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!” I imagine said.

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.


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:


The Daggers Flung (Part 1 of ‘Flung Aside’)


People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.” – Bill Watterson

Mum and Dad were already at war before I arrived, and it just got worse. All of which was hidden from me on the surface, but of course we all have some kind of emotional sonar operating, even if you’re autistic.

On that note, the theory has been floated that autistic children are not grossly insensitive and thus closed from the world, but are in fact the complete opposite. Everything pours into them as a constant screaming medley of sensations, loud noise, lights and motion, and the autist must rapidly build defenses or remain permanently overwhelmed. I’m seen this first hand in my own son, who basically spent the first 3 years of his life screaming in terror. The book was called “The Crying Baby”, but there was more to it than that.

Like a camera loaded with hyper-fast film, the aperture must be progressively stopped down before any decent photos are achieved. Minimum interaction with humans and their emotional noise and signals (oft indistinguishable) prevents overexposed film and emotional burn-through. Close it out. Play alone. Immerse oneself in an obsession. Hide. Literally – hide. I did that. I often hid. Safe at last!

But is there more to us than just the five senses? (There are in fact many more than five, but another day, I think). Yes there is. To quote Philip Larkin. “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.” And my parents were no exception.

People unconsciously play out complex games to get their needs met, seldom directly. And if one’s primary needs find absolutely no source of succor, one’s efforts are diverted into a secondary gameplan. Example: any attention is better than no attention.  Children learn to meet their needs by being little criminals. They’ll break things, they’ll break the rules, they’ll employ expletives – anything to get a rise out of mum/dad; teachers; authority figures. Very successful strategy. Prisons are packed with people reaping the ineffective consequences of this pattern.

Crime starts young. It is created by disengaged parents, and even more effectively by an absent parent. Sad & very fucked up.

But that was not the way of the Gedi.

My dear mother, trapped at home by a horrid controlling husband, without love and with one child already (hitting 2 and losing his charm), needed someone to give her any sort of love, and I became the designated saviour. The Wanted Child, perfect, serene, and unconditionally loving. Increment by increment my dear mum injected me with a complex venom. I needed to remain rescue-able. And she needed to be needed.

Dad, on the other hand, was merely waiting for me to grow out of nappies (none of which, I’m sure, he ever touched) and get big enough to kick a ball. And when that day came I began to prove useless as a son. I had no aptitude for sport. I was clumsy. I was left-handed. I was also a wimp, a blubberguts and a sissy. Physically fragile, and emotionally too. The most minor of setbacks would send me running to mummy, and my father soon enough took his place on the other side of that same circuit. His criticism, anger, and not-so-subtle remarks stung me again and again.

Worse: I absorbed them and made them my own. I am 63; he has been dead twelve years; yet they still remain operative despite the awareness I now have. Somewhere back then, at a very young age, I became determined to never succeed at anything. And so far I’ve been a roaring success at it.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. 
They may not mean to, but they do. 
They fill you with the faults they had 
And add some extra, just for you. 

But they were fucked up in their turn 
By fools in old-style hats and coats, 
Who half the time were soppy-stern 
And half at one another's throats. 

Man hands on misery to man. 
It deepens like a coastal shelf. 
Get out as early as you can, 
And don't have any kids yourself.  -  Philip Larkin

Now I try to not hate Dad. He was doing his best. He was replicating what he learned from his daddy who was apparently a total arsehole. Alternatively I could describe him thus: ‘he was Scottish’. None of my Scots ancestry ever reached me, not one crumb, except the brutal School-of-Hard-Knocks lessons my grandfather dispensed to all his sons. I guess it evolved as a way to ‘toughen you up’ so you could survive a brutal working-class life. At home, school, on the streets, in the workplace. The Scots are renown for their pugilism.

But compared to my grandfather ‘Peter-Pop’, Dad was a kitten. He was kind, forbearing. But inevitably his disappointment would show, his impatience, his unpredictable anger (which was probably spilling over from elsewhere as his first marriage turned to crap).

Thus I danced between my two parents, savaged by my father then rescued (but never re-empowered) by my mother. It was a perfect circuit, but is hard to deduce exactly who was the battery & who was the lightbulb. Maybe it was just two batteries and the wiring (me) what got hot. Or was I a capacitor? Anyway – there was no off-switch.

HIT PAUSE. – I don’t want to fling you into a black pit of despair. There is a silver lining in all this – of sorts. Larkin was far from the only one to realise this, and far from the only person to treat it as a permanent cycle. Which it isn’t. Tune in soon to PART II: ‘Fung Aside’ and a truly remarkable story.

POSTSCRIPT I: That sequence in Calvin and Hobbs was the most intense, beautiful, tragic, heart-wrenching things I have ever seen in a cartoon. Watterson never flinched in his depiction of childhood, and here he was at his best. Nothing compares.

POSTSCRIPT II: Flung is one of my favourite words. It is a word that takes no prisoners. It is assertive, adamant, unambiguous.  It evokes an action, either violent or done with disgust (or both). Intended. Forceful. As Yoda once said, “There is no unflung.”

