Thursday 30 April 2009

Printer manufacturers are trying to force ink cartridge refilling companies out of business. Cartridge World franchise stores all place a stack of petition forms on their front counters. Their aim is to gather as many signatures as possible. The sheets are sent by franchisees each month to the company's head office in Adelaide.

The petition is to stop printer manufacturers from building in technology that prevents refillers from putting new ink into cartridges. This is done by developing microchips that go on cartridges and that 'talk' to the printer. By developing chips and software that only work with cartridges of original manufacture, printer makers are pushing companies like Cartridge World out of business. Or so they hope.

Cartridge World was established in Adelaide and now has 1600 stores globally. Franchisees expect to recoup costs quickly. In 2004 the company generated $300 million in sales. A 2005 news story claims a new store is being opened every day.

The environmental benefit of reusing cartridges is real, as printer makers do not reuse units that are returned, instead grinding them up and manufacturing new units from the resulting plastic trash. Printer makers reap huge profits from ink. The same 2005 news story says that analysts say that 80 per cent of printer makers' profits derive from ink sales, although only 25 per cent of sales derives from selling ink.

Remanufacturers use third-party inks, and some people claim that you can see the difference. HP sued a refiller in 2005, saying that it had breached its copyright for some of the inks that were being used to remanufacture cartridges. While stores such as Cartridge World can fill an ink cartridge for very little - as little as $1 - they do not supply remanufactured cartridges for such a low sum. I refilled an HP cartridge today for significantly less than it would have cost me to buy a new original unit, but the store will make a large profit from the transaction.

Cartridge World will send its petitions to the Australian government. In Europe franchisees won a victory when a similar petition was recently successful. This means that printers made in Europe cannot include technology to reject remanufactured cartridges.

Monday 27 April 2009

Peter Garrett's announcement today of the Powerhouse Museum's purchase for $81,000 of 250 fashion photographs by Bruno Benini is more than enough reason to visit. I can't remember when I last went there. It's always seemed to be an out-of-the-way kid's place stuck into a windy corner in the dusty side of Darling Harbour and surrounded by highways...

But now i'm starting to rethink. What a lovely development! I'm so jealous. Imagine having 250 photos by the same person! I'm guessing that the photographer's widow, Hazel, who appeared on the ABC's news broadcast, is the source of the photos, but I may be wrong.

It's been a while since so many Benini phtos have been shown in one place, it seems. The National Gallery of Victoria has a small collection. There was also a show staged by the RMIT in Melbourne in 1999. But there's nothing like this new development in recent memory. The purchase also includes thousands of photographic negatives.

It's not that I'm a big fan of Benini. In fact before tonight's broadcast I didn't know who he was. But I own several 1930s thru 1960s black-and-white photos inherited from relations. My appetite has been piqued by close proximity to the elegance of the period. So I will be making the trip down to the Powerhouse Museum to see the new acquisitions.

Sunday 26 April 2009

I must be a girl because I enjoyed The Jane Austen Book Club but it wasn't made for guys. A seriously feminine film, it celebrates predictability, domesticity and faithfulness over risk, adventure and passion. Charlotte Bronte would have hated it.

The crucual scene occurs toward the end, when the French teacher who is contemplating an affair with an 18-year-old student pauses at a traffic light. 'WALK' says the sign, in green illuminated letters. Standing there in the pink strapless dress she had concealed under her beach wear, she sees the sign spell out a question: 'WHAT WOULD JANE DO'. It's goofy and, frankly, a bit of a let-down.

Teary-eyed, she returns hom to her husband, who is playing a video game on his desk computer, and begs him to read part of Austen's last novel, Persuasion, the book that chronicles the reignition of love between two characters grown a little old and tired. Just like her marriage. For some bizarre reason he starts to read it out to her. They end up in bed, her breasts mid-screen as he leans solicitously over her prone form, still reading from the worn paperback.

Meanwhile, the divorcee is snogging her ex and they are surprised when their lesbian daughter walks in on them as they clinch in the back garden of the house that she is living in. And on the other side of town the dog-breeding control freak is ensconced in her silver Volvo outside the house of the younger man - the one she picked up in an elevator while on a trip. It's not long before they are tearing each others' clothes off in wild abandon.

And for the formal get-together the six-times divorced older woman, the doyen of the book club, turns up at the restaurant with a new husband, this one from the Spanish-speaking sector of the Americas.

