Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Plink plink

Y'know, sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake. You'll remember that I posted about the problem with my CD collection[^] on this side of the larger pond. For over three years I've been listening to whatever random CD was easy to get at and all the time the answer's been staring me in the face.

Last night, as I watched my weekly dose of British Comedy on PBS the penny finally dropped. We have a large network store as part of our house LAN; I have 120 gigs free on my own machine alone.

An aha moment! Of course, the fact that I wrote about Andrew's iPod probably helped. This is the digital age and processing time is cheap; so is storage. I've spent almost all of today inserting CD after CD, in no particular order, to rip em to the hard drive as MP3's. Slow work but it's not really work when all I'm doing is taking a CD from one spindle to the CD drive and taking the preceding CD out of the drive and putting it onto another spindle. 80 or so CD's down the track and a mere 5 gigs have been consumed. Yeah, I know it's probably a copyright violation. But the mere fact of my having CD's purchased in Australia here in the US is probably also a violation of territorial agreements. *shrug*

So far I have just the one CD that wasn't in the CDDB. It's a genuine pressed CD (not a rip off). It was Philip Stainton's 'The Island' and Patrick Hadley's[^] 'The trees so high'. Strange that every other Chandos[^] release seems to be in the database. *shrug*

It's been a voyage of rediscovery along the way. I don't think I've spent such a pleasant Sunday afternoon in ages. I'm not going to do many more links; I'm a lazy bastard at times. But in no particular order, a CD of 'Silly Songs' dating from 1922 to 1934 including such classics as 'I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream' and 'My canary has circles under his eyes.' Midnight Oil. The Deryck Cooke reconstruction of Mahler's 10th symphony. Carl Orff's Catulli Carmina. Steve Reich's Different Trains[^] where the the melodies follow the speech patterns of various people interviewed about train journeys across the US and Europe in the 1940's. The journeys in Europe are of Jews to the gas camps and he manages, in that juxtaposition, to create an incredibly moving piece.

John Adam's Nixon in China[^] which I probably would never have heard of had it not been for the fortunate circumstance of having to drive to Geelong one morning in 1990, when it cropped up on ABC Classical Music. I'm old enough to remember the almost frenzied news coverage of that surprise trip by Richard Nixon to 'the enemy'.

The one that gave me the most pleasure though, was In C[^]. An ex girlfriend used to refer to it as 'plink plink' and laugh at me if I tried to play it within her hearing :-) I'm not THAT slow on the uptake; I didn't play it when she was around.

She called it plink plink because at first hearing that's just what it sounds like. A difficult piece to describe in words; the 'pulse' is a pianist playing just two notes, middle C and the C an octave above that. That's all she plays, for upwards of an hour on my favourite recording of the piece. Over that are seemingly random collections of notes played by various instruments. They play until they've played all the fragments to their hearts content and when they're all satisfied the piece ends. I have two recordings; one runs 42 minutes (but it was recorded in the LP age so that probably explains it's brevity), the other runs 76 minutes which is about the limit for an audio CD. I can easily imagine a live performance running over two hours.

Now as described it doesn't sound all that inviting does it? But what it comes to when you hear it is an amazingly fluid swirl of sound. I'd never actually heard it when I bought the 25th anniversary performance; I'd just read a review. Loved it at first hearing and I've loved it ever since.


If you deal with particular people for long enough you start to notice speech patterns. I'm sure those of you hardy enough to have read all my outpourings will have noticed that I have certain phrases I overuse. I'm trying to do better but sometimes 'on the other hand' or 'you'll have noticed' just pour out of my fingertips and into notepad.

In 1973 when I was attending night school at RMIT we noticed that one of our teachers seemed to overuse 'actually'. Actually it's very easy to fall into that particular trap.

A bit of laughter over beers at the John Curtin pub at the silliness of it all. Youth is so much less inclined to forgive.

One night we decided to do something about it. So we, probably half the class of 15 or so students, sat down and did the prisoner thing, making a vertical mark on our page for each time the teacher said 'actually'. Every fifth 'actually' was a horizontal slash to make up the fifth.

I'd reckon he got to 40 before he started noticing a strange unanimity amongst his students. We, being immature bastards, were smirking, egging each other on and generally being dicks.

But he had our number. Looking back on it now I see how skilfully he did it. It probably didn't take long, after noticing how we made marks in unison, to realise it was his use of 'actually'. Once he'd realised he came out with the following remarkable sentence.

'Actually, it's actually possible that you can actually make it actually work if you actually do...'

Yeah, I don't remember the exact wording 33 or so years later. He was the first to laugh but we weren't far behind.

We had a beer with him later that evening.

Putting your money where your mouth is

Though it's not my money this time.

A few days ago I said I was going to 'nurse' each new software release through our customer contact in Dallas. That, of course, involves me travelling to Dallas, putting up in a hotel room for a couple of days and doing it.

You'd think, wouldn't you, that if the company I work for can so easily require me to travel to The Philippines or France on 3 hours notice, as they did more than once last year, that a short trip to Dallas would be easy to arrange. So I'd have thought, but when I needed to go to Dallas last December they made waves. Was my trip really necessary? Couldn't I do the work from here in Phoenix? And so on and so forth.

Things change; maybe they're watching the bottom line a little more closely than before. We've had a major change of management style; perhaps this was part of that change?

So it was with a little trepidation that I filled out my nth Travel Authorisation form, requesting a week in Dallas. A week may be more than needed but experience tells me that I always underestimate the time it'll take. This is also going to be my first exercise in this particular brand of hand-holding; both sides will be learning how to do it.

They surprised me by signing the forms off with nary a demur. I must have done a better sales job than I imagined last week.

Of course, planning all of this a week ahead of time is fraught with risk. I have a nagging suspicion, based on email flying between us, Dallas and Baguio, that plans may change and instead of enjoying Texas Barbecue next week I'll be in Baguio. We'll see what happens!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Keeping a promise

I promised [^] to continue the story of my second marriage. Well I've missed the target by one day Australian time but it's very early on the 12th anniversary US time. since I now live in the US I'm going to judge my compliance by US time :-)

I feel a little bitter about that marriage but as time passes it's getting easier to forget the bad and remember the good. And there was much good to remember; it was Peta who introduced me to red wine. In my sillier moments I picture it thus; 'Rob? This is red wine'. 'Red wine? This is rob'. Followed by an embrace that lasts to this day.

I remember the day in January of 1990 (summertime in Melbourne) when we danced through the hail that coated Princess Street Carlton in a white that looked like snow. Fun day!

I remember how we used to eat at Tiamo's in Lygon Street Carlton. The times we'd nip around the corner into Rathdowne Street to the Indian takeaway for Pappadums and Curry. The times we spent at Philip Island at her parents holiday house, where her mother would ask me to remind her to do something. I'd instantly reply 'don't forget to do such and such'. Somehow her mother never got the joke! I even got her mother once on that ancient gag, you know the one, where you tell someone that the latest edition of whatever dictionary doesn't contain the word gullible. Her mother fell for it!

I remember how we used to hold our own style of dinner party; inviting friends over for a night of wine and lambs fry cooked by yours truly. I'd dump the kidneys and bacon onto a large dish and we'd all dig in.

The time we spent in the Kings Domain[^] at 3 AM, March 3 1988, staring into each others eyes. It seemed, then, that everything was possible.

On the day we were married (February 26 1994 in case you've forgotten) we were already living in our house; the last house I lived in in Australia. We tried to stick to the tradition of the bride and groom not seeing other on the day of the marriage before the ceremony. Mostly worked. I remember a morning of bustle and fuss as Kylie and Peta and various others made coffee and worried about veils and limousines and hairdos.

Later I remember midday at Heino's house with Heino and Garry, my best man and moral support respectively. Garry was doing my hair and Heino was laughing at the sight. Let's not play secretive games. Garry is a gay man and my second best friend. I haven't seen him for more than 5 years but if I ran across him tomorrow I'd give him a big hug.

Thus to the ceremony. This was held at Peta's parents place. An English village transplanted to Australia. It was planned and executed with that idea behind it sometime in the 1920's. it's cute and homely and very unAustralian. So unAustralian that my friends were asked not to enter the house during the wedding breakfast. *shrug*

After the ceremony we went through the usual photographic penance. It went on so long that we missed dinner! I kid you not; the caterers had the face to tell us that food was done when we appeared, hungry after the photoshoot. I seem to remember dining off crackers and cheese.

And then it was time for the speeches. Now this is hard to describe so bear with me. Sue, my first wife, was the matron of honour. The bride gets to choose her matron of honour, just as the groom chooses his best man. So it's obvious that Sue, my first wife, was Peta, my second wife's choice. With me so far?

We, my new wife and I, were standing before the cake at my inlaws house. On my right were my new wifes extended family, on my left my friends. Heino, my best man, did the usual kind of speech; bringing up all kinds of embarassing but funny crap about me. And then Sue insisted on doing a speech. That's Sue for you :-)

She opened with 'I've known Rob for 15 years'. At which point a sound arose on the right; the sound of fifty relatives drawing breath simultaneously! I don't say they hissed but it sure sounded like it!

