Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Royal Visit

The second Monday in March is a public holiday in Melbourne; it happens to be Labour Day and it was originally a celebration called 8 hour day[^]. If you go to the corner of Russell Street and Victoria Street, just across the road from Trades Hall you'll find a monument commemorating the achievement of the 8 hour working day in 1856.

In later years it became Moomba[^], a day of parade and general silliness. Nothing wrong with a little silliness. I have fond memories of watching the Birdman Rally.

There's a legend that when the city fathers were looking for a name for the renamed 8 hour day festival the local Aboriginal community pulled their legs[^].

If the legend isn't true I wish it was. The Melbourne I remember from the very very late 1950's certainly needed a leg pulling!

On Labour Day 1977 we planned and shot a little movie all in one day. It so happened that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was due in town around then; I can't remember if she was already in town or if her arrival was imminent. We decided to make a 'documentary' about her visit to Melbourne. Given the unlikeliness of Her Majesty granting permission to a bunch of adolescents to cover her visit we used a stand-in, Gary.

Gary was quite happy to dress up in an evening gown and appear on the streets of Melbourne. One of the Daves donned my tailcoat and fake tophat to play the role of the Governor General, Sir John Kerr. I played the then state opposition leader, Clyde Holding (holding it obvious that if my middle name is Clyde I was a natural choice for the part - boom boom) and I think Heino played Sir Rupert Hamer, Victorian Premier.

I worked for Trident TV rentals at the time and had a company van; the van substituted, badly, for the official limousine. We set a camera up on the corner of Bourke and Spring Streets, trained on the steps of Parliament House. In I drove the van, the camera panning as I drove. Came to a stop as Dave solemnly walked down the steps, pausing as I opened the rear doors of the van. Out stepped Gary, waving to the crowd.

The policeman on duty was interested in the goings on but not really in a professional sense. A couple of minutes chatting and he was on side. So we shot the scene again. This time I stayed in the drivers seat; the cop opened the door and handed her majesty out.

A little later we shot a handheld camera scene with Gary swanning down Bourke Street, past the Melbourne Club[^], waving a little handkerchief at the bemused locals.

Then we shot a scene with Heino and I scratching out a very very bad rendition of God Save the Queen on violins.

We finished the day back at the studio in Freyer Street Williamstown. The offical banquet. This was an opportunity to combine the assuaging of hunger and a shoot. With as much pomp as was possible given that the studio was a suburban living room we shot her majesty arriving, followed by her governor general, her loyal premier and her equally loyal opposition leader, to sit down to a meal of fish and chips!

An unscripted idea occurred to me as we dined. It was the work of a moment to shake up my can of coke and spray her majesty! Well, it seemed funny at the time!

Edited up it was pretty funny. One of our number was working for Channel 9. He managed to raise some interest in our production with the local 'A Current Affair' people and it really felt like they were prepared to air our effort. A pity then, in retrospect, that I got cold feet. Remember that Trident TV van? The Trident symbol was blazoned all over it and I didn't want to get the sack! I think these days I'd say 'screw em' and go ahead!

Goal umpire

In 1965, as part of a vain attempt to interest me in organised sports, they made me goal umpire at the school football game.

This was Australian Rules football; a unique game. There are four goal posts. Two tall ones in the middle and two shorter ones, one on each side of the taller ones. Kick the ball through the tall ones and you've scored a goal, 6 points. Kick the ball between a tall one and and short one and you've kicked a behind, 1 point. Yep, Australian Rules football is one of the few games where it's a good thing to kick a behind!

At the AFL (Australian Football League)[^] games they have a goal umpire at each end of the ground. When the ball goes between the posts all eyes are on him. If it's a behind he stabs a single hand out. If it's a goal he holds both hands out in much the same way that a trout fisher shows off the size of his latest catch! I'm told that when it's a goal the crowd behind will chant 'how big is your dick!'. Maybe you have to be there!

The last time I attended a real football match, as opposed to compulsory attendance at a school one, was in June 1960 and I really feel that it's not long enough ago that I want to go again any time soon!

So there they were trying to interest me in a team game. For as long as I can remember I've had about as much enthusiasm for organised sports as I have for gargling with sulphuric acid. Poor fools imagined that making me a goal umpire might change things.

Certainly I had to watch the game closely. Our match was between my school, Yarraville West Primary, and Spotswood Primary, played at the Yarraville Football Ground. And I swear I called the game honestly. Why wouldn't I? I didn't care if we won or they won. But I fear that a score of 22/22 for us versus 1/1 for them created a climate of suspicion that I was unable to dispel.

I used, at one time, to think it a badge of honour that I'd never been to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground)[^]. Driven past it certainly, travelled by train past it, walked in the park beside it, but never actually parked in the car park let alone enter a gate leading into it.

I didn't reckon on Mike[^] at Unisys. Unisys was a corporate sponsor, meaning they'd spent some thousands of dollars for the right to have their logo appear somewhere on the site and which sponsorship gave them access to a corporate box. Sometime in 1993 Mike, number 2 in the Australian organisation, decided that we'd have a team building exercise and where better than the Mecca of Melbourne Sport? With deep reluctance I crossed the threshhold. It was sometime in January and the Indian Cricket team were practising down on the ground as we sat around nodding solemnly and playing the corporate game.

The roast beef was good but the wine was better!

Friday, April 28, 2006

The instead of song

In 1977 I met, in Australia, an American exchange high school teacher. Bob was a nice guy. He'd be in his early 60's today. Tall, thin and intellectual. If that's not your idea of Americans I'm not surprised. He was from California. I can already hear the yanks sighing in relief; he was from California! That explains it!

Bob's passion was classical music. I met him at a music camp at Harrietville in central Victoria. This was two years after I'd been there as composer in residence but they were still willing to play my compositions. That year, January 1977, it was a string quartet. Unlike my earlier compositions I remember that one without much shame; it's not Nyman quality to be sure but it wasn't all that bad.

It was also rather easier to persuade four string players to play my music than it was to get a whole orchestra to play along...

If I remembered Bob for nothing else I'd remember him for introducing me to Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht. I saw a performance of 'The resistible rise and rise of Arturo Ui' in Melbourne about 1978. I'd never have even have noticed it was on the calendar without Bob.

But the real eye opener was hearing him play 'The Threepenny Opera' as done by Weill/Brecht. I say play but it was via gramophone records. Remember those? A few months ago we went for a drive through the Tonto National park. I've written about that day[^] before. Along the way we stopped at one or two museums and in one of those was a really old gramophone player. I drew Andrews attention to it and he said 'oh I know what that is. You put the CD there!'. We laughed, my wife and I and Andrew looked a trifle sheepish. Then I asked him how many grooves there are on an LP. A trick question of course; the answer is two, one on either side. But honestly, it wasn't a bad stab at the answer was it? He was born in 1991 and has probably never seen a real LP. At least he was in the right problem domain.

Before Bob played 'Die Dreigroschenoper' all the German Opera I'd heard was Wagner. Good opera but somewhat, what's the word? Somewhat ethereal? No one in the real world speaks or sings in those terms. But there it was, a narrator speaking, rather than singing, German. German slang (according to the cover notes) and a certain guttural enthusiasm. I'm not explaining it well. It has, to my ears, an almost gustatorial enthusiasm about it. I can picture those people sitting in their gaslit cellars making the best of poverty.

Love at first hearing. I have two recordings of 'The Threepenny Opera', the 1955 or thereabouts recording featuring Lotte Lenya (wife of the composer). The other is from about 1988. I also have two recordings of the 'Threepenny Opera Suite', orchestral only music; no singing, no Sprechgesang.

By chance my introduction to Weill/Brecht happened at about the time I was living from one week to the next, unsure of where I was going to sleep tomorrow night. It also happened to be winter in Melbourne. Not terribly cold by the standards of some parts of the world but cold enough to someone who faced the prospect of sleeping out rough. I know I exaggerate; I very much doubt Marg[^] would have chucked me out onto the street but at the time it felt like a distinct possiblity if I couldn't pay the rent. So I spent weeks living from day to day with the words of the opera circling in my head and, if I must confess it, a certain Romantic view of myself as the starving artist.

Strange times. I remember eating at the Pancake Parlour in Melbourne in mid-winter 1978; stretching a cup of coffee over three or more hours in the warmth before emerging to catch a tram to South Melbourne. Cold wet early evening as I passed a fish and chip shop and ducked in to buy steamed Dim Sims soused in Soy sauce. I remember the calculation of so many cents per dimmo and knowing that I could afford four of the buggers. Dimmos eaten (one of the most satisfying meals I can remember) I recall turning my key in Margs front door and retiring to bed, to listen to Scriabin.

Well I wasn't going to let it rest there; what else had Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht written? I became more prosperous and could investigate. 'The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny' for one. I can't help liking an opera that features a scene of three people, drunk, sailing a billiard table in their imagination through a storm and singing about seasickness! 'Three of us two have 'die seekrankheit!' Throw in a scene with a voice through a loudhailer reporting the progress of a Hurricane along the US gulf coast followed by a hymn of praise to God that said Hurricane misses the City of Mahagonny and, for me, you have a winner!

Remember the Doors 'Alabama Song'? I bet you never knew it's word for word and tune for tune straight out of that opera! My wife didn't when I played both versions to her a couple of weeks ago.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I also have two recording of that opera. Again, the first is the 1955 or thereabouts recording featuring Lotte Lenya. The other again dates from around 1988 and it's pretty good; it includes a couple of scenes that were omitted from the 1955 recording.

