for green. What dressing did I want? A dizzying array of dressings (most of them disgusting ).

Now you have to understand two things here. The first is that this was the first time I'd ever been outside of Australia. The second is that in the Australia of that time salad wasn't considered as a course unto itself. It was always a side dish. And so the salad arrived, alone. 45 minutes passed, during which time I didn't touch the salad. Eventually the waitress came over and asked if there was anything wrong with the salad. 'Yes' said I. 'It's a bit lonely - where's the steak?'. Confusion reigned. To this day I'm not sure she understood why I hadn't touched the salad.

Ever since then I've always watched how other diners do things. No, I won't take the actions of one diner as gospel; but if I see 7 diners doing roughly the same things in an unfamiliar milieu I have reasonable confidence that doing the same things won't be out of tune with local custom.

On the other hand, some things are hard to overcome. In Dallas this week one of my fellow workers hailed from Singapore. He makes the kind of noises when eating that we Australians and Scotsmen and Americans and Englishmen don't make. I really had to remind myself that silent dining is a Western thing. And I'm not sure I could ever bring myself to make those kinds of noises even knowing that such noises are considered polite in other cultures.

Three Australian tourists

are on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in New York, oohing and aahing at the view. Over walks an American.

'Y'know' says the American, 'the wind patterns in Manhattan are such that if you jumped off this building the wind would blow you right back up here'.

'Bulldust' says the first Australian.

So the American offers to demonstrate. He climbs up over the railing and jumps into the abyss. The Australians watch him plummet to within 10 feet of the pavement, whereupon he gracefully rises again and returns to the observation deck. The Australians are amazed!!!

'Go on mate, show us that again' urges the second Australian.

Nothing loath, the American jumps a second time. This time he gets to within 3 feet of the pavement before soaring aloft again and landing on the observation deck.

'Crikey', says the third Australian. 'I'll give it a burl'. So he climbs onto the railing, jumps, falls and splat!!!! Right into the pavement.

Another American walks over and says to the first American....

'Y'know, sometimes you can be a real bastard, Superman!'

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Never travel on a one way ticket

I flew to Dallas last Monday on a one way ticket mainly because I had no idea when I'd be returning. I flew back the other way tonight, again on a one way ticket. I was flying Southwest Airlines which takes two hops to get to Dallas (see here[^] for why) coming back on the same airline. So that's at least two passes through security, four if you're a smoker. I'm a smoker so it was four. On each pass through security I was sent off to secondary inspection.

By the third pass through secondary inspection it was getting to be a bit of a repeat performance. They sit you down and explain that they're going to pass the wand over your entire body and do an upper torso pat down. If the wand beeps then they'll do a pat down of that part of the body they were wanding at the time. (The devil in me wants to put some aluminium foil in my jocks to see how they'd cope with it; the practical side of me screams NO!!!! ).

I thought it was done very professionaly. No nonsense (and never ever give those guys nonsense!).

The first time I flew after September 11th was on Christmas Day 2001. That was three days after Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. On that occasion I flew from Australia to the US. I was up at about 6 that morning and went for a long walk to kill time. Along the way I collected a copy of The Melbourne Age. And there, on the front page, was a warning to international travellers to allow 3 hours to pass security if you were going to the US. I can take warnings so I turned up earlier than I would otherwise have. Good decision.

First my bags had to pass a much stricter inspection than before. I remember the guy specifically asking if there were sharp objects in my bag - he was going to stick his hand in and feel everything in the bag and he hoped he wouldn't be impaled. Then, after check-in I had to pass through a second level of security specific to the US. This involved swabbing my shoes and doing a chemical analysis of the results. Ok. It seems perhaps a trifle silly to subject the entire world to a shoe inspection on the basis of one idiot but on the other hand...

But what really got to me was the attitude of the security guy. Perhaps I'm being churlish but I don't think it's necessary for security to apologise for doing their job. As I said at the time (and repeated tonight) I don't mind all this extra stuff. The intent is that I get to my destination in one piece. If I fit the profile they're using then fine; I know I'll pass inspection. Yes, it's a pain in the bum to go through secondary inspection but if that's the price of safe travel...

