Think back to 2016. Was it one of your better years?

OMG I’m joining the millions adding billions of words to the internet every minute about this truly crappy year. Yup, it sure has been; everyone knows that.

The celebrity death toll. That referendum fuvkup in the UK, followed by that ‘election outcome’ in the USA. (I could call it a lot of other things, but I’m depressed enough as it is, and anyway, others have expressed it better than I.) And global warming marches on.

WAY back in the 1970s I took to reading lots of hippie tracts: conspiracy-theories and spiritual stuff and whacko-medicine and manuals on how-to-survive-the-apocalypse, and a recurring theme was making predictions (or reworking the ones already in circulation). Oddly, the number 2016 stuck in my brain (along with 666 and 23).

WAY back then, it was safe to predict, AWAY ahead of us (40 years), that things would heat up in 2016. Maybe it was the numerology of it, I dunno. There were also loads of astrological and numbo-jumbo predictions of the Dawn of the New Age and/or the end of the Kali-Yuga. (go Google it. There’s plenty out there  even now. MORE, if anything!)

So here we are; reeling, kind of shocked, saying all sorts of dire or optimistic things about 2017. And everyone is trying to make sense of it – as we do. “Why have so many great people left us? All in the one year? Coincidence? I think not!” …. And away they go. Theories. Wild guessing. Hope. Fear. Etc.

I’ve glimpsed a few. Even suggested one myself: that Keith Richards has a device that sucks the life-force out of celebrities in order to keep alive himself. (Hey – it’s a valid theory!!)

So here’s a thought: Yes – there is a higher purpose playing out here. We’re losing a lot of people, suddenly. Notable people, memorable, talented, highly loved people and their loss has really started hitting our grief buttons.

This is basically Grief-Practice.

Because soon, shit is going to get really real and you and I are going to be confronting the fact that our regular friends are going to start dying. A little wave at first; like the little waves that’ll signal the rising oceans. It’ll be hard to pick at first that they’re dying directly because of global warming. And for most of us in the western world, we’re cushioned for a while, but they’re saying it’s a thing, and it has begun, and it ain’t stopping any time soon. Recently I saw “Ten Foot Ocean Rise Inevitable”. Whoa – that’s like HELLO: literally hundreds of millions of people affected. Fook.

So there being many levels of heaven and saintly beings among us and a bigger plan and like reincarnation and all that stuff  – is it actually a concept that the David Bowies and the Carrie Fishers and everyone in between – they had lived their lives and fulfilled a purpose for us regular folk still sitting here – that we have to start grieving for this world and for humanity. Deep and real. Achieving ‘Closure’. Each of us in our own ways meeting the challange of making a gracious surrender to the forces unleashed. (Note the ending of ‘Rogue One’.)

How exactly does a Kali Yuga come to an end? It’s made of some pretty heavy shit – wars and materialism and grasping for power and a disconnection from nature and so much other fuckery I’m loath to begin listing it all.

Any smooth way for that to come to an end?

Maybe. I’m still hoping. And we must keep fighting, and signing those petitions and voting and not looking at the mainstream media and living in the moment more and more, and appreciating each other and our cats and Art, and artists and books and the rest of the extraordinary WEALTH that humanity has created, even in the midst of our Kali Yuga.

Meanwhile, open your hearts up and let the grief start early. This is the funeral of the Kali Yuga (y’know, Kali – the multi-tasking Goddess? She’s a heavy hitter: The Liberator of Souls – specialising in kicking arse!)

Lift up you hearts and minds to what going on here. Bowie went up – like a rapture. They all have. To signal something. Be grateful for their very existence.

So be brave. Grieve. Be open. Dare to Love. Be Here Now. Seize the day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Have an Aspie Christmas!

I’m an Aspie (person with Asperger’s Syndrome), and as such I regard Christmas as a Big Awful Silly Wasteful Thing. So I came up with a set of Rules:

RULES THAT SENSIBLY CONTROL CHRISTMAS:

1) No-one is under social obligation to buy anyone a present. Non-presents are fine.

2) Everyone gets the presents they actually want and need.

3) All presents have a purely practical purpose. Power tools, yes. Perfume, no.

4) All presents to be precisely wrapped in high-grade paper, to maximum efficiency of coverage. All tape to be aligned with edges.

5) All presents to be unwrapped by slitting the tape with a scalpel. All paper to be folded and put away for reuse next year.