The following January, monetary woes solved, I was once again at the music camp at Harrietville. A convert to Brecht/Weill with all the enthusiasm of the convert! I remember meeting someone from the better side of town; I don't remember anything about him apart from his being about a decade my senior. He sneered at my enthusiasm. 'Why should I be interested in music from the age of Fascism?' was approximately his meaning.

Those who forget their history are doomed to relive it.

I last saw Bob in 1981; he'd returned to the US so as not to lose teaching seniority in 1979 but he came back in 1981 just to be sure he could see the Royal Wedding on Australian TV. Well that was the story he spun. He watched it at our house. We cooked bacon sandwiches and one of our cats siezed her chance. Quite the sight; a cat, teeth firmly clamped in a piece of bacon on one side of the sandwich; Bob, teeth firmly clamped into a piece of bacon on the other side of the sandwich! The cat won!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Shell games

Though not the pea under the thimble trick![^]

Nope, this is a trick I played on Cliff many years ago when we worked at Hewlett Packard Australia on a 4GL language product.

Our development system was a Unix box with character based terminals. Sometime after I left HP I visited some friends there and they'd advanced to using X Windows and I have to say that the idea of having wallpaper and icons in 1989 seemed pretty cool. Very few of us were serious about using Windows in 1989 - it was pretty much a toy operating system back then.

You could send a particular escape sequence to the terminal and it'd lock the keyboard. Send another escape sequence and it'd unlock. Being children in adult guise with high tech toys to play with, we frequently sent the lock escape sequence to /dev/ttyXX to lock up someones terminal. They'd type something, see that it didn't appear, look around, see the smirk and swear! Then we'd send the unlock sequence and work went on.

After a while that got boring. So I wrote a script that monitored the victims home directory. Every 60 seconds it'd check the length of the .kshhistory file (I may have the filename wrong) and if the file had changed it'd wait another 60 seconds and send the terminal lock sequence. Then it'd wait a random amount of time between 5 and 30 seconds and send the unlock sequence. The beauty of this scheme is that if the victim didn't run any shell commands nothing happened. If the victim did run the odd command the random time delay hid the relationship. It took the victim literally weeks to conclude that some bastard (ie, me) was running a script against them!

Need I even say that Cliff was the first victim?

The Hidden Gospel

Last night I mentioned Cliff, the born again Christian.

We were working on a 4GL system. Remember those? An idea whose time hasn't come and probably never will. But we were trying and our system had evolved into a 3 megabyte executable. This was 1987 and that was pretty big for the time; you couldn't possibly have had such a large executable on a PC without the overlay manager and if you had it would have run like a dog that died last week! If you didn't experience 1987 PC technology you don't know what you missed and you don't know what a bullet you dodged! :-)

Our system ran on Unix. One night we were working late trying to hit a deadline. I was working on my bit of the executable, Cliff on his, Simon on his and so on. We'd type 'make whatever' (I can't remember what the whatever was) and it'd invoke 'make' which did whatever steps were necessary to build the file. CS 101 stuff.

The problem was that our makes all failed. It was 10 PM and Cliff, the family man, had gone home. Simon and I investigated. Our makes failed because we had less than 3 megs of disk space left for the entire team.

So we ran the Unix 'du' utility (my memory may be a trifle vague about the exact commands but the result is accurate) and found a 10 meg shortfall between what was shown as free space and what was shown as disk usage. In 2006 when you can buy a 500 gig disk drive for less than US$300 a mere ten megs is nothing. Heck, that's barely enough space for a few minutes of audio in MP3 format!

Somehow I have a vision of a veteran of 1966 computers saying much the same thing about the resources we had available in 1987. Heck, when I was working (says the hypothetical 1966 veteran) 4K was more than enough to implement a complete symbol table. Doubtless 40 years from now our almost unimaginable 500 gig hard disk will be smaller than on chip cache!

Well, that's the past and the future and the now of 2006. In 1987 Simon and I had a 10 meg shortfall to explain that was seriously impeding our ability to meet the deadline!

We dug a little deeper and discovered that Cliff's 'du' and 'ls' totals exactly matched the 10 megs we were missing. Some headscratching as we looked at the listing of his home directory and then I noticed that he had 2 (count em, two) directories called . (dot). More head scratching as we tried to work out how on earth he could have two directories with the same name! The penny dropped. He had one called dot and one called dot space. A cd into dot space and the mystery was solved. He had the entirety of the bible stored there!

Well that fitted. We did an 'su' to root and deleted dot space and suddenly our builds completed.

Given that this was a violation of company policy something had to be done. Perhaps we chose the wrong 'to be done'. We modified the MOTD file (Message Of The Day file, the file that is displayed to Unix users when they log in) to advise that Cliff had found a way of hiding stuff.

The bastard ran his directory stuffup script on my home directory again. I hadn't remembered to modify the admin audit files to hide my tracks!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Picking up a pizza

There was a social side to Turtle Video. My youngest sister, Deb, got involved as a dependable actress and, being good looking, she was popular with the boys. She and I shared a house in West Footscray for 3 years in the late 1970's and it was almost all good.

Most Friday and Saturday nights the whole gang of us would congregate at the Video Centre and it was understood that this was going to be an all-nighter. Which might, to someone reading in 2006 sound like a night of sex, drugs and Techno Music. We wished!

What it mostly amounted to was a bunch of the boys sitting in our taxpayer funded club eating a pizza and drinking brandavino (a vile brandy derivative at 2 bucks a bottle) and talking about all the things we'd like to do with a girl if only we could get one! What? You expected 2006 gender ideas from a bunch of testosterone charged adolescents in 1975? :-)

The Altona Video centre was a converted shop. Plate glass windows covered with curtains of a most revolting and typically 70's pattern. Later we moved to Williamstown into a house converted to our needs.

As previously admitted, I was a trifle older than they were; I had the drivers license and the car. Perhaps one reason they tolerated me! :-) Whatever. Possession of a drivers license in Victoria meant the right to purchase alcohol. Driving and drinking age are the same in my home state. We can argue the wisdom of that idea another time. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that I was the one, mostly, who purchased the alcohol.

When Turtle Video was based in Altona we had something of a problem with the skinheads. During daylight they were ok; we'd see them in the park beside the shopfront or in the supermarket up the street or at the railway station, nod in recognition and move on. We even persuaded one or two of them to appear in our productions!

But at night they were a serious problem. There we were with our keys to this mysterious 'video centre' and there they were with whatever they had. We were inside, they were outside and bored! They'd hammer on the windows and shout 'kill kill' which is scary the first few times you hear it. Images of lynch mobs in the Deep South!

If we got hungry we had a dilemma. The pizza shop was right next door and we could phone the order in but how to collect it? Open the front door? Doing that involved a two phase operation. Turn all the lights out, open the front curtains a crack and peer out. If we saw no skinheads we might take the chance and open the door enough to allow the poor bastard who had the short straw out. He'd dart maybe 20 feet to the right and into the pizza shop. A hurried exchange of money and pizza and he'd dart back; we'd let him back in and eat in peace.

If the skinheads were lurking we'd take a chance on the back entrance. More hazardous for the luckless one but safer for the rest of us. Quite the moral dilemma! More than once the suggestion was made, on our side, that we hack a hole in the wall so the pizza could pass unmolested!

One night Dave was the elected one to go fetch the pizza. He exited safely enough and collected the pizza. When he emerged we realised we'd been outsmarted. Across the road was a park with some very tall elms on the edge and the street lighting wasn't quite enough to illuminate the gaps. As he ran back to our door the skinheads emerged into the light and Dave hammered, desperately on the door, as they closed in on him. We opened the door barely wide enough to admit him and the pizza. I'd like to record that we really did think Dave was more important than the pizza! We slammed the door shut, shoulders against it, as someone slammed the bolt home against the skinheads!

Another night we had really pissed the skinheads off; that or they were feeling their oats and needed to intimidate someone. Whatever the reason, they were pounding their fists on the plate glass windows. We inside had an idea. We lined our redheads[^], which are extremely bright lamps, up against the window, curtains closed. Plugged em all in and quietly drew the curtains aside. We could see the skinheads against the street lighting; they couldn't see us! Throw the switch and they were blinded!

I'm not sure if it was the same night or not though it sure feels like it; that the skinheads tied a dead rabbit to the door handle.

On the edge of a cliff

or should that be cliffhanger?

Quite some years ago I worked with a Born Again Christian by the name of Cliff. As you might imagine, given the rubbish I write, his born againness didn't overmuch impress me but I can live and let live. If someone wants to go overboard on their sincerity to the cause of Jesus I'm perfectly happy to let them, so long as they don't try and evangelise to me! Nope, let me correct that, so long as they don't try and evangelise period!

A difficult call; where is the line between mentioning enthusiasm for something and ramming it down your throat? I think the line is reached when the target of the evangelism starts exhibiting signs of terminal boredom or similar. By that measurement Cliff failed to notice.

Cliff was also afflicted with a lack of humour. Almost the most dour man I've ever met and as such, ripe for the teasing. So one afternoon I asked, almost casually...

'Hey Cliff, got any nude pictures of your wife?'

Stony glare and a curt 'no!'

'Wanna buy some?'

Boom boom!

But he got me good for that little prank. This was back in the days when I was working on Unix systems; thank god I've been able to move on to Windows. A much nicer environment. When I logged on to the system the next morning my home directory looked all wrong. It's a long time ago and I can no longer remember which files I should have seen; all I remember is that they weren't there; instead I had a bunch of single letter directories. Checking into a few of those revealed a lot more single letter directories. And so on, following the chain down. Eventually the penny dropped. He'd run a script, as root, against my home directory, which had taken every file and sub-directory, broken the names down character by character and created subdirectories. My files still existed, under random names, deep at the bottom of a very many layered subdirectory structure.

