Thursday, June 30, 2005


Yesterday I made the mistake of stepping out of the office, at the wrong moment, to go get something to eat. Geeze, most days of the week I eat once a day but on this occasion I wanted some lunch. How galling then to pick the wrong moment.

It was the wrong moment because someone who seems to imagine that their job is so important that they can't take a lunch break realised I was on my way out and hit me up to get their lunch. I didn't want to do it but what can you do? Refuse point blank? I should have. I knew it was going to turn into a disaster.

This is possibly a cultural thing. In Australia if someone asks me to get them a ham sandwich that's what I'll get them. A sandwich containing ham. That's the way we do sandwiches. If you want yak cheese churned by a 15 year old virgin who's only ever eaten Baloney Sandwiches made of Wonder Bread then I'm sorry but you are so far out of the cricket ground that you're going to have to go and buy your own sanga. But I've lived here in the US for more than 2 and a half years so I already knew the hell I was subscribing to.

I swear it would have taken the supplicant less time to walk to Subway and get her own sandwich than it took for her to write the description. Italian BMT on Asiago bread with everything except olives, jalapenos and whatever the third don't want was. I don't remember the third exception.

So up I front. They have no idea what Asiago bread is. Nor do I. Nor, it turns out, does she. It seems she heard the word somewhere and it sounded right...

Ok, so I plump for Italian bread. I have requests for everything except olives,jalapenos and the mystery third ingredient that I can't remember.

So the bread is chosen and the BMTness cast in concrete. Now for the extras. I have the list of undesired extras. If it's not on the list we want it (I'm not eating this example). So I rattled off the list. Mistake! I don't blame the sub makers for this; it's got to be a lot easier and less error prone for them to expect you to list what you DO want rather than what you don't. So I went through the list myself, crossing off the unwanted and calling out what was. Cucumbers, Bell Peppers, Lettuce and a whole panoply of other vegetables. Then I said (rendered phonetically) 'oh and some tomartoes'.

The server coped well until that moment. I've long since learned to say Bell Peppers, not Capsicum but I can't bring myself to say tomatoes the way Americans say it. I'm a stubborn old bastard! It was as if I'd said nothing at all. The tomatoes were passed over and the sub was ready to wrap. 'Nope, some tomartoes'. Nothing. So, pride swallowed, I said, 'oh, and some tomaytoes'. Instant comprehension!

All of which is proof, so far as I'm concerned, that if you're a sub maker at Subway you're not really listening to a word the customer says. If the words don't exactly coincide with what you're programmed to respond to they go to the error bucket and are ignored. I can't think of any other vegetable in the english language that sounds even vaguely like the word I pronounced for tomato.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Tricycle thieves

On an overcast wintry Sunday afternoon in July or August of 1963 I was out with my mates, Carl, Bill and Peter. This was before my first bicycle - that came at Christmas 1963. We were walking along Williamstown Road between Mt Mistake and Charles Street when we met this kid who was maybe 7 years old (we were 9) riding his tricycle happily along the footpath with nary a parent or guardian in sight.

I don't remember who came up with the idea but within a couple of minutes that poor kid was sitting on his bum on the footpath bawling his eyes out as we sped away on his tricycle. We spent some of the afternoon alternating ownership, working our way a mile or so east to a street that's no longer there (Footscray Technical College grew over the street). The appeal of that particular street was that it had a steep downhill slope along Nicholson Street to Pilgrim Street just where it passes under the Williamstown Railway line. In a suburb like Seddon that was almost the only downhill slope we knew of. We spent the rest of the afternoon riding the tricycle down that slope at peril to life and limb of ourselves and anyone silly enough to imagine we should share the footpath with them.

Having had our fun it would have seemed reasonable, would it not, to return the tricycle to the approximate area we'd stolen it from? 40 odd years later it seems reasonable; though 40 odd years later I wouldn't have stolen the thing in the first place. But we suffered from the paranoia of childhood; we genuinely believed that all adults were in league against us. We dared not return the tricycle because that old lady over there would see us and dob us in. Indeed, we avoided the scene of the crime for months afterward; we thought that any adult who saw us in the area would both remember us as the thieves and turn us in to the police. Given that I lived just two streets away from the crime scene it meant I had quite a few nightmares and it was months before I could walk there again.

So we did what any self-respecting tricycle thief would do. A couple of hundred metres away from the aforementioned downhill slope was the Maribyrnong River. I like to imagine the tricycle is still there, a mute relic of crime; but methinks it's long since been dredged up.

Buying a car

We bought another car on Saturday. My wife's Ford Explorer was getting pretty sick and tired and it was time to retire it and get something a little less expensive to run and to repair. Despite my best efforts I couldn't persuade her to settle for something sensible like a Kia Rio; no sirree bob, she wanted an SUV. At least she'd settle for a Kia so we went kicking tyres and test driving.

The first yard we went to does the high pressure thing. We all hate that and yet those yards are still thriving. Go figure. They had a 3 year old Kia Sportage in our price range so she took it for a test-drive. She was happy with the way it drove so it was a good thing I was along. She drove away from the yard; I drove it back. The steering was highly suspect; you could wobble that steering wheel around a couple of inches in either direction and the vehicle didn't even notice. It also shuddered on upchanges with the automatic transmission so I gave it the thumbs down.

We moved on, almost weeping at the abject sorrow the salesman displayed as we tried to leave :-)

The second yard also did the high pressure thang. That salesman tried the 'I've been to Australia' ploy. Anything to connect with the customer right? When he tried to say 'mate' and it came out more like 'mite' we both laughed. They didn't have anything in our price range though of course he tried to make it out that his offering was highly affordable and we could 'easily make the payments'. That way bankruptcy lies.

An hour or so later we test drove another Kia Sportage. This one lacked the flaws of the first one we'd tried, it was in our price range and it had reasonably low miles. A bit of dickering and we had a deal.

Why is it that it takes so long to go from agreeing on a deal to actually consummating the deal? I've bought a few cars in my time and it has never taken less than 2 hours. Even when we bought my Kia Rio a year ago for cash it took over 2 hours. What on earth are they doing behind those soundproof transparent walls that takes so long?

We got our hands on the keys about 6:30 PM and drove off. Time for dinner and neither of us felt like cooking so we drove to a nice little restaurant not far from home. Of course, this was Saturday and they're not open for dinner on weekends so we decided to go somewhere else. Meanwhile my wifes phone had been going off like there was no tomorrow and she'd been driving and talking on the phone. I hate it when she does that! So, when we realised we had to go elsewhere I said I'd drive so she could give her full attention to the phone. As we took off I glanced at the temperature gauge. It was jammed hard against the stop on the high side.

Uh oh! I pulled into a convenient petrol station right there, killed the engine and could feel the radiator boiling it's little heart out. I kid you not, 10 minutes later you could still feel the vibrations. The bonnet(hood) was too hot to touch!

So we got on the phone to the dealership. I'll give them their due. By the time we phoned em it was a couple minutes short of 8 PM but they sent a tow truck to haul the purchase back to the workshop and the sales guy drove our temporary replacement car over himself.

We're supposed to get the vehicle back tomorrow. We hit them with a request for an extended warranty on the engine; who knows what damage the overheating might have done? They've agreed to give us 20,000 miles extra warranty on the engine and cooling system. Of course, I'll believe it when I see it in writing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Jet aircraft

I've just been watching the second episode of The Singing Detective[^]. When I feel I can do it justice I'll write a rave review of the series.

There's one effect that I really noticed for the first time tonight (I must have seen the entire series 50 times). It's in a scene where the focus moves from The Forest of Dean in 1945 to a London Hospital in 1985. On the soundtrack we hear a jet fading in as we move forward in time. It struck me as being most apposite.

Remembering back, the sound I associate with airplanes when I was a kid is of the drone produced by internal combustion engines. Living first in West Footscray and then in Seddon placed us pretty close to the flight paths for Essendon Airport in the late 1950's and 1960's and one could usually count upon hearing that droning sound. The characteristic sound of a jet came later when Tullamarine Airport opened. We'd moved house by then to St Albans but that still put us very close to the flight paths for the new airport.

My wife tells me that when US aviation shut down for the two days following the collapse of the twin towers there was a noticeable difference in the audible background here in Phoenix. I was still living in Melbourne at the time but I can well believe it. Scottsdale Airport isn't very far away and the sky here is thick with planes at all hours of the day.

When we went for that hike in the Superstition Mountains a few months ago one of the things I noticed was that, even some miles away from 'civilisation' there was an almost continuous if very faint background noise of jets flying overhead. You can't see them but you can hear them.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Coloured TV

Almost my earliest memories are of the start of TV in Australia. I don't actually claim to remember the start because I don't. That was a little too long ago even for me (September 1956, just in time for the Melbourne Olympic Games). Nonetheless, I remember things that must have happened in the first half of 1957.

We weren't anywhere near the first in our street to get a TV set. Even in a short street of maybe 20 houses we would have been one of the last. That honour went to one of our neighbours who did the neighbourly thing and invited half the street over of a Sunday evening, setting up their lounge room like a mini theatre with every chair they could lay their hands on. Sometimes we'd take our own kitchen chairs over just to be sure of seating. We kids, of course, would gather in a group on the floor seated in front of the adults.

