Taking (off) the Pith

I’ve reached a quiet decision.

Steampunk is marvelous; I love it, and I have greatly enjoyed my many and variousSteamPratt.png excursions therein, both fantastic (e.g. my book series), and in the real world. By that I mean the inventing, building, sculpting, costuming and ultimately cosplaying my wacko combos.

And as much fun as it is to attend Comic Con or Supanova, fabulously attired and wheeling a contraption or hefting an unlikely weapon, the very best moments have been stopping in at the supermarket on the way home. THAT is gold. The heads I turn and the smiles I raise. Locally, I’m (almost) famous.

But a discomforting darkness has now befallen me: SENSITIVITY. After several years of thought and introspection, I’ve decided to leave The Pith at home from now on.

Why? One word: Colonialism.

I live in the City of Logan, which is not a city, it’s just a huge messy sprawling suburb that has arisen haphazardly upon a patch of land that once (and arguably still does) belong to the Yugambeh and Yuggera People. It was declared to be a ‘city’ some 40 years ago, and has struggled ever since to stamp itself with an identity. It doesn’t even have a natural centre. It has no harbour, no airport, no grand old civic buildings or any history to speak of except bush-felling and cow farming, preceded by the usual arc of invasion and colonial acquisition of course, then some 30,000 years of human occupation by a people far less destructive, and with no desire for cheese.

Ironically, however, it is famous for two things: tragic acts of ‘low-life’ crime (thank you, News Media), and having Australia’s greatest cultural diversity.

On any given day – on my street or going to the shops – I’ll meet and interact with people from Indian, The Pacific Islands, New Zealand (White & Maori), every corner of Africa, from all over Asia, the Philippines, West and more likely Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. They are my dentists, doctors, optometrists, mechanics (mine is Japanese), the electricians and installers who visit, the shop owners, check-out operators, etc etc etc.

And almost ever one of these ethnic groups, somewhere not so far back in their history, have been subjected to British Imperialism. (If you’re wondering what that looked like, go watch ‘Gandhi‘.) The “British”, that is, dominated by the English who in turn were ruled by the aristocracy, the industrialists, the capitalists and all the other arrogant power-hungry arseholes at the top of the Patriarchal food chain.

If you were Scots or Irish or Welsh, your nations had already been brutalised, trampled and overrun by these pricks. Your leaders murdered, your land taken and your language and culture oppressed. You’d then become one of the ‘British’, and if male; likely as not end up in the army or navy by force of economic circumstances. And then, likely as not, you’d get shipped off to some foreign land to take their treasures, timber, minerals and land, and of course oppress or murder everyone who tried to protest. And most of you British Army Chaps would be wearing a pith helmet.

UglyColonialism.png
You could not find a more concise symbol for the ugly history of  British Colonialism.

The pith helmet: What jolly fun: we can get them so easily now. We can dress up in the red jacket and the stripe-side pants and carry a fake gun and strut around talking in faux British-twit accents and call it ‘Steampunk’ or ‘historic re-creationalism’ or whatever, a glorious act of taking the piss.

But – what does that mean to other people? That is the question that began to niggle me. As I stepped out of my car at my local shops and walked through a scene populated by almost every culture of the world, outnumbering white Australians and my (very British) culture, I wondered how they were seeing it? What did my hat mean to them? Was it offensive? Triggering? A getting-it-rubbed-it-in-the-face kind of feeling?

How would you feel, knowing your ancestors had been enslaved? Murdered? Raped? Run off their land? Had their natural rights removed? Killed and killed again by disease and poverty and dis-empowerment? Had their culture and language criminalised? How would you feel to see some white prat striding around in a pith helmet?

Now I know: not everyone would see it that way. For some – it’s just a bit of fun. They know me, the cheerful eccentric. No harm done, no harm intended. But I cannot govern that. There’s only one thing I can govern, there is only one choice to make: I’m going to de-colonise my cosplay. I shall take the pith no more.

I invite you to think about it.

 

 

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Living with the Disabled

60-sesamestreet-1273156-640x360My topic today, Autism. Much has been written recently about every aspect of a worldwide, complex, human and eternal issue: People with Disabilities. Inclusion. Tolerance and Acceptance… etc etc. But I’ve seen far less written about the trials and stresses of being a normal, well-adjusted, neuro-typical, decent-hearted human being stuck with living with the disabled.

I’m one of them. My life is consumed by having to live in a family full of defective, dysfunctional humans. Every hour. Every day. Let me give you some examples:

They cannot stack plates properly. Plates in my house are just put on top of the existing stack. My family are so disabled, they cannot look at the stack and put like-with-like; largest on the bottom, smallest on the top. It’s very distressing.

The bowls, too. I mean, how could anyone be so defective? But they are.

Another one is this: they cannot arrange things on the kitchen bench or on the stovetop. Nothing is aligned. The handles are pointing every which way. Seriously, it is as if they have completed failed to be born with any of the normal sense receptors. And don’t get me started on their total inability to arrange things waiting to be washed. It seems to be the place where all their dysfunctions cluster together as one.

But the absolute worst, and the thing that is so difficult to tolerate (it is like a physical pain to me), is inside the dishwasher. My family are so disabled they cannot perceive the natural order within, all perfected down through the ages by expert German engineers.

