Tuesday, May 31, 2005


In going through the shelves of a second-hand bookshop today I was greatly amused to find a copy of 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus', in the Science Fiction section!

Pin striped punchlines

Last week[^] I talked about soap operas and mentioned a certain episode of M*A*S*H.

They ran that episode again tonight and this time they ran the punchline. Yikes, that makes 4 times I've seen that episode in two and a half years. Methinks I need to change channels! :-)

An interesting bakery

I forgot to mention yesterday, when noting that we visited Biltmore Fashion Park that we ran across the Three Dog Bakery[^]. It's possible some people have more money than is good for them methinks!

They meant it when they said

Don't Touch!!!

In the second half of 1969 my class made many field trips to the various factories and workshops in the area. Most of us were planning to leave school at the end of the year and this was our vocational guidance. We visited the Railway Workshops at Newport, the Naval Yard at Williamstown and a whole bunch of other places, some of which I no longer remember and most of which are no longer there. Footscray and environs was highly industrial at the time.

One of the places we visited was the glassworks. The glassworks is still there, just down from the old Spotswood sewage pumping station which became the Science Museum (it was also the location used in Mad Max[^] for the police station).

I imagine it must have been a logistical nightmare for our form master. Getting 35 or so of us from the school to the factory location and keeping us safe. Actually, just keeping us was a problem in itself. There were one or two of us who looked almost old enough to be of drinking age (18); I recall more than once those guys being hauled out of the pub. Alas, when I was 15 I looked 15! :-)

So there we were, in a glassworks. One of their products was beer bottles. We saw the process of taking the raw materials and turning them into glass; we saw the glass being melted, we saw it being moulded on machinery and appearing on the conveyor belt, cooling down and almost ready for use. And we were warned that hot glass looks a lot like cold glass.

Would that one of our number had heeded the warning. I think his name was Michael; he'd never been a close friend. He just reached out and picked up a bottle from the conveyor. Apparently it was still sitting at something close to 1000 degrees F, somewhat below the melting point. What followed was painful to watch. Screams as he attempted to drop it. But it stuck to his hand. He made it worse by using the other hand to try and remove it.

To this day I don't know the outcome. If his hands survived or not. He was a no show for the remainder of the school year.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Good money

When Australian TV started in September 1956 the powers that be decided to devote a certain amount of spectrum to the new medium, divided into 10 channels, 1 to 10. Not, of course, that any single location had as many as 10 broadcast channels to choose from. Due to geographic distance it was possible for all 6 state capitals to have the same channels, 2, 7 and 9.

By 1963 there was pressure for a fourth license in each capital but, in order to accomodate that without interference between adjacent regions the powers decided to add a few new channels. But they wanted to achieve that without changing the existing channel numbering (and you thought backward compatibility only mattered with operating systems!).

So they came up with an odd scheme. They added Channel 0 below the existing Channel 1, added Channels 11 and 12 (and maybe 13 - I no longer remember) and a real oddball - channel 5A which fitted between Channels 5 and 6. Of course city vs country was involved; none of the capital city channels had to change but quite a few regional channels were forced to change to accomodate the new scheme.

Until about 1974 it was really easy to tell at a glance the age of a TV set simply by checking the channel lineup - if it had 5A it was manufactured after 1963. This mattered to me because I earned my living by repairing TV sets in the early 1970's. The technology of the time was still switch based; to change channels you'd rotate a large barrel carrying 14 or so 'biscuits' where each biscuit had a bunch of coils and capacitors tuned for the specific frequency needed for that channel. Would you believe that part of the standard maintenance for such a tuner involved the liberal application of a grease intended for the axle bearings of a car onto the contacts?

There was an enormous change in the way TV sets were designed and manufactured during the second half of the 1970's. The need for repairs dropped precipitously over those 5 years as reliability went up and the price came down. I used to make a good living visiting the same customers once or twice a year, dropping in a new 6CM5 Line Output valve or a new 6BV6 Audio Output valve, along with the occasional 'curly' one which usually involved the cathode bypass capacitor on the Vertical Output valve. The move to Solid State (transistorised), once they'd worked out the kinks, killed the business and I decided it was time I found a more lucrative way of making a living.

But along the way and as the last gasp of my working in the industry, in December 1979 Channel 0 in Melbourne (the fourth license) decided to migrate to Channel 10. Or maybe the government made them make the move - I no longer remember. What I do remember is an advertisement on Channel 0 asking for experienced TV techs who could man a hotline to assist in the migration. I applied and was accepted.

Thus began about 50 days of non-stop 12 hour a day shifts, 7 days a week. If you're in the software biz you're already yawning - that's nothing! Well, it was new to me at the time! But it paid well; $112 a day after tax - good money for 1980!

The job involved answering the phone, ascertaining the brand and model of TV set and then telling the caller how to twiddle the various knobs to get good reception on the new frequency. For some very early models it was impossible without a visit from a tech to make some modifications. I can't remember if Channel 10 paid for those mods or if the caller was expected to pick up the bill. For most of the rest it was a long and patient process of walking the caller through a set of steps. Sometimes they'd have a model I'd never heard of and then it was a frantic series of whispers along the row of we techs to find someone who was familiar with it. I'll never forget the sight of 50 TV techs on the phone, each of us doing, in pantomime, the actions our callers needed to do.

We had slow times of course; it was in those slow times that I started reading the Sherlock Holmes stories. Good stuff!

As time progressed the volume of calls fell off and our numbers dwindled. Each day we'd finish with the anxious look at the coordinator; was I wanted tomorrow? I was one of the last let go which was just as well; I had no other job to go to.


We went to the Phoenix Art Museum[^] today.

I enjoyed it. Well, I've always enjoyed museums. I have golden memories of visiting the Melbourne Museum in 1970 and alternating my gaze between the mini-skirted young ladies and displays of wax fruit with hand annotated labels dating from 1887. I enjoyed both sights! To this day the sight of a well done wax apple that looks like the real thing reminds me of... umm I better stop before you conclude I'm confused! :-)

We dragged Andrew along. For some time he's been afflicted with the idea that he's 'artistic'. This is going to sound like a harsh judgement; if so then so be it. He has talent. I can't deny it (and wouldn't if I could). I wish I could put lines on paper the way that he can. But, on the other hand, I've never seen him put a single line on paper that he hasn't copied from somewhere else. As a copy artist he'd succeed. But he has greater ambitions. I've tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to put down an original idea. Any idea. He won't do it. I'm sure he's afraid of failure. Nothing I can say seems to get him over that fear... (and sometimes it's best to stop pushing overtly).

So I thought, given that his only influences seem to be TV why not try something else? Hence the art museum. He spent the entire afternoon being truculently bored. Hmmm I can remember being just the same at close to the same age. So I have no idea what to do.

All is not lost. After the museum we went to Biltmore Fashion Park. The name is grander than the reality; it's just an upmarket overpriced shopping centre at the corner of Camelback and 24th street. We were in search of cold drinks which we found. Sitting outside the coffee shop we discussed the afternoon. Andrew felt sufficiently comfortable that he could unbend and admit that he'd enjoyed much of the afternoon; we talked about some post modernist paintings we'd seen and got into quite the adult argument over whether the composition was off or not...

Thus we progress!

I notice that they're going to be running La Belle et la Bete[^] soon. I doubt they'll run the version with the Philip Glass soundtrack but I can live in hope (and after all, I have it on DVD). If I'm in Phoenix that night I'm there!

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Our new cat

I mentioned the other night that a young cat, not much more than a kitten, had wandered in and taken residence. She's domesticated and obviously had a reasonable home before she found us. Her name is now Buttons as in 'Cute as a button'. We've done the neighbourly thing and put up flyers; we've checked the condo block next door in case someone has put up flyers searching for her and nothing. It seems no one is missing her or looking for her. So I guess we now have a fifth cat.

Today we discovered a possible reason why she's been abandoned. She is, of course, in heat. Sigh, there goes another 200 bucks... But we're not going to chuck her out.

This is one of my hot buttons. Irresponsible people who abandon an animal just because it doesn't suit their convenience. I reckon it ought to be necessary to pass an examination and post a bond before you buy a pet.

On the other hand, it seems my opinions on the subject have got through to at least one person. Early last year we had Kitten going through the same phase. Andrew accepted the necessity of her being spayed whilst regretting the loss of potential kittens. But he couldn't reconcile himself to the possibility, when she returned from the vet, feeling sore and sick and sorry for herself, that she might want to recuperate in his room. 'Eww eww, what if she bleeds?' he asked. 'If she does she does' I replied. 'She won't be doing it to annoy you'. 'I don't want her in my room.' he expostulated. 'So' I said, 'if she chooses your room as the place to retreat you'll chuck her out?' That got him! (I'm condensing - it took a couple of days to get my point across).

This time he's being a lot more mature about the whole thing. None of us want the messes that happen but he's learning that sometimes other things are more important. Like, maybe, showing a small frightened confused creature in considerable discomfort some compassion. Our new friend goes under the knife on Tuesday and this time we haven't heard a peep out of Andrew about the possibility of her wanting to hide in his room. Progress!

My first car

I bought my first car in mid 1972, about 6 months before I was even eligible to hold a drivers license. It was a 1953 Morris Minor[^]. Fortunately we had a large block of land; the olds, for some reason, had bought the block of land behind ours, torn down the back fence and combined the two blocks into one larger one. It was still pretty small but it did give me somewhere to drive, in circles, on those occasions when one or the other of the olds were unwilling to be my licensed driver.

Learning to drive back then was pretty unstructured. No such thing as a learners permit, you just slung a couple of L plates on the car and took off with a licensed driver. Lots of kangaroo hopping as I learned to control the clutch. I had my first lessons in Misery's 1960 FB Holden[^] which was a fun car to drive although, without power steering, it was a dog to do a three point turn in. It didn't have power brakes either which meant more than one white knuckle experience for Misery as I tried to bring it to a halt after misjudging speed and distance.