What a bastard! :-)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Why me?

It might be very tempting tonight to use that title to ask why on earth it is that I'm inflicted with a step-daughter of more than usual ability to annoy but that'd be a purely rhetorical question. One might also argue that having married my wife I get what is due to me in much the same way that a man who overindulges in wine might suffer a hangover the next morning. From which introduction you might imagine that things have been happening tonight. To such a hypothetical question I merely ask, have you ever heard the expression 'chickens coming home to roost?'.

Nope, tonight I'm going to rave on about a little movie Gary made in June of 1976, called 'Why Me?' I wasn't involved in the production and indeed I didn't even know it had been made until he triumphantly showed it off.

By our standards it was pretty damn good; a drama of 20 minutes or so wherein the heroine gets involved in a bank robbery where a security guard is shot dead. The title came from her main speech, the one where she demanded, in highly emotional terms, to know why it was that the bank robber had involved her in a murder. Why me??? All kinds of justifications from the malefactor; He finds some drugs and says 'I told you I didn't want you involved in that kind of stuff!'. She tries to be coy and says 'hash and tobacco, makes you high, makes you feel good.'.

When we discovered that it was made and edited in just one weekend we were amazed. I don't know how long he'd worked on the script but I was impressed.

As with all of our productions we had no budget and relied on friends to be actors and production crew. I fear that by 1976 I'd impressed Gary as one with ideas but one who couldn't point a camera if my life depended on it. I wasn't a very good cameraman and a worse soundman. The problem with being a soundman is that it seems always to be the case that you have to manhandle a pole ten or so feet long with a large and heavy microphone at the end. It's heavy because it usually has a wind shield on it. It's obviously undesirable to have the end of the mike intrude into the shot but it's equally essential that it be pointed at the actor speaking the line. It takes a great deal of physical strength and endurance that I lack to fulfill both conditions!

I fear my acting ability was also lacking. Alan, the guy who played the bank robber, was no great actor but he could act rings around me! The girl, whose name I cannot remember, was not a lot better. I seem to remember that in late 1975 she expressed an interest in starring in porn films but we none of us was willing to appear on camera with her. Not even Robin! To this day I'm not sure if it was fear of the girl or the camera!

That said, I did once appear nude in one of our productions! We were doing a 'road safety' special. Don't ask me why a bunch of late teens were doing a road safety special; I don't know why. But make it we did. This was about a year before the WestGate bridge[^] opened. The western side of the freeway that leads up to the bridge stopped at Williamstown road though the roadway extended a few dozen metres beyond the exit. We set cameras up and I faked a car crash. Faking a car crash involved driving at immoderate speed, hitting the anchors and coming to a stop. Then we shot it again where I drove at a reasonable speed off the roadway onto the centre strip and hit the brakes. A little editing and it all kinda looked ok. After the car came to a shuddering stop I got out, held a bottle high and took a long swig! Geeze, I didn't even drink in those days!

So where did the nudity come into it? Glad you asked! Gary was directing and he wanted to show the progress from the start of a normal day, through drinking, to the fatal crash! As I was the star I was videoed waking up and showering. Given that the Freyer Street video centre was really a house pressed into other service it should be no surprise that it had a real bathroom with a functional shower and hot water system.

But I still have my doubts that it was really necessary that I shower nude on camera, though Gary assured me it was essential. Well, one takes one for the team occasionally though I wouldn't do it today. But then again, today, no one would ask me. An as near as dammit 52 year body is nowhere near as photogenic as a 23 year old one was!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Williamstown Railway Museum

is, as you might imagine, located in Williamstown[^]. An interesting place and highly recommended for a visit if you're ever nearby!

The first time I went there was in 1964 or so, under the watchful eye of Mum and Misery Guts. Pig heaven for a kid already interested in the railways! All those steam locomotives to climb upon and within; along with historic carriages with real leather seats to lounge upon. Throw in access to a real signal box with levers taller than I was that you could move around and life was good!

I must have been a strange kid. Even when I was only 10 years old I was interested in history. I blame my fathers mother; she must have given me a feel for time. Whatever the source I remember that I felt a visit to this museum (or any other for that matter) was a step back in time. Those photographs of the workers at the Newport Railway Works taken in the late 1890's impressed me.

11 or so years later Heino, Gary, I and others from Turtle Video descended on the railway museum. I can't remember if this was before or after we moved from Pier Street Altona to Freyer Street Williamstown (and it hardly matters anyway) but we used those cameras as a badge that gave us free admission. I suspect we were playing on the hopes that if we had video cameras what we produced would be broadcast on TV and they'd get some free publicity out of it. If that was their reasoning then they were to be sorely disappointed! So far as I know, not one second of our footage has ever been broadcast!

We spent a fun day setting up various scenarios and shooting them; scenarios that would have failed to pass muster in the heyday of slapstick comedy and the Keystone Kops! Didn't seem to matter to us at the time; or to the custodians of the museum. They were more than happy to unlock the doors to carriages that were normally barred to the public. We, ignorant bastards in a gentler, more tolerant time, smoked our cigarettes and stubbed the butts out underfoot as we lined up camera angles and rehearsed impromptu slapstick!

We were long on chases; short on character development.

$50 worth of comedy

My wife's been tracking down her ancestors for quite some time. Indeed, when I met her in 2000 she was busy building genealogical trees. You'll remember that a couple of months ago we spent a Sunday driving through East Texas in an ultimately fruitless search for the graves of her great grandparents.

I can understand. I spent many hours in 1979 searching through ancient copies of the Melbourne Argus, the Melbourne Age and the Sun for the death notices for my fathers father. Never found a notice. Somehow I'd conceived the idea that he had died in 1937 so I concentrated on that year. About 12 years later, having found my Aunt again, I discovered that he died in 1942 and when I went back to the newspaper archives for October 1942 there he was. They gave the address where he died, somewhere on Mt Alexander Road (I no longer remember the exact address). I went to look, it was a florists by 1991. I imagine my grandfather coughing up the blood from the Tuberculosis that killed him in the flat above the shop.

I've never been able to trace em back farther than my grandparents but, to be honest, I haven't spent anywhere near the amount of time on the search that my wife has. She's traced em back 7 generations or so. You'd think that'd satisfy her but nope, she wants to trace back over the Atlantic and find the long forgotten peasants in the German countryside!

Somehow or other she also discovered a Scottish connection. She'd better not trace it forward from there to me! I don't really want to discover that my wife is a closer relation than I imagined! :-) That discovery, if it happened, would force me to reconsider how I feel about Morgan!

Sometime this week she recieved a book she'd ordered somewhere or other. Not a bound book from a production publisher; it's a laser printed spiral bound document carrying the grand title of 'A Documentary of Scotch(sic)-Irish ALEXANDER Family History' written by one Dr. Sarah Alexander-Coulton. The venerable doctor appears to live in Washington State and to be more than somewhat ignorant of how the Scottish refer to themselves!

My wife drew my attention to the book but was strangely reluctant to reveal the cost. Her exact words were 'you don't want to know'. WIth a challenge like that I surely did want to know! 50 bucks.

I can be as tight fisted with money as the best of them when it's in short supply (when isn't it?) and it's a choice between food and frippery. But if I can have a home theatre PC and Shelby and Morgan can have new computers and Andrew can have an iPod then surely my wife can have a book listing ancestors!

I have to say that I consider it 50 bucks well spent; it was worth every cent for the laughter it gave us both. Here's a sample of the Table of Contents.

The earliest of early records...

and so on...

you have to admire the presumption of someone who sets out to catalogue a list of ancestors and traces it all the way back to God!

Saturday, April 22, 2006


I've always been fascinated by trains. My first job, back in 1970, required me to travel across Melbourne by train, all the way from St Albans to Kensington (a distance of maybe 10 KM's). But in 1970 I was 15, 3 years short of driving age and thus the train was the only solution.

Not a bad solution as it happened. Back then we still had the Tait[^] trains otherwise known as 'Red Rattlers'. They leaked cold air in winter, had no air conditioning for summer and made a lot of noise but they had the most comfortable seats I've ever seen on a train. Real leather seats. Try and find that these days!

Made mostly of wood, they also had photographs of Australiana set in the walls behind glass. Ferns and Kangaroos and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and so on. If you think a mention of the British Monarch in the context of Australiana is odd then you didn't live in Australia in 1970!

I enjoyed the entire experience, not just the train itself. It was then a pleasure, and still is when I'm in Melbourne, to travel from Footscray Station over the Maribyrnong River, high above the flood plain on the embankment, looking down on the old red brick buildings stained black from smog as we cross Kensington Road. From that point to Kensington South Station and then across Moonee Ponds Creek and through the railway yards to North Melbourne Station.

I enjoyed the experience so much that I spent most weekends in 1970 taking advantage of my weekly ticket, riding the train to the ends (so it seemed) of the earth, Belgrave which is about as far from St Albans as you could have gone and still been in the vicinity of what we Australians call Melbourne. I went to the end of every suburban line many times that year; Upfield, Epping, Dandenong, Sandringham, Frankston, even Williamstown.

I was also (and still am) very fond of Flinders Street Station[^]. There was once a time when Flinders Street was the busiest railway station in the world!

In 2001 when I finally got around to seeing a chiropractor I was delighted when it turned out that his office was directly opposite Toorak station. Toorak is THE snob suburb of Melbourne but that wasn't the source of my delight; nope, the source of the delight was that, even though I drove there, I had the opportunity to walk through a classic Melbourne Railway Station. Red brick a century or more old.

