Monday, November 26, 2007


Australia enjoyed the boundless ecstasy of a Federal election on Saturday, and as usual I worked my extremely part-time job for the Australian Electoral Commission, manning a polling booth along with a couple of other people.

I got paid around $300 for my efforts, which is great, but the overall experience was perhaps not as agreeable as in previous years. We were understaffed, with only three people doing the work of four or five, and as we served around 800 voters over ten hours there was no chance for anyone to have a proper break. The best any of us could hope for was to slip out back for two or three minutes at a time to make coffee or take a leak, and hope that the other two didn't get swamped in our absence. Including the time spent working after the polls had closed, counting the precious Icons of Democracy (otherwise known as ballot papers) and indulging in the traditional Mocking of the Idiot Voters Who Can't Understand Simple Instructions on How To Cast A Formal Ballot, I worked fifteen hours without a break.

Ordinarily I struggle to work fifteen minutes without a pause for coffee and doughnuts. I am a martyr to the demands of representative democracy.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Further to my Statement of Loathing concerning Facebook, posted some time ago, I noticed a couple of newspaper items that confirm my worst suspicions*.

Facebook will give marketers aggregated data detailing the age, sex, hobbies and other information about the consumers who see Facebook Ads. Facebook will also track how people are talking about the products and brands of participating advertisers.

So, without your knowledge and certainly without your express permission, marketing companies will monitor your online conversations for mentions of their clients' products. And it gets worse. Logically, if one of your friends on Facebook mentions how much they love their new Crocs, they'll be flagged by the people at Croc Marketing, and their friends, including you, will be noted as having strong potential for Croc purchase... guilt by association, as it were. As a result, if one of your idiot friends gushes about how much they love their Zune music player or Halo 3 or Hayden Panettiere, expect to be bombarded with advertising from Microsoft, Sony or the NBC Network.

The second article was even more troubling:

Some users of the Facebook website have been startled by a new feature that tracks their activity outside the site and shows it to their friends, renewing questions about the privacy implications of a growing practice of exploiting personal information in online advertising.

The social-networking service this month began posting updates about users' activities on websites outside of Facebook and on commercial pages within Facebook, in some cases alongside ads from the companies behind those websites or pages.

For instance, a user who logs on to Facebook may see an update in a section of the site called the "news feed" noting a movie the friend rented from an online site, along with a photo of that friend and a movie rental ad.

Thus if, say, you have a hidden, shameful taste for oestrogen-enflamed movies and secretly rented 'Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants' and 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back' while your wife or girlfriend was out of town, Facebook will take it upon itself to tell all your friends (and family, and colleagues, and teammates, and book club members) exactly what you've rented. Humiliation of biblical proportions ensues.

Still think Facebook is just a fun way to keep up with friends? No wonder I've come to despise it.

* Well okay, not my worst suspicions, which would involve live organ harvesting and alien invasion, but still pretty bad.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


In a recent article, Wired magazine columnist Lore Sjoberg noted that Thanksgiving catering is a growth business in the United States, as people outsource all the tedium of cooking and preparation to professionals. He suggested that Thanksgiving catering could be taken further, including more lavish food, speciality pies, and Thanksgiving arbitration:

Rather than just helping out people with Thanksgiving dinner, this business will aid them with the single most unpleasant aspect of the Thanksgiving experience: their relatives. Instead of engaging in backhanded compliments, passive-aggressive stuffing passing and silent, resentful chewing, why not resolve your differences once and for all? Trained chef/negotiators will help you and Aunt Irva find common ground while dishing out the candied yams. And if they can't, they can give you a card for a Thanksgiving Dinner and Steel Cage Match service for next year.

This got me thinking: why stop at arbitration? Why not outsource that most tedious and exasperating part of any family holiday - the family itself?

As a result, we here at Blandwagon Enterprises have come up with a series of family substitution packages suitable for Thanksgivings, Christmases, Wedding Receptions and any other occasion where the greatest threat to your relationships with the people you love is the people themselves.

Bronze (budget) Service:

You're still stuck with your own relatives, but we spruce them up with some new clothes, a little mouthwash and a decent haircut. They are then given cue cards with three (3) interesting factoids gleaned from the internet to kickstart conversation during those awkward silences. To further ensure your peace of mind, we also provide you with an electric cattle prod.

