Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Stretching the Analogy to Breaking Point

Imagine as a kid you loved Batman. In 1989 the film came out and it was pretty darn good. You could lord it over the other kids, the fools who liked X-Men or Spiderman or some other stupid character. The next movie came out and it was okay, but you were a little less vocal in your Batman support. The downward spiral began in earnest, and by the time the other kids got to see their heroes in movies, Batman was a joke. You couldn't argue about whether X-Men was better than the 1989 Batman, because the only thing anyone remembers is Batman and Robin. Clooney's making jokes about killing Batman, your childhood hero.

By the time there's news about a new Batman movie, every comic book hero under the sun has a movie, and as bad as some of them are, none are as bad as Batman and Robin. You manage to psyche yourself up for the opening, and convince some of your Spiderman friends to come along, but you can see their poorly hidden smirks, and you think if ever so briefly that maybe Spiderman's not that bad after all.

Two hours later you walk out grinning like an idiot. Not only Batman Begins it a good superhero movie, it's just flat out a good movie. Like 'Best Cinematography' good. Nobody's even going to be able to argue about it any more. Batman wins.

That's what it felt like for me when they announced James Hird had been appointed head coach of Essendon yesterday; Batman's back and he's good again.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Me vs The Pope

The Pope's touring the UK. Time for me to talk about religion. To be fair, he started it by calling me a Nazi.

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny” (Caritas in Veritate, 29).
- Pope Benedict XVI, Holyroodhouse Address

So the Pope is suggesting I'm a Nazi? Maybe not, but he is putting me in the same basket, and explicitly saying that to remove religion from the public life will lead inevitably to the degradation and diminution of humanity. I decided to look up the reference to his own writings on freedom of religion and atheism, and found the following:

29. There is another aspect of modern life that is very closely connected to development: the denial of the right to religious freedom. I am not referring simply to the struggles and conflicts that continue to be fought in the world for religious motives, even if at times the religious motive is merely a cover for other reasons, such as the desire for domination and wealth


it should be added that, as well as religious fanaticism that in some contexts impedes the exercise of the right to religious freedom, so too the deliberate promotion of religious indifference or practical atheism on the part of many countries obstructs the requirements for the development of peoples, depriving them of spiritual and human resources.


When the State promotes, teaches, or actually imposes forms of practical atheism, it deprives its citizens of the moral and spiritual strength that is indispensable for attaining integral human development and it impedes them from moving forward with renewed dynamism as they strive to offer a more generous human response to divine love. In the context of cultural, commercial or political relations, it also sometimes happens that economically developed or emerging countries export this reductive vision of the person and his destiny to poor countries. This is the damage that “superdevelopment” causes to authentic development when it is accompanied by “moral underdevelopment”.

- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate

Freedom of religion, by its nature, requires that the laws of the State be created using atheist approaches. If the legislators have no religion, or make the conscious choice to exclude religious consideration from the decision making process, then clearly the laws are built on atheist foundations. If, however, legislators permit personal religious belief to affect their decision making (which they should as part of the expression of their religion) then it has to be accepted that law will be made based on a compromise reached between a wide variety of differing religious views. Any such synthesis of religious views is fundamentally atheist as it treats all religions as having equal moral weight, a viewpoint which is does not fit with some, if not all, religions. In this case, the development of law is a form of "practical atheism" imposed by the State while the laws themselves embody atheistic principles which are both taught and promoted by the State.

The Pope's argument does not stop at deriding the value of atheism, which is somewhat expected of a religious leader, but goes on to say that:

Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms;
- Pope Benedict XVI, Holyroodhouse Address

As the UK is built on a Christian foundation, presumably the "traditional values and cultural expressions" that the Pope is referring are traditional Christian values. Considering several hundred years ago the Pope was not permitted on English soil, I'm not sure what era of traditional values he is referring to. "Traditional values" are not an immutable standard which the State should adhere too, they are the norms of the society which exists within the State, influenced by the beliefs and attitudes of all of its individuals. The traditional values of the UK have changed over history to be more accepting of different types of Christianity and entirely different religions. If there is a rising tide of opinion that these values are no longer indicative of the values of wider society, then there needs to be a dialogue between the opposing viewpoints, not a reactionary retreat into some perceived inviolate tradition.