Whenever I'm in Melbourne I travel by train whenever I can. The train doesn't take me everywhere I want to go; for that I hire a car. But for sheer wallowing in nostalgia I can't beat a Melbourne train!

The age of miracles is not yet passed

Yup, miracles do indeed still happen. How else explain that my flight, on America West, was on time today. I think that's the first time I've ever had an on-time flight with that particular airline.

Oh, and I finally finished 'The Old Curiousity Shop'. Two miracles in one day. I'm tackling 'The Pickwick Papers' next. I've read them once before, about 1973 but apart from the singular circumstance that Sam Weller would, based on the evidence, pronounce his own name as Sam Veller I remember nothing of the book.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Video projects

One of the sillier yet more ambitious projects we did in 1975/76 at Turtle Video was 'The Scarless Pumpernickel'. In our more juvenile moments we called it 'The Scarless Pumporlickit'. If you look at a couple of the jokes I've posted here in recent months you might be justified in thinking that I'm still somewhat juvenile. I'll live with that; it still amazes me, at times, to realise I'm pushing 52; it sure doesn't feel like I am.

Of course I could simply be falling into the baby boomers trap; imagining that I can hold back the inevitability of time in a manner that would have made King Canute proud! Remind me to relate the story of my mid life crisis (the third one) in 2000/2001. I remember it was the third mid life crisis; the problem is that I can't remember the first two! :-)

I was the star for reasons I no longer remember. If you went by my ability to act in front of a camera you'd already know the project was a non-starter. But we didn't let a little thing like that stop us!

I played the title character, Scarless. It seemed important at the time to define the outfit Scarless would wear and it went as follows. Tailcoat and (fake) tophat, because I already had those. A White shirt and a red bandana. Jeans cut off above the knee and, most importantly, cut off at differing lengths on either leg. Blue panty hose and riding boots! To complete the outfit I carried a length of orange plastic pipe which acted as my sword.

As we were going into production we fronted at a shop at the Highpoint Shopping centre, in search of those panty hose. We none of us had a clue about sizes; we confronted the young lady at the counter and asked her what size panty hose would fit me? The look on her face was a study in comedy!

As for who or what the title character was? He was a fearless crime fighter of course! Could anyone dressed like that be anything else? My sidekick, played by Dave, was Festering Wound and the third member of the crime fighting team was a minor character called Backup, played by another Dave. He had hair in those days!

We, Heino and I, spent considerable time sweating over the script. The Scarlett Pumpernickel was, we were determined, to be different from past projects where we'd pretty much turned up at a location one or the other of us thought might be photogenic and made it up as we went. Doing that was a lot of fun but the end result was self indulgent to excess.

I remember we spent a fair amount of time in the tiny non-chain supermarket just up the road from Heino's house, planning a shoot-out between Scarless and the criminals. Where would Scarless be, where would the criminals be. How would we shoot it? There's an awful lot of planning goes into any decent length of footage.

We stole shamelessly. I'm pretty sure Homicide[^] didn't run outside Australia so I can't rely on my older readers in other countries knowing the opening. Suffice it to say that we ripped the opening off; to the extent of shooting me driving my car along the South Eastern Freeway (back in the days when it was a 'free'way) then pulling up outside Russell Street Police Headquarters, stepping out of the car in the same way they did on the TV series as the camera panned up the building toward the antenna on the roof! Naturally we ran the Homicide theme over that footage!

Heino sent me a DVD of the rebroadcast, as part of the 7 networks 50th anniversary celebration, of the first colour episode they made, circa 1973. I enjoyed it immensely. How could you not enjoy something that showed the daggy clothes we wore back then? How not enjoy, if you were in your very late teens at the time, the seeing once again of Clarendon Street South Melbourne in all it's pre yuppie glory?

More interesting to me as one with a good memory was the sight of the Victorian Supreme Court building before it had been cleaned! It was really really grubby, the result of decades of air pollution. When the ABC[^] made Power without Glory[^] in 1976 they cleaned just enough of the building as they needed to show pristine sandstone in the backround of the shots. The contrast between the cleaned portion of the walls and the rest was so vivid that government paid to have the entire building cleaned. As a taxpayer I record that I thoroughly approved of that expenditure!

We also let the imagination run wild. How else explain a dream sequence where Robin played a mad monk presented with my head on a platter. He was supposed to pull a sword and cleave the head in twain. When we came to shoot the scene I was, understandably, reluctant to present my own head so we got one of those dummy heads you find at hairdressers and wig sellers. Some skilful editing would hide the transition from the real me to the fake me! Then Robin raised his sword high and brought it crashing down on the fake head. The bloody sword bounced and left barely a crease in the polystyrene! We all fell about laughing!

In the end we were left with a few minutes of footage as interest in the project waned. When I see that footage these days (only when I'm at Heino's because he hasn't transferred it to DVD - I really must talk to him about that :-) ) I remember back to a time when I was very young, very inexperienced and didn't know that some things are difficult to achieve. But I also remember a time when anything was possible, a time when I had the most fun you can have clothed, a time that I will always treasure.

It's going to take some time

Checking the INS website for processing times for various forms I discover that it's going to take at least a year before my application for naturalisation[^] even surfaces! Yikes!

But, as one who sees a wine glass as half full rather than half empty, this does mean I get at least another year of slinging off at the yanks before I become one! :-)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Unsolicited mail and a strange phone call

I started working at Unisys Australia on Tuesday January 3rd 1989. A bit of a culture shock moving from Hewlett Packard via a short stretch of unemployment to Unisys but nowhere near as much of a culture shock as that from Australia to the USA!

A couple of weeks after I joined Unisys I got a strange phone call. A strangely familiar voice I couldn't place asked if this was 'Rob Manderson' of such and such an address. I confirmed that it was indeed I and the caller hung up!

Yikes and consternation and all kinds of sharp musical chords!

But a few days passed without incident and I forgot about it.

A couple of weeks later a video tape turned up in the mail. Naturally it was VHS and I had Beta. Stop laughing. I was one of the early adopters of VCR's in Australia and at the time Beta was the dominant format. A few years down the track and quite a few hundred favourite movies in Beta format and what's a man to do?

So I took the tape to work and played it on the 5th floor conference room video player. A prospectus purportedly from the Australian Gold Coast (Australians just call it the Gold Coast) advertising a Pasman and Samuels prospectus. It looked very professional but I smelled a rat!

Nothing wrong with my nose. Well, maybe you'd argue that proposition if you saw the size of it but can I help it if air is free?

The tape and the call both came from Heino. You know he's my best mate but in 1989 I hadn't seen him for maybe 9 years; hence the strange familiarity of the voice though I couldn't place it.

The call was to establish the correctness of the address; and the tape was part of the softening up process for a Turtle Video reunion.

Robin received a copy of the same tape. It seems that he fell for it and thought it was a solicitation of his money; he threw it out in the rubbish!

And so it was that on Saturday March 18th 1989 I rolled up at Heinos house for a reunion. I hadn't seen him since 1980 or thereabouts but it was as if the years hadn't passed when I saw that familiar face. I don't deny that I called him 'Porky' due to some weight gain long since lost.

That was one of those great evenings we all remember. Made more enjoyable because of the lapse of years between meetings. I've said before that Heino, Garry, Robin, Dave and others were a big part of my life in the second half of the 1970's and it's true. Being brought together again after a lapse of nearly ten years was wonderful!

There was one embarassing incident related by Dave to my then girlfriend Peta, involving something I did in 1975 whilst walking along Champion Road Williamstown with the boys but I'm damned if I can think of a way of writing it that wouldn't involve my giving up blogging forever for the embarassment! Some things are too embarassing even for such a personal blog as this!

We've stayed in contact ever since and I certainly will never let it lapse. I count it as a privilege extended to few that when I visit Australia Heino takes me along with him on visits to his parents and both of them shake me warmly by the hand. You'd have to work hard to not like his folks! I count it as a higher privilege that Heino lets me stay at his house when I visit Australia.

We don't phone each other on a regular schedule; with the way I shuttle back and forth between the Philippines and Dallas how could we? I'm looking forward to the time when Heino comes to Phoenix and we can be mates again in my now home.

Ultramaroons tenth birthday

UltraMaroon is about 10 years old. I honestly don't remember the exact date though I suppose I could do a google search for the date that corresponds to Easter Monday 1996. Don't much care if the truth be told.

I wrote[^] about the day UltraMaroon was created.

Ten years down the track I remember something else about that time. We had a State election at the start of March 1996. Australian elections aren't calendared; they occur when the incumbent has to submit to the electorate and he thinks he can win.

Americans? Put your prejudes away! Every parliament has a maximum lifetime and the election must occur before such and such a date but the date can be set by the incumbent. It works pretty well for us!

The election victory for the party I don't support pretty much coincided with a period of extreme debt for me; it was my own fault but debt it was nonetheless. I had the choice of buying food for my cats or smoking. If you have a way of explaining to a cat that she is hungry because I need a smoke then share the secret with me! So I went without smokes.

Less than a month later Little Johnny Bastard, the current Australian Prime Minister, won the federal election. Fortunately I was back in the funds and thus was born an excuse to purchase a pack of smokes! Yeah, that's right, I'm still smoking because John Howard won the 1996 Australian Federal Election. And today I'm smoking because George W Bush is US president! Uh huh.

You might remember that back in late June 2003 President George W Bush had to undergo a medical procedure that involved his unconsciousness and, as a result, presidential power passed, briefly to Vice President Dick Cheney. The reason was not, so far as my internet checking shows, disclosed to the American Public.