It's champagne all round and then a trip to the ladies room to freshen up before dessert.

But surprisingly, the book demonstrates that at least the script writers have read Austen. It's loaded with serious references to Austen's life and works that only a dedicated reader would readily identify. As a bonus, the young computer guy the dog breeder falls for is a science fiction fan: luckily as sci-fi was an adolescent passion of mine.

So love is messy and sometimes cruel but the one who sticks to her conviction will win out in the end. This seems to be the 'lesson' Austen has bequeathed to the writers of this slick production. Nevermind that Austen was single all her life and that her life didn't end up able to be wrapped in pretty bows (she died of a wasting disease at the age of 42).

For us girls (I'm an honorary member of the sex now, it seems) Austen will always represent a way of reaching into other lives, not least our own.

The intricate braiding of Austen's six novels - the club focuses on one book a month for six months - with the sanitised but messy-on-the-surface lives of these half dozen or so characters results in an unthreatening experience. We are not challenged but we are, at least, entertained. And the good guys always wear a jacket, even if it has a zipper.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours repairing my aunt Madge’s post-war photo albums. There are four covering her time with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) in Japan between 1948 and 1951. She was a prolific photographer. The early pictures are small format and although all of the photos are black and white there is a marked change over the years as she experimented with new styles of subject matter. She also bought a new camera at some point that was able to take larger format photos.

You can see in the photos below - with their accompanying captions - how meticulous Madge was when it came to chronicling her daily life. Because practically every photo is captioned. I spoke with the Australian War Memorial about them and they want to see the albums because of the quality of the captions.

It seems that few of the people who went to Japan with BCOF were as meticulous with captioning. The War Memorial thinks that Madge’s albums can help to identify people they already know about from others’ photos.

Not only did Madge experiment with different subject matter - the later albums contain many ‘mood’ shots showing boats in canals and on lakes etc - but she also got expert help. An American Army photographer helped Madge with her efforts and in fact may also have been her lover, based on the types of photos she took of him and other evidence. One album starts with a photo - now missing - and the caption: “Tony, to whom I owe these pictures, my camera, and any skill I possess. He came from Michigan, U.S.A. and was an Army photographer.”

The sketch shown with the other photos below is signed “1951 Tokyo” and is inscribed, in pen, “With my highest esteem and fondest affection, for a very wonderful leave. John. XXXXX”

There is another man in several photos named Alan. In one photo, Madge is leaning back in the prow of a boat against his body, smiling at the camera.

Madge is an enigma. It is clear that she liked men and the Japan trip gave her opportunities to explore her feelings in a way that living in Melbourne did not. There is a sense of freedom allied to an inexhaustible assortment of sights that she was always keen to capture on film. From agricultural practices to school sports days, from women’s street wear to gunships, Madge and her camera were always at the ready.

You can see Madge petting a deer in a Nara park or buying a cigarette lighter in a Tokyo street. You see her relaxing with colleagues on a boat wearing a bikini or strolling around Hiroshima taking snaps of the crumbled buildings.

Then suddenly she changes tack and snaps a posse of sailing boats resting by the shore of a lake underneath a mountain.

She also visited Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. While in Hong Kong she convinced someone to drive her north out past the border with mainland China. Here, she caught a group of peasants carrying a trussed pig to market. They are wearing veiled straw hats and did not appreciate this strange foreigner taking their pictures. There are only two of these. A day’s outing for two quick snaps taken out the window of the car!

To repair the albums I use paper corner clips that I bought in a specialty paper shop in Double Bay. This is the only kind of shop, I imagine, that sells these kinds of things.

Friday 24 April 2009

Michael Moore's Roger & Me begins with a personal autobiography of the filmmaker and a little family history, which segues into a history of the United Auto Workers, which segues into a sustained attack on General Motors as it shuts down 13 auto plants in the city of Flint, Michigan. The 1989 film is a baptism of fire for Moore, whose trademark knock-kneed amble is visible on several occasions as he storms the bastion of the Establishment: GM's Detroit headquarters.

He's refused entry there and, about two years later, he'll be refused entry to a shutting auto plant where a number of ex-workers are gathered who he wants to talk to. Moore gets shown the hand on more occasions than you'd like to count, and is forced to make mileage out of footage of a sheriff's office employee as he tours the grimy streets of Flint evicting people from their homes.