After a couple of months of driving my Morrie around the backyard it began to resemble a bush racetrack. I think I took out every tree they'd ever planted. I got really good at changing from first up to second but got no practice beyond that; the track was too small! On the other hand, I did learn how to double-clutch; the gearbox had no synchromesh so it was very difficult to shift down into first unless the car was stationary!

Alas, the car had met it's match with me. At 19 years old it was a year older than I was, but I managed to be the one that brought it to its end. A minor oil leak that I ignored until too late. The engine gave up the ghost and repairs would have run to more than I paid for the entire car. I reckon, even today, I'd instantly recognise the sound of an engine with shot big-ends. So we towed it to the local tip and just rolled it over the edge. A pity in some ways. It had the most comfortable seats I've ever had in a car and it was, after all, my first car.

Two words

Little Johnny is having lunch with Grandma.

'Johnny' says Grandma, 'there are two words I never want to hear you say. The first is lousy and the second is swell'.

'Ok' says Little Johnny. 'What are the two words?'

Boom boom!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

How to make $39.99 equal $97.11

I hired a car for one day in Dallas. The advertised price was $39.99 a day. Tonight, upon returning it, I got the bill. It contains the following fascinating extra charges.

$1.26/day surcharge (Reimbursement Property Tax, (tax includes %5 project tax) fee).
11.11% fee totalling $6.34 (concession recovery fee).
$21.99 for one day insurance.
15.00% tax totalling $10.44
$17.09 (PAI/PEP/ALI charge (whatever that means)).

Excluding the tax and the insurance (to which I'd agreed) that makes hidden charges totalling $24.69, not one of which was disclosed prior to my signing for the rental. Hmmm...


The other day I said I was going to Dallas for an overnighter that, if successful, meant I had to go back to The Philippines immediately. It was successful, so, rather reluctantly, I rang the boss to confirm that I was indeed travelling to Baguio this weekend. I was, so I rang the travel agent. A few hours passed and I hadn't heard back so I rang the agent again and learned that I'm confirmed to travel to Manila on Sunday.

So I rang the boss again, to tell him I was confirmed. Ordinarily I wouldn't have rung back but in this case I needed to be sure a colleague who is based in Taiwan would also be there in Baguio. I can't complete the job without him so there's not much point in my going if he's not going to be there.

And the boss said, 'Rob, you're not going'. 'Say what?' I said. 'You're not going' he repeated. He then went on to explain that, due to a demo we're doing for a new customer that requires both myself and my Taiwanese colleague, they've decided to postpone my Baguio Trip.

Hmmm, so what would have happened had I not called the boss again? Based on the contents of my office email, I'd have boarded that plane on Sunday arvo, done the 40 odd hours of travel to Baguio and found out, Wednesday morning Baguio time that I need not have travelled at all.

I'm not complaining! I wasn't looking forward to the trip though I imagine in a few weeks time I'll be starting to get itchy feet and wanting to travel again. I just wish it was back to France! Meanwhile, I get to enjoy a public holiday for a change. Oh, and my frequent flyer balance is already over the number required for a second return trip to Australia!

Going down the Darkie

The darkie was our name for the stormwater drain that ran under Fehon Street Yarraville, exiting at the waste ground on the southern side of Francis Street. The waste ground today is a golf course but in 1964 it was overgrown with aniseed bushes, scotch thistle and grass that seemed perpetually brown.

It was only natural that such a wilderness attracted us. Stony creek ran through it and there was (and still is) an impressive railway bridge made of red brick and bluestone. We used to stand on the bridge support column, 40 or so feet above the creek but just below the level of the tracks, waiting for a train to pass. When it did we'd shy yonnies (rocks) at the windows. Breaking a window was a score! What vile delinquents we were!

So one afternoon after school we (Carl, myself, Cliff, Bill and Peter) decided it was time to explore the darkie. On the other side of the railway line there were some factories and between the factories and the railway line itself a tipping area. They'd throw out all sorts of rubbish but what we wanted were wire handled brushes used to clean up oil. If you lit the oily rag it'd burn for half an hour or more.

Armed with a dozen or so of these crude torches we entered the darkie. I don't know if you've ever walked through a storm water drain but let me tell you, they're not designed for the casual stroller. We're talking mud, deep pools and deeper discomfort. But when you're ten years old you don't give a bugger about such considerations. Mud washes out. It was quite the thrill to enter with the torch held high and feel like an intrepid explorer. Even more a thrill to peer upward at the street we knew so well through the grilles placed over the drains!

There's something else a ten year old lacks and that something is foresight. None of us thought to check the weather forecast. And, naturally, it rained. Not a particularly heavy rain as I remember it but it was enough to raise the water level in the drain by about a foot. Combine that with the mud and our total unfamiliarity with the drain and it added up to a complete soaking as we slipped and fell into the water. Which, in turn, meant that our torches were doused and our matches soaked.

So there we were, a few hundred yards into the darkie, late afternoon, rain pouring down and lost. No light and unsure of which way was out. We hadn't even done that much planning! So we plunged on, slipping over the muddy stones and came to a junction. None of us remembered having passed it on the way in. Aha! If we didn't remember it then maybe if we retraced our steps we'd escape.

We got lucky. That logic worked. We emerged into a rain soaked world well after sunset. A longish (for a 10 year old) trudge home soaked and muddy. I can still remember both the trouncing I got for it and the lamb chops with mashed spuds that followed the trouncing. These days the dinner makes up for the trouncing but at the time I felt ill used.

Friday, May 27, 2005

She got

20 years[^].

I don't think it was warranted but on the other hand, in one of the few things Little Johnny Bastard (John Howard, current Australian Prime Minister) has ever said that seemed reasonable to me, we should respect[^] the legal systems of other countries.

Is it cheapening her ordeal if I say that I've been hitting refresh for the last 3 hours on the Melbourne Age 'almost live' text update site relating the events of the trial verdict in Bali? I hope not.

In Dallas again

The flight from Phoenix to El Paso was somewhat rough. I have to admit that I'm a nervous flier. If the flight is even slightly bumpy I start to imagine all sorts of disasters. It doesn't matter that statistically air travel is the safest travel in the world; it doesn't matter that aircraft are designed to take those kinds of stresses; it doesn't matter that pilots are trained to within inches of their lives to cope with almost any disaster imaginable and it doesn't matter that I've flown hundreds of times in 23 years without anything going wrong. I just don't like turbulent travel and that's all there is to it. Heck, I don't like rollercoasters either...

Being in a car stuck on the ground feels right. Being stuck in a cylinder 11 Kilometres above the earth, whilst proven to be safe, just doesn't feel right.

I still travel of course; no way do I want to find myself unable to travel back to Australia. Nor, for that matter, would I have let a little thing like turbulence get between me and the chance to visit Japan or Europe. There are nerves and then there's being a fraidy cat. Fortunately the long haul flights I do most of the time use larger aircraft and those tend to flatten the bumps!

From El Paso to Dallas was a lot smoother. On the other hand; this was the first time I'd had a window seat on the left hand side of the plane. I flew Southwest which means we landed at Love Field. The route to that airport goes very very close to downtown Dallas - close enough that it looks like we've been taken over by a suicide pilot and are targetting the tallest building if you're sitting on the left side. Sitting on the right you wouldn't know. I can easily imagine that office workers in Dallas high rise buildings have had frequent nightmares since 11/9/2001.

Let's just accept that I fly whilst not taking a successful landing as a given.

So I arrived at Dallas Love Field and approached the car rental desk. I did the link last night so you can scroll back a day to see prior history with car rentals in Dallas. Suffice it to say that this time the car rental firm my company prefers me to use didn't have any car to rent me at all - neither the one I'd reserved or any kind of substitute.

I guess that's one way to run a business but it wouldn't be my choice. Yeah, there's capitalisation and a hundred other things to running a car rental business that just aren't within my spheres of comprehension, but it seems to me that not having any kind of car to rent when the customer fronts up is just going to make that customer look for another company.

They were helpful though; they advised me to speak to Jim at Avis and see if he could match their price. He could and did! No, I didn't get a Kia; I got a Hyundai Elantra for the same price. Nice car. I still like my Kia but maybe I'm being stubbornly illogical!

Of course, since the company has no choice but to approve my Avis rental this time, I'm going to go with them or a similar company next time. Advantage Rental car have blown it for me forever.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The two things I remember about my fourth form english teacher

The first is that she was cute. Fourth form is equivalent to year 10 so we were, most of us, 15 or 16. I was 15 so we're talking 1969. And if I was 15 that means I had one thing on my mind. Hence the observation that she was cute.

I can't even remember her name.

But the other thing I remember about her is much more important. One afternoon she brought a gramaphone into the classroom and proceeded to play us a track from an album. The idea was that we'd listen and then write a short story about whatever images the track evoked. My story was (so far as I can remember) about 2 pages long (boom boom, cymbal crash!). Nope, I honestly can't remember a thing about the story I wrote. But the music really stuck in my head and I had to know more about the band and their music.

The album she played was A saucerful of secrets[^] by Pink Floyd, their second album. The track we wrote a story about was the title track.

Thus began a 36 year, so far, admiration for a great band and love for some really great music. It was impossible, in 1969, to get a copy of the album in Melbourne. Our teacher was English and I have to presume she brought the album with her when she came to Australia. I know that I scoured record shops in Footscray and in the City without finding anyone who had even heard of Pink Floyd. I didn't get my first copy of 'A saucerful of secrets' until December 1970 and that was a special order import at about twice the usual LP price.

I must be one of the few people who attended both their Melbourne concerts. The first was in August 1972 at Festival Hall. This was when they were still relatively unknown, before they released 'The Dark side of the Moon'. Interesting concert. About 20 minutes in a fuse blew and their amplifiers died. A few frantic minutes doubtless spent by the crew before the sound was restored. But a great concert; the highlights were 'Astronomy Domine', 'Careful with that axe Eugene' and 'Echoes'. Roger Waters screaming into a mike is something you have to see and hear to believe!