To a neuro-typical person such as myself, with normal fully-functional perceptions, it is so obvious where the soup bowls need to go; the flatware, the cups as distinct from mugs, and so on. Everything has a place; it can ‘nest’. And those other obvious things: like tall items being placed to the back or sides to prevent impacts and chipping. Nothing should be placed so that it can wobble. Upside down mugs must always be on a tilt. and so on.

Nope; it just gets flung in there, higgledy-piggledy. It is torment! But I endure it. I suffer, because the disabled must be accepted for their tragic limitations. We must not judge. We must practice kindness, tolerance & patience. Even when we want to scream.

I know, I know. A lot of solid scientific studies are now being done, thank goodness. We understand them so much better than the dark days behind us. For example, their tendency to frame their constant fears and anxieties, and that perplexing tendency to double-guess everyone around them with suspicion, seeking for mysterious signals and undercurrents that are so often not even there, as ‘Social Skills.’

Sad and so unproductive, but we must endure the defective. It’s a great world we live in.

Well, enough with the sarcasm, but I’m making a point. I hope you’ve already figured it out. WHO IS TO JUDGE? WHO MAY CLAIM THE MORAL HIGH GROUND? WHAT SORT OF OUT-AND-OUT ARROGANCE is it to declare yourself ‘normal’ and then proceed to define others as defective? WHO DOES THESE STUDIES? WHO MAKES THESE DECLARATIONS?

bunsen-and-beaker

There’s a nasty whiff of the Patriarchy about this. A hint of the evil crap generated and disseminated by arrogant aristocrat gentlemen-scientists of a few hundred years back, declaring Africans as sub-human, for example, or women as incapable of reason.

To me, and I’m out-and-out serious here, the rest of my family are defective. They have a disability. If I were one of those arrogant aristocrat/scientists of yor observing my wife and sons in the kitchen, I could use my power and influence to simple declare their condition to be a real thing. I’d write scientific papers on it. It would get into the DSM. And a lot of people would grab it and use it to bolster their own egos and sense of safety (‘normalcy’) in the bigger tribe. [I live with someone who does exactly that to me. It’s not nice.]

Even when studies are done, there is a recurring blind-spot. Those that believe themselves to be ‘un-defective’ are going to fall prey to their own Confirmation Bias. Results will inevitably be interpreted to bolster the idea that Autism is a defect.

Take this example from an otherwise very interesting and table-turning report:

“So, why do so many people see a lack of empathy as a defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder? The problem starts with the complexity of empathy itself. One aspect is simply the ability to see the world from the perspective of another. Another is more emotional – the ability to imagine what the other is feeling and care about their pain as a result. Autistic children tend to develop the first part of empathy – which is called “theory of mind” – later than other kids.

This was established in a classic experiment [my emphasis] Children are asked to watch two puppets, Sally and Anne. Sally takes a marble and places it in a basket, then leaves the stage. While she’s gone, Anne takes the marble out and puts it in a box. The children are then asked: Where will Sally look first for her marble when she returns?

Most 4-year-olds know Sally didn’t see Anne move the marble, so they get it right. By 10 or 11, children with developmental disabilities who have verbal IQs equivalent to 3-year-olds also get it right. But 80 per cent ofautistic children age 10 to 11 guess that Sally will look in the box, because they know that’s where the marble is and they don’t realize other people don’t share all of their knowledge.”

There it is. seems solid enough. Statistics; analysis; conclusion. BUT: the bias is built in. The experimenters were already looking for some sort of ‘fault’ in the ‘autistic’ children, so they interpret the children’s expectations as evidence of the expected fault.

Marbles1But there is another way of interpreting the results: Some of the children (defined here as ‘autistic’ and therefore already faulty) were actually well ahead of the game. Having  superior abilities compared to the rest of the plonkers, even at that age, they saw it for what it was: a puppet show. They figured out that behind the puppets was a single puppeteer who knew exactly where the marble was – because she was the one who moved it to the box.  So when she came back as Sally, she was still the puppeteer and would look in the box.

Hell. Obvious. But the observing adult experts had grossly underestimated the ability of that sub-set of children. As the main article posits: autistic children are hyper-perceptive

Thus everyone who comes along thereafter, the bright-eyed 19yo psych students, have their ability to reinterpret the experiment re-shaped and glued down by their teaching masters – all convinced of their neuro-typical exceptionalism. I wonder how many of them put up their hand during the lecture and said, “Wait a minute…”?

And if they did, their seniors would smoothly wriggle around the protest, I’m sure. Been in lectures, I have. The Patriarchy writ large.

Anyway, I’ll leave you there. Have to go and do the dishes. <SHUDDERS>

 

 

Zen Pencil; ‘Living Without Purpose’

There is a beautiful website, and I’d be surprised to discover you’ve never come across it.

DiveInDive in. [Image taken from HERE:]

So of course I want to be in there too with that dazzlingly powerful inspirational quote from the once-famous Ged Maybury. Thus an idea is born; a writer’s inspiration. [Read how it went for Mary Shelley. She had dreams too!]

Here’s mine:

“There’s this concept that you have to discover your Purpose; your Calling. A deep instinct to pursue an epic journey and achieve YOUR role, vocation, art or style of personal expression. And – everyone has one.

