Saturday, October 23, 2010

That fetish

I'm feeling a little confessional this morning so I thought I'd tell you about one of my fetishes. It's about bags, I can't help myself, I just like bags. I know I'm not alone and I bet a fair number of you also share this fetish in one form or another.
First let me set your mind at rest, it's not a fetish for black garbage bags (go and google that one) nor is it a fetish for handbags. I confine my fetish to functional bags - a bag to carry my stuff to work or to carry around a camera or two. David Alan Harvey, of National Geographic fame, has a serious camera bag fetish. It puts my mild obsession to shame.
Years ago with me it used to be highly functional bags made of all sorts of high tech fibres, designed to stop a speeding bullet at ten paces and protect your camera from anything the world could throw at it. In the mid 1980s I remember buying a Tenba camera bag for, what was in those days, large sum. It was a great bag, not too deep, decent dividers, various pockets and padding. All in all a great bag, including its nondescript grey colour. The problem was it was made, I think, of an early version of Cordura and it wore its way through any fabric it rested against. Your clothes didn't stand a chance. A couple of years ago I dragged this same bag out of its resting place because I had a use for it. Unfortunately the waterproofing in the bag consisted of some sort of coating on the inside of the Cordura. This coating had parted company and disintegrated into a fine dust - the kind that is designed to penetrate - and stick to - every part of a camera or lens. That was sad because it was a good bag, nobody seems to make those shallow, minimalist sorts of bags any more.
More recently my fetish turned to Crumpler bags, first a Fux Deluxe messenger bag, then a variety of computer bags and most recently a computer knapsack. Whilst I really like the look and feel of an elderly, grubby, Crumpler messenger bag, they don't grab me like some other bags. Nor do they quite cut it in the "perfect work bag" stakes.
Now we come to my most recent fetish. Maybe it's something about the ageing process - mine not the bag's - but as I've got older I've come to value the qualities of "old fashioned" materials over the latest high tech carbon nano particle gadget bag. Enter bags by Billingham and others.
The thing about Billingham bags is that they're made of very old fashioned stuff - laminated canvas, cotton webbing and leather. They shouldn't really be effective camera bags...but they are.
Now the next problem with bag fetishes is size - I always seem to think I need a bigger bag than I do. My first Billingham bag was a 555, I can load more kit into that bag than I can lift! In fact I can't work out why I bought that bag. It's so big that nobody in their right mind would try to carry it. I use it as a container to lug stuff around in but I don't try to walk anywhere with it.
My next Billingham bag I decided was going to be a sensible size. I had to be able to carry it when it was full and it had to sit comfortably. "Buy a Hadley" they all said to me at the shop when I told them what I wanted. I tried the Hadley and decided it was too small. I tried the 225 - a great little bag - and decided it was too small. You can see where this is leading can't you?
I ended up with a 335, this is also a great bag, but you can never use the words "small" or "little" in the same sentence. You could take this bag away with you to Outer Mongolia for 6 months and carry enough gear for a professional assignment. A great bag...just not what I intended to buy.
Meanwhile my back's been getting creakier and my bags appear to be getting heavier. So off we go in the search for another bag. I've got to the stage that I don't tell my beloved that I'm bag shopping and I sneak the new purchases into the house hoping they won't be noticed. She's a very tolerant woman but my bag fetish is a bit much for her!
This time I went straight after the good advice bag - a Billingham Hadley Pro. It's a small looking bag but it takes a surprising amount of stuff. I can fit a Leica M, a couple of lenses, notebook, keys, passes, "first aid kit", pens, wallet, MacBook and various other cords, chargers, earphones and stuff. It doesn't weigh too much and it sits comfortably on my shoulder. When I went to buy it, they only had black. I didn't want a black bag, but I wanted a bag. So I bought the black one. It's actually turned out to be an inspired choice. It blends in and it doesn't look like I'm straight out of the British Raj. I just hope that it doesn't overheat in the summer.
Interestingly the bag tags didn't tell me what the material is, however on the Billingham site it says that black bags with nickel plated fittings are made of their new, synthetic, FibreNyte material. If it is, it's a great copy of canvas - it looks and feels just like their canvas.
Oops I realise in this exploration of my fetish I haven't told you about the important sub-branch - Pelican cases...never mind another day.
For those who are interested I'll work up some piccies of various bags to add later.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ears yet again!

Day 14 is drawing to a close. I've just had my first 24 hours pain free and that is a bit of a revelation. I'm hopeful that it's all plain sailing from here. I was surprised at how painful the procedure was and how long the pain persisted. Since about day 10 the pain has reduced and my reliance on painkillers has also reduced. If there was one thing I hadn't counted on it was the pain - ears are clearly sensitive!
The other unexpected thing was the infection. I suspect that suture removal at the beginning of day 4, may have resulted in the infection. By day 6 I had a substantial infection and that ultimately needed both oral and then IV antibiotics. I finished the course of antibiotics on the morning of day 13 and the infection had certainly cleared up.
Now whilst the ear is tender to the touch it is vastly improved and the outcome looks pretty good as you can judge.

Day 6, two days after the sutures came out

Day 14, well on its way to looking like any other ear

The one outstanding issue is loss of sensation. I've got a large area that runs up the back of my ear and over the top at the centre that has no sensation. As well the area inside the auricle above the graft is also without sensation and of course the graft itself has no sensation. I'm told that this will resolve but it is certainly unexpected and mildly unpleasant.
So really that's the story! The surgeon says I'll get improvement in the look of the graft over then next 2 to 4 months. I'm pretty happy with how it's looking now. When the last bits of serous scab resolve and the surface of the skin renews over the next few days it will look almost indistinguishable from the rest of the ear.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I spoke too soon

Not long after my last post, my ear began to get sore and tense, with some drainage. Saturday afternoon, AFL Grand Final replay day...not a great day to have problems. Nevertheless I toddled off to the Emergency Department at the local hospital. The doctor had a look and called the surgeon. Very quickly I found myself with a drip in my arm running in a dose of IV antibiotics. Next, a short trip across town and I found myself being admitted to hospital for more IV antibiotics, a dressing and observation.
Great care from everyone but not what I planned for Saturday night.
Hopefully this will start to run smoothly sometime or other!!

The ear update!

Today is day 8 and all of a sudden over the last 24 hours things have improved. I'd really got myself into a little black hole with the unrelenting pain. All from such a little procedure!
After the sutures were taken out on Tuesday the ear seemed to get worse not better. I was getting a lot of serous exudate from the graft site and it was very painful and swollen. On Thursday morning things started to get a bit mucky. It wasn't readily apparent that I had an infection but I took myself off to the doctor. His view was that it was infected and that this was also the reason it was a bit swollen and sore. He prescribed antibiotics and within 8 hours life had taken on a whole new meaning!!
It's amazing how release from a bit of misery makes you feel so much more positive and happy.
I'm now looking for a hat to "shut the door after the horse has bolted" as it were. I want something that I can wear with a suit or casually to protect my ears and face in summer without looking more like an idiot than I do now! Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ears and things...

Where's your hat? Stay out of the sun! I can remember my mother's refrain from childhood. I was a very fair skinned kid and sunscreens were really not available when I was young. Consequently I was regularly burnt and on odd occasions I developed sunburn blisters - unpleasant and painful.
As I've got older I've become increasingly obsessive about sun protection - hats, screen, sunglasses, long sleeves...The problem of course is that the damage is done. All that childhood exposure is now revealing itself in the way of solar keratoses, and various bits and bumps. The dermatologist removes them or freezes them off and I go away for another 6 months.
About 12 months ago I became aware of an area on the face of my ear that developed a small crust and wouldn't heal. The dermatologist gave it a blast with liquid nitrogen but it reappeared. A biopsy revealed a Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). These things are slow growing but can be difficult to completely remove. I was referred to a plastic surgeon. He said "you'll be surprised how extensive this is". I wasn't! By now it had stretched from inside the antihelix across the face of the ear and up to very close to the ridge of the helix. The decision was that it had to be surgically removed and a full thickness skin graft used to cover the defect caused by the removal.
The ear in question with the graft in place - day 5