It was a given that, if invited, one took a plate and I remember my grandmother baking all sorts of cakes and, of course, disappearing into the kitchen to help with the brewing of tea and coffee. Others would bring sandwiches or pies. I used to look forward to TV night as much for the goodies as for the TV itself.

This was black and white TV - Australia didn't go to colour TV until March 1 1975, one of the last countries in the world with any kind of TV system at all to make the changeover.

Sometime in 1958 some marketing genius conceived the idea of selling a colour converter. No, not some sophisticated electronic upgrade. Merely a plastic screen that came in two sizes, 17 inch and 21 inch, to be bolted on the front of your black and white telly. It had three coloured stripes, brown at the bottom, green in the middle and blue at the top. If the scene being shown was framed just right you might get lucky and have ground at the bottom, foliage in the middle and sky at the top. A close up of a face would get some funky effects however.

I never actually saw one of those things; they were priced in the ten pound range (significant money in those days) but I remember seeing them advertised in back copies of Radio, Television and Hobbies, Australia's premier electronics magazine of the time. They changed their name to Electronics Australia in 1964 and, I now discover, are defunct[^].

6 years

Today is the 6th anniversary of my signing up for seti@home. In those 6 years I've managed to process 68892 Work Units, representing 49 years of CPU time and am currently 1673rd in the world.

At one time, mid 2000, I was up at 703rd in the world but I slipped a bit, to the mid 3000's. Since getting my job a year ago and subverting the odd office machine I've climbed back through the ranks. I suspect my climb was accelerated by some users moving over to BOINC.

A year ago I'd done 30000 WU's so more than half my total happened this year. And the result of that 6 years? I have just one signal candidate to my name, listed on a page more than 2 years old!

Electronics Australia

My folks gave me a Philips EE20 kit for Christmas in 1965. I suspect the EE stood for Electronics Engineer. The kit provided a bunch of components and instructions on the building of 20 different electronics projects, including a radio, an amplifier, an oscillator and even an electronic organ. A primitive organ admittedly but it was fun to play with. I was bitten by the electronics bug!

And, as always, when a bug bites me, I have to investigate deeper. Thus, when the classical music bug bit me in 1970 I wasn't content with just listening to the music; I had to learn to read a score. Or write the odd symphony or three! So it was with electronics. Inside two weeks I'd read the instruction manuals bare (and they were pretty comprehensive - they described electrons and holes and the theory behind inductors and capacitors). Then, in March 1966 I started a paper round and, as part of it, discovered Electronics Australia, a, nay, THE magazine in Australia for Electronics.

From March 1966 until sometime in the 1990's I was an avid reader of Electronics Australia. Each month in the late 60's, I'd haunt the local newsagency waiting for the next issue to arrive. Usually I'd start about 2 days before it was due and annoy the heck out of them until it had arrived. More than once I got the first copy just so they could get rid of me! I still remember the heady smell of a fresh issue, the almost silky feel of the front cover and the excitement of opening it up and racing to the 'Serviceman' column.

What I liked about the magazine was that it wasn't just a cookbook on how to create some piece of electronic hardware. The writers went to some pains to explain just how it all worked. In some ways things don't change; The best articles on CodeProject[^] are the best for exactly the same reason. Not just, 'this is the code to do X' but also 'this is how the code works'.

When I became a radio apprentice in 1970 I spent a lot of time at the Technical Bookshop in Swanston Street just north of Lonsdale street. They had back issues of EA and RTV&H stretching back to the mid 50's. I bought em all.

The other thing I liked about the magazine was that it wasn't just an electronics magazine. They had reviews of classical music recordings. Julian Russell is the reviewer I most remember; I don't know when he was born and can't find a link but I recall his writing about attending a performance of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy as a child in 1918 or thereabouts so I reckon he must have been pretty old when I was reading him.

Reading back issues also helped introduce me to the serious side of life. I still remember Neville Williams piece where he described the death of the editor of RTV&H, John Moyle in 1960. No, I didn't read it when it happened; I read that piece about 10 years after John Moyle had passed away but I had also read John's reviews of classical music and even though the ink was dry 10 years I felt sympathy for Neville's loss of a friend.

I trust you'll forgive me an indulgence. This link[^] gives the biographies for a few technical writers I admired when I was growing up. Every name listed as having worked at Electronics Australia is almost as familiar as my own, and boy could they write.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

It may seem strange

but I think my favourite airport is Los Angeles International (LAX). It's not the most luxurious of airports though it sure beats Manila Airport. If you want luxury, smoking areas and free internet try Changi International, Singapore. If you want to smoke almost everywhere try Frankfort. But for sheer excitement and bustle LA wins hands down.

I think it's because it's full of Americans. Loud, brash, taking no crap from anyone but, in the main, dishing out no crap either.

My first experience of America was, naturally, at an airport, San Francisco International before they rebuilt it. My memories of that first time in an American airport are of a dizzying busyness in comparison with Tullamarine Airport Melbourne. Everyone seemed to know where they were going; where they needed to be and how to get there. Quite confusing at first. That was the first time I saw a cop with a handgun. Once over that shock I found myself studying the signage and suddenly it all fell into place.

So when I hit LAX for the first time in December 1995 it was almost like I was in a familiar place even though I'd never been there before. Of course I got a few things wrong. My flight brought me into terminal 2 and I needed to get to terminal 7 with just one hour between flights. If you factor in the getting past immigration and customs (this is way before my greencard days) that was pulling it very tight indeed. So, having emerged into smoking territory I looked to the left and saw terminal 1, right and terminal 3. Not a large jump to imagining that terminal 4 was further to the right. I didn't know that terminal 7 was through the car park almost directly opposite terminal 2 - a matter of 200 metres away. Based on experience from SFO I waited for the terminal shuttle which took just enough time to ensure I missed the connecting flight!

Where I came from missing a flight was a disaster. With only two airlines they had you over a barrel, they knew it and they exploited it. Imagine my surprise then, fronting up at the desk, almost apologetically, when I was told that it was no big deal - they'd give me a seat on the next flight 50 minutes from now at no extra charge! This is how to run a commuter airline - like a bus service!

At LA last night I had plenty of time to kill. I'd checked in at United Airlines and had 3 and a half hours to wait. So I crossed the car park to terminal 2 where Starbucks lurks and enjoyed a Grande Hot Chocolate. The only place I've managed to break a one hundred dollar bill without being regarded by the clerk with deep suspicion. He didn't even blink at the bill! Hot choccy consumed it was back to terminal 7 with three hours to kill. Since you can't smoke inside I spent most of the time outside watching the sun set and the traffic swirl by. Hundreds of airport shuttles, hotel shuttles, limousines and cabs.

And there, at the end of the concourse, just past the last entrance to terminal 7 I found, perched on the ashtray, a lonely cigarette lighter, left by someone who'd obviously been there before and knew that TSA (the Transport Security Administration) would impound it. Left there for the next smoker. I used it twice and left it for the next smoker.

I'm not going to surrender ciggy lighters any more. I'm going to leave them just like I found that one, waiting for the next smoker, in the ashtray.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Mt. Mistake

A couple of streets away from our house in Seddon was Mt Mistake. It wasn't a real mountain of course; it was a bridge across the railway line to Adelaide, for the main highway leading from Melbourne to Geelong. I imagine it was built sometime in the 1920's; all grimy (by the 60's) red brick with pedestrian walkways on either side. And that is why the locals called it Mt Mistake. You see, right next to the overpass was Footscray Football Ground.

A much more important football ground then than it is now, the home of our local football team, The Footscray Bulldogs. Many of the more impecunious locals would gather at the top of the football ground side and watch the match for free! To be honest, I wasn't one of those standing at the top of a Saturday afternoon eagerly watching; Australian Rules football has never interested me. Believe me, it's not easy, then or now, to live in Melbourne and be totally indifferent to Footy; people tend to regard you as strange. Heh, they have more than just that to wonder about!

Alas, Mt Mistake's not there anymore. Certainly there's a bridge there crossing the railway line but the original red brick bridge was demolished in the late 1960's and one of those soulless concrete monstrosities replaced it. Guess whether it has a pedestrian walkway on the football ground side? Actually, it doesn't have a pedestrian walkway on either side; pedestrians are expected to trudge twice the distance via walkways that avoid the road entirely.

I imagine it's also a reflection of the times that the replacement bridge wasn't a tenth as much fun for us as the original was. The original was full of nooks and crannies; places where we could hide and it was fun to explore them all. The replacement lacked all of those secret spaces. Safer for kids? Probably. As much fun for kids? Nope, no way, no how!

Back home

A fairly uneventful trip if you don't count the precipitious drop our plane experienced just east of Japan. I reckon we dropped 50 metres in less than a second. Boy am I glad I leave my seatbelt fastened when I'm seated. As it was there was liquid sloshing around the floor immediately afterward. Glad I wasn't in the dunny!