“I love this idea, and I’ve used it to beat myself up for decades on end. I’ve longed to answer the question that burns me up almost on a daily basis: ‘What should I do with my life?’ ‘What is my calling?’ ‘I really need an answer here, God! Time’s running out!’

“But no answer comes.

“I’m cursed by two opposing forces: Too Many Gifts; No Guidance System. Yes: cursed. Too many gifts is a curse!!

“I’m a ship with a hundred sails and no compass; no map. I’m blown across an ocean of possibilities, never in any one place for long. But while I was there, say on the Island of Fringe Theatre – I did epic things. While crossing the Straights of Cosplay; Epic Things. Sculpture-land ; amazing stuff. Poetry: ditto. And all those books. All. Those. Books! I spent 10 years ascending the Mount of Architecture in the hope of a compass bearing. 10 years wasted. Yet I still produced two unique buildings. And happy clients.

“But I never stayed long enough. To my dismay my ship would be suddenly blown out to sea again, with me upon the poop-deck looking back in grief and shouting, ‘But I was just getting started! I wanted to do more!’ The memories all hurt; they always will.

“So what do the Inspirational Quoters have about that one? Nothing. Absolutely Nothing. I listen hard, but they never have anything for me. That kinda hurts too.

“But if I could say it, what would it be? This:

“If you can’t find your Calling, you’re not alone. Agonize not! Just do whatever the heck you’re doing RIGHT NOW. Make Art. Write. Sing. And when it dies then bury it, salute and move on. Because at the next turn of the road there’ll be a new friend, a new game. Play it as if there’ll be no tomorrow! Sure: it’s going to be a messy life, but it’s YOU.

“And that’s okay.”

 

 

 

 

“Your injuries are important to us. Your ambulance will arrive in .. 22 .. minutes”

Ambulance.pngThere was another crash on the Pacific Motorway this morning. Traffic was backed up for a good 10 km in one direction, and 15 in the other. The longest queue was on the non-crash side. According to the media: People were slowing down to look. 

I say ‘Bollocks’.

I’ve driven past a ‘fresh’ crash. It had just happened on the other side of the barrier, a bare five metres away from me. People were still getting out, looking at the bent panels, trying to come to terms with this sudden interruption to their smooth and perfect lives, or simply going into shock. Others were stopping to help, phoning, making helpful gestures at the traffic still approaching. I saw no injuries, but there might have been.

It was on the other side of the barrier – YET I STILL SLOWED DOWN.

It’s compelling. Not sure why. Novelty factor? So unusual it catches the eye. Social code? We’re compelled to help. The Road Code? We’re required to help! And of course there’s the ‘Holy-crap-that-looks-bad/how-the-fuck-did-they-manage-to-do-that?‘ factor.

So I slowed down; 100 to maybe 80; then immediately resumed. “Nothing I can do. My duty is to not block up my side too.” Already too late. the next driver had to slow down too, or hit me, and they got an eyeful too. The same compulsion took hold; the same thoughts. Maybe they dropped 20km/h too. Whatever. But the wave had started.

Within 10 to 20 seconds, that spot would be going into .. not cardiac arrest .. more like ‘arterial congestion’. Regardless of whether people want to look or not, they’re forced to slow down by this self-perpetrating wave, and if you’ve been crawling for ages you’re going to be mad-curious to see why. The Train-Wreck Effect takes everyone over.

I caused it! Not because I’m a sicko feasting upon someone else’s misfortune; not because I’m a ‘rubber-necker’ … I caused it thanks to deep primal human impulse.

Screw you, judge-y fecking media pricks!

Anyway – this blog is about the other side, where people are dying. They need medics, stat!

I’ve seen awful crashes on that motorway, far worse. We crawl .. crawl .. and finally get our answers – “Holy crap, that’s bad. Fatality-grade, I reckon. … Poor buggers.” Mortality bites my emotional arse. Somberly, we take it in turn to edge into the only remaining free lane and get past. Up to that point it is UTTERLY congested; backed up for kilometres: well past the nearest on-ramp. Finally we hear the sirens and glance in our mirrors.

An ambulance comes creeping up behind us at 1 km/h. I do my best to edge over. It’s 3-lanes wide, no shoulders, there’s no break-down lane. We have to make room, but it takes ages because before I can edge forward & turn, so does the car in front of me, and the one in front of that, and so on.  Thus an ambulance at Point-A is requiring the cooperation of drivers that are literally kilometers away, via Points B, C, D, E, … X, Y Z!

In my most recent experience, the nearest hospital was literally 100m away from the crash, but the ambulance had to on-ramp some 2km back. At 100km/h it could have arrived in 1 minute, but that day it took more like 10. (I wasn’t timing it, btw.) But I was busy thinking – “Why are they sending it up the blocked side when, on the other side of the crash, there are three lanes that are almost completely empty?”

INDEED. WHY NOT? To me it is utterly logical.

“Ah; but the problem”, as you quickly point out, “is the likelihood of head-on collisions.”

But hello-o: it’s a three-lane motorway. It’s carrying, at that point, exactly one lane’s worth of traffic and even that is choked down to almost nothing. Tons of room.