But they sometimes take it too far. In Sydney they confiscated a cigarette lighter because I had two on me - I'm allowed one. Same thing in Manila. I still travel with two - the first is in my pocket - the second in my carry on luggage - they never find the second one. If my shoes have passed inspection then what possible danger could I pose with two lighters that I don't pose with just the one?

A little magic

in an otherwise ordinary day.

Today I flew back to Phoenix from Dallas via El Paso. After we boarded the plane in Dallas a stewardess paged one of the female passengers. 'Could so and so identify herself to the cabin crew - we may have to take you off the plane'. I remember thinking 'yeah, that's an incentive to identify yourself'.

Eventually she identified herself. As she stood up another voice came over the PA, speaking in Spanish. More than one passenger glanced back; I did too. Another passenger was talking on the PA from the back of the plane. A few seconds later one of the cabin crew explained to we Spanish challenged what was happening. It seems he was proposing to her.

She blushed, she looked embarassed; and she said yes! We all applauded! It's not often you see a planeful of passengers all smiling simultaneously.

I thought it was pretty cool.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The only time I ever won a race

was in 1964 when I was 10 years old .

Our primary school (Yarraville West Primary) did the usual thing; they made us run a cross-country race each Friday afternoon. I suspect it filled in time for the teachers. One week I and another kid came last. I'm going to venture into non politically correct territory. The other kid was fat!

So the following week they gave me and the fat kid a 5 minute start. I came first that week, for the first and last time ever. The fat kid came last again.

I won't deny that I felt a certain sense of pride at seeing my name at the top of the list on the following Monday.

But do you want the truth? Can you handle the truth?

The reason I won is because on that afternoon, maybe a thousand yards from the end of the race, I looked over my shoulder and what I saw was a few yobs running after me. I didn't recognise one of them and I thought they were after me to beat the crap out of me - so I ran.

I've never admitted this before; you are privileged.

Code reviews

Johann Gerell, responding to my 'egg on face' post, asked if we ever did code reviews here.

Alas no.

I've never run a code review but I have been the subject of more than a few in my time. The first was a disaster and I learned much from it. The problem was the one you might expect; the reviewers were somewhat hostile. Yes, that's my assessment of it so you'll have to weigh my personal involvement. Which is exactly the problem! If the reviewers are in any way hostile to the code being reviewed then woe to the poor bugger being reviewed. Equally, if the poor bugger whose code is being reviewed feels it's a hostile environment then nothing will be achieved. One or the other side will dig their heels in and you might as well have not wasted the time.

My second code review was much better. (It was a device driver for a four port serial driver). In part this was because I spent a lot of time orchestrating it. Fortunately I had the ear of a sympathetic boss who understood the issues; he was able to veto one reviewer who was opposed to our platform. If our platform is OS/2 1.3 and there's a reviewer who thinks anything other than Unix S5R4 sucks... (does that tell you how long ago this was? )

They found a dozen or so places where I hadn't checked a pointer I should have, or suchlike.

But much more importantly; I walked away from a day of explaining in explicit detail why I did this and didn't do that. The process revealed a few places where I hadn't checked something important. When we released the driver into production on 7000 machines we had just one bug; which I fixed one day after it was reported. We didn't have a second bug report in the 7 years after that.

So back to Johann's question. Do we ever do code reviews here? No, we don't. Not because I don't want em but because it's impossible to deflect management's attention on the schedule (which changes every day) long enough to take the luxury of actually spending time to ensure that what we're doing is right. We seem to be in permanent crisis. It's hard to maintain the focus when every day has a crisis that 'just has to be solved today'. Indeed, I've stopped trying. When everything is a crisis then nothing is a crisis!

Dealing with children

nope, not the non voting kind. I have no idea how to cope with my step kids but that's the subject of another hundred posts .

No, the children I'm talking about here are those fellow employees who act like children. One of my fellow employees (and I really hope he reads this though I won't bring it to his attention) seems to have a bee in his bonnet. Actually he's not a fellow employee - I'm on salary; he's on contract. What seems to have sparked it is this;

I'm supposed to be in charge of the release process. This means I get to do the final builds, install the software on a few virgin machines and verify that it all still works. If it does I then create the CD images, do some test CD burns and install the software (from the CD) on a few virgin machines and verify that it still works. If it does then I print the labels, paste em onto the CD's, retest each CD and fill out the paperwork to have them shipped to various parts of the world. A glamorous task no? No!!