Flung Aside

“Life is a highway / I want to ride it / all night long…”  – Tom Cochrane

One of my most enduring memories was coming across a top-flight sports-car upside down in a ditch on a highway in the middle of nowhere (which on that occasion was the middle of North Island, New Zealand). It was the 1970s, so no mobile phones. We stopped to investigate, fearing the worst. It was inverted, but intact. nothing for it: I scrambled into the ditch and finally worming my head in to check for trapped people.

Another car had stopped soon after us and they hurried to the scene of the crash too. Suddenly a powerful torch stabbed at me from the other side and a panic-stricken voice shouted, “Oh my God there’s someone in there!” but there wasn’t (except for my head). The driver had already pissed off, without even leaving a helpful note. We soon did the same thing. I imagine that same scene repeated itself all night long.

As to the highway of my life: I’ve been down many highways, literally and figuratively; and had some quite splendid adventures. I’ve been nearly-famous. I’ve performed in front of literally thousands of people on a few occasions, & cumulatively to 50,000+. I’ve sat in a room waiting to be announced author of NZ’s Children’s Book of the Year. (As earlier emphasised – the word ‘nearly’ figures in this.) I’ve been a ‘key-note’ speaker, and so on.

And every time – like coming off a rollercoaster, I was all: “WOO! Let’s do it again!” Every time. (Well: every time I proved good at something. Which was often enough.)

But on my highway, I always ended up in the ditch and walked away from each crashed car. Oh they ran well until then, proper little sports cars some of them. (I won’t bore you with the entire list. Let’s just say that in most instances it involved being on stage in some capacity. Public speaking. Workshop presenter. Storyteller. Stripper. That sort of thing.)

I have a friend. He’s a psychologist. After one of our men’s groups he asked me, “So how come you’re not successful?” Upon reflection it was not a casual question, nor was it asked (as I took it) in a perplexed/empathetic kind of way. I had no answer, but it sank into me anyway, like a depth charge. It’s still there.

What has been flinging me aside? I kept putting it down to circumstances; Bad Luck; Market Forces; it is just ‘how I rolled’ (<cough> into the ditch, every time). As some people like to put it – I blamed things. Other things. I have sat with professional psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors, and every time I tried to tell them “I have a fear of success” absolutely none of them took it up. FAIL!

But I was right: If I ever succeeded, especially Something In My Fathers’ World (sports, career, normalcy, holding down a government job for 38 years), it would break the programming my parents injected, and make him out to be a liar. (I mentioned his sideline barracking in the previous post, but to summarise: his final remark about me – uttered two months before he died – was, “So how’s that no-hoper getting on?”)

The only way I could completely fulfill his expectations was to keep on failing. I had been the mysterious force flinging myself off the highway. I was doing it via various strategies – usually by leveraging my circumstances at the time. After every success, as I walked away thinking, “Ooo! Nailed it! I have got to do more of this!” I was already plotting out exactly how I was going to fail to do any more. Unconsciously.

Really, there is no better explanation. Not a blinding flash; this hasn’t required expensive cathartic therapy; It has just been the sound of a penny dropping from the top of the world’s tallest building for 60 years. You have no idea how important this is to me.

NOW I PROMISED YOU AN ASTOUNDING STORY, all hinging of the word ‘Flung’.

As a boy I followed my big brother around. Gordon was 2 years my senior, and more physical than me, more social, and more in touch with reality. Thus he was my guide (to trouble) and saviour (when he wasn’t thumping me). He was also part of a gang that went around together. It’s what boys do, worldwide. Membership was fluid. I barely knew any of them; can’t remember a single name now. The Big Boys Gang.

The thing about these groups is, they’re very local. Other gangs, just a few street over, had their patch too. Strangers all. And thus, of course, they were Our Enemy. My gang said things about them, how they were all stupid, or all violent … Basically, they were Other. (And our gang was, in their eyes I’m sure, equally ‘Other’.) Fights sometimes happened. So we stayed away from their territory, and they from ours.

Come winter and we’d inevitably get snow, and since we were literally on the edge of town, adventure was to be had going upwards past the farmland, into the bush, and if conditions allowed, we could get to the very top of our local mountain; Mt Flagstaff; 2,000ft high.

“Let’s go see how deep the snow is!” “Huzzah!” “(etc.)” Off we went, with Gordon’s Little Brother tagging along. We hurried up the road and within an hour were well into the native bush on a track overgrown with scrawny trees. Everything was dredged in thick powdery snow. Then we noticed we were being followed. It was another gang, the one from the next suburb over: Halfway Bush – a rough tough state housing area. Trouble coming!

My gang sped up. Faster, faster they went, and I began to fall behind, panicking, gasping, struggling along in my gumboots on the deep snow and mud, too blown to as much as shout “Hey, wait up!” Well, I did, but it seemed the snow absorbed all sound. Panic shrivelled my voice, and I had every reason to panic. Pounding up behind me, just paces away, was an alien gang of towering 8 & 9-year-olds. Then they caught me.

Ever seen those nature programs when the cheetah catches its prey? How the poor beast, knowing it is doomed, instantly ceases the struggle? That was me. I went into shock, braced myself for awful things, and the humiliation began. They promised frightening things coming soon, declared me a wimp, sissy, etc (‘wimp’ and ‘loser’ were not used in 1959, but you get the idea), roughed me around, rammed snow down my collar, then flung me deep into scrubbery, laughing. What a hoot!