The second concert was February 1988 at the Tennis Centre. By that time it was 'mostly' Pink Floyd - Roger Waters was departed. Lots of material from 'The Dark side of the Moon' (my least favourite album of theirs) and almost nothing earlier than that. A heady experience nonetheless to be part of a crowd of 10,000 shaking my fist and singing along with 'We don't need no education!'. Now I know how Hitler pulled off the Nuremburg Rallies...

No post about Pink Floyd is complete without the writer naming his favourite tracks. Here are mine.

'Interstellar Overdrive', from their first album, 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn' (1967).

'Sheep', from their nth album, 'Animals' (1977).

'The Final cut' from 'The Final cut' (1983). (Yeah, I know, this isn't really a Pink Floyd album, it's the first of the four Roger Waters albums).

I swear

someone at the office reads this blog. How else explain the sudden change of plans. Uh huh. I posted yesterday that I was going to Dallas next Monday. But nope, that's not soon enough apparently. Instead, I'm going to Dallas later today for an overnighter which, if successful, will see me on my way back to Baguio in The Philippines over the weekend. As I said at the time, 'you know, you're not giving me much incentive to succeed in Dallas!'.

I've made a reservation for a Kia; let's hope I get something like that instead of a Durango[^].

This is getting out of hand

I wrote about our cats[^] back in December and mentioned that we had four and a half cats where the half a cat was Einstein who ate here but wasn't quite ready to sleep here.

Man it's got out of hand since then. Einstein found himself a congenial place to live at the other end of the condominium block; we hardly ever see him. Instead we have 2 stray gingers, both very timid, who skulk in through the cat door and snatch desperate mouthfuls. They're kinda getting used to us being around. We've never got closer than 2 metres from them but they'll now eat whilst keeping a close eye on me sitting here at the computer writing. One of them is there right now; I can see him out of the corner of an eye but I know that if I turn to look at him he'll freeze and want to escape.

Then there's the thin black, also timid. And the Cleo look alike; almost indistinguishable from Cleo except for a collar. Indeed, the first time I saw her a couple of weeks ago I asked my wife why she'd put a collar on Cleo. The black and white tabby who's reasonably friendly. Still timid but if you make the appropriate clucking sounds and move slowly he'll snuggle up for some rubs.

A couple of nights ago a rather young cat, maybe 9 months old, just marched in. Friendly, not overly cautious and as cute as the dickens. She's stayed ever since. I think she had a home but has been abandoned. That happens rather more often than it should. I used to have a sticker on my fridge back in Melbourne 'A pet is for life, not just for Christmas'. That's so true. If you take on a cat (or any pet for that matter) you'd better be prepared to go the distance. Which is one reason why I think you should never give a pet as a gift. We have the posters up on lamp posts around the condo block but no one has called about her.

So, at the moment, it looks like our permanent population of cats has grown to five. I'm certainly not going to chuck the new cat out to fend for herself and turn feral. And the others? They're welcome to a feed. I'm being pragmatic here. If I wanted to stop them coming in the only ways I can think of are to shoot them or lock the cat doors and keep ours permanently inside.

Well I'm not going to harm the strays! And it seems to me that if I'm free to come and go so should my cats be free to come and go, especially if they've had that freedom all their lives. There's not a lot I can do about it even if I wanted to.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Like sands through the hourglass

so are the Days of Our Lives[^].

Misery Guts was a big fan back in 1966 when we lived in Seddon. The furniture factory where he worked was on the other side of the same street, maybe 100 yards away. So he did lunch at home. I was at school of course so I only saw him doing lunch during the school holidays.

He became hooked bigtime. So, when we moved to St Albans at the end of 1966 and the TV also moved he had to face withdrawal. St Albans was far enough away that driving home for lunch wasn't an option. So he ended up buying a second hand TV set (an Admiral if I remember rightly) for $80 and installing it in the lunch room at the factory.

Years passed. Years and years. Sometime around 1979 he retired on an invalids pension but he was still watching DOOL religiously. I have no idea if it's still running in Melbourne (though I note that according to IMDB it's still in production) but if it is I'm sure he's still getting his fix.

Good luck to him!

I still watch M*A*S*H repeats on late night TV here in Phoenix. I justify it by telling myself that I'm checking to see if they're going to continue recycling the same series year after year. We're on the third repeat cycle since I discovered it 2 years ago. When it runs to the end of 1983 in 4 or so months time will they go back to the 1972 episodes again? Of course, the real reason is that I just enjoy the series.

Nonetheless, it is fascinating to watch how one repeat of a particular episode chops out one scene to fit the ad schedule and the next repeat of the same episode reinstates that scene and chops out another. Remember the episode where Hawkeye and Trapper have pin stripe suits made by a Korean tailor? The punchline to that episode is when the suits appear with the pin stripes running horizontally rather than vertically. I've seen that episode thrice since moving here; only once did they show the punchline.

Maybe more info than you wanted

One night in 1994 (it was Wednesday December 7th to be precise :-) ) I had some friends over for dinner. A somewhat distracted evening because I'd just run a 'clean' utility in the wrong directory and wiped out my Windows installation. (It deleted .exe and .obj files - not a good idea to run it from C:\). So I was swapping the 20 or so floppies that Win 3.1 came on for a reinstall whilst trying to be the scintillating host.

I might be a year out on the age but I think Lachlan was 3 at the time. We had two cats, Kafka and Manny. And Lachlan had just discovered how good it is to pet a cat. Unfortunately the cat didn't quite agree with his petting technique and used a single claw as a warning to rack off! I swear I've never seen a kid cross a room so fast!

I think we did roast lamb that night with all the trimmings (potatoes roasted in the same pan, pumpkin, mint sauce, gravy, peas). I'm completely certain we had cheese to follow dessert, washed down with copious quantities of wine.

Any why am I so certain? The wine is a given. If you felt the need to doubt then you haven't been reading my blog very long :-) But the cheese? Read on.

Almost 3 years and one divorce later my then girlfriend and I were sprucing up the house. Yep, I'm one of the few men to go through a divorce and keep the house! And there, high up on top of the kitchen cupboards, was a rather large ornamental plate holding a substance that, when touched, crumbled to dust. I have to admit it puzzled me mightily at the time. I had no idea what it was. It took nearly a week for the night of December 7th 19411994 to come back.

But it didn't stop there! She decided it was time to examine my refrigerator. Hard to believe but she found, at the back, in the year 1997, a jar of pesto with an expiry date of 1993! I hate pesto; foul stuff. Not much of an excuse though.

I've become somewhat better at housekeeping since 1997!

Graham Kennedy

died today[^].

I ran across him once, January 1980, at the Channel 10 Studios in Nunawading, Melbourne. Sheerest coincidence; I was working on their hotline as they made the move from Channel 0 to Channel 10 which involved a couple of million people learning how to use the fine tune control on their TV sets. It paid good money at the time!

At the end of my shift, which was, if I remember rightly, 9 PM, I was walking to my car. Graham emerged and I said 'you're Graham Kennedy aren't you?'. With those eyes and that face he could hardly deny it :-) So we walked to our respective cars.

Ok, so it's not much of a story. I remember with much affection watching his shows in the late 1960's and it was good to meet him.

Rest in Peace Graham.


In recent years I've found it difficult to understand Mondayitis. You know the kind of thing. It's Monday morning and everyone dutifully troops into the office. At a smoke break you find yourself with someone who laments the fact that it's Monday and is eagerly looking forward to Friday.

It's probably related to reflections on mortality but I really find that hard to understand. A trivial point but that eagerly awaited Friday is 5 days closer to the coffin than the much lamented Monday is. Some folk find that much optimism hard to stomach but hey, it's my opinion on the subject. I suppose it really comes down to the question of what you do with your time, outside work as much as inside.

Tuesday is another matter entirely :-) Tuesdays at the office are so bad I'm looking forward to more travel in order to not be in the office on Tuesdays. It's no coincidence that I'm looking forward to going back to Dallas next Monday (yep, travel on yet another public holiday), if that means I get to avoid the interminable round of meetings.

It's not that I'm opposed to meetings. I accept their necessity. But an entire day of them, each week? Pure torture. It's not made any easier when none of the management team seem to have any idea of how to hold a meeting.

We've all, I'm sure, experienced this. Meetings have outcomes and action items and so on; so they get documented. These days they seem to be documented on someones laptop connected to the projector. That someone usually uses an Excel Spreadsheet divided up into the usual columns for owner, date, item, action etc. So far so good. But I really find myself wanting to bite my arm off at the shoulder in preference to watching, yet again, the meeting grind to a halt while the notetaker searches through the menus for the command to format a particular cell. Pretty it up by all means, but not in the meeting itself. Getting the sense down somewhere is all that matters at that moment.

10 years ago, when I worked for Unisys Melbourne, we'd hold a weekly meeting with Australia Post. I was the notetaker. I'd scribble notes on a large pad of paper and, after the meeting, transcribe them into a Word document. When that was done I'd print out x number of paper copies and make sure they went through the internal mail system to the appropriate people.

After a while we became aware that, even though the transcript went out within a couple of hours of the meeting coming to an end, the sales guy didn't read em until the start of the next weeks meeting. So I had a bit of fun with him. First thing I did was to staple pages 2 to the end at all four corners, leaving only the cover page unstapled. This led to considerable hilarity (maybe you had to be there) when, at the start of the next meeting he tried to catch up.

He cottoned on and started reading them maybe a day ahead of time. So one week I prepared two sets of minutes. The standard set sent to all participants, and one set for his eyes only. Sometimes the language used at these meetings was of a robust nature. The special set used that language. So, the day before, he raced up, white faced, wanting to know if I'd lost my senses. Had I really sent those minutes out to all? I let him stew a few minutes.