The further a society moves towards freedom of religion, the further its State imposed principles will drift from the tenets of any single specific religion and towards a permissiveness that the religious may find morally reprehensible. It is not my contention that religious belief is harmful to the development of society, and in fact there are benefits to including faith in political discussion, but to have a State in which there is true freedom of religion and not merely freedom of Christianity, those of religious conviction must appreciate the crucial role that secularism plays in the creation and development of a society in which all religions have freedom.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Poster Post

You may have seen these rather awesome movie posters floating around on the internet lately. I thought I'd try my hand at a few in the same vein. The results are below:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Don't Care That You're On A Boat

I am sick of hearing about the boat people, illegal immigrants, unauthorised people movements, or whatever they've decided to call it today, and I am sick of it for two reasons.

Firstly, both major parties have taken a stance which I find at best an overreaction to a minor problem and at worst a reflection of worringly racist world view. I didn't like it when they started putting asylum seekers (a phrase people have started using as a single word to mean filthy foreigner who are probably terrorists if they're not here to take our jobs, rather than people who are seeking asylum) into detention centres while they were being processed, I didn't like it when they decided even having them on our national soil was too much and excised Christmas Island from Australia's migration zone, and I could scarcely believe it when we started paying other countries to hold refugees in detention for us. Now with an election imminent, the only point of contention between the parties is which country we should house them in, with the Liberals preferring a country that isn't a signatory of the UNHCR Refugee Convention.

Secondly, it's not a big issue. There are serious problems that politicians should be discussing this election and instead the focus for the last month has been pandering to people whose major concern seems to be a handful of refugees with brown skin showing up in a boat. It's petty, it's ugly, and it's a disservice to the Australian electorate.

Tangential Note: I have always felt that using the term "intellectual elite" as a pejorative was a bit misplaced, but the current slur "the articulate Left" might be the most complimentary insult I've ever heard.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Nothing Unusual, Nothing's Changed

Just a little older, that's all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


When I was young my dad thought I would grow up to be either a mathematician or a poet. I'm a software developer, so I guess he was right. Except maybe about growing up.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It Still Doesn't Make Ten Goals Acceptable

Jason had the gall to ask me on Monday why I keep supporting a team when they have been consistently bad for a number of years. It's a fair question, kind of, and one with two possible interpretations. First is why I don't support a different more successful team, second is why I keep watching football if it's only going to bring disappointment. If you would like to read an enjoyable treatise on the topic, I recommend Fever Pitch. If not, read on.

The first interpretation can be answered with a simple "Eff you buddy, that's why. Bombers rule!" then hoping there's a fellow fan around to chest bump. The second one is a bit more interesting. I could just not watch the games and avoid the inevitable disappointment. But I don't and here's one of the reasons why: closure.

When you go to primary school you are working towards the end of each year and ultimately the end of grade six. After that it's each year of high school until grade twelve, then each subject at university, then your graduation ceremony. Every year or less you get a nice portion of your life closed off nicely, often with a certificate, score or holiday to celebrate the fact. This feeling of closure entitlement is reinforced by every book you read, every movie you watch, it's something that people generally take great comfort in.

Work doesn't happen like that. Sure, the project gets delivered but it's not finished. There's those outstanding defects, the support contract, all those change request documents to make sure you get paid for the work you've already done. Even if you get moved onto a different project the new guy will need to know how something works or it's just easier for you to deal with something than explain it to the support team. It's only when you change jobs that you get any true sense of closure, and unless you have a regimented career plan you don't know when you're going to leave a job until quite close to your final day.

