Wednesday, April 30, 2008


A couple of nights ago I loaded Myst IV onto my new computer, thinking I'd give it another go after running aground on its very first puzzle the last time I tried.

This time I've had more success. I've managed to find my way from one Age to another, solved a few puzzles, slid down a very cool lava tube and lost my patience with panpipe music. And yet I've felt vaguely dissatisfied by it all.

It's taken me a while to work out why, but now I think I have. It came to me when I realised that each session had ended with me being stuck on yet another gorgeously rendered but irritatingly opaque puzzle thrust upon me by the intensely smug members of Atrus' family.

Sweet merciful crap, I said. You people are all Mac users, aren't you.

It made sense. The surroundings are exquisitely beautiful and filled with subtle sound effects, but if you want to actually do anything you run up against dense graphical interfaces that don't make any sense until you've spent half an hour pushing every button in different orders and finally made something happen. And of course all of this technology is gorgeously stylish but it invariably breaks down within five minutes of you coming across it, if it wasn't broken before you arrived.

An early prototype of the iMac in Steve Jobs' back yard.

Meanwhile everyone around you is incredibly self-satisfied, and there are signs of earth-nurturing, tree-hugging hippie crap everywhere. The characters are all creative, intelligent and incredibly dysfunctional... that is when they're not being crashing megalomaniacs.

Ah, so that's what the inside of a MacBook Air looks like.

So here's a little message to the patriarch of the Myst universe: don't come the gentle artisanal genius with me, Atrus. Your sons are both psychopaths, your wife is a flake, and you daughter is more annoyingly precocious than Dakota Fanning in an Elmo costume. Here's an idea: how about taking a break from telling me what to do while designing partially-functional art deco machinery and booking yourselves into some family therapy!


Yesterday my friend JC picked up his new car; a 2007 Peugeot 207 GT. Last night he kindly let me take it for a spin, so that I could share the joy of new car ownership... and experience envy for things my 1994 VW Golf lacks, like metallic paint, parking sensors, a panoramic glass roof and an ability to go from 0 to 100 in less than an hour.

There's a lot to love about modern cars. When pausing at the traffic lights the engine was almost silent. I don't mean that it was very quiet; I mean that it was literally almost impossible to tell if it was still running or not. It has all of the cool features mentioned above plus stability control, intelligent braking, door mirrors that automatically fold themselves out of the way when you park, dual zone climate control and more airbags than an Andy Warhol installation. And yet this car cost almost exactly the same amount as his last car, a 1996 Holden Astra sedan, which had none of these features.

And if you decide to allow for inflation, the Peugeot actually cost less than the Holden.

Note that the numberplate, if you squint, says CROW. The gods of MST3K have obviously smiled upon this purchase.

However the features did not end there. As we motored up Nicholson Road I had cause to ask him...

What's that thing in the middle of the dash?

That's the fragrance diffuser.

Er... the fragrance diffuser?

Well, it is French.

And this fragrance came with the car?

Yes, but they offer a whole range of scents.

I hope for your sake that there are some manly fragrances offered.

I hope so too. I'd like New Car Smell.

Oh yeah. Or Beer.

Or Diesel.

Or Raw Meat. Grrrrrrrrrr!

Better yet, Hamburgers!

Seriously, did the designers of this car really sit down and say, "This car doesn't need GPS or tinted windows or a horn that plays 'La Marseillaise'. What it needs is a built-in perfume dispenser!"?

Well, maybe the French are especially stinky?

Either that or each car comes with a dead raccoon jammed behind the firewall as standard.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


I didn’t have a very good time at church this morning for one simple reason: the sermon was remarkably, exceptionally, dangerously boring.

How, I wondered about ten minutes in, would I be able to not leap from my chair and run out of the church? It seemed to be the only acceptable course of action. The idea of staying put was as radical and unpalatable as going into Baskin Robbins, looking at all the rocky road, coffee and chocolate chip cookie dough icecreams, and deciding to ask for the Brussel Sprout Surprise.

Still, as Sir Isaac Newton would have told you, had both you and he been present there with me, inertia is a powerful force. It helped me to fight down the flight instinct, and I tried paying closer attention to the sermon. But that just made it worse. To call it a stream of disjointed clichés and platitudes would probably be unfair, but to call it an engaging expression of tightly formed theological argument would be several orders of magnitude more unfair.