Here’s how it could be done:

1) New regulations, well promoted. 2) Remote-controlled lane-signals. 3) TOTAL closure of the next-nearest off-ramp to civilian traffic. 4) Immediate system deployment, as soon as traffic control is notified. 5) Emergency vehicles are then routed ‘backwards’ up that temporary on-ramp. 6) strategic cameras. 7) Rapid responders. 8) Drones.

Now the cameras mostly exist. The worst-case stretches of road are already well-known. Radio contact already exists, as do flashing lights, sirens, and a citizen-base that is only too willing to comply as long as they know it is going to be helpful.

Lane controls: You install a string of emergency lights (green/amber/red) coupled with text-based messages, ‘RIGHT LANE ONLY! STRICTLY 60KM (RADAR ON!) EMERGENCY VEHICLES USING LEFT & CENTRE LANES’. ‘THIS EXIT IS CLOSED! EMERGENCY VEHICLES ENTERING. USE NEXT EXIT’. Whatever it takes.

The thing is – every single driver on that near-empty stretch of motorway has only just passed the crash scene. They know exactly what this is all about. Unless they have absolutely no soul, they’ll want to help.

Finally, there’s always someone at every crash who gets out of his or her car and directs traffic. Sometimes very effectively. Willingly. Unpaid. Well TRAIN MORE! Pay people to train. Give them the equipment to carry in their car. And if they’re unlucky enough to be on-the-spot and they do have to step up and keep things going, hell: PAY THEM AGAIN!

And finally, DRONES. A drone hanger every 2 km could enable central operators to launch a first-response helicopter to the scene, getting essentials there incredibly fast. Not sure what, to be honest. A camera certainly, so that experts still travelling in land-based vehicles can be briefed, even see the images and request details as they approach. Visuals will enable lane-restrictions could be decided before a officials even get there. Fire-fighting drones? Medic drones? Drones that can deliver com-sets and instruct citizens trying their best to help?

Your ideas?

We could cut ambulance and emergency-vehicle arrival times by huge margins. Save lives. Get the road cleared faster. Everyone wins. As long as there’s a willingness to do something a bit more obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

Cosplay – You’re Doing it Wrong!

Cosplay – I’ve done a bit. I call myself a ‘Cosplayer’. I’ve created a whole bunch of costumes and been to a few Comic Cons and suchlike. FBprofileApril2016But I’ve been doing it wrong. All wrong!

‘Cosplay’ = ‘costume play’, & what I’ve finally realised (after doing it wrong! All wrong!) is that it’s actually about dressing up very precisely as an existing character from a movie, TV, comic or cartoon (or if Japanese from manga/anime). Do it precisely. Get it spot-on. Buy the expensive ready-made costume if you can. Don’t screw with it. Don’t glam it up. Don’t Steampunk it. You have to cosplay *that* exact character.

You see: it’s about Recognition, not Originality.

Seriously – I’ve seen this time and time again: I spent 300 hours creating a costume ( and more than that in dollars), and people walk right past me. But when some anonymous guy walks past dressed in an expensive Darth Vader costume, he gets mobbed. Everyone wanted a photo with him. Tiny children want a photo with him, and their parents are only too happy to oblige. This is the same Darth Vader who slaughtered all those cute children in the last movie, people!

Me? Bitter? You’d thing I would be, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right. Because I was expected far more of people than they deserved credit for. They don’t want a sly reference, send-up or artistic statement, they want FAMILIARITY.

You see: Cosplay is very much a social activity, and I’ve been utterly blind to that very vital *major* aspect. – Yes, you wear whatever you want for yourself, but actually NO – you’re wearing it for everyone else!

Unless it has a very high familiarity-factor (and a glaringly obvious ‘handle’ your viewers can grasp and then tug themselves into your clever post-modernist/deconstructional spoof) … it doesn’t work. The social contract breaks down. The fun stops.

Even more evident, speaking of the social core of cosplay, is the number of people who combine as little groups (2, 3, 5, 8 ~ players) so that they might all go together to the Con as a Collective Statement. Cue a whole slew of Dr Whos, or the Recurrent Tribe of Naruto. Oh; and remember that fabulous once-only set of TinTin characters?

TinTin
Mace Robertson, Sum Jung Gui, Tam Sh, Jon Mayer & Wayne Stewart. Brisbane, 2011

These work because Cosplay is *tribal*. It’s about conforming to the tribal identity, big or small. Break that invisible social codex and The Whole Tribe (everyone at the Con) or the Sub-tribes (the Anime Crowd, for example – a very humourless mob, I’ve found) start giving you the cold shoulder.

Haruhi2013
Uncanny Valley of the Dolls

<Sneer> “Nah, I don’t get it” “Whoa; too weird!”

This is the subtle code I was trying to describe. Despite the cheerful “do waddeva ya want, mate!” there is still a pressure to do it “right”. Don’t glam it up! It threatens the tribalism inherent in us clever apes when we’re out in force, conscious of it or not.

As a person with Asperger’s syndrome you can probably see how I’d totally missed the tribal-code stuff – and eventually stumbled out the side door; hurt, confused, and with a bruised ego.

I’ve never yet managed to go in a group. (Sure – I’ve met up with the Steampunks for the Sunday Photo Shoot, but that ain’t the same as a long-range collaboration) and guess what? I envy them intensely. They’re “in”. I’m not. And I feel that.