A sports league is custom built to provide you with regular doses of closure. To start with there's the season story that you get to follow afresh at every year with a promise that 22 to 26 weeks later it will be over with a result, even if you have to accept that your team's result was to fail dismally. Then every week you get to see a match unfold, a little drama that is not going to have loose threads and unfinished business at the end of it. You can analyse it and complain about it safe in the knowledge that there is no 'one more little thing', no 'could you find that email?' waiting to come out and bite you. Just a simple, undeniable finish and the six number epilogue.

COL 18.12.120 def. ESS 8.7.55

Damn. Maybe next week.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pew Pews and Distractor Mice

I was talking to Jonathan the other day about distractions. Not originally, but that's how it turned out. I guess we both had work to do. Anyway two main forms came up: pew pew moments (my term) and distractor mouse mode (Edit: a term coined by Havi Brooks).

Pew pew moments are my most common form of distraction. You get back from lunch or a meeting and sit down in front of your computer with a specific task to do. Okay, you tell yourself it's time to focus and get this done. Focus. Like a laser. Man, lasers are cool. Each thought takes longer to arrive and is separated by a period of absolute mental tranquility.
"Pew! Pew!" You are startled from your reverie by some idiot making laser sound effects. A stern look left and right soon reveals that you are in fact the culprit, and it's been five minutes since you last touched the keyboard. Another look around, this one guilty, and you stare at your keyboard trying to remember what you were focused on. Focused. Like a laser. Man, lasers are cool.

Distractor mouse mode is a much more frantic means to the same confused end. Consider the process (taken verbatim from Jonathan's introduction to the whole conversation):
  1. I've just finished an important task. I wonder what I have to do next?
  2. I should look at my todo lists, they are pretty thorough
  3. But they are on my laptop, I should really have a way of getting them onto my mac usefully too
  4. I should use Remember the Milk, then I could get it onto my phone
  5. But my phone doesn't support RTM. I should really get an Android phone
  6. Hmm, Nexus One or HTC Desire read read read
  7. I should wait until I get paid again before I buy a new phone
  8. I've been waiting for that Kanex XD thing for a while, I wonder if it's still shipping in April
  9. Hmm, I see they've stopped saying April on their web page. Hmm.
  10. Maybe there's some gossip on twitter
  11. Ahh, no! #qanda trending. Run away
  12. What am I supposed to be doing?
In distractor mouse mode the cursor darts about the screen clicking on interesting links on its own, a potent force of distraction over which you exert no control. It jams extra trolleys on your train of thought and makes sure each one is fully explored.

Pew pew moments tend to come more from upcoming tasks which are simple but boring where the main barrier is summoning the motivation to get it done. Distractor mouse mode kicks in when there are an overwhelming number of upcoming tasks and your brain starts jumping at every little thing like it is time critical. Both are forms of subconscious procrastination, unlike the conscious "I'll do that in the next ad break" forms, and are all the more dangerous for not being deliberate. With conscious procrastination you can refuse to listen to your own excuses and just do the task, with subconscious procrastination extended periods of time can pass before you even realise that you're not doing what you should be, let alone do anything about it.

I have no advice on how to avoid these pitfalls, otherwise I wouldn't spend so much time imitating an X-Wing at work. There must be methods for recognising when you have fallen into one of these traps and getting back on track, but if I look for the answer on Wikipedia I will still be there in two hours reading up on how Gilgamesh discovered a technique for using black body radiation to measure the specific gravity of pangolins.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Impurity of Purpose

I've spent the last week working out at the Technopark, which is basically an IT oriented industrial park out in Goodwood. It has, when you walk around between the buildings, the same feel as airports, the deep suburbs and holiday resorts. It might seem like a strange group to bring together but they all share one common theme: they exist to cater to a single aspect of life, contrary to the massively parallel way most people actually live.

While an office building in the city exists for a single purpose, on the same block are cafes, camera shops and boutiques, so when you step out of the office building you are surrounded by people who are doing a thousand different things. I find it comforting to be able to see people doing different things, especially when I need a break. I spent a week in a holiday resort when I was in Singapore and by the end of the week I spent half an hour wandering around the business district in Singapore just to be around people who weren't trying desperately to have fun on the beach. The monoculture of leisure was as draining as the perpetual atmosphere of nervous impatience that permeates the world's airports.