The surgery was scheduled as a day procedure. When the time came I was placed on my back on the operating table and the anaesthetist gave me a sedative and a short acting narcotic painkiller through a canula, whilst the surgeon infiltrated my ear with local. I was aware of what was going on but the drugs prevented me from feeling the pain as the local was injected and made me happy to just lie there.
The procedure involved removing the neoplastic tissue and a 2mm margin around it. Then a full thickness graft was harvested from the groove behind the same ear. I could feel the pressure of the cutting, snipping and pulling as the graft was harvested. Then the graft was trimmed for size and sutured in place with lots of interrupted sutures using nylon. I chatted briefly to the surgeon while the graft was sutured in place.
Once that was done the ear and surrounding hair were cleaned up, the drapes removed and then I shifted myself from the table to the trolley to go back to recovery and then after a couple of hours off home.
My ear was numb from the local. As that wore off later in the evening the pain began. Initially the pain was from the donor site for the graft. It was closed with dissolving sutures and because it was quite tight it was very painful. It was reasonably easy to control the pain with Nurofen (ibuprofen) and Panadeine Forte (paracetamol and codeine). However I required regular pain relief every 4 to 6 hours and sleeping was a real problem. I could only sleep on one side and moving hurt - it's amazing how and where your face and neck muscles are interconnected!
The surgery was latish on Friday afternoon. The weekend required regular painkillers but it wasn't too bad. However the pain got worse not better! I removed the dressing on Monday morning as directed and showered as normal before going off to work. My ear was swollen and sore with areas of numbness where nerves had been compromised. The graft looked like something out of a horror movie and there was some bruising and tenderness in various areas. Enough to frighten small children and squeamish adults!
Monday was a big day and I was glad to get home after work for a nap. The pain on Monday night was worse and I spent a fair part of the night awake as I waited for various doses of painkillers to kick in. Part of the pain seemed to be from the swelling and part from the increasingly tight sutures. Early on Tuesday morning the surgeon took the sutures out which was a bit of an ordeal and left me pale and sweating. He cleaned up the graft and declared himself happy. He put a vaseline gauze and a simple dressing in place for 24 hours. After that he directed a daily soak and cleaning of the graft with saline followed by a smear of petroleum jelly to keep the graft moist and supple. I'm to see him in 16 days.
I managed almost a full day at work on Tuesday, despite feeling shaky and looking pale, I had lots that needed doing - the surgery having coincided with a critical stage in a big project. Finally in the late afternoon I had to give in to the pain and go home. Tuesday night was bad from the point of view of pain control. I woke on Wednesday morning, after limited sleep, feeling pretty crappy. I finally gave in to the inevitable and took the day off work. I hope that will let me get on top of the cycle of pain and sleeplessness.
I'm left feeling that I cannot for the life of me understand why people would undergo this sort of pain for cosmetic reasons. In my case the BCC had to be removed before it spread further. However I can't understand why people have facelifts, boob jobs etc. It's just too painful!
Secondly all I can say is: if you are young then please take care of your skin. This kind of procedure is painful, costly and despite the skill of the surgeon, it will never look like it did before.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The anti-Craigslist campaign and other stupidities

It may not be a big thing on this side of the globe, but in the US there is a major campaign against Craigslist. Broadly the campaigners claim that Craigslist provides a way for criminals to pimp and traffic young women for sex. By inference it appears that they believe that Craigslist does nothing to stop this trade, that it is widespread within Craiglist's listings and that the company is venal. We now have young women's advocacy organisations rejecting donations from Craiglist.
Meanwhile the Attorneys General of 20 States in the US have run a campaign to force Craigslist to close its Adult Services section. Note that it appears that there is no legal reason for Craigslist to do that. One assumes that if even one of those Attorneys General had the legal means to do so they would have taken action in the courts to force Craigslist to take action, Instead we have a campaign that has sought to harness public opinion against Craigslist.
It appears to me that we have the modern day version of the lynch mob chasing Craigslist and without sound reason.
The argument used is that Craigslist and other websites provide the ideal place for criminals to traffic young women, and that they are used by those people in that way. The anti-Craiglist lobby argues that the problem is huge. This quote (and the others to follow) is from a CNN news report:

"Nobody knows what the real numbers are," said Ernie Allen, the NCMEC's (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) chief executive. "I'm also confident that the internet has changed the dynamic of this whole problem. We're finding an astounding number of kids being sold for sex on the internet."

Allen said the best source of information on the number of underage girls being trafficked online are websites themselves. While online classified giant Craigslist shut down its "adult services" pages in early September, other sites like Backpage.com are filling the vacuum left behind, he said. And while there are clues in the way the ads are written, only a small fraction of them get referred to law enforcement or organizations like the NCMEC.

Let's be clear before we go any further that we all know that even one exploited child is one too many. That's something that I feel very strongly about. Equally I feel that in this case the advocates, and as we will later see, the law enforcement organisations are engaged in a massive stupidity. Bluntly they have forgotten that their job is to catch (or advocate for the right action against) the criminals who exploit children and instead have embarked on a campaign without evidence against Criagslist. My message to the NCMEC and all of the law enforcement agencies is this: If the problem is as large as you claim then you are simply lazy and not very good at your jobs. You are not doing your job, rather you are seeking to blame an easy target. When you have driven Craigslist from business you will not have made one single ounce of difference to one single exploited child. Not a single bit of difference.
The first sentence of the quote above gives us a guide to what is going on here. "Nobody knows what the real numbers are". That is the standard line used when there is no evidence. However that's not going to stop him or others. What that really means is that these people don't have a shred of evidence but they're still hell bent on their lynch mob tactics with respect to Craigslist.
Further on in that same report we get this:
"It's an outrageous thing to say, but one of our goals is to move these operators into some other illicit enterprise -- to get them out of the trafficking of human beings and into some other illegal business," Allen [CEO of the NCMEC] said.

Yes it is an outrageous thing to say. He's talking about the people that he claims are pimping young girls via sites like Craigslist. Similarly we have this:

In Atlanta, Georgia, one of the country's busiest prostitution markets due to its position as a highway and air travel hub, police and prosecutors witnessed the effect of the internet on the business of prostitution firsthand.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told CNN that eight years ago, law enforcement began a serious crackdown on the pimps that control most underage victims, until the pimps vanished.

"At that time, we saw a number of underage girls standing on street corners, and they were usually standing there because a pimp had placed them there," Howard said. "After we started our crackdown, we began to notice that the numbers became fewer and fewer, and we were wondering, 'What's going on?'

"What we found is that there was a wholesale transformation from young girls standing on the streets to those same young girls being sold through Craigslist and other internet vendors," Howard said. "That has put us in a terrible position, because much of the illegal sex activity now goes on almost undetected by the police. The numbers we believe remain the same, but what has happened is that they are now out of sight."

So when was the last time we heard about the need for law enforcement to move with the times? These guys are still stuck in a 1960s time warp. The world has moved on guys and the way you need to catch criminals has changed. Why is it that your definition of law enforcement is to run campaigns against legitimate businesses? Why are you too lazy to work out how to enforce the law with respect to the real criminals: the people who place the ads.
By all means if, in the course of doing your job, you arrive at evidence that Craigslist is breaking the law then prosecute them. They have no right to special treatment. But at the moment what's happening is that the law enforcement establishment is targeting Craigslist and allowing the real criminals to go on exploiting women unchecked. That's a shameful situation.
This campaign has moved to the point of mob hysteria is some quarters. A search of Twitter will turn up reams of increasingly bizarre posts lauding the campaign against Craigslist.
What really makes me angry is that all this effort is misdirected. Direct the energy to smart, effective law enforcement. Catch these people and imprison them. At the moment all this campaign is doing is diverting energy from the real actions that will help the young people who are being exploited. That's shameful.