I'll draw a veil over the rest of that evening...

The following day we went to Tasmania for the honeymoon. 7 wonderful days spent going through early Australian Colonial History. Strangely enough, it was on a hillside on the road from Hobart to Port Arthur that I saw my first North American Bison in the wild.

Our marriage lasted for 372 days. On March 7 1995 Peta moved out and we've never said a friendly word since. We've said just two words since. On August 24th 1995 (coincidentally, the day Windows 95 was released) at 2 AM Peta knocked on my door. I opened it and said two words. No, not the obvious two words. I said 'go away').

Faults on both sides. The last time I saw her was in early November of 1999. The last fleeting contact we had was fleeting indeed. In November of 2002 as I was preparing to leave Australia to come to America I had arranged for our cat, Manon, to live with Sue. Sue was willing but Peta wanted Manny. I was more than happy for Manny to go live with Peta; she'd been 'our' cat. But for reasons best known to Peta she didn't want to pick Manny up at my house; Manny had to travel to Sues house first and thence to Petas.

How do I feel about it all a dozen years later? It's significant that ALL of my friends said that they had premonitions about that marriage; after we separated. I don't anymore ask why the heck they didn't say anything before the marriage; I understand. Would I have listened? Nope. All that would have been achieved by someone expressing reservations would have been a cooling of feelings. Sometimes you just can't save a friend no matter how much you want to.

It's all a dozen years ago. Long enough ago that it doesn't matter much anymore. Life goes on.

A billion downloads

which is, of course, my noticing that Apple's iPod download service has sold a billion tracks. That's a considerable number of dollars transferred by the magic of e-commerce to someone's bank account.

We were financially very tight in the lead up to Christmas last year, so tight that we had to severely limit the number of chrissie pressies. Easy for me to understand; easy for my wife; less so for Andrew. But he sucked it up and didn't pine too much for the iPod we couldn't quite manage to buy him.

Things got quite a bit better in mid January; enough so that I could afford a Home Theatre PC and we could buy new computers for Shelby and Morgan. If we were spending money on computers for those that wanted em it seemed only fair that we buy Andrew an iPod, which we did, on the strict understanding that he didn't bankrupt us buying songs. I suppose I should spend some time investigating the whole iPod thing but given that I doubt I'd be much interested in the songs available for download I haven't felt inclined to invest the time.

Andrew's quite enthusiastic about his new found interest in music. To be honest, it's a delight to see him showing such enthusiasm about anything. His music isn't to my tastes to be sure; but then, mine wasn't to my folks when I was 14 either. As his kids music won't be to him.

Morgan may have many complaints about me but the one thing she will never be able to complain about is how I handle the music she wanted to listen to. Again, not to my taste. I've asked her to turn it down at times but I've never done the 'this ain't music' thing with her. Tastes vary and I'm sure the music I enjoy would drive her nuts. She hasn't heard it; I use headphones.

So I'm not inclined to pour anything even remotely resembling cold water on Andrew and his music.

Andrew was quite excited about the upcoming billionth download; an excitement prompted by the prospect of being the lucky billionth and recieving the hundred thousand free downloads attaching to that status.

On Thursday evening he sat at his computer eagerly hitting refresh every few seconds and watching the numbers approach ever closer to the magic billion. Perhaps a trifle too eagerly and too often; as often happens when one does repetitive tasks one becomes sleepy. And so it was that he dozed off and awoke just after the magic billion occurred.

Poor bastard! :-)

On location

After I returned to Melbourne from Canberra and had lost a girlfriend[^] in the process I took Heino up on his offer to film my novel.

A few days later I found myself down in Pier Street, Altona, at a new shopfront that had been converted into a makeshift studio, complete with glass enclosed room that served as the control room. Lots of (then) expensive equipment; control panels and video tape recorders and amplifiers and lights and cameras. It looked like the real deal. Which it was in one sense.

This was a government funded experiment in bringing video to the masses. Of course, if it was government funded that meant that some public servant had been tasked by a politician to launch the project. Ads had been placed in national newspapers and some earnest young enthusiast had responded and convinced said public servant that they could be entrusted with some hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Some things don't change!

In this case it was two earnest young things; Malcolm and Lassya. Lest I sound more cynical than I mean, I liked them both. They had the magical ability to run things without seeming to run them. I like and can respect a manager who can do that.

There were two video centres set up in Melbourne and probably two in Sydney; I only remember one but it defies cynicism to believe that Melbourne got more than Sydney did. I honestly don't remember if there were centres set up outside of Melbourne and Sydney but I doubt it. Australian politics then, as now, is centred on the two major population centres, at least at the Federal level.

But this isn't a political blog even if I can't sometimes resist a snipe at the Republican party.

By the strangest of coincidences, when I moved into my first house in 1993 in Kingsville (West Footscray before it got delusions of grandeur) my new next door neighbour turned out to work for the organisation that evolved out of the 'other' video centre in Melbourne.

I think it was the same day that I first entered those premises at Altona, hereinafter to be referred to as Turtle Video, that I met Robin and Garry.

Yes, that Robin! :-) He had hair in those days. Well, he has hair these days too, but it's on the wrong side of his head! Why is it, I wonder, that bald men grow beards? The obvious answer is that if it won't grow out of one end let's grow it out the other end. Perhaps that's why I, with a full head of hair at 51, don't grow a beard!

The truth is that I find a beard[^] unbearably uncomfortable.

A few days later Robin was doing his first shoot. A typical 20 year old's screenplay; full of angst and the prospect of shortened life; in other words, the story of someone who's just been told that they're about to die of cancer and how they cope. Not a lot dissimilar to the bad novel I hoped would be filmed.

This isn't to make light of the subject. At 51 I just think differently about the prospect than I did when I was 20. I'm sure Robin does too.

So I was introduced to a new world. The world of how badly produced amateur videos are made! That might seem a trifle harsh especially considering that some of our number went on to work in the TV industry and one at least has won international awards (that'd be Heino). But it's pretty much how it panned out for most of us. Robin, for example, as director, had as much of an idea about how to do it as I had. And I had none!

But it was fun to watch someone trying to control the following; an amateur actor who would walk in front of a speeding car; an amateur actor who would drive the speeding car and undertake to stop in time to avoid running the first actor down; an amateur cameraman trying to follow the first actor; an amateur cameraman trying to follow the speeding car; an amateur soundman trying to point his mike at the right place. And finally, it was fun to ogle the breasts of the rather well endowed young lady who sat on the kerb. Hey, I'm only human and back then breasts were important!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The biggest US flag

One of the things I noticed soon after moving to Phoenix was that the largest US flags on display fly over car dealerships. I'm not sure I understand why, especially when it doesn't seem to matter whether the dealership sells American cars or Korean ones but it's indubitably so.

It's become a bit of a running joke between my wife and myself; we'll be driving somewhere, see an enormous flag flying ahead and one or the other of us will predict the existence of 'Joe Blow's Ford'. The only time I got it wrong was half a year ago as we were driving down Central and my wife took a detour to The Indian School[^]. As we approached I could see the most enormous flag ahead but I was wrong. It flies over a memorial of some sort. I don't know what sort because we stopped at the school a quarter of a mile short.

Today, listening to the radio on the way home from the office, I heard an ad for so and so's Ford dealership. I honestly don't remember who the heck they were though strangely enough the address sticks in my head. Makes no difference; I'm not going to be buying a Ford ever. But what made me smile was their proud claim 'the biggest US flag in the Valley'.

When I got home I mentioned the ad to my wife and she laughed. She'd heard the same ad today and she'd planned to tell me about it.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Pushing the envelope

Despite what you might think, reading my blog, I'm really not all that assertive. I find it difficult to push my point of view if it might make other peoples lives difficult. How else explain that I haven't yet said much at the office about the screw ups that forced me into spending a weekend a couple of weeks ago rewriting someone elses code?

I've said enough; but not so much as to cause management to actually bite the bullet and do something about it. Methinks they're as chicken hearted as I am! On the other hand, I'm not paid to do that kinda stuff. A sophistry as you'll agree.

That's been part of me for nearly 40 years; probably longer but I no longer remember. I suppose that's one of the compensations of passing 50; eventually some things just disappear :-) I have to admit that I do think that reaching 50 is some kind of achievement; let's just not dwell too much on what kind of achievement. Nonetheless, when some young bastard of 35 makes some comment about my years I reply 'I hope you're as good looking as I am at my age'. What are the odds that I'll still know said young bastard 16 years from now? I seem to remember some such conversation taking place between me and Heino a bit over 30 years ago :-)

In 1970 I became more than enamoured of the music of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Discovering 'classical' music was a delight. When I jumped in the car today on my way to the office they were running an ad for the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra - Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto and Ralph Vaughn Williams Fourth Symphony. I'm very familiar with the piano concerto; somewhat less so with the symphony. I couldn't help but notice that the musical background for the ad was the concerto; rather more accessible music than the symphony. I suspect an imposition. If they played the symphony over the ad they'd scare off the audience with music that requires more than a bit of familiarity with Hollywood musical scores.