Thus it is my privilege to reveal the true reason.

The operation involved an anal search for Australian Prime Minister John Howards dignity!

Oh, the American Howard, he who comments without leaving an email address? This should help toward your curiosity about my 'left wing' politics. If you want further comment please have the testicular fortitude to leave an email address.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

In Dallas again

Uh huh. I was supposed to travel yesterday (Monday) but you've been reading my blog, what do you think the odds are that travel will ever happen on the day it's supposed to happen? I hope to be flying out on Friday but let's see what happens!

So I flew over today. The flight was late as always but the gate people tried the usual 'smiling through the tears' encouragement thing. Namely, if we're all a little quicker than usual during the boarding process maybe we won't have to spend an hour at the gate whilst the less considerate passengers find places to stow the carryon luggage they should have checked at the ticket counter.

Didn't work of course. I was still treated to the sight of enthusiastic morons trying the luggage equivalent of shoving a quart into a pint pot. What really gets me is the way they try to deny reality. They have a rectangular roller bag maybe twice as long as it's wide. They can see that the space between adjacent bags is maybe a little more than the width so they start out initially sane; they try and shove the bag in lengthwise. If it's too long for the overhead luggage compartment when put in wheels first they don't give it up as a lost cause and move to another compartment where maybe they could stow it sideways, no sirree bob, no. They take it out, reverse it and try and shove it handle end first. Uh mate, if it wouldn't go all the way in that way what makes you imagine reversing it will do the trick?

So the moron gives up and shoves it in the space between his seat and the back of the seat in front, right where his legs should go. The bag was too big to fit under the seat! This is the aisle seat I might add. So there he is, trying to decide if he'd rather spend two and a bit hours with his knees up around his ears or if it'd be better to put one leg on either side. The latter course leads to his right foot sticking out into the aisle while everyone else is trying to board so he compromises. His right knee will be up around his ear whilst his left foot intrudes into someone elses already miserly allocation of space.

This compromise at least lets everyone else pass toward the back of the plane. Of course, a few minutes later along come the cabin crew checking that people have fastened seat belts and so on and then ensues an argument with the cabin crew insisting that he cannot travel like that and he must check the bag. He doesn't want to but I could see the telltale signs of reddening of the ears. Backing yourself into a corner anyone?

And so, what with one moron or another, a flight that started out half an hour late became an hour late. Assuming that what I witnessed wasn't particularly unusual (and it isn't, I saw much the same thing happen on a flight to Frankfurt last year) it's little wonder that mid afternoon flights run late and evening flights run very late.

Arrived in Dallas I collected the rental car. It's a Sebring though I have no idea which manufacturer actually made it. Is it a Dodge? A GMC? Is it even an American car? *shrug* The badge work on the vehicle is unfamiliar. Nice enough vehicle though I wish rental car companies would allow for smokers. It's about 35 miles from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to the hotel and even with the freeway/tollway system it takes nearly an hour. I took the President George Bush Turnpike. Somehow it offended Kevin when I asked him, a trip or two ago, which President George Bush it was named after. Apparently I was supposed to realise that it was George the Elder. Again, *shrug*

So I stopped off at the bottle shop (liquor store) to buy some wine. The cellarmaster said 'you haven't been in for a while'. He was right. The last time I'd been there was a trifle over two months ago.

From there I went to a restaurant.. I've given up on the hotel room service. They're not even trying anymore! Unedible food and about twice the price I'd pay if I drove the three or four miles to the restaurant strip in Plano. So I went to a restaurant I've eaten at before; they do good ribs! Walked in and the waiter came over and said 'you haven't been in for a while'.

I'm impressed. At the restaurant I hinted that maybe my hair gave me away but he denied it; apparently they don't get that many diners who bring a book and reading glasses. The really embarassing thing is that it's the same damn book I was reading two months ago. Charles Dickens's 'The Old Curiousity Shop'. But I promise you, I'm on the last chapter and Little Nell really has died!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hiding the towel

In 1980 Sue and I shared a house with Robin. I've already written a little[^] about that time.

That's the only two storey house I ever lived in. Where I live now is multi-storey but it's a condominium, not a house. We have no backyard we can call our own and the Home Owners Association are most assiduous in suppressing any and all touches of individuality. That is, however, a story for another day.

One thing about that house back in 1980 that impressed me was the creative use of the space under the staircase; the owners had converted it into a bathroom. Let's not trip over language; I'm not talking euphemisms for that most necessary of rooms, the toilet. Nope, I mean a real bathroom with a genuine bathtub.

I'm perhaps a trifle overfond, when my wife says she's going to the bathroom, of asking 'oh, are you taking a bath?'. Andrew's become used to that question too. Myself? I never announce a visit to the bathroom; I'm off to take a leak or to bring another manager into the world and don't you forget it! :-)

It was very pleasant indeed to relax in a hot bath under the stairs and one could take a perverse pleasure out of stretching ones foot out against the sloping ceiling of that bathroom. Another kind of footprint[^] on the ceiling I suppose.

Robin became quite fond of long luxurious baths. After a few nights we (Sue and I though I suspect I was the main offender) had an evil idea and so I wrenched the door open one evening and grabbed all of Robin's clothes! Poor bastard emerged a few minutes later wrapped in a towel to beat a hasty retreat to his bedroom and dress in peace.

The next night we were prepared; the towel disappeared along with the clothes. Pleadings and curses from behind the door and we caved in to the extent of handing back the towel. This went on for a few days and then, one night, there were neither towel nor clothes to be found on the bathroom raid. Robin lay there laughing his head off at our consternation.

I soon stopped his laughter, by the simple expedient of reaching under the water to pull the plug! We were called more things than bastards that night! :-)

A night or two later we discovered the secret. You understand that we'd seen him walk, fully clothed, into the bathroom, towel slung over his shoulder. Somewhat later there he was, quite evidently not fully clothed, in the bathtub with nary a sign of clothing or towel. The clothes we found in a plastic bag stuck behind the pipe leading from the wash basin. The towel was more artfully concealed inside a plastic stool. And so, on the night we discovered the secret, the plastic stool and the plastic bag both left the bathroom with us. More pleading and cursing.

The following night he was strangely unperturbed when we repeated the performance. Imagine our surprise when he emerged fully dressed and dry from the bathroom when we thought we had his gear!

He'd outwitted us again. This time he had smuggled in two towels and one change of clothing, knowing that we'd abscond with what we could. The second towel and the change of clothing had been in the tub with him, sealed in a plastic bag beneath his knees!

It stopped there. Neither of us really wanted to be sticking our hands into the bathwater and grubbing around that close to his backside!

A bloody big beer!

When I was last in Australia, September 2005, I had the pleasure of seeing an ad for beer on TV. I'm not a beer drinker; I prefer wine, but it's still a bloody good ad.

Here's the ad[^]. No prizes for guessing which movie influenced the creative team!

Monday, April 17, 2006

The day Robin 'got' me

The way I've written about Robin you might imagine that it was entirely one sided and that I was always the smart arsed victor. 'Taint so.

One winters day in 1982 Robin came over to our house which was, at the time, opposite Monash University in Wellington Road. The location is immaterial but I've gotten so completely into the habit of thinking the where as well as the when that the words just flow out of my fingertips. I'm sticking to that story! :-)

In he walked, strange grin on his face. The first question out of his mouth was 'do you like knock knock jokes?' I can take em or leave em. But I said yes. 'Ok', he said, 'you start'. So I started.

'Knock knock' I said.

'Who's there?' he replied.

At which point my mind went a blank and he exploded into laughter. I'm sure I reddened as the realisation dawned that I'd been had!

Andrew isn't the only one

who commits Andrewisms. The other day at the office one of the guys poked his head over the partition and asked me how to spell 'google'.

'Why not look it up on google?' I innocently asked.

'Good idea!' he said!

A say what moment (and a good weekend)

I mentioned the other day that we were going to spend the weekend in Flagstaff. My other step-daughter, Shelby, the one I get along well with, lives there. That's a convenient excuse because Flagstaff is actually a pretty nice place to visit.

We were driving along such and such road toward the hotel after I'd spent some time setting up security on their wireless network when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a Mortuary. The 'Norval Owens Mortuary'. But what I thought I saw was the 'Novel Ovens Mortuary'. Quite the WTF moment!

A fun weekend. Played the tourist to the hilt. We went up via Sedona[^] which is, to my taste, a bit touristy but if you can ignore that side of things you'll see some really amazing geological formations. They don't call it 'Red Rock Country' for nothing. There are some Photos here[^].

Lunch at Sedona consisted of some spicy pulled pork sandwiches. Mucho tasty and well worth the 7 bucks a sanga!

After Sedona my wife wanted to find the Mayhew Lodge where she'd stayed as a child in 1960. I can understand that so off we set to find it. Instructions from the website were pretty clear, get to the junction of 169 and 89A at Sedona and drive north along 89A for 10.3 miles, then drop a left and we'd be there. And so it proved. A few minutes waiting for someone to leave the full car park so we could enter and we were off and walking.

We found the lodge, or at least the remains of it; it was burned down in 1980. We saw what appeared to be a guided tour and Sonya headed toward it, only to discover, as one of the members of the party frantically waved her away, that we'd stumbled into a wedding! We can both move pretty fast when it's warranted and I very much doubt they wanted a couple of middle aged dags in the background of their wedding photos, no matter how cute my accent might be!