PS: sorry about the formatting in this post...sometimes Blogger defeats me!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

iPhone 4 - Ho, hum

The title says it all really. We wanted another iPhone and it seemed pointless to get a 3Gs when the next model had already been released and the price point for a 3Gs was not that attractive compared to the price of the 4.
If you care about design, this is a nice looking piece of technology. The problem however is that it's too thin. If you have big hands then you'll like the old 3Gs better probably. It had a bulge on the back that fitted nicely into your palm and altogether it felt better to hold and use. What is good about the 4 is that it doesn't have the "slippery" character of the 3Gs - the tendency to slide off things and to be slippery in your hand. It's about a draw in my view: the iPhone 4 is designed to sit on a flat surface more than anything else!
If you're using a 3Gs with the latest iOS then you won't actually notice a lot different with the iPhone 4. Yes granted the phone is slightly, and I mean only slightly, quicker. It's not an "oh wow" thing though. It is just a tiny bit more responsive.
The screen on the 4 is however gorgeous. Indeed the screen is the one stand out on this phone. Without the new screen I'd say it was simply a nice revision of an existing product. But this new screen is very luscious. The retina display makes the task of using a small screen just that much easier and it looks delightful. I can't speak for all iPhone 4s but mine certainly has a greenish yellow cast to the screen. It reminds me of the 1980s Nikkor ED lenses. They had a very similar cast and it added a brightness and spark to photos taken with them. I can't tell whether the screen is supposed to have this cast, as mine does, but if it is supposed to be there then I bet it's about making the screen appear as good as it possibly can. The cast is strong enough that it is just barely acceptable. Whites certainly ain't white!
Speaking of colour casts the camera on the 4 is shocking under tungsten or fluorescent light. It simply doesn't know what white balance is. In daylight the camera produces nice photos, but under artificial light it's simply a shocker.
Now for the real cruncher: It doesn't keep the proper time! How hard is that? If you set the time to automatic it is always slow. Please don't give me rubbish about cell towers and carrier software. When sat alongside a 3Gs, using the same tower, it is always, always slow, as it is compared to a MacBook using a time server or any other item of timekeeping equipment. This and the camera and the screen colour cast, taken together, represent my biggest beef with this phone. It isn't ready for real life. Apple need to fix this NOW.
Other issues and problems with the iPhone 4 for me are:
  • In iTunes it repeatedly throws errors saying that it requires backups to be encrypted. I don't want my backups encrypted but iTunes with iPhone 4 won't backup at all for me without encryption turned on. When I turn encryption on that's it - I can find no way to turn it off again! What's that about? Also the whole issue of encryption passwords is buggy. I really don't know what my encryption password is because of some aberrant behaviour around setting and changing passwords. That is very bad in my view and requires an early fix from Apple. (iTunes 10.0 (67))
  • iPhone 4/iTunes 10 reject perfectly good provisioning profiles for beta software. I have one that's good for another month and it simply won't install the software.
  • The home button occasionally does nothing...that feels really buggy;
  • Battery life is NOT better than my old 3Gs. I used to barely get a working day from the 3Gs and I barely get a working day from the 4. That means say 6:00am to 6:00pm - it will often shut down on the way home. I religiously charge it to 100% every night but it simply doesn't last the distance. I use it all day every day at work with both private email accounts and several Exchange accounts as well as shared calendars. That's the way my life is and I suspect that's why the battery life is so poor. It isn't good enough though. I find myself obsessing about making sure I have a charger and USB cable everywhere I go. Not terribly useful;
  • Now this issue isn't an Apple issue but it really, really bugs me: On the 3Gs I had a great silicone case. It had, in addition to a cover for the back, a piece that covered the home button and a similar piece at the top and was thick enough to provide some grip and protection to the iPhone. The silicone cases I've seen for the iPhone 4 and the one I have are, in a word, useless. They are these little soft skinny things that seem more like a little black dress than a working item. They give the phone no protection, they come off when you pick up the phone or pull it out of your pocket. They seem designed only to show off the iPhone 4 in all its anorexic, super model skinniness. These are working tools not fashion accessories. Can't some manufacturer give us a decent silicone case that stays on and protects the phone? It's not that hard...you did it for the iPhone 3 so you know how.
So overall a pleasant upgrade to the iPhone but nothing startling and with some unresolved problems. I haven't had the death grip problem but its country reception is worse than the iPhone 3Gs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The resolution of the election

There's been a lot going on, so these are just some random thoughts about the (non) election which, whilst indecisive, I believe is all to the good. Already we've seen Tony Abbott in his true colours, first refusing to submit his policies to Treasury for costing and then, inevitably having to agree to do so. Why didn't he just agree in the first place? He looked very silly behaving the way he did: result shot in foot with own gun!
Julia Gillard on the other hand is desperate about this: she wants to "win" this election so badly she can taste it. By that I mean that she wants to be able to form a government. If I was her I wouldn't want to be the shortest lived Australian PM. It also appears that she isn't sleeping very well - she looks tired and drawn.
What we are seeing, despite the missteps from Abbott, is that both sides realise that this is the end of their picnic. They can no longer behave like they have been and expect the Australian public to cop it. I hope the independents keep whoever forms government on their toes. In this regard we want no backsliding.
The other thing we want no more of is Julie Bishop's heckling from the sidelines. As a deputy leader of a major party she has a very limited repertoire and none of it is either very useful or very flattering. My view is that she would do her party a great deal of good by learning a new repertoire that had some positives in it, which focused on what her party was going to deliver and how, and which stopped with the bagging of all and sundry. Enough already from you Julie.
Now to the "independents", Katter, Oakeshott, Windsor, Wilkie and Crook. This is where it gets interesting. The first three are tending to hunt as a pack, Wilkie has said he wants none of that and Crook has simply said that whilst he's a National he won't be on the coalition benches. Whilst Alby Schultz might claim that Crook has "done a deal with the ALP" I think we can be pretty certain that Crook won't help the ALP form government. There's the matter of the mining tax. Julia Gillard is in the position where she can't win on that: if she drops it Crook might well support her but a great big chunk of Australia will say "they've done it again, first the ETS now this". That would be pretty terminal in terms of public trust in the ALP. On the other hand Crook is on the record as saying he can't support the tax.
Andrew Wilkie may well be the first to show his hand, and maybe as early as today. Adam Bandt has already shot his bolt, saying very early on that he would support Labor. So the next cab off the rank is Wilkie. Ordinarily I would expect him to support Labor - that represents a win-win for him. He will keep the Labor voters happy in his seat and he will be able to exert independent leverage therefore keeping his own voters happy. However I suspect it is not that simple. Andrew has moments when he appears to be a zealot of the purest type. That being the case he won't do what appears logical to you or me. Watch this space.
As for the other three, whilst Bob Katter points out that the three state electorates within his seat all vote Labor and that his vote is personal rather than party aligned, I nevertheless believe that it will be hard for him to align with Labor. More importantly he is appearing to act as a bloc with the other two independents. Whilst he might want to align with Labor I think that Oakeshott may well be the stumbling block.
My guess, and that's all it is, is that we'll end up with a coalition government supported by the bloc of three. Please note Julie Bishop that has nothing to do with who got the greatest two party preferred vote or any other measure - all that's irrelevant. The only thing that matters is who can go to the Governor General and form a government and who can survive on the floor of the house. But I'm sure you don't get that - you show no public signs of doing so.
The next few days will tell and it will be interesting. What will be perhaps more interesting is whether, in the longer term, the independents and Adam Bandt can move beyond a pork barrelling mentality to understand that they have obligations to the whole of Australia and that they will be badly punished if they don't live up to them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What a (non) Result!

I went to buy fish at my usual place in Victoria Street, Richmond, today. As I walked in the Vietnamese guys who run the place were all watching the TV on the wall, Gillard was talking. They jumped on me and said "What was the result? You explain please. We don't understand". I thought 'well you're not alone in that boys', and tried my best to explain that there is no result and there won't be for a while. They love Labor, the shopkeepers along that strip, and this was a big disappointment to them.
Whilst there mightn't be a result there are some things that are clear:
  1. The ALP got what they deserved, they were a crappy, presidential style, failure of a government;
  2. We didn't give Tony Abbott a mandate - and that was on purpose - we don't like him that much either;
  3. Having said both of those things, the party most responsible for the result - whatever it is, and therefore the party with the greatest obligations is the Greens.
So let's work this through. I think that Australians showed a great collective consciousness. You couldn't have orchestrated this result if you had tried. It's basically a hung parliament and it's doubtful that any one party will get to form government in their own right. There's still water to flow under the bridge and there's still an outside chance that the coalition might just get over the line in their own right. I doubt it at this stage though. Therefore the Australian public has chosen to trust neither major party. A good call, and with certain caveats I think it's good for Australia.
That means a parliament with 4 independents of various persuasions and a Green. Adam Bandt won in his own right in Melbourne and more on that in a minute. Neither major party has the requisite 76 and probably won't get there. So whoever forms government needs at least some of those 5 votes in order to survive any motion of no confidence on the floor. And that's all that's required now to govern. One of those independents is new and took the seat from the ALP with Green preferences, he came from third spot in the primary vote to do it.
Here's the thing about Melbourne though: Adam Bandt's election is a sign of the yuppification of the seat and indeed you might argue that he typifies the local yuppy! A review of some of the booths is instructive. St Mark's Church in the heart of the yuppy belt of the electorate saw the Greens polling more or less double the ALP, over in Mooney Ponds it was line ball and in Elizabeth Street in Richmond, amongst the Housing Commission flats Labor won the booth. So it's not all clear cut. Adam won the seat in decisive fashion but the electorate did not uniformly vote for him.
The Greens more than any other party have delivered this result. They took votes from the ALP, they took a seat from the ALP and they have a commanding hold on the Senate - or will have from next July. That delay is a farce in itself.
The obligation that the Greens now face is to deliver not only warm fuzzy policies but good government. The stability of the Australian government will almost certainly rest with Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie - the new member for Denison who whilst not a Green in name is certainly a proto-Green.
Are they up to it? Are they up to the hard yards of being part of a government, a government with no clear majority? Are they up to grappling with the difficult, pragmatic realities of delivering to Australia in all the areas of government, not just the warm ones? I'm not belittling the environment by saying that, rather I'm saying that a solid economic and social support base is imperative if we are to have the choice to deliver on environmental needs. It's no coincidence that developing countries generally have poor environmental records and that stable financially sound governments have choices when it comes to good environmental management.
One thing's for sure: If Adam Bandt fails to deliver on his responsibilities for sound, stable government, then Gen X, Gen Y and the older yuppies will ditch him quick smart at the next election. They'll also run far and fast from the Greens in the Senate. Witness the downfall of the Democrats.
Happy days Adam, I hope you're up to it. We all rely on you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Whinge, whinge...