It took months before he stopped worrying about the minutes. Which was, of course, the desired outcome.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

T minus a bit less than four months

Yup - I booked my flight to Australia this arvo! I get to spend the last two weeks of September soaking up Melbourne ambience and eating real fish and chips again. Truth to tell, if I was crossing the Pacific merely for a good feed of fish and chips I'd go to New Zealand; not only is it a bit closer but those guys really know how to make magnificent fish and chips!

But New Zealand doesn't have Heino!

This is my first time trying to book a flight using frequent flyer points. I've used them in the past for class upgrades but never had much faith in the availability of seats. To my surprise I got exactly the flights I wanted on the days I wanted. And after booking this flight I still have almost enough points left for another trip. My trip back to the Philippines next month will more than tip the balance.

Another one to train

Yesterday I smoked my last duty free cigarette. Not bad. I've been back about 12 days and for me to stretch 2 cartons over 12 days is evidence of remarkable restraint. Thus it was time to buy a carton at full price. Up I fronted at the local Stop'n'go.

You might remember this[^].

I had em trained! Odd pronunciation or not, they knew that when this old fart with long hair in a ponytail fronts up and says that string of strange sounding words he wants a particular brand of cigarette in carton form.

As if in order to illustrate the perversity of the universe there was, of course, a new, untrained, face. I'm not about to start assuming that someone aged 17 and a bit is automatically stupid so I launched into the usual spiel. 'G'day mate. I want a carton of blah blah'. Blank look. Ok, non-assumption possibly voided. Let's try it somewhat slower. Still didn't work. A third try that probably made me sound like someone from off the planet trying to enunciate English and it's still not working. Not a spark of comprehension.

So I pointed at the cigarette rack! There they are. Basic Ultra Light 100's. And all I want is a carton of the buggers. And, of course, we went through the same pantomime. Pack vs carton.

I'm going to print on an A4 sheet of paper my cigarette requirements and play mute from now on. Of course I'm sure the first pass won't work; they'll still reach down a pack.


I was quite pleased to find my blog linked on this page[^]. I was even more pleased, this morning, when I checked CodeProject and found this[^].

When you start doing this kind of stuff, and particularly if over time it tends toward the more personal, there's always that nagging thought; 'is this of ANY interest to anyone?'. So when someone who is well known to this community and to the CP community makes a post like that it's quite flattering.

It's not that I hadn't received other feedback, some of it unexpected. David Wulff, for example, posted that he wanted to see my blog (or something like it) come out as a book. I'm still thinking about that one :-) Chris and Chris (I think of them as the terrible twins :-) ). Dan G. Nish. Johann. Enough encouragement to keep me going.

Not that there was much danger, once I'd got into the swing of things, that I'd stop posting. I'm enjoying it too much for that to happen. I notice, as I'm sure you have, that over time it's evolved. Early posts were more in keeping with the original intent of Wdevs as I understood that intent; a place where developers could share experiences.

I've tended to shy away from those kinds of posts since then for a couple of reasons. If I write a technical article CodeProject seems the 'natural' place to publish it. Wider audience and all that kind of thing. Thus (and my earlier posts bear this out) the kinds of things I'd blog about tended to be on the negative side. There's definitely a place for war stories and I'm sure I'll write more in the future. On the other hand... If you do a google search on my name what pops up? Wdevs. Probably unlikely but not impossible that our customer may search on my name. I wouldn't want them to find too many things critical of the way we do things.

There's another reason. I prefer not to be overly negative in my outlook on life. I hope it comes through when I write that I'm in favour of life in all it's crazy manifestations. 'twasn't always so. There was a time in the late 1980's when my outlook on life was very dark, dark enough that my first wife didn't want to have cope with it. That's not the only reason we divorced but it was a contributing factor.

Overall my memories of my childhood are happy ones; my memories of later life are also happy ones. I enjoy writing about those times.

So thank you for reading. And thank you for the feedback. Thank you for letting me know that you read. You know who you are.

I'd better stop before we all come down with diabetes!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Extra curricular studies

Thursday mornings, 1967. We did woodwork. I was average at it. I quite enjoyed the measuring part of it and even the cutting part of it but I wasn't much good at the fine detail of finishing a piece of wood so that it fit with geometric precision into it's appointed place. I do much better these days with software :-)

We were at Footscray Tech which, in those days, was located on Ballarat Road just west of the Footscray Botanic Gardens. There's still a college there but 15 or so years later they moved the secondary school into the old quarry nearby and gave the site where I attended over to college. It's a somewhat vertical site; Ballarat Road is the high point and the land falls away to the Maribyrnong River. Standing in the quadrangle we'd be looking up at the 4 stories of academia and down on the roofs of the trade school workshops.

One Thursday morning, for no reason I can think of to this day, our woodwork teacher decided to skip the woodwork part of our curriculum. He led us out of the workshop, down the hill and along the river bank. We felt it was a novel approach to woodwork but were willing to go with the flow. So we enjoyed the river on our left and the aforementioned Botanical Gardens on our right. Under the bridge where Ballarat Road turns into Newmarket Road and then turned left onto a cattle bridge that led over the river and straight into the abbatoir.

We were almost like sheep to the slaughter. Our teacher led us into the slaughteryard. Lines of live sheep on one side, milling about not unlike ourselves. Men armed with knives grabbing a sheep, cutting it's throat and then stringing it up with a hook thrust through a hind leg whilst still alive, whilst still struggling. The head hanging by only the uncut spine, blood pumping out; washed away by a steady stream of warm water over the stones into a pit full of red. The eyes blinking as the knife cut into the belly and the intestines fell out with a 'gloop' sound. And then the process of taking a whole sheep and turning it into the thousand or more commercial products that a sheep represents if seen in monetary terms.

I honestly don't remember if any of us threw up. But we had haunted eyes that afternoon; even the bullies.

Being careful

I follow some conventions when I write about the people I know. If someone's known to this community, for instance, if they have a blog or an online identity I'll refer to them by the name they reveal there.

If I'm writing about someone not known to the community in that way I never ever use their full name. Thus, I'll mention my best mate Heino or one or both of his daughters but I'll never give anywhere near enough information to trace them. In the case of the daughters I don't even mention their names. They have names assuredly but the names aren't relevant to the story I'm relating.

I learned internet safety the hard way back in 1996. No one was hurt but I did end up having to change my phone number and pay for an unlisted number. And all because I was unwise enough, once, to reveal the name of my employer in a public chat. Put that together with my name and we have a potential disaster if someone should decide to stalk me. Which was what happened. Someone on a different continent decided that I was her dreamboat (stop laughing!!! :-) ). Eventually it got to the point that she was calling my number almost continuously, both at home and at work. I could refuse to answer the phone at home but that's not really an option at work.

This went on for a week or so and then she announced that she had booked a ticket to Melbourne! Panic mode! It was the work of a moment to go backwards from my name and phone number to my address. Whether she really had booked a ticket or not was something I never found out, fortunately. Some very fast talking and she cancelled (or said she had).

Of course I immediately changed my number and went unlisted. I'm unlisted to this day. I also changed my online nickname. I used to be mando but I changed to UltraMaroon. Why that choice? Surely it's obvious. It's the name Bugs Bunny uses to describe someone so incredibly stupid they've all but forfeited the right to live!

If you think I left some details out you'd be right. I don't mind admitting to some level of stupidity but do I have to admit the true extent?

Some things are older than you think!

Last night I watched and immensely enjoyed Call Northside 777[^]. Not the first time I've seen it by any means; it used to crop up regularly on late night TV in Melbourne in the 1970's and 1980's. The Phoenix Public Library has a copy which is how it came about that I watched it last night. One of the better movies James Stewart made in the 1940's.

There was one thing that intrigued me. There are lots of scenes set in a newspaper office and one thing I noticed right away was that some of the actors were drinking coffee out of paper cups that looked suspiciously like those cups one gets at Starbucks. I honestly hadn't realised those kinds of cups were quite so old. I certainly don't remember them in Melbourne in the 1960's and, as I'm sure you know by now, I have a memory for that kind of trivial detail.

*shrug* maybe I'm wrong or maybe it just took 20 or 30 years for such cups to make their way across the Pacific Ocean. It was nothing unusual, in those days, for a new movie to take anything up to 2 years to find it's way across.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


In mid 1962 we moved from West Footscray to Seddon. Not very far in distance; by car in those days it would have been maybe 5 minutes. These days 10 minutes. On foot probably half an hour unless you walk as fast as I do; I can do it in 20 minutes!

But it was far enough that not a single friend from my school survived the move. I lost contact with every one of them. A couple of years later I happened across one of them by accident at the Footscray Public Library but he didn't want to know. His loss methinks! :-) I can't, at this distance of time, even remember his name.

This was partly because I changed schools and partly because the friendships of nonage tend to be fragile if not nurtured past ones nonage. If you think about it, we're only friends at that age because of propinquity, not because we've found a kindred spirit. Break the links of propinquity and not much is left. Friendship in adulthood differs because we're not bound as completely by geography by then. Heino lives half a world away and yet he's still my best friend.

So I found new friends. We learned to smoke together and we learned to raise our thumbs at girls together. The bonds were a little closer.

One of my new friends was the son of Polish immigrants. Being the son of an immigrant was hardly unique at my school - indeed, I as a fifth generation Australian was the odd one out. In one sense I can even claim to be a hundred or two hundred generation Australian; one of my great grandparents was a full-blooded Australian Aborigine.

Peter (not the same Peter I've mentioned before) lived two streets away in a house that was rather grander than the one we lived in. Grandeur is, of course, relative. It was still a run down 80 year old house sadly in need of repair but it was twice the size of ours and had a much larger garden. You're reading the judgements of later years; back then it was simply a better house than ours and I was appropriately jealous. He had fruit trees to climb in; an outside shed whose roof was safe to walk on (ours was so badly rusted you risked life and limb if you climbed up), and his parents were generous with the apples.

I was always hungry. Whenever I visited his house, which was quite often, I'd ask his mother if I could have an apple. She never once refused me. Sometimes she'd treat us to a Polish treat whose name I never accurately knew; I'm remembering the name as 'squawkie' which is, I'm sure, an extremely bad english transliteration of the word they used. I have no idea what was in it; but it was delicious.