6) Normal number of meals to be prepared and eaten, at correct and regular times, consisting of regular foods as well as Christmas foods.

7) Christmas crackers are a frivolous waste of resources, and are thus banned forever.

8) No-one is compelled to have eat some weird thing and have to say ‘it’s nice.”

9) No-one is forced to have to socialise with relatives, or for that matter other human beings.

10) Communication via text or internet is cool, even during meals.

11) No-one is obliged to wear a silly hat. It is optional. No-one will jeer.

12)Participants are relieved of all social duties for the day, and may return to their workshops/computers/hobbies/obsessions whenever they see fit.

Merry Aspie Christmas!

Intermission 3# “Elf Oil”

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.

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!)

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 gets into food 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 (it can only be made via an energy-intensive electrical process), 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!

Intermission 2# ‘How I became a Teenage 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. It came, it went, and I gave it little thought for the next 4 decades. Hell, I was only 14 at the time!

Then I suddenly asked the internet: ‘Who was behind that voice?’ and Wikipedia gave me a one-line clue: The Voice gained a name. But it wasn’t much to go on. I searched elsewhere, uncovering an obscure blog about the famous group in question, and its many adventures. There was one more clue – the age of The Voice.

A name, an age, and by deduction a year-of-birth. But girls become women and women get married – and all too often the 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? 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 old school. More data-points. But it was not enough. I could not 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 that married name I’d found in 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. Silence.

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*! That 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 has 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, 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.

 

 

Intermission; The Impossible Tablecloth

You all know this:

lastsuppergiampietrino
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″)

detaillastsupper
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:

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

 

The trouble with T̶r̶i̶b̶b̶l̶e̶s̶ CAR PARKS

trolleybus
Where we walked. Or took the bus downtown.

I was so in love! We’d walk a lot, go downtown (Literally. She lived at the top of Stuart Street, Dunedin – famous for having the world’s steepest street), and when we got home we’d canoodle halfway between her gate and front door. I remember it well; there was a huge mature hedge, a picturesque gateway through the gap, trees, a deep mossy lawn, a weathered old concrete pathway leading to her parent’s 90-year-old Victorian house.

I went back there a decade later. On the exact same spot was a supermarket car park. I stood there, trying to drag her place back to mind. Nope. History had been broken and scattered. The tsunami called ‘Progress’ had swept away my memories.

Unless you’ve lived your entire in a hippie retreat, you’ll know these things. And if you’re an urban dweller, you’ll know them all too well. They barely existed when I was a kid. We rode our dinosaurs to school, then just let them roam. Dad had a car; a tiny dark-green Ford Prefect (later he become famous in a Certain Sci-fi Book, but in those days he was just a humble British working-class car). Mum drove too. They just parked on the side of the road wherever they could find a gap between the dinosaurs.

Ditto downtown [see note earlier]. There were no car-parks! Streets, yes, and that was where cars stayed. But over the decades, as I came and went, my beloved city changed. Supermarkets became a thing. Car-parks became a thing. And my city (once a charming mash-up of Victorian splendour, some Edwardian, a bit of Deco .. and that modernistic crap that followed) was ruined. Now it has gaps; blank paved patches of land where magnificent buildings once stood. Each of these former patches of paradise is painted like a Monopoly board but without any colour, character, or variance. It is dead land. Artistically dead. Historically dead. Literally dead, except maybe a tiny strip of nature along one edge. And occupied by 3 or 4 cars on average, year round.

I currently live in the most tragic of urban sprawls, a city that apparently claimed at one point that it was bigger than Los Angeles, not by population but by land area. In other words – the sprawliest city in the world; Brisbane. As mentioned, it’s spacious. Yes; it’s green. There are a lot of trees; that’s nice. And there are a lot of motorways. A lot of motorways.

[Elsewhere, cities are tearing out their motorways and restoring inner-city districts]

They get bigger and bigger all the time. The city grows at the edges, creeping into the bush year after year. (‘The Bush’ is a very Australian term. It means many things but mostly: 1) Any kind of Australian native forest; 2) The geo-political landscape known as ‘Rural’.) The actual real bush bush – an entire ecosystem that has been there for a billion years – is barely valued in Aus. Here they sell ‘bare land’, and to make bloody sure of it they flatten every living thing upon it, down to grass. Sometimes lower than that. Tragic.