When I hit LAX I was, of course, shunted off to secondary inspection again. INS still haven't sorted out my greencard fiasco. But they are getting better at handling it. This time it was a young guy who seemed to have all the facts at his fingertips. He seemed surprised that they hadn't yet expunged the record of my old card. It took nearly 45 minutes to be cleared to continue to customs but I imagine that was because our plane was the fifth mass transit plane to deplane within a few minutes; I've never seen the immigration hall so crowded. Given that there always seems to be someone who falls afoul of immigration requirements it scarcely surprised me to see about 60 people ahead of me at secondary inspection.

Then came a 4 hour wait at LAX. Long but bearable. Our travel agent had booked my LA to Phoenix flight on United Airlines; I was free at LA by 6:00 PM but the flight wasn't until 10:12. Of course I fronted at the United desk hoping for an earlier flight but they don't have one. Literally, they don't have one. Bit of a bummer but on the other hand I do get frequent flyer points for it.

It was an excellent flight from LA to Phoenix. Tonight was one of those nights when there was no cloud over LA or Phoenix and I had a window seat on one of those 50 seater regional jets. Out of LA over the Pacific Ocean, turn south and then turn east, fly back over LA following the I-10. The pilot even said, jokingly, that we'd follow I-10 to Phoenix. We did! There are quite a few black patches between LA and Phoenix but then, on the horizon, barely perceptible from the odd angle you get when looking forward from the side of the plane, you start to see the glow indicating home.

We banked to the south and flew in over the South Mountains. If you've ever been to Phoenix Sky HarboUr at night you'll surely have seen the row of blinking red lights off to one side warning aircraft of the South Mountains. We flew just to the south of those lights; I looked down on top of them. Then, losing height, we did a 180 turn over Mesa and swooped in low across the Hohokam Expressway and landed at Terminal 2. That's the best terminal in Sky HarboUr because you can smoke there!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Call me paranoid

but if a bloke I've never met walks up to me in the smoking area here at Singapore Airport, borrows a smoke, knows my first name and correctly picks me as being from Melbourne I start getting suspicious.

So I asked him how he knew I was from Melbourne. What, you thought I asked him how he knew my name was Rob? I'm not that silly :-)

His answer? Argentina!

Hmmmmm.......... gonna have to think about that one. Meanwhile I've checked, alone, to be sure I still have my passport etc. I still do!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

On my way home again

What a day. I started the day not sure if I was going to finish my work in time to leave. I haven't mentioned this before but my return trip to the US was scheduled for tomorrow (Friday). Given that I've never before managed to return on the day planned it seemed superfluous to mention the fact. Nonetheless, earlier this week it was looking like a distinct possibility.

And then, of course, reality hit. When I got back to the hotel last night it was looking so unlikely that I sent off an email to the powers offering, reluctantly, to extend my stay, with the proviso that if they accepted it was up to them to call the travel agent and move my return flight.

By a strange quirk of timezones it turns out that both the foreign sites we travel to are uniquely ill-suited to the hours we work and the hours that our travel agent works. If I'm in France I can't call him within my working hours because we can't call international from the customers site. If I'm here in The Philippines I can't call him within his working hours because that's when I'm asleep. Well, I can call him if I stay up late enough or get up early enough but why not throw the onus back onto the powers?

Here's one reason not to throw the onus. I'm about 3 hours away from embarking on the long drive to Manila and I'm still not sure if they called the agent to move my flight. I'm assuming that, in the absence of notification, they haven't. A pretty big assumption methinks. So I'm hoping that, when I get to Manila International Airport at 6 AM I won't find that my flight was moved. If it was moved I get to spend a night or two in Manila waiting for the next available flight.

So back to today. There were a few niggling things that didn't work. I wasn't one of them for a change! I really want to get out of here; so much so that I forwent the odd smoke to ensure we'd dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's. We ran the demo again (the one I wrote about a couple of days ago) and it all worked. This was about 4:30 PM. So I sent off the obligatory confirmation email, shook hands all round and departed with haste. I didn't want to give em a chance to think of some new requirement!

Forty or so hours from now I should be home, if INS have sorted out my greencard SNAFU. Fingers crossed.

Salamat Po!

I've written in the past about how much I admire those who can speak two or more languages (computer languages excepted).

One of the guards at the customers site here speaks Tagalog (that's a given here in The Philippines) and English. I know he speaks English. I've heard him speak it and he does it better than the average American Teenager. No umms and aaahs and likes! :-)

But it seems he also speaks fluent Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and Malaysian. Whilst I'm not in a position to verify this by direct experience this impresses the hell out of me! I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to learn he also speaks Russian and Inuit!

So I bethought myself that it wouldn't hurt me to learn to speak a few simple phrases in Tagalog given that it seems I'm going to be spending some time here. Simple phrases such as 'thank you', 'please', 'where is the dunny?' and suchlike.

I can say the first two in French and German and get away with it. The most obvious choice was 'thank you'. So I asked a Filipino colleague. He told me the word is 'salamat' for thank you and 'salamat po' for a more formal thank you. Somewhat akin to 'thank you very much' or 'merci beaucoup' or 'bitte sehr'.

So, armed with this new knowledge I tried it out on the waitress here at the hotel the other night. I find myself saying 'thank you' overmuch. Everytime they change the ashtray or bring a new glass of wine. So came my big moment. 'Salamat' I said.

She raised an eyebrow, much in the manner of someone who's heard it all and is tired of life. 'Pardon?' she said in impeccable French or English. 'Salamat' I replied, somewhat more timidly. 'What language are you speaking sir?' she asked, most diplomatically. I confessed that I thought I was speaking Tagalog.

The way she said it left me feeling rather like I'd made an improper suggestion. I was reminded of the time my Hungarian colleague, 20 years ago, related the story of his first job in Australia about 1954. His Australian workmates convinced him that the proper salutation to the foreman was 'f*** you, mate' and he repeated this phrase in all innocence.

I don't know what she thought I'd said and I chose not to ask. But I did see the same word on the hotel menu the following night and it meant 'thank you' no matter what injustice I did to its pronunciation!

The Presidents Club

At Hewlett Packard, Melbourne, in 1983 they decided to inaugurate The Presidents Club. Membership to this exclusive club was only attainable to those salesmen who'd topped the monthly sales figures.

In addition to commissions which were beyond the dreams of avarice membership in this exclusive club entitled the annointed one to a months parking privilege in a car parking space right next to the front door; delineated in gold paint and even closer than the Managing Directors space.

One night on overtime (yes, there was once a time when we got paid more to work extra hours - hard though it is to believe now) we discovered the tins of gold paint. We couldn't resist! We painted maybe a quarter of the car parking spaces in gold before we ran out of paint!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Shooting a salesman

Late last week I was demoing a system to our customer. I say system because it combines some very specialised hardware with a Visual Basic app I didn't write and some COM components I did write. Our salesman was present at the demo.

So we're part way through demonstrating the interaction with our database backend when Kevin, bless his soul, chimes in with the suggestion that perhaps the colours chosen to indicate good/bad items should change. I quite agree with him; the original choice of colours was poor. But I could have throttled him on the spot because the customer immediately lost focus on what I was demonstrating and ran down that particular path to nowhere.

It took more than half an hour to put that one to bed and get them back on track. Then Kevin chimed in again. Part of the VB user interface shows a map of physical devices. It's in a fixed size popup window. There's a lot of code behind the scenes to map any arbitrary X/Y layout into that fixed size window and sometimes the items become a trifle small. So Kevin asks if you can resize the window. 'Nope, you can't.' 'Well I think you should be able to!' he says. And once again the customer goes haring off down an irrelevant, for the purpose of the demonstration, path.

I vowed never again to let Kevin attend a demonstration. His points were perfectly valid and totally irrelevant to the purpose of that particular demonstration.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

It's Robbies Birthday

to misquote George Harrisons lyrics.

Yep, I'm 51 years old today. I'm told I was born at 10:30 AM Melbourne time so perhaps I'm a trifle premature posting this right now but I'm sure you'll forgive me a 10 hour error over 51 years.

It's kind of fitting that I should be here in The Philippines for the momentous occasion. I've only managed to celebrate three birthdays with my new family since moving to the US and that was two and a half years ago. One was my wifes, one was Morgans and one was Shelby's. Well, technically I was there for my own birthday twice but since no one noticed, not even my wife, that hardly counts.

I might have confused the issue by insisting that my birthday be moved to December 21. It just seems unnatural to have a birthday in summer when it's always been in winter in the past!

Over dinner a few weeks ago I broke the news to Andrew that once again I wasn't going to be in the country on September 19th, his birthday. It's going to be his misfortune that the 13 days between September 19th and October 2nd are the only days of the year that I've never spent in the US; I kinda want to keep that up as a tradition. Why? No logical reason. Let's just chalk it up as one of those strange things that we humans do.

Andrew complained, though not too loudly. So I asked him what date my birthday is. A random stab; July 4th. I imagine my laughter told him he was wrong. Another random stab; July 19? Nope. Three or four more random stabs and he retired in defeat. I suppose I oughtn't to be surprised; he thought I'd lived in the US for about 9 months. I doubt he'll be writing my style of blog anytime soon...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Simon says

Another story from my days at Hewlett Packard.