There is something about creating an isolated environment focused on a single facet of daily life that seems to rob it of it reality. Everything that acts otherwise to that purpose, such as a cafe in an industrial part or the book shop at an airport, is bled of the genuine atmosphere that normally makes such places pleasant to visit (Filling airport bookshops with Dan Brown books probably doesn't help either). Whenever you do something contrary to the reason the place was built it feels like some sort of damp rebellion, a feeling that should never be encountered while eating a ham sandwich.

Maybe I just don't have enough focus, but I'd much rather have my places of work, sleep and fun all jumbled up with each other so I can do things without planning ahead and have a break when I need one.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

On Disney Yoghurt

I was at the supermarket earlier today and in the dairy section was a six pack of Disney Princesses strawberry yoghurt.

Aside from the obvious "Disney Princess yoghurt? What the hell?" reaction, another thought struck me. I think it was mostly the Belle, what with the coquettish off the shoulder look, but it in general the poses of the princesses are a little bit less fairytale princess and a little bit more men's magazine than Disney would maybe hope for from their snack food tie-ins. A few minutes on Google images, and then a few more minutes with some different search terms and safe search enabled and...

Obviously the amount of clothing makes a difference, but it does make me wonder exactly where the artists who designed the cover art for this six pack of dairy goodness went for their inspiration.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

How To Become A Football Fan

I have been asked on several occasions how I can possibly care about something which doesn't matter over which I have no influence, specifically football. The problem with this question is that it assumes there is some sort of clear and rational reason for it. I guess that there a wad of psychological theories for it written by people who either don't watch sport at all, or who are true tragics, neither one of which I would regard as an objective group. Although I can't answer the question, I can provide some advice on how to get yourself into the fan mindset. It will take at least a year and cost you a portion of your sanity, and I can't honestly say it's worth it, but here's how to do it.

Please note that you can use this guide for other sports, so long as the sport is played in a league (cricket doesn't work as well because everyone in the country supports the same team, and there's no ladder to finish at the top or bottom of) and preferably during winter when you won't have anything better to do.

Don't sweat the rules
Some sports appear to have complicated rules. Explaining the rules of cricket, rugby, or American football to someone can seem a daunting task and if you're going to follow a sport, surely you need a good understanding of the rules? Well, yes, but remember: whatever sport you're watching, seven year olds play it every weekend. Trust me, by the time you've watched three or four games (I mean really watched, see below for details) you'll have ninety percent of the rules down pat, certainly enough to yell at the umpires for making poor decisions.

Get on a bandwagon
The first step is picking a team. You have three choices here, and in the long run it makes no difference which one you use. First off, you can pick a team at random. If you do this, do a bit of research and make sure you pick a team that is going to win more than they lose. This is important because while a long time fan can put up with a year of winning one game in five or six, as a new fan you need to see your team celebrating.

Alternatively, you can pick the team of a friend who is already a fan, this way you get access to stories of terrific and terrible moments of times past and somebody to watch the games with. This is a good option, but it can also be good to have a bit of rivalry with friends, one or two games a year where you can get really tribal about the whole thing.

Finally you can pick a local team if you have one. This is a good choice if you have to or want to go to the pub to watch the game, or if the stadium is nearby. I suppose if you are following something like the Premier League in England, it also reduces your chances of getting headstomped.

Final note: whatever the sport, find out who the Collingwood team is, and don't support them. Nobody wants to meet another Magpies fan.

Watch every game
Once you have decided to become a fan, you have to watch every game, at least for the first season. This means you are committed to a three hour block once a week for six months in which you are busy. Friends going out on Friday night? You're not joining them until eleven if the boys are playing (your team is always "the boys" or "we" or "us", never the actual team name). Someone's having a barbecue on Saturday afternoon? You're busy until three. If something absolutely unavoidable comes up, check the score on your phone every fifteen minutes, make sure people know you're missing out on something you'd rather be doing. Be obnoxious about it. This is absolutely critical, you need to establish in your own mind and those of your friends that you are a football watcher.