Anyway, this sprawl exists because generations of city planners have laid it out solely predicated on The Car. Awful AWFUL suburbs of convoluted streets that never seem to get anywhere (seldom ever in a straight line), and finally, after driving 4.6 km (approx 3 miles) to achieve a straight-line distance of 1 km [see example], you reach the supermarket / shopping-mall / sports-complex / workplace / school, and start trying to find a park.

drive-vs-walk
This is actual. About 10km from my place. There is another place where, in order for people to reach a business *literally over their back fence*, they have to drive 2.8 km.

Car-parks are a tragedy. There are just SO MANY THINGS WRONG WITH THEM:

  1. Paved and drained. They are like enormous house-roofs; waterproof and fitted with drains to swish all that nasty problematic (utterly perfect) water away and out of sight and dump it into the nearest waterway. The land stays parched while the waterways flood. Worse than that, most of the wetlands are gone. This unnatural flood rushes to the sea, scouring the creek-beds, wrecking ecosystems, and drowning people in their cars. Seriously, in every big ‘rain event’ here, someones dies.
  2. Heat and shade. Have you ever crossed a road in bare feet, in summer? Brisbane has a 6-month summer. We cover the landscape in literally thousands of hectares of road, and the same again in car-parks, and few if any have shade. The solar energy could run the nation, but instead it radiates back into the atmosphere the moment the sun goes down, at a different wavelength that is blocked by ‘greenhouse gasses’. Car-parks accelerate global warming.
  3. No trees. [See 1) & 2)]
  4. Occupancy. Every business puts down as much car-parking as it can, supermarkets and malls being the worst offenders. These car-parks are utterly full for about 3 days a year (it’s called “Christmas”). They do have other peak times – weekends can slam the bigger ‘destination shopping’ places. Full again for 5 or 6 hours. BUT REMEMBER THIS: they are utterly empty at night. The average annual occupancy of a car-park is in the order of 10%.  On average, 90% of this land is empty; achieving nothing more that some global warming and the occasional drowning.

I generalise. Some are better than others. Some do have lots of trees. Some don’t waste land because they are under buildings. They are not the primary problem, cars are. BUT –

We could do a lot better. A whole lot better. Watch out for my follow-up blog – right HERE: They Paved Paradise

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snippet

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 Math & Science. Some of my friends became doctors (the girls did!).

[Fast-forward some 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.”

But 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 the 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 (and a crew that could reconfigure them at will) but with no chart, no compass, and a captain too prone to the cry of sirens.

In the end, and to my surprise, I became a (moderately) successful writer.

[EXPLANATION: – this short piece was 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/

‘Pwned’ ‘Owned’ ‘Disowned’

There’s this phenomenon I’ve noticed. Getting ‘Owned’. No, I don’t mean ‘beaten in a game/sport/argument’. I mean, ‘getting Owned’.

It became very noticeable recently during an event called the Eurovision Song Contest – a curious ritual that has beset the planet since 1956. Australia was permitted an entry in 2015 (to mark the 60th Anniversary), and again in 2016. Aus put forward its promising front runner, Dami Im, and it’s here that my commentary starts.

dami-im

You see – Dami Im is, in some ways, my neighbour, or at least this is how the media has worked it up to be. More than that; she is Every Australian’s Neighbour. Unless you’re Korean that is, in which case she’s your neighbour and all those upstart Johnny-come-lately Aussies can just wait in line to rub off a bit of her fame thank you very much!

But it’s damn hard to get Owned. Here’s how it went for young Ms Im: born in South Korea she emigrated to Australia at the age of nine. (Australia, it needs to be noted, is (generally speaking) one of the most racist places in the world. My heart goes out to her entire family trying to integrate themselves into this strange new world.) So okay there she is, dropped into a ‘city’ called Logan (one of those ‘Satellite Cities‘ that keep springing up all around the world at the stroke of an administrator’s pen, although in the case of Logan it is more technically an ‘Edge City‘.)

I live in Logan, BTW.

She goes to school, then on to a rather exclusive high school where she kept her head down by all accounts and did not reveal or exhibit her long-held dream of public singing. She’d already achieved very highly elsewhere in musical arts. (It’s all in Wikipedia, go read it) Moving on from that she pursued her dream and eventually achieved a notable victory in some TV entertainment thing called ‘The X Factor’. (I don’t watch TV.)