In mid-July Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone 4 would be released in Australia on July 30. I've come to a couple of conclusions since then: firstly his definition of "released" and mine differ; secondly Apple has become insufferably arrogant towards its customers.
What has Apple stuffed up this time around? Well let's try this for starters:
  1. They offered to keep us informed about the launch of the iPhone 4 if we registered our email address. I'd expect that they would email me to tell me about the upcoming launch and to tell me how to get my iPhone 4...if I wanted one. Instead they emailed me at 20:30 on 30 July...that's about 20 and a half hours after they "released" it. That's early notification isn't it Apple? And the email told me nothing useful.
  2. Right through the day that Apple say they released the iPhone 4 the Apple website said "coming soon". Was it released or wasn't it? Only at about the same time as the email did it change.
  3. When the Apple website changed to show it had been released the pathway that it sent you on to determine where to buy said iPhone petered out, with no actual advice on buying it.
  4. The Apple retail stores wouldn't talk to you on the phone about the iPhone 4, even after it had been "released" so you had no idea whether they had stock or not. As it happens it was largely "not".
  5. Attempting to order an iPhone 4 online led to the information that one would be available about 23 August...not 30 July.
What is apparent is that the iPhone 4 was available through the telco partners on the day of release, and it appears to have continued to be available there...but only on a plan. Some few were also available from the Apple stores on 30 July, but that seemed to be for show.
What appears to have happened is that Apple has left about a month for their telco partners to sell the phone on a plan, before they "really release" it to the general public.
Now you can be sure that Apple don't really care what you or I think about this. They are probably more concerned with the traffic jam in Cupertino, caused by the trucks bringing in all the money that the company is making! Whether you or I think they behaved badly is of no concern to them.
The thing is that the buying public have long memories. When Apple's long line of product successes deserts them, as it will at some future point, then the buying public will take the opportunity to twist the knife. What might otherwise have been a minor hiccup could well turn into a mass desertion. Why's that? I think that the reason is that Apple is progressively squandering the very strong base of consumer support that they have enjoyed. They are treating their consumers, their customers, carelessly and disdainfully. It will come back to bite them.
What should they have done? Two easy things would have kept me happy:
  1. For all those people who registered to receive an email: send them an email around 26 July saying: The iPhone 4 will be available in very limited quantities from Apple retail stores from Midnight 29 July, it will be available in greater quantities on telco plans from the same time. Apple recommends that you order your iPhone now, through our online store. We expect full stock levels from around 25 August;
  2. Place the same clear and simple message, prominently on their website 24 hours later;
  3. Allow the pre-registered people to order from 26 July through the on-line store for later delivery.
Problem solved, I'm not in receipt of instant gratification but I know where I stand.
Underlying all of this is another more interesting issue: Apple doesn't seem to have its supply chain in order. Not only can it not supply iPhone, it can't supply simple things. The new Magic Trackpad is reportedly "released" as well. The problem is I can't find anywhere in Melbourne with stock, including Apple's own shops. I'm not ringing all around Melbourne to find one, but the inquiries I have made in the logical places have drawn a blank.
So the consumer happiness issue would go away if Apple sorted out its apparent supply chain issues. If you release a product on 30 July then make sure you have stock and intend to make it generally available. The better alternative would be to announce a real release date and make sure you have sufficient stock to supply demand. It's not like you haven't had a chance to see the stock implications of iPhone and other new items. And as for no stock of a simple thing like the Magic Trackpad...really Apple that's just silly.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Project Information - Where to put it and how to use it?

I've had cause to think about the issues of managing projects without a LAN. Indeed managing any kind of business activity without a LAN requires a particular mindset.
If you think about project information it falls into a number of clear categories:
  • Control material - things like status reports, actions, issues etc. This stuff is both structured and requires formal control. In a LAN-free environment it lives in some kind of web-based project control tool. This kind of information is generally well understood and well catered for by projects and project managers;
  • Formal documentation - material such as requirements documents, reports, project plans. This material belongs in a document management tools - web-based. The tool should allow check-in, check-out with version management and fine grained access control. Again, this material is well catered for and well understood by project managers;
  • Semi-structured project information. This is the perhaps the most troublesome type of information. How often have you had a client or someone else saying "where do I find last week's status report?". You don't want them wandering around in the document management system and you don't want to have to continually email documents around. Similarly the endless questions about "what's happened about x this week?" can be more effectively answered by having that information in a central spot. It's this last set of information that is both the most troublesome for projects whilst being the least thought of in terms of management.
Clients, project owners, management and client team members are often very interested in progress, often in a qualitative fashion. It takes a lot of time to keep all the stakeholders up to date, particularly those with a voracious appetite for information.
Enter the wiki and blog. This is the right place to manage this sort of information. A really simple initial structure gets you off the ground. The master pager of the wiki has links to these pages:
  • Who's who? Many projects have a large pool of people that they deal with. Induction for new project members can be incredibly slow and time consuming because of the large number of people that they need to be aware of. Creating a Who's Who page and then encouraging all team members to keep it up to date can be a big help here. This is particularly important with the layer of people who are outside the team but very important to the project;
  • Status. This is the place for final copies of the weekly or monthly status reports. Once they are finalised a copy can be placed on this page to give interested parties access without needing to provide access to the DMS;
  • Documents. Every project creates "landmark" documents, whether it's a stage report, a Func Spec or a set of FAQs. These could be placed in a "public" section of the DMS. The reality is it's probably easier to put them on the wiki page. This forestalls the endless questions from project members like "can you send me a copy of...?".
  • Blog. Perhaps the least thought of capability is a blog. This is where project members can be encouraged to publish short snippets about small project achievements, activities for the day and planned future activities. It's a way of letting other project members and stakeholders know what you are up to.
Sitting alongside those pages you need some way of letting others know what has changed on the wiki or blog: either email or RSS feeds work well. Expecting interested parties to visit and check for updates is not very useful, you need to tell them what's happening.
Similarly the capacity to email items of interest into the wiki and to have attachments appear is also important. It creates an additional means of interacting with the system.
So here's what I'd like to know: Do you use wikis and blogs in projects? Do you find them useful? What specific tools do you use?
I've been using the Snow Leopard Server Wiki Server 2, I like it, it works well and it's very simple to use.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Election Campaigns and Musings