I tripped on a dead branch, fell painfully in a shower of snow, and listened to them laughing and jeering as they moved on. I was, understandably, rather glum. I fell at once into a severe depression, being – with all my might and skill – the miserable hapless victim … trapped … severely in need of rescue … soon … which finally did not come.

Believe me, I really radiated victimhood and neediness. I wallowed in the moment, I really worked it, but I had no audience. There was no Mother to pull me out. No feckin’ brother, either! Just silence, discomfort, some minor scratches and bruises, and my bum attitude.

I should be grateful for that moment. I finally got sick of being a pathetic wimp/sissy/loser, regained a bit of spine, struggled back to the track, saw nough of my group, and (hating them and their utter failure to protect me) I went home.

Now here’s the kicker:

40 years later I was living in Temuka (- a small country town in NZ’s South Island), and I befriended the guy at the local video-hire place. We’d talk about many things. He bought some of my books. I gave him a woodworking commission. Then one day we realised that we were both from Dunedin. In fact he was from Halfway Bush. We had lived a mile apart, but worlds apart too. Different school, slightly different ages, etc… “You know it was a funny thing; that:” I began, “We boys all had our little gangs, almost street by street, and we treated each other as strangers; enemies; but really we were all the same. Just kids. Yet there was this ritual of humiliating that we just had to dish out to each other…” And I began telling him about my lonely assault in the snow…

And he suddenly became very shifty. Very, VERY, shifty. Suddenly: no eye contact. Slowly my story dried up. Something was amiss – And we both quickly moved on, “Yeah, boys will be boys, eh?!” “Yeah, hah-hah-hah.” He did not admit it, but I knew then that he had been there that day. There was no mistaking it. Him and his gang. He remembered.

How freaking bizarre is that?!



Pocket Monsters vs Cross-dressing Robots

Let me be quite clear from the beginning; I hate Transformers.

I’ve hated the things from the day they came out. Hated every aspect of them, including the ham-fisted original TV series, the recent reboots, and in fact their very existence here on Earth. It is not professional jealousy. It was an idiot concept from the get-go; a glaringly contrived excuse to sell more plastic to gullible kids.

I mean – Interstellar robots from a far distant planet, right? And they look exactly like trucks? Also, why be in disguise? If they’re hiding from the other guys, why not just use their hyper-mega-radar detector thingies that they’ve surely got, considering they’re made of advanced alien technology and can fly through space? I mean: ‘hello?’

Oh, and they were all men. With distinctly human personalities. That speak English. At length (kinda like a TV script loaded with tiresome exposition) despite having hyper-mega-ultra-speed radio channels that work in space. Yeah. Right.

The only thing that impressed me was the design aspect – how the parts pulled out and rotated and clipped together again to make them look like mega-trucks or high-end sports cars. But never Toyota Corollas. I love that clever stuff. Utterly wasted here.

Anyway, it recently occurred to me that Transformers are very much like Pokemon. They both have two forms, Stored Mode (non-combative) and Deployed Mode (combative). They each have stages of development. In Pokemon they ‘evolve’, and in Transformers they get rebuilt all the time, or rebuild themselves. If you’re into collecting you’ll soon realise that the permutations of Transformer are rapidly approaching infinity. We’ll soon be tearing apart entire planets just to keep up with the trillions of ‘repaints’ and mods; the Original Series Re-release Series; the Animated Series; the risible Dino-bots and their inevitable re-boot;  the fucking Protector-bots and yadda yadda yadda. Not to mention the new awesome/creepy versions from the reboot-movies. (I hear movie #112 is under way.)

And each series started out with about a dozen basic models, then they started adding more and more as the product gets more and more popular. Remember when there were 52 Pokemon? Wow! 52! So many! Now there are 718/750/722/726, depending on which web-site you consult. Not to mention some 36 different poke-balls.

But seriously – I’ve got to hand it to the Pokemon writers and artists. They just keep coming up with the most awesome looking creatures:Pokemon3

But what about those poor chumps tasked with perpetually re-inventing the Transformers? I imagine it goes a bit like this:

CEO: “So what have you got for us this week, boys?”

DEVELOPER #1: (nervously) “Ahhh, we’ve got some great stuff, chief!”

CEO: “You’d better! Last week’s releases pulled in dismal sales. Only 2 million.”

DEVELOPER #1: “No worries. This set is going to nail it. So this is Roto-Rooter. He …”

CEO: “What the fuck is a roto-rooter?”

DEVELOPER #2: “It, um, it removes blockages in sewers. But we were just going on the name, see? It’s really strong, really macho. And look, he’s go this coiled arm thing that…”

CEO: “Oh for fuck’s sake! You might as well have just called him Enema or something.”

DEVELOPER #3: “Ah, we did that last year, sir. y’know, the Medic Series?”

CEO: <does a facepalm> “Oh yes: Medi-Vac; Transfuse-Ion; Hyper Dermic; Neck Brace, and N-Emma…”

DEVELOPER #2: “You did ask us to introduce another female character…”

CEO: “Yes! And I told you to call her Nukular Emma!”

DEVELOPER #2: “Uh, yes, but a lot of kids couldn’t pronounce that, so we …”

CEO: “Look, we’re not going to ever do another series for girls, okay!? Transformers are boys’ toys! Besides, who the hell wants a combat robot in a maid’s outfit!?”

