Friday, 27 April 2012

Making our own realities

Figments of Cameron's imagination

A week or two ago I stumbled upon this excellent piece at, titled 6 Insane Fan Theories That Actually Make Great Movies Better.

If you don't have time to go and read that before you press on here (spoilers!), the theories include speculation that James Bond is not a man but a code name, Zion is part of the Matrix, Ferris Bueller's Day Off was all in Cameron's head and Chewbacca and R2-D2 are (always) secret Rebel agents.  (There's a follow-up article here, with another 5 theories!)

I've always had some doubts about fan-fic, because it seems awfully derivative and, well, creepy, but there's absolutely no doubt that these articles rock.  I mean, these theories take the holes that some of the die-hard fans carp about and turn them into reasons to be enthusiastic all over again.

If you take the time to follow those links, there's depth to the theories that actually do make these stories make sense.  I'm in awe of this kind of creativity.  And, as is my habit, it made my brain jump off in a different direction.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Anzac Day: deserving of respect

In preparation for tomorrow I had drafted a post which reflected on whether the celebratory antics of some of those who participate in Anzac Day events is appropriate, and on whether today's Australian military is worthy of the respect we are asked to offer on this day of commemoration.

I read it, edited it, re-read it, edited it some more, agonised a bit and decided it was trite rubbish and ought not to be published.

Instead I offer you the following small personal journey.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

There should be an "i" in "parent"

Okay, so I've been at this parenting malarkey for slightly over 13 years and, while there are most certainly longer treatises on the subject than I'm going to offer here, I reckon I've seen and learned a thing or two.  I'm not even going to try to impart a fraction of what I would class as the advice at my disposal.  I'm simply going to make two choice observations today.

These observations are not just based on my personal experience as a parent.  I'm also tapping my observation of other parents and the way they manage their lives around the minions they've produced. In a lot of cases I knew them before they were parents, and there are as many reactions to becoming parents as there are people.  Further, I don't think there is any "right" or "wrong" way to parent.  I will certainly think to myself "well, I wouldn't do it that way",  but I won't tell those parents that they should do things the way I do.  There's superior and there's different.  A lot of the time stuff is just different, and you should leave well enough alone.  Lots of different parenting skills work, sometimes unexpectedly.

There are a couple of matters, though, that I think are universally applicable.  Here are two of them.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

On re-reading books

As I mentioned the other day, I very much enjoy sitting on trains with my head stuck in a book.  Anywhere will do, but trains are pretty good.

On Tuesday the book in question was Mockingjay (the third Hunger Games book), which I finished during the journey, and so I immediately began looking through my Kindle for something else to read.  I have another couple of books waiting to be read, but neither appealed.  I shut the thing off and stared out the window for a few minutes before I realised I really did want to read something else.  I turned it back on and looked through the list of books which I keep in a collection named "previously read".  Yep, my filing is that precise.

I thought about re-reading the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings, but my eyes alighted on Les Misérables and before I knew it I was ploughing through one of the literary world's answers to a mandelbrot set.

What is it about re-reading books that gives such satisfaction?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Dude, where's my city?

This I can accept - but it doesn't look like this anymore!

Today I had the very great luxury of travelling to Melbourne for a work-related web-authoring course.

Not only was there pleasure in learning something new and not having to be at work all day, but it's also pretty great to spend 2 hours travelling each way on a train.  You kind of forget, but train journeys are enormously relaxing and, if you have minions, the opportunity to bury your head in a book for a couple of hours without being interrupted by someone who deserves your attention (apart from a conductor wanting to check your ticket) is pure gold.

Along with the pleasure of the journey, though, a couple of other things struck me about today's experiences.

Firstly, in this day and age it seems silly that I had to spend four hours travelling to take part in a four hour course when, had I had the opportunity to complete it via self-directed distance learning, I could have done the course in half the time or less, and I wouldn't have lost all that productive time at my desk.  Yes, I know, I'm thinking like a manager, but I don't think it's an unreasonable point.

Secondly, it's twenty years or so since I last lived in Melbourne, but who the hell said it was OK to change the city that much?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

In praise of Lego

Lego meets mini-golf!

It is 50 years since Lego was introduced to Australia.

I'm not certain there was always Lego in my life, but certainly from the age of about 5 my brothers and I had a big box of the stuff to build things out of.  Many was the afternoon that we'd be raking our fingers through that box, with conversations along the following lines: "I need a white single two-by-two ..."; "Oh, I need a red single one-by-two ...".  Rake, rake, rake "Here it is!"