I'd written a software package to automate the creation of hardware tests. We felt it was good enough to become a product and accordingly we were given some time to present our case to upper management at the Australian Head Office, Melbourne.

I was the one chosen to do the presentation; considerable time was spent coaching me on exactly how to present our case.

Came the big day. I'd been allocated 15 minutes in the course of a 3 or 4 hour management meeting. My timeslot was about half way through the meeting.

So in I went. Small fish introduced to a pool full of sharks. Most of the managers were leaning back in their chairs, hands behind their heads, armpits exposed. I took one look and couldn't resist. 'Simon says you can put your hands down!'.

A frozen moment. Some managers unsure what to think. Some hoping that I'd dug my grave. And then the Managing Director started laughing. I don't mean a polite giggle - this was a belly laugh. Those unsure took their cue; the gravediggers joined in reluctantly.

My software package became a Hewlett Packard product; part number HP 50601A-Z02. I think we sold two copies! Gawd knows what the Z02 part meant...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

I shall be out of the office

Back in the 1980's I worked for Hewlett Packard Melbourne. It was most of the 80's as it happened, April 1980 to August 1988. This was before the age of email. Not that email changed things much; these days someone you barely know is going on leave and they'll send an email to everyone and his dog informing you that they're going on leave and that if something arises that demands their instant attention they can be contacted on such and such a phone number, or at such and such an email address and failing that you can contact someone else you've barely heard of and that person will forward it.

In short, they're so important, in their own estimation if no one elses, that the foundations of society as we know it will crumble if they can't be reached.

Back in the 80's we conveyed this via the office notice board. Thus I'd see a notice from Joe Kropopl (not his real name) informing us that he was on leave for the next fortnight - contact his secretary Emma Chissit if it was urgent. The odds on my having anything so urgent that I'd interrupt Joes leave was vanishingly low but then again, I regard leave as something inviolable. When I go to Australia in September the only person who will be able to contact me is my wife. The office? No way no how.

Actually the odds on my needing to contact Joe for any reason was zero but we won't go into that!

After seeing maybe the four hundredth such notice appear on the board I could take no more. So one afternoon, as I was going on leave, I wrote up my own notice. It read approximately thus (no I didn't keep a copy so I'm reconstructing from memory).

'I shall be out of the office for the next 2 weeks. If anyone needs to contact me please see Ian Boring, or failing that, refer to the brown dog up the street.'

Opinions were divided. Some found it funny; others felt it undermined the dignity due to a Hewlett Packard employee.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A night in Baguio

Dinner with Kevin the salesman. I've mentioned him before. We had pizza at Carlo's close to the hotel in the Mile High Village a couple of hundred metres from the hotel. It really is a mile or so above sea level and let me tell you, it feels like it after climbing a 200 step stair.

After satisfying the hunger side of the equation we retired to the bar for a drinking session.

Of the conversation perhaps the less said the better; much of it was the internal politics of the office; the rest was blokey stuff said over one too many wines and best forgotten.

What was more interesting are the people not of our party. The Romeo who is with the third different woman in three nights. Not a particularly unusual sight as it turns out. The last time I was here I saw one middle aged guy (he might have been 5 years older than I am) 7 nights in a row. 7 different girls. It gives me hope for my future. Not so much for the variety as for the ability. :-) Incidentally, these guys are always middle-aged and always westerners.

Then there was the guy with the long white beard and the red shirt and enormous belly. Nope, not Santa Claus unless Santa has become a Korean. He spent much of his time running his fingers through his beard. I was thinking how odd it was until I noticed that I was running my fingers through my long hair. 'Nuff said!

Then we have the nondescript parties of teens and close thereto. Still actuated by desires both carnal and ethareal and not sure which is the better. Lots of confident and not so confident smiles and laughter.

And finally the waiting staff. Someone, somewhere, told them that to succeed they have to bow down and suck up and all the rest of the gamut of servility. Thus the degrading sight of a cigaratte lighter appearing from out of sight to beat mine to my cigarette. That's become a bit of a game with me; I try and sneak the smoke out so they can't see it, and have it lit before they notice.

In short, a fairly representative night at the hotel we skulk in here in Baguio.

There are worse ways to spend an evening.

DCOM revisited

You might remember this post[^]. At the conclusion of that post I thought I had DCOM under control. Poor sad optimist that I was.

Unfortunately, the COM object I was trying to instantiate exposes events to the outside world. When creating such an object from a VB6 app you create the object thusly;

Public WithEvents myObj as MyObjectClass.InSomeActiveXObject

This works easily if the object is located on the local machine. But my object resides on another machine. The VB code doesn't change; that's the magic of DCOM. One runs dcomcnfg and redirects a reference to MyObjectClass.InSomeActiveXObject to the machine on which the object is installed. If all works well the system takes care of setting up the RPC calls to the remote object and it just works.

If it doesn't work then one gets a bunch of cryptic error messages. Which is what happened. I could start the VB app on machine 1, switch to machine 2 and see my object appear in the task list and then see it disappear again a few seconds later. Running the object under the debugger on machine 2 showed that the constructor was being called but that was pretty much it.

If I removed the WithEvents keyword the object was instantiated and remained so; but of course the events weren't raised.

A lot of searches through google and MSDN eventually led me to realise that when an object raises events you have a two way connection. Machine A causes the object to be created on Machine B and the object tries to establish a connection back to Machine A. Obvious in retrospect. So I followed the recommendations on troubleshooting problems in that scenario. Which didn't work. It's a permissions problem but the guidelines didn't solve the problem.

Now it should be obvious that I'm not a DCOM expert. I do have some experience with networking. I also know how to read. And after a week I was no closer to getting it working than I was at the start of the week.

Time for a rethink. We have to get this working at a site half a world away and, just as importantly, we have to keep it working. Yep, we could hire a DCOM consultant who could get it working, now. What if something goes wrong or the network changes? Do we hire the DCOM consultant again? Or maybe another week of painful experimentation would get it working? But if following the Microsoft guidelines doesn't solve the problem it seemed to me that we had a more fundamental problem of maintainability.

So I decided that it was time to re-engineer part of the solution. It's really easy to set up and maintain a one way DCOM transaction. Anyone can do it - even VB programmers. The killer for us was the event mechanism coming back to the originating machine. So I rewrote the object on Machine B to use a mailslot to communicate status back, and wrote a new ActiveX object for Machine A that listens to the mailslot and raises the same events as the original design.

Problem solved and it's a lot easier to maintain. I wrote this[^] article some time ago on CodeProject about mailslots so I already had an easy to use library.

I had to add 3 lines of code and change 4 lines of code in the VB app. Not bad in a 100,000 line app.

Catholic dogs sit on logs

There was a Catholic school down the road and around the corner from the primary school I attended.

We were released from thralldom at 3:30 PM, they were captives until 3:45 or thereabouts. Thus we were able to position ourselves to jeer at the Catholics as they emerged from school. We'd chant 'Catholic dogs sit on logs, stink like frogs' and other juvenile insults. They responded by chanting 'Proddie dogs sit on logs etc etc' but we were unanimous in condemning such peurile insults as mere imitation.

I'm totally at a loss to explain just why we did this. I don't think a one of us, on either side, had any idea of the historic rivalries between Catholics and Protestants. I did it because my mates did it and it seemed like fun. I'm sure they did it because their mates did. Or because their older brothers had done it (I had no older brother). Or whatever. Sometimes the jeers escalated into fistfights.

It seemed like fun at first but, for some reason, one of the Catholics took a dislike to me in particular. He was about the same age as I but he was somewhat bigger and he had hard fists. I was never much of a fighter; then, as now, I'm better at talking my way out of trouble than at fighting my way out of it. But talk didn't work with this kid.

To make matters worse, he lived at the end of our street. Our street did a T junction onto Gamon Street and he happened to occupy the house directly looking down our street. I swear, at times it seemed as if he was watching specifically for me. I'd be on my way somewhere that needed me to pass through that intersection and suddenly, without warning, he'd descend. Made my life hell for a couple of years.

I wish I had a nice powerful ending to this; some story of the underdog beating the crap out of the bully and the bully retiring, licking his wounds. But it didn't happen that way. At the end of 1966 we moved to a different suburb which got him off my back. But that wasn't the last time I saw him.

He cropped up at Footscray Tech in 1967, in my class. A bit of an adrenalin filled moment when I first saw him but, for whatever reason, he didn't do a thing. Indifference reigned. We probably exchanged a dozen words that entire year and then he was gone to another school.

I have no idea what his name was.

Griegs first piano concerto

if you're in the know you'll already know that the word first in the title is superfluous. He only wrote one. But how many of you were in the know? I am and have been for 35 years.

In 1969 I was much into bubblegum music. My favourite band at the time was The Lemon Pipers. Remember them? Green Tambourine, Rice is Nice, The Shoemaker of Leatherwear Square and such like. My second favourite band was The Loving Spoonful. I have CD's of both bands.