Deep into the second week of the Australian election campaign, I'm struck by the fact that we appear to have not one but two sub-par offerings from the major parties. Tony Abbott doesn't have it and doesn't get it, but he is busy promising us anything we want. Want a backflip on the company tax anyone?
Meanwhile Julia Gillard is promising to review, consult, plan, hold a forum and do anything but make a decision. In what passed as a debate the other night, the worm turned firmly against her every time she said something like "we'll work it through" or "we'll consult". The public are heartily sick of this current government's failure to deliver. There's a clear message out their Julia and if you want to win you better get it. Paraphrased the Australian public are saying: Just Fucking Do It! Sadly I don't think she gets it.
As for Tony, he wants us to think that he's moved into the 21st Century, he really does, he also wants us to think he's no longer a zealot. The truth is I suspect that Tony would be much happier back in 1955 having a cuppa with Jeanette Howard on his way to an Opus Dei meeting. Sorry Tony, the zealotry shines clear and bright about you.
The thing that troubles me is that old saying "you get the politicians you deserve". If that's the case then, as a nation, we've done something pretty bad to offend the Gods. These two are seriously not up to scratch. I find myself longing for an honest, straight shooting larrikin. Come back Bob Hawke...all is forgiven.
Seriously, next time you frown about a politician rooting his secretary, being seen leaving a gay club, abusing a waiter or using the wrong stamps on her campaign letters, I think you should pause. If what you think we need are seriously sanitised, one dimensional morons, then by all means run in on the attack. If you want people with no flair and no brains then by all means nod sagely when a carping opposition complains that some government member isn't married when they should be. If you want a set of decent innovative politicians then cut them some slack. Don't try to hold them to standards higher than the rest of the community and don't expect them to be colourless conformists. If you carry on like we've been carrying on the cut of our politicians can only get worse.
I'd far rather a politician who could identify a scumbag in the opposition and called it as he saw it (go Paul Keating) than the colourless lot we've got now.
Julia Gillard is doing her best to lose the election that is hers alone to lose. Maybe we don't want her, maybe we do...all I know is that it's a pretty sorry spectacle right now.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Apologies Dear Readers

I think I do owe you an apology. I've been incredibly busy over the last few weeks and so I've let the posting slip a bit.
What a few weeks it's been: Kevin Rudd off to obscurity; Julia Gillard in, via a very snappy coup; Lindsay Tanner calling it quits in Melbourne; a "deal" with the miners and announcements about asylum seekers from both sides of the fence.
The real interest for me though is the plight of Labor in Australia. In NSW they are simply rotten to the core and despite there not being any sort of opposition worth worrying about the NSW government is about to change. It will be an utter rout, a rout that will take a few years to claw back from.
In Victoria we're fairly likely to get a change of government as well. This government is not on the nose like the NSW government; they're not rotten to the core, they are however trailing in the polls quite badly. They backed themselves into a corner over the bushfires and the likes of Justin Madden have done them no good. Again there's no worthwhile opposition but it seems like people have decided it's time for a change. John Brumby seems sound but he has the charisma of a piece of roadkill.
The real game's in Canberra however, at least that's what federal politicians think! My problem with the current leadership of the Labor Party is this: if Kevin Rudd can be characterised as a wolf, then I fear that Julia Gillard is simply a wolf in sheep's clothing. The problem for the Labor Party is that they are pushing and shoving to occupy just the same ground as the Liberals. That's not new, but it's increasingly stupid. In image terms Labor used to be the party of the people, connected, earthy, left wing, brash and at times machiavellian. Just like a large disordered family really. The Libs on the other hand were haughty, austere and had strange accents: think Andrew Peacock and Malcolm Fraser.
The lurch to the right of both parties - the ascendancy of the "dries" over the "wets" in the Liberal Party, and the ascendancy of the right in Labor - has seen them stuck on the same dance floor. Not comfortable and indeed it makes the dance floor mighty crowded at times, hard to distinguish one from the other.
Meantime the Greens have taken up the space vacated by Labor, the inner cities are their's for the taking, the connected earthiness of Labor of old is now increasingly the style of the Greens. They look more and more like a chance in several lower house seats, not the least of those being Melbourne - Lindsay Tanner's current seat.
Here's my difficulty though: the Greens that I see around tend to strike me as power-hungry, inner urban yuppies. Not pleasant, not what I'm looking for in a politician. Bob Brown and the old guard of the Greens are genuine, on the money with their messages, but ultimately not a political force. The new Greens should not be mistaken for the old guard. The new Greens are politically savvy but they carry none of the really important stuff that the old guard does. They are Greens in name only.
Should the greens become a force, as they well might given the stupidity of Labor, they too will disappoint us as mere politicians, more interested in power than principles. That'll make 4 parties like that in Australia, because that's always been the case with the Nationals.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Melbourne, Melbourne!!

I love pictures and this picture tells a story. It's taken from the AIS data for Melbourne and Port Phillip. AIS is a system for ships that's like aircraft transponders. It broadcasts a range of data including course and speed, type of vessel and destination.
This picture shows why the Port of Melbourne is the busiest port in Australia. The green ships are all cargo vessels - most, but not all of them container vessels.
The most interesting "vessel" in this picture though is the little turquoise coloured vessel on the left of the picture near the word "Lara". When I interrogated that vessel it informed me that it had a speed of 124 knots and a course of 187 degrees. It also informed me that it was a "SAR aircraft" so that explains the speed I guess. It's very close to the position of Avalon Airport so I suspect some training is going on.

Healthy, Fast Food

You know the feeling, you've had a hard day at work, you're tired and you really can't be bothered cooking something sensible. The temptation to eat some fast food, some generally unhealthy fast food, is huge.
We've found a bit of a way around that though. The meal turns out to have several of the food groups, it's fast and it's low in fat. Our current specialty is a chicken burger, simple and healthy. We also do a steak sandwich a similar way and it's equally healthy.
Buy a couple of chicken breast fillets, some tomato and salad and some hamburger buns - wholemeal if you like and if you can find them.
Firstly deal with the chicken fillets. Trim off any fat and lay each fillet out on a cutting board. Take a very sharp knife and cutting parallel to the board make each fillet into 2 or 3 slices depending on size. This means that the pieces will fit into a burger easily and cook quickly. Marinate the chicken with your choice of marinade some hoy sin sauce, or soy sauce - whatever works for you. Light the barbecue and cook the chicken (see note).
While that's cooking split the buns and toast them, spread with some mustard, sauce or mayonnaise if you must, and add the salad and sliced tomato. When the chicken is cooked put it on the salad and put the other half of the bun on top.
This is a tasty and simple meal, total time from unpacking the shopping bag to sitting down to eat is about 15 minutes. Is it haute cuisine? Of course not but it's simple, quick and modestly healthy. You get some carbs, some protein, some reds and some green leaves.
Note: The barbecue that we use is very small and very simple. We only have a small outdoor deck on the roof, so we have very limited space for a barbie. The key to success is that it has a cast iron grill so any fat drains away and it has a closing lid which keeps food moist. Almost all of our meat is cooked on this barbecue, it keeps cooking smells out of the house and it's a great way to cook. Legs of lamb, steak, chicken, sausages, pork roasts all end up on the barbecue. Careful management means that you get food without all the bad charring that is so common with a barbecue but you still get the lovely smoky taste that you associate with a barbie. We particularly love a slow cooked leg of lamb. We use a very low heat, wrap the seasoned leg in foil and cook for a long time. It comes out lovely and moist and falling off the bone. Just brilliant.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Young Solo Sailors

A conversation sprang up here last night. My 22 year-old son said that he thought it was inappropriate that young people set off to sail solo around the world. Certainly at the age of 16. I told him he was a conservative old fart!
It got me thinking however. What are the rights and wrongs of allowing or more correctly supporting your child to go off and do something like this? Is it dangerous? Is it foolhardy? I came to a split decision and here it is.
Firstly I think many of the issues which kids face today have, at their root, the fact that we don't challenge our kids enough. I mean that kids don't face physical and mental challenges and they don't face controlled danger. Somebody described the kids of today as leading meaningless and insipid lives. I believe that that's true to a large extent. I also think that leads to kids seeking out their own challenges - often inappropriate challenges like violence and drinking.
The problem for parents, teachers and others is this: as soon as you support your children to take on challenges and risks you begin to worry!! It's inevitable, you care, you feel responsible and you worry. My personal view is that the worry is part of your job as a parent...it's your responsibility to work with your children to try and make sure that the risks are proportional and that they are equipped to manage them. It isn't your job to stop them taking those risks. Indeed as they get older the notion of "stopping" your children from doing something becomes simply irrelevant. They'll find a way. So you are much better being part of the process than a powerless bystander.
In short that means that I'm not against young people trying to sail around the world at the age of 16. It's not for every young person and I'm sure those parents agonise over it, lose sleep over it and worry more than I can imagine.
Part two is where I have problems however. I mentioned above, that I think it's part of a parent's role to make sure the risks are proportional. In the most recent case of Abby Sunderland the story is interesting. I'm not trying to judge either Abby or her parents in writing this - that's not my role. Rather it's to tell you how I think about it and I'd be interested to hear how you think about it.
Two things are of concern to me: Firstly in January - mid-summer in the Souther Hemisphere - in the area where Abby has been dismasted, the frequency of gales is less than 5 days per month. In July (the nearest month with data) the frequency of gales is greater than 10 days per month, the gale area stretches further north and the extreme limit of icebergs is also further north. Not by much, but by enough to now become an issue at her latitude. So we have over double the incidence of gales and added iceberg risk. (Data from Ocean Passages for the World). Ian Kiernan, a solo circumnavigator himself, has gone on record as saying that it's not the place for a 16 year-old to be in winter. I'd certainly hesitate to go there myself at this time of year. Too cold, too rough, too windy!!
The other issue is the choice of boat. In my view, it's no accident that many successful solo circumnavigations have been in S&S 34s. These aren't modern boats, they're not extreme in their proportions and they're not fast. They are however sea kindly, strong and safe. The Open 40 that Abby is sailing is a more extreme hull form, faster, designed for fast running and perhaps not as sea kindly. There's no doubt that they are perfectly capable of circumnavigating, many have. Indeed Mike Perham conducted his recent solo circumnavigation in an Open 50. But whether they are the ideal boat for a young solo sailor is in my view questionable.
So if I had to sum all that up, I'd say I'm heartily glad that young people like Jessica Watson, Mike Perham, Zac Sunderland and Abby Sunderland are having a go. I do have some questions however about planning and timing in some of the cases.
Whatever the case Abby will have had some experiences that will nourish her soul and her spirit for the rest of her life. Good on her.
What do you think?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pasta...Again!