Silver (standard) Service:

We provide stand-ins for your relatives (mostly out of work actors), guaranteed to be better looking, better behaved, more interesting and less likely to cause a scene because of something someone said to someone else in 1974 that everyone had forgotten about. For a small additional fee we can provide a pinata shaped like your least-favourite cousin, filled with the candy of your choice.

Gold (deluxe) Service:

While similar to the Silver service, the Gold service provides better-looking actors (including at least one (1) C-list soapie starlet) who have been trained with a higher level of engaging conversation and good-natured banter. Included in the price is an older uncle figure guaranteed to get drunk, put a lampshade (provided) on his head and sing 'Livin' La Vida Loca' before falling into the pool (or into a flowerbed if no pool is available), which will be a) funnier and b) less damaging to your property than the real thing.

Platinum (Donald Trump) Service:

We send Clive James (father-in-law), Christopher Hitchens (sardonic uncle), Sarah Silverman (amusingly bitchy aunt), David Sedaris (flamboyant cousin), Bill Bailey (kooky brother-in-law), Kristen Bell (some relative distant enough to hit on) and the ghost of Dorothy Parker (deceased great grandmother) around to entertain you with polished anecdotes, dazzling repartee, amusing tricks with the silverware and snappy quips about the politicians and celebrities you love to hate. The package includes a 12 month guarantee that they will fondly recall their dinner with you the next time they're on Letterman, describing you as "a very close friend and a helluva good egg" or similar as appropriate.

Blandwagon Enterprises takes cash, credit cards, PayPal and anything else that isn't nailed down. Book now!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Note to self: if you ever appear on the front page of the national newspaper, make sure to adopt this expression:


If you listen hard, you can actually hear her career going down the gurgler.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


As part of yesterday's post I needed a band name that sounded like a product of London in the Swinging Sixities. All the real bands I could think of weren't quite zeitgeisty enough, so I invented my own - 'Sister Groove and the Freakout People'.*

The downside of this creativity is that ever since then I've been overwhelmed with the desire to hear their music. And admit it; now that you think about it, you do too. You just know they'd be equal parts Maria von Trapp, blaxsploitation, LSD and Hooray for Everything!.

Oooooh. Excuse me. I think I just had a kitschgasm.

This reminds me of the time I had to come up with a title for an imaginary computer game, and invented something called 'Flaming Monkey Deathrace VI'. For a week afterwards, as I blasted my way through Duke Nukem or Command & Conquer, I kept wistfully thinking "I wish I had Flaming Monkey Deathrace VI. That'd be so cool!" I envisaged it as being something like Super Mario Kart, only with monkeys... who were on fire. Don't tell me that that wouldn't beat the crap out of the Need for Speed franchise.

Damn my fertile imagination!

* For further made-up band names, check out this list based on quotes from The Simpsons. I especially like 'Bear Patrol', 'We Like Roy', 'Gang-Probed in Vegas' and of course '64 Slices of American Cheese'.


A few days ago I turned my home computer on to play some Max Payne II, and instead of my customised startup sound (the maniacally perky intro to the 'I Dream of Jeannie' theme) and my customised desktop (a photo of the Tasmanian countryside run through a watercolour filter), all I got was a dull whirr and a blank screen. I suspected either a dead motherboard or a faulty hard drive. I got a second opinion from a friend who blamed either the motherboard or the powersupply. Then I got a third opinion from the IT Manager at work, who ran a few tests and determined that it was indeed the motherboard.

Generally when the motherboard fails in a computer it's recommended that you just buy a new one, since it's an integral part and you're probably due for an upgrade anyway. But over the years I've got my computer into a configuration that suits me, with a new video card, new RAM, an additional hard drive and a DVD burner. The thought of transferring various bits of hardware and software over onto a new machine gives me a headache, and the thought of having to reconfigure the internet access, the preferences, the file heirarchies and everything else ramps that headache up into a migraine.

So I made a few calls and ordered a new motherboard ($167.77 including GST and delivery), but it won't arrive for about a week. Until then, I'll be in a state of crisitunity. I won't be able to check my email, write my blog posts, play Max Payne II or surf the web at home. On the other hand, not being able to do any of those things will free up time to do other things...

Like drive to my friend's house to check my email, write my blog posts...

In my state of enforced computerlessness I hope to do a little more work on a couple of art projects. I've been given a dozen broken hard drives, and as I've pulled them apart I've been enchanted by the wonderous and intricate engineering they contain. When you split open a hard drive it looks like some esoteric machine from a steampunk graphic novel. The discs themselves are heavy plates as perfectly reflective as a mirror, resting on exquisitely machined spindles. The read/write arm looks like the skull of a delicate robotic bird. The various little protective plates look like miniature versions of Rodin sculptures, and some contain rare earth magnets of such power that if you hold one up to your refrigerator door you may put a dent in it.