In what seemed, at the time, wilfull perversity, my stepfather (Misery Guts) decided that it wouldn't hurt me to hear some of the classics. Given that he seems, at this late date, to have always had a wooden ear, this was risible in the extreme but I had no choice. So we'd sit and jointly suffer, on Thursday evenings in 1969, a TV program that ran on ABC TV, presenting light classical music.

What goes around comes around. In mid 1970 I was hit, bigtime, with the classical music bug. If you've ever studied the subject you'll be more comfortable with hearing that I was actually struck with the romantic/post romantic music bug; I've never much cared for the music that is actually classified 'classical' let alone Baroque. It all sounds like a lot of effort expended for not much meaning. Of course, one could say the same about minimalist music such as that of Philip Glass and he's one of my favourites. *shrug*

So there I am, marooned in 1970, struck with the bug but not a lot of knowledge yet. I heard a piano concerto on the radio that I liked and I heard the name Edvard Grieg. So off I trotted to Clements Music in Collins Street Melbourne. The shop is long gone; it's now the International Language bookshop.

I fronted at the counter and asked the shop assistant for a copy of 'Griegs First Piano Concerto'. He stroked his beard a moment before annihilating me (as he thought). 'Grieg' he said, in his most patronising tone, 'only wrote one concerto!'. 'Ok', I said, 'give me a copy of that'.

Patronising bastard! So I didn't know that he only wrote one. I'd have quickly picked that up from reading the sleeve notes!

So I took that LP home and played it, loud and often. Misery Guts was not happy. 'Why' he asked, 'can't that boy listen to modern music?'.

You just can't please some people!

Getting internet access

was a saga. I mentioned the other day that they now have Wireless Internet here at the hotel but that, in order to be connected I had to involve the people on the front desk. Four days later I still hadn't heard from them so I approached the desk again. 'Oh,' they said, 'we'll call our IT guy now; we'll call you when he's here'. So I pointed out that I've heard that one before. No, they solemnly promised; this time it'll happen.

So I came back to my room to do some work. Two hours later no phone call so I went down to the desk again. 'Ah yes sir, he's here. Bring your computer down'. So up I go again and fetch the laptop. They asked me to sit over there while he gets ready. So I waited. And waited. And waited. After 20 minutes I gave up, told them I had work to do and to call me if he's ever ready.

Barely had I got back to my room than the phone rang. He's ready! So I asked, patience wearing a trifle thin by now, if he was really ready or only theoretically ready. Yeah, I know, a nasty question to ask of someone to whom English is a second language

So I took the laptop down again and this time he really was ready. Enabling access turned out to be a matter of noting the MAC address of the WiFI card and manually entering it into the router configuration table. Efficient no? Nope. I asked him why they don't have an automatic system, perhaps sending me to their own web server until I provide some password previously supplied to me. Shrug. It seems he's more confident of preventing unauthorised usage this way. He's probably right but man, what a saga to get it done.

At P1000 a day (~US$20) it's obviously aimed at the business traveller. But at 2 hours plus (or 5 days plus depending on how you look at it) this service just ain't a 'service'.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Enough with the gods

I'm sure you'll agree I've overdone the 'gods' theme lately. I promise to stop. I'd intended to finish the last post with that very statement but when I got to the end I realised I had a good strong finish and it would have detracted to make this statement.

So I'm not really cheating in the posting counts (especially since I'm so far ahead of the pack :-) ) by making this a separate post.

When ambition outstrips ability

You find the situation here at the hotel.

They proudly proclaim that each room now has WiFi connectivity for a mere P1000 for 24 hours. That's about US$20. Cheaper than at the hotel in Nice. I don't know if it's faster or if it lets me post on Wdevs for the simple reason that even though I requested a connection 36 hours ago it has yet to materialise.

One of the things I wanted to test here was the ability of a certain remotable PC product to transcend firewalls. Accordingly I installed the software on our machine and returned to the hotel hoping that by now my connection would be established. It hasn't been. I can see the wireless network but can I connect to it? Not on your nelly!

An information sheet on my table informs me that I need to dial 3 (reception) to request activation and authentication. I did so. Some rambling on the phone and the promise that their EDP people would call me back. They haven't. EDP? I thought that term went out of style about the time that mainframes were replaced by UNIX boxes...

Interesting people

On my flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles the other day I was seated behind the nuclear family. Mum, Dad and the infant. Dad asked the flight attendant about LAX. Where was the Qantas terminal? Given that he had an 'American' accent this naturally attracted my attention.

The flight attendant didn't know. So I leaned around the seat and advised him that we, on American Airlines, would land at Terminal 1 and he needed to go to Terminal 4 (Tom Bradley International). He seemed somewhat doubtful, fearful that LAX was like Chicago O'Hare or JFK in New York. I assured him that LAX was walker friendly. It really is. I can walk from any terminal at LAX to any other in less than 15 minutes. The benefit of sane design.

Well one thing led to another, probably helped by my 'foreign' accent. Since I was going to the same terminal I was more than happy to guide them.

It turned out that they were on their way to New Zealand as prospective immigrants, checking out their prospective new home. I've been to New Zealand twice as a tourist. Loved the place! It's my second choice for a home. (No prizes for guessing what my first choice is). The USA comes third. Let's not go there!

I hope I did my bit for promoting their choice.

The gods are infinitely more subtle

than you might imagine. Then again, you'd reckon, wouldn't you, that at my age I'd have realised that by now.

So I tempted the gods by publishing a week or so ahead of time the ordering of an airline ticket; four or so days ahead of time the destination and finally the timing. They refused to be tempted because they had something much more exquisite up their sleeves.

Uh huh. I left home on Friday in order to be here in The Philippines bright eyed and bushy tailed, eager, wakeful and at the very peak of my form on Monday morning this timezone, in order to impress the hell out of our customer.

I might have known better. It is, of course, a public holiday here. Independence day. The commemoration of June 12 1898 when The Philippines ceased to be a Spanish colony.

Let's add another thing to the list of things I check before jetting off. Is it a public holiday where I'm going? On the other hand, I see that my frequent flyer points for the flights here have already been credited to my account. I'm thinking of Iceland for a week sometime next year; how many people do you know who've been to Iceland?

I surprised my driver yesterday. As we drove from Manila to Baguio he mentioned it was a public holiday. Quick memory scan and up came that date. So I asked if it was Independence day, adding 1898 and Spain. Amazed him! Given that he knows I live in the US he doubtless expected me to believe that Filipinos celebrate their indpendence from the US. But they could hardly do that, could they, given that that particular anniversary falls on July 4. He was delighted to hear that I knew about the Spanish rule and could even come up with an exact date.

My driver turned out to have had an interesting father; I got a lot of details. His father, it seems, was involved in the underground during the period of Japanese rule (1940-1944). He fought in the battle that reclaimed the very place where I'm writing this in early 1944. His commander was Ferdinand Marcos, later President of The Philippines. And his father was shot dead during a political campaign.

I have to admit that, though I knew that where I am right now was once a US military base, I hadn't connected the dots and realised that it was also once a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Memories of (URL)Keith came back.

We agreed, based on what I've read in local newspapers and his personal experiences that involvement with Filipino politics is probably not conducive to long life. I have to admit that I'm a trifle nervous about the news over the weekend regarding the possibility of a military coup here. On the other hand, it might make for some good blog material.

So I left the US on Friday, in order to impress customer management with my dedication to their insane demands by Monday. And they weren't there to be impressed because they, unlike me, get to enjoy public holidays (ok, I know that's a cheap shot at the management I hope aren't reading my blog). I could have stayed home an extra day. I still wouldn't have got to see The Red Green Show or Coupling on PBS.

Meanwhile, what I'm here to do is progressing wonderfully. We're almost done. And the next time management wonder why I'm rewriting something my predecessor wrote without testing maybe they'll take my word for it's necessity. Especially as I can play politics when I need to. And if I lose the political battle I'll still be alive. Maybe unemployed but that's curable. Death isn't.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A long walk

Back in September 1997 I went on my first skiing trip. Well that's not quite true, I did one day at Mt Buller on August 6th 1997 but my first real trip was in September of that year. 7 days non stop as a beginner. Along the way I discovered that parts of my body have unsuspected muscles. At the end of day 1 I was so sore I didn't know what hurt most - my legs or my shoulders or my feet or my... well you get the idea.

By the end of day 1 I'd learned the single most important thing a skier needs to know; how to stop! Falling over, by accident or design, doesn't count! Nope, I'd learned how to snow plough to a stop. And, by the end of day 2, I'd negotiated my first blue slope, Bloody Mary at Blue Cow, New South Wales.

I was there with my girlfriend of the time. She was a seasoned skier; she could do black slopes that scared me when viewed from below. Seen from above they terrified me! So at the start of each day I'd ski over to my class; she'd go and do her thing until lunchtime. After lunch I was a free agent until the next days lesson. So she'd put up with me wanting to do an easy green slope straight away and then entice me into something more challenging.

Between my discovery of muscles hitherto unknown and the chivvying into something more challenging tempers sometimes frayed. Thus it was that on Thursday September 11th 1997 flash point was reached. The trigger was my sitting down rather more heavily than was perhaps necessary and my spilling her coffee as a result. One thing led to another and tension was high as we walked back to the car. I changed from ski boots to my normal shoes and it all became too much. So I said I'd walk back to the hotel. She took off.