As you'll be wearingly familiar with; for the past month and a half or more I've been travelling. Since I'm the one doing the software release process this means that unless I happen to be in the right place at the right time the software release doesn't happen. Thus it was for January. My sin was that I didn't remember to remind one member of the team (the only member of the team who doesn't travel) that I would not be there to do the release. The release didn't happen. Did the thunder of the gods descend on that team member for the failure? Of course not. Nor, to be fair, did it descend upon my head - those in the position to dispense thunder and lightning understood.

Nonetheless, ever since then every single email exchange with that one team member includes a snide and childish comment about how unimportant he is; he's only the programmer. Uh huh, yes he is. If there's one thing I've learned in 20 years of being a developer it's that the process of actually writing the software is probably the least important part of the whole thing. I've restrained myself until now; only once have I asked how often he intends to milk my one mistake. Interestingly, his reply to that question (the whole exchange took place in email) was to back away and remind me of how unimportant he is in the scheme of things. It all reminded me of Uriah Heep!

He doesn't make it easy to actually remember his existence; he works on a part of the software that I don't have much to do with apart from wrapping it into the CD release; he also doesn't bother to show up in the office. I think I've seen him maybe 10 days in the last 7 months so it's not difficult to imagine him dropping off my radar.

Ah well, I don't expect a solution. I just needed to vent and who better to vent with than you, my gentle readers.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

It all sounds very attractive at first

world travel on the company dollar. But after a while it gets old. Actually it doesn't take that much of a while. When I first walked into my room at the hotel in Nice 3 and a half weeks ago the thought that went through my head was 'so this is my home for the next fortnight'.

If you've found yourself doing this you'll know what I mean. You get to the point where you can't even remember what your room number is; is it 518? No, that was last week. 1017? Nope, that was yesterday. 436? No, that was last month.

I think I'm just depressed because last night I was staying in a pretty nice hotel and tomorrow night I'll be back there. Tonight? They had prior bookings to honour so I had to find somewhere else to stay for this one night. By comparison this place is depressing - but I've always thought that hotel rooms where the lights are pedestal lamps (rather than ceiling lighting) are depressing. It's just a trifle too dark here. The restaurant sucks and, to top it all off, I'm in a non-smoking room! The only place in the whole damn hotel you can smoke at is the bar and that carries it's own risks .

Ah well, it's just one night.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

With a quid in your pocket

you're the king of the world!

Christmas time 1962 (maybe a couple of days after the big day). My grandmother had given me 1 pound (a quid). In 1962 that was pretty significant money. In 1970 my first job paid me A$17.85 a week for 40 hours work (just under 9 quid). That was before tax. The tax man extracted the princely sum of 95 cents a week. I got my entire tax for that year back when it came time to file my first tax return! Alas I've never been able to repeat that feat!

So there I was, strolling (or rather strutting) down Nicholson Street Footscray with that magic green pound note burning a hole in my pocket. I can't remember what I spent it on; probably toffee and cakes but I'm pretty sure I bought a couple of books. What I do remember is the feeling of being rich beyond the dreams of avarice. I've never quite managed to match that feeling since then.

It's egg on face time

I'm here in Texas to solve a major performance problem in our software. It surfaced in France but I was unable to troubleshoot it there; the customer wants our hardware working 24/7 and that's not really compatible with the kinds of things you need to do to solve performance problems.

If you've followed this blog (or read back) you'll know that I inherited this app and moreover you'll know that I don't think it's all that well written. Thus it was that I fell into the classic arrogance trap. After all, we're using the app in a way that differs in subtle ways from previous practice. So if we hit performance problems when using the app differently it has to be a problem with the architecture of the app or the way the old code was written, right?

Wrong! It was a bug in new code I wrote.