Which is not to say that the music of Rachmaninov is to be despised; far from it. That part of the second movement of his first symphony; high violins over pizzicato is to die for! I'm still debating whether or not to suggest to my wife that we go and hear the concert. I know I'll enjoy it; I'm rather less sure that she won't find a couple of hours of classical music more of an endurance than a pleasure.

In 1971 I taught myself the basics of music notation from some books. This was before the age of the 'Idiots guide' but it was much the same kind of thing. And in 1971 I started buying musical scores. There are at least two kinds of scores; 'Pocket' scores and 'Full' scores. The pocket scores cost a lot less (at the time it was about 10 bucks a score; contrast that with 3 bucks for the LP). Other than that there's not a lot of difference; full scores show a stave for each instrument whether they have something to play for that page or no; pocket scores omit the empty staves. This means that you spend a little more time finding the continuation on the next page but if you're a fast reader it doesn't matter much. I'm a fast reader :-)

So it was, in early 1971, that I started building my library of Beethoven scores to match my library of Beethoven records. The learning of the basics of music notation went hand in hand with the aquisition. I have to say that learning how to read music and follow it in the score taught me a lot about how classical music works; where I might not have noticed that clarinet contribution if going by ears alone I certainly noticed when it was there on the page. It works the other way too; I think I hear at first hearing details others might not notice because I can see how it would look on the printed page.

One of the scores I purchased in late 1972 had a binding error. Some pages were repeated, some missing. It seems silly to remember it now but I can recall rehearsing arguments, as I drove back into the city, as to how it was that even though I knew the forms of the classical symphony and how they involved repeats, it was still a binding error.

It shouldn't have come as a surprise that the young thing behind the counter had rather less interest in my arguments than you do :-) She replaced it with a yawn.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I don't understand

But I'm sure many Americans will be willing to enlighten me.

Todays news on Phoenix radio was full of reports of this[^] event. Horrifying crime that makes you wonder what's wrong with the world. Mesa is one of the cities that make up the metroplex that is marked on world maps as being Phoenix. In other words, it's close by.

But what took my breath away wasn't the crime itself; it was the fact that it was apparently necessary to get a search warrant for the premises after the bodies were found.

Let's be clear here; I expect that the place where I live is protected by the rule of law; that if law enforcement want to search my house they had better satisfy a judge that they have reasons.

But if they find the bodies of 5 people who were alive yesterday and are dead today isn't that enough to make it a crime scene and bypass the 'protections' afforded by law enforcement?

I really don't understand.

Heino's a bastard

But a lovable one :-) If you don't know who Heino is you haven't been reading my blog for long; he's my best mate.

Today was Tuesday. We all know what tuesday[^] means. Uh huh, a long round of seemingly interminable meetings. Todays round was longer than usual; for some reason the company I work for gives us Presidents Day (yesterday) as a public holiday. I don't know why either. I don't think anyone there does anymore... Whatever. It meant that the round of timewasting meetings that should have occurred on Monday were postponed to Tuesday. I shouldn't complain; I lazed around the house and watched some movies.

My Tuesday is usually capped off by a teleconference between here, Dallas and The Philippines that starts at 5:15 PM. That time just happens to be when I'm supposed to knock off for the day but, even at the height of Edism[^] I'd attend even if I did end the meeting with the feeling that I'd rather gnaw my arm off at the shoulder than attend another.

This particular Tuesday was capped off with not just that teleconference but another one scheduled for even later. That was the one where we get to deal with a new group of people within the customer base; the ones who have no history of what we've done so far and who wonder why we don't automatically have recorded a datapoint that was never required before. Had to bite my tongue more than once during that conference.

A long and weary day. But getting home made up for all of it. For what did I find waiting for me but a package, from Heino, containing a Kath and Kim DVD[^]? Not just that, also a DVD that was distributed by The Melbourne Age[^]. Well ok, the second DVD was promotional material but not one whit the less appreciated for that. I've been a fan of Kath and Kim ever since they started; I was still living in Australia when the series premiered and Heino's sent me each DVD released since then. So I'm the last Australian to see each episode? I still get to see them :-)

It didn't stop there. There's also a DVD of the first colour episode of Homicide[^]. The Australian show.

Of course, if they came tonight, I haven't seen them yet; there lies before me a long and arduous process of conversion from PAL to NTSC so I can play them on my US DVD player and TV set. Strange. In Australia every model of TV sold these days can do NTSC but not vice versa in the US.

So why is Heino a bastard? He loves Christmas[^] and knows that I don't. So it was of course only natural that he'd include in the package a necktie featuring that fat bastard Santa Claus, complete with Ho ho ho and Seasons greetings! :-)

Thanks mate. Very very very much appreciated. And that's just the tie!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Grapefruit scene

As the proud owner of a new Home Theatre PC you can imagine that I've been playing with my new toy. Already it's becoming obvious that I don't have enough time to record everything I'd like. Well, I have the time to record it; I just don't have the time to watch it. I've done well so far in catching up with Becker[^] but at 5 episodes (2 and a half hours) a day here in Phoenix it's an uphill battle.

Add that I'm a fan of Married... with Children[^] and you can see that I have a real problem on my hands.

In June of 1970 I persuaded my step father to drop me off, very early one Saturday morning, at the Myers warehouse sale. This was at, surprisingly enough, their warehouse. I say surprisingly because these days the word 'warehouse' seems to get attached to any old sale. Back in 1970 in Melbourne it really was at their warehouse; right next to the crematorium.

It was, as I remember it, a cold but dry day as I milled with the masses outside the door waiting for 8 AM to roll around so we could all rush inside and claim our bargains. The bargain I was after was a TV set for 5 bucks! Unheard of cheapness but there it was advertised in the Sun.

I got my 5 buck TV set too! It was a Precedent (36 years after the event I can't remember the exact model), built around 1959. Almost working too, if you discounted the lack of a picture. It wasn't hard to see why; the connector on the TV tube (incidentally, the only usage of tube for thermionic valve found in Australian English) had detached itself from the tube itself and was languishing at the bottom of the chassis.

In those days they brought the wires from the internals of the CRT to the outside world via flexible wires; the wires were in turn run through pins on a connector, soldered to the pins and the connector itself was glued to the glass at the neck of the CRT. These days I imagine it's much the same as it was in 1975; the internals are brought out through the glass via VERY stiff pins and there's no separate connector.

I spent an afternoon cleaning up the connector and getting all the old solder out of it. Then I lined up each wire emerging from the glass so that I could thread them all through the pins. Painstaking work but after a couple of tries I had each wire emerging through the end of the pins and it was time to Araldite (epoxy glue sold in Australia) the connector back onto the CRT. Half an hour later I had a working TV set. Not bad for 5 bucks and an afternoons work I enjoyed.

I watched a lot of old movies on that Telly. How Green was my Valley[^]. Golddiggers of 1933[^]. A lot of ancient British comedy too. Hancocks Half Hour[^]. Curry and Chips[^]. I could go on but I'd get carpal tunnel syndrome from all the cutting and pasting; you'd get it from clicking on the links.

There are many movies I saw then that I'd like to see again; and now, as the proud owner aforesaid of a Home Theatre PC connected to cable TV I can catch some of them. They run at odd hours; what matter when you have recording capacity? Actually I blame my love of old movies for my preferred hours; that and the wine :-)

A week or so ago TCM ran Angels with Dirty Faces[^]. A 'bad good' movie to misquote George Orwell (he was writing about 'good bad' books.) I'd set the PC to record. It was waiting for me when I returned from Dallas.

I watched it tonight. Enjoyed it; though the enjoyment felt somewhat guilty; rather like the enjoyment you feel when eating pink coconut icing; there's something not quite adult about it but you're going to enjoy it anyway. (I'm misquoting George Orwell again).

As I've already mentioned[^] I was sharing a house with some friends at the end of 1974. One night we sat down to watch a movie[^] together. For some reason Helbe seemed particularly taken with one scene in the movie; it's the one where James Cagney picks up a grapefruit and squashes it into a girls face. I don't know why either!

When I reached the end of 'Angels with Dirty Faces' I turned to live TV, knowing that 'The Public Enemy' was being recorded. By sheerest chance it was at the scene where James Cagney picks up a grapefruit and... well we've done that.

Ok, it's a pretty thin, though true, premise upon which to base a blog entry but think about it; you've been dragged through a discussion of the difference between 1959 Australian TV technology and the technology in 1975; along the way you had an insight into my shopping habits in 1970 and then we had a discussion about ancient movies on Australian TV. You couldn't pay to get such an assortment of rubbish :-)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Pop tarts

When I made my coffee this morning I noticed a packet of pop tarts on the bench next to the breakfast cereal. I remember pop tarts hitting the Australian market 20 or more years ago and, since they're an American invention, logic tells me they've been around in the US for longer than that.

I want you to understand; I'd sooner starve than eat a pop tart, especially if it's cinammon flavoured. So it was with considerable puzzlement that I noticed the proud slogan on the package 'New Flavor (sic). Cinnamon roll'.