I hadn't paid all that much attention to the drive each morning from the hotel to the car park; it seemed rather a short drive. So off I set, confident that I had maybe an hours walk ahead of me, a trivial walk.

Four hours and 25 kilometres later I stumbled into our room. I'm glad to relate that what followed wasn't an angry scene. It wasn't all that sexy either; I was too tired for that...

The gods simply refuse to be tempted

Yep, I'm off in about 15 hours time. Plans haven't changed.

My feet started itching perhaps a trifle earlier than I expected. I've had a month back home with just a single night away in Dallas and it's feeling like time I travelled again. That's the trap with this kind of job; either one gets too much travel or too little. I'd much rather be going to France again but I'm not so there it is!

There's a blessing in this trip. It means that I get to miss the big demo to a new customer next week. Whether I was going to travel or not my weekend was shot; if not on a plane I'd be spending the entirety of the weekend at the office cursing at the short sightedness of management who will never allow enough time to set up and test a demo before bringing the customer in. They'll be pulling all-nighters over the weekend and wondering why tempers flare.

Downside to flying this weekend? I have to wait 20 hours between cigarettes. Upside? I get to choose between 60 recent release movies, 120 TV shows, wine and sleep. I reckon it's a no brainer!

I've never found it all that difficult to go without a smoke when I'm flying. I know I can't have one and that's an end of it. Yeah, I could try and sneak a smoke in the dunny and it's even possible, I'm told, to defeat the smoke detectors without tampering with em (the secret lies in the fact that the wash basin has suction to ensure the water flows out - if one lights a smoke within the wash basin and exhales in that direction the smoke detectors won't fire.) Me? I'm not so desperate for a smoke that I want to risk being the one frogmarched from the dunny back to my seat and thence in the company of officers of the law off the plane. I can't afford the fine either...

My wife tells me that When she flew to Australia she got so desperate for a smoke that she went to the dunny, took out a cigarette and did everything it's possible to do with a cigarette short of actually lighting it! This on a 12 hour flight when she was wearing a nicotine patch!

Meanwhile I get to travel up the North Luzon Motorway again. That part of the trip isn't all that interesting; where it gets interesting is when we reach the end of the motorway and crawl along the MacArthur Highway. I can already see, in my minds eye, the sights I'll get to see again. The funeral places (open 24 hours according to their signs) with stacks of coffins on display by the roadside. Stacks of charred corn cobs waiting for the hungry traveller. Slices of melon, almost paper thin, hanging on threads over crates of melons. Videoke places. Signs advertising Tanguay Rhum (5 years old). And the signs announcing Barangay such and such. When I see the sign announcing Barangay Scout Barrio I'll know I'm 5 minutes away from the hotel, 8 minutes away from a shower and a shave and 15 minutes from dinner!

Then comes the ego part of the trip. Shaking hands with and warm greetings from all the waiters and counter staff and restaurant greeters and guards. Welcome back Mr Robert! Then the, well they were lies last time; this time not quite lies, answers that I'm glad to be back. Let us hope that the evangelistic waiter will let me read my book in peace while I wait for dinner and a glass of wine to arrive instead of trying to convince me, as he did last time, that the only book worth reading is the Bible!

I think I'll miss visiting The Philippines if this turns out to be my last trip there. I suspect it won't be. I even, surprising though it is to me, hope it won't be. I've come to like Baguio City and the whole interminable process of getting there.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Agua Fria

Last Sunday we went for a family outing north of Phoenix, to Agua Fria National Monument[^].

Andrew, as is his wont, started the day complaining that we were forcing him, against his constitutional rights, to do something he didn't want to do. He ended the day, as is his wont, saying how much he'd enjoyed it. Being an unsympathetic Australian bastard I maintain that within our family the Constitution of the United States of America doesn't apply; we are neither a republic nor a democracy and what my wife and I say goes!

We took the Kia. A good car to drive around Phoenix in but it's not up to I-17! There's a long uphill stretch between Black Canyon City and the exit to the monument. On the flat my car can do 75 MPH (the speed limit) if the pedal's to the metal. But once we hit that long uphill stretch it started showing the strain of hauling four of us (myself, my wife, Andrew and Morgan). Halfway up the slope we were down to 50 MPH and still decelerating! 18 wheelers were overtaking us! It's a good thing I don't feel the need to compensate for personal shortcomings with my car! :-)

So we parked and went hiking. It wasn't a particularly hot day, even in Phoenix - no more than 95F (35 C). Up there, half a kilometre or so above sea level it was cooler. We actually found a stream of flowing water. Found some shade near a convenient bend in the stream and camped for a couple of hours.

It was about this time that Andrew decided that an appropriate use for an empty water bottle was to refill it in the stream and spray it toward his older sister. How little he knows of the deviousness of the human heart! We bided our time and waited until it was almost time to leave. Then we, Morgan and I, grabbed him and ducked him in the water! Some spluttering and he rises, soaked to the skin and convinced, it seemed, that he'd be wet until his deathbed. Revenge was called for! So he filled his bottle again and sprayed it at me. Heh, in this climate I know I'm going to be dry in 5 minutes!

Serious moment. I could see from his expression that he wasn't quite sure how I'd take being sprayed. I'm not his dad. That thought didn't go through my mind at the time. Why should it have? It was what should and could be, and was, a fun moment. It's the thoughts after the event that I'm relating.

So, after rolling him in the sand and then washing him off again in the stream :-) we made our way back to the car. We were both dry when we got back! A thoroughly fun day!


In my part of the world, in 1962, free milk was distributed to school kids. Whether it was because we were a slum suburb or not I can't say; 8 year olds don't know about such things and so don't enquire.

We merely had to endure.

In principle free milk is a good idea (speaking as a left wing commie pinko bastard who enjoys milk). But, of course, I like my milk cold and fresh. The way the milk was delivered prevented either condition being true. School started at 9 AM and sometime between then and 10:30 AM the milk was delivered. Delivery consisted of a truck pulling up and a few crates of bottles, each half a pint, being dumped on the footpath next to one of the school gates.

One of the most coveted jobs in school was that of 'milk monitor'. Holding such an appointment entitled us to duck out of class 10 minutes early to reserve 'our' bottles. But the most coveted job of all was that of 'milk handler'. To get that job you really had to brown nose. The milk handlers got out of class 20 minutes early and carried the crates from the school gate to the shelter shed. I'm using the terminology we used at the time - all the shelter shed was was literally that - a shed that provided shelter against inclement weather. The shelter shed was also handy as something behind which we could hide whilst having a surreptitious smoke.

If you were a 'milk handler' you had real power in our terms. In winter the power didn't amount to much but come summer it was important that the crate at the bottom of the stack was the one you and your class got. The higher up the stack the warmer the milk. Somehow it always seemed that the 6 year olds got the milk at the top of the stack.

It amazes me these days how easily we were seduced. In exchange for 10 or 20 minutes outside a not terribly onerous classroom we were willing to lug heavy crates around and face opprobrium if we failed to secure the best crate for ours. Talk about the ultimate con! But of course you're reading the cynical old bastard remembering something from more than 40 years ago. At the time we were certainly delighted to be picked!

After a short stint as milk monitor and an even shorter one as milk handler (why I lost that job is the subject of another story I may someday relate) I retired into milk obscurity. I didn't particularly mind. Perhaps it was because I objected to being bopped on the skull by a boy half a head taller than I was when it came time to decide which crate was mine and which was his.

Sometime in 1964 a craze swept the school. The Sunnyboy Company had just released orange juice in tetrapacks. I haven't seen that word used on this side of the larger pond so I'll just say that it was a triangular pyramid made of waxed cardboard and filled with orange juice. One of our number, in an evil moment, conceived the idea of mixing milk and orange juice! It was every bit as horrible as it sounds and yet it siezed our imagination and we all did it.

Can you even begin to imagine what the result of mixing milk that has lain in the summer sun for a couple of hours with orange juice is like?

I'm not going to be responsible for your nightmares as a result of this post! :-)

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The day the music died

I don't know about you but I've remembered dates for almost as long as I can remember anything. One date that sticks in my mind is February 3 1959, Tuesday. If you're older than I am you may remember that as the day that Buddy Holly died (The Day the Music Died, Don Maclean). If, as seems likely, you're younger than me, that day might even have been outside of your existence.

I don't remember that day as the day that Buddy Holly died though. I was too young to know about him or to care much for his music. Truth to tell, even today, nearly 51 years old, I don't much care for his music.

So why do I remember that day? I knew you'd ask and you knew I'd answer :-)

That was my first day of school. This isn't a memory imposed from a later date. I distinctly remember anticipating the day in January of 1959 and indeed I remember informing various importunate adults who thought they were indulging the cute 4 year old that I was starting school on 'Febuary 3'. I've since learned the correct pronunciation of February!