I didn't see Peter's father all that often. He was mostly at work during the hours I was at his house. But sometimes he'd ride his bike home before we left and we'd be appropriately polite. He'd be gently interested in our boyish pursuits. I remember, with embarassment, how little effort we made to understand him when he spoke.

His passion was gardening, which doubtless explains the fruit trees.

One early summer afternoon he was outside pruning a bush. We were outside planning mischief. And I, quite by accident, glanced up at my friends father as he reached up to prune a branch. I saw some numbers tattooed on his arm. If I'd known then what I know now I'd have kept my mouth shut and just let the glimpse pass unacknowledged. But I hadn't thought it through.

I can still remember the look of anguish that passed over his face. And I can still remember how shamefaced I felt when I realised what I'd done. You see, I had, by then, 1964 or thereabouts, read about the holocaust. I had, by then, read about tattoos and Europe. But I hadn't connected the dots and realised that someone old enough to be the parent of a friend of mine just might have been old enough to have been caught up in that disaster.

I took care after that to never glance too closely at my friends mothers arms.

In later years I ache at the thought of her generosity with apples.

A scientific experiment

In my previous post I mentioned my friend Peter. I had two other close friends at the time (1964). Bill and Carl. I'll write about Carl in particular some other time. We were all smokers at the ripe old age of 10!

One afternoon the four of us gathered at Peter's house. I can pinpoint the day; it was Melbourne Show Day 1964 - which means it was the last Thursday in September. Windows clock only goes back as far as 1980 but we can work around that! If we apply the 28 year rule we know that each day in 1992 exactly matches the same date in 1964 so I know the date I'm remembering was September 24th 1964. Roll it forward until this year taking account of leap years if you don't believe me :-)

So there we were, on that balmy September afternoon, a public holiday, I'm not sure which of us came up with the idea (I suspect it was me) but we decided to determine what happened if one boils urine.

No sooner conceived than executed! We filled a saucepan with urine and put it on the stove! Brought it to the boil and stood around waiting. At about that time the Newman faction from across the street issued a challenge. Honour required that we respond.

Need I state that we lost track of time? I suspect not. About an hour later we discovered what happens if one boils urine and forgets that it's still boiling. I still count myself fortunate that the experiment was conducted at a friends house and not mine!

To forestall the correspondence; the saucepan boiled dry and burned the salts left behind. The saucepan was beyond redemption. For a couple of weeks so was the atmosphere in the house! My friends bum burned almost as hot for the first day or so...

Saturday, May 21, 2005

One percent

I've just been watching The Time Machine, 2002 version[^]. Actually I prefer the 1960 version[^]. I have both on DVD.

I first saw the 1960 version in 1963 at the drive-in and as a 9 year old it stirred my imagination but I didn't understand or even realise it's cultural resonances. What it did do was confirm my interest in science fiction and I became a voracious reader of the classics (and some not so classic). When you're 9 years old all you really need on the cover is a picture of a ray gun and away you go! It takes a few years to realise that much of what is described as science fiction could just as easily have been set in Tombstone Arizona or Transalpine Gaul. This might possibly explain why I detest the Star Wars movies with such a passion! Nope, I'm not going to go see the latest in the series; the rest of the family are going on Sunday but I'm going to wallow in War and Peace in protest! :-)

The screenwriter and the director of the first version did a great job of translating a late 19th century novel into a mid 20th century film. The film refers to many many things that Herbert George Wells could not have known when he wrote the book - but does it without in any way ruining the book. The way they incorporated the air raid sirens of London during WW2 is masterful. References to wars that had not yet been fought and not even anticipated in the mid 1890's... Narrative (the talking rings) that has strong echoes of Orwells 1984... Oh and I like the soundtrack too :-)

Being a contrary bastard (or, alternatively, a stick in the mud) I didn't plan to go see the remake when it was first mooted. But I saw the trailers in the lead up and was particularly struck by the way they both used the device of skirt length on mannequins in a shop window to convey the passage of time. It wasn't an exact copy; it came over more as homage to the first movie. So I gave it a go.

The later version, whilst having much to commend it, doesn't move me in the same way that a viewing of the first version still can. It deviates a considerable distance from the book but in ways that weren't really necessary. If I were to take a pessimistic view of human nature I might be tempted to believe that the director and writer of the later version were unable to imagine someone undertaking the work of creating and using a time machine for the sheer adventure of it. Maybe that's why they felt it necessary to introduce a dead fiance as a motive?

There's one detail I did like. There is one actor who appears in both movies, Alan Young[^]. In the earlier movie he plays a major character. In the later one he has a cameo role. But he gets 5th place billing in the opening credits.

The one percent? When you're watching a movie that encompasses 800,000 years or so one naturally starts thinking of the vastness of time. Most of us would, I expect, accept the idea of the planet being billions of years old and that thought leads to an appreciation of the fleeting nature of human life. A scary thought. So one starts to scope things down a trifle. The pyramids for example, at 5,000 or so years of age. Still almost unimaginable and yet one can comfort oneself with the thought that in evolutionary terms that's nothing and so those people must have been somewhat like us. And then comes the shocking thought; I'm 50 - that's one percent of the age of those incredibly old, to us, monuments. Yikes!

It can only go downhill from here!

It's warming up

Another month until the official start of Summer here and our midnight temperature tonight was 89F (33 C). The daytime peak was about 106F (41 C). They're predicting 113F (45C) for Sunday! It almost makes me wish I was living alone again so I can sit around in my underwear (definitely NOT an option if you have teenage stepkids!).

We have a guy over from France for product training and he was complaining about how hot it is. We, of course, could not resist pointing out that this is merely warm - wait for 2 or 3 months from now, when our midnight low will be 100F (38C).

I'd still rather live in Arizona than Minnesota. I can cope with this warm; cold is another matter!

Phase II

I haven't written about Andrew and his room much of late. Partly because I haven't been here a lot to check and to know and partly because he seems to have finally understood that decaying organic matter isn't a good thing to share ones room with.

Of course there are other considerations; decaying organic matter is one thing, sharing the cutlery and crockery is another. If he really does want the smell of sour milk to pervade his room who am I to object (so long as it only affects his nostrils). But I really do think that shared resources such as glasses and plates ought to be returned to the family pool. This lesson he seems to have finally learned.

So now we have phase II. I don't have the 'family' excuse this time. Indeed I have no excuse at all save the one of 'doing things the right way'.

Phase II is of course keeping the room in a neat state. Used underwear, to my way of thinking, belongs in one of two places. The laundry basket or the washing machine. The floor is neither of those places. He's tried the bad excuse of 'I don't have the time'. A bad excuse because he has, apparently, the time to watch The Cartoon Channel. But perhaps I'm projecting my values too much onto the kid? So I bided my time. He's a week away from the start of summer vacation which means he's a week away from almost 3 months of no homework and no school. The perfect time for him to learn to keep his room tidy. After all, not even Andrew has the stamina to watch TV for 18 hours a day!

So, over dinner tonight, I proposed a plan. He'd tidy his room before dinner tomorrow night. He would then keep it tidy. I'll check it at random times. No incentive other than he gets my good opinion.

Let's see how it goes.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Blokey excuses

It can't be denied, Blokes do socialise with each other. For Vern, Lamont and myself the excuse we use is blogging. Indeed, in the 2 or 3 hours we're together each month we do actually spend as much as 5 minutes actually talking about blogging. The rest is, of course, the usual suspects. Women, politics, religion and sport. Not that I'm much good when it comes to sport. At those moments I'm a spectator faking it. With politics I'm still playing it carefully; you never know, when discussing American politics with Americans, when you might accidentally hit a sore spot. The same rules apply with the politics of any country of which you're not a citizen but Americans DO seem to take the whole thing a lot more seriously than I'm used to.

That's the inflammatory stuff outta the way :-)

In Australia from early 1999 until late 2002 Heino and I would get together maybe 3 Sunday mornings out 4 at the local computer swapmeet. The swapmeets started out as a bunch of amateurs trading and swapping but it grew into a marketplace where the deals were a few percent cheaper than at a regular retail shop. It also had, and has, the advantage that there are literally hundreds of dealers; if this dealer doesn't have what you want just move a couple of metres down the aisle and check the next one. The venue for the market varies according to which weekend of the month it is.

There are some unwritten rules around this that we always observed. The market opens at 9 AM but you've got to be a sad geek to be in the line impatiently waiting for them to open. It's not a lot different from the lines of Star Wars fans lined up for the release of the next installment. We never ever arrived before 9:30 AM. Once met, we had the ceremonial smoke. It was also an unwritten rule that we never arrived at the same time. Usually it was I who was there first but that's just the accident of living alone; Heino had to escape the family :-)

For quite a while there we'd go inside the market and spend a couple of hours fingering the merchandise. My favourite weekend was when the market was held at Camberwell. I think it was the third weekend of each month. Afterward we'd wander up Burke Road to a cafe that did pretty good bacon and poached eggs on toast with (barely) drinkable coffee. The weekend when the market was held at Collingwood Town Hall was also pretty good. Malvern Town Hall was fun but parking was a bastard!

As time passed we'd spend less and less time actually at the market and more time over breakfast following. Eventually it got to the point where we might just as well have met out the front, thrown the 3 dollar entry fee into the gutter and repaired straightaway to breakfast. Well, that's how Heino described it just 30 minutes ago on the phone! :-)

So that was our excuse for blokey bonding. We had a better excuse in the early 1990's, when we were making a movie, to start with, and then, when that had been done and premiered, making the 'making of'. I'm eventually going to write about that; the hard part is setting the scenes that led to our doing it.