Arrived in Flagstaff as aforesaid I set up their wireless network security and it was time for dinner, at Black Barts[^] named after this outlaw[^]. We bank with Wells Fargo and I have to admit that it was quite the surprise when I moved here to Arizona to find that my wife banked with Wells Fargo, a name I knew only from ancient Hollywood Westerns.

Good dinner though a trifle expensive.

After dinner we let Matt and Shelby do what they wanted with their evening; we went back to the hotel.

The next day (Sunday, Today) we went did the tourist thing in Flagstaff, visiting the Lowell Observatory[^]. I remember as a kid reading about Percival Lowell and his observatory in Flagstaff Arizona, never imagining that one day I'd be living in Arizona and would visit it. Fortunately it was closed today! Normally that'd be a downer but if you're visiting an astronomical observatory in the daytime and the gates aren't actually locked against you that's an advantage. It meant we could wander amongst the telescopes free of the crowds. I promise myself that I will one day make the time to be in Flagstaff at night when the observatory is open to the interested.

But the fun wasn't over yet. We also wanted to see the Riordan Mansion[^]. Good tour though I couldn't escape the feeling that the crew cut young man running the tour was staring at my long hair. Well worth the admission fee.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The fingerprinting game

A post over on CodeProject about fingerprinting for intending visitors to the US got me thinking. I won't do a link because, for whatever reason, attempts to link to a particular post in the Lounge don't usually go to the right post. Or maybe there's some subtle nuance of HTML that I don't understand.

Though it depends on the country of origin it's a general requirement for a legal immigrant to the US to prove a lack of criminal record. If you're an Australian born after 1942 that involves a fingerprinted search of criminal records in all states of Australia. So I was fingerprinted, for the first time in my life, at age 48. Naturally it came back negative; I've never been arrested let alone charged with a crime.

Arrived in the US, immigration visa in my hot little hand, I was fingerprinted again. I must have looked like the photo!

When my first greencard expired (2 years because I was an immediate relative immigrant married for less than 2 years to my immediate relative sponsor (my wife)) I had to be fingerprinted again.

Now I have a Naturalisation as a US Citizen application going through the system. Once again I get fingerprinted though it won't happen for some months as they work through the pile of paper.

Now let's go back to that first fingerprinting. I sent off to the US consulate in Sydney for the paperwork I needed to fill out. They sent back an alphabet soup of forms; the I130, the I230 and so on, along with requests for a birth certificate and the aforementioned fingerprinted police record. When we showed for the interview at the consulate a set of completed forms were handed over, all showing that one Robert Clyde Manderson was a suitable candidate for consideration as an immigrant to the USA.

They had no way of knowing that the paperwork I filed really was mine! No photo submitted for the police check. No fingerprinting there and then and no comparison of the fingerprints of the applicant with those of the person who had passed the police check!

They took it as granted that the ugly bastard standing before them at the consulate building in Sydney was indeed the person who had been fingerprinted a month before and who had no criminal record!

The only important hurdle surmounted!

Obviously the photo on my immigration visa had to look me; I signed it in the presence of the consulate officer and it was attached to my visa and stamped. So the person who showed it at the Port of Entry to the US had to look like that person. The second fingerprinting, the one at the Port of Entry is when the chain was started. That was the first time my fingerprints went onto a US database.

Presumably the third fingerprinting, the one taken at the Phoenix INS office at the time of my greencard renewal, was compared with the Port of Entry record.

But it's that first fingerprinting that's the hole in the system. I need hardly state that I didn't cheat the system. It was indeed I who fronted up at Footscray Police Station in early April 2002 to be fingerprinted. It took more than a quarter of an hour to get most of the ink off my hands after THAT experience. They noticed in the office the next day that my hands seemed rather darker than usual!

But it could have been someone else; someone with no police record.

Shh, d'you hear that??

The sound of silence. Well, I'm not listening to silence as I write, I'm listening to some Pet Shop Boys. Nonetheless, the house is silent for a change.

I was supposed to go bowling with Vern last night but one thing and another conspired to make that difficult. The odd bit of bug fixing for the software to satisfy a customer half a world away, the imminence of Easter and plans my wife and I had to go spend a weekend at Flagstaff. It seems that Vern went drinking with Bloggers[^] of considerably more celebrity than I! :-)

The imminence of Easter was important; the kids, both of em, were going to Palm Springs with Dad to visit Grandmum, leaving me and Sonya a little peace. I, poor innocent naive that I am, fondly imagined up until about 10 PM last night that it was going to happen.

Not a bit of it, of course. I drove home and walked into an argument. It seemed that Morgan, now 7 months or so pregnant, doesn't want to go. Perhaps I'm on shaky ground in expressing this opinion but it seems to me that if she's perfectly happy swanning around our little part of Phoenix looking like an aneurism it shouldn't make any difference if she's doing it in Palm Springs. But nope, the little princess can't face the idea of the good folk of Palm Springs seeing her in that state.

It should be pretty obvious by now that my patience with Morgan has been completely consumed. There wasn't a lot to start with but three and half years of leeching has drained it completely.

Words were exchanged; exhortations to grow up on the one side, angry denial and floods of tears on the other. I fear that Sonya and I also had some words on the subject. So I went for a walk and when I returned this[^] was the situation.

Sometime during today, and I don't know the details, Morgan suddenly disappeared. Mum didn't seem overly concerned so I let it go. We had dinner (Salmon coated in olive oil and Dill, sprinkled with lemon juice, cooked by yours truly) and wandered over to Starbucks for a hot choccy. Relaxed surroundings and relaxed conversation for a change; it turns out that the little princess is staying at a hotel somewhere nearby. My first question was 'who's paying for it?' Not that I wouldn't be glad to put the bitch up in a hotel in exchange for some domestic peace but it'd be nice to be asked. Sonya swears that Morgan is footing the bill. *shrug*

And it seems that the freeloader, having expressed unwillingness to share the hotel bill, has been given his marching orders. But I'll believe that when we've not seen him for a month!

A way of using canned peaches I'd never have thought of

I'm not sure whether my failure to imagine it is a bad thing or not. You can decide :-)

I've just been watching a silly episode of a silly TV series, Married... with Children[^]. I honestly can't remember when I started watching it; I suspect sometime in 1995. Confession time, I've always thought Katey Sagal is incredibly sexy. Tonights episode, recorded some weeks ago, involves that strange sport that Americans play, Gridiron Football. I can't make head or tail of it as a sport. I suspect I need some American to explain it to me in infinite detail and then maybe I'd understand what the heck a touchdown is. On the other hand, I don't think I could muster enough interest in the subject to remain awake through the explanation!

As one does when watching something one lets the associations roam free. On this occasion the association led to the memory of a porn film I once watched, with Sue, at the encouragement of a friend. We'd gone over to his place on a social visit. He was newlywed at the time but it seemed that his interest in certain kinds of, um, literature, was unabated.

He was most insistent that we really needed to see this particular example of the genre. So he stuck the tape into the VCR, hit play and left the room. We sat down to watch. First story involved an American 'football' player, which is what triggered the memory. Silly story that I won't relate.

It was the second story that got us laughing! Sexy young 'innocent' female and stud. Stud has a can of peaches. He opens the can and proceeds to pour the contents into her underwear. My friend stuck his head through the door at what he doubtless imagined was an appropriate moment to find Sue and I rolling around on the floor doing things best done in private. Well he did find us rolling about but he was quite surprised that we were still fully dressed and laughing our heads off!

What a pair of bastards we were!

Friday, April 14, 2006

The battle continues

Dedicated to Dan :-) You know why, Dan.

A week or so ago Morgan 'found' a recliner chair. I quote the word because I have my doubts about the 'foundness' of the chair. Morgan also has a Palm computer that she claims to have got in a swap of some sort or other. Knowing the price range of of Palms and Morgans resources I suspect it's most likely stolen property. As you can imagine, if I'm in the process of applying for US Citizenship where having 'good' moral character is a factor, it's a source of some unease that it's possible stolen property is circulating through this house.

The eternal balancing act; my wife is getting heartily sick of my pointing out the faults in Morgans character that are obvious to all but a mother! I console myself with the reflection that the worst than can happen is that I get deported back to Australia. There are much worse places to be deported to!

So Morgan had a recliner chair. My wife took one look, tried it out and decided that it would work well downstairs. Urgently I took her aside and advised against it. Let me try and recall my exact wording. 'The only thing that keeps Morgan and I from open warfare is that she has her space upstairs and I have mine downstairs; put that chair downstairs and the cold war will heat up!'

That comment must have got to Morgan for tonight she, in a complete change of habit, spent upwards of three hours downstairs. It didn't take me long to work out what was going on so I listened to Iolanthe[^]. The freeloader[^] is still around. Bopped along to Iolanthe. I have more patience than she does; she gave up and retired about the time I was ready to start the evening!

Let's see where the battle goes next!

I'm really liking this

the sheer convenience of ripping one's CD collection to the hard disk. No more scrabbling through hundreds of CDs. I want to listen to David Bowies 'Cygnet Committee'? Navigate via the Albums View to David Bowie/Space Oddity and there it is! After that wallow in anti-totalitarianism I want to listen to Michael Nymans 3rd String Quartet? Piece of cake! As I said once before[^], it amazes me that it took me so long to connect the dots but now that I've done it I'm a convert.

I'm still coping with the finer nuances though; CDDB and the MSN CD database are all very well but they are, as far as I can tell from the evidence of the quality of their categorisation, amateur databases at best. How else explain that CD1 of Mahlers 3rd Symphony sorts in WMP as Mahler Symphony 3 whilst I can't even find CD2 in the listings despite the fact that examining the Music folder shows it's there and I've done an 'Add to library' on the Music folder?