And POW! Suddenly my local paper is filled with huge headlines about ‘Our Star!’ and how she went to John Paul College and oh how wonderful/notable she’d been and an interview or two with the principal, and yadda-yadda-yadda. Discovered. Owned!

Next round: She gets chosen to represent Australia at this Eurovision thingy. And she reaches the semi-final .. and she reaches the final … and Australia is on the edge of its collective seat!

And suddenly the media go nuts. The pwning process ramped up to the nth degree! Suddenly she became Australia’s New Darling. She was So Australian!  Hell yeah, mate! Totally! The perfect representative!  “We all love ya, Dami! Go, go, go for gold!” Australia adored her fashion sense and her confidence and her pride and most of all Her Voice.

This is all going on and I’m slowly waking up to phenomenon via Facebook and I’m like, oh, wait, isn’t this the same woman who did okay at some talent thing a while back? I google it. Oh yeah. So I got onto YouTube and I caught up on her performances and I was all like … ‘Why is everyone raving about that voice?’

(Let me digress: I have a tin ear I’ll admit it, but even though I tried, I came away thinking, “Yes, it’s strong, but it does not dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee. It has more the beauty of a rhinoceros beetle.” I believe she has yet to find the songs that match her voice. What she was trying to sing were ‘too girly’, and consequently she could not actually render them well. Sure, sure, she hit the big notes, she had the power, but her voice … to my tin ear … was rather awful, actually. Personal opinion only.)

So, Media Storm, Mega-Hype, everyone was pumped to sit down and watch her win … and she didn’t. But Aus had a new idol and celebrated her anyway. I’m not knocking it; it was a really huge achievement. Props to her and to everyone who supported her, mentored her, put her through her musical paces and helped her go places! And I guess she came home and the cameras were all there and they threw rose-petals under her feet etc etc.

dami-im2What’s it called, ‘Power-shaving‘? Rub yourself against the Alpha-Ape and you’ll feel important too. Suddenly Dami belonged to Australia / Queensland / Logan / her old school / the supermarket where she had a holiday job / the guy who once sold her dad tyres… and I imagine Korea was working hard at reclaiming her too as Their Own Daughter. Fine. That’s true. She is.

But the thing is – nations, neighbourhoods and high schools never do it for anyone else. We don’t mob someone in the street just because she/he was born here/grew up here/studied here.

Nope. You have to be Really Frickin’ Famous first, then it begins.

Australia is notable for doing this ‘Owning’ think. Just off the top of my heard they have claimed Phar Lap (racehorse), Split Enz (band), John Clark (comedian), and Russel Crow (actor) all originally from New Zealand. Oh the audacity! (But not Ged Maybury.) (Yet.)

But there’s a dark underbelly to the phenomenon. I’ve experienced it. Move into a new place (town, district, street, nation) and even though you’ve already got something – a bit of fame, a backstory, talent, achievements – they don’t matter a jot because you’re not ‘native’. Not born here? – Tough shit. Didn’t go to school here? – Tough shit. Wrong colour? Funny accent? – “Tough shit, mate! I don’t care about your Nobel Prize in physics, you’re nobody in this town. Oh look! That kid just came 3rd in the national physics competitions! Holy wow! Call the newspaper! Give him the front page. HE’S A LOCAL!”

I’ve seen far more column space giving to some no-name first-time hey-wow-this-woman-just-wrote-her-first-children’s-book than I ever got in a certain town.

Seriously, it is a thing. If you’re the ape that walks in from outside, you’ll always be the outsider. The locals will never forget it. Be remarkable and they’ll yawn and look the other way. But do something exceptionally extraordinary and suddenly it’s a game-changer.

And if you do anything bad you’ll be branded forever as ‘the one from Over There‘.

Anyway, I’ve noticed it. It intrigues me. It’s a thing, that’s all.

[BTW: I’ve been well-received here in many other ways. I know hundreds of good-hearted Aussies that have made me feel welcome in many lovely ways. Thx, peeps!]

 

 

 

The Cucumber in the Room

cucumberinroom

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” [Origins of the quote]

I’ve seen this in many contexts – notably in the world of psychology/psychiatry where it was originally coined (and where I most recently heard it), but it definitely applies elsewhere and everywhere. And it is both scarily accurate, and scary. It is a tool for tyrants as much as about professional bias. It’s called ‘Conformation Bias‘.