My first project is to make a technowreath for my front door this Christmas. After that, we'll see how the leftovers fire my imagination.

Monday, November 19, 2007


On Friday night I saw 'Death at a Funeral', which I was informed was the funniest movie to come out this year. Obviously my informants have spent the last year locked in a box with nothing to watch but old episodes of the Nightly Business News from 1996.

Honestly, I've laughed more at real funerals.

Well, maybe it isn't fair to dismiss this film with seven trite words. It was dull and inane, but the rest of audience seemed to like it, probably because they were all a good thirty years older than the average cinema audience, getting into that time of life when one laughs at jokes because they're familiar, not because they're funny.

It was the presence of such extraordinarily tired jokes that set me thinking. The sets were unimaginative and the acting lacked sparkle, but the really disturbing thing about this movie was the script. The script had all the hallmarks of a forty year old stage play that's been updated for the 21st century cinema... and not very dramatically updated either. However, according to, the script was written by Dean Craig, who wasn't even born until 1974. Did someone who is only thirty three really write this script?

Frankly, I'm calling shenannigans... and here's the evidence.

For a start, the action takes place almost entirely in a couple of rooms of a single house. This is a classic sign that betrays the heritage of stage plays adapted for the screen.

Secondly, there's the straight-laced, uptight character who accidentally ingests a hallucinogen in the mistaken belief that it's valium. The hallucinogen is a blend of unspecified drugs, but it's mentioned to contain LSD and ketamine, amongst other things. Leaving aside the fact that ecstacy has been a more popular party drug than LSD for decades, it's the valium that strikes an odd note. Valium was huge in the 50s and 60s, but these days its role as an anti-anxiety medication has been supplanted by its cousin Xanax.

So you have a character taking one old-fashioned drug in the belief that it's another old fashioned drug. In terms of outdated and cliched drug references, the only thing missing is a brazen reference to the birth-control pill.

Thirdly, there's an attempt to blackmail the bereaved family over some photographs that prove the deceased was having a gay affair.

Ahem... this is Britain in 2007. Reveal that someone was having a gay affair and it'll be less scandalous than admitting that he drove an SUV without purchasing carbon offsets. And on not one but two occasions, characters ask the question "Edward was a gay?". Not "Edward was gay?" but "Edward was a gay?". Nobody says "a gay" any more. People last talked like that in the late 60s, when characters in edgy kitchen sink dramas clearly ennunciated all five syllables in "homosexual" as if it were a complex and unfamiliar chemical compound.

It's also notable that the blackmailer only wants fifteen thousand pounds for his silence and the photos. The last time I looked, fifteen thousand pounds would barely buy you a budget hatchback in Britain, let alone enough money to live on until your next sugar daddy popped up. But forty years ago it was probably enough for a decent little flat in Chelsea, with enough left over for the new album by Sister Groove and the Freakout People.

Could it be that Dean Craig, stuffed with writer's block and desperate to push his fledgling career, came across an old, unproduced script in a library archive, written by some long forgotten Alan Ayckbourn wannabe in 1967? It would have been quite titilating and daring in a middle-class, drawing-room-farce kind of way. Update it with a little gratuitous swearing and some stage directions to show the nudity rather than implying it, and say hello to a big fat MGM royalty cheque.

I'm onto you, Craig. If your next movie makes even a passing reference to "women's libbers" or "free love", I'm calling the Screenwriters Guild.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


If you're the sort of person who believes that advances in technology have actually made our lives more difficult, have a look at this thirteen year old, unaired episode of '24'.

Friday, November 09, 2007


From my daily spamalanche:

Enter the world of boundless sensual enjoyments with a new big pen!

Some people get far more out of stationery than the rest of us.


I don't know why, but over the last couple of weeks I've been listening to the music at the sappier end of Stevie Wonder's spectrum.

Stevie is a master of the sapitudinous style, and he wrote some songs that were straightforward proclamations of love (such as the cringe-inducing 'I Just Called To Say I Love You', and his ode to his newborn daughter 'Isn't She Lovely'*). However there's an undeniable bitter-sweet vein that runs through a lot of his music.