I had an outline of the sermon in front of me, printed with a non-waterproof ink that came off on my fingers and became smudged over everything I touched. This meant that I could see just how far we’d progressed, or more accurately, just how far we had to go. It made every digression, tangent or new anecdote all the more torturous, as I could see the end being stretched even further away. It was like running a marathon, with your legs screaming and your lungs burning and feeling past the point of exhaustion, then seeing the finish line appear and striving toward it… only to discover that it’s just another bend in the road.

As if all this weren’t bad enough (and it was quite sufficiently bad for my simple needs, thank you very much), there was also the matter of the preacher’s presentation. His voice was an unwavering blur of sound, a monotonal cadence that rose and fell as imperceptibly as the chest of a sleeping baby. He could have been discussing his erotic fantasies about Jessica Alba and it still would have been soporific. Even for Jessica Alba.

And it wasn’t just me. The guy on the sound desk was slumped over the controls, apparently fast asleep. His brother, sitting nearby, was slouched back in his chair so far that his head rested on the seat back, giving him the appearance of having been gunned down during the Bible reading. I watched them both for five whole minutes and neither of them moved a muscle.

As it trickled on and on and on, I was reduced to compiling David Letterman-style lists just to keep upright:

Top 10 Things That Could Have Made This Sermon More Bearable

10. An interesting stain on the ceiling to look at.
9. Mamie van Doren, at any age, in any capacity.
8. The first ever documented case of transubstantiation.
7. An Elvis sighting.
6. Kuluha.
5. An ability to accurately remember Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch.
4. Finding hidden meaning in the pattern of my plaid shirt.
3. Counting the number of bricks in the wall at the front of the room.
2. A good, scratchable outbreak of eczema.
1. Writing blog notes on the bottom of the sermon outline.

Actually that last one didn’t work all that well.

The funny thing is that when he finally ground to a halt, I looked up at the clock and was astonished to see that only half an hour had passed. If Albert Einstein had been there he could have explained to me how an ordinary human preacher could bend space/time to make half an hour infinitely long. Or he could have had a huge punch up with Sir Isaac Newton. Either way it would have been a welcome distraction.

Now, just in case you think that this is all just a product of my lackadaisical attitude to theology and puny attention span, contrast this sermon with the one I experienced six hours later at my evening church (yes, I go to two churches on Sunday: I am just that holy). The preacher there spoke for exactly sixty minutes… and it was as interesting and thought-provoking as, well, discussing erotic fantasies about Jessica Alba.

Well, maybe not. But you get the idea.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I’ve recently had a problem with iTunes that has only served to widen the gulf between my fondness for Apple products and my loathing of the Apple corporation itself.

About a week ago and turned on my computer and activated iTunes, but it seemed to start up oddly. I suspected that something was wrong - a suspicion that proved well-founded when I checked the song count on the bottom of the screen. It had inexplicably dropped from 4,598 to 4,112.

iTunes had just deleted over 10% of my music collection.

Songs had vanished across the board. Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, for example, only boasted 8 tracks… 4 fewer than my original CD copy. Some albums, like Arcade Fire’s ‘Neon Bible’, had vanished completely. There was no sense to any of it – I’d lost random bits of old Goon Show episodes, single arias from long operas, and one or two tracks from most of the pop and rock albums in my collection.

I did some snooping in the hidden files deep within my iTunes music folder (something that Apple has done its best to make impossible with later versions of iTunes) and eventually discovered that the files themselves were still there. All that had happened was that iTunes no longer listed them. If I double-clicked on one of the files, it would pop up like magic in iTunes and play as normal.

The only problem was that I didn’t know which songs were missing. The only thing I could do was open the music folder for each artist, count the files, then open the iTunes listing for the same artist, count the entries, and see if the numbers matched. If they didn’t, and they didn’t most of the time, I had to read each song title and see if it was on both lists, and double-click on it if it wasn’t.

In four hours I fixed about a quarter of the missing tracks.

Of course I have no idea if, or when, this will happen again. And thanks to Apple being staffed by complete bastards, creating backups for my music is almost impossible short of burning the tracks onto blank CDs. I don’t know what the answer is. Forgoing digital music and living in a cave, probably.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Another re-captioned picture that's been sitting on the corner of my desk for years.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Behold Lance Winslow - pilot, motorcycle racer, track and field champion, Mayflower descendant, former member of The Board of Directors of the American Association of Franchises and Dealers, inventer of words (eg "soloed"), possessor of "warrior genes", and... er... car washing guy.