Buggy code.
// Calculate the average temperature for the oven
for (i = 1; it != m_vOven.end(); i++)
fTemp += (*it)->GetAvgTemp();
fTemp /= i;
code without the bug
// Calculate the average temperature for the oven
for (i = 1; it != m_vOven.end(); i++, it++)
fTemp += (*it)->GetAvgTemp();
fTemp /= i;
uh huh. I'm using an std iterator across a std vector. As long as the iterator isn't equal to the end of the vector stay in the loop. Well you're going to stay in that loop forever if you don't increment the damn iterator! This code was inside a thread that's supposed to check the temperature once per minute. As originally written it sits at 100% CPU and starves all other processes on the machine of CPU. The fixed version exits the loop very quickly and the process sits at an average of 2% CPU. Quite a difference!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

It's just an American car

I arrived at Dallas Love Field this arvo and had to hire a car. There were 7 car hire firms lined up in a row and I had no particular reason to choose one over another. I found myself at Budget. Maybe there was a subconscious reason for the choice though it certainly didn't form a part of my stream of consciousness today (the subconscious reason is that Budget was founded by an Australian).

Proffer the request; an automatic. Beyond that stipulation I really don't give a damn. Two weeks ago I accepted a Smart because it was automatic, 10 days ago a Mercedes Benz on the same grounds. 6 days ago my Kia was perfect (and a damn sight better drive than the Benz). Today I accepted a Grand Am. I have so little knowledge of cars (particularly American cars) that I can't be sure if I remember the word Pontiac correctly.

Standing at the counter they asked me what I wanted. A Ford Taurus, an Impala or some other brand I've never heard of. What could I do but roll my eyes and guess? 'It's just an American car' said I. Indulgent laughter at the obvious foreigner :-)

So they processed my request and my credit card. I'm hiring a Ford Taurus, white. I sign the papers, agree to the insurance premium and tell the girl behind the counter that I'm really an Australian even if I have an Arizona drivers license. Heck, I even said g'day mate!

Then it's off to the shuttle. The girl behind the counter had spoken perhaps a tad too fast for my old ears so it was a relief to find the driver of the shuttle who could explain it all to me again. Well almost. The car he pointed me to was not white, was not a Ford and was not a Taurus. But he was adamant! So in I climbed, started it up and reached the gate.

'Uh, we seem to have a mistake here' said she. Certainly, I acknowledged. You have to understand that there's a streak of the bastard working here. I was pointed to that car; if it's wrong it's not really my problem. It turns out that the car I'm in is about 5 bucks a day cheaper; so I went with the flow.

Then came the fun of driving through Dallas peak hour traffic. Fortunately this is my third visit to Dallas. The first is so long ago that it doesn't really count (1995) but the second was from the same airport to the same hotel in November 2004. I'm pretty observant so it wasn't all that difficult to remember to drive along Mockingbird Lane to US 75 and then drive north through the high 5 (a most aptly named spaghetti overpass) and thence to my hotel.

Greetings from Richardson, Texas

don't go looking at a world map - you won't find Richardson there. I'm maybe 16 kilometres north of downtown Dallas and if it weren't for the signs I'd never know I had crossed into another city. Well... maybe I would.

I enjoy the odd glass or seven of wine and I'm getting tired of paying hotel prices for a glass. I decided that on this trip I'd buy at bottle shop prices. I have a hired car here so it was the work of a moment to set off, primed with the location of the nearest supermarket. I was directed to an Albertsons which I found without too much difficulty. I needed razors (I forgot to pack em) and a hair brush because I'd also forgotten to pack that.

I'm glad I'd forgotten the hairbrush to be honest. My hairbrush is very special to me; I bought it in 1976 and it's been with me through two marriages and god knows how many other disasters. The last time I was in Australia (June 2004) it went with me and I lost it. I asked my best friend, Heino, with whom I'd stayed, if I had by some good fortune left it at his house (Heino has the dubious honour of giving me bed and board when I'm back in Australia*). I had, he found it, and mailed it back to me. At least this time I know it's safe at home.

So I bought a new hairbrush that will be my travelling hairbrush. It's a big deal given that my hair is closer to my elbow than my shoulder. I tie it back most days although sometimes I let it flow free.

So back to the wine. I sometimes shop at Albertsons in Arizona - they have an average bottle shop (liquor store). Imagine my surprise when, having bought my razors and my hairbrush aforesaid, there was no bottle shop! I can go with the flow; I sought out the kitchenware section and bought a corkscrew (it's a fatal error, these days, to carry a corkscrew in your luggage when flying). Then came a half hour of driving through various shopping centres in Richardson vainly looking for a liquor store. Along the way I was not quite ennobled at the sight of three drunken yobs; two of whom had passed out; the third was kicking the bejeezus out of a pickup truck. I'm glad his foot is not mine; he'll be in pain tomorrow morning!