Getting to interview Roger Smith, GM's chairman, is almost beyond even the master of irritating persistence himself. We finally get footage of Moore's offer to Smith - come up to Flint to talk to some of the auto workers who had lost their jobs - on Christmas eve, 1988. We're not surprised when the small-faced leader turns him down.

But there's more than one way to skin a rabbit.

To get the required footage and justify spending two years chasing through the streets of his hometown, Moore talks to anyone who will give him the time of day. On top of these short segments he layers sounds and we see his trademark fast cutting even at this early date. Two decades later we see the same characteristics in Moore's more recent films. But Moore started out in print journalism, editing a magazine in Flint.

He tried to get out of town - the sign of success to Moore even as a boy - but covering news in San Francisco did not align with Moore's hard-nosed approach to journalism. He doesn't want to be popular. He wants to be interesting.

And Roger & Me is interesting. We see the city crumble as GM pulls up sticks and relocates its operations to Mexico. We see the reaction: an auto theme park and a retail mall both open with much fanfare but both fail. We hear the people talk, not so much those being removed from their homes as a series of odd characters including entertainers, Amway salesfolk and a woman who ekes out a meagre existence on welfare by selling rabbit meat.

Moore's method is simple: talk to anyone who will give you the time of day and use the resulting material in a rapid sequence of frames overlayered with ironic applications of music. Don't let the audience get bored. Keep the pace up. Cut often and cut fast. And let people hear the real voices of the people. Getting kicked out of a building for the fifth time can be just as compelling viewing as actually talking to your target.

Thursday 23 April 2009

The only boy to talk with the Columbine killers before their attack, Brooks Brown, has coauthored a book called No Easy Answers. Originally out in 2002, the second edition of 2006 adds little of substance beyond details of new evidence released by the Jefferson County police. In substance, the two editions are the same. Brown's beef with the local police consumes a lot of the final third of the book, and continues to constitute a significant problem for the public at large.

Brown wants more information released so that people at large may better understand the reasons Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attacked their high school. He aims to prevent, in this way, more such attacks. Because of the continued incidence of school rampage attacks we see that he is right.

Most of the book, which is mainly written in the first person, is made up of reminiscences of Brown's friendships with the two boys. These sections of narrative are intercut with third-person pieces that fill in cogent details. It is the proximity of the narrator to the events that gives his story such weight. You could say that all school-age children should be encouraged to read Brown's book.

Like Ralph Larkin's book, which I reviewed last Sunday, Brown focuses on bullying at Columbine. Brown even goes further by pointing to bullying at another school he attended. Brown chose to leave that school even though it was a selective school and his parents wanted him to be there.

In this sense, Brown is an interesting person. We are lucky to have him. It is very unusual to have a first-person narrator telling such a story. His detailed narrative adds the kind of colour that makes it memorable. In remembering, we are more likely to act appropriately if faced with similar situations.

Brown's problems with the police go beyond the familiar complaint about access to material in that they deliberately targeted him when he and his family brought to public attention the fact that police might have prevented the attacks. This kind of tit-for-tat behaviour strikes a sour note in the reader, accustomed as we are to placing a large amount of trust in law authorities. But the fact remains that when Brown went to the media with information about Eric Harris' prior problems - problems the family had tried to interest the police in - the police immediately began to attack Brown.

Brown is also quite clear about the problem of bullying and an associated unwillingness on the part of school authorities to discipline favoured students. As we know also from Larkin's book, these favoured students were usually those who demonstrated prowess in sport. Brown tries to spread the blame to society at large but is not entirely successful.

In sum, if you want to get a firm grip on school rampage attacks, Brown's book should be compulsory reading for you. It is engaging, candid and enlightened. It is also an interesting story well told, thanks to the expert participation of journalist Rob Merritt.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

A serious, in-depth study of US-style gun attacks in schools, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings sports a shock-factor cover that Harvard academic Katherine S. Newman evidently chose to give the book as wide an appeal as possible. She wants it to be read by as many people as possible, and this is a good thing. The more people who read books like this - not just government functionaries and school administrators - the more likely we will be to notice the early-warning signs that always lead up to an event.

Because children warn others, usually peers, of an impending attack, and sometimes these utterances are explicit in form. Children don't just snap, says Newman. They display signs of stress and tell others in advance in an effort to improve their social standing in the school community, where they are often marginalised.