I foresee a lot of fine tuning over the next few months as I edit the MP3 tags to get various CD's to sort to the places I think they should sort to. I think I can do that. It feels almost churlish to be complaining about the performance and accuracy of something I haven't even directly paid for!

Being a really picky bastard

whose grasp of English Grammar might sometimes be suspect it feels like maybe I'm pushing my luck.

However, when I drive home and reach the intersection of The Hohokam Expressway and MacDowell road there's a billboard off to the right that really irks me. It's advertising a mobile phone plan. I really don't remember which company.

The gist of the wording is that this is a plan that allows one to call 'whoever' 'whenever', with unlimited minutes. If you believe that any phone company offers true unlimited minutes without some sting in the bum then you'll believe that I can walk on water! I can't help seeing that 'whoever' and thinking that it really ought to be 'whomever'. Indeed, I really want to see that m.

Like I said, I'm a picky bastard. You might have noticed that I frequently use the word 'whilst' where most people would expect to see the word 'while'. I was in an online chat some years ago (I was a host expected to drop the gavel of doom onto those who used four letter words) talking about something or other. I don't remember what. Anyway, I used the word 'whilst'. One of the participants in the chat couldn't resist pointing out that even in online chat I used 'whilst'. I wasn't sure if this was a 'taking of the piss' or a real observation but I chose the optimistic view! :-)

I can't explain the rules I use to chose between 'who' and 'whom', or between 'while' and 'whilst'. It's gut feel, probably backed up by unconscious memories of reading what I assume are the correct usages in ancient books. I just know that when I write a sentence where the choice is one or the other the one feels right, the other doesn't.

A power outage

so there I was tonight, in the bathroom. Not a euphimism for the dunny though I had just arisen from a reading of George Orwells essay on Good Bad books whilst perched over that necessary appliance.

Shower running, waiting for it to reach temperature and the lights went out. Our downstairs bathroom has no window thankfully. If it did the window would be at about waist height for an 8 year old and what they would spy through it would probably scar them for life. The upstairs bathroom has a window but it's about 12 feet above the ground; anyone spying through it gets what they deserve!

Without a window and with the door closed it went pitch black. Couldn't see a thing. No matter; I've showered in there for the last 3 and a bit years.

My wife, bless her, stuck her head in and asked if I needed a candle. Nope! I know where everything is.

Showered, dried, shaved (yes I shaved in total darkness. I shave in the shower and if I don't know the shape of my chin by now I never will) and dressed I emerged into a candlelit world.

My wife and I have done this many times before so we know the power will come back soon. Not so Andrew. Poor bastard. It seems he's afraid of the dark. I won't be too harsh with him about that; I'm afraid of heights. *shrug*

To be honest it was quite a novelty. The silence of the computers. I poured myself a glass of wine and relaxed on the patio with a ciggy. I might have suggested to my wife that if the power didn't return in half an hour I could think of things we could do that didn't need light! :-)

That was a no go so we move on. Andrew, he of little resource if TV is dead, bethought to himself 'I can play a game on my iPod'. Hopes dashed; the battery was flat. 'Oh' he said sheepishly, 'I didn't charge it'. I laughed. 'And now you know why I keep all my stuff charged!'.

A little later Andrew fell back on food. It seems that somewhere along the way he's got the idea that overeating is a way to compensate for whatever. I foresee a fat adult. He grabbed some cookies, excusing himself by saying he eats when he's nervous. Ok, I'll go with that. An alcoholic isn't standing on very secure ground in those kinds of arguments.

He notes that the fridge light doesn't come on. Both me and my wife laugh.

A little later (the power was still off) Andrew asks me 'Will the Microwave work?'. I despair! What does he think powers the Microwave Oven? I tell him it won't. 'Oh', downcast. 'Will the oven work?'. 'Nope, we're all electric!'.

I really do need to take that lad in hand and explain a few simple realities!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Of course you can come along

I wrote a couple of months ago about the Turtle Video Centre[^].

I was fortunate enough to be invited, by Heino, to become a member in the very early days. Fortunate indeed, for I was part of the cabal who pretty much got a stranglehold on it. The theory was that any member of the public could walk in, give perfunctory identification, book a video camera and recording equipment and walk out with it.

I say perfunctory identification because the world, or at least Australia, was a rather different place in early 1975. Our drivers licenses were a paper document with our name, date of birth and other relevant information typed onto it with a manual typewriter. Photo licenses didn't come until the 90's. In 1982 I was in San Jose buying my first dot matrix printer at some shop or other. I was paying by credit card and the guy behind the counter wanted ID. I showed him my Victorian drivers license and he flatly refused to believe that that creased and worn piece of paper was a valid drivers license! I ended up paying cash and got a great price. Unfortunately, the savings were devoured by the cost of a step down transformer to let that 110 Volt printer run on 240 Volt mains. So we learn...

Well that was the theory. Unfortunately the people running the place pretty much turned the running of it over to us. Optimists! Another theory might run along the lines of 'lazy bastards!'. For, given the power to grant or deny we mainly denied. We had our own projects and who knew when we might need the equipment? So we did block bookings months ahead of time and, somehow, it always turned out that a random member of the public requesting a booking would find that the equipment was 'booked'.

Danno, eat your heart out!

We did all sorts of silly projects. One I remember involved me, as the actor, clutching my chest and faking a heart attack in the Block Arcade, Collins Street, Melbourne. Somehow or other we persuaded the then management of Orrefors to let us set a camera up inside their shop, trained upon the public area. I walked into the shot, faked a heart attack in the tradition of the worst melodrama and had to fend off well meaning busybodies who were genuinely concerned at the prospect of the death of a 20something. Well, it made sense at the time but I'm at a loss to explain it now!

If you encounter me these days clutching my chest and showing all the signs of a heart attack take it seriously. It probably will be!

Having video gear in 1975 was special; it opened all sorts of doors. We once turned up at the Melbourne Zoo and got free admission on the strength of that camera. Try it today and see how far you'd get! We also got preferential treatment at Tullamarine Airport in those innocent pre 11/9 days!

Word must have spread; one afternoon Frank appeared. He was a trifle younger than we. Well, to be honest, he was a lot younger than I but only a trifle younger than Dave, Heino, Gary, Keith, Graham and Andrew. Eager and willing was Frank. We had a shoot planned at Williamstown Cemetery; there was a newly dug grave and time was of the essence before it's occupant took residence. Again, it made sense at the time and I seem to recall that it was I who had the fascination with cemeteries but at this temporal distance the only thing I can remember about the planned production was that Keith, clad in tailcoat and top hat, would rise miraculously out of the grave. Profound stuff! It was my tailcoat and fake top hat of course but as director I couldn't also be the actor! Someone tell Woody Allen that. Please!

Frank was eager to join the crew. We exchanged glances and agreed he could come along. Frank was ecstatic! All he had to do was carry the gear!

Poor bastard!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Internet streaming

Ain't technology wonderful? Here I am in Phoenix at 12:40 AM Monday listening to 3LO Radio Melbourne's Monday afternoon drive time show.

In the pre-internet age this would be iffy at best; when I was a kid I used to snuggle under the covers with my trusty transistor radio stuck to my ear, making the most minute tuning changes in the hopes of finding an interstate radio station. The most remote station I remember finding was somewhere in Far North Queensland (a distance of a few thousand kilometres). It wasn't all that hard to pick up stations from North Tasmania, a distance of a couple of hundred kilometres.

It worked better in summertime. I used to know all the details but it's been a long time; I seem to remember that it depends on the signals bouncing between the surface of the planet and the ionosphere; in summer the ionosphere is higher up so the bounce is further.

It was an intellectual exercise of course; the programming was pretty much the same wherever you were in Australia; The Small Faces, The Beatles, Russell Morris and so on.

A few years later (quite a few actually) Sue and I spent time late at night on stayovers with her mother and stepfather in Anglesea tuning our shortwave radio to Russian broadcasts. I fancy I was more interested in the Russian stations than she was!

To be listening to Radio Melbourne at this hour at this time of year in Phoenix without having to tune a radio and compensate for temperature related drift much less put up with fade in and fade out should tell you that I'm listening to an internet stream. It's only 40 KBits/sec which makes it sometimes sound like they're talking down a garden hose but I can't tell you how good it feels to be listening to traffic reports and hearing those accents!

It seems there's an accident on a street very very close to where Heino lives. Also an accident close to where I used to live in 1988! Yup, it's trivial in the extreme but it certainly makes me feel closer to home than I did a month ago.

If you're interested, here's the link[^], click on 'Listen to 774 Melbourne using Windows Media Player' or RealPlayer if that's your preference.

Flake bars

I always thought the Cadburys Flake bar was invented sometime around 1960 but this link[^] argues otherwise. Of course, that's a UK site so it's entirely possible that my memories, as a 6 year old, are accurate and it was new to Australia in 1960. Whatever.

They cost a bob at the time. I think they're up around the $1.50 mark in Milk Bars and probably somewhat less at supermarkets but it's been a while since I've had the opportunity to buy one. I have looked avariciously at the tins of Flake Bars on sale at Singapore airport but at US$40 a pack the price seems a trifle steep.

I know they cost a bob at the time because, at the time, my grandmother took me along to the corner shop. Yes, we really did have corner shops then. I lived at 12 Broad Street West Footscray, off Argyle Street. My school was at the end of the street and I passed by the corner shop every day going to or from school.

I remember biscuits (cookies) in metal tins high on the shelves. High not just in my terms in 1960 but high enough that even the adult behind the counter had to reach high to get at them.

