Friday, 31 October 2003

Walking on Air

[travel] The Huon was cold and rainy for most of our two weeks there—snowing, even, up on Sleeping Beauty. There was a bit of reasonable weather one afternoon though, so my parents suggested that Jane and I grab the chance to visit the Airwalk, a new tourist attraction down at the Tahune Forest Reserve that's been a big draw for the area. Tahune was a popular spot for picnics and school excursions through my childhood. It's a few miles from Farmhouse Creek, scene of a major 1980s conservation campaign.

The two of us drove down in their brand new Polo, along the swollen Huon River, through Franklin and Castle Forbes Bay and Geeveston, and up the Arve Road towards the Hartz Mountains and Tahune. Signs directed us into a carpark before we reached the river at Tahune, and a new visitor centre stood where five years ago there was nothing. While we were buying our tickets one of the staff asked us where we were from, for their visitor survey.

"Edinburgh, at the moment," said Jane.

"But I'm originally from here," I added. "I used to visit this place all the time when I was a kid."

"That's what everyone says," smiled the ticket-seller.

We wandered down to the river—the Huon, still, but much smaller here—and over the bridge, now closed to vehicles. Signs pointed us up into the forest to the start of the Airwalk, a fragile walkway weaving through the treetops on giant metal stilts.

The trees dwarfed it. River gums and rainforest surrounded us, exhaling their reviving oxygen in the plant-to-human equivalent of mouth-to-mouth. The views of the river and the mountains in the late-afternoon sun were as fine as ever, but the sensation of being suspended above the trees and ferns was something new.

The best of it, though, was when the walkway branched off to a cantilevered dead-end that jutted out over the water and pointed to where the Picton joins the Huon; a sight I'd never seen.

Back in the car, I peeled an apple and divided it up slice by slice, staring idly at the large crow perched in a blackwood in front of us. He, in turn, was staring at us, and at the apple. Soon he was joined by another; and then a flock of them—a murder of crows—all waiting to murder that apple.

Jane held the core at the ready; then pressed the window button. A blur of horny beaks stabbed at the gap the moment it appeared. She barely escaped with her fingertips.

We drove out of the forest, down to the rural surroundings of Geeveston—quiet, now, at the end of a cold Tuesday. On the other side of town, as I was doing about 80 km/h, a ute went past, and—


—a log fell out of its tray and went right under our driver's side wheel. No time to swerve, or do anything except run over it—it all happened in an instant. See/process/react/too late/bang.

I pulled over. Another car stopped behind us, and its driver retrieved a bit of plastic that had broken off our car—some part of the bumper. "That guy's a fuckin' idiot," she said; "He should have had it tied down properly."

She didn't hang around, though. By the time we'd picked the log up off the road to stop anyone else driving over it, she was gone.

Fortunately—against all my years of mounting urban cynicism—the bloke in the ute did the decent thing and came back, even though he could easily have done a runner. He crouched down in his orange overalls to inspect the damage, looking relieved that it wasn't worse.

His ute had a load of firewood in the back. There was a tarp and a rope over it, but it was stacked up high behind the cabin, leaving the tray half-empty and the wood over-balanced. A log had fallen out as he took the bend.

I was still in that strange state of calm that descends after an accident when you realise you're still in one piece. I rustled around in the car for a pen and a scrap of paper to write our contact details on, and for him to write his.

"You do it, mate," he said, "I can't read 'n write too good." He gave an address a mile or two away, and an old Huon name.

He was insured, luckily, and the damage didn't seem too bad: a dented rim on the right front wheel, a wheel alignment perhaps, and only the plastic bumper unit broken, not the panels or paintwork. These new cars are full of sealed parts, though, where a minor ding means replacing the lot. He might be out a few hundred bucks, I figured, as we finally drove off.

Only as I drove did it sink in that if the Polo had been a few metres ahead—if we'd left a few moments earlier; if we'd eaten our apples faster; if I'd pulled out of the Arve Road intersection a few seconds quicker—that log would have gone through the front windscreen at a net speed of 160 kilometres an hour right into my head.


[net culture] Kathleen of Planned Obsolescence on weblog boundaries and knowing where to stop.


Wednesday, 29 October 2003


Melbourne, September 2003

I made this graphic a week ago with every intention of continuing my "What I Did in Australia" series, until I realised that what I did in Melbourne was not much. Not much that any of you wonderful readers would find entertaining, anyway. Of course I did a lot during those two days last month—oh yes. So much that I had no time even to catch up with one of you wonderful readers (or at least, couldn't be stuffed walking from Lygon Street back to West Melbourne at the end of the afternoon, ahem). But shopping for clothes and shoes and DVDs and not CDs because they cost the same as here and not books because they were more expensive than here does not a satisfying entry make. And there aren't many photos from those two days that weren't of family or friends, apart from these typical Fitzroy and Collingwood scenes.

A few things had changed since we left. Federation Square is finished. A couple of large office blocks now overshadow the Greek cakeshops on Spencer Street. Genevieve's on Faraday Street is gone, and Brunetti's has ripped out everything behind the heritage facade and expanded into a big gleaming cake-and-coffee production line. I'd have opened a Brunetti's Two around the corner, myself.