The perennial beauty of Lego is that your construction is only limited by your imagination.  As Lego has introduced ever more specialised components, the ability to build what you see in your mind's eye has improved.  For example, I was building 8-bit spaceships compared to what my son is able to invent now:

Just about everyone I know has a similar story about Lego.  How it was the go-to toy for rainy days; how, if you were inspired by something you'd seen on TV, you'd recreate it in Lego; the pain of kneeling on Lego (a phrase immortalised in a collection of "songs from our childhood" compiled by my brother-in-law); the frustration of not being able to find the right piece when you needed it.  These are the common experiences of several generations of kids and, when Mrs G and I started making minions, we agreed they would also have that experience.  True to our word, they too have access to a big box of the stuff.

Somehow Lego has managed to retain the interest of many people beyond childhood, and their diversification and licensing deals have largely been good moves.  The Lego Star Wars range is the clear leader here, and the fact that I can play through the Star Wars saga as a Lego character on my TV is like all sorts of Christmases come at once.  Having a minion around who has accidentally wiped your save, from time to time, enables me to have to play through it all again ... !  Neat-o!

There is possibly only one down-side to Lego - the historical inability to integrate it with other building systems such as Meccano, K'nex or MegaBloks.  However, even that's no longer a problem.  The Free Universal Construction Kit enables interoperability of all of these systems and more.  What's more, you make the pieces yourself, with a Makerbot or similar 3D printer (h/t Steve).  The possibilities now really are endless.

So, if you have a soft spot for Lego and something suitable in the cupboard or fridge, I invite you to pour some in a glass, raise it and say after me: "Here's to Lego!"

Friday, 13 April 2012

Why outsourcing (mostly) sucks

Well, I'm going to rant a bit today.

It's the school holidays and, in order to make the whole "oh, we're responsible for the care of minors who can't be at school for two and a bit weeks" stuff, I have a couple of days off.  It saves a bit on holiday care and exposes the minions to their father in a slightly more casual setting than usual.  That's got to be good for everyone.

However, there are always a few jobs to be done that require business day commerce in quotients greater than those afforded by your average lunch break.  For instance, since we've recently moved here from interstate we need to transfer the registration of the car, a job that's never straightforward.  What better opportunity to get that done than to book the appointment at Vicroads while I've got a weekday off.  Right?


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Thank you, dear readers

In the '80's and '90's I had a little bit to do with community radio.  

In Warrnambool I took media classes in high school which did little except train me to structure an hour of radio and prepare me for a lot of change in storage mediums.  There was a memorable evening with my brother at the community station there when I burnt out their magnetic cartridge-wiper by leaving it on too long.  Damn analog technology!

In Bendigo (where my parents lived while I was at university ca. 1989-1992) I actually trained to present radio programs, and was on air a few times.  But it wasn't possible, in those days, to get any immediate idea of how many people were listening or what they thought of what you were doing.  The internet was but a glint in the eye of the computer geeks at university.  There was no form of instant feedback if you were speaking into a microphone and hoping your track selections were providing pleasure out in the ether.  If you think there are self-indulgent wankers on the air now, imagine what it was like then.

How times have changed.  Now I can click a few links and find out how many distinct readers have looked at my blog, what country they're from, and what browser and OS they're using.  I can break this down by day or by post.  It's very  helpful in terms of working out what sort of writing works best for this audience.  

That's a darn sight more information than I had 20 years ago on radio.  That's probably a good thing, because knowing what people thought on the day I broadcast this may have left me an emotional cripple.

From the information at my disposal I know that my audience is primarily people I know, and I know that this is mainly because I only promote the blog through Facebook.  This doesn't bother me, because I'm just stretching my writing muscles at the moment.  And, for the record, my TARDIS construction post is the all time most-read post.  Thank you!

I'm addressing this topic because we've recently passed 500 page impressions here at Using The Good Plates, almost all of them in the past two weeks.  Not record-breaking by any measure, but for someone hoping for a few page impressions a day, this is lucky-shop-hop stuff.

I'd like to thank all of you who have been interested enough to click the links and read what's spouting out of my brain and into the keyboard.  I'd be even more grateful to have more feedback than I have to date, but really I'm just happy that people are finding what I have to say interesting enough to look at.


Monday, 9 April 2012

Sometimes you have to build a Tardis

Artist's impression

As some of you may already know, the Easter weekend project here in Bendigo was to build a Tardis.  Preparation began weeks ago, with the gathering of pictures and plans.  We began gathering materials about a week ago and work in earnest began on Good Friday.  We invited a bunch of friends and family to join us for the weekend and had a blast.  Unfortunately we didn't quite finish the build, but it's close enough that we can finish it off over the next couple of weekends.