It's still in the planning and scheduling stage but I'm hoping to return to Australia for a couple or three weeks later this year and, amongst the eating of fish and chips and the cooking of roast lamb we're planning at least one visit to a computer market. I probably won't buy a thing but I'm sure looking forward to bacon and poached eggs on toast with (barely) drinkable coffee done Australian style accompanied by a gabfest with Heino!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Immigration Forms

Whenever you enter another country you of course fill out an immigration form. The Philippines is no exception. As with a lot of Asian countries they have the death penalty for drug offenses over a certain severity. So it's no suprise that they print in red at the bottom of the form a warning about The Death Penalty for Drug Traffickers!

But what came as a real surprise was the email address for The Philippines Bureau of Immigration. It's a hotmail address! The final interesting thing about the form is that maybe a quarter of the space is taken up with an advertisement for one of the local Phone companies! Well, it's less burden on the taxpayer.

Another get-together

You'll recall that back in March I met a couple of bloggers[^] who live here in Phoenix. If you think about it it's really hard to imagine why bloggers want to get together if the only things we know we have in common are that we blog and we live in the same city. I suppose it's our gregarious natures! Whatever. It's working; nice guys.

Last month I got to within about 28 hours of remaining in Phoenix for the second meeting (we meet on the third Wednesday of the month). But, alas, I was sent to The Philippines instead. So this month I was crossing my fingers and laying low in the hopes I'd make it to the aforesaid third Wednesday of the month. Wonders will never cease! I made it.

Thus it was that Lamont, Vern and myself converged on the sports bar in Bell Road. A beer or so and a young lady walks in. Not the same young lady we encountered last time but still blonde! As it happens we were hoping for a fourth member, one Michelle, another Phoenix blogger, to join us so Vern, never one to be abashed, asked her if she was indeed Michelle. Nope. 'Ah,' says Vern, 'come and join us anyway!' She did.

At about this point Lamont visited the mens room. (I noticed that this time he and Vern were most careful not to go together :-) ). So she asks what we're doing and Vern announces that we're three gay men hitting on each other. She took that in her stride so we improved on the story; 'well, we're not gay but Lamont is. He's just broken up with his boyfriend.'. Uh huh she nods. So we kept the joke running throughout the evening.

Conversation wandered this way and that and I'm glad to report that she didn't immediately ring a friend living in outer woop woop on the strength of my accent, though she did correctly pick me as Australian. This was after both Vern and Lamont told her I was a Filipino!

So then we got the story of how she rode a tree! Which, we being bloggers and all, led to us urging her to start her own blog. Remains to be seen if she does but some of the stories she was telling were great blog material. One or two were so convoluted though that I'm not sure I picked up the more subtle nuances.

Then the night turned into a disaster. Not one of 'those' disasters. No sirree bob, it turned into a Karaoke night. Using Johnny Cash songs what's more. Sung by people who don't know the songs. Or the rhythms. Or have the voice. I have an early start tomorrow so that was a convenient excuse to escape before someone dragooned me into singing. Believe me, the world ain't ready for me on Karaoke!

I dunno. The atmosphere of the place is good and this time of year is perfect for sitting outside with a cold beer in hand but the threat of more Karaoke gives me pause...

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Hall of Flame

nope, not a typo. Here in Phoenix is the Hall of Flame Firefighting Museum[^]. We went on Sunday. I found it fascinating - well worth the 6 bucks admission. Of course, I've always enjoyed museums - particularly those that don't hide everything inside glass cases. Yeah, I know I shouldn't touch but it's sometimes hard to resist.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Rites of passage

The other day Andrew was going to play paintball with his friends. Not a sport I've indulged in but I can imagine it's attraction. His dad was concerned about the continuation of the line so he wanted Andrew to purchase a 'cup'. I've never owned such a thing in my life so I was at a loss. Where would one even purchase such an item? Mum came to the rescue with suggestions regarding venues but Andrew was as uncomfortable with the idea that she'd accompany him for such a momentous purchase as he was with the idea that I might. To be honest that was a relief. What I know about the selection, fitting and purchase of a 'cup' could be engraved on the head of a pin using a very large cold chisel!

A happy idea! Since dad was so concerned on the subject why not throw it back on him? We did. So dad turned up the other night to collect Andrew.

You know me well enough by now to know that it was impossible for me to resist saying, as Andrew went out the door, 'Andrew? Have a ball!'

Emerging from hiding

I've hinted at least once, recently, that when I'm eventually allowed to return to Phoenix I go into hiding. No email, won't answer the phone to any unknown number and certainly won't answer it if it's the office calling. I reckon that if I've just done a 3 week stint in The Philippines or a 2 week stint in France or a week in Dallas I'm entitled to a couple of days with the family before I return to the office. Your opinion might vary, as is your right.

I got back Wednesday night last week and spent the following four days studiously avoiding the office. I lied a bit about the no email bit; I read em but I don't respond, to the extent of not sending read acknowledgements if requested. If they don't like it we can find room to renegotiate the terms of my employment. On the other hand, it is good to walk into the office on the first day forewarned...

So today, Monday, I fronted up at the office. A strange day. Quite probably I flatter myself but, amongst my fellow employees who are not in management I think I'm reasonably well thought of. You can't spend a third of a century in the workforce without learning some social skills. Thus it was that Hector seemed quite happy at the sight of my ugly mug. Likewise Steve. Heck, even Shelly-the-anyone-who's-not-an-American-is-suspect-Republican gave me a welcome back! I was saddened to hear that Mario has resigned; he was my drinking buddy in France; how will I drink without him? The same way I did before; raise the glass to my lips and swallow :-)

There were also 5 or 6 unfamiliar faces. Introductions throughout the day. So and so is now our manufacturing supervisor. That guy is in charge of Q&A. That older dude (older in the sense that he's even older than I am :-) ) is in charge of hardware engineering. That woman is one of our new hardware engineers. And so on and so forth.

They even went so far as to consult the traveller (me) on what steps we needed to take, and what testing resources we needed, to ensure that what we deliver in future actually works. This is a big step forward. Not an easy one; already I can feel the economics closing in because I suggested that the single most important thing we could do is to have someone other than those of us who write the software do the testing.

They think it's because we don't want to do the testing. I have news for them. With the best will in the world we who write the software can only test it so far. We know too much and too little. Too much about those codepaths we paid too little attention to, and too little about all the strange, crazy things our customer will do that we already know not to try. If you look at any successful software company (Microsoft springs to mind) you find that they have development and they have testing. Both have equal value. Of what use is development if the product doesn't do what they say it does?

Today I heard a lot of talk about 'doing things right'. I heard it from new faces who don't have a negative track record for me. Let's hope this time we'll 'do things right'.

I felt it was necessary to say to the guy who is going to drive the stuff that will affect my job most that 'you'll find this little black duck won't throw up roadblocks'. So I've committed to supporting the new initiative. Now let's see them do the same!

Be careful of the words you use

in your blogs. You'll remember this entry[^] where I talked about the attraction of 10 cigarette packs for the teenage female population of Scottsdale, Arizona. I used the word 'femdom' which I coined on the spot, little knowing it had other meanings. As you might not know, each of we bloggers have access to an admin page which allows us, amongst other things, to delete the entries we made when we were insanely drunk (I've never used that option - if I post it I live with the consequences) and to see what hits we've had. The hit includes the URL or search term used to find our entry. I find this one for the aforementioned entry.


I'm not sure what to think! :-)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pornography is in the eye of the beholder

One of my mates back in Melbourne has a large pornography collection; another wanted some dubs. So one Sunday afternoon in 1993, Heino, Garry and I were bored. We decided to put together a tape for our mate. A very special tape!

We spent a couple of hours going through the collection, looking for just the right tape to start with, and we found it! Like a lot of that kind of film there's an attempt at a connecting story. After all, what can you do to make an hour of sex videos interesting? Not much! In this case the connecting story was of a scantily clad damsel in the role of fortune teller with a crystal ball in which she could tell the future prospects of each suplicant stud. She had some silly dialog and the camera would then zoom in on the crystal ball, fading into the sex scene. At the end of each episode the camera would zoom out and we'd get the next silly prophecy. Perfect!

With a bit of frame matching it was pretty easy to transform the hour of tape into 10 minutes. Camera would zoom in on the crystal ball and then zoom out again; with nary a body part to be seen!

10 minutes wasn't quite enough so we added some more footage of a nature I'm not going to detail here. Just think pistons and you're on the right track!

So then we added a soundtrack. Our mate hates the music of Philip Glass and I happen to think his music is wonderful. So we added a Philip Glass soundtrack! Almost done! What was needed was some sound effects. Aha! Sandpaper! Do I really need to detail what sorts of scenes we used that sound effect on? I thought not!

So now we had about 10 minutes of teasing followed by 45 minutes of more substantial fare. A soundtrack to make our mate grind his teeth and sound effects to make him cringe! All we needed was a fitting finale! And what more fitting than to cut, at the climax of the last scene, to a shot of the three of us waving at the camera and saying 'Surprise!!!'?

Surely one of the more unusual pornographic films ever assembled! I wish we'd kept a copy!

With friends like us who needs enemies??

Another of my mates back in Melbourne is Robin. He's had a passing mention before. Back in the early 90's Heino and I used to visit more frequently than we have of late. Robin's a bit of a pack-rat. He used to work for Hewlett Packard and he'd collect just about everything they ever threw out. I used to do much the same thing when I worked for them back in the 80's though I never got lucky enough to collect an oscilloscope out of the rubbish bin.

Robin also collects just about anything else of a technical nature you might care to name. Obsolete technical manuals, junk videos, ancient software, old games, you name it he probably has it somewhere. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he still has the National Semiconductor SC/MP manual I gave him in 1978. Indeed he has so much of this stuff that two rooms of his house are lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves and what doesn't fit on the shelves is in untidy piles upon the floor.

So after a while it became a sort of a game between Robin on one side and Heino and myself on the other. We'd find an excuse to enter the inner sanctum and fill our pockets with anything that came to hand. At first it was easy; Robin had no idea what we were up to. A pleasant afternoon would be spent doing technical blokey things and, once we were in our respective cars and about to drive off, we'd unload what we'd lifted. Robin would invariably protest about what 'thieving bastards' we were as he gathered his precious junk back!