How, I wondered, is it possible that, in the land of cinammon flavoured everything, a cinammon flavoured pop tart could possibly be new?

My wife still shocks me when we go to the Lone Star Steakhouse. She orders a sirloin steak, medium rare with sweet potato on the side accompanied with cinammon sugar and butter. She then mixes the butter and the cinammon sugar aforesaid into the sweet potato and piles it onto the steak. Yeccch!!!

So I drew my wife's attention to the pop tarts, asking how was it possible that it could be a new flavour. Her answer was sophistry itself; it's 'Cinammon Roll', not 'Cinammon'. Doh! How could I have missed such an obvious distinction?

A drunk pig

which title doesn't refer either to myself when I've had a drink or five, nor to anyone else I know. Well I hope it doesn't refer to me though I note that tonight my wife and I had one of our rare disagreements; for the most part we agree on the important stuff but this time we were unable to agree on Morgan. And yes, when we had that disagreement I was already well on the way to my cups...

Nope, what inspired the title was somewhere a movie[^] I've wanted to see for 20 years went and where I didn't expect it to go.

20 or so years ago I watched an otherwise totally forgotten program on TV about classic movies. It's so forgotten that I'm not sure whether it ran on SBS or ABC - the one thing I'm certain is that it didn't run on any of the commercial networks. I suspect it was SBS.

There was one 2 minute segment about a particular movie that has stuck in my mind through all those years. I've scanned program guides for years, first in Australia and, lately here in the US watching for that movie to pop up. It did eventually, on TCM when I was in Dallas.

As the proud owner of a new multimedia PC attached to cable TV you can imagine my delight when I saw the movie listed; I don't think I'll ever set 'record this movie' as fast as I did that time!

I watched it today. Not once. Not twice. Thrice!

This is probably the most beautiful movie I've ever seen. The story, of necessity for a movie made as a silent (but see below), is simple. It's even simpler because F W Murnau, the director, eschewed for the most part the use of intertitles. He relied on the actors ability to convey meaning and his ability as director. He knew what he was doing!

The part of the movie I've remembered for the past 20 years is one of the least important parts. It was the scene where 'The Man' and the 'Woman from the City' kiss. Nicely done but it is as nothing when compared to the scene where 'The Man' and 'The Wife' emerge from the church and enter the city, to fall in love with each other again.

Writing this 79 years after the movie was shot I could say that I feel uncomfortable using terms such as 'The Man' or 'The Wife' but that'd be imposing 2006 gender ideas onto a movie shot in 1927. Whether we agree with it or not, that's how the movie titles identify the actors and that's how people thought in those days.

The see below. The movie is nominally a silent movie inasmuch as there's no dialogue. It's dated 1927 which places it right at the end of the silent movie era and I wouldn't be a bit surprised to learn it was planned, written and shot before The Jazz Singer[^]. But it's not actually a silent; it has the most wonderful, if somewhat derivative, orchestral soundtrack added in 1928. Wagner figures; Die Meistersinger and something derived from the Siegfried Idyll.

Oh the drunk pig? You'll have to watch the movie to understand. It would take way too long to explain here!

Sunday, February 19, 2006


When I awoke this morning Andrew was playing a video game on 'his' computer. All the computers in this house are 'public'; that means that they're all in the living area. Andrew doesn't get to have a computer in his room. I'm sure you can work out why.

So there he was, playing his video game. Soundtrack blaring complete with simulated explosions and mood music. As I sipped my coffee I hinted that perhaps he could use his headphones. I didn't really want to hear his soundtrack as I'm going through my daily website list. He didn't take the hint.

A few minutes later I selected a CD and stuck it in the CD/DVD drive. Kurt Weill's Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny[^] as it happens. I have both CD recordings listed and one of these decades I'll get around to ordering the performance on DVD. Toward the end of 1999 the ABC in Australia ran the video production late on a Friday evening; I was watching but I was scheduled to run a trivia game[^] maybe 15 minutes before it ended. I went online to beg my players to give me just a few minutes more; they were coming up to the execution scene and I didn't want to miss it!

To be honest, the opera is an aquired taste, which is exactly why I chose it. He stuck it out until they started singing about the 'city of nets' and put his headphones on. If he'll meet me halfway I'll meet him halfway, so I stuck my own headphones on and bopped away. Good music!

My wife just sat there smiling quietly to herself.

Later in the afternoon Andrew emerged to continue playing his game. Up came the sound and I said 'my dear? I'm feeling the need to listen to some more opera!'.

He reached over and switched the speakers off :-)

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Today is Morgans 18th birthday

Morgan is,if you haven't been reading my blog long, one of my step-daughters. I've known her for a trifle over 4 years.

I have three step children. Shelby is the eldest. Then comes Morgan and the youngest is Andrew. I've never had to live under the same roof as Shelby which probably explains why we get along so well. She's also a good kid with a functioning brain. I suspect that if push came to shove she'd side with her sister but she and I have had some good conversations where she appears to understand my position. We have a June wedding coming up and I'll be glad to welcome Matt into the family.

Andrew, though he often thinks of me as the ogre, is willing to play the game at bedtime where I say something like 'Goodnight sweetheart' and he replies 'I'm not sweetheart'. To which I reply 'Ok, goodnight honey buns' and he replies 'I'm not honey buns'. It's a game and he grins as we play it. I think my wife would take me aside if she thought there was anything sinister in it - she doesn't. She also tells me that I'm a good influence on him; I'm not so sure, remember the hummingbird gag?

Morgan, on the other hand, is 'difficult'. Since we're friends here I'll be honest and admit that I think of her as 'The bitch from hell'. I'm not without some experience of bitches though I won't explicitly number the wife that qualified for that description. I'm sure you can work out which one I mean if you've read my blog for a few months. Hint: I've been married 3 times counting my current marriage; it wasn't the first or the third! Nor will I name the later girlfriend...

I pity Morgan's first three husbands. They will go through hell as Morgan discovers that she's human. Even now I feel like taking the latest boyfriend aside and advising him to run for his life.

No, Morgan is difficult. She seems to regard people other than herself to be robots made of meat. She can, when it suits her purpose, be very pleasant. If it doesn't suit her purpose she doesn't make any effort at all.

She's done the Crystal Meth thing; she's come home (at age 15) drunk, she's driven home (at age 16) drunk and tried to fake it up the staircase. Unfortunately for her I'm a late night person who drinks; I saw her staggering up the stairs and as a drinker I can see the signs and interpret them...

I could relate a hundred incidents; but to what purpose? Whether I relate them or not you either take my word for it or not.

And so today she turns 18. She has often enough used the imminence of 18 against us; 'I'll be able to move out'. "So go on, bitch, move out' was approximately my thought the last time she ran that one by. "But do, please, remember, that in June you give birth to a child'.

Uh huh. She's pregnant. Not the first time. Not the second time. The third time!!!

She had to admit to her mother on the day after her 14th birthday that she was pregnant! The confession came a little less than a month after my wife and I had decided to get married and I'd move from Australia to the US. I was still in Australia when it came out. Ok, I can understand. Momentary passion and all that. I, at the safe distance of Melbourne, was willing to stump up half the price of the abortion, imagining that she'd take a lesson from the experience.

September 2004 I was in The Philippines. Allowed by the company to return to Phoenix at the start of October that year I flew home to a second pregnancy. Second abortion.

September 2005. Even as I was on the plane to Australia for a 2 week break she became pregnant again.

When I returned in October the news was broken. Now I have to ask. What part of getting pregnant didn't she understand? You let a boy put that there and... But this time she decided against an abortion. Let's not go into the ethics of that decision. I have my position; you have yours.

In late October, on a Saturday morning, I awoke to a really bizarre situation. Mum and Morgan poring over the cellphone records, seeing who Morgan was calling on each day in the first half of September, in order to decide who of many might be the father.

Further evidence of advancing age and concretion of the brain. You have to examine phone records? Can't think of a better definition of slut.

So come June and I'll become a step grandfather. Wow. From step dad to step grandad in less than four years!

According to Andrew

I'm a geek.

He's not using the word in the correct sense but I honestly can't think of a better word so let's go with his usage.

Sometime this week, when I was still in Dallas but my wife had returned to Phoenix, she had occasion to be driving my car with Andrew as passenger. Apparently they had stopped at a supermarket so some groceries could be purchased and Andrew was left in the car as my wife dashed in. As evidence of my advancing years I posit that when I was a kid, had I been Andrew, it'd have been my mother waiting in the car as I (playing the part in the drama that Andrew played) dashed in. But let's not get onto the subject of how lazy kids are these days. It's not their fault they've been allowed to become lazy. If sufficiently provoked by comments on this post I'll expand on the subject!

So anyway, as Andrew idled away his time in the car as aforesaid he apparently noticed a CD I have tucked away in the pocket of the drivers side door. He's recently become interested in music and he associates CD's with music; he's a long way from knowing that digital storage can encompass many forms of content.

What more natural, then, than for him to grab the CD and slide it into the player. As an aside, I'm wondering how it was that the player worked if Andrew was alone in the car. As with almost all car accessories it's necessary to have the keys before the player works. I really must ask my wife about that...