When I say we aimed to build a Tardis, we weren't actually trying to build a time machine.  Rather, with our combined backgrounds in theatre production and cutting-edge cocking about, we aimed to build a passable, three-dimensional facade of a Tardis, place it out in our backyard near the rail line that passes by there and, hopefully, entertain some bored commuters from time to time by activating the flashing light on its roof.  We reckoned the necessary skills and inspiration could be gathered for the weekend and, with the right combination of determination, idiocy and whimsy, there was always a good chance that we could pull it off.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

It's their party, and we all get chocolate, so be nice

I have something of a community service announcement here.

In past years I have noticed a propensity amongst certain of the non-believers amongst us to make light of the Easter festival.  Zombie carpenter jokes, and the like.

Yes, yes, it's all fun until someone loses an eye for an eye.

Listen up.  We don't make alien abduction jokes when Muslims are celebrating the night-journey of Mohammed.  We don't make refugee jokes when Jews are celebrating Passover.  And we certainly don't make Mazda impound jokes to Zoroastrians, for fear we'll be attacked by giant marshmallow men.  So, just because Christians seem able to take a joke doesn't mean it's OK to get up in their faces about it.

We all here in Australia benefit mightily from Easter.  Two public holidays, hot cross buns and Easter eggs.  You get all this without having to cross the threshold of any place of worship.

So let's keep it nice this Easter and not insult the beliefs of those who happen to justify these benefits for the rest of us.  I'm just saying it's not really all that funny when you consider that friends of yours take this stuff to heart.

Oh, and stay safe on the roads, people.

The perils of online editing

Some of my Facebook friends may have noticed some odd posts from me last night.  No, not the Pac-Man walkthrough that I posted and which was subsequently deleted from Uncylcopedia *.  [See UPDATE below!]  Just before that, I had found a cute cartoon depicting two ghosts exchanging the immortal joke: “Why did the ghost cross the road?” Answer: “To get to the other side”.  (Other Side!  Get it?!)

Unfortunately the format of the cartoon was tall and thin, and by the time Facebook’s compressor got through with the image, the text was illegibly tiny.  However, I was only able to detect this problem after posting the image.  Well, not one to be responsible for sub-standard Facebook buffoonery, I deleted the post and tried again.  Yes, I was insane, trying the same thing twice and expecting a different result: so I deleted that too and just thought I’d be done with it.

A few minutes later Mrs G leaned back from her computer and asked whether I’d mistakenly posted the same thing twice.  What?  I thought I deleted that!  Yet, when I checked my “Timeline”, there the two fricken things were!  So, before giving it much further thought, I deleted them from there too.  Then the paranoia set in.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Humble enough to listen

One of the things that I've always done is to be very tolerant of other views.  Actually, when I was in year 10 in Wodonga, I went even further, taking extreme adversarial positions that bordered on the absurd, just so that there would be an interesting discussion.  (My social science report from Mr Chalk ... yes, his real name ... actually mentions this as a criticism, because it was a tad disruptive.)

I've evolved a bit since then, to the point that I'm simply inclined to allow that other people have their own views, and that even if they conflict with mine, that's no reason to think less of them.  The most obvious example of this is the fact that Mrs G is a church-going Christian and I'm a committed atheist.  I don't see any sort of personal conflict in the fact that I helped her study for her reconfirmation of her baptism by contributing my knowledge of biblical history.

However, I can also be an intellectually arrogant person, an ugly trait that I've had for a long time.  Even though I know loads of people smarter than me it still gets a run around the block every so often.  One of the hardest lessons in overcoming that trait has been to appreciate the value of effective listening.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Enforced televisual abstinence

We moved into our house in Bendigo in December, and having moved house a few times, one of the things I've gotten into the habit of doing on the first day is finding and setting up the TV and all the other things that plug into it.  This time I also had to retune everything, because it's a whole new state.

You can imagine my confusion and frustration when, on its first pass, the tuner on the TV only identified six channels.  Not six signals which, with digital multi-channelling, represents something like a full complement of free-to-air channels.  No, six channels in full.  And even those were pretty unwatchable, with very weak signals.

As you do when you've moved into a house someone else used to live in and you find something sub-standard you didn't know about before, I looked sullenly at the ceiling and thought evil thoughts about the previous owners, and wondered what they had done to entertain themselves.  At this point I also recalled the satellite dish on the roof and the multiple points for plugging in decoders around the house.  Ah.