DEVELOPER #2: “The Japanese market was beginning to …”

CEO: “Screw the Japanaese market! It’s a lost cause.”

DEVELOPER #3: <consulting his phone> “They’re now up to 8,950 Pokemon…”

CEO: <dangerously> “One more strike, Kevin, and you’re sacked. Got that?”

DEVELOPER #3: “Yes, sir. sorry, sir.”

DEVELOPER #1: <clears his throat cautiously> “Kevin sort of has a point though, Sir. If we could widen our sources to include other species, so to speak …”

CEO: <angrily> “When I was a developer we put out Dino-bots; Eagle-Bots, Vampire-Bots, Mutant-Bots, Zombie-Bots, Rhino-Bots, Trilo-Bots, the entire Micro-Bots series, the Burrow-Bots and the Platobots …”

DEVELOPER #2: “Except everyone called them the ‘Plato Bots’.”

CEO: “Idiots! Hadn’t they ever heard of a platypus? Plat-O-Puss!”

DEVELOPER #2: “You’re right, sir. Let’s swing back to old-fashioned Transformer Traditions. The KitchenGirl Bots were just .. wrong. I mean ‘Iron Stand’; that sounded good. A strong woman, standing her ground …”

DEVELOPER #1: “And she complimented ‘Ironing Board’ perfectly.”

DEVELOPER #2: “I thought ‘Coffee-Tron’ looked great!

DEVELOPER #3: “Yeah; ‘Stove Master’… ‘Power Point’ …’Blender Blade”…”

DEVELOPER #1: “I loved Blender Blade!”

DEVELOPER #2: “Yeah, but ya can’t beat those fucking feminists, eh?”

DEVELOPER #1: “Nah, nah, they just … didn’t get it.”

CEO: “Guys, love to talk but we need our factories starting tonight! So what else have you got there? Yeah, yeah, Roto-Rooter, stick with that, he’ll do. Come on, come on!”

DEVELOPER #1: “Alright; aaaand here’s Barrow-Wheel – folds down into a single wheel. He just sort of crushes everyone. This is Vise-Grip – ‘the grip of death’. Sawblade – kinda obvious,  really. Ahhh; Pinch-Bar.., oh and this is their leader: Mulch-Master!”

CEO: “Didn’t I ask for a Combiner Set?”

DEVELOPER #2: “Sure did! We’re on it, boss.” <he clips the prototypes together> “And there he is: huge! We thought we’d call the combiner version ‘Toolshed’!”

CEO: “Haven’t we done that already?”

DEVELOPER #2: “No that was Tool-Belt. Three years ago.”

CEO: <almost weeping>”Surely we’ve got something better?”

DEVELOPER #2: “We’re all out of ideas, seriously. For cars we’re down to the Fiat Bambina or the British electric  milk cart.”

DEVELOPER #1: “I think the wombat is still begging, if we’re doing animals.”

DEVELOPER #3: <looking back at his phone> “Uh oh, they’ve just passed 9,000.”

CEO: “Right! that’s it! You’re sacked!










Strange Acts of Intuition in Cinemas

Dunedin/1960s. From a young age I’d go downtown and take in a movie, sometimes alone. There were James Bond movies. I remember ‘The Guns of Navarone’. I liked the good-guys/bad-guys stuff. War. Anything a teenage knob could get into: car chases; explosions.  Sometimes men and women would talk for ages then kiss. Oh God! B-o-ring! We’d wait impatiently for the real action to resume.

My taste in movies widened, thank goodness. But it was a slow evolution.

[A digression: I had a friend, Stephen C. He was quite the thinker and a socialist I suspect. Certainly not a Royalist. In those days they played “God Save the Queen” before the movie and the moment it began, everyone would stand. We’d all been trained. I mean – Ermagawd THE QUEEN! Then one day I noticed Stephen still sitting. WTF (or 1960s equivalent)! Urgently I whispered at him, but he did not arise. I feared vague terrible consequences; a righteous telling-off by some outraged authority figure and a public shaming, I guess, but it never happened. Anyway he talked me around to ‘the dark side’ and I became a rebel too. We daring young men in out stay-seated machines, defying the Might of the Empire and 1,000 years of obsequious grovelling. Even so, I was shit-scared.]

And so many decades passed and I sat through a load of movies. In my 2nd year of uni, film festivals became a thing in NZ. I was in Auckland by then. I ended up seeing loads of weird shit – sorry; ‘Art-house Movies’. Lots of them, and my brain retains fragments of some. Odd vignettes of costume dramas, love tragedies, turgid studies of nihilistic angst (sorry, Bergman, but it was true!). There was a fabulous animated sci-fi movie, and also the dullest movie of my life: Solaris.

life rolled on. I was young cashed up and curious, but most movies were a waste of money. I got nothing out of them. Eventually, eschewing art-house fare and my attempts at being an intellectually sophisticated adult, I went back to the ‘actioner’. No satisfaction there either, until Star Wars arrived. Finally everything I needed!

But gradually the movies got better, and gradually I forged stable relationships wherein I had the bonus of having a regular movie-going buddy. Bagdad Cafe was so wonderful, I saw it three times. When Harry Met Sallyyes, yes, YES!

And now to the present. I went to see The Lady in the Van with my wife. Her mother insisted we should go – “you’re gonna love it!” and we did. “what’s it about?” – “Some guy gets lumbered with a crazy disgusting old lady for 15 years, after he lets her park her van in his driveway…” “Okay – got it.” and off we go. and I’m watching it … five minutes in … and suddenly I go. “OMG that’s the driveway where she lived. They actually went back and filmed it where it happened!

Now I hadn’t read that. I don’t listen to radio. I knew absolutely zip about that movie. But I intuitively flashed up that fact. I would’ve been broken-hearted to get home and discover it hadn’t been so, but I was right. Bang-on!

Ex Machina. I went with my scifi-breathing son. We loved it. It really was extraordinary; Best Sci-fi Ava! And we’re sliding along with it, 40 minutes in, mesmerised by her see-thru arms and the intense dance of conversations and nerve-wracking undercurrents … and suddenly it happened again. The human guy asks her, “If you could get out of here, where would you go? What would you look at?” And my mind immediately flashed to a certain location in Japan. (You know it; it’s world-famous, but I won’t spoil the movie, okay?) and although I didn’t get it exactly right – I got the concept of it exactly right. EX-ACT-LY. That was her answer to his question.

Holy. Fuck.

But this is not about movies. It’s not about ‘intuition’ or the extraordinary powers of the human (or robot) mind. It’s about being autistic.

Being autistic is life-long. There’s no cure. [Parents, let me repeat this, THERE IS NO CURE!] Those 2 or 3 decades  of going to movies was entirely about me being autistic, and nothing to do with Bergman and his ilk being incompetent. They made great movies. What made them ‘art-house’ was because they were entirely about the human condition, entirely for the ’emotional IQ’ of the viewers. About relationships, love, loyalty, rivalry, conflict, hidden agendas, madness, grief …

I’d often watch movies and think, “No. Don’t believe it. People aren’t like this. No-one could be such an areshole/so violent/so evil. No-one could be that driven/desperate/that much in love as to [INSERT EXTREME BEHAVIOUR]. These are just characters made up by script writers to try and create ‘drama’. They’re over-working it. Pure fiction.” 

Because I had no connection to it. Even though I had grown up in a totally fucked-up family full of violence and despair, I remained disconnected from my own human condition or anyone else’s. That was why movies made no sense. Time and time again I’d sit through 90 minutes of sheer pointless nothing. ‘Solaris’ was sheer pointless nothing. Seriously. Absolutely none of it had any impact on me whatsoever except to utterly bore the shit out of me. (Salman Rushdie called Solaris “a sci-fi masterpiece.”)

So what changed? I can now watch a movie and feel very intensely for the characters. I can ‘read’ the emotional subtext in a scene without dialogue. I seldom see a character now where I go – “Uh-uh, nope, can’t believe that! Who wrote this shite? doesn’t he know anything about human beings?”

What changed was that I grew up. What takes a few years in a child took sixty years in me. But at least it happened. I learned the language of the soul, of love and pain, of the wabi-sabi of life, of exhilaration and seething anger and depression and despair. It’s the same language that Star Wars is written in (ham-fistedly by George Lucas, it has to be said), and all the weird-shit movies too. It is what some people carelessly just call ‘intuition’.

But it ain’t. It’s in our Ape-ancestor genetics. Or we learn it. Or we don’t. Or we can’t be arsed straining our emotional solaris and just go buy tickets to the next big actioner. But intuition is being able to double-guess a robot.

(Or was I double-guessing a writer?)




Why does ‘Questionnaire’ rhyme with ‘Millionaire’?

And why does it have two ‘N’s? I always spell it wrong!

Anyway, I’ve spend the last year and a half* composing a questionnaire for you – all 47 of you in the world who have read my book or know about it – and I’d be grateful if you spent 17 seconds of your life filling it in. Then print it out on heavyweight gold-embedded paper and send it to the following address: Millionaire’s Row, Brisbane, Australia.

Thanks! Here’s the link:


[ * I exaggerated by a factor of 365.]



Black is the New Stupid

This is an open letter to all the Architects of the world and the Structural Engineers who in most part provide the surfaces upon which architects scribble their embellishments, and within which they fit their clients. (And I’ll add all the ‘Exterior Designers’ too, if there is such a category, and your Clients, just to cover all bases.)

That’s only about 50 million people, at a guess, so please excuse me if I seem a little nervous and tongue-tied. I’ve never spoken to so many people before. So let me cut to the chase: some of you are very stupid.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit blunt. Let me rephrase that: Some of you are very forgetful.

Let’s roll back a decade or three. It’s summer. You’re three years old and you’re in your swimmers and you lean on someone’s black car. It’s a physics lesson, but at the time you’re too busy screaming and clutching your burns to give it much thought.

I hope your parents didn’t shout at you, “You are very stupid!” I hope they kindly pointed out to you that ‘black cars get very VERY hot and please just don’t touch them, okay?’

Later, as you journeyed through high school, you should have re-encountered this phenomenon in a science class or Science Education Centre. Since you’re in the building industry, you must have taken Physics. Do you remember the concept of the ‘perfect black body’? It’s on Wikipedia. Go look. Here are two quotes:

“A black body is an idealized physical body that absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation, regardless of frequency or angle of incidence.”

“A black body in thermal equilibrium has two notable properties: 1) It is an ideal emitter: at every frequency, it emits as much energy as – or more energy than – any other body at the same temperature. 2) It is a diffuse emitter: the energy is radiated isotropically, independent of direction.”

Evidently, entirely too many of you have forgotten this. I base this assertion on the following observation: THERE ARE AN AWFUL LOT OF BUILDINGS PAINTED BLACK*, and more seem to be going up every week.

And now you protest; “It’s what the client wants!” “Oh but it’s so fashionable right now, darling!” “We wanted to make a statement!” “It’s the company’s signature colour!”

Uh-huh; uh-huh; yeah. But the PHYSICS, people, the PHYSICS!  What you are doing is throwing up massive piles of concrete and steel that play into the fundamental cycle of global warming. And a black building is the PERFECT player. Daytime; sunshine; & your thermal collectors are perfectly coloured to collect heat. Come night and gigawatts of heat re-radiates at a different wavelength of infra-red, which stays trapped in the atmosphere.

Every sunny day, the buildings you wrote the specs for are contributing to global warming. It would be happening even without humanity filling the air with more and more CO2, but it’s worse now that we have. WORSE than that, however: These buildings need more air conditioning. That costs your clients more and more, and if the electricity is coming from coal – BAM! DOUBLE-BONUS FAIL POINTS!

And it gets worse. Every engineer and every architect should know that materials expand and contract constantly. Painting a building black is just asking for trouble. The concrete is stressing to the max, the steel and the joints – ditto. What is the economic life of your building? What are the additional maintenance issues?

Black is bad. It is just bad.

I live in Brisbane, Australia. I see this practice everywhere, and it breaks my brain that highly paid, highly educated specialists are continuing to make such a fundamental error. It should be your duty to specify light colours, and advise your client that a black colour scheme will hasten the death of their building, give them higher power bills, and ruin their Green credibility (not to mention helping to destroy humanity.)

Anything less than that is a failure of your duty as engineers or architects.

I know you’re not stupid, but I want to shout! If you’re currently contributing to the world-wide placement a literally billions of tonnes of solar thermal collectors, all maximised to contribution their utmost to global warming, I beg you to stop.

Thank you for listening.

* For the sake of convenience, I’m calling all the kettles black. I know you’ll quibble; “Oh but my building isn’t black, it is ‘charcoal’.” Well I’m sorry but it’s still a case of “the PHYSICS, people, the PHYSICS!”. ‘Off-Black’ or ‘Midnight Grey’, or ’50 Shades of Charcoal’ or whatever you want to call it: the effects are the same, the costs and the consequences are the same. You might see one or two percentage points difference at most.

DISCLOSURE: I aspired to be an architect since the age of 12 & subsequently attended the Auckland School of Architecture during the early 1970s. I can safely claim to have acquired three-fifths of an architectural degree. Later on, during the 90s, I designed two buildings. Neither of them was painted black.

I currently regard most modern architecture as utterly repugnant, especially that tragic fad called ‘deconstructionism’. You can read my opinion here: http://www.nzine.co.nz/life/designasaur7.html


Sociopaths I have known

What is it about me and sociopaths? I’ve had an absolute run of them!

Or did I, if fact, enjoy the usual quota? Has anyone ever done the research? Is there already some popularised research paper out there – ‘How Many Sociopaths Will *You* Encounter This Year? (And How To Deal With Them!)’ It seems a strange thing to get out of bed at 4am and write about, except that I was woken from a dream wherein, for the first time in decades, I dreamed about one of these guys.

[Some of those ‘guys’ were in fact women – but that is a different tale. (Called ‘ALL MY (WORST) RELATIONSHIPS’, in case you are interested.)]

So this guy I once knew: I thought he was wonderful. He walked the walk and he talked the talk. He was into all the new-age stuff, Community, trees, organic, reuse/recycle … he was well ahead of the rest of the world. He stepped up. He was a natural leader.

We were close buddies. We flatted together, hung out together, mutilated houses together, went motorbiking together, damn-near had girlfriends together (they were sisters), and most importantly made the effort to stay in touch despite me ending up in entirely different cities to him pursuing relationships he did not approve of (a marriage in particular – and he was right about that) and all my new unhippie things like fringe theatre, That Guru, and … stuff.

Meanwhile he got on with creating his idyllic in the countryside, conducting his own relationships, stepping into the role of being a father (but never his own kids, always someone else’s) and destroying entire communities as fast as he could.

I don’t know the details. It was his local community focused around their meeting house and traditional practices and Language. He got right in there! He integrated, he walked *their* walk and talked their talk. It was there in their church I attended his wedding. He was marrying a long-time friend of mine. She was amazing; a powerful, inspired driven woman believing in all the same stuff. Communities? She STARTED communities!

And it all exploded. That entire community erupted into in-fighting, factions, anger, crisis, division … But fortunately some of them had figured out what the real problem was, Him. There were angry threats. Stand-offs. Close to violence. My friend was send packing – uttering convinced that he was the innocent party. He told me the grim tale later. Fook!

So he joined her community and … in a matter of 2~3 years it exploded too. More of the same. This was a longstanding community founded on excellent principals, but one new dude, bursting with energy and good ideas, waking-the-walk talking-the-talk (& he really did believe it all)… Anyway he packed up and pulled out. There were death-threats. Fook!!

I got his version of it. I was astonished. But I had by then acquired yet another wife who was insightful enough to eventually spot him in action. (By then he was into his 3rd or 4th major life-rebuild .. yes: in another isolated community.) And we saw it: the control-y stuff. He’d swept yet another defacto wife away from everything she knew, they were out in the bush, and oh how he abused her son. Poor little dot; pre-verbal, but my friend the childcare-expert was dog-training him. Horrible to watch, and listen too. Fook!!!

We drove away, we discussed it, and finally it all locked into place. Everything I knw about him shifted and settled into a new meaning. POW!  So next time he lobbed into my life with a sad tale of how he’d just become the innocent victim of Horrid Woman Who’d Been Corrupted by The Feminists at The Shelter, and the Court Order she’d taken out, etc etc … (but oh how he was going to get his revenge!) … And I blocked him; changed my email.

That. Was. Huge. For me. – Huge!

Sociopaths. They are better understood now, and more visible. And they’re easy to spot. Usually they are the head of a corporation, a lawyer, a billionaire, or at the very least the head of some government department or someone’s boss. In the more prominent cases they are Congressmen, political leaders, State Governors (Premiers in Australia), Prime Ministers, Presidents, despots & movie producers. The Saddam Husseins of this world

And the pattern is always the same. THEY WILL NEVER ACHIEVE SELF-INSIGHT – even if they are called out in public. To them – everything is couched in terms of victimhood. They’re always the one who’s doing it right, and they’re always the one getting screwed when it finally turns to shit. And their stories are highly distorted, manipulative, designed to win a whole new cohort of groupies; a new nest to crawl into like so much bird lice.

I’m grateful that I’ve finally developed the good sense to spot them early and stand clear. The most recent one ended with him threatening to sue me, plus some actual violence, for my supposed ‘crimes’ against his good reputation. This was a good year before the rest of my community finally woke up to him. [‘waking the walk, talking the talk’…]

But why have I had such a string of them in my life? (I haven’t mentioned the rest.) Is it a message? Damn straight it is! But … what? – That I’m a sociopath too? (Fook!)

I’ve treated it that way. Hell – I’m prone to a bit of the ol’ victim-consciousness myself. Can I get manipulative? Oh yes. Do I follow roundabout ways to get my needs met? Yup. Have I become horribly overbearing on other people’s children. Nope, but I get that way with my own boys sometimes. Do I try to ingratiate myself into businesses or communities for the purposes of increasing my personal sense of power? Nope. (I run from communities the moment I start becoming included and treated as a whole human being!!)

And do I every stop and ask myself: “Shit, I wonder if I’m a sociopath?” Yes, I do.

The question I really need to ask is – why have I spent most of my life being easy meat? Why do these people appeal? Why do I so willingly leap upon their bandwagons?

Too many people want a ‘strong leader’. Too many people want to hand over the terrible awful burden of Being An Adult. Too many people want Safety and Comfort. We’re adrift – unable to find centre; personal resource; courage or even purpose. (That sums up most of my life.) So they go out and vote for these crazies. Promote them! Marry them!!

But I know one community that IS immune to sociopaths. It is a Men’s Group, a Big One, and they run trainings for men – guiding the process of leaving victimhood behind (every side of it) and finally becoming whole; becoming strong without strong-arming others, and becoming centred without needing the next Mother/Vagina figure to come along.

As they say; “Shift happens”. It is possible to climb out of victim-hood.

2015 in review

Hello to my loyal followers (all 7 of you. (or is it 8 now?))

2015 became my personal Year of the Blog when I lurched off to dwell awhile in that empty Japanese hotel room… Sorry; Google+ That was the day ‘Steamed Up’ really going, and I got ‘steamed up’ about one or two things, as promised. Airships, it seemed, was my most popular theme.

On that note, I promise to become even more of a pedantic grouch next year, sharing my Autie insights (but stop me if I start on any naughty insights) about a wide range of random topics plucked from the roulette wheel I call ‘my mind’.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride so far. Here’s to the Random, the Impulsive, and the Impassioned, and to (hopefully) some good polished writing. Happy Solar Cycle! See you right back here in 365 (& a quarter) days!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 640 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Ged Maybury Guide to Steampunkery


I build like I write – as an explorer in a new world. I never completely plan a book before beginning. It’s more like one of those video games where you can only see a tiny patch of the map. You advance in what seems a promising direction, sometimes chancing onto a smooth pathway but sometimes bashing through a jungle, going sideways, or backwards again, seeking for the way that feels right. And as in a game you can meet so much trouble that you die. Respawn; try again. Avoid that direction until later, or entirely. Maybe you began in the wrong place entirely. Re-write!

Finally, with your base-camps built in the best places and with the resources your army needs, you march. You encounter cool new ideas along the way, unexpected allies (or enemies) and so on. Your writerly wizard-sense tells you how it must end, but not exactly where, or when, or with whom at your shoulders. But you get there!

Another writer, starting with the exact same resources in the exact same location, will play it out differently. As Robert Sheckley said (and I was in the room when he said it) “You never write the book you plan. You always write the book you write.”  So in a way, the book writes itself.