After a while it got boring so we came up with a new twist. One afternoon we took every single book and video tape out of the shelves and turned them upside down. For the first half hour or so Robin didn't even realise we were in there and when he discovered we were he frisked us. Not quite as sexy as it sounds! :-) Satisfied that we weren't loaded with his precious junk things returned to normal; he even disappeared into the kitchen to make more coffee. When he returned he insisted on a second frisking. Still clean! Hmmm, he wondered, what are they up to. It was about then he noticed that all his books (and I mean all of them) were upside down.

'You bastards!' he said!

Another time we arrived, the three of us (Garry the third of the terrible trio) just as Robin had to go somewhere for half an hour. By this time it was well established that we'd walk off with anything we could carry so he found himself in a quandary. He wanted us to hang around for the techo gabfest afterward but he was afraid of what we'd steal. Ah, a happy solution. Michael, his son, maybe 8 years old at the time, could watch us. Poor kid! We waited until Robin had disappeared around the corner and then proceeded, the three of us, over Michael's protests, to carry every single item out of the inner sanctum and deposit it in an ever growing heap on the back patio. When Robin returned we were relaxing in easy chairs (also carried out of the house), smoking, with our feet up on his precious junk!

'You bastards!' he said!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Happiness is a warm gun!

or not, as the case may be.

I've already mentioned how my mother remarried in 1962, just after my 8th birthday. My new step-father, hereinafter to be known as 'Misery Guts', was a bit of a gun person. I don't think it was guns in the same philosphical sense that one hears of gun advocacy in the USA. It think it was more related to relative poverty in Seddon in the 1930's, the proximity, at that time, of open fields and a glut of rabbits. Give a man a rabbit and you feed him for a day; teach him to shoot and he's fed for life; that kinda thing.

We ate a lot of rabbit in those days; roasted (incredibly dry and chewy) or stewed with carrots and onions; very tasty. Um nope, I'm not remembering the 1930's but I suspect the habits ingrained into him at that time led to our still going hunting rabbits in the 1960's. Actually it was quite fun; we'd drive to Lancefield, which is about 45 miles north of Melbourne and ask permission of a particular farmer to go hunt on his paddocks. Always granted but he liked it if we asked.

We'd park some distance from the road having passed through a gate which was always closed behind us. Then Mum and Misery'd go thataway in search of the prey; we'd stick pretty close to the car and play in the creek. I once found the tiniest frogs I've ever seen, not much bigger than a housefly, clinging to the mud at the top of an undercut bank over the creek.

We always started maybe two hours before sunset and I have glowing memories of the sun's gold splashing across the horizon, lighting up the fire gums and the yellowish green bracken. Tufts of spider grass and sheep wandering their way home across well worn tracks, each following the others tail.

Periodically we'd hear a 'boom' in the distance; another shotgun blast. Eventually, as the last light trickled away Mum and Misery'd come back, half a dozen rabbits hanging from their belts. Then came one of the less pleasant parts of the evening; the skinning and gutting. I had to hold the rabbit by it's back feet while the skin was stripped off. Blood and a most unpleasant smell, and never enough water to get clean afterward. Oh, and it took considerable physical strength to hold it.

But after that task was done came the second highlight of the evening. Sitting in the car eating Sardine sandwiches washed down with orange flavoured cordial as the last faint glimmers of the sun slipped away. And then, wow! Have you ever seen the Southern Sky in all it's glory? Both Magellanic clouds high overhead; the Milky Way snaking it's way across the sky. The Coalsack! That large globular cluster who's name escapes me just to the south of Alpha Centauri? And of course both crosses, the Southern Cross and the fake cross! The Northern Sky is pale by comparison. I've seen both .

Misery didn't content himself with shooting rabbits of course. I was taught the basics of handling a gun. All the standard stuff; never ever believe a gun is not loaded; don't point it at anyone unless you mean it. And how to cross a barbed wire fence with a gun. (Lay it down close to the fence; then climb through the fence on the butt side of the gun; once through the fence reach back and pick the gun up carefully.) Oh, and never trust anyone who's climbing through a fence trying to short cut the steps; stay on the side away from the barrel. In 1948 he made that mistake and paid for it; he lost 2 or so inches of his left leg and to this day he has to use a special pair of shoes where the left foot is built up. Not that he lets that stop him getting around!

So one day in 1969 I was given my first gun. Uh huh, me. It was only a BB gun but I loved that gun. I'd shoot at anything that moved that wasn't human or someone elses property. And so it was that we went shooting for rabbits again. The olds went thataway and I, armed with my new BB gun, went thisaway. I knew that I had no chance of bagging a rabbit so, even though more than one came within sight, I passed em by. Instead, I shot at a crow sitting on a tree branch maybe 15 feet away. Got him right in the chest. He fell. Another shot. He squawked. A third shot, right in the eye. More squawking. And then the horrible truth dawned upon me. I had enough firepower to bring him down but not enough to release him from his misery. Shot after shot but he kept squawking. Though I hated to do it I ended his life by stamping upon him with my boots.

I never again took pleasure in owning a gun. And, apart from the odd spider, I've never since consciously brought another being to it's end.

Cute packaging

Remember this[^] story?

For whatever reason Morgan thinks the 10 ciggy packs are so cute she's been bugging me to save em all for her. It seems it's not just she who thinks they're cute; by her account all of the sub 18 femdom of Scottsdale is swooning over em. So I save the used packs for her. Nope, I'm not going to give her a full pack even though she smokes. I could be deported for that! She gets the empties!

I'm all excited!!!

Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2 just arrived in the mailbox! Now for hours of fun exploring!

One initial criticism. Even though I chose custom options I can't see the option to NOT install the Compact Framework stuff. I don't do embedded development so it'd be nice not to have to install that stuff (and not install the MSDN docs for it). Oh well...

It's not easy

to take a piece of New Zealand Hoki (fish) and turn it into something you could credibly use as the sole of ones shoe but the restaurant we dined at last night managed that feat quite nicely. The food was quite inedible! Good thing I've lost my appetite of late.

The service was almost as bad. We're talking your average family type restaurant/beer tavern, not too crowded. How is it possible for the meal to take over an hour to arrive? Of course, that does rather neatly explain the fish! But we had our revenge. We left no tip. On the way out my wife overheard the following conversation between our waiter and the head waitress.

Waiter (looking at the signed credit card statement): They didn't leave a tip.

Waitress: They probably left cash on the table. Go and look.

We kept walking.

When a man named Armstrong

walked upon the Moon.

I've just watched and immensely enjoyed this movie[^].

Very Australian; remember that I was 15 when the events it relates occurred. Of course, as an Aussie it was inevitable that I'd get all nostalgic over the scenery, not dissimilar to the scenery in my home state of Victoria. Indeed, it was that nostalgia that led me to remember the events related in my previous blog entry.

I was blown away by the attention to detail. They got the racks of equipment right. Hewlett Packard 181A storage oscilloscopes. HP 141A spectrum analysers. HP 5065A digital counters*. Gawd knows where they got enough working equipment in 2000 to make it look right but all of the technology they show existed in 1969 (and was state of the art at the time). Heck, they even had the cartons for HP instruments from that time.

The soundtrack is right. I don't know how the production crew knew the right songs, given that they would have been all of 7 or 8 years of age at the time. I suspect they had someone my age as an adviser for the right songs to evoke memories of Australia in 1969. Yep, I'll grant you that Russell Morris singing 'The Real Thing' is a bit of an anachronism (that was a hit in 1968) but using the Youngbloods and Thunderclap Newman was exactly right!

But it's when they come to showing the way that we watched the moon landing on that Monday afternoon, July 21 1969** that they really got it right. At my school all of us who could make it home in time were dismissed from school just before lunch. I didn't have that option; I lived in a suburb 5 or 6 miles away and even on my bike I wouldn't have made it in time. Those of us who lacked the option were herded into a large classroom with a single 11 inch TV set (it was an AWA P1 - their first portable model - valves all the way, not a single transistor***) perched upon a rack. I would have been in the middle of the throng and the only way I could see enough detail was to curl my forefinger into a tiny aperture and watch through that (see, I've needed glasses for decades! :-) ).

Thus I watched Neil Armstrong climb down that ladder and heard those words. And thus, late that afternoon, walking down Nicholson Street Footscray past the newsagents. Early editions of the Herald with the banner headlines and that photograph! And later the TV coverage of how the world had reacted and watched. For a few brief hours the war in Vietnam was banished.

* I've repaired all of those models at one time or another.
** It was July 21 in Australia, Monday afternoon.
*** Two years later I worked for AWA in their TV repair workshop; I knew that model backwards.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Follow up to 'not a lot of fun'

Interesting responses[^]. Not a lot of responses but then I don't have a large readership :-)

What happened the next day? Our customer contact apologised for 'last night'. I fear that I was sufficiently upset over the whole affair that I was rather less than gracious; I replied 'you should have known better'.

The apology itself was enough to assure me that I'd not assumed wrongly. If it had been, as one respondent suggested, a Kareoke bar I'm sure I'd have been derided. I wasn't.

But thinking about my response over the next few minutes I realised just how ungracious I'd been. I'd done and said little to lead him to believe that he should have known better. I'm somewhat naive in some areas; I don't go to brothels and if my friends do I'm not aware of it so I don't automatically assume I have to warn everyone against taking me to brothels. If we meet in the future and that is your bent you'll know to include me out.

So I took him aside half an hour later and apologised for being ungracious. Didn't apologise for walking out the night before. I think future 'invitations' to dinner will be just that, which will suit me just fine.

The other three are colleagues. One apologised; the other two said nothing. I said nothing either. What I will or won't do is my business. What they will or won't do is theirs.

As for my employer? Haven't heard a word on the subject.