Other factors contribute to stress, including mental illness and domestic pressure. And the ease of access to guns means that stress and pressure manifest themselves in the US in ways that do not as frequently happen in other countries.

Of particular interest to me was Newman's approach to the media, which she castigates for being insensitive in her summation at the end of the book. But Newman is highly beholden to the media, relying in many places on reports. Further, there are no books like this on covering similar events in Australia. This is because of the fact that perpetrators are minors. Minors are protected by stringent laws regarding privacy.

The result of these protective measures is that there is little discussion of the issues in the public sphere. Which is not a good thing. It's not good because if we only read headlines we never see the deeper motivations that contribute to the type of stress that causes children to act violently at school. And school is, as Newman says, a "sacred sanctuary".

On the one hand, the media is responsible for causing distress in the aftermath of school rampage shootings by infringing on the privacy of those involved, be they teachers, parents or just community members in the small towns where these crimes typically take place.

On the other hand, the media plays a critical role in informing us about the nature of the individuals involved. We know a lot about the children who do these things because of the large number of stories that appear in the wake of a shooting. Comments made by bystanders and community members contribute to our deeper understanding.

On balance, I would say that we need more media exposure, not less. Similarly, there is an unwritten rule that the media do not cover suicides. Given the prevalence in Australia of teenage suicide, it is surprising that there is not more information available in the public sphere. Again, a hidden motivation is a missed opportunity for understanding and hence for prevention.

Similarly, Newman records an opinion that more coverage should be given to student problems during their school career. Because adverse incidents are often not recorded and therefore are not communicated to other teachers and school staff, we miss catching indicators of poor performance. Schools consciously do not record every adverse event in an effort to prevent any student from being stigmatised later in their career. But the downside is that problems that manifest early are not pursued by those in the best position to do so.

Newman discusses a type of organisational dysfunction called "organisational deviance" where information that should be passed onto others is lost in the day-to-day performance of the organisation. Schools are not the only organisations to suffer from this effect. If information is not of a type that conventionally contributes to achieving standard organisational goals, it is often lost. The result is that warning signs are passed over by busy employees. People often simply do not 'see' things that they are not expected or encouraged to notice.

Sunday 19 April 2009

The Royal Agricultural Show hasn't changed a lot in the past thirty years, but I have. As a child being taken by my mother to the show there was a palpable excitement attached to the trip and its predictable denouement: clutching the show bags we boys staggered out the gate into the waiting car, and were driven home exhausted.

Today I am also tired after spending seven hours at the show but there is not the sense of fulfillment I once enjoyed. I bought no show bags. I took two rides and was not sad to exit the gates. My greatest satisfaction was possibly gauging correctly when me and my friend were done with the experience and steering us toward the waiting train.

In addition to my sangfroid when faced with merciless prices and annoying touts, I felt the most enjoyment when visiting the produce hall and the arts displays next door. The civic pride of the one and the amateurism of the other struck a chord within me and I admired the splashy displays of fruits and vegetables, and the delicately adorned white cakes. I stood and looked at the photographs, and admired the paintings and the dolls. I was impressed at the sheer persistence of rural women and men making useful and attractive things in the shadow of drought and economic hardship.

Although these arenas are but a hop, skip and jump away from the funfair of the rides enclosures, they are a world away in terms of the amount of human capital invested. For six coupons you can spend three or four minutes behind the wheel of a dodgem car. But it takes weeks to apply a filligree of white sugar to the top of a wedding cake. Six coupons is six dollars. Six weeks is a significant chunk out of a person's life.

The show seemed smaller, too, despite its relocation to a larger venue. Olympic Park is a good venue with broad and symetrically laid-out avenues and plenty of public toilets. The shrinking sensation is no doubt a product of my broader sense of place. Once I lived within a narrow compass. Now I navigate around the city of four millions without a qualm.

One thing that hasn't changed, then, is the show's rural focus. There are certainly brazen touts in the countryside, and we've got into the habit of praising their endurance, calling them 'iconic', and indulging them with smiles. And while they are certainly shameless in charging 13 dollars for a simple doner kebab and a Sprite, we forgive them their sins.

In any case I was given an entry pass to use, so the overall damage was slightly more than my tobacco allowance for five days or so. But I doubt that I'll go back any time soon. Today was not a point of reentry for me into the world of shameless touts but, rather, an opportunity to introduce a person who was unacquainted with their world. In this sense, I've done a good deed, and not suffered too much for it. And that can't be a bad thing.