In late 2002 Heino and I were busy being blokes and reconciling ourselves to the imminence of my departure from Australia to live in the US. I fancy I was doing more reconciling than he was :-)

We spent a few hours rambling around Seddon and West Footscray and had the good fortune, one Sunday morning, to encounter a couple who were just exiting their converted corner shop as we gazed upon it. Perhaps they imagined we were casing the joint; whatever the reason we talked about it and I had to admit that I remembered when it really was a shop. She was instantly interested; I seem to remember (though I may be wrong) that there was a family connection to the shop and she wanted to know what I remembered of it. What did I remember? Those damn metal tins full of biscuits (cookies). She was delighted at my description of shopping there in 1963 and my description was, for the most part, honest :-)

Back at the corner of Broad Street and Argyle Street West Footscray I remember my grandmother buying half a pound of broken biscuits (cookies) and the shopkeeper weighing em up, shoving em into a brown paper bag and then grabbing the bag by the corners, raising it high over her head and whirling it shut. I think that was the first time I ever saw a womans armpits and let me tell you, that sight has psychologically crippled me ever since :-) She had more armpit hair than I've ever had!

I was her little soldier. As was every little boy who ever came within her ambit. I don't say that as a nasty thing, it's the way things were and as a 6 year old I accepted it. I might have had a penny in my pocket, perhaps it was tuppence. I don't remember. Cutesing herself up to her customer through me she asked what I wanted to spend my money on. I pointed at a flake bar. Cutesing only goes so far! 'Oh no' she said, 'you don't have enough money for that'. But I outwitted her! Tears worked a charm.

I'm going to resist the temptation to mention the step daughter who ought not to be mentioned though I do note that techniques don't change over the years; what changes is who can pull them off. I'd no more expect tears to work nowadays than I'd imagine flapping my arms would take me to Australia!

Monday, April 10, 2006

I can keep this up all day

The other day PP and I got into a friendly argument. PP is of course Personnel Person, aka Leah. Nice enough lady and, whats more important, she can take a joke. We've got into the way of poking tongues at each other as we pass in the office. When you can descend to that level of childishness you know you've reached a comfortable accomodation!

I don't want to actually state what the argument was about; for one it would take way more space to give the background than you'd want to read or I'd want to write and for another, it'd be publishing details of internal politics that are best not promulgated to the net.

We ended up facing each other, hands on hips, me saying 'you started it', she saying 'did not, you started it' and me saying 'did not, you started it'. Insert a loop of about 20 round trips and you have the gist...

After the 20th round trip I said 'you know, I can keep this up all day, I have stepkids'. Meant to be a killer response but she trumped me. 'Yeah, and I have real kids!'.

Game, set and match!


In my regular phone call with Heino today he asked me what a Saltine Cracker[^] is. I could almost swear that Saltines are sold in Australia but perhaps it's the fact that the packaging is almost identical in size, shape and colours to a packet of Arnotts Salada Crackers that makes me think so. I googled for a link to the Aussie Salada but couldn't find one.

So, if you're an Australian or a New Zealander wondering what a Saltine is, think Salada. This won't help those of you who aren't Aussies or Kiwis but I'm sure you have some kind of hard cracker with a some salt crystals on one side.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

BEEP is louder than beep

Back in the early 80's when I worked for Hewlett Packard I learned to program the HP9825A[^] Programmable Calculator. It was considerably more than a calculator though! If we installed the HPIB interface card and the I/O ROM we could use it to control test instruments and I remember writing more than one program to ease the effort of calibrating a spectrum analyser.

Indeed, if I remember rightly, the major market for the 9825A was the instrument control market.

The programming language it used was called HPL, which as far as I remember was a variation on APL though, given that I've never seen an APL program, that may be no more than faulty remembrance.

Like many specialised languages HPL had a bunch of machine specific keywords. The only one I remember is 'beep' which did exactly what the name would suggest; it beeped the machine. Unlike a great many machines of the period, it was possible to specify the pitch and duration of the beep and you could, if sufficiently misguided, write a program to play monophonic and monotonal tunes on the machine.

The keywords in the language were defiantly lower case; it would accept lines written in upper case, parse them and convert keywords to lower case.

One of my colleagues, Gary, fancied himself a musician and he became interested in the possibilities of the machine. Many a lunch hour he'd spend playing around with the beep statement. He wasn't a programmer so he asked me to explain some of the more subtle nuances of reading data arrays from mass storage so he could store his tunes.

After a while he became unhappy with the lack of control over the volume and he asked me how he could vary it.

'Piece of cake, mate' I said. 'If you type beep in lower case you get low volume, if you type BEEP you get loud and if you type Beep you get something in the middle'. Obviously I'm paraphrasing but it would take way too long to type out the whole conversation.

He was convinced and went off to lunchtime programming happy. It took him ages to realise that no matter what case you used when inputting a program the machine would always convert keywords to lower case!

Salt and Honey

It's amazing how good a little honey spread over a Saltine Cracker can taste!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A novel experience

They say that if you don't like the weather in Melbourne wait 5 minutes; it'll change. Yeah, I know they say that of many cities around the world but Melbourne's the one I grew up in so naturally I think in Melbourne terms.

Wednesdays weather in Phoenix could almost have been an early Melbourne Summer day. Cool and wet at the start, warm and windy in the middle, wet and warm and windy toward the end and cold at the end.

It was quite the nostalgic moment to be driving to the office that morning through driving rain. I heard a sound I'd almost forgotten; the sound of rain pelting the windscreen.

By midday it was warm and sticky and most of the cloud cover had gone. Obviously still cold high overhead; the jet contrails were as ubiquitous as ever. I'd never seen as many contrails as I see here. At first I thought they were evidence of US military flyovers; given that they're not that common in the Melbourne sky. Ascribing them to the US military does however, seem like paranoia these days. They're quite obviously commuter flights. Just a lot of them. Well, Phoenix Sky HarboUr is apparently the fifth busiest airport in the US so that kinda makes sense.

Driving home just on sunset (about 7 PM) it was my pleasure to once again hear the sound of rain pelting the windscreen. Indeed, given that I planned to stop off at the Mesquite branch of the Phoenix Public Library to pick up a CD, I was a trifle apprehensive. When in Melbourne one dresses for rain; in Phoenix one does not. Fortunately, the rain had all but stopped by the time I hit Cholla and was completely gone when I reached Cactus.

I must be getting acclimated; for the first six months I lived here I really missed the rain and, on the very few occasions we had any, I'd go outside and all but dance in it.

It won't be long until we're seeing temperatures well over the 38 C mark every day and, come late June, I'll be checking the temperature gauge on late night TV and marvelling that we've got down as low as 38 C at midnight!

The CD was Alexander Nemtin's realisation of Alexander Scriabin's Mysterium. Complex and strange harmonies; very very late Post Romantic music dating from around 1913. Good stuff!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


So I'm driving home from the office the other night after one of those interminable late afternoon/early evening telephone conferences. The Tuesday one has become a bit of a joke with we attendees; I sit there miming the act of biting my own arm off at the shoulder. When we hit the button to terminate the connection to the teleconference I say 'man that feels good' whilst miming a man beating his head against a brick wall who has just stopped. You probably have to be there to picture it; it's not easy miming the end of an action :-)

Which isn't to say that we don't take the action items arising from the teleconference seriously; we do, but sometimes (read most of the time) the meeting is so mind numbingly boring that it makes the idea of inspecting the padding of a coffin from the inside seem attractive!

Anyway I'm driving home and the car radio's on. Though a music fan I don't listen to music radio when I drive; there's not much I dislike more than finding myself halfway through a symphony when I reach the destination. I should be so lucky that the classical music radio stations here (or anywhere else for that matter) should play a symphony during the drive hours. Nope, they stick to the classical music equivalent of 1960's bubblegum. Believe me, there is much music in the classical genre that deserves no better description!

That's not to say that, on it's own level, 1960's bubblegum should be despised. I was a big fan of it at the time and I still indulge occasionally. The Lemon Pipers[^] did a couple or three great tracks (50 Year Void, Through with you and Dead End Street/Half Light). I have both the albums listed on that link as a single CD purchased in 2000.

On comes an ad for Dasani water, which is a product of the Coca Cola Company. It's supposedly spring water in a plastic bottle. I first saw bottled drinking water in Northern California in February 1982 on a long supermarket shelf at Longs Drugs. I was amazed. Why on earth would anyone pay a buck for a bottle of drinking water? This was two decades before I tasted Phoenix tap water and let me tell you, 55 cents a gallon is a bargain by comparison! :-)

We have an icemaker in the fridge which seemed, at the time we bought it, the ultimate expression of American consumerism. You have to be a non American to appreciate the sweeping nature of that generalisation :-) Not one of us can stomach the ice cubes it produces; we disconnected it at least two years ago!

As ads go it was run of the mill; something to tickle the surface of the brain whilst cogitating on a programming problem and letting the subconscious process the days events. Something about a bear with the ability to speak English describing the taste of water and how Dasani doesn't have that muddy bottom of the river flavour. We've all heard similar advertising crap before!

And then came the information that Dasani now comes in three (count em, 3) flavours. Lemon, Raspberry and plain ol' water flavour! That got my attention! Say what???

In a little over a century we've gone from unflavoured water to flavoured water to carbonated flavoured water to still water and now we're back to flavoured still water with a minor detour into carbonated unflavoured water which is still very much a niche market.

There's progress for you!

I won't be a bit surprised to see, if I make it to 90, an advertising campaign that reintroduces bubbles in water!