Then the penny dropped! I'd be lying if I said I was delighted that we have a local here in Dallas/Richardson but it's true nonetheless. So I rang him and asked if Richardson was a 'dry' city. It turns out it is. He advised me to drive north along such and such a road, take the such and such exit and there I'd find a beer and wine shop. I did and there it was. One bottle of average Australian wine later and here I am .

*you know what they say: fish and guests stink after 3 days...

Monday, February 07, 2005

User interfaces

for the past few months my DVD player has been having problems. It stuttered and got lost in various DVD's; cleaning helped a bit but not enough. So it was time for a new one. Any player that can't play this movie[^] is doomed.

I'd been happy with almost everything about the old DVD player except for one minor detail. The new DVD player, whilst not perfect, doesn't have the defect of the detail.

Most DVD players are overloaded with features one seldom uses. Indeed, with features seldom implemented. Pan and scan - an excellent idea for those without wide screen TV sets, if the DVD includes the necessary encoding to cause pan and scan to occur (and also if the person doing the pan and scan encoding agrees with me that in this scene that's the most important thing to see). I have a wide screen TV so I'd never use that button even if it worked. Likewise for zoom, angle, A-B (whatever that does) and so on. I've never yet seen a DVD that needed the 0-9 buttons! The end result of all these options is that the average DVD remote control seems to have about 40 buttons, 10 of which I'd ever use. So it was with the remote control for my old DVD player. So it is with the remote control for my new DVD player.

However, the new remote control doesn't try to make the same button perform dual service in skipping backward a chapter, or merely in fast reverse. You know the kind of thing I mean. You hear a line of dialogue and are not quite sure what was said; so you grab the remote and skip backward a few seconds so you can hear it again. The old remote used the same button both for backward skip and for going back an entire chapter. The theory was good; hit the button once, release it and we're back to the start of the chapter; hit the button and hold it down and we're doing the fast reverse scan.

It seemed, no matter how careful I was, that about half the time the DVD player would interpret what I'd done with the back button as a single press, even if I held the bugger down with the kind of pressure you might expect to find at the bottom of the Marianus Trench! The new player doesn't overload the same button for both duties and it's a pleasure to have the player do what I want it to do. Of course, there are other problems related to a changed layout but they won't take long to adapt to. I'm already used to finding my way up 3 buttons from the play button, 1 button from the left, to turn subtitles on or off.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Associative memory

Those of you who've suffered through my blog to this point may have wondered at the way I throw out exact dates. Indeed, many of my friends, over the years, have expressed doubts when I say that such and such an event occurred on such and such a date where the date is 20 or 30 years ago. They think I'm making em up. Doubtless you do too. But I've never yet been proven wrong . How do I do it?

Piece of cake!

It's all done by association and a little arithmetic. There are certain dates that are like tombstones in my mind; Wednesday September 7th 1960 - the day my father died. Saturday June 30th 1962 - the day my mother married my step-father. Saturday November 23rd 1963 - the day JFK was assassinated. Hang on you say - that was Friday November 22. Not where I was living it wasn't. I was on the other side of the dateline. Wednesday July 19th 2000 (an event I'd rather forget). Friday August 2nd 1985 (first marriage). And so on... you get the idea.

So it's not that much of an effort to be able to fix the day of the week. Roll it forward from a known day of the week to the current year. Knowing the pattern of the calendar reduces the effort; every 28 years the days of the week fall on the same day. Of course, this is easier if you're over 28 . Otherwise, days of the week repeat on 5, 6 or 11 year cycles depending on how many leap years occur (and also on 16 and 22 year cycles though those are harder to work with). For example, I started work at Unisys Australia on Tuesday January 3rd 1989. No leap days between then and the 1992 anniversary so it was Friday in 1992. Sunday in 1993 because 1992 was a leap year.

For the rest; I've always had a good memory for the year in which such and such occurred for (or to) me.

So I'm not really pulling dates or days of the week out of my bum - even when I write of things that happened more than 30 years ago. If I'm really not sure of when such and such an event happened I won't lie to you - I'll say I don't remember. But if I say it was on some Sunday in 1958 be assured that I can substantiate the date.