EXAMPLE – At one point in my life I was a dedicated follower  of alt.med and often trekked off to visit the latest  fad-practitioner. I blew a lot of money on these guys, and sure enough, I came away suffering the exact same problem that all my friends suddenly had.

I saw it later in a different city. There was this (self-proclaimed) expert on Asperger’s Syndrome and yup: sure enough, every kid who went to him had Asperger’s (surprise, surprise!). These well-meaning cranks were treating every patient with the same hammer. Some were downright scary; they were obsessives. I saw it elsewhere, I saw it often: “Got health problems? YOU NEED AN ENEMA! YOUR BOWEL IS BLOCKED! EVERYONE NEEDS AN ENEMA! IT’S THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING!” (I declined the offer, BTW)

I’ve encountered people who have reacted to everything. It’s like their life-journey has imprinted them with the notion that everyone is out to get them – to make them wrong or put them down, to shame them in an argument, to steal their dignity, to rip out their core-sovereignty (to coin a phrase). These people are carrying a sort of North Atlantic Missile Defense Radar Detection System, and anything, anything, flying in the sky will trigger the alarm. All defenses will fire. Angry rebuttals. Counter attacks. Another argument begins with all the twists and tricks that are well documented elsewhere. BAM! Every time. Every conversation. And their confused victims react ditto, they rise to defend themselves, all the anger/reaction/defense patterns – and BAM! THERE IT IS: SUSPICIONS CONFIRMED!

Two clans meet in the jungle. The alpha-males immediately spring forwards, ready to defend their group, hackles up, pumping out a challenge. Moments later the other group pump up the volume too. Told ya! They’re ENEMIES! Look at the aggression! Close ranks!

My point being that this isn’t the exclusive domain of whacko health professionals. Everyone does this. Racists. Politicians. Shock-jocks. Your mother. You. Me.

Humanity evolved from some sort of proto-human/primate-thing and we still carry the genetic codes that protect us. (DID protect us.) EXAMPLE: we’re genetically programmed with an ‘instinctive’ fear of snakes. As are cats. Put a cucumber behind a cat and when it spots it out the corner of its eye it’ll freak the f**k out! YouTube is full of videos of this. Here’s one: Cat&Cucumber. Yeah: Hah-hah!

I live in Australia now, but I grew up in New Zealand which has no snakes. You’re not even taught about snakes, you’re not trained to be alert. Snakes are a non-issue. But after unexpectedly encountering blue-tongued lizards in my own Aussie back yard … POW! That ol’ snake-panic reaction sure did kick in. Blue-tongues resemble snakes by size, motion, shape and their sleek scaly texture. And their legs are tiny. Yup: I freaked the f**k out! [Why We Are Afraid of Snakes]

BlueTongue
And they’re adorably cute!

‘Hey Ged, Hello! It’s a long stretch between genetic fear of snakes and Confirmation Bias, mate!’

I’m not so sure. There are genes for many behaviours. Our genetic ancestry accounts for a lot, and they ALL enhance our collective survival whether biochemical or behavioural. EXAMPLE: Boys mature significantly later than girls, because those that did (long long ago) stood a better change of not being driven out by the alpha males too soon and dying in the wild without the clan’s protection and nurture. We resist diseases (until we meet humans from the other side of the world and then we’re screwed.) We like copulating, we care for our young, we maintain tight-knit social groups … But we never evolved beyond being susceptible to zillions of types of cancer. Why not? And what does it prove anyway?

It proves that Evolution Is A Thing, that’s what. Generally, cancers tend to kill us at a late age, so being susceptible to cancer does not in any way prevent us from surviving puberty, copulating, being successful parents, and passing on our cancer-prone genes. Ditto all the other diseases and conditions that beset us in old age. How many people lived long enough to ever get arteriosclerosis back in 190,000 BC? Huh?

So I’m proposing that Confirmation Bias is the cucumber in the room. No-one talks about it, but it’s always there on the floor behind you (and behind me and behind all the Trump Supporters too, and everyone else who so readily becomes convinced that they’re Always Right, or that The World is Out To Get Them so they have to carry a military-grade automatic weapon to the supermarket, or that Their God is the Only True God, or that Everyone Needs an Enema. Or whatever.)