My most recent MST3K movie was an early episode called 'Untamed Youth', one of the many teen-themed matinee fillers produced in the 1950s. I don’t know why the people of the 50s were so obsessed with the Untamed Youth. Presumably they were just more exploitable than the Domesticated Elderly.

Then again this film did star Mamie van Doren, so maybe these 50s obsessives were onto something.

Somewhere in the rural backwaters of America, sisters Penny and Jane Lowe are arrested for hitchhiking. Down at the courthouse the local lady judge sentences them to a month of hard labour on a local cotton farm as cotton pickers. This seems primarily to be an excuse to generate many cotton picking puns along the lines of "Now wait just a cotton picking minute!" which are, of course, spectacularly unfunny.

At the cotton farm the girls meet the rest of the Untamed Youth. They're a motley collection of saucy Bad Girls, wall-eyed beatniks and one geeky weirdo who appears to be the lovechild of Woody Allen and Jerry Lewis. They love dancing in the mess hall until all hours, saying "groovy" a lot, and harboring a smoldering resentment towards farm owner Mr Tropp.

For all is not well in the world of forced agricultural labour. Mr Tropp, who looks like a slimmed down and Gregory Peckified version of Boss Hogg, is a cruel and rapacious tyrant. He feeds the kids dog food disguised as beef stew, he ignores their medical needs, and sets the dobermans on them at the slightest provocation. It transpires that the lady judge who sent all of these youths to work for him is in fact his lover, and he's got the romance-addled old girl wrapped around his little finger. She doesn't know about the dog food, the harsh working conditions, or the fact that Tropp arranges for the prettiest girls to become his "housekeepers" in the homestead.

Naturally when he finds out about Penny he can't wait to get her into the house. Who wouldn't?

She thinks she's auditioning for a show on a TV station Mr Tropp owns, but she doesn't remain that naive for long. She escapes from his clutches with her virtue intact (a first for Mamie van Doren, I'm fairly sure) but she and her sister realize that they have to find a way out of this cotton picking mess and regain their liberty.

They get their chance when Jane’s new boyfriend, an all-American quarterback type named Bob, overhears Tropp’s latest scheme: he’s acquired some counterfeit work permits and is planning to bring three hundred Mexicans over the border to do the cotton picking even more cheaply.

This is the catalyst for the Untamed Youth to rise up en masse and overthrow Mr Tropp. Not for the sake of multicultural worker solidarity – especially after Jane’s boyfriend blithely refers to the Mexicans as “wetbacks” – but because this is something really beyond the pale (as it were) that they can use against him.

Meanwhile Jane has escaped and spilled the beans to the lady judge about the latter’s lover’s activities. The lady judge isn’t too perturbed about illegal migrant workers, dog food dinners or the death of one of the workers, but when she finds out that Tropp has been boinking his “housekeepers”, she goes berserk. She races out to the farm just as Tropp is about to mow down the kids with one of those aircraft carrier-sized 50s cars, and she has him and his bent police buddies arrested. She realizes that the inevitable scandal means that her own career is over, but she’ll be damned if she doesn’t take her cheating man down with her.

The movie ends with Penny finally making it on TV, doing a calypso number that’s about as culturally sensitive as the “wetback” comment, while Jane and her boyfriend go out dancing and the lady judge sits contentedly at home, having learnt the valuable 1950s lesson that women of her age should be sitting around watching TV and knitting, rather than pursuing a legal career or getting red hot lovin’ from an oily toyboy.

Of course all of this drama was just an excuse to showcase Mamie’s mediocre singing talents and her rather less mediocre physical attributes. She’s the archetypal blonde bombshell, with a wardrobe of tight sweaters and her hair so bleached that it could join the Klu Klux Klan. Anyone else on screen was just a foil to Mamie’s giggling and bouncing, which actually lead to one of the best lines from the MST3K boys during a song:

Mamie: (singing) Jiggle and wiggle and wriggle and rock! Jiggle and wiggle and wriggle and rock!

Tom Servo: Oh come on, she’s just reading the stage directions!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I've had this sitting on a corner of my desk for a few years now.

Click for a larger image, if this one is illegible. Ain't no humour like cannibal humour!

Monday, April 14, 2008


What do these (mostly) fictional characters all have in common: Frasier Crane, Gil Grissom, Gregory House, Rupert Giles and Blandwagon?

Is it that they're all highly intelligent? They all have discernment and good taste? They're all about as romantically successful as a battery chicken?

Nope. Guess again.