Saturday 18 April 2009

In Comprehending Columbine (2007) sociologist Ralph Larkin aims high and cuts deep, isolating the existential malaise of Littleton, Colorado, holding it up to close scrutiny, and pointing the finger squarely at American manhood's obsession with violent sport. Blaming football may seem simplistic but Larkin has evidence, particularly visible in privileges enjoyed by 'jocks' in school hallways and which is routinely buttressed by teaching staff, many of whom hold both teaching and coaching positions.

The 'in' crowd - what Larkin calls 'high status individuals' - exclude, bully and intimidate those who don't 'fit in'. In Littleton an additional element is visible in the Christian fundamentalism of many of the high status children. Their professed Christianity clashes with their snobbery and exclusivity, in which failure to subscribe to a set of basic tenets is cause for further ostracism.

Larkin is particularly incensed by the behaviour of the Christian minority following the murder of 13 school children and the suicide of the two perpetrators in 1999. Adopting a Manichean slant, the fundamentalists simply labelled Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold 'evil', and made mileage out of purported utterances. One of the boys was supposed to have asked a girl 'Are you a Christian?' before shooting her dead. The girl was later martyred. Larkin takes exception to opportunistic preachers who used the massacre as a platform for recruitment.

Schoolyard bullying was endemic at Columbine High School, Larkin shows. The school principal would not admit that excessive reliance on sport as a determinant of social status caused some to roam free and others to cower in fear. And coaching staff who condoned bullying of low status students were similarly not brought to book for their laissez faire attitude.

Of note also in this case - school massacres are not infrequent in the US - was the length of time Harris and Klebold used to plan their attack. About a year. Harris furthermore kept a website on which he posted sociopathic statements, clearly signalling (to anyone sensitive to the signs) an intention to seek revenge for past offences.

Given this persistent disclosure, it is difficult to see how a similar pattern could emerge nowadays without attracting notice, and drawing a preemptive response from authorities. Events recently show that online monitoring by ordinary people is widespread. In one case, a UK youth was saved from suicide by the quick actions of an online correspondent based in the US. In another case, a high school arson attack planned in the UK was foiled by the actions of a Canadian.

Friday 17 April 2009

Levin and Kilbourne's So Sexy So Young (2008), about the sexualisation of childhood isn't a mainstream publication. If anything, a few of the better-off mothers with young children, and possibly fathers, will buy this well-researched book seeking tips to combating the "barrage" of sexual imagery aimed at children. Which is a shame. Others could also benefit from reading the dialogues the authors include as sample guides to talking with children about what they see in contemporary media.

Levin and Kilbourne's book is the exact counterpart to Catharine Lumby and Duncan Fine's study of the issue called Why TV Is Good For Kids (2006), which I read a month or so ago. On balance, I prefer the more recent book. The problem with the Australian book is that it goes to places we, in Australia, are familiar with that feature quite generally in the panoply of culture battles. On the contrary the US book restricts itself to analysing how a variety of media contribute to eroding healthy values and practices among children by purveying a range of sexualised messages and imagery.

Fine and Lumby put forward the idea that popular culture participation, even those elements of it we may initially feel challenged by, is not as much of a concern as poor parenting. Indeed, reading between the lines of Levin and Kilbourne's book brings you to a similar place. Those sample dialogues are so wonderful to read, as they show us how a competent parent answers a challenge to propriety that many will inevitably fail. Showing understanding, patience and affection toward a child who asks a difficult question is a positive community service, especially when they are recorded and publicised, as these are here.

Levin and Kilbourne, both Massachussetts academics, are firmly on the side of the 'beleaguered' parent against the serried ranks of powerful marketing and retail and media interests. It's a classic confrontation in which the salutary attitudes of a possibly more traditional but, in reality, simply enlightened, approach to parenting, are ranked against the incessant barrage of messages and images that are designed, simply, to extract dollars from parents' and adolescents' purses.

On balance, I would like to have been given more examples of what happens in extreme cases, such as those involving self-harm and psychosis. Levin and Kilbourne indeed apologise at the beginning for providing candid recounts of what happens every day in the modern world. As the book is intended to function as a primer and a handbook, they have shied away from more confrontational material in preference to that which will serve their ultimate purpose: arming the troops for the neverending battle of good against evil.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

I first became aware of the 80s revival in 2008 when a colleague said she was going to a pub to listen to 80s music. But Anton Enus’ necktie makes me wonder if the 80s bug has gone mainstream in a major way.