Confirmation bias is our security blanket, no matter how you dress it up. It’s the smell of your own tribe. It’s instinctive. It’s nice to know that you’re always right. That you’re the alpha-male/alpha-female in your health-care profession. That your patients gaze up at you adoringly as your hit them with the same hammer. That you’ve always got a firm opinion about everything.

And if you’re a despotic ruler of a nation (or an office in the public service or just your own family), it’s very easy to play upon the fears of your minions and victims. Or just fuck with their mental state. Leave some fake snakes lying around and let everyone know that you’re the one who’s gonna save them! A cucumber will suffice,  but don’t get it confused with an enema. Watch out! It’s right behind you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spill the wine

I have this cup here .. just a moment; I’ll take a photo:

plastic.cup 005

It’s an ordinary disposable plastic drinking cup. This style came out some 30 years ago, and hasn’t changed. An entire generation has known them. Trillions have been made, used once and thrown away. Ubiquitous, mass-produced, and unremarkable except for one detail: The design is really fu*ked.

‘Huh?’ Yes. ‘How?’ Let me explain. Fill this with any kind of drink, raise it to you lips, and drink. Some liquid will immediately spill out and down your front. Annoying, embarrassing, and the result of entrenched bad design.

It’s all in the rim, or more precisely the cavity under the rim. It is approx 3.45mm wide and 2mm deep (measuring upwards). I doubt you could design a more effective way of collecting liquid from inside you mouth and channeling it straight out again. Every day, half a billion people spill their drinks, but I guess that detail didn’t matter to the original designer(s), or those who continue to crank out these failures.

I know my structures. That curl-over rim was about creating some rigidity, but in so doing they sacrificed a core function of any cup. All to save a a few milligrams of plastic and/or the expense of re-building the injection moulds. This design never should have gone into production, but I imagine enough people didn’t give a shit on the day its principal flaw was discovered. “Users be damned. We wanna make money!” 

BUT WAIT, THERE IS MORE. My intention with the following short list is to (hopefully) draw the attention of emerging designers to what I see as a kind of disease, or myopia, that besets the design world. And it’s not a new one, either.

ITEM #2 The Automatic Gear Shift – Imagine you came across a deserted alien vehicle parked in the woods. Curious you enter, and soon find the driver’s seat. There’s a hi-tech view-screen and lots of bizarre controls, but hmmm – they sort of make sense, especially that big lever at centre. You sit, ready for some fun, and push that sucker forwards. The vehicle slams backwards. Furtively you flee, muttering, “Those aliens are fuckwits.

Seriously, how could anyone design a control stick that you pull backwards when you want to go forwards? It is completely counter-intuitive. This one astonishes me every single day.

ITEM #3 Google Maps – There used to be a perfectly good version of Google Maps, so of course because it wasn’t broken, they had to go and fix it. I fought hard to retain the original, and took every opportunity to point out many design flaws in the new version. (I was ignored, pretty much, since no-one answered. But after a while those things did improve. Then, quite recently, I noticed something that (to my autistic mind, at least) is just plain stupid.

Once you can find it, there is an extensive menu of controls and options. [Extreme top left; that 3-bars symbol]. So try it: once you’re in ‘Earth’ mode, open the menu, and the 2nd item down is ‘labels on’“Okay, that’s informative, but I don’t want labels on. I want to see ‘Earth mode’ as it is. How do I turn the labels off?” I hunt around for an obvious control, but there is nothing that looks like a switch. Nothing actually called ‘TURN LABELS OFF’.

<Screams> “How the fuck do I do this?!”

And the answer is to click ‘labels onwhen you want labels off, and click ‘labels off when you want labels on. Sure – the words are telling me what the current status is, but they are not in any way signalling to me that they are a control, and even as a control they do the exact opposite of what they say they will.

I actually asked for interface customisation like being able to drag the controls around the screen and set my opening defaults. Got a crappy product instead.

ITEM #4  The New Christchurch Railway Station. They build a new one in the 1980s. [My review is right HERE: Sorry, it’s a bit long-winded. I was like that in 1999.]

To cut to the chase: The architects designed it with a huge glass wall facing roughly northeast. All very sculptural deconstructionist. Looked great. And every morning for at least half the year, the morning sun beamed right into the building and directly into the eyes of the counter staff. They literally could not see who they were serving! That entire fuck-up was created by the designers, yet in 1973 I was sitting in classes and being taught to consider the seasonal solar cycle, penetration angles and consequences. Go figure.