So he sticks the CD into the player and listens. It was the soundtrack to The man with the movie camera[^] by Michael Nyman. I've mentioned the movie and the soundtrack once or twice[^] before. If you follow the link you go to IMDB and you can see that they don't list a CD. Uh huh, I ripped the soundtrack from the DVD to make the CD. If the music had been available on CD I'd certainly have bought it, especially considering that the rip is 68 minutes of wonderful music with nary a sign of track markings.

So Andrew listened to a couple of minutes of the introduction and, when my wife returned to the car, opined, to quote my wife

'Rob's a geek. This is opera!'

My wife amused me greatly by relating the story as we drove home from Phoenix Sky HarboUr airport Thursday evening. When we got home Andrew emerged from his room to greet me and I advised him that it wasn't opera. A momentary pause as he caught up and then he commented that it was 'classical'. Nope, not that either. The music was written in 2000.

I shouldn't be too critical; I'd reckon that to the average listener knowing nothing of the history of orchestral music it would seem 'classical'. To be honest I'm not sure what label I'd apply to it. Romantic? Nope. Post Romantic? Nope. Minimalist? Nope. Post minimalist? Nope.

If I'm still alive in 20 years time I imagine I'll apply some label such as 'early 21st century' to the music of Michael Nyman, just as now I apply the label of early 20th century music to the works of Alban Berg, Ernst Krenek and Kurt Weill; until then I'll be content to listen and marvel at just how good modern 'classical' music can be.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Playing with TSA

where TSA means Transport Security Administration; the people who screen travellers in US airports.

This happened a couple of months ago but I remembered it now so now is when I write of it.

I was on my way back from Dallas to Phoenix[^] via El Paso. As noted in that post the return flight was very late. By the time we left Dallas I'd given up all hope of a smoke in El Paso.

Now you have to understand that our finance people, to whom I submit expense reports, are insane. How else explain that they require that little bit of the boarding pass that we passengers get to keep? Submit an expense report without the boarding stubs and you get to argue for hours about whether you really took the trip. Somehow the hotel bill doesn't count; they want that damned stub. Yeah, I can see myself telling the boss that I'm going to Baguio for a month, not going, faking a hotel bill and getting away with it!

Most airlines accept the boarding pass at the gate, tear off the stub and hand it back to you. Southwest Airlines don't. If you want the boarding stub it's up to you to tear it off before boarding.

So, on that trip last December I tore off the boarding stub before hearing that the plane to take us from El Paso to Phoenix was still on the ground at Albuquerque. If I had to wait that long I was going to have a smoke or three, which I did.

Coming back through security you have to show the boarding pass and photo ID. I've done this so often it's automatic. Take my Arizona drivers license out of the wallet, put everything else including the wallet in the laptop case, take off my shoes and expose the embarassment of holey socks and breeze through security. Not this time! You see, I only had three quarters of a boarding pass. The young lady at screening was not satisfied. She asked me where the rest of the pass was. I pointed at my laptop case just then passing through the xray machine.

Ok, she'd meet me half way; she wanted to see the stub. A mischevious devil made me grap the stub for the Dallas to El Paso leg of the trip. I held both parts of a ticket that never existed up and she, seeing three quarters of a boarding pass in my left hand and one quarter in my right nodded me through.

Now there's useful security for you!

I've written a few times in the past of how I'd accept security checks as part of the price of getting to the destination in one piece; I'm no longer so sure. The first nail in the coffin of that acceptance was the April 14 2005 imposition of a ban on cigarette lighters. We've had just the one incident, in all the years of air travel, where some idiot tried to blow his feet off and take out a plane in the process. Geeze, he was even trying to light the fuses with matches! You can still carry matches!

Maybe tomorrow I'll pull out my Victorian drivers license instead of my Arizona one and see if that works. It's still valid.

I suppose I should be careful; some time ago someone working for TSA commented on some of the things I had to say about TSA - if I keep this up my name will hit the 'hassle for the hell of it' list :-)


This is, hopefully, my final evening in Dallas for a this trip. It was certainly planned to be so but there's always the nagging doubt that someone will decide that I'm not on that plane outta here tomorrow evening.

Not that there's anything wrong with being in Dallas; I've quite enjoyed it, but it's not home.

This wasn't the relaxing trip I'd hoped for; it turned out that various pieces of work that had been parcelled out weren't tested; it fell to yours truly to do the rewrites to make our software actually fit the customer specs. I think I've written more code over the past two weeks than I did in the previous year (and that's saying something). A good thing I've learned to code very defensively. Even so, I didn't anticipate every strange nuance and did a couple of minor rewrites of my own code where needed.

We've decided (that means I have decided :-)) that we're not, for the remainder of this year, going to just throw a new release over the wall in the hopes that it might match customer requirements. We're not going to email or ftp the new release; I'm going to hand carry it here to Dallas, install it on our hardware and walk our customer contact through the new features and bug fixes. When he's happy it's time to roll it out to production. That way we get to share the blame! :-)

We've also decided (meaning that I've decided) that we will never again 'think' we understand the customer requirements without face to face meetings. That way disaster lies. Y'know, I'm way too old to have fallen for that one.

You'll recall, from this[^] post that I said I was here to accomplish two tasks. The two grew to three or four but one of the original two involved 'face to face' meetings and coding sessions in conjunction with the project sponsor and a third party developer. Those sessions went extremely well; we got ourselves onto the same page within an hour or so and nutted out all the gnarly little problems that never appear in paper specs.

I'm getting a trifle tired of being the 'face' of the company for software and having to explain why such and such new feature doesn't work when I have no idea why because I didn't write it. An affliction of professional ethics and some knowledge of how business works means I can't just blame someone else; I take the blame whether it's deserved or not. That's just how it works; the customer doesn't care who stuffed up, all they know is that someone stuffed up and I am, as aforesaid, the 'face'. To be fair, they know what's going on and I don't take all that much heat but it's annoying nonetheless.

Of course, hand carrying new releases won't solve that particular problem; to solve that one I'm going to have to know what everyone's doing. Shouldn't be that hard given that the software team consists of four of us, but remember I'm talking programmers, not developers. Big note myself time; I seem to be the only one on the team who thinks about such things as maintainability and extensibility. Probably time I stopped just accepting other people's stuff ups and started making some explosive noises when that happens.

I have to fight the temptation to keep all the work to myself unless I want to become the kind of sad bastard who does nothing else but work. I did that years ago when I worked for Hewlett Packard and I won't do it again! Difficult call; if I keep all the work to myself I know it'll be done right but...

Yeah I know, that sounds like another attempt at bignoting myself. *shrug*

So I expect to be travelling here a few times this year. This isn't a bad thing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The IBM Glass Engine

Interesting title huh?

It's the title of a web page sponsored by IBM featuring the music of Philip Glass. But not just words; you can stream the music direct to your PC.

I'm supposed to be doing a last ditch effort to implement about a months code in 4 hours so I hope the boss doesn't see this entry. But it's pretty dull work comparing one text file with another to see what ours lacks and then adding the appropriate database queries to get the data to write the... well you get the idea.

I've had the link[^] for at least a couple of years but I didn't remember it was tucked way down there in Favourites until half an hour ago. There I was just last night thinking that when I go home I really must rip a hundred or so CD's to the laptop and then I remembered.

So now I'm skiving off instead of working (geeze I've already done 12 or so hours) writing about it.

Be aware; the streamed music isn't CD quality. It's also incomplete. It can jump halfway into a track (most annoying when you know the music so well).

I'm listening to The Photographer[^] - Track 2 from 1983 right now. Just listening to it again I can go back to 1986 when I first heard it and I was playing Zork 1[^]. To this day, when I play that game my mind fills in the music from The Photographer. I started listening to the music and playing the game in June of that year (1986). In July I went to the US for company training and suffered horrible withdrawal symptoms. I can still recall puzzling for the nth time over the 'Bell Book and Candle' part of the game and replaying this music in my mind. It was wonderful to return to Australia, put the LP on the player and hear the music again!

I have a pretty good aural memory so my mind fills in the details lacking in familiar music but if you've ever been curious about one of my fascinations this is your chance to decide for yourself that I listen to really boring music. Heh, I know it's not boring but most people think it is. Their loss! :-)

So there I was, part 2

Silly idea to use part 1[^] as part of the title so let's cut the Gordian knot[^] right now :-) The next installment won't be 'So there I was - part 3' :-)

I've already said that Heino has been waiting for me to start telling the story of Turtle Video; after I posted Part 1 he send me an email asking if it was 'finally' time? I had to admit that it was and then stalled. So let's continue the story.

After that morning in Church when Heino asked me if I was interested in filming my novel what else would I say but yes? It's a long time ago and I'm somewhat blurry on the detail; my excuse is that it was the same month that I went to the music camp at Harrietville, Victoria, as composer in residence, to conduct my first symphony. Not such a bad excuse as it happens; at that time my symphony was my world and a bad novel had to take second place.