An echo was discernable in Ali Moore’s suit on The 7.30 Report. Moore’s gold ensemble sports an embroidered pattern in the same gold colour as the ground. You’d mistake it for curtain material if it wasn’t on-camera!

This year I was in an Oxford Street club surrounded by beats and tunes familiar in my youth but I never expected to be faced with 80s fashion in my living room.

The gorgeous, complex patterning of the original power suit era - wide shouldered and double-breasted concoctions - was echoed in Enus’ tie. Its snowflake pattern is made up of hashed areas of gold and white that are printed on a deep yellow ground.

So perhaps it’s time for me to unearth the dark blue tie with tan accents that I retain in the deepest recesses of my wardrobe after so many decades of disuse. But although Enus’ tie may be the herald we require to usher out the dominant diagonal stripe of today’s business ensemble there remains one important difference between the intense and complicated ties of the 80s and this, stray, exemplum: it’s wider than mine by about 20 per cent. So while the pattern may be suitable for contemporary deployment, the width would bring unwanted attention to my choice of masculine formal decoration, rather than letting me blend in with the cool crowd.

Nevermind, I say. One day it will be acceptable as an option for my work wear, because everything old is new again. It’s only a matter of time.
What’s annoying in the case of Fiji is the lack of local protest. While Thai red-shirts take to the streets and ethnic Tamils picket Kirribilli House, Fijians seem to be stupefied by the power play set in motion by Commodore Bainimarana and his ilk.

There seems to be no resolution to the stand-off between the junta and Fiji's neighbours. Words, no matter how stern, from Australia’s foreign minister and prime minister probably won’t do too much damage. Maybe Westpac, one of whose branches was revealed in a shopping street shot for TV footage, should move its operations out in protest. Others might follow, putting pressure on the government.

Three TV stations covered the story last night and all but the ABC used the same footage: a bus driving down a street and a parade of pedestrians on a shopping street. The ABC also had a reporter on the ground in Bangkok.

In Suva, the ABC fielded footage of their correspondent, Sean Dorney, being given his marching orders by immigration officials. SBS brought on Brij Lal, a Canberra academic. SBS also showed a New Zealand journalist being talked to by officials, but she didn’t appear in New Zealand Herald reports on the story. Channel 10 used suitably dramatic lighting to show Ian Lloyd QC, one of the Court of Appeals judges recently expelled from Fiji after tabling unpalatable decisions, which led to president Iloilo‘s abrogation of the country‘s constitution.

The last time I wrote here about Fiji, in December 2006, the coup had just occurred. Now there has been a second move, this time by the president, whose protégé (or employer), Commodore Bainimarana, has been unable to get the judiciary to see things his way.

The result is a military dictatorship, with The Sydney Morning Herald posting a story today comparing Fiji to Burma.

In Fiji the journalists have refused to screen anything, and censors took out stories before press time leaving gaping holes in pages targeted at Fijian citizens. They will doubtless wonder why their country is to be targeted by regional bodies such as the Pacific Islands Forum, which may expel the nation. The Commonwealth would be remiss if it didn’t do the same.

Monday 13 April 2009

I don't recall at what point I took down my website but it was last year, probably the middle of the year, and it had to do with bad online blogging experiences. You sometimes attract comment from people who don't show enough respect. You reply. A flame war heats up.

Best to get out before it warms up. Or stay out altogether.

The online world is strange and sometimes difficult to negotiate. Too much exposure can leave you feeling depleted. Too little and you're not satisfied. You can stick with 'friending' in Facebook, but many people try to appeal to a wider audience.

In my case, the decision to reload my website is linked to a professional desire for more eyeballs. In the redesign, there are two areas: a portfolio of completed work and a timeline linking to personal pages with more details of historical and more recent interest.

The timeline was always there but I've removed some pages, mainly pages detailing books I bought at stages in my life. I don't want people to make decisions about me - as a commercial enterprise - that might affect our dealings negatively. Other things have gone, too. But the page and image counts are both up, with currently about 90 hypertext pages and just on 620 images online for anyone to see.