You're getting a bit of cooking lately...it must be the colder weather!
Use the pasta recipe from the previous post to make some delicate tagliatelle or pappardelle.
Take two leeks, top and tail them so that you are left with the white, tight part of the leeks. Split them down the middle and then slice each half very finely - transversely. Throw about 25g of unsalted butter in a pan and gently sweat the leeks. You want them to be soft and translucent but not in any way browned.
Take 4 large, brown mushrooms, start at one side and slice them thinly, including the stalk. Add them to the leeks along with a dollop of olive oil and continue to cook on a low heat until very soft and well cooked down. There should be only a little moisture in the pan.
Put on your pasta water.
In another pan heat about 50ml of olive oil and add 2 finely sliced small, hot, red chillis and 4 anchovy fillets. Fry off until the anchovies disintegrate. Add 600g of chicken mince and cook on a moderate heat until cooked but still tender. Add the leek and mushroom mixture, and 3 finely chopped sage leaves, mix and cook on a moderate heat.
Put your pasta on.
Add about 80ml of pouring cream to the chicken and vegetable mixture, adjust the seasoning and mix through.
Drain the pasta. Take the chicken sauce off the heat and sprinkle a quarter of a cup of finely chopped broad leaf parsley onto it.
Serve the pasta and sauce with a bottle of good olive oil for sprinkling and some good grated parmesan.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Magic Pasta

This is a wonderful pasta dish. First make the pasta: put 500g of strong flour and 5 large eggs into a food processor. Pulse process until it comes together in a crumb. Turn it out onto a board and knead until it forms a silky dough. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and set aside at room temperature to rest for an hour.
After the pasta has rested process it through a pasta machine, making sure that it is well laminated. Then progressively work the pasta down to the finest setting on the machine. Once it is thin enough, use the die of your preference to cut into strips - tagliatelle, parpadelle or whatever you prefer.
Meanwhile take 8 or 10 leaves of cavolo nero and strip the leaves from the stems. Roll the leaves and cut into a coarse chiffonade. In a fry pan add a good dollop of olive oil, a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, six anchovy fillets and a finely chopped hot red chilli. Saute until fragrant and then add the cavolo nero. Put a lid on and braise for 20 minutes, you probably won't need to add any water.
Put on the water for the pasta and when it boils salt it and add the pasta.
Meanwhile steam two heads of broccoli until very well cooked. When it is well cooked crumble it and add to the cavolo nero along with 200g of finely sliced smoked salmon. Mix well and warm through.
Drain the pasta when al dente. Serve with the cavolo nero sauce, freshly chopped flat leaf parsley, grated parmesan, ground black pepper and a good olive oil to sprinkle on top.
Buon appetito.
Note: The word "laminate" may be alien to you when used with respect to pasta. In my view it's the key to getting good home made pasta. Maybe the real experts get to the same place another way, but if they do I'm not aware of it. Lamination is a simple process. Set the pasta maker on the thickest setting. Take pieces of dough and run them through. As they become wider fold the two sides together and put them through again. As they become longer fold the two ends together and put them through again. You need to put the dough through about 10-12 times. At the end the dough will have changed. It will now be durable and flexible, not like a biscuit dough as it may have been at the start. The dough should be about 1/3 to 1/2 the width of the pasta machine rollers and ready to be rolled thin. This is in my experience the way to get pasta that is delicate yet robust at the end of the process, when it's cooked.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Autumn


I've always had mixed feelings about Autumn. When I was younger - still at school - I disliked autumn because I knew that meant the rain was coming. We'd have to work outside on the farm in wet weather gear, we'd never be dry, and there'd always be mud. It would be like that until October usually.
I like summer, I don't like the searing heat of the really hot days but the milder days of summer are just right for me. Autumn has its own share of beautiful days but it means winter is coming. Shorter days, colder and (with luck) some rain. This year autumn has been like an Indian summer, the days have been warm and sometimes hot and the nights mild. We've had little rain until the last week or so.
For us it's also the time of the year when we can at last grow a decent garden. We only have a small rooftop area and so we plant in containers. The summer makes such an approach very inefficient in terms of water use so we have given up. Instead we focus on getting seeds and seedlings in as soon as the fiercest part of summer is over.
This year we're growing rocket, coriander, lettuce, cima di rapa, curly and flat leafed parsley, buok choy, cavolo nero, radichio, mint, basil and chives. I miss Italian winter vegetables, they're hard to get in the shops and they are closely connected with winter in my mind. So we're taking the opportunity to grow them for ourselves. It's pretty rewarding because the cima di rapa in particular is so fast growing. It germinates in a week and is ready to eat from about 40 days.
It also gives me a real feeling of satisfaction to wake up in the morning and to see the garden, the plants seeming to have grown overnight!
What's been particularly interesting is the lettuce. We planted mixed red and green lettuce. The green lettuce has been a pretty dismal failure but the red lettuce has really boomed away and we've had several lovely salads from it already.
Enough of the garden however. What's perhaps more interesting is that we have the winter parliamentary recess coming up and then sometime soon after that a general election. The incumbent government have done the impossible and despite their substantial majority and first term status it is a real possibility that they may lose the election.
The core issue for this government is performance - or a woeful lack of it to be exact. They're great at making announcements but they just can't carry through. They either try to deliver and completely stuff it up (the insulation program, the aboriginal intervention, the schools infrastructure program) or they simply fail to get off the ground - computers in schools anyone?
I think that part of the issue is that the Australian population is turned off by Kevin Rudd. He's shown himself as, by turns, querulous, ill-disciplined, incomprehensible and arrogant. Not a good mix I wouldn't have thought.
The question is: can we bring ourselves to vote for Tony Abbott? He is too right wing for many, he alienates women, he has the light of zealotry in his eyes and he just appears a little flakey across the board.
Still it will make for an interesting few months. That situation is made more interesting by a state election in Victoria due around the same time. So we have plenty of politics to keep us warm this winter.
Note: If you are interested in getting some Italian vegetable seeds then have a look at the Italian Gardener. They are the Australian agents for Franchi Sementi - a premier Italian seed producer. The range is excellent and the customer service is great. Give them a ring for great advice.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Golden Threads