Sure: I walk around, I look awesome, people photograph me (unless Darth Vader is available) – but I go home alone, and with an empty ‘social soul’ – if there is such a thing.

So that’s what this big mind-dig is all about. I’ve had the slow-dawning realisation that my take on ‘cosplay’ is at odds with most of the rest of the world. And I’ll freely admit that it was made a lot worse by my unhealed childlike addiction to approval.

Is this in fact the core of Cosplay? It’s not about honouring your favourite character; it’s about seeking approval and winning applause? Maybe. different for everyone, sure. I can only speak of my own experience.

Cosplay – I’ve been doing it wrong.

ADDENDUM: this conversation originally occurred on Facebook. A lot of people popped up, it was very interesting. Curiously – a few of them mentioned ‘The Haters’ – part of their experience, I guess, but not of mine. In certain circles, cosplay gets quite vicious. But that’s for someone else to write about.

QUOTES: what follows is a selection of the lovely things said to me during that convo:

“I love your costuming Ged! So long as you remain your creative and unique self, call it by any name you want, you sir, are a gem in an often samey-same world. We will have endless lines of the 10th Doctor etc but what they won’t be is memorable, yours are. Shine on, Ged.”

“Anyone can copy an anime character spot on. It takes creativity to become a character. You Sir are a character, as am I, we look like no one else, (Thank God) so we don’t have to be “in Character”. Never stop.”

“Maybe we need to invent a new term for creative original costume and character creation: ‘Cosplayingaround’ ‘Cosplayingup’ ‘Cos-tweak’ ‘Coscreating’ ? … ”

CONCLUSION: Perhaps, in the world of Cosplay, there are some limiting thoughts; unspoken boundaries; the ‘Safe Zone’ within which many people prefer to stay. That’s fine. I see it now. They’re not ‘haters’, they’re simply those who chose their safety barriers and cannot cope with those of us who dare frolic on the outer side. But it still hurts when someone looks straight at you and says, “Holy crap, that’s creepy. Kill it with fire!”

Playing Mind Ball with Ant Farm

Hundertwasser1

The year was 1975, or possibly 1976, or maybe 1973. Hey, I hit the hootch hard that decade. The place: Auckland University School of Architecture – positively seething with hippies, radicals, wondrous new visions for humanity’s collective future as grateful recipients of the latest architectural trends, and Quantity Surveying students.

Actually, it wasn’t like that at all. It was mainly seething with hormones.

Oh: and very hairy men, doctor’s daughters, under-ventilated armpits and the lingering smell of World War II. At that stage they had not yet built their shiny New Brutalist Vision Of An Architecture School, so most of our time was spent trekking between various demountable huts leftover from W.W.II . Yup. For real.

And IMO it was the perfect place to dream big; to pass through one’s apprenticeship un-trammeled by someone else’s idea of ‘Space’ and ‘Form’; a neutral place to foment one’s architectural style within an environment so bland that anything was going to be better; more visionary; more spacious and more suitable to nurture human enterprise.

[I wasn’t there for the naked-concrete-and-glass caverns that followed. Was it an influence? Was that why everyone turned to Deconstructionism? Maybe.]

Anyway, they were exciting times. Barely a year before I arrived there’d been a sort of revolution. The students had agitated to shake off of the dowdy, dusty, out-dated curriculum and created something vastly more exciting – or at least one full of ‘options’ (as long as one also ‘opted’ to do the mandatory 80% course requirement that was suspiciously (& exactly) the same as what had been there only two years earlier).

But. Exciting. Times! Hundertwasser arrived in town. We all flocked to his lecture. He was ALL THE RAGE! We loved him, we loved his art and his architecture. (And someone I knew ended up loving him far more directly – but that is her tale to tell, not mine.)

There were gatherings, parties, outings, camps, sex and drugs and even a smattering of rock and roll. People I knew were getting smashed and sneaking out at night to paint the trees. We took LSD. We led each other into downtown Auckland blindfolded, effectively inventing trust-games from scratch. Often stoned, we seldom hit the books.

But anyway; scene is now set. Let me introduce Ant Farm.

AntFarm1

Suddenly the new buzz was Ant Farm, “an avant-garde architecture, graphic arts, and environmental design practice, founded in San Francisco in 1968 by Chip Lord and Doug Michels.” [Wikipedia] [and hey: I didn’t know any of that at the time]. and they were coming to Auckland! Some of the senior Arch students had arranged it. They were big fans; in touch with trends; connected to the real world in ways I was not. I’d never heard of Ant Farm until then.

So, quick recap: Ant Farm buried some cars in the desert, and they drove a car through a wall of burning TV sets, and some other stuff I missed in the memo. They were architects, apparently. Seemed to go with the territory: eccentrics, radical stirrers, pot-heads, dreamers, optimists, visionaries … [tick as many boxes as are appropriate].

They did a presentation on their second day, spoke about their epic works of conceptual art and showed us a long dreary video of how they did it. It made no sense to me. Just looked like a terrible waste of good automobiles and TV sets.