'My Cherie Amor' is about being infatuated with a girl you're too scared to approach. 'Yester-me, Yester-you, Yester-day' is about consigning a relationship to the dustbin of history. 'Lately' is about a man struggling with his suspicions about his wife's faithfulness, beautifully written so that it seems that the character is treating himself as being too suspicious, when from what he reveals there's a strong likelihood his suspicions are well-founded.... it's almost as if he doesn't want to think too hard about what's going on because he's terrified of what he might have to face if it's true.

Songs about romantic love are a lot easier to take when there's a good dose of pain swirled into the mix. Even so, I'm kind of worried. Listening to sappy Stevie Wonder songs, fretting over duck death... I don't know what's wrong with me lately.

* This song has always bothered me, given the fact that Stevie Wonder is blind. I mean, how did he know whether or not his daughter was lovely? For all he knew she may have been the most hideous infant in Christendom.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


After availing myself of this little blog widget, I've discovered the level of education one needs to read my blog:

cash advance

High school? High school? Is that it? I use words like "amorphous" and "paroxysm"! True, I also use words like "porno" and "GAAAAAAAH!", but surely they're not shaving that many IQ points off my readership?

As a test, I also ran the URLs of some other blogs. An9ie and Laziest Girl join me here in High School. Emawkc, 2Barriff and Phaedrus have become College boys, presumably because their blogs are all about drunken partying. A couple of others who will remain nameless are back in elementary school, but we can blame this on the fact that they have small children - nothing sucks the higher language skills out of your life like a toddler.

Mind you, this same program also insists that you only need an elementary school education to appreciate James Lileks, and a mere Junior High education to understand the maths-based humour of xkcd. So I begin to suspect that this whole program is just a ruse to pit blogger against blogger and bring devastation to the internet.

Like it needs it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Lately I've been reading 'The Savage Detectives' by Mexican author Roberto Bolano. It's a long, meandering, fluid story built around diary entries, faux interviews and personal reminicences. Dozens of people tell of an episode in their lives - sometimes significant, sometimes trivial - that all weave together to tell an amorphous tale about a clique of Mexican poets and their movements around the world, from the mid-70s to the mid-90s.

Nothing much happens, but Bolano creates some engaging vignettes that can draw the reader right in. Once the reader is there, of course, he doesn't seem sure what to do with the reader, and the reader ends up wandering away again.

Part of the problem is that he has too many characters, such that you can't keep track of whether Abel Romero is the ex-lover of Xochitl Garcia, or where Amadeo Salvatierra fits into the wider scheme of things, or where in the hell this Jaume Planells guy suddenly came from. The number of narrators also taxes Bolano's skills in creating different voices, and it's only the most outrageous characters, like the quixotic, Latin-quoting lawyer or the crazy and violent German backpacker who feel real, because they're the only one's who are distinctive.

It doesn't help that there's little in the way of an actual plot. It's all very postmodern, but it's hard to maintain interest in a postmodern book that's 574 pages long. The blurb on the back, whick hunts for a plot point like a bloodhound chasing an escaped convict, concentrates on an incident which isn't even mentioned until page 527.

Still, it has its charms. I've kept reading it for the little stories within the wider narrative that sparkle with life, evading questions of what and why and who and simply existing for their own sake. I suppose that's the essence of postmodernism.


This morning I've been monitoring oncobiology oral exams - an independent monitor is required to make sure that the examiners don't display bias, bully the students or receive any outrageous bribes. Basically all I do is welcome the student, introduce the examiners, explain the interview process, then sit back and try not to look extraneous as the students chatter away about endothelial cells and nucleotide excision repair and the examiners nod sagely.

Since the students are nervous they tend to speak quickly, so I generally lose track around the first use of any word with more than five syllables and ending in "-ology". So about 12 seconds in, on average.

Once the exam in underway I have nothing to do and nowhere to look. If I look at the student, they take it as a cue to look at me, and then I have to look as if I'm following whatever the hell it is they're talking about. Smiling and nodding as if to say, "Ah, yes, stromal carcinomas, hmm," is exhausting.

On the other hand if I just look at the desktop, or the wall, or my paperwork, I can simply think about the things I usually think about: Mystery Science Theater quotes, cocktail recipes and whether or not I left the iron on.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


I was driving down Leach Highway this morning on my way to get a haircut, idly thinking about nothing in particular, when I noticed a mother duck and four or five ducklings standing on the median strip.