Value is relative

On June 30th, 1962 my mother remarried. My father had been dead for 21 months and 23 days at the time and, to be honest, not much missed. Some other time I might write about what little I can remember of him.

The very next day we all moved from my grandmothers house to another house one suburb over. In 1962 that suburb was almost the worst suburb in Melbourne; tiny houses crowded upon one another, all fallen into disrepair and most leaning over one way or another. They all had outside toilets. The one we moved into had a horrid green stain on the bathtub that scared me. I didn't want to bathe in a tub like that but I had no choice. A couple of years later the chemistry was obvious - it was a copper compound and completely harmless but at 8 years old I didn't want to know.

I remember walking down the hallway of that house on Sunday July 1st 1962 and seeing, in the kitchen an old refrigerator, newly purchased second hand by my mother and my new step-father (hereinafter known as 'the olds'). It might have been a couple of years older than I was; one of those round shouldered boxes with a locking handle that nowadays is not permitted. It had a large rosette sticker on the front proudly proclaiming the price; 50 quid (pounds). Now you have to remember that an 8 year old has little concept of prices so I accepted that 50 quid as just a number. Likewise when I heard the price 'the olds' had paid for the entire house. 500 quid. We were all 8 years old once right?

Can you imagine being able to buy a house (in any condition) these days for a mere ten times the price of a second-hand refrigerator?

As it happens I moved back into that suburb in 1993 - bought a house there. Well not quite; I couldn't afford a house in Seddon - I had to settle for Kingsville about 6 streets to the west. The last time that house (the one in Seddon) was sold (and it's still basically the same house - the same frame - outside weatherboard etc on the same small chunk of land) was about 1995 - at that time it fetched the princely sum of A$225,000. In quids it's exactly half - 112,500 quid.

The last refrigerator I bought in Australia (August 2001) was brand new. It cost A$800 - 400 quid.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

From the sublime to the ridiculous

or, from Nice, France to Dallas, Texas. Yup - I'm travelling yet again. The duration of this stint is so ill-defined I don't even have a return ticket booked yet. Ah well, at least I still have the weekend ahead of me.

Friday, February 04, 2005

No no no!

The first time I visited Asia was in 1997 - a 3 day trip to Taiwan. No one warned me, and I didn't know, that taxis there don't accept credit cards. So I arrived at the airport, went through the immigration and customs rigamarole and found myself at the taxi rank. I walked along the rank holding up my corporate American Express card. No no no!! in chorus.

Fortunately I'd had the foresight to exchange some cash back in Melbourne (I doubt they'd have accepted Australian dollars) and I had T$1000 in my wallet (about A$20). The fare to the hotel was T$980! Phew!

Last month in Korea I discovered that they also don't take credit cards. This time I had no Korean Won in my wallet but, fortunately, I did have American Dollars. I know I lost on the exchange rate in that transaction!

The following morning I met up with my boss at Fukuoka Airport in Japan. We needed to get from there to Beppu, about 2 hours drive away. My boss had an email from the customer we were meeting advising that the fare would be about US$300 one way and that they wouldn't take a credit card. Yikes! So we hailed a cab (next time I go there I'm going to drive - it's gotta be cheaper* and they drive on the correct side of the road, the left ) and off we went.

My boss has a wicked sense of humour when the mood takes him. When we arrived at the hotel he whips out his credit card and thrusts it at the driver! The driver went mad! No no no no!!!!!

*it's on the company dollar but one still has to manage one's credit card balance.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Nope, this time it's not my apparent obsession with smoking .

I just watched this movie[^] and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a somewhat episodic movie that weaves the lives of 4 or 5 different people into a tapestry; tending in the end toward a depiction of this story[^]. I got the link to the story from Joel Spolsky's[^] site. Joel also mentioned the movie, which I'd never heard of. It sounded vaguely interesting so I checked if Phoenix Public Library had a copy of the DVD. They did !


I was really hoping, as the movie unfolded, that the director wouldn't spoil things by literally filming Auggie Wrens story. He didn't. If you've ever seen this movie[^] you'll know how persuasively film can show you things without ever showing you those things. (Note to self) Rave about My Dinner with Andre another time . Instead the movie showed Auggie Wren telling his story over that lunch, cutting between the face of the narrator and the listener. Absolutely engrossing film making!