AntFarm2

But I had already joined the throng by then. The hype. They arrived on a 707. First event: dinner at this down-market greasy-spoon steak cafe on Ponsonby Road – someone’s idea of irony, I guess. Not my scene. The food was awful. We were just wrong. Mostly we were the offspring of doctor’s and lawyers and accountant’s, and yes, architects. (except me) Educated, sophisticated South Pacific Colonials trying so hard to entertain three jet-lagged Americans by taking them to the worse dive in the city. Yeah, right.

With that finished, we immediately re-grouped in a upstairs venue further down Ponsonby Road for a party. The Ant Farm guys were … I don’t know. Bemused? Jet-lagged? Horny? All three? Anyway a prodigious amount of Mary Jane was pulled out by all and sundry (except me: I was always a freeloader) and the room soon filled with smoke and conversations, and that was when the Ant Farm guys really blew my mind.

I was stoned out of my gourd, trying to follow their conversations, when one of them turns to the others, “Hey, y’know, this is the perfect time for a game of Mind-Ball.”

The others agreed enthusiastically.

“Okay, I’ve got the ball … and it’s away!” I followed their eyes, trying to spot this imaginary ball. This was subtle. This was something damn-near spirtual! Yup, I think I figured who had it next. I watched him intently. Nothing much happened. They resumed their previous conversation. Me? I was hyper-alert!! I didn’t want to miss it when it came to me. <Conversation, conversation, suck on beer, glance around the room, suck on beer, light another cigarette, conversation> …. These guys were incredible. all that going on and they were still playing Mind Ball! I spaced out.

“So who’s got the ball?”

Fuck! I’d missed it. Utterly spaced out. FOCUS! FOCUS!

“I got it.” .. “Okay, send it on.” .. “It’s away.”

It didn’t come to me. Man these guys were subtle! Once again I watched them closely. Were they passing it when they sucked on their beers? Was that the signal? They did it a lot. Or was it a clue in the conversation? Every time the subject changed? Was it a ‘pass’?

“So who’s got the ball?” .. “Here.” .. “Send it.” .. “It’s away.”

Shit. Caught out again! I so wanted to get this game, I so wanted to get a turn with the Mind-Ball, but it just wasn’t reaching me. A few times I thought I had it, but my every attempt to ‘signal’ it onward fell on deaf eyes. So … must have been mistaken. Shit.

The evening drifted onward, timelessly as it does, the crowd was a self-stirring entity, people drifted into/out of conversations, which drifted into/out of different things. The Ant Farm guys were happy to talk, drink free beer, smoke free dope, while my brain gradually melted into a worthless puddle, and finally they admitted they were jet-lagged and just wanted to get to their motel. Party broke up. Dope wore off. I rejoined my companions and we crawled home at half the speed of light in someone’s mini, sagged onto our sagging sofas, drank tea, conversed … And finally I remember the Mind Ball.

Where had it gone? Someone must have scooped it up, but didn’t pass it on, or something. Anyway I never got it. Farrrrk those guys were on another whole level! Hard to believe they’d just taken a bunch of cars and buried them in the desert. How could such clever guys do something so dumb? I just didn’t get it.

Anyway, I met Ant Farm. The experience added nothing to my life.

[LINK TO A STORY ABOUT THE CAR-THRU-THE-TVS STUNT:] 

 

 

 

“Elf Oil”

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It was 1983. I had been in Sydney a bare few days. It was my first (and as it transpired, temporary) act of immigration. We’d taken up residency on a mattress in an empty room in a rental house with some other Kiwis – already seasoned Aussies.

Next day I heard, as our hostess bounced out the front door, “”I’m going to the shops for some Elf Oil! Anyone need anything else?” – My head whirled with excitement, “What a place! you can even buy Elf Oil !” Whatever next?! I couldn’t wait to get inside one of their wondrous supermarkets. (But I’ll admit to wondering by then what Elf Oil was, exactly.)

I was destined to be intensely disappointed. Elf Oil turned out to be ‘Al-foil’; ‘aluminium foil’ – for cooking. I knew of it already. Utterly mundane stuff. Every household uses that!

But once upon a time it wasn’t so. Long long ago, I recall a world that lived without cooking foil. We all still managed to cook, despite having to use cookware made of ordinary common metals or crockery. These primitive things came in a wide range of sizes and shapes, some had lids, and they all worked. I recall may kinds of food successfully cooked and eaten during this dismal phase of human history – cakes, roasts, biscuits (but never ‘cookies’), even fish! Yes, yes: Aluminium did exist in those ancient times. Pots were made of it (‘saucepans’ to other speakers of English) and frying pans too.

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Then Television came to New Zealand and with it the message that we and our primitive inadequate lifestyles were failing to benefit from a whole range of new and exciting products. I recall the arrival of potato chips (as distinct from ‘chips’ – which were merely made of potato, served with fish, and otherwise completely unrelated).

On TV we saw shiny happy people demonstrating how to open their shiny packets of this new miracle foodstuff and repeatedly stuff it into their happy mouths, while cheerful voices exhorted us to mimic this obviously joyful and socially enhancing experience.

Thus we all took to potato chips. There was 1 flavour: Salt. (It’s now called “Original!”)