6 PM

A time which, for most of us, means the approach if not the actual onset of the night. Late afternoon, early evening, peak hour traffic, dinner and maybe the news on TV.

In my home state, Victoria, Australia, between 1915 and 1966 it also meant the closing of pubs. Yep, the forces of Prohibition were alive and well in Australia in those days. In fact, to this day there's a dry city within Melbourne.

It seems that the needs of war originally led to the adoption of a war-time emergency closing of pubs at 6PM. It was a temporary World War 1 measure that lasted until 1966. We Australians are not unfamiliar with temporary solutions. Our 'temporary' Parliament House in Canberra was constructed in 1926, first used for it's purpose in 1927 and wasn't closed until 1988!

Thus the tradition of the '6 O'clock swill.' I've witnessed this. It was legal to order any amount of alcohol before 6PM and it was legal to keep the pub open until 7PM as long as no alcohol was served after 6PM. Of course we're talking beer but I have no doubt it would have extended to my preffered drink, wine, had I been a drinker in those days. Oh, and had it been available :-)

So the dedicated drinker would order as many as 12 beers before 6PM. I saw my father order that many one night in June 1960. They were lined up before him like so many tombstones. He had one hour to drink them. Which he did. Much burping and lurching afterward.

Of course, my father had a gladstone bag full of bottles hidden up a back-lane for later. The bags were named after a British Prime Minister. By amazing coincidence they were exactly the right height for an Australian bottle of beer and they could hold 12.

If you had a paper round that included a pub you were made! Hit the pub about 5:30 PM hawking your papers and if you could distract the drinkers from the ordering process they'd pay sixpence for a thruppeny paper. Good money. But after 6 PM? Better money. By that time they were far enough into their cups and so glad of the 6 beers still lined up that they'd pay a shilling for a thruppeny paper. 400% profit and a slap on the back, perhaps somewhat more vigorous than necessary. We smiled tolerantly, kept the ninepence and moved on!

My paper round had 3 pubs! It was a frantic yet profitable hour making sure I covered them all.

I can remember to this day the smell outside a pub not longer after 6 PM. The smell of beer as one would expect. And the smell of vomit. The sight of drunken men with vomit down their coat fronts making their uncertain way toward the tram stop.

I'm glad those days are gone!

Movies you watch alone

There are many movies I watch alone. Some because they're of limited interest; they might grab my interest but they bore others. Or some because they're hard to watch without flinching (The Passion of the Christ would be such a one - but I'll write about that movie another time).

And some I watch alone because they reduce me to tears. It'll probably surprise you that one such movie is Spiderman. Uh huh. I've just watched Spiderman 2 for the first time and it too reduced me to tears.

Like most of us (I imagine) I saw the first movie on it's first theatrical release back in 2002 and I loved it. Not because it was an action movie - those I can enjoy but I can also live without. But what I really liked about the movie was the spirit of fun. Remember the scenes where Peter Parker discovers his powers? How he jumps from building to building discovering what he can do and just plain enjoying it? Those scenes really resonated with me; they were the kind of thing I could imagine myself doing if I suddenly discovered I had those powers (and if I could overcome my fear of heights). But there was something more in the movie; a bittersweet feeling of sacrifice. Those scenes where Peter Parker realises he can be one thing or another but he can't be both.

So along comes the second movie. I was out of the country at it's debut so I missed it. And then one flight to Singapore (or maybe it was on the way back, I don't remember) it was on the in flight movies on demand. I got maybe 25 minutes in and realised I couldn't watch the rest quite so publicly. My alternative choice wasn't much better; Eroica, a movie about the debut of Beethovens 3rd Symphony that snuck up on me and also brought the tears to my eyes...

So tonight I watched Spiderman 2 for the first time. And I realised why I enjoyed both movies so much. They're not action movies at all (though some of the photography and CGI is heart stopping). They're movies about love.

I don't want to see a third Spiderman movie - the first two, together, are perfect!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thumbs up!

We all know that thumbs up means 'right'? Good luck! Well done! Spiffing! etc etc. Well, when I was a kid growing up in Footscray, that gesture had a rather different meaning to us.

One day in 1963 or thereabouts I and a few of my closest friends were taught, in the coarsest possible terms, by someone maybe 2 years older than we were, about the mysteries of sex. I say coarse advisedly; not a lot of subtlety was employed.

This was way before I reached puberty. So I'm at a loss, in these later years of maturity, to explain why it was that I was siezed with an insatiable desire to perform the act. But siezed I surely was!

We were taught, in the course of that lesson, that the signal to a girl that one was interested was a thumbs up! This was somewhat before this[^].

So we spent interminable hours after school thumbs upping at anyone who bore the slightest femininity. Maybe some coarse language was also involved; I'm pleading the fifth! :-) But I should admit that I was one of the worst offenders. Oh, and we had one other incredibly subtle approach if the thumb failed, as it invariably did; approach and ask 'are you a girl?'. If the answer was in the affirmative - 'Prove it!'. Yeah, that had a lot of prospect of success! Smacks on the ear were the most usual response!

Eventually we were hauled up in front of the headmaster. A little beating about the bush. The head wanted to know what we meant when we did the thumbs up. We, of course, dissembled. Innocent looks; we didn't know what it meant. Suddenly he rounded upon us. 'When you disgusting little boys do that' (thumb thrust up in the air) 'you mean 'want to f????'. It was true; that was indeed what we meant. But I can't describe to you the shock of hearing that word coming from our august head's lips. Getting six of the best upon my upturned palm was almost an anti-climax after that!

Exit 65

would, one might imagine, be located at the 65 kilometre post on the North Luzon Motorway. So I'd have imagined. But nope, it's located at kilometre 66. Likewise for exit 56 which is at kilometre 57 and exit 48 which is at kilometre 49. You can imagine my surprise when exit 20 happens to be located at kilometre 20!

Why? I have no idea. I merely record it as something a little out-of-the-way that I noticed last night on the trip from Baguio to Manila.

And I'm home again!

Fast trip; it only took 36 hours from the hotel back to my front door. The Singapore to Los Angeles leg in particular was shorter than usual - a mere 14.5 hours (it can take as long as 18 hours). From the flight display it seemed we took a much more shallow arc across the North Pacific than usual. Sometimes the flight goes over Alaska but not this one.

The drive down from Baguio was white knuckle all the way. Whether it was that the traffic was unexpectedly lighter I can't say but I do know that at 1:18 AM and again at 1:19 AM and again at 1:20 AM we had frighteningly close head-on collision near misses. The middle near miss involved us driving off the road and sliding across the shoulder. And then, somewhat later and fortunately on the 3 lane motorway, the driver started nodding off . Can't say I blame him; he'd been driving nearly 5 hours by then. I could tell he was nodding off; the van would slow and veer to the right. After the second shaking of the shoulder to awaken him I suggested we pull over so he could sleep for half an hour. We had nearly 2 hours up our sleeve and frankly I'd rather he rested up a tad. A half hour nap seemed to improve matters markedly.

But then he required a visit of a substantial nature to the toilet. Tip to travellers to the Philippines. Take a roll of paper; he does and he lives there so he ought to know. Thus came the search for a petrol station with a restroom at 5 AM. By this time we had traversed the motorway, which has regularly spaced large petrol stations of the kind familiar to anyone who's driven major US or Australian intercity freeways. No such luck once you've passed Balintawak and are in inner city Manila. He stopped at a couple of places and eventually his need got the better of his fastidiousness; he sneaked behind a low brick wall and left his calling card .

Thus to the airport. At check-in the clerk saw I was US bound and yelled the fact out to the entire terminal. Over trots a security guy. 'Bring your bags over here sir' he says. So over I take em. Very thorough search. You know those 2 zone clocks with alarm and timer you can buy? I have one. Not that I need it to tell the time elsewhere in the world; I can do that in my head. But the hotel we use doesn't provide an alarm clock so I carry my own. The security guy pounced on it! 'What's this?' I explained. 'Hmm' he muses, only half convinced. 'Does it have a battery?'. I nod. 'Hmmm' he muses more ominously. 'Where's the battery?' he asks. Unfortunately this clock has two little philips head screws to hold the cover on the battery compartment; I'd almost given the clock up as lost when he changed his mind and put it back.

Then he asks the killer question. Do I have a cigarette lighter? Of course I did. There's a large sign right beside us that announces that lighters are forbidden on aircraft bound for the US. My flight was from Manila to Singapore and thence to the US so I'd hoped to keep the lighter at least as far as Singapore. I did try a feeble protest that my aircraft was Singapore bound and I'd give it up in Singapore. But nope; he was inflexible. I was going to the US so I had to give it up there! One can play the lawyer but sometimes it's not worth the trouble. This was, I felt, such a time.

Of course I ran into problems with immigration at Los Angeles. Citizens queue again; passport, customs form and greencard in hand. Hauled off to secondary inspection again! But the guy who led me away was a whole lot friendlier than the last time I had problems. 'I'm just doing my job' he said. I couldn't really find it in myself to be too annoyed even if that excuse was discredited some 60 years ago. And, to their credit, this time it was a much faster process. It took maybe 15 minutes start to finish with much questioning about my old greencard. Maybe the fact that I could so readily quote the date of the Detroit fiasco[^] helped. Either way, I got to the baggage carousel before my bag did so I lost no time. I did ask if there was anything I could do in the way of personal visits to Phoenix INS to clear it up. The answer was no, I just have to expect further visits to secondary inspection in the near future until the old card is cancelled out of the system. Gawd knows what effect this will have on my naturalisation petition which I'll be able to submit in 3 months and 6 days (not that I'm counting you understand ).

And on a sadder note; they've closed the smoking lounge at Manila Airport. There I was, airport tax already paid and immigration control passed, happy in the prospect of a smoke or two in the 3 hours until my flight. Imagine then the sinking of my heart when I beheld the 'CLOSED' sign on the smokers lounge! Bummer! And, having passed immigration control, it was not an option to emerge into the melee outside the airport.

At least I could still smoke at Singapore.