ITEM #4 The Bosch Wall Oven. I was delighted when my wife agreed with to me to buy a Bosch oven. I regard Bosch as world’s best. If Bosch made cars, I’d be all – “Shut up and take my money!” So we got it home and it was installed under the gas hob, and it was all just fine and we put in a roast, then an alarm started bleating. Dafuk?

For a little while neither of us could figure it out, then we realised that a bunched up tea towel on the oven handle had been the trigger. I soon deduced the reason: the tea towel was partly blocking the hot air outlet and well d’uh: over-heated oven iz bad! We soon learned to be less slovenly.

But next morning, the alarm went off again! The oven was stone cold. It wasn’t even on! I was merely leaning against it. The alarm – designed to alert people to overheating due to lack of a cooling airflow – was completely un-linked to the temperature of the oven!

90% of the time it achieves nothing, and is just plain annoying. Worse than that, it made this Bosch fan 50% less impressed with Bosch. That’s a lot of PR damage. And the worst thing? I can’t disable it, or rewire it. Once again end-user be screwed.

Heaters

ITEM #5 Blow Heater – At the other end of the technology spectrum is our blow heater. We’ve currently got two of these little buggers, and we’re about to buy a third. It would easily be the 11th or 12th one we’ve had in the last 20 years. They run, they have a cut-out that is linked to internal temperature (in yer face, Bosch!) and they fail within a few years.

One does not need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce where these are made: China. Much has been said about ‘Made in China’ so I won’t go over it all again. Just to note that in my experience: Well-made, reliable, long lasting products don’t get made there.

We bought two of ’em the first time out. One failed within two months. Back to The Warehouse ( – “where everyone gets a bargain!”). They replaced it without a murmur. The 2nd one failed soon after. This was getting suspicious! Taking up my trusty surgical implements I did a post-mortem … and found the nasty secret.

The circuit was simplicity itself. But lo – there was a noticeably fat resistor in the line. It was blown. I knew enough about circuits (Dux of my school in math& sciences), and this did not seem right. I’d never seen this in a heater or a toaster. After all – the heating coil is a resistor itself, with precisely known properties. I came to realise that they had obsolescence designed right into them. Manufactured to fail.

We keep buying them. They all fail. It is always the resistor. I open them up, snip out the fried resistor and solder the circuit back. After that it runs just fine for about 5 more winters until the coil gives out. I don’t mess with that. They go to landfill.

How many millions of these things have been made, sold, and gone to landfill far sooner than they need have? The sheer utterly cynical waste of our planet’s resources disgusts me. Seems as long as it looks good on the shelf at point-of-sale, that’s all that matters. I HATE that design attitude!

Speaking of design in regard to these heaters, Their ‘design’ keeps changing. Stylistically they change every few years. But on the day I do the inevitable surgery, it is quite apparent that nothing has changed inside. I could take the innards out of a 2016 heater and drop it neatly back inside a 1996 body. Same old same old; designed to fail.

[UPDATE: We acquired our new heater – the model at centre of my montage. And .. (wait for it) IT HAS A SCREAMINGLY OBVIOUS DESIGN FAULT!! Having moved the controls to the very top, they had to severely compromise the handle. It’s on the back, barely deep enough to get 4 fingertips into, and if you actually try – YOU CANNOT PICK UP THE HEATER. It swings from your fingertips and flips down onto the floor. Every. Time.]

To me, design is not tinkering with the outsides. It is not about looks. Sculpting the outside of an office building is not design unless everything on the inside is considered and challenged and improved on too. Example: without changing anything inside, you can sheath an entire building in ‘glass-curtain’. Then everyone bakes every winter as the sun belts in. The air-con strains to cope and the running costs go sky-high. It was a big problem when I was an architecture student. The world was only just waking up to it.

It is like putting new clothes on a fashion model who suffers constipation. No matter how many garments she wears, the duration of the applause or the number of awards the fashion designer is given; she is still sick inside. Nothing changes.

Design needs to go far deeper. Unfortunately, most people pursuing a career in design are pawns in the bigger game called ‘Capitalism’, and capitalism, like the fashion industry, is all about selling everyone ‘the new look’, be it heaters or cars or buildings, and screw the end-user. But forget all that; have some more wine (down your front)!

Here’s another commentary about design, by design expert Lena Groeger: