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Heavy Plant

Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...

Friday, November 25, 2005

Nothing happens, no one notices.

Most of the news programmes over here have a section entitled ‘Around Australia’ or somesuch. Some of the channels devote a full half-hour slot to covering the news from all over the nation. The trouble is that Australia is, as has been pointed out before, quite big and has not very many people in the empty bits. This makes Australian regional news a bit like regional news from other parts of the world on a slow news day.

One particular item in the news from the ACT (hover pointer over acronym for definition) was on the fact that bushfire victims get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This in itself is not exactly surprising, bushfires are absolutely cataclysmic in scale and anyone caught in one could really be forgiven for thinking that nature was trying to wipe them out. The story was aimed at unpicking whether this had been acknowledged and enough support had been given.

The article had a slightly accusatory note to it and contained an interview that suggested, however subtly, that not everything had been done to support these people. However, the interviewee seemed particularly well adjusted for someone that had been trapped in their house by a gargantuan fire. She was able to articulate how she had felt at the time and that recollecting the event made her shake physically. In short she had been given two years of ongoing state funded counselling. The end of the article was essentially a voiceover from the reporter stating that an independant oversight body had concluded that the government had gone well out of its' way to make sure that everyone experiencing ill effects from being caught in the fires was well supported. Non story? Kind of.

What's being said is that bushfires have a well documented effect on people and that support has been provided in a timely and effective manner. The editorial team were trying to force a good news story (government provides excellent support to victims of bushfire) into the shape of a bad news story (government fails in duty of care to provide adequate support to victims of bushfire). The tendency towards tabloid journalism, of which this is a symptom is absolutely rife here. This seems to be a global phenomenon which is infecting every media type and angecy but the quality of investigative journalism in Australia appears particularly low and is often unnecessarily confrontational. Investigative style is often adopted to seem professional rather than because there is a specific need for it. Reportage seems unnaffected but even this isn't great. A lot of the time you get the feeling that the news format is being copied from abroad as is the stiff exterior adopted by most reporters, especially as a lot of the international news is bought from Reuters, The BBC, ABC(America) and others. This is in such sharp contrast to the character of the people that it is almost comical. Australia is still finding it's national voice but it isn't more than a few years away I think.

Even when there are genuinely large regional events the pragmatic Australian national character essentially renders them non-events. As an example a few days ago Darwin was hit by an earthquake rating 5.3 on the Richter scale. 5.3 whilst you can feel it, isn't huge but it was enough for a murder trial to be interupted and it is scientifically quite interesting. What renderred this a non-story was the fact that the editor of this piece had chosen to include a vox-pop from a very typical Aussie whose reaction to an earthquake was typically low key:
"Yeah, I felt it but to be honest it wasn't much and I wasn't sure that anything had happened. But when I looked around the office everyone else had felt it too and some of the light fittings were wobbling."
Perhaps this muted reaction is because earlier in the year Darwin had a much bigger earthquake which was some 15 times more powerful. Would you beleive it earthquake fatigue!

Other brilliant stories included, Brave Children Rewarded, Again (Melbourne) and Local Dignatory Switches on Christmas [Tree] Lights in Shopping Mall (Perth). Out of the two the Melbourne story was perhaps the worst. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the kids who were genuinely heroic in a "pull you out from under a collapsed wall" kind of way. As is usual for this kind of event there were lots of fawning adults and all the kids stood around with a look on their faces that says: 'Is all this really necessary? You'd have done what I did or you wouldn't be allowed to call youself a human being.' Funniest of all were the firemen who have to turn up to functions like this in uniform and look very solemn, pretend they aren't looking for recruits or thinking'Thank God I'm not on watch today, I am so sick of pulling kittens out of trees'.

The C word

Okay there's a month to go you are now allowed to use the 'C' word. No not that one, Christmas!

The Christmas trees have magically appeared in the AMP building and are tastefully decked out company livery. Navy blue baubles, lovely. I have to admit I am having trouble taking Christmas seriously over here. Decorations seem a little silly when it 's warm outside. Being colonised from the Northern Hemisphere there is still a British feel to the decorations; there's things like plastic holly included in them which looks badly out of place, not to mention the occasional snowflake motif which is so ridiculous you actually do a double take when you walk past it.

There are definite advantages to being in Sydney for Christmas: the food, the weather, the food, then there's the weather to think of. Christmas dinner this year will be taken on the balcony overlooking the beach (or actually on the beach). Prepare for a jealousy inducing photo-fest.

My commiserations to the American in Lynn, Masachusetts that found the Christmas post. Clearly preparing for big Thanksgiving weekend they were trying to find out how long you have to cook a 24lb stuffed turkey, to which there is only one answer: you need to have started already!

I suppose I'd better do some work. Boring.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Swimming in the dark = pissing in the wind

Swimming in the dark is a bad idea. Swimming in the dark when you've had a few beers and a few mojitos is a positively stupid idea.


Given that I know that why on earth did I decide to do it? Maybe it had something to do with the beers and the cocktails. I now have a graze on my forehead on top of a fairly sizeable lump. Mercifully it doesn't look too bad but I wasn't in particularly good shape on Sunday.

How did I do it? Well the pool light wasn't working and I decided I would swim the length of the pool underwater. In my defence this was a feat I had accomplished several times already that night. I executed a perfect flat racing dive and kicked out hard a la the Thorpedo. With no light on in the water the far wall was all but invisible and I lost count of my strokes and collided with the wall at the end of a full breastroke pull.

My immediate reaction was unprintable, and not just because I was underwater. It probably went something like:
THUNK!FizzbubbleUCK...gurgle...UNTINGWALL...splashglub...OW!
I rebounded about a meter from the end of the pool and surfaced in a dazed fountain of cursewords. On checking that I still had my head I was duly satisfied that I did and decided that perhaps that hadn't hurt as much as it felt like it had. I relaxed and turned to exchange pleasanties with others in the pool. 'Bloody hell mate, you're bleeding!'. Bugger.

Having showered and dried myself off it still didn't hurt as much as it should. I sat down to watch a movie, drank lots of water and passed out about half an hour in. Woke up, drank some more water, passed out. Woke up, drank some more water, moved to bed, passed out but could still hear what was going on around me. I couldn't move off the bed, not even when it was being shifted to try and extract the rabbit from underneath.

No it wasn't a concussed fantasy, there actually was a rabbit under the bed, a real live rabbit. His name is Sam and he belongs to Stacey one of our guests at the barbecue that had preceded the swimming in the dark incident. Sam is a very well behaved house rabbit. The front door to the flat had been open all night and he hadn't even tried to make a break for it. I did feel it my duty to point out to Stacey that whilst we had said that it was a Bring Your Own type event, I had honestly expected the meat to be slightly less fresh and mobile than this. Initially there was laughter but then I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to cook the rabbit. This isn't fair in my book, I love rabbit and someone had brought a fresh one to a barbecue at my house.

BYO is an Aussie institution. Most licensed restaurants allow you to bring your own wine with a nominal corkage charge and when you are invited to a 'barbie' by default you would expect to take your own meat and beer. This works extremely well and removes a lot of the hassle from having a bbq. Paper plates remove the washing up and quick lighting charcoal removes much of the trauma of lighting the grill.

Most Aussies seem to have gas barbeques, which you would have thought was against their religion but in fact given the amount of barbecues thay have it's quite a sensible idea. Propane does away with a vast amount of the mess and fuss and also allows you to take the bbq around the place with you. State legislation aimed at reducing bush fires apparently classifies a charcaol grill as an open fire and a propane one as a self-contained grill, which I guess is fair enough. Aussies have so many barbecues that many of the flats we've looked at have ports in the garden that allow you to plug your barbecue into the mains gas, which is rather neat.

Anyway, back to me. I tried to get up on Sunday I honestly did but I just couldn't keep my eyes open. Poor Emily was left to start packing the flat into boxes on her own whilst I drifted in and out of consciousness on the sofa in front of the cricket. I could regard this as revenge for me having to pack up and ship out all of our belongings from London, but I'm not that petty.

We shall be moving south from Coogee where we currently are, to Maroubra Beach. Good view, stunning apartment, no pool but you can't have it all. We are moving to a 2 bed apartment over Christmas and a 1 bed in January. Pictures as I have them.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Some changes

Regular visitors to the site (Dad, Chris, Ben and Dave) will notice that there have been some relatively large changes to the way this site appears.

Most noteably the intelligent expand/collapse code for the main posts for which I have to credit ChuBlogga!, who I must also link to because of the discovery of Star Wars Transformers.

I have also added an expandable linklist in the sidebar showing all the links as well as the randomly selected link. I have also hidden the archives in the same way and sorted them from oldest to newest.

Most of the code for these changes is available through the Blogger Hacks page, but quite a lot of it requires a bit of knowledge about JavaScript and CSS. Anyone struggling with other bits of code should also have a look at the W3Schools HTML tutorials.

The biggest change though has been working out the new comments code which has caused all kinds of formatting problems. From now on you will see that I am using Blogger's own commenting rather than the old HaloScan service. This is for the sake of simplicity as well as the fact that it allows me to add features like listing the commenter's names underneath the post. I have tried to make everyone's comments appear in a different colour but because of some techie reasons I won't go into this hasn't worked the way I thought it would. I am working on some more JavaScript to sort this out but it will be a long time coming.

I have also written some code to allow any number of different bits of text to appear in the comment link (attempts to focus etc.). These currently range from 'still fuzzy' at zero comments, to 'this post has achieved nirvana' at more than ten. If anyone can come up with better things than I please feel free to suggest them. Also please feel free to copy the code which you can do by right clicking and selecting 'view source' in most cases.

Now all I need to do is create some kind of category system for the posts, which as I've said before is a right ballache at the moment. What I really want is for blogger to create their own! Come on blogger, categories, categories, categories!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

House hunting

I have about had it with house hunting. We have been looking for six weeks or more and it feels like forever.

We have only until the 26th of November to find somewhere new to live before the owner of the house we are in comes back to her property. Sadly enough she actually wants to live in it. The cheek of the woman! Actually what she wants to do is turn the place into a B'n'B which will require a permit from the local council and the permission of her neighbours, which she won't get. The apartment we currently live in is the top floor of a house and is completely independant from the rest of it. Our occupancy would poses no significant inconvenience to anyone living in the lower portion of the house but because of her rather misguided plans she wants us out (she also believes us to be relatives of the californian woman we sub-let the place from - long story, another time).

Looking for somewhere new to live is a pain at the best of times but over here when you are looking to rent the process is unbearable. For a start most places won't let you make an appointment to come and see a place. This is great if you are owner or tennant as you get all the viewings done at once. If you are lesee or purchaser it is downright barbarous. You have to come along to a quarter hour open house session and are forced to go round it with everyone else looking for something in the same category i.e. the competition. Session after session, apartment after apartment, you see the same people and each time they look a little more desperate. This has some funny side effects particularly when you are looking for relatively pricey apartments in Sydey's fashionable Eastern beaches.

Mostly you are viewing apartments with other couples. The entire event degrades into a straight-up contest with prizes in several categories including (but by no means limited to):
  • Most fawningly and publicly affectionate couple
  • Most consultations to partner in the allotted quarter hour
  • Best feature discovered in apartment
  • Most fashionable attire
  • Fastest decision on property
  • Smuggest couple
  • Most precocious display of wealth
  • Best sunglasses
  • Couple most likely to have sex in the bathroom 'whilst no-one is looking'
  • Most relaxed attitude
We never win anything. We are also almost never the first people to apply for a property. Sick of this we have now resorted to unethical behaviour to get what we want. We have applied for flats not yet on the market and without seeing them (difficult this, requires a bit of bottle). We are also going out of our way to make sure we don't have to go to open house sessions, often making the estate agent arrange separate viewings for us. This last tactic requires you to have fooled the agent into thinking you have a lot more money to spare than is necessarily the case. Estate agents spend all day lying and estimating wealth and value - they can spot a bullshitter from accross the street - it is hard work.

Unethical though our behaviour has been it may yet bear fruit. Our main obstacle is that we currently have a great little place with a fantastic view and we want the same again. We are trying to replace the view in the picture below.



We might have managed it today with this one (click on pic for details of apartment).


Doesn't your heart just bleed for me?

Bad search update: the latest American to have got here by a strange route was looking for perverted christmas cards. Someone in Ridgeland Missisipi is going to be sending a bit more than season's greetings.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Time

'Daylight Savings' has always struck me as an odd term (an unnecessarily American phrase short on common sense). You can mess about with the clocks as much as you like, it won't make any difference to the amount of daylight there is; the universe has beaten you to it and the Earth is already spinning and in motion around the Sun. In Australia where the country is essentially accross 3 timezones this is the term of choice to describe the annual change in time keeping. Of course there is a uniquely Australian approach to it.

The UK is a lot further from the equator than any part of Australia and so is affected far more by the tilt of the Earth on its' axis - daylight hours in summer are from about 4am to just before 10pm, in the winter the sun just about rises at about 6am and sets at about 4pm. There has always been a split between the country and the city as to which end of the day the daylight should be given. The bumpkins want it in the morning so they aren't buggering about in the dark with cows and whatnot and everyone else wants it in the evening so that the six months of winter aren't a seemingly interminable twighlight. For some reasons the bumpkins get their way and everyone else has to deal with it getting dark at about half past three in the afternoon. Hmm... reduced light just as the schools are throwing children out on to the streets, that should thin out their numbers a little. One of the many advantages of not living in the UK any more is that I don't have to deal with this irritation.