I also recall with breathless excitement the arrival of themed icecreams-on-a-stick. We losers always had the ‘chocolate bomb’, but Television soon showed us how inadequate they were. We needed to be hip and switch to ingesting almost identical icecreams-on-sticks dipped in a cheaper grade of chocolate then smothered in a crunchy layer of crushed rice-bubbles of such garish colour that I doubt they’d now get FDA approval. All this for another 12 cents per unit! (One of them was called the ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’, I kid you not. It sold for an extra 15 cents per unit, and how glad we were to pay the extra!)

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And so on. It is, in fact, a recognised fact of commerce: certain types of crap .. sorry; products .. can only achieve mass market penetration and acceptance via TV. Introduce them before the marketing machinery is in place and they’ll die the sad lonely death they really deserve. But with TV marketing – hell: the suckers will buy anything!

So along came cooking foil. I remember it well. Out of the blue we were suddenly bombarded with the Miraculous News; cookery had changed for all time! The cheerful celebrity chefs of the time were suddenly telling us that everything we’d ever done was wrong. Lids? forget them! “It’s so easy; just cover the dish with aluminium foil and pop a few holes in it for the steam, now bake in the exact same oven at the usual temperature and it’ll come out perfect!” Ditto the women’s magazines and cook-books. Everyone was revamping their recipes to include a generous splash of aluminium. Prepare! Line the dish! Create layers! Wrap fish! Cover! Roll! Use it to store food in the fridge!

Its uses were nigh-on infinite, and we were all suckered. We purchased literally millions of miles of aluminium foil, used it once, and threw it away as instructed. And that is exactly what They wanted – a market. It was not a case of “Find a need and fill it,” it was a case of “Create a need for this frivolous crap we’ve invented that no-one really needs!”

And why was the entire thing a crock of crap? (And still is?) Because if anything, a super-thin layer of aluminium does nothing except slow the cooking process down. WARNING! SCIENCE CONTENT: Heat moves in three ways: Conduction, Convection, and Radiation:

Radiant Heat: Al-foil deflects it really well. If you were only relying of radiant heat, your foil-wrapped food would never cook. Conclusion 1# – Foil slows down cooking. Energy is wasted.

Conductive Heat: aluminium is an excellent conductor. As long as there is a large contact area with other oven metals, cooking proceeds well. But a lot of the time, the foil bundle is just “popped on the rack ready to cook!” 2# – Foil slows down cooking. Energy is wasted.

Convective Heat: circulating air moves heat around inside an oven. Oven-temperature air does most of the convective heat delivery. But wrap the food in foil, or cover it, and you obstruct the circulation. 3# – Foil slows down cooking. Energy is wasted.

Thus we pay money for a product that wastes our time and increases our power bill, then we usually throw it away after one use. Aluminium has one of the highest carbon-footprints of all metals so there is also a final cost – to our climate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, start you ovens. But please: Cease using cooking foil! … Look out instead for Original Elf Oil! That’s the cooking miracle you need!

‘How I became a Successful Stalker!’

How do you brag about one of your most resounding successes, without actually revealing exactly what it was? Because I want to brag. I’ve wanted to brag about this for over a year.

You see – I became obsessed with a voice. A voice I first heard way back in the 1960s in the middle of a pop-song that was climbing the charts at the time. Just another song, when I was 14, when pop-music only ever came out of a radio. It came, it went, and four decades rolled by.

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No, not this voice. (Shirley you know her!? )

Then I asked the internet: ‘Who was behind that voice?’ and Wikipedia gave me a one-line clue; her name. Okay: not much to go on, but Google!  I discovered an obscure blog about the famous group in question and its many adventures, and it gave me one more clue: the age of The Voice at the time of recording.

A name, an age, and by deduction a year-of-birth. But girls become women and women get married and trail is lost. Maiden names disappear. But I persevered, finding myself tracking an entire family history through the List of British Peers. I had spotted a possible marriage, a possible husband, but was it enough? For all I knew I could have been tracking an entirely different [NAME REDACTED].

Then a breakthrough: I found a sad note on a discussion thread written in the original name, to a friend about their mutual loss. Three school-chums, divided by a death, now down to two. Chums who were now in their forties. The ages matched perfectly. I found more on the deceased; their school; more data-points. But it was not enough. I couldn’t go bothering The Voice without certainty. [Hey: I shouldn’t’ve been stalking her, full-stop!]

Back to the sixties. I researched the other name from Wikipedia – the step-father it mentioned. This lead to other web-sites, more stories, more clues, and finally the (likely) name of The Voice’s mother! The dates matched, anyway. Finally, I found a Births, Deaths and Marriages register with that name in it – as a mother recorded on a specific birth, but no baby’s name. Paddington, London. Perfect. It would have cost me a bunch of money to fully unpack the mystery. I felt nosy. Too nosy.

So I left it.

The trail went cold. I found nothing more. Finally, I returned to the only person on Facebook that matched the married name I’d found via the Peerage Lists. (I knew they had since divorced. Astonishing what you can discover via the internet!) So: me the stranger, sending a message to another stranger via FB. You know how that goes: straight into the category called ‘Other” – the dead-letter bin of the digital world. No reply.

Then my laptop abruptly crashed, taking my entire search, every detail – into oblivion. An entire year went by. Then another.

Then she answered: “Yes – that was me.”

I was gob-smacked; like: “OMG – I’m taking to *HER*! The voice I first heard at age 14!”