Only watch the game
While the game's on, all you are doing is watching the game. Don't check your email, don't browse eBay, don't pay the bills, watch the game. If someone calls, ignore it, you can ring them back at quarter time. If you're going to watch the game with other people, make sure they are either fans of one of the teams playing or general football tragics, the kind who'll watch any game with keen interest. The last thing you need is someone distracting you with a story about this girl at work who sent around a YouTube clip of a cat playing the flute.

Watch the whole game
If your team's up by eighty points with ten minutes to go, you keep watching for the joy of it, for the wrap up after the game where you get to hear the commentators explain why your team is just so damn good. Even more important is to keep watching when your team is down by eighty points with ten minutes to go. Sit through every botched handball, ever bad umpiring decision, every fist pump by an opposing player who scores a goal. You need to wallow in this every now and then in order to properly appreciate the joy of winning. When the final siren blows you can change the channel as fast as you like, but until then it's your team out there stinking it up, and you need to share the misery.

Watch a game in person
Get to a game, preferably one that's going to be well attended. Get a hat and a scarf, or whatever else in team colours you want and make sure you get tickets in the right part of the ground (ie with other supporters of the same team). If you're not familiar with the rules, I'd hold off until you've properly watched at least half a dozen games on television, it can be a bit hectic at the ground. By the time you've gone through the roller coaster of a game with 90,000 other fans you will care a whole lot more about the results in the future, trust me.

Watch a good game
This is a tough one. Some time at least halfway through your first season as a supporter you need to see a good game. Not simply a game in which your team plays well, but a game where you win by a point from a goal scored with ten seconds on the clock. Or a game where you win despite being 10:1 underdogs. The problem, of course, is that you can't schedule these games. Your team might go a whole season without one, they might have three in a row. Whatever the case, this is most likely the game that you will be able to look back on as the answer to the inevitable question "when did you become such a football nut?"

Mission accomplished
I would guess that if you follow the steps above, you will be a genuine fan by the end of two seasons. Once you are a genuine fan, you can be less draconian about the whole process. You'll know which two or three games a season you can afford to miss, you can keep an eye on something else while you're watching the end of a thrashing. Chances are that you won't though. You'll watch a rain soaked game against an ugly team because one of your rookies is making his debut. You'll subscribe to some sort of newsletter or feed so that you hear about who injured their ankle during training. You'll watch the post match of a game you lost because you want to figure out what went wrong. You'll care.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I Call It A 'Schniblt'

Customer service normally doesn't make much of an impression on me, in part because I don't notice unless it is extreme on one direction or the other, and in part because I don't care if someone smiles or not. I would, however, like to tell a story from today. Jason, Duncan and I went to a cafe for lunch to buy some of their bodacious chicken schnitzel BLTs. That's right, sandwiches so good I have to fall back on the ninja turtles to find a word to describe them.

We got our sandwiches and headed out of the cafe. A good two hundred metres down the road,
"Excuse me, guys?" We look at each other for a second before realising it's the man from the cafe. "I forgot to put the schnitzel in your sandwiches." He then took them back, cooked the schnitzels and finished off the sandwiches.

Sure, I would have been first angry, then confused, then angry again had I opened the bag and found a schnitzel free BLT, but I probably wouldn't have done anything about it. After all, it's just a sandwich. The guy could have just let it go, said he forgot and apologised had we gone back there, but instead he went out of his way to fix the mistake. It would be less surprising if I had left behind my wallet, or a guitar or something, but he chased us down over a sandwich filling. So thank you, Sunflower Cafe guy, for going beyond the call of duty.

Also, those sandwiches are unbelievable.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Electron Deficient Entertainment - Interrupted by PS3 Edition

The Knight - Gene Wolfe. Recommended somewhat forcefully by Jonathan and as usual it was a good recommendation.