It was a pretty bad symphony too but bad in a different way; it's not so easy, in notes played on violins and clarinets to say things that ought not to be said. No, it was bad in that it was derivative of much better works.

This isn't the same thing as the Muslim Cartoons; in looking back at that novel (I still have it on the hard disk of this laptop here in Dallas and I'll keep backing it up and transferring it to new media and to new computers until I die) I'm the one who chooses to say that what I wrote all those years ago deserves oblivion. I'm the one who wrote it and if I'm no longer prepared to let others read it...

On the other hand, I remember reading about an early piano quartet by Mahler that he chose to abandon and feeling what a loss it was; but then again, Mahler was an artist; Me? I doubt it :-)

So anyway, there I was, December 1974, a bad symphony being performed and a worse novel awaiting filming.

When I returned to Melbourne in January 1975, fresh from the music camp via Canberra and a first girlfriend, I was more than interested. Of course it's not quite that simple. In early December 1974 I'd moved out of my parents house to share one with Peter and Helbe. Helbe is Heino's sister and Peter was her husband, my best friend at the time.

My Canberra girlfriend, Jenny, had accompanied me to Melbourne as I drove. I can't imagine why she did given that the following day she flew back to Canberra but there we have it. Assuredly she accompanied me on the long drive from Canberra to Melbourne; equally as certainly she flew back to Canberra the next day. Perhaps the fact that I played Mahlers 'Das Lied von der Erde' on my cassette player on the drive down drove her back! :-)

Those days are vivid in my memory. Indeed, for a while there, that bad novel I keep harping on about transmogrified into the story of those few days. Maybe I should make another stab at it; perhaps I could outdo 'The Bridges of Madison County'! I did enjoy that novel even though I cried through the final forty pages; the image the author drew of those traffic lights blurred by rain matched the images I saw blurred through tears. I've never dared rent the movie for fear of the consequences.

In January 1987 Sue and I went to Canberra for a short holiday. A fun trip.

We visited the Black Mountain Tower; an elevator that goes up into a transmission tower; and I'd swear that the woman we saw there in that elevator was Jenny. Never seen her since though I have to admit that when I lived in Canberra in 1999 I did go looking.

I promise to get back onto the original subject soon! :-)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Jumbucks and Royals

It's 40 years to the day since Australia went to decimal currency. As the TV jingle went, 'On the fourteenth of February, 1966...'.

I remember ready reckoners, little books rather like pocket bibles, printed on much the same paper, with endless tables wherein you could look up the answer to such mathematical conundrums as 17 times 13 shillings, 3 pence and 1 ha'penny. No, I can't be bothered, at this late hour, to calculate what that came to in pence :-) Which was the whole point.

During 1964 there were endless parliamentary debates about what the new currency should be called. The old was, of course, called after it's British parent, Pounds, shilling and pence. We'd dropped the farthing by the time I was old enough to care about money; I never saw one of those. I do remember seeing the odd half crown about 1963 but they were collectors items by then and certainly not in general circulation. I can remember seeing, in late 1962, a couple of pennies that must have dated back to 1900 or thereabouts in general circulation; they were incredibly worn and you could just make out the visage of Her Imperial Majesty, Queen Victoria if you squinted just right. But I only saw a couple of those and my parents collected them as keepsakes.

Well I seem to remember that the parliamentary debates were endless but then again, I had the concentration span of an intelligent 1964 10 year old so maybe it was only a month or so. Yes, at 10 I was listening to parliamentary debates. Not through choice as it happens nor yet through external infliction unless you count the fact that we lived very close to the government funded radio stations and all I had was a crystal set. Those aren't terribly good at filtering out a 50 Kilowatt signal from 8 miles away and letting you listen to a 10 Kilowatt signal from 30 miles away.

I wasn't missing much though; I've never been much of a fan of Elvis Presley. Even then I'd rather have listened to Parliament than Presley singing 'Wooden Heart'. For the benefit of my American readers who are already thinking Soviet style radio jamming, it was nothing of the sort. The government funded stations had a mandate to cover the entire state whilst the commercial stations only had to cover Melbourne. Add an accident of geography and that's all there was to it. Had I been living in the north eastern suburb of Rosanna I'd have had the devil of a time listening to Parliament instead of 3UZ.

In the parliamentary debates aforesaid in 1964 there was much debate over what we should call the new currency. The Liberal Party (a party then and now somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan) wanted to call it the Royal. The Labour Party wanted to call it the Jumbuck (colloquial grandparent Australian for sheep). Neither side could agree so eventually they decided on the Dollar.

I can see it now; instead of pulling into a petrol station and asking for 10 bucks of petrol we'd have been asking for 10 Jumbucks of petrol. That or 10 Royals. Neither idea really works does it?

On this day 40 years ago, a Monday, I well remember arriving at school and eagerly looking at my friends 5 and 10 cent coins; our new money. None of us was rich enough to have a dollar bill upon our person.

Of course inertia got in the way. I'd learned the old system and I wasn't going to change my phrasing for anyone. My wife would probably say nothing's changed; we can't agree on how one pronounces the words banana or caramel. For many years afterward I'd use the word 'quid' meaning 2 dollars. I could usually get away with pulling into a petrol station in 1973 and asking for 2 quids worth of petrol. By 1986 that didn't work and I had to give in and ask for 12 dollars worth. Nowadays? Given that I slide my debit card into the slot and enter my PIN it doesn't really matter does it? There's no one to hear me thinking 'that'll be about 10 quids worth.'

Eighteen years later we dropped the dollar bill as paper money. In January 1984 the dollar coin was introduced as a replacement. I was at Hewlett Packard at the time and we had a new intake of graduates. One of them had been assigned, poor bastard, to me as mentor. Jason came trotting up, a nice shiny new golden dollar coin in his hand. 'Here,' he said, 'look at this'. I took it, inspected it and said, 'cool', as I pocketed it.

Poor bastard followed me around for the next hour or so, hoping I'd realise I had his dollar coin in my pocket. Of course I did! It was cruel of me I know but I did put him out of his misery eventually. I can be a bastard sometimes!

It's cold in East Texas

as we found out yesterday. As I mentioned previously, my wifes family hails from East Texas so we did the graveyard tour[^], looking for ancestral graves.

The first stop was Athens, Texas. Poor naive bastard that I am, I'd imagined it was named after Athens, Greece. But not a bit of it. On an official historical sites plaque mounted above one of the graves at Athens cemetery is the tidbit of information that Athens Texas was named after Athens, Georgia by a resident in the Texan Athens who'd been born in the Georgian Athens. I suppose I'm going to have to make the trek to Athens, Georgia to find out which Athens in the US it was named after and then to that one and so on and so forth to trace the trail back to the Greek Athens!

Having spent more hours of my life than I care to total wandering through Melbourne Cemeteries you'll understand that I've become used to a certain style of cemetery. I like them overgrown, unkempt and old. Well, as old as any cemetery in Australia can be. The cemeteries in Phoenix miss out on both counts, being both desert landscapes for the most part and dating back no earlier than the early years of last century. To be sure, there's a cemetery over on fourth Avenue (I think) close in to Phoenix downtown that dates back quite a bit further than that but it's a major effort to visit that one; they keep it locked and to enter you have to drive three or four miles east to a parks office to collect the key. Arrived back at the cemetery, which is surrounded by bail bonds offices, you really do feel like a shag on a rock as you wander around within. Not the most salubrious part of town.

Athens cemetery was excellent. Green, overgrown, windy and lonely. Perhaps a trifle too windy. Put another way, it was bloody cold! It would have been a pleasant day without the wind; bright blue skies and sunny; just enough edge of cold on the air that you knew you were alive. And that north wind sweeping down across the snow fields of Canada and the Northern United States, all aimed specifically at me! Thankfully I had a snow jacket with me (courtesy of my wife's insistence that we'd probably need it).

We didn't manage to find the grave my wife was looking for. Her great grandmother, died 1902, is there but we couldn't find the tombstone. Believe me, we know how to search a cemetery!

So, after spending more time there than we ought to have, given that we were on a tight schedule, we took off for LaRue via the Shelby Chapel[^]. This is a non-denominational chapel built on land donated by my wife's great great grandparents. Apparently, whilst building it, her great grandfather fell off the steep roof to his death. We were also looking for his grave at Athens but didn't manage to find it.

From there we went to LaRue; to a lonely cemetery some distance from the main road and right in the heart of farming country. Indeed, had it been a lot warmer and the trees more familiar it would have looked just like any of a hundred cemeteries scattered across the Australian outback.

Much more success there; we found a whole nest of ancestors, most of them Shelbys[^] and somehow related, backwards, to that ancient Kentucky Governor and forwards to my wife.

Then followed a very brief visit to Tyler Cemetery before racing off to Longview to catch up with my sister-in-law and her husband. Nice people; they insisted on taking us to Lake Caddo near the Louisiana border for a 'mess of fresh catfish'. I have to record that it didn't overmuch impress me. The fish itself was delicious but it was coated in some 'batter and breadcrumbs' mix that had the taste and consistency of crunchy cardboard! I know I've just put myself beyond the pale with that remark but that's what I thought as I tried to eat the stuff. The Jalapeno hush puppies however were very moorish; I just had to have more and more so I certainly didn't leave the restaurant feeling hungry!