So came the day. Tuesday. School started on Tuesdays in those days in Australia; what day of the week they now use is something I couldn't answer. We did the usual tearful stuff. Yes, I bawled in much the same way that most 4 year olds do on their first day of school. I can still remember the smell of a cake of soap my grandmother put into my school kit; said kit then being placed into a shoulder bag. I don't remember anything about that first morning once I'd actually entered school. But I do remember clearly how my grandmother fetched me home from school at lunchtime.

*corny joke warning*

After lunch grandma intimated that perhaps I ought to get ready to return to school. I was shocked at the thought of returning. After all, they'd always said 'one day you'll have to go to school'. Well, I'd done my one day!

*corny joke over*

About a year later my grandmother decided that it was time I graduated to a real schoolbag. My father was still alive at the time; his old schoolbag from about 1929 was exhumed. Leather and with 'a real iron bar' for the handle part. I can remember the way my grandmother said 'real iron bar'; almost with reverence as though a real iron bar was something really special. For someone who'd lived through the great depression it probably was special. Nonetheless, when I found out that the 'real iron bar' was a chunk of iron perhaps an inch wide, 12 inches long and an eight of an inch thick it was somewhat disappointing!

Scratching the surface

One of the new guys at the office is Steve. Helluva nice guy actually. He can dish it out but he can also take it. As probably the first live Australian he's ever met he's found himself talking with me a lot. (The fact that what I do affects his job might also have something to do with it). Whatever. When I go out for a smoke he sometimes follows for some 'secondhand smoke'. Well, he's also an ex smoker so I can understand that!

Being that he's a nice guy we don't restrict the conversation over a fag to merely work related matters. Thus, a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I'm very close to being able to apply for US Citizenship. Amazement when he learned that, even though I'm married to an American, I don't automatically get citizenship. (A common misconception I've found).

So yesterday the conversation turned on the subject of Ross Perot. Actually it was neither Steve nor myself who brought the subject up; someone else was expatiating on the subject. I said that my wife had voted for him in whichever presidential election he stood in (was it the 1996 race?). Then, throwing caution to the winds, I added that my wife had voted for President George W Bush and commented that if I'd known that at the time I'd never have married her! Just kidding!

Half a second later I realised I'd scratched the surface and found the Republican beneath. 'Well', he said, 'I don't think you should become a citizen anytime soon'. Hey, I'm already hanging from the rope so why not say that, on the scale by which US politics is measured, I'm about as far left as you can be.

At which point he said. 'You know, that's the great thing about this country. You have the freedom to say that.' Smug grin.

I couldn't let that go by without further discussion. 'Do you really imagine that this is the only place on the planet where freedom exists?'. Now he's not stupid. He can see that I am very Australian and that I have no fear of expressing my opinion (not quite true - I guard my words in certain places). So a dim idea forms that maybe, just maybe, Australians are also used to freedom. A little gentle guidance and he's now prepared to admit that perhaps such freedoms also exist in places like Britain. The rest of the world? I'm going to have to work on that one...

Let's stop playing with the gods

and announce that I'm off to The Philippines this Friday. Yep, Friday. There goes another weekend. On the other hand, the flight from Los Angeles to Singapore is an easy flight even if it does take 18 hours. Word from one who's been there; if you have to do that flight don't be tempted to stray from Singapore Airlines. Their Executive Economy class is better than most other airlines Business class.

They wanted me to go on Wednesday but I pointed out that I'd get there ready for work on Saturday morning Baguio time. Shrugs - so what? Well, what I have to do will either take one hour or it will take two weeks. If it takes one hour well and good, I'll be back in the US in less than a week. If it takes two weeks we have a problem.

The problem is that if it really does take two weeks I'll be spending most of that time waiting for a colleague to become available. He's involved in a demo back here in Phoenix. I wanted to delay my trip until we can both be there at the same time but politics raised it's ugly head; in order to keep our customer happy it seems it's imperative that I be in Baguio ASAP. So we have our fingers crossed that the only thing needed to achieve our goal is that one hours work I need to do. My confidence level is about 80% that it'll take the one hour.

If we need my colleague to complete the job I'm going to be spending most of next week stalling! And I hate having to do that.

The only reason I was able to delay the trip from Wednesday to Friday is that the people who will notice and care if I'm there or not don't work weekends. My arriving on Saturday morning Baguio time buys us nothing if they're not there to notice. And to think that when I entered this career path I imagined the only things I'd have to care about were technical things :-)

Monday, June 06, 2005

Brown Nosing

Sometime in 1994 one of my bosses announced he was getting married. The date set was June 6 and I remember thinking at the time that it was a curious date to choose; D-Day and all that. Nonetheless, marry on that day he did.

The following year, as we stood outside the office smoking and as the anniversary approached I made some comment about how close we were to D-Day. He smote himself on the forehead as one does when reminded of something vital one has forgotten and thanked me for reminding him of his impending anniversary. Thus began a tradition that lasted four or five years; each year as the anniversary approached I'd remind him.

He retired sometime around 1999 and since then it's been up to him to remember - I ain't calling long distance!

Put down that weapon

The only time I ever had a gun pointed at me in anger (well more in suspicion) was in Gulfport, Mississippi in December 1995.

I was there with a friend who wanted a quart or so of bourbon. You have to understand that I know nothing about Bourbon. On the few occasions I drink spirits I prefer Bombay Sapphire Gin. So when my friend specified a certain brand of Bourbon sold by the quart in a plastic bottle I had never heard of the brand and thus had no idea what label I was looking for.

We pulled up outside a bottle shop and I went in. Found a bottle toward the back of the shop that looked like it might be right. So, being the naive Aussie that I am, I took the bottle toward the front of the shop with the intention of displaying it and looking for the approving nod that would indicate I had the right bottle.

What I heard was the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked! And a voice yelling, imperitavely, to come back now or I'm gonna shoot!

It was the wrong brand but I bought it anyway. And drank about half of it. It's amazing the galvanising effect having a gun pointed at you can achieve!

*shrug* :-)

Sunday, June 05, 2005


I've been watching this[^]. Long movie - over 3 hours if you count the credits. I do; I watch the credits on most movies.

Given that we're going on another family outing tomorrow I wouldn't, ordinarily, have had the time to watch such a long movie and write about it (it's 2:50 AM) but this weekend just happens to be PBS 'bore the public stupid by running The Grateful Dead Movie[^] movie for the 700th time whilst interrupting every 7 minutes with a talking head pleading for money' weekend. I dunno why they don't just fork out a bit of government cash instead. It'd be cheaper than running a war in Iraq. Be that as it may, I missed my fix of British Comedy this week. British Comedy is rare enough as it is here in Phoenix - just 1 hour of it a week. In lieu of British Comedy I chose Magnolia.

A few people I know don't particularly like Magnolia as a movie. That's ok with me. There are movies we both like; movies they like that I don't; and movies I like that they don't.

I like Magnolia. A wonderfully mellifluous movie that mixes 9 or 10 different story lines and blurs the lines of demarcation between them. It just flows and it has a soundtrack that supports the flow instead of being merely noise to cover the awkward silences. Taken as music in and of itself the soundtrack isn't anything special but combine it with the visuals and it really works. The camera moves a lot - I reckon they must have worn out more than one Steadicam in the shooting!

The highlight, for me, is the extended sequence toward the end of the movie, where the soundtrack is a song who's name I don't know but the words go 'it's not going to stop', repeated over and over again. Each of the characters in the 9 or 10 overlapping story lines has reached a point of crisis and the view switches from character to character as they sing those lines.

And then we get the 'rain of frogs'. It's a reference to Exodus 8:2 (the number 82 appears throughout the movie) 'And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs.'. It's taken me a few viewings of the movie, and some thought, to realise just how apropos the verse is to the story at that point. Hint: it's the relationship between the cop and Donnie Smith the has-been quiz kid.

Highly recommended!

The man who can slow down time

Well, maybe I'm exaggerating :-) It's just my sense of time that's slowed down. I'm sure it's passing as fast as ever for the rest of you! The almost two weeks since I booked my holiday in Australia have dragged and dragged. Not that I'm counting, but it's still 3 months and 9 days until I leave here, 3 months and 10 days until I get there.

Of course, once I get there, the 16 days will pass in a flash and I'll find myself on day 15 wondering where the heck the time went! Such is life!

So far the gods are resisting temptation

Yep, no change in plans so far. So let's tempt them a trifle shall we? I'll reveal the destination though not the day :-)

The destination is The Philippines again. A hint as to the timing. I'm hoping to beat the rainy season both in and out...

Well, it's lots of frequent flyer points. At this rate I'll soon have enough for a third trip to Australia! Now to accrue the annual leave needed to use em!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Oil in soil

We're trying to get Andrew interested in the world rather than his TV set so we come up with places to visit and drag him along. Last weekend we decided to go the Glendale Historical district (if you can describe an area that seems to have developed in the 1940's as historical). He seemed to enjoy the afternoon.

On our way back we drove along MacDowell road heading east. The lights at the intersection of MacDowell, 19th Avenue and Grand Avenue take a long time to turn green. (Grand Avenue runs at 45 degrees to both MacDowell and 19th). The area is industrial. It was a hot day and the atmosphere had that unmistakeable tincture of oil mixed with soil. Andrew complained loudly about the smell. To be honest, so did my wife. But I loved it. It took me back quite a few years. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, Andrew was unimpressed when I told him that when and where I grew up that smell permeated the atmosphere.