I've put up stuff from my mother, too, although she had no idea when she was writing it that it would be published. Possibly this is a breach of trust, but my generation (and generations coming after mine) operate in the world differently, and the online environment is particularly notable in this regard.

Some of her anecdotes, relating to pictures I scanned and asked for her remarks on, are priceless. I'm even thinking of putting my father's memoir - 135 single spaced pages I received on a CD in 2002 - on the site. He'd be ropeable if he foudn out, but there's no chance of that: he's now got dementia.

These seemingly mercenary decisions about how to treat other peoples' words might reflect badly on me. But in posting mum's stuff I made editorial decisions about including all text. In dad's case, the memoir is written anyway in a way that severaly limits the possibility of identifying third parties. This is just the way he was.

But nowadays we're not so concerned about privacy in terms of publication online. There are things you always keep private - like your address - and other things you share beause - well - it simply doesn't matter any more. There's so much available online and there is so little chance of it being used inappropriately without the person responsible attracting opprobrium themselves.

In a way it's this community of online relations and standards that regulates behaviour. We are seeing, now, that dismissal on the basis of material published on social networking sites is legally questionable.

Thursday 9 April 2009

I am out of work but I am glad it’s the Easter break. I’m trying to be a journalist so my days are spent telephoning people in an effort to get interviews for stories I’m writing. A holiday for them is one for me too.

Being out of work is not so stressful. At least it’s not as stressful as it was when, last December, I was informed that my job was being made redundant. Then, I was arriving home at midday and climbing into bed in despair. Then one day, about a month ago, I decided that I would try to be a journalist, and everything changed.

It was a key shift in perceptual modes, from a place where the future was largely downside to a different place with a lot of things to feel good about.

Of course getting a generous severance payment from my employer did not hurt my mood.

But the big contributor to my current sense of wellbeing was the knowledge that being a writer was a distinct possibility - given time to make enough mistakes to be able to learn a few useful things about the job.

I started straight away, within days in fact. The first story was rejected when I sent it into a major metropolitan daily on spec. The second story fell equally flat. In fact I didn’t even bother telephoning to find out how they liked it. I did something else - I enrolled in a course.

Today the course finished. It was a five-week course comprising two-hour sessions on Thursdays and I enjoyed it immensely. I learned a bunch of good stuff and got to socialise with a group of people with similar aspirations to mine.

Finding community is no small thing. One of the reasons I used to climb into bed in the middle of the day was because I felt abandoned, and I felt that nobody was looking out for me. I was alone. It hurt. Now, I know there are others out there with a common basis for hope. As a result of this success, I’ve already enrolled in a second writing course and paid the due.

It might take some time before you see my name on a regular basis in magazines and newspapers, but it will happen. I’m as sure of it as I’ve been of anything.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

The 100mbps broadband proposal that Malcolm Turnbull is predictably savaging in the press brings out a whole set of collateral issues for debate. The built network would mean ‘re-nationalising’ telecommunications, one analyst has already noted.

There is also no sign yet as to what consumers would pay on a monthly basis, so Turnbull has hit the right note in asking why householders would pay $150 per month for much faster broadband.

Imagine being asked to pay high charges for a carriage service provided by a monopoly. We’re returning to the bad old days before the market was opened up to competition.

It will take, thinks the government, eight years to build the network, after which bureaucrats would wait five years before selling off their mooted 51 per cent stake. To whom?

Regardless of how broadly the company were held, it’s still a monopoly. While making Telstra’s control over home connections obsolete might cause some to celebrate, we can nevertheless now choose whose monthly bill we pay. With the new network we’ll have no choice so we can be charged whatever the boffins deem appropriate for the privilege of having a fast connection.

Caveats on the sell-off are also problematic. The government says that it will sell off its stake “after the network is built and fully operational, depending on market conditions and national and identity security considerations”, according to The Australian.

This rat’s nest of conditions can mean the sale might be delayed indefinitely, as the government could say that the network was not complete (how many big systems never entail constant tweaking) or that ‘national security’ could be threatened if the system were put up for sale by scheming private operators. Just imagine what the headlines would look like if a foreign entity were to seek participation in the tender process.

We await further clarification. Despite Turnbull’s bullish turn in the media at least it serves as an invitation to make more information available. And we might start to hear the pundits groan and yell as the journalists on the case hit the phones. With any luck we’ll be spared a ‘shitstorm’, but I have doubts.