On the one hand, the company is august. On the other hand I seem doomed to a life of middle-aged irascibility. Oh well. Hopefully this will be offset by vampire slayers.


It took most of my Saturday to build up the courage to buy it, arrange a vehicle to move it and then get it safely installed in my living room, but I finally managed to overcome my inertia and indecision and acquire a new piece of living room furniture.

Although they’re trendy at the moment, I’ve wanted one ever since I was a little boy. Maybe I saw one on a rerun of some cool black and white 60s TV show, in a groovy spy’s penthouse or the lair of some evil criminal mastermind, and it just got lodged in my brain as the epitome of glamour and sophistication. But I resisted getting one, thinking that it would look out of place in the classical gentleman’s club look of my living room.

However I haven’t been able to find anything else that would really work, and the old armchair had just crossed over from “student digs chic” to “crack house chic”…

… so I bit the bullet and bought the Eames lounge.

In the first hours after I got it, I had the usual feeling of “Gaaah! I just spent six weeks’ mortgage payments on an armchair!” But now the more I look at it, the more I marvel at it.

You see, the Eames lounge is a chair stripped back to its basic concept and then reinvented. A normal armchair can be banged together by any old idiot with half a dozen basic tools, covering mistakes or oversights as he goes with a few nails or extra padding or a fold of material. The Eames lounge requires precision machining, perfectly formed plywood panels and accurate balancing on its single leg. It’s a leather-upholstered monument to modern creativity, technology and craftsmanship. It sits next to my old furniture like a scalpel next to a collection of primitive bone knives.

Even though this chair cost two to three times more than a traditional leather armchair, it’s actually a comparatively inexpensive Chinese knockoff of the 1956 original. It’s possible to buy genuine licensed new Eames lounges manufactured by Herman Miller (the company contracted by Ray and Charles Eames to build them), but that runs to around $7,500. And frankly, I may be a snob, but I’m not crazy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Tuesday, April 08, 2008


At the start of the year The Flatmate decided to spread his wings and find a place of his own. There comes a point in every man's life when living in someone's back bedroom just doesn't cut it any more, and in The Flatmate's case, this point didn't come until he was in his mid-40s. So I suppose my bank account and I should be grateful it lasted this long.

Planning to move out and moving out are, however, entirely different things. Perth is a boom town, and that means skyrocketing rents and a shortage of rental properties. According to the experts a 2% vacancy rate basically means that every house available for rent is rented - the 2% vacancy just covers the few hours of emptiness between one tenant leaving and a new one arriving - and right now Perth has a vacancy rate of 1.8%. That means that houses are being rented out before they're vacated, which no doubt causes all sorts of friction.

So despite being a quiet and orderly tenant, and despite a willingness to pay hundreds of dollars more per week than he paid me, The Flatmate couldn't find any place to rent. Every time he managed to find a place it would go before he had a chance to apply for it. On the rare occasions that he managed to get an application in, the house would inevitably go to someone else, mostly families with little kids who could spin a good story about the misery of living in their car.

I think he found it very depressing. There's nothing quite so disconcerting as announcing, "Goodbye, good luck and I'm outta here!" only to find that nobody else wants you. None of the estate agents were even remotely interested in him. Certainly none of them ever phoned me to check on his references, a situation which seemed to make him just a trifle suspicious. I'm sure in his most uncharitable moments he suspected that there were conversations like this going on:

Estate Agent: Hello Mr Blandwagon, I'm calling about Mr Flatmate, who has applied for one of our properties. Is he a good tenant?

Me: (faced with losing my cash cow) Er... um... he's the best! He never bogarts the bong, he shares all his midget porn, and whenever he sacrifices a goat to his Dark Lord, he always remembers to keep the black candles away from the smoke alarm!

Estate Agent: *click* *dial tone*

But after months of searching he's finally managed to find someone willing to take large wads of his money in return for a house. On Friday he signed the lease, and on Saturday he enthusiastically moved his bed, his TV and his desk up to the new house.

And 24 hours later he was sleeping in my guest bedroom, having discovered that until he acquires some appliances, furniture, cookware, dinnerware and random junk like toilet brushes and ironing boards, his new home is pretty much uninhabitable. He'll have it all in a week or so, but he’s learnt a golden lesson about modern life: never underestimate just how much stuff one needs to live.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Endorsement (Addendum)



Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I don't remember approving this:

NAMBLA and the KKK, yes, but not this. Was I drunk? Did someone bribe me with pie? I think I'd remember pie.