One book in a month? That's not great. Neither's two posts in a month. I need to do something interesting, fast, otherwise I'll have nothing to bleat about on the internet and that simply will not do.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crass Commercialism

Due to overwhelming popular demand a couple of requests, I have put a bunch of my designs onto t-shirts in a shop on CafePress (right about here).  The prices vary because they are different types of base t-shirt, the more expensive ones being American Apparel for anyone who cares about such things. CafePress let you select the markup for each product, so I have chosen the extortionate sum of one dollar, mostly just to cover the cost of having the shop.

Anyway, if you want something, it's there. If you want me to do something extra (make a dark version of one of the light designs like I have with Group Therapy, or put a design on a hoodie or something) let me know and I probably will. There doesn't seem to be anything on the CafePress site to allow people to contact a store owner, so just put a comment on this post. Or email me I guess, that could work too.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Electron Deficient Entertainment - Back to the Salt Mines Edition

And Another Thing... -  Eoin Colfer. The sixth Hitchhikers' Guide book. It was alright, but I'm not sure why it exists, beyond crass commercialism.
Chasm City - Alistair Reynolds. Spatially operatic.

Also finished of the Sherlock Holmes anthology. Volume 1. There are a lot of Holmes stories.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Ear of The Beholder

I have been asked many times in the last three days about my new situation (if you don't know, I have a new job and I started on Monday) and have somewhat stymied people with my muted response. I feel some clarification may be in order.

The question as asked: Hello Bice, well done on the new job, are you finding it enjoyable?
The question as heard: Hello Bice, how are you enjoying getting up at seven thirty morning and working for eight hours a day instead of travelling around the world, getting up at noon and playing games all day?

While I have absolutely no complaints, I'll be honest, it suffers in the comparison. So I apologise for not being more effusive in my response, especially to those I know who have real reasons to want or need a new job.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Not From Where I Stand

There's an ad that they run during the cricket. Our protagonist Mick is sitting in the crowd, surrounded by opposition supporters who are generally carrying on. He turns to camera and says "Having difficulty stuck in an awkward situation? Too easy," and proceeds to hand out some of the advertiser's product to the opposition supporters, thus getting them onside.

About the third or fourth time I saw it, I realised that if the ad ever got aired in America it would probably get pulled within about ten seconds. The product in question is KFC, the opposition are the West Indies, and Mick is a typical Strayan. So, if you were to restate the ad, a white guy gives a bunch of black guys fried chicken to calm them down. You can see it here under 'Backyard Buckets - How to silence a noisy crowd'. To be clear, I don't think the ad is offensive at all and I don't think you'd find any Australian, or probably West Indian, who would.

It got me thinking about what combination of viewer, place of viewing and origin would make this offensive. American ad aired in America? Racist. But would it be offensive if it had been created in America but only for airing in Australia? What about if an African American saw it in Australia, would they be allowed to be offended? Contextual racism is weird.

update: apparently a few news outlets have picked up on this (thanks Anders for the heads up). To restate what a few commenters have said in those articles: it is an Australian ad, aired in Australia produced (I assume) by an Australian advertiser. The West Indies were the touring team, if the English had been touring, it would have been an English crowd. Fried chicken and black people is not an Australian stereotype at all. We have our own problems with racism, but those problems have nothing to do with fried chicken, confusing West Indians with African Americans or imposing our cultural sensitivities onto foreign countries.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Electron Deficient Entertainment - End of Year Edition

Not much reading again this month, I blame computers, consoles and a general lack of long haul travel.

Reading the Play - James Hird. Not great, but now I know more about James Hird, so I'm happy.
Phantastes - George MacDonald. Fairly good, although the foreword by CS Lewis was of more interest.
Songs of the Dying Earth - Various and sundry. Anthology of short stories in Jack Vance's fantasy universe, of variable quality.

Looking at my bookshelf, or at least the stack of books on my floor, I think it's time to hit the bookstores again.