Monday 6 April 2009

Who says automotive service costs are opaque to the layperson? The body shop salesman estimated that my Toyota dealer had quoted $1200 to repair the ding in my quarter panel. He was spot-on. I had earlier laughed at the Toyota body shop staffer when handed the quote, telling him I thought it would have cost about $400 to complete the job. I was spot-on.

Toyota seems to think that drawing up an itemised quotation justifies charging three times what a local shop wants for the same work. In the list there are 26 items, including one for new badges totalling $40. The list includes also an estimate of 12.6 hours' work. The local shop just tells me that if I drop off the car on Tuesday I can pick it up on Thursday afternoon or Friday.

That sounds fine to me.

The ding is about the size of a golf ball and I earned it while parking the car in a multistorey carpark that has these irritating overhanging bits where half-floors protrude into the other stages. It's a whole series of mezzanines that provide ample opportunity to damage your precious car. The carpark is at the place I used to work at, so there's little likelihood of my returning to aggravate the damage.

Sunday 5 April 2009

This illustration from the April issue of The Monthly went with Harry Nicolaides' description, in more detail this time, of life in a Bangkok prison. Among a total of eight drawings smuggled out of Bangkok Remand Prison, it shows the way that leg irons are applied using a curious piece of equipment that pinches the metal rings around the leg near the foot.

Nicolaides worried that his foot would be crushed. Going by the drawings and by the details the writer brings into the public sphere for the first time, he had reason to. Another drawing shows sick men in the informary. Another shows how plastic pellets were inserted under the skin of the penis for the purpose of enhancing sexual stimulation.

On several occasions Nicolaides refers to international opinion, and how the Thai authorities seemed unconcerned by the way their correctional institutions were being handled in the media. If nothing else comes out of Nicolaides' incarceration, exposing some of the horror of Thai prison life is enough to justify the attention we grant his words.

Of course, I have little or no idea - beyond dramatisations of life in prison - how life progresses in prison on the West. Going by media stories, however, there is nothing to compare Nicolaides' experiences with. Bashings and sexual assault may be fairly common in, say, Australia. But it doesn't compete with the sight Nicolaides had of a rat vomiting up the prison food.

A complete lack of hygiene and privacy makes other questions arise, however. Nicolaides says nothing of defecation and little about sex, both of which would be, we assume, significant elements of prison life. There's more to come. The writer has already promised a book. On that basis we should treat the magazine article as a first installment only.

Saturday 4 April 2009

Driving a one-tonne van is like being a Greek god in a chariot: you are forever telling mere mortals to hurry up and get out of the way. I spent the day beeping the horn and tailgating as I drove the Hyundai iLoad around Sydney. This is not the conventional view of a van, which is generally thought to be stodgy and underpowered. No such thing. The 2.5-litre, 5-speed manual package was responsive and aggressive, a far cry from the overloaded tradie-transport image.

Partly the aggro comes from constantly looking down on everybody else. Because in the cab you're high up in the air (the van doesn't fit into carparks that give only 2 metres of clearance) you can see not only the car in front but the car in front of that, too. So you're constantly frustrated by how slow people are to move on.

The other contributing factor is the manual transmission, which forces you to accelerate quickly. Before you know it the van, which is geared very low in order to effectively carry heavy loads, wants to slip into second, then third. At 60 km/hr you are in fourth gear. I didn't manage to get into fifth once during the day.

The manual gearbox also makes you work for speed, so you're less happy sliding through traffic lights. Instead, you tend to vroom through them as fast as possible.

One side-effect of driving the van is that you become a bit aggro. This is probably to do with the sheer size of the rig. And it comes in handy when you want to turn out of a petrol station's driveway into the far lane. You wait until the nearer lane is free then - bugger the next guy coming down the road: you're off.

Speed bumps are troublesome as, empty, the van bounces a lot. You end up sitting in second driving along roads with lots of speed bumps.

I hadn't driven a manual in a long time - years. It took no time at all to acclimatise myself to the different method of driving, however. Hyundai has put together a good, solid, and powerful package. The van is priced around $33,000, which is the same as what my Aurion costs (approximately). I would say that, were I a tradie, I'd be thinking of switching from Toyota, which makes the competitive Hiace, to an iLoad.

Fast, fun, and satisfying. We did a lot in one day and returned the van before the 6pm close time.