Doubtless his kids will be similarly unimpressed when and if he smells the odour of fermenting milk and it takes him back to 2005...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Not everyone in a trench coat is a child molester

Larry's post[^] reminded me...

In July 1999 I walked a lot. Actually there's nothing all that unusual about July 1999 - I could make that statement about almost every month since about 1990. But July 1999 was cold and windy, so I added a trench coat to my normal apparel. I prefer not to wear a coat; it just slows me down and, in the climates I'm used to, I walk fast enough not to feel cold as long as it's reasonably still.

Doesn't always work; in Nice in January this year, whilst walking to the restaurant two hundred metres away in still air with a gentle snow falling I shivered so much I thought I was going to break my teeth!

Anyway, it was cold enough and windy enough in the aforesaid July of 1999 that I needed to wear a trench coat during my Sunday afternoon walks. My walk varied according to mood; sometimes north of Barkly Street, sometimes west toward Brooklyn, sometimes east to the Yarraville Gardens. On this particular Sunday arvo it was east. Arrive at the gardens, walk along the path. Some kids playing in the sandpit. Stop to watch. And then, without any good reason, I'm accused, by the mother of one of the kids, of being a paedophile! For watching a bunch of kids playing in a sandpit!

Let's review the situation. I'm wearing a trench coat. Under the trench coat I'm fully dressed. Including underwear. I don't have lollies (sweets) in my pockets. I haven't said a word. I haven't stepped off the path. I haven't gestured. Nor have I made eye contact with any of the kids. I'm clean shaven. I'm not muttering under my breath. Oh wait a moment, I know what it was. I lit a cigarette! Yeah, that has to be it.

Well, I knew I was totally innocent but, being 45 years old, male, single and without a current girlfriend I have to tell you I felt very vulnerable to idiotic accusations. One persons paranoia made me paranoid about walking through that park again. Yeah, I've been back, but all the savour of revisiting one of the places where I used to smoke with my mates when I was 9 has been leached from the place. And all because of one fool.

Not everyone in a trench coat is a child molester!

Let's tempt the gods shall we

Today I booked a flight to a destination I'm not going to name, on a day I'm not going to name. I don't know how long I'll be gone. The latter is the only part of the trip I really don't know! Let's just see if events conspire against the best laid plans...

Nope, I'm not superstitious. Think of this as a test of whether anyone at the office is reading my ravings!

Robins Birthday

falls on June 3rd; he's 18 days older than I am and you can bet I never miss the chance to remind him of the fact. I revel in pointing out that he's hit whichever significant anniversary it is but I haven't yet. Of course, Heino, being the cheeky bastard that he is, can't resist pointing out that I hit the same anniversaries a bit more than 6 years before he does. Can't win em all I suppose.

In 1996 Heino was listening to the Doug Aitken show on 3LO Melbourne as he drove home. Each Monday Terry Lane would come on the show and relate some story or other regarding whichever famous composer happened to have been born on that day. On this particular Monday on came Terry, to relate that absolutely no one of any importance whatsoever had been born on June 3rd. Heino couldn't resist ringing Robin that evening, both to wish him a happy birthday and to apprise him of that fact!

I rang Heino to remind him that today is the day on which no one of any importance was born :-) He'll give Robin a call a little later to remind him of this singular circumstance, just in case the Alzheimers disease has finally caught up with him, 18 days before it catches up with me!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Empire Day

I should have posted this a week or so ago but the truth is I didn't even remember Empire Day until today. Geeze, I even had to Google to discover it was May 24th, Queen Victoria's birthday; I thought it was May 25th. All the sources I've read on the web indicate that Empire Day changed it's name to Commonwealth Day in 1958.

Be that as it may. I can remember as late as 1963 that we got it as a half-day off school. It was schools only and, frankly, we didn't give a damn about the Empire, it was time off from school. In the morning we were treated to an overdose of Rule Brittannia and they handed out little Union Jacks on toothpicks. At lunchtime we were free to go and wreak havoc as was our wont. And it was definitely called Empire Day. Of course, that might have been a reflection of the age of our teachers; in 1963 we were taught by Mrs Hodgson, who retired at the end of 1964.

She was a good old stick. At the start of 1963 we found ourselves assigned to her class and we went through the usual fear and loathing period. After you've seen this happen a few times you know the pattern. Slap the little bastards down at the start so they know who's boss and then back off. But of course, at age 9, we didn't know anything about that fundamental truth. By the end of that school year (Australian school years run February to December) we'd all reached comfortable accomodation, learned a lot and we respected her for being fair. If she gave us the 'cuts' we knew we'd deserved it. And if she had any doubt about our guilt she gave us the benefit of it. I, and most of my friends, were delighted to discover she was going to be our teacher in 1964.

As aforesaid, she retired at the end of 1964. I had one more year of primary school and found myself, in 1966, at Footscray Tech. And there, much to our surprise, we found Mrs Hodgson at lunchtime, standing by the gate, gazing at her former pupils. She brought us home made sausage rolls which we wolfed down. Pretty good sausage rolls they were too! She wanted every little piece of gossip we had and drank in our boyish prattle. At the time I didn't think much about it and, to be honest, haven't thought much about it since, but as I write this, I realise she must have missed her 'kids' and found retirement left her with time on her hands.

Surely she must be dead by now. Alive or not, Rest In Peace, Mrs Hodgson.

A loyal subject of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II

About a year or so ago PBS ran a documentary on the British Royal family. I watched it. I can't remember the name of the doco so I can't give you a url to IMDB.

Toward the end I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, my wife standing by the side watching me watching it. So, naturally, when a picture of Her Majesty appeared as the credits rolled, I had to stand to attention! My wife laughed and laughed, because she knows that I don't think the British Royal family is of much relevance to an Australian.

So then I told her about movie theatres in Australia in the 1960's. Back in those days movie credits didn't run to a quarter of the length of the movie (Ok, so I'm exaggerating). But compare the length of the credits for a movie such as The Great Race[^] with the length of the credits for any movie these days. Two or three screens worth of names and that was it - the movie was over and the house lights came on! Thus, when the movie ended you had two choices; either make a bolt for the exit before they showed Her Majesty and played God Save the Queen, or face peer pressure and stand to attention. We usually made a bolt for the exit!

One night at the drive-in Misery Guts was in such a hurry to get away that he forgot the speaker was still sitting on the window. This would have been 1965 or thereabouts and drive ins didn't provide a radio link; you hung a single speaker attached to a bloody great steel cable on the slightly lowered drivers side window. He took off to beat the traffic jam leaving the drive in and tore a large chunk out of the door column. That steel cable was built to take all the punishment you could throw at it!

I can still remember how heartily I laughed!


In late 1970, when I worked for AWA (Amalgamated Wireless Australasia) we had a new guy start. His name was very English (no, even after 35 years I won't use his real name though I remember it well). Sufficient to say that if I gave the name and no other information you'd assume he was from Surrey or Hampshire or Oxford or similar.

He was Indian!

I remember, a day or so after he started, as we ate dinner on overtime*, remarking on how well he spoke English. I honestly don't blame him for laughing at my ignorance. I think that was the first time I had my face rubbed, I mean really rubbed, in the fact that skin colour or nationality had little bearing on someone's ability to speak English.

*I've eaten a few hamburgers in my time but the one I ate that night really sticks in my memory. All I have to do is remember this incident and I can taste that burger...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

I hope I don't have to explain this

Early in my first trip to the US, 1982, I was met some guy at the plant. He advanced, hand extended and said...

'Hi, I'm Randy'.

I couldn't resist. I shook his hand and replied,

'Hi, I'm horny myself but I don't boast about it!'

Boom Boom...

Counter productive actions

I've made no secret of how I feel about the Schappelle Corby[^] case.

But I can't but think that this[^] is only going to hurt the case. You can have no idea how much it goes against the grain to agree with Little Johnny Bastard but in this case I think he's entirely correct.

We (Australians) would object mightily if Indonesians tried to interfere in the Australian legal system. We'd characterise as terrorism the sending of questionable powders to an Australian consulate office or embassy. It has to work both ways. If it were up to me I'd give the perpetrators the same sentence Shappelle got.

It was 38 years ago today

Sgt Pepper[^] taught the band to play!

I've always had a love/hate relationship with The Beatles. Some of their music I've loved; much I've hated. If they'd stopped at Rubber Soul I'd have felt that they had a potential they never realised. For me they really started with Magical Mystery Tour and ended at Abbey Road. There are isolated gems at either end, Eleanor Rigby and The Long and Winding Road, but for me the Double White is THE album that defines The Beatles. Even it's not perfect; to this day I cannot stand Obla Di, Obla Da. Makes me want to throw something at the radio when that one comes on!

But I have great memories of racing down Mulhall Drive, St Albans, on my bike, transistor radio blaring Birthday at maximum volume (and unbelievable distortion). Excellent stuff!