Yesterday was the kind of day that often comes along in autumn and winter here. A high pressure system had parked over the top of us. When we arrived at the boat the fog was quite thick and there was a light northerly blowing - maybe 2-3 knots.
There were 11 of us on board for the day and as others arrived the fog started to slowly lift. We got underway and as we motored out we raised the yankee and the main. There was just enough breeze to keep us moving very slowly but there were large glassy patches as well with no wind at all. So up went the big asymmetric, our speed picked up slightly and we trickled away to the east nearly close hauled!
The wind was pretty fitful. It had gone to the east as we got underway and it came and went. It was the kind of day where the helmsman could both steer and trim the asymmetric. The crew settled on deck and down below, chatting, lazing and generally chilling out. This was a very special crew. The links were long and deep.
Reaching the eastern side of the bay we tacked and again came as high as we could, following the lifts along the edge of the bay. The wind freshened slightly and a fog bank well to the south made the air slightly chilly. We tacked again and headed southwest, this time with eased sheets. The breeze was still only 5-7 knots, a gently zephyr. We brought food on deck and ate as we chatted and sailed. Finally we eased sheets even further and headed for home.
I came back to the dock feeling happy, and deeply contented. Connections do that to you.
Nearly forty years ago, in my second year in high school, my parents sold their house and moved to one far extremity of the country. We bought a block of land and lived in a tent and caravan whilst we built a house. It rained, and rained then rained some more. I was one of those children who felt very keenly any difference from my peers and living this way was pretty different. I also disliked school intensely.
The thread of gold in this situation was D, he was one of my new teachers and he was the first teacher who had ever treated me like an individual and a real human being. We called him by his first name. He taught me to sail, to canoe and generally how to live as an adult. He trusted us deeply. The only time I, or anyone else, ever heard him raise his voice was when I clowned around and knocked all the freshly cooked sausages - our camping dinner - into the dust. The response was short and pithy!
They were golden years. We would go sailing every Thursday afternoon, sometimes not returning until Friday morning - going direct to school. We had fun, we learned stuff and we began to grow up. D had a wonderful capacity to get alongside young people and to challenge them to learn and develop. He was well educated, had impeccable manners and a ready sense of humour.
D, his wife and two small children, lived for a start in a school house behind the school. Out the front of the house was a 28 foot yacht which D was building. The lucky amongst us were recruited as labour on the project.
I left school and moved a long way away, later I moved to another country and still later shifted to a new city in that new country. Nearly 30 years passed until someone told me that D's son, T, lived in the same city. I had first met T when he was about 3 years old and hadn't seen him at all in the intervening time. We began to sail together and I renewed my contact with D as he visited T.
We attended T's wedding, he and I shared rough and windy Bass Strait crossings and we sailed together when the opportunity arose. Each time D and his wife visited we'd get together and try to do some sailing. It was a satisfying thing, sailing on our boat with the person who taught me to sail. D was now retired from school teaching but still working incredibly hard as a sailing coach.
Yesterday our crew consisted of my wife and I, our daughter and her friend, D, his wife, T his wife and their two sons and another great sailing friend of ours. We talked and learned from each other, I realised that much of my seamanship - such as it is - was learned during that time with D as a child. We remembered scary incidents and I realised, perhaps for the first time how D had gone out on a limb, probably often, to let students take the risks that they need to take to grow.
This connection is one of the longest in my life and it's one of the golden threads that connect me to who I am.
It was a very satisfying day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jessica Watson - The Picture!

This snap, taken at 9:19 am local time today, shows the current position and course of Ella's Pink Lady. She's the "purple" vessel almost directly off Curl Curl on a NW course.
So close!!

Economic Inefficiency

Imagine that you are a coal buyer, a ship owner or just someone who is affected by the cost of coal or the sale of coal. The picture above (which was a snapshot made at 8:57 am today) tells a story of your pain.
Each of the green squares represents a ship at anchor. Each of the green "ship" shapes represents a ship moving. The "moving" ships in amongst the anchored ships are likely to be either coming to anchor or getting underway.
That picture is not unusual and shows at least 21 ships at anchor off Newcastle. They're waiting their turn at the Newcastle coal loader!! Every hour that a ship sits at anchor costs someone something. Ultimately the cost of steel or power is increased because these ships are sitting idle. This goes on week in, week out. There are always ships at anchor off Newcastle simply because there is insufficient coal loader capacity.
The other "cost" is that each and every one of those ships is at risk of being driven ashore in a gale (think Pasha Bulker), a fact that the ATSB commented on in their report on the Pasha Bulker. So there is an environmental risk to them sitting out there like that.
My question is this: Why, with historically high commodity prices for a number of years (despite the hiccup of the GFC), has Australia not invested effectively in the infrastructure to enable it to efficiently export its product? Why does the ACCC continue to allow a monopoly situation with the Newcastle coal loader?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jessica Watson's Position

About 2 hours ago, at 10:42:01 UTC, Jessica was at 33.94 degrees south 151.81 degrees east, she was on a course of 017 degrees and doing 3.6 knots.
For those without the means to decipher that, that position is about 25-30 nautical miles off the coast near Sydney and a little south of the harbour - roughly between South Head and Botany Bay. That UTC time is 8:42:01 pm Sydney time.
Home soon!!
An update on Saturday morning:
During the night, Jessica sailed in a NNW direction to a position about 10 miles to seaward of Palm Beach. Then she turned and began sailing back along her course! It must be frustrating for her playing this waiting game! At 19:08:04 UTC she was a 33.65 south and 151.62 east, on a course of 148 degrees and at a speed of 4.4 knots. That position is about 12 or so miles off the coast and only just south of her most northerly point off Palm Beach. With the wind offshore as it is, Jessica will be able to smell the land. That's one of the things I always remember about making a landfall - smelling the land for the first time.
I imagine that Jessica will quietly trundle SE during the morning and at some point around 9:00 local time begin her run into the harbour. What a great achievement!!!

Misery, Distress & Disappointment

Increasingly in places like the UK and Australia it seems that the voters are prepared to give the government of the day a fair shot at it. In NSW a Labour government has been in power for 13 years. Ditto in the UK where the conservatives have just come to power. John Howard and the Liberals (conservatives for those overseas) were in power here for 11 years.
That means that over a period of time the country (or state) moves towards the direction of the party in power. I mean that in an institutional sense. Appointments of judges tend to reflect the political persuasion of the day, laws and policies reflect the ideology of the mob in power.
When governments change we, the voters, expect that the new mob we elect will stamp their mark on the country. In so doing the pendulum, which may have swung too far one way, now gets the opportunity to swing back the other way.
What it also means is that governments can expect voters to support them as they make those changes. Voters in Australia do not vote a party in. Rather they decide they've had a gut full of the mob in power and, if there is a half reasonable alternative, they throw them out.
That brings us to the current mob. They came in - on one of those moments of change - with a sizeable majority. That's normal and expectable. But that's where the fun ended. They've proved, in their first term to be a massively ineffectual disappointment.
Here's why:
  1. Instead of carving a path, and delivering on it, they've inherited that Howard era sin: they've sniffed the wind at every step and sought to follow a path that they think will displease the minimum number of people. In so doing they've made no meaningful change to the way the country runs and displeased the majority.
  2. They have demonstrated an utter incapacity to deliver on anything. Computers in schools? Emissions trading and climate change legislation? The NT "intervention"? The insulation scheme? Meaningful and humane changes to asylum seeker policy? NAPLAN - a shambles? Health reform - nothing to show except words? All trumpeted loudly and all not delivered on.
  3. A massive belief in their capacity to "spin" anything. To the point that the Prime Minister speaks only gobbledegook. The only person who comes close to speaking in a straightforward manner and giving the news, good or bad, is Lindsay Tanner. By the way Lindsay, don't think that's a compliment - it's not, you're simply better than your colleagues.
  4. An arrogant failure to understand the political imperatives of an unfriendly senate. If you want to implement things then you'd better do your deals before you go mouthing off in public and alienating the people you need to pass your legislation.
What it amounts to is a massive and unacceptable failure. We get a Labor government less than twice a generation. My son was born during the Hawke/Keating years and became a voter in the Howard years.
What right do you, Kevin Rudd, have to fail your country in such spectacularly miserable form? Where is the tough team of reformers that you need in order to make real change? Where is the self discipline and humility that delivers real leadership?
Just for completeness: I acknowledge that Australia has weathered the "GFC" remarkably well. I don't give you much credit however. I think the credit goes to Ken Henry and Glenn Stevens (although Glenn's too quick on shifting rates) and our mineral resources.
Just as a bit of a score card. Here are the nearly-competents:
  • Lindsay Tanner - at least he seems to nearly speak his mind and he has got one;
  • Greg Combet - It's a pity he's relegated to cleaning up other peoples' messes;
  • John Faulkner - It's a credit to John, strangely, that the Defence portfolio has gone silent since his arrival. Things must be working;
  • Stephen Smith - dull as ditchwater, but maybe that's a good thing in a foreign minister. At least he appears to be a safe pair of hands;
Here are the failures - at least the most obvious ones:
  • Kevin Rudd - Start delivering, that's all, stop spinning, stop being arrogant, and start delivering;
  • Nicola Roxon - A term as health minister and we've seen what change precisely? What is the benefit of your latest excursion into health funding exactly? If you can't articulate it then why are you bothering?
  • Jenny Macklin - You're a nice person, but the aboriginal population need more than a nice person. Deliver some real change in those communities Jenny and stop trying to take everything over;
  • Wayne Swan - The Henry review, the opportunity of a lifetime, and the response from you is a great big fail. As for the mining super-tax, who haven't you alienated?
  • Julia Gillard - you have delivered what Julia? What precisely? And attended by what ructions and disharmony? We expect much more.
  • Peter Garrett - as a government minister you make a hell of a good singer. To the backbench and soon.
So Kevin and team. Are you going to be the ones who do the impossible? Are you going to be the ones who lose an election, after one term, to Tony Abbott? I mean losing to Tony Abbott for goodness sake - you'd have to really be trying to do that. But that looks like where you are going right now.
Or are you simply going to shrink your majority to a wafer thin irrelevance and lose a few more senate seats in the half senate election so that you can achieve even less in your last term than your first?
Or are you going to stop trumpeting announcements and then failing to deliver on them? Are you going to get fair dinkum, in the way Hawke and Keating were? In the way John Howard did? Are you going to deliver real reform and real change?
If not you might as well go at the next election because you are failing to deliver what we elected you for.
That is such a bitter, bitter realisation.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Political Extremism?