And then, adding to the magic, came the closing credits. This time we did get to see Auggie Wrens story, in black and white, just showing various scenes from the story as they might have been; without dialogue (we didn't need the dialogue - we knew the story by this time). It really works well! A very enjoyable film and I recommend it most heartily!

Sometimes you CAN win

You'll remember that a couple of weeks ago I had one of a pair of hard disk drives in a mirrored RAID array fail and the replacement was just a trifle too small to allow a rebuild.

Yesterday the other old drive failed. This time I was able to buy a replacement drive of the same make and model. This time installing the new drive was a breeze. Slipped the new drive in, selected the rebuild array option in the RAID BIOS and an hour later I was back with no data loss ! This is how it's supposed to work!

(Note to self) Sometime in the next couple of months we're planning to RAID our main data server at the office. Time to convince the boss that we buy 3 identical drives, not two, and store the 3rd one in a safe place against the day... Come to think of it, maybe I should do the same here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Horse poo

In 1960 we lived with my grandmother. She didn't have a refrigerator; she had one of those old fashioned ice-boxes. Once a week a block of ice was delivered to the house and placed in the icebox to keep things cool. (I suspect it was more often in summer but I don't remember). Each morning my grandmother would empty the tray for the melted ice into the sink.

The ice was delivered by a horse drawn cart. One of the natural by products of a horse drawn mode of transport is horse poo. Can't avoid it!

The house opposite ours (in Broad Street West Footscray, a little dead end street with maybe 20 houses) was occupied by two little old ladies (I fancy they might have been 10 or 15 years older than I am now ). Two doors down on our side was another little old lady.

I can no longer remember which day of the week the ice was delivered but I remember well the sight of those four little old ladies (my grandmother would have been about 68 years old at the time) racing to be the first to scoop up the horse poo for their gardens. If my grandmother had been triumphant (and memory tells me she was more often than not but that may be youthful bias) she was in a wonderful mood for the rest of the day and she'd cook up lambs fry and bacon for dinner. If not, she'd be philosphical about it (but always scheming to win next time) and she'd cook up lambs fry and bacon for dinner. Either way we got lambs fry and bacon for dinner and it was wonderful. I've always been a liver fan - chalk it up to favourable childhood experience.

The world was a different place then (at least in West Footscray). I can remember, when I was about 7 years old (I'm reasonably sure it was after my father died), being taken to the bus stop in Essex street and given strict instructions about which bus to catch to go to the movies at the Trocadero Theatre in Footscray. My grandmother gave me enough money (maybe 3 shillings?) to get to the Troc, get into the Saturday Matinee and catch the bus back home. Being an imprudent 7 year old I spent the return bus fare on lollies and had to walk home. I remember making up an incredibly complicated story about how there was a second session of movies for free and that was why I was late back home. I very much doubt my mother or my grandmother believed me!

What makes this memory so incredible is that it must have occurred after this case[^]. I can't imagine that I'd have been sent off, alone, to the movies when I was just 7 years old if there'd been a climate of fear. Indeed, I remember being warned about accepting rides from strangers (about 5 minutes after I'd accepted a lift from a kindly stranger who turned out to be harmless) and that must have been at about the same time. Of course, we hadn't just won the lottery and I'm sure that was part of the parental and grand-parental calculation to allow me at the ripe old age of 7 to go unaccompanied to the movies.

I hope the parallel is clear. Can you imagine any parent today allowing a child of 7 to do that? I'm in two minds on the subject. I survived the experience (to this day I have warm memories of walking back along Barkly Street on a warm late spring afternoon - though it might have been an early autum afternoon) to inflict this blog upon you. I also did this in Melbourne Australia. In other places in the world this might not have been a safe thing to do. Yet I wonder, have things gone too far? I notice that an ad running on the radio here in Phoenix posits the situation of a mother with a sick child. Does the child have the plague? Nope. Has the child contracted measles? Nope! Has the child done the unthinkable and come down with Flu? Nope! The child has a cold! And the scenario in the ad is of a mother racing frantically from pharmacy to pharmacy in search of a medication that won't make the child either hyperactive nor sedated! Ahem! It's a cold for christs sake! I had a million of the buggers when I was a kid and I'm here to tell the tale. So too are the vast majority of sufferers of a cold.