Whilst the daylight hours are fairly regular here in Sydney there is a small difference in the amount of daylight at the ends of the day. In the depths of 'Winter' (it might rain and you should probably have a jumper, slightly too cold for shorts) the sun rises at about 6am and starts to set at a little after 5pm. In summer the sun rises at about 4.30am and sets at about 7pm. The difference is not hugely significant but it does mean you have a lot more dayligtht lesiure time after work when the clocks go forward. In Australia the city versus country split is somewhat larger with the vast majority of the population living in urban areas and unbelievably low population densities in the West and inland (0.3 people and thirty thousand kangaroos per 100sqkm). New South Wales has something like a third of the population of Australia and its most densely populated metropolitain areas. This means that the bumpkins get no say in the matter whatsoever. The clocks go forward an hour and the cows can bloody well get used to it.
Being an ex-colony, Australia has some remaining governmental peculiarities which are still practical because of it's geographic size. A bit like America Australia has state governments and a federal government. Both have parliaments and a Prime Minister but appears that Federal Government decisions have to be ratified by the State governments before implementation. It sounds clumsy and I won't pretend I know how this works but it doesn't seem to get in the way too much. It does however mean that individual states often have differing laws and a fair bit of independance. In the case of Queesnsland, where a larger percentage of the population is rural, they have applied this to Daylight Savings.

Queensland comprises the North East corner of Australia but its' metropolitain and business areas are really restricted to the East coast, there isn't very much of anything on the North coast (map) . Most of the populated areas of Australia as a whole are on the Eastern side of the country and all have Daylight Savings, even Tasmania where the recessive gene reigns supreme. Queensland has decided that changing the clocks twice a year isn't necessary and that they would rather not bother. Sounds like a bizarre arbitrary decision implemented by beaurocrats? Sadly not, this was a decision taken by a state-wide referendum in 1992.
Queensland: Putting the 'Pleb' back into plebiscite
Unsurprisingly this causes a few problems and the Southern Queenslanders are being made to regret the outcome of the referendum. Unfortunately the solutions being suggested are at least as daft as the problem itself; for example a voluntary Daylight Savings for those businesses it affects. This would mean that different sections of business and society would be operating an hour out of sync. If it was voluntary could you choose on a day by day basis if you want to use it or not? "No no, I'm not going home early. I'm on daylight savings time, honest." Another proposed solution is to have split time for half the year for a small proportion of the state, something which sounds equally as mad, as the boundary between the timezones whould not even be defined by state jurisdiction. Queensland is a state that is largely regarded as being populated by nutters and this has done nothing to improve image of the state as a whole. Queenslanders are consistently described to outsiders as "madder than cut snakes" and just about everyone in Australia calls Queenslanders "Banana Benders".

To be completely fair to Queensland the whole issue of time-zoning in Oz needs reworking. Adelaide is half an hour behind Sydney, not a whole hour, half an hour (half an hour and a couple of decades if you listen to most Sydneysiders). Parts of the Northern Territory are 30mins behind, other parts of it 45mins. Perth in Western Australia is 2 hours behind Sydney and should probably be 3, it is some four thousand kilometers away and it is quicker to fly to New Zealand than to Perth (Western Australia is not just a descriptive term it is the name of the state, about a third of Australia's land mass and a negligable amount of its' population).

Oh well, at least crazy beurocracy here hasn't quite gone as mad as putting in fake grass and plastic trees as is currently being trialed in Eindhoven.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Melbourne Cup? Bollocks! Gimme the beer...

It was Melbourne Cup Day today as you may well see on the news (if its a slow day, you might even notice if give two hoots* about horses). The Melbourne cup is the rough equivalent of the Grand National in the UK, except it's a flat race. The Grand National being a Steeplechase is far more exciting but has a much higher death rate for horses, jockeys and emancipated women (is chasing steeples like tilting at windmills? I suspect it might be).

The race itself was won by a horse with a name that sounded like Mugabe Diver (not a Zimbabwian underwater enthusiast apparently). Apparently this is the third time this particular horse has won the race and this is some kind of record. I don't care, I've never been into horse racing or gambling of any kind really. Gambling is possibly the only vice I have never embraced, something for which I am truly grateful. Had I embraced gambling with the gusto I have devoted to other vices I'd owe large amounts of everyone else's money to people. As it is I only owe relatively small amounts of my own money to people (unless anyone has anything to tell me that I have conveniently forgotten).

The entire city of Melbourne gets a day off for Cup Day and the rest of Australia gets wound up that they don't have a day off so they do things like they have at my office. The entire kitchen area was filled with food and booze and there was some kind of charity auction on the horses running with the person who had the highest bid for the winning horse taking 50% of the proceeds raised $405 not bad for an afternoon's ...er... work? I was given a silly cardboard hat and wine. No work has been done past 2pm, particularly by me but I am far from the worst offender and by a fair distance the least important person in the office.

Far be it from me to ignore my employer's generosity - drink has been taken, and food, but mostly drink. According to Emily I still have things to be doing today. I'm buggered if I know what they are. I care still less. I'm going to have to go straight to the pub or I might be have to face the awful prospect of sobriety and an angry girlfriend. From bitter experience I can say that these are two things that should not be confronted in combination.

*this phrase replaces a far ruder one that was edited out for reasons of good taste. Ah bollocks I don't give a shiney-arsed fuck about offending you - make your own rude phrase up and put it in you lazy wanker.