I have had entirely unplanned characters walk into my books halfway through and ENTIRELY CHANGE EVERYTHING! And they always totally save it. They carry with them the answers I needed (blundering onward as I do, sans map), and a clear and exciting pathway to the resolution. It really is astonishing. WHERE do they come from!? From my creative instincts, of course, my unconscious … intuitive … gift, for want of a better word.

I build Steampunk gadgets, accessories, ray-guns and sculptural pieces in exactly the same way. It won’t work for everyone, but here is how it goes:

1) ALWAYS KEEP EVERYTHING. Except possibly those boxes that milk comes in. They get stinky. But everything else *can* be turned into something beautiful, if not useful, as most steampunk contrivances are not. But they look awesome – and it’s all about looking awesome, darlings!  My wife, however, is in despair. She gazes at my three thousand pieces of collected crap (mostly timber, plumbing parts, costume jewelry and Hello Kitty handbags) and ‘strongly hints’ that ‘just possibly’ this is getting too much and could I please clean out the shed?! But I defend my crap as always: “It’ll come in useful one day!”

And it always does. Without fail, it comes in handy within 48 hours of me throwing it out. Seriously, that ALWAYS happens. (and I always feel like weeping.)

2) SCOUR THOSE ROADSIDE COUNCIL COLLECTIONS. SCOUR THE OP-SHOPS. I have found extraordinary things. Actual antiques, vintage furniture, and modern reproductions that are damn-near as good. But better than that: lots of Random Crap! I’ve written about it here: https://steamedup.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/no-ordinary-junk/

3) DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF RANDOM CRAP! Look into things. Ignore the whole and look at the parts. Modern light fittings still contain groovy little bits of brass and hollow threaded rod (Gold!). Car parts can scream out “Steampunk!” to those of us that hear. Kids’ toys. Appliances. Light-sabers. Lots of things (but not mattresses. Leave them on the road!) Develop a sixth sense for the possible. If there is even a hint of ‘possible‘ in the item, keep it. Because (let’s all chant together) ‘It’ll come in useful one day!’

'Secret Laboratory Detector'.  I found the core component, the 'Jupiter Jet', in the gutter of a carpark. The other components were littering my workbench. One of my most satisfying builds!
‘Secret Laboratory Detector’.
I found the core component, the ‘Jupiter Jet’, in the gutter of a harware store carpark. The other components were littering my workbench. One of my most satisfying builds! (It has lights)

4) WAIT & MEDITATE. Wait for the random junk to speak to you. Sometimes it’ll take months. Leave you best pieces in prominent places. Display them. Keep visiting them. Mull. Visualise. Grab stuff up and just hold them together, or with a gap (it will fill in later) Rotate, find the natural alignments and linkages. Seek a story that explains what part ‘A’ does to part ‘B’. And LISTEN. Do these bits say ‘I am headgear‘, or ‘wear me on your belt‘ or ‘I am a gadget but NOT a weapon‘?

And for the sake of all the Gods don’t glue some cogs on it and call it Steampunk! Cogs that do nothing are cogs that do nothing, and Victorian engineers never did that! Their cogs always spoke with mechanical logic. On all my gadgets and costumes there is exactly one cog. With deliberate artistic irony I glued it onto a Hello Kitty purse and called it steampunk.

Hello Butty
“Hello Butt-y” The tube goes to my breathing mask; made from the butt-end of a defunct household cooling fan.

5) NOW BUILD. So you have sensed a possible trail. It has promise! Still without a map you start making the map that’ll take you to the end of the build. Trust the Force! Throw it all down on the floor. Photograph it. (But don’t lock yourself into using it all!) Now find ways to join the pieces. Everything is different. Play to your strengths. If you like glue – use glue. Screws. Bolts. Rivets. Weld if you weld. And remember – rivets and leather will hide a lot of crimes.

It’s time to start looking at images. Authentic Victorian thingies, clothes, horse and military harnesses. Kitchen-ware. Whatever! And stay quiet. Allow those random bits to keep speaking to you. Press on. Try stuff. Dare to be different. But if the trail leads to a cliff called “holy crap this is too difficult!”, then back away. It’s okay. Put that bit down and cast around for something else. There will always be something else.

My first ray-gun. Swimming pool parts, timber, plywood, leather, copper and a brass knob or two. No cogs!
My first ray-gun. Swimming pool parts, timber, plywood, leather, copper and a brass knob or two. NOTE that I did not use everything in the first pic.

And let that unexpected character walk into the middle of the story. There is nothing more exhilarating that the “Ah-hah!” moment when you turn around and see the awesome thing you picked up five years ago and you know, at last – its time has come. Grab it! Add it! Love those pieces together because they told you to do it!

Commission for 'The Dark Magician' (Ipswich, Aus). Lava lamp, toy and plumbing parts, plywood, timber, V8 parts, table legs, brass sheet, light fittings, costume jewelry.
Commission for ‘The Dark Magician’ (Ipswich, Aus). Lava lamp, toy and plumbing parts, plywood, picture-framing, V8 car-parts, table legs, outdoor lighting, brass sheet, light fittings, leather, costume jewelry.

Happy building! & If you want more technical pro-tips, tell me.