Then came a long drive back to Dallas. Not much to relate apart from playing 'overtaking' games with an enormous truck which had an only slightly smaller truck as its load. I suspect he had cruise control; on the uphill stretches we managed to get ahead only to be overtaken on the downhill stretches. Well, it was a game and it whiled away a couple of hours of driving through dark countryside. You take your entertainment where you can find it!

A freudian slip

The other night, as I was waiting for my wife to arrive at the airport, I was partaking of a smoke outside. Smokers, in US airports, are almost a microcosm of the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. Those who've just arrived are the have nots; desperately seeking a light. Usually my role. This time, however, I was a 'have'.

So it was that a woman approached asking for a light and, having lit up, proceeded to tell me, for no earthly reason I could discern, that she was from Phoenix. Without even thinking I said, 'Really? I'm from there too!'. She gave me a strange glance as I remembered that I certainly don't sound even remotely from there.

So there you have it. After a trifle more than 3 years my automatic response, upon hearing the name Phoenix, is to say, 'I come from there!'. Now if we could only get rid of this inconvenient accent and turn me into a Republican!

Ain't gonna happen! :-)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Downtown Dallas

As I mentioned in my previous post my wife is here with me this weekend. Although she grew up in California her ancestors lived in Texas for quite some years before she was born and we spent most of today driving around finding addresses where her parents had lived. We also took the opportunity to visit her fathers grave[^]. Tomorrow we're heading east via Athens and Tyler to Longview to spend a few hours with her sister.

Now you can't visit Dallas without visiting Dealey Plaza[^]. This is my second time there; the first was just a trifle over 10 years ago, Sunday January 14th 1996 to be exact. Well, perhaps you can visit Dallas without going to Dealey Plaza but I couldn't if I have the time and the transport. I'm old enough to remember[^] the events that made Dealey Plaza famous.

I must have been preoccupied as we drove into downtown Dallas because I'm ashamed to admit that I drove right through a red light and didn't even realise I'd done it until my wife, gently, pointed it out. How fortunate that there was no other traffic, especially traffic of a law enforcement variety. I suspect my greencard would be sufficient to explode any plea I might make based upon my accent.

On Elm street, as it curves down toward the triple underpass, there's a white cross painted on the roadway marking the spot where the third shot hit JFK. It's out in the middle lane; today we saw tourists waiting for gaps in the traffic before darting out to stand on the spot. One woman knelt, camera in hand, to take a shot looking back toward the Texas School Book Depository building.

A little later we saw two twentysomethings giggling, kneeling, during a gap in the traffic, at the X as a third took a shot of them occupying the spot. My American wife was appalled at the lack of respect and I have to say that I agree with her. Whatever your politics let's not forget that someone died there. My wife suspects that the twentysomethings weren't Americans; I'm inclined to agree with her. You can say much about Americans but you can't doubt that they do respect their Presidents; at least if they're dead ones!

This is the age of the digital camera so I took lots of shots[^]; not just of Dealey Plaza but of the Dallas Skyscape. It looks pretty interesting actually. I suspect that the last remaining example of Pegasus, the 'Flying Red Horse', who was once the emblem of Mobil petrol stations the world over is here. You can see it in upper centre frame here[^]. They were phasing Pegasus out when I was a kid.

Right out at the front (or is it the back) of the Dallas Convention Centre there's an excellent sculpture of 40 or so steers being herded down a gully. Bronze, life sized and lifelike.

I said above that the X marks the spot where the third shot hit JFK. That's if you accept the Warren report on the assassination. It should come as no surprise to you that I don't. I think the entire 'magic bullet' theory is a crock of something not mentioned in polite society. I really enjoyed the Seinfeld version of that theory.

A little later in the afternoon we visited the Sixth Floor museum. You can't actually get to the window where Oswald allegedly fired the three shots that killed JFK. It's behind glass and out of bounds, but you can get to a window directly next to it. The X is clearly visible but trees obscure the road leading up to it. Even allowing for 40 years of tree growth I don't believe it possible for a single person, no matter how good they were, to have carried out the assassination. I'm very much inclined toward the 'triangulation' theory.

Fun at Dallas Fort Worth Airport

This being my second weekend here in Dallas it seemed like a good idea to get my wife to fly over for the weekend. Accordingly she boarded a plane yesterday, due to arrive at 4:00 PM. Of course the flight was late; for reasons I don't understand US domestic air travel seems always to be late. Why they don't just rejig the schedules to match the reality is beyond me.

It was a good thing the flight was late because I had to pick her up at Dallas/Fort Worth airport (hereinafter abbreviated to DFW). I've been through there before but this is the first time I've attempted the drive. Well, not quite true; I flew to DFW myself at the start of this trip, hired a car and drove out of the airport. This was the first time I was driving in!

I'd noticed, on my way out, that the freeway which runs smack through the middle is actually a tollway. I picked up the car at the rental centre which is a long way south of the terminals and drove back through the aiport to 635 using the service road; thus avoiding the freeway and the tolls. To give you an idea of the scale of the airport, I'd guess it's 5 or 6 miles North end to South end - they're not kidding when they name the long term car parks Remote South and Remote North

Coming in, Friday afternoon, I had no cash on me so I thought to myself, thought I, that I'd avoid the tollway. It certainly looks, as one approaches the entry to the airport itself as though the toll is paid upon entry rather than exit. Cars stop at what look suspiciously like tollbooths and there's a lane with a prominent sign advising that it's for vehicles with Tolltags only. Given, as aforesaid, that I had no cash and I doubt if they'll accept a debit card at that point (though I may be wrong), I decided to use the service road. At the time it seemed like a reasonable idea.

If you've been to DFW before you probably know what's coming next. Yep, as far as I could find, there is NO way for a non airport vehicle to get to any of the terminals or terminal parking from the service roads. As I drove along I could see the signs for entry to carparks for Terminal A, B and so on over to my left but nary a sign of an access from the road I was on. I drove down to the south end of the airport, took Crossunder #1 and headed back north. Still no sign of access from where I was to the carparking. Uh huh. Stop a moment and think. Whichever direction I'm going in the terminal car parks will be on my left but there are some exit ramps off to the right. Maybe one of those, though not signposted, will take me to a carpark.

Nope! They lead you past security controlled airport access points, past the terminal buildings and car parks, and back to the service road leading the other way! Ok, second try. I'll see what happens if I go to the DFW business centre. Entered a car park there and ended up in the public parking area on the roof. I went to the lift leading to the ground floor only to discover that you need a security badge to get past the doors leading to the terminals. No matter what I tried I was stymied by that lack of cash on my person.

Then came a happy thought! You understand that by this time it's 4:00 PM and my wife's flight is supposed to be on the ground. She has a mobile phone; so do I so, we can at least get in contact. So I had the thought that I'd drive down to the car rental centre, park the car there and take the rental shuttle back to the terminal. If, during that ride, my wife called I could at least get her to stay put until I got there.

That plan worked!

Oh, she arrived at 5:20 PM. I whiled away some of the time wondering why the TV display over the America West carousel only lists United Airlines flights and the rest of it shivering outside smoking.

I'll find out Monday morning whether one pays to enter the airport or to leave it; and whether they'll accept a debit or credit card.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ah, the pleasures of being a roadwarrior

which isn't a claim to be anything like Mad Max let alone as good? looking as Mel Gibson apparently is. I can't see it myself but then again I'm a bloke looking at a bloke.

No, the road warrior I refer to is someone who is constantly in a state of travel. Or at least, constantly living out of a suitcase and in a hotel rather than at home.

I'm fairly ambivalent about the whole thing as you might have guessed from various hints dropped over the last three months or so. That gap from the start of October until the week before Christmas was long enough that I really missed travel. Perhaps the fact that I had to contend with Ed contributed to the missing of travel though; for those three months it was as if I'd never spent countless weekends sitting on planes so I could arrive at the customer site Monday morning; for Ed it made no difference; I had to be at the office by no later than 8:30 AM with the threat of dismissal if I was 5 minutes late. I've already wasted bandwidth explaining the bad reasons I put up with this...

I've been in Dallas for a little over a week and it's been a constant 14 hours a day of work; if not at the customer site then in the hotel room slaving over a hot keyboard. It's amazing how much code you can crank out over a weekend. It's even more amazing that I still buy into the bullshit. As I think I said once before; when everything's a crisis, nothing's a crisis.

Now those afflicted with the work ethic at any cost might raise an eyebrow at that; only 14 hours a day and only for a week? Wimp!!! Uh huh.

It amazes me how some workplaces work. If I go to a petrol station to fill up my tank at 2 bucks a gallon and my tank needs 8 gallons I pay 16 bucks right (ignoring tax[^])? That's the business model of a petrol station. What do you think my chances are if I go to the cashier and say; 'I put 10 gallons in my tank but I'm only going to pay you for 8 of them'?

How, in economic terms, is petrol different to me? Why should I be expected to donate 10 hours of my time per week to my boss for free? I don't. When Ed instituted his 'in at 8:30 no exceptions' policy I simply set my mobile phone alarm to 5:15 PM. When it went off, no matter what I was doing, even if I was in the midst of writing a line of code, I'd stop what I was doing and walk out, without saving. Screw me at the start of the day and I'll screw you at the end of the day.

So, given that I think this way, it should come as no surprise to learn that I've already negotiated time off in lieu. Just as I get what I pay for, so do they.

To misquote my friend Vern from his blog[^] "I'm a damn Commie! Where's Tailgunner Joe when we need him".

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

If you have an eye for detail

you'll have noticed I've added a 'blogmap' to my page (over there on the left just below my location map). Fascinating (and free though I'm tempted to pay em the 10 bucks a year). Thanks to Leppie[^] for 'pimping his blog a little more'. As soon as I saw he'd added a blogmap I wanted one! Such is avarice!

The stats are interestingly at odds with the stats reported on the wdevs admin page for my blog. I've long suspected the reported counts there were somewhat low. Here's the wdevs report for the last ten entries.

Sunset 26 17
Hitchcock 12 21
So there I was - part 1 34 19
On the road again! 20 20
Embarassing old movies 16 29
A flirtation with Geekdom 29 28
The legend of the Surami Fortress 22 31
Gormenghast and a bottle of scotch 24 33
Two ounces of orange juice 17 31
The blind guy 14 33

The first numeric column is 'Web Views' and the second is 'Aggregate views' whatever that term means. RSS pulls?

The blogmap indicates total visits for the last two days at (currently) 250. Probably some difference of opinion between the writers of the blogging software used on wdevs and the counters over at ClustrMap about what constitutes a visit. *shrug* No biggie but it does improve my ego somewhat to see the 250 count. Of course a few of those visits have to be from google; I'm amazed at how thoroughly google has indexed my blog.

It's when I look at the map itself that it gets interesting. The visitors from Melbourne aren't a surprise; Heino probably accounts for most of those though I suspect Keryn[^] and Lucy[^] may have clicked once or twice! :-)

Nor are the visitors shown from the UK and North America a surprise. Phoenix figures (and the map was added and stats collected after I flew to Dallas so it's not showing my own visits) as does Los Angeles, quite a scattering across the eastern half of the US and as far south as Florida. Quite a cluster due north of Dallas but nothing at all from Canada!

The rest of the world is interesting. Korea? Someone in what I think is Brazil (though I'm a trifle hazy about the boundaries on the eastern side of South America. I never can seem to remember where Argentina stops and Brazil begins! The western side for some reason is easier to remember, Chile, Peru and Tierra del Fuego.

Philip Laureano[^], I see you lurking there in Manila! :-)

Not a single visit from New Zealand! Colin D? Where are you? :-) Oh and that rightmost dot in Europe? Is that Turkey? Not quite enough detail on the map to know.

But the real puzzle is that dot located almost in the centre of Australia. Apart from Alice Springs there's nothing there! Do I really have a reader located there?

Monday, February 06, 2006


I've always enjoyed sunset. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that I find a good sunset totally awesome. And it's a free light show; what's not to like about it? Not all of my friends, through the years, have shared my enjoyment; one woman was so totally indifferent as to appall me. Quite readjusted my expectations of feminine sensibility. Probably a much needed readjustment!

Anyway, after a weekend spent frantically writing new code for a customer demo on Monday (how many coders here haven't had THAT experience?) I couldn't resist whipping the camera out and taking a few shots[^] from my hotel window.


Sunday, February 05, 2006


PBS Dallas is running North by Northwest[^] as I write. Good movie, but then again, almost every movie Hitchcock directed is a good movie.

The first time I saw it was during a re-release season in Melbourne in 1984. Someone or other got the rights to show a half dozen Hitchcock movies and billed it as a 'you haven't had the chance to see these movies for 20 years, here they are' event. For all I know that might even have been true (though I also remember seeing a 'Last Chance Hollywood' season in 1983 where they ran Footlight Parade[^] and Goldiggers of 1933[^] and a couple of years later both movies turned up on late night TV in Melbourne. I don't believe the hype anymore though I do go to the showings!). The 1983 double bill was wonderful; I came out of the theatre with James Cagney dancing in my head. I should, perhaps, not reveal that I've always thought Ruby Keeler was incredibly sexy. Keep your comments to yourself! :-)

I note that both films plus three other classics of the era are due for release next month on a 6 DVD set. Guess who's just placed an order! (I also snuck in an order for What the Universe Tells Me - Unraveling the Mysteries of Mahler's Third Symphony[^]. I could do without the 'unravelling the mysteries' part of the title but that's been one of my favourite symphonies for about 33 years so I'm looking forward to the DVD.

One of the other movies in the Hitchcock re-release season was Vertigo[^]. For me, the best Hitchcock movie ever. It plays on my own greatest fear; the fear of heights. Here in Dallas I'm on the 9th floor and it's all I can do to approach the window close enough to look straight down. I can't do it if I'm facing the window; only sideways where it feels as though, were I to lose my balance, I'd fall to the floor rather than through the window. Silly thought but nonetheless real for all it's silliness.

Personally I find the story of Vertigo confusing. I'm never quite sure who's the villain and who's the good guy. Quite remarkable ambiguity for a movie made at the tail end of McCarthyism and at the height of the cold war. It probably helped that the director was an Englishman.

The appeal is in the pacing and the mood of the film. When one sees Arnie or Bruce Willis facing down the terrorists one knows one is seeing pure escapism; no normal person could do what one sees in such movies. When you watch the best of Hitchcock you know you're watching normal people put into slightly unusual situations and at almost every point you can imagine yourself doing what they do. Thus James Stewart becoming obsessed with the Kim Novak character in Vertigo. (It helps that she's very attractive of course).

As to the pacing; witness the scenes where James Stewart follows Kim Novak through San Francisco. Camera mounted on the bonnet (hood) of the car. Very old school these days and yet it captures a mood; nothing spectacular happens but Hitchcock is prepared to let the scene take 'natural' time. He did a similar thing in Frenzy[^] where the camera follows a woman returning to her office. We, the viewer, know that she's going to find a murder victim but he prolongs the scene with an unmoving camera and silence on the soundtrack. The tension mounts and is broken, quite some time later, with a scream. And later in the same movie, we see a judge preparing to pass sentence as the camera withdraws from the court and silence falls. Very skillfully done!

As a confirmed addict of Romantic music I have to say that I love the soundtrack! Bernard Herrman could write great soundtracks! If you listen very carefully you can find echoes of Mahler but there's also a touch of Alban Berg in there. Indeed, I'd put Bernard Herrman right at the top of my favourite film composers. He's been dead these 30 years but I hope saying that doesn't make him spin in his grave!

I spent a Saturday afternoon in July 1986 driving around San Francisco trying to find all the locations he'd used for Vertigo. To be honest, the only one I found was the obvious one; the shore beneath the south side of the Golden Gate bridge but I really didn't mind. It's one thing to be in a strange city driving around aimlessly; quite another to have a purpose.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

So there I was

in 1974 with the first draft of a bad bad novel painfully typed out on paper. In those days Microsoft Word and WordPerfect were unwritten, not yet thought of.

I bought my first typewriter in October of 1971; I think it was an Underwood though I wouldn't swear to it. 25 bucks at a trash and treasure on Flemington Road Newmarket. I bought my first copy of Dvorak's 8th symphony at the same trash and treasure the same day. Good music.

Then followed a couple of months with my sisters typing textbooks as I learned to touch type. D E A D D E A D D A D D E D and so on. By the following January I could haltingly type and by the passage of another year I could type almost as well as I can now.

It always amazes me, as an aside, how it is that the keyboard is such a fundamental tool for software developers and yet so few of us can touch type. I find it painful to watch my fellow programmers as they hunt and peck. A good party trick is to be writing something on the computer whilst holding a conversation with someone. Usually, when I'm doing the trick, I'm writing code. It disconcerts em no end to see you typing as you hold eye contact with em and don't pay any attention to the keyboard but eventually they give in, secure in the knowledge that what you've just typed is gibberish. You can imagine my delight in showing them that they haven't thrown my typing off one bit! I particularly enjoy pulling that trick on fellow C++ programmers and showing them that I've defined a new class and written the implementation!

So there I was, in 1974 as already said, with the first draft of a bad bad novel painfully typed out on paper. In those days - oh we've already been there :)

My best friend Heino was, then, the younger brother of the girlfriend of my best friend Peter. I'd met Heino once or twice and, to my eternal shame, the most intelligent comment I'd made to him was 'get a haircut'. This is particularly poignant given that these days my hair is much much longer than his. Whatever. It was a long time ago. I'd never dare to suggest that his hairline is receding and mine isn't!

Heino sidled up to me one Sunday morning in church and suggested that as I had a novel and he had access to video cameras we might be able to film my novel.

Did an egotistical 20 year old certain that the world would fall at his feet need more encouragement?