Typing, I asked questions, promised I was not going to reveal her identity, that I wasn’t a journalist, etc, etc … and little by little (for she was not that talkative), I began to realise something profound: She’d told no-one about it. None of her contemporary friends knew of her ‘fame’. The incident had been all but forgotten. Worse, it had been a small corner of a greater tragedy: A whole tragic morass of abusive step-father/family destroyed/tiny child emotionally trampled during those glorious-but-selfish 1960’s rock&roll days.

Her memories were bad memories – and there I was expecting the exact opposite. All my shiny expectations crashed around me. The person I expected …. Well she wasn’t; not in the least! Hell: I’d been lucky to get a  five-sentence glimpse into that day.  but all of it was treasure, including a passing mention of one of rock’s biggest stars – she’d met him! It had been the one sweet moment in an otherwise exploitative situation. Fook. What an insight; what a sad tale. Murmured my sympathies, I signed off and let her be.

So that’s my brag: I successfully stalked someone, found her, after a 45 year cold-start.

The lesson though was tougher, much tougher, and at the end of this adventure I feel prouder of the fact that I was not so crassly clumsy as to not realise what her truth really was – the very sad truth behind her brush with rock&roll history. There was no fame, except the idea of it that I had created.

 

 

The Impossible Tablecloth

You all know this:

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Not Da Vinci’s, but the exact copy by  Giampietrino.

 

There is, however, one curious detail about Leonardo’s *Tablecloth* that no-one has ever commented on before. It is an IMPOSSIBLE TABLECLOTH.

Note that it is one continuous piece. It has quite obviously been folded away prior to use. The fold-pattern is quite distinct, and unwaveringly accurate. Da Vinci really nailed it. There are 17 fold-lines lengthwise, and by my estimation 8 or 9 cross-ways. By careful observation and calculation, I’ve decided his table is 4.650 metres long (15′ 4″)

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And they are grabby! (Also note that they all have the exact same feet. Clones?)

Here are my conclusions:
The entire cloth was folded into a ‘pack’ approx 300mm by 150mm (or 1′ x 6″ if you live in that backwards place that still uses ‘Imperial’ measure [note the irony in that?]). Thus the single piece of fabric was folded into a bundle upwards of, if not more than 128 layers thick!
My estimate of 128 layers is based as follows:

LENGTH-WAYS:
1st fold gives 2 layers (cloth block now 3m long)
2nd fold gives 4 layers (cloth block now 1.5m long)
3rd fold gives 8 layers (cloth block now .75 long)
4th fold gives 16 layers (cloth block now 300 – 400mm long)

[note that this estimate does not match the observed cloth – which shows 17 foldlines, not 15 as it would according to my simplification]

WIDTH-WAYS:
1st fold doubles that to 32 layers
2nd fold doubles again to 64 layers
3rd fold to a final of 128 layers thick!

If you fold anything that often you’ll soon discover that:
A: it’s damn-near impossible [the Mythbusters tried this], but if you do succeed –
B: the fold-lines become progressively less distinct, and spread wider.
But Leonardo’s fold-lines are *completely consistent*. (I’ve measured them) He has depicted an Impossible Table Cloth.

I have found no other discussion of this detail anywhere on the internet, which astonishes me. Are people that unobservant?

I’ll leave you with this:

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Something I did last year, featuring characters from anime ‘Azumanga Daioh’.

 

The Day I started School

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Excited, I followed Mother the day I turned 5 and sat in a huge classroom with about 1,000 other noisy little humans, and promptly spaced out. A successful day involved eating my lunch and getting home without being accosted by either friend or foe.

Autism: It’s a sort of invisible stretchy membrane that prevents a lot of stuff getting transmitted either way.

They kept me in that class for two years; told my mother I was intellectually impaired. But enough teachers spied the genius lurking behind the bushes. Those genius teachers found ways to draw out what was there (I was an art prodigy) and gradually my wheels engaged (never perfectly, for mine spun too fast for whatever track they put me on). I finished high school Dux in Math & Science. … [Fast-forward for 35 years]

My son seemed hopeless. At 3, 4 and 5, teaching him to read became a battle that he always won (and I lost, so I just resumed reading him high-school text books) and he was finally assessed as being severely dyslexic (*and* with dysgraphia). “He’ll probably never read for pleasure,”said the assessor, “He may never read at all.”

boy-struggling-readingBut my son stood listening to the expert that day, just out of our sight, and the next day he was gazing determinedly into a book. Within a month he was reading Harry Potter. Max crossed some ten years of education in the space of five weeks.

Take heart. We all travel at different speeds *and* wavelengths, but sadly, Education still manages to transmit on only one.

Having ‘Smarts’ sure helps — it can bridge a lot of gaps given time — and so does determination, or even better: a Sense of Direction; a Calling. I know this because I never had either and spent my life in a ship with a lot of sails but no chart, no compass, and a captain too prone to the cry of sirens. In the end, however (and to my surprise), I became a successful writer.

[EXPLANATION: – this short piece was written in response to an article on Medium. The article is right here: https://medium.com/synapse/too-dumb-to-be-a-doctor-2aa51d577e8b#.3kxnm4v26

Medium seems to be a place with some really high-end writers from many fields (at least they’re the ones that get their stuff featured every day).

Medium is right here: https://medium.com/