This week Liberal Senator, Cory Bernardi, wrote here that the "burka" should be banned. I understood by the way that the anglicised spelling was burqa.
Bernardi had two points:
  1. That the burqa is increasingly being used as a disguise by bandits and that it also creates two tiers of "identifiability";
  2. That the burqa is "repressive" and "un-Australian"
Let's take these points one by one. I have no evidence one way or another for the "[burka as] the prferred disguise of bandits and n'er do wells", as Bernardi asserts.
On the basis asserted by Bernardi you could also ban the wearing of scarves, bandannas and a range of other items of clothing for "security". Indeed if as Bernardi asserts, "the burka separates and distances the wearer from the normal interactions with broader society" then there is good argument for banning the wearing of any clothing that differentiates one wearer from another. We could reasonably take that to banning the wearing of all clothes. Really it's quite silly and not to be countenanced. It falls into the same basket as the Government's proposed Net Nanny filter. The utterly wrong response to issues best managed otherwise.
To the second point, Bernardi asserts as follows:
In my mind, the burka has no place in Australian society. I would go as far as to say it is un-Australian. To me, the burka represents the repressive domination of men over women which has no place in our society and compromises some of the most important aspects of human communication.
This is now starting to become overtly xenophobic, jingoistic and not terribly rational. Firstly let me be clear that I have no idea what the Qu'ran says about wearing the burqa, and to me that is not an issue here. But Bernardi draws a bow too far when he asserts that "To me, the burka represents the repressive domination of men over women". It's fine that he should feel like that, but not that he should urge change in public policy on the basis of how something makes him feel. How does he know that it's repressive? Has he ever spoken to a diverse group of women who wear the burqa? Does he know why they wear it? Does he know if they are forced to wear it or choose to wear it?
Next we get to the very heart of the matter. Bernardi goes on to say:
Perhaps some of you will consider that burka wearing should be a matter of personal choice, consistent with the freedoms our forefathers fought for. I disagree.
New arrivals to this country should not come here to recreate the living environment they have just left. They should come here for a better life based on the freedoms and values that have built our great nation.
Which values and which forefathers are those Cory? Are they the Afghani camel drivers who opened up the interior of Australia? Perhaps they are the Italian prisoners of war who chose to come back and settle here after the war? Perhaps they are the Vietnamese boat people who came here in the 1970s. Or perhaps it was the thieving Irish convicts sent here by the British government in 1788.
Get over it! Australia is a culturally diverse country. Bernardi's rant is simply ultra-conservative xenophobia. If he feels uncomfortable about women wearing burqas then perhaps he should do something about his discomfort rather than seek to change others.
As a final aside, if we all applied Bernardi's standard "I feel that it's..." then a bucket load of changes in clothing regulation would need to be made. Here's my (tongue in cheek for the most part) list, tell me yours:
  • Police should get rid of their weapons, it makes me feel like the State is repressing me and I feel uncomfortable when I see them;
  • Catholic clergy should get rid of their clerical garb - it's become the symbol of an organisation ridden with paedophiles;
  • Judges and lawyers should get rid of their robes and wigs, they are a sign of 18th and 19th century legal repression;
  • Politicians should be banned from wearing budgie smugglers - they make me feel really uncomfortable - and no I don't intend to see anyone about that. Just lose them!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Medical and Surgical Safety

Patients expect that when they are treated by doctors, they will be helped not hurt in the process. This is particularly true in developed countries with sound health systems.
Throughout the world however there is evidence that patients can be hurt by the medical care that they receive. There are obvious outliers - such as the current manslaughter trial of Dr Jayant Patel in Queensland. In that case the legal authorities have determined that Dr Patel has a case to answer. Fortunately such cases are rare, and all the more unfortunate because of it.
Of more concern is the day to day occurrence of death or adverse events due to medical care. Most health jurisdictions in Australia have instituted measures to improve the performance of health care. Examples include The Australian and New Zealand Audit of Surgical Mortality. These are good initiatives, they focus on understanding causes and providing educational support to ensure that standards of treatment improve. The Victorian regional section of the ANZ audit, VASM, has only recently begun and is still gathering momentum. Nevertheless the 2009 report has already generated useful data, particularly a suggestion that venous thromboembolism prophylaxis could be improved. In simple terms that's preventative treatment to reduce the number of blood clots that can cause problems after surgery.
Numerous other initiatives are underway and some of these highlight the systems nature of health care - it's not just individuals that influence care outcomes but the structure and function of the system in which they work. These are also important initiatives.
There are however at least two other linked issues worthy of consideration:
  1. As a "health consumer" I have a right to determine, within sensible limits, who I choose to undertake a procedure;
  2. Evidence suggests that publication of performance of individual clinicians leads to enhanced performance.
Let's look at these to points. If I seek to choose a surgeon, to operate on, for instance, my back what are the sort of things I'd want to know? In my case I'd like to know things like:
  1. Does he/she regularly undertake this specific procedure?
  2. How many has he/she done in the last 12 months?
  3. What proportion of adverse events has he/she had in this procedure in the last 12 months and over longer time periods?
  4. What outcomes has he/she achieved from this procedure over time?
This isn't a comprehensive list however it does start to focus in on the particular clinician's appropriateness to undertake the specific procedure. There is strong evidence linking frequency of undertaking a given procedure to the achievement of good outcomes.
Of course there is then the question about the likely outcomes for me, given my specific condition. That question for me comes after the question about who is appropriate to see for my condition.
I cannot know these things publicly in Australia at the moment, I cannot see how doctor X compares to doctor Y. This data is not published. This despite evidence that such publication leads to improved clinician performance. This makes it difficult for me to act as an informed consumer and is in my view an area that requires urgent change. I acknowledge that my doctor will have to fully inform me of risks, side effects and outcomes so that I can make an informed consent. This doesn't provide me with comparative data however.
As a side note I also wish to know about the performance of the hospital in which the procedure is to be undertaken. This will also have a bearing on my outcome and is therefore important information.
So my question is, when are we going to bite the bullet in Australia and publish outcomes data for all clinicians performing procedures and all hospitals in which those procedures are conducted? It is only then that I can be a fully informed consumer and only then that, as a society we can reap the benefits of the performance improvements that would likely follow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jessica Watson - The Last Slog to Sydney

Well Jesse again came through the rotten weather of the last few days with flying colours. She's now somewhere off the eastern mouth of Bass Strait it appears from her website. Unfortunately the weather isn't going to be too kind. Here's this morning's MSL analysis chart from the BOM:

Those headwinds that Jessica has talked about in her blog will go around to a nice beam or broad reach for the next day or so but then the inevitable will happen - another front. I guess the only question is whether it forges straight through like the one that's currently east of Tasmania or whether it gets pushed away south by those two highs as they move across the country. Either way probably some more headwinds in 36 to 48 hours.
Jessica's support team is predicting that she won't be in Sydney until Saturday 15 May. That's a slow trip by any standards as she only has about 500 nm or less to go. Jessica sounded pretty laid back in her blog so she doesn't think it's a race either.
In fact I'd be guessing that she'll get a little frustrated over the next few days, jilling around at sea when she could be at home...