In the period of a single second I went from “Oh for cute! A mummy duck and a whole bunch of baby ducklings!” to “This probably isn’t the best place to try to cross the road, Mrs Duck” to “GAAAAHHH!” The mother duck wanted to cross that road; the fact it was crammed with speeding cars was clearly not enough to overcome her instinct. She was disoriented and nervous, but insistent on leading her young across that road.

I swerved out of my lane to miss her, just in time, and luckily without hitting any vehicles in the next lane. The van behind managed to do the same, as did the car behind him. But the black Commodore sedan behind them, who was no doubt wandering why the traffic ahead was suddenly veering all over the road, couldn’t react in time. In my rear vision mirror I saw the mother duck vanish in a cloud of tyre smoke and feathers.

I know I put on a cool façade, and am frequently accused of being unfeeling and insensitive. But that sight just broke my heart. I tried to tell myself that they were only common wild ducks, and that it was probably for the best if individuals stupid enough to try and cross a six lane highway on a busy Saturday morning were weeded out the gene pool. But I couldn’t help but think of those terrified baby ducklings, milling about the body of their mother, lost and alone in a world suddenly full of death and danger.

I would have stopped if I could, but on that particular stretch of the highway there’s no place to do so. I just had to let the flow of cars bear me away.


My friend JC has recently bought himself a Scrabble set, and we’ve played a couple of games to break it in.

I’m in two minds about Scrabble. On the one hand it’s a game that rewards a wide vocabulary, and the level of strategy needed to play well adds a challenging dimension. However despite appearances it’s not a game that celebrates language. It treats language the same way a real estate agent treats a fine piece of architecture: as something that’s only valuable to the extent that it can be used for his own personal gain.

Most of the time creating a big word opens up double or triple word score squares for your opponents, so creating big words that open up the board is a sure-fire way to lose. The wisest strategy is to alter the existing words by adding letters as prefixes or suffixes, which scores decent points and prevents your opponents from accessing the aforementioned double and triple word scores. As such, the game encourages players to be mean and self-sabotaging. The beautiful English language becomes a tool to be grudgingly metered out, not something to relish and use expansively.

JC twigged to this earlier than I did, so while I was splashing the board with the biggest and most interesting words I could devise, he was pushing out two letter words that linked them up. Eventually I lost my patience when he put an ‘H’ in the little elbow between two longer words to create “ah” and “oh”.

Me: You’re kidding me.

JC: And the “H” is on a double letter score, so that’s 18 points.

Me: So far you’ve had, “um”, “ah”, “oh”… why does every game with you start to look like a transcription of a porno soundtrack?

Fortunately that comment set him off in a paroxysm of laughter, which allowed me to surreptitiously cheat and win that particular game. All’s fair in love, war and Scrabble.

Friday, November 02, 2007


In every life there are wants and needs. This is a need.


Because my arm is finally healed enough to play computer games, and because I am an idiot, I played Thief: Deadly Shadows last night until I finished it... at 3.30am.

At around 3.45am, as I lay in bed wishing I had to power to instantly send myself to sleep instead of waiting for stupid nature to take its tedious course, I noticed a shadow move across my bedroom windows. It was human height, human shape, and it moved at human speed, first across the right window, and then across the left.

I lay in bed with my heart pounding, and listened hard. It was a fairly windy night, but above the sound of the fluttering leaves and creaking branches, I heard something lightly bang against the roof. There was a series of little grinding sqeaks from the roof tiles.

I got out of bed and walked out into the living room. The Flatmate is away at a conference, so I was alone in the house. I stood under the manhole cover in the ceiling and strained to hear anything that might be footsteps on the rafters. I heard a lot of tiny sounds - the exhaust fans creaking in a gust of wind, the occasional blown twig pinging off the roof tiles, the doors thudding gently in their frames with every change in air pressure - but nothing like a man moving about in my roof space.

Eventually, I just had to make sure that all the doors and windows were locked and go back to bed. When I woke up (late) this morning, the house was exactly the same as it had been.

The noises I heard could easily be explained away as a cat on the roof. I don't know what it is with cats and roofs, but they seem to like skulking around up there late at night. However I still can't work out what the shadow was that I saw passing by my windows. I know I didn't dream it because I was still wide awake. I know I didn't imagine it because it moved, deliberately, from one window to the next. All I know is that after five hours of gaming it twanged my nerves like a guitar string.

Maybe too much gaming bends the fabric of reality and brings the fictional to life. In which case it's a good thing I wasn't playing Endless Zombie Rampage.