But it still felt pretty much like the Melbourne we knew. Two years away isn't that long.

Next in this series: I completely fail to write anything about Tasmania because it dredged up too many emotions about home and life and change, and I'd need to write thousands of words to do it justice. Or, more precisely, I need longer to mull it over than the post-a-chunk pressures of blogging allow. Or it's all just too personal, and skirting around the private details while trying to get at the essence and weight of it is a daunting task, in a month filled with daunt.

I don't know. Wait for the novel. (Ha.)


Auld Balti

[uk culture] Edinburgh is Old; or, as the local vernacular has it, Auld. The castle is one and a half thoosand years old, Holyrood Abbey nine hundred years old, the university four hundred and twenty. Every second sign on the Royal Mile goes on about how old everything is. Even souvenir shops stress their Auld and Antient Nature, as they tout their Auld Traditional Jimmy Hattes.

So it was no great surprise to see, from the windows of a bus I don't often catch, a curry house claiming itself to be "One of the Oldest and Finest Indian Takeaways in Edinburgh".

How old would that be, I wondered. Does it date to the Victorian days of the Raj? To the fading days of empire in the 1930s? Or just to the wave of subcontinental immigration in the 1950s and '60s?

I looked down to the caption underneath: "EST. 1990".

Thirteen years. Thirteen. There are curry houses on the Gold Coast older than that. I've eaten pappadums older than that. That's not old by Auld Reekie standards, that's old by Old Navy standards.

Man, those health inspectors must be harsh.


Friday, 24 October 2003

[weblog] I'm still updating the feed, which it makes it the first proper links blog I've run in years. Next year, a sideblog? Who knows. Here are the links from the few weeks since I got back:

I own 43, 38, 36, 32, 21, 20, 16, 8, 7, 5, 2, 1 and haven't sold them yet · jill/txt: click here to pat back · How America was double-stuft · I hereby claim the word 'hurriance' by right of forfeit · Guardian: The 40 greatest British bands today · If you run a blog using MT, you need this · Public, private, secret · Open Source Democracy by Douglas Rushkoff · Gelernter on email · Postcards of 1970s Swedish pop groups · Philip Pullman on kids' writing and reading · Tantek's Mid Pass Filter for IE5Win CSS · DON't BID! I dont care! · Elliott Smith six months ago · Very nifty colour picker for web designers · Restoring a Victorian house in grand style


Thursday, 23 October 2003

[uk culture] A Metro headline which must be shared with the world: Day of High Drama as Llamas Harm a Farmer.


Wednesday, 22 October 2003

The Feast of Stephen

[uk culture] December approaches, and with it the workplace Christmas meal. After a meeting on Monday we came up with some potential restaurants, and the e-mail negotiations have now commenced. Thai? Mexican? Organic? Or, since we're a Scottish Centre and all, should we go Scottish?

Poised delicately between two cultures, I imagine the possible menus.

Oatmeal Gruel
Haggis wi' Neeps and Chips
Sorbet (Irn-Bru)
Roast Sleekit Beastie
Banoffee Pudding
Cocktail saveloys on toothpicks
Pie and sauce with chips
Sorbet (Victoria Bitter)
Roast Lamb with peas & spuds;
or, Wombat
Barbecue Shapes
More VB


Tuesday, 21 October 2003

[journal] Heading north on the B709 in the Scottish Borders, Sunday afternoon.

The Innerleithen-Edinburgh Road in autumn

We followed that rainbow for miles. Not long after this photo it turned into a double bow, and eventually formed a full arc across the hill in front of us. As we got closer to Edinburgh we saw even more, some of them with ends as clear as if they'd been signposted; the rainbows passed behind the trees ahead of us and in front of others in the middle distance, turning them red and green.

Here's another.



[film] Although it was annoying to be left hanging at the end of Kill Bill Vol. 1, I can understand Miramax's decision to release it in two halves. After having Uma Thurman chop the heads and limbs off dozens of crazed yakuza, what could be more appropriate than chopping the end off the movie?

They missed the perfect finishing touch, though. They should have wired up the cinema sprinklers to trigger when the credits rolled and shower the audience in blood.

Saw the excellent documentary Spellbound last week as well, and now my dreams are rife with Uma in yellow jumpsuit hacking her way through two hundred and thirty-nine precocious schoolkids saying "I-am-a-mu-si-cal-ro-bot-you-call-that-spel-ling?"


Friday, 17 October 2003



Dep EDI 13 Sep 2003 06:30 AM, Sat

The best way to start your day—especially a thirty-hour-long day—is with a hearty breakfast, and what more heartening breakfast is there than an omelette with tomatoes, mushrooms and bacon on the side? Unless it's been schlepped into an aluminium tray, steamed in its own juice, and served up with a plastic knife and fork, ready to be scooped off in gelatinous chunks. I've had some passable airline food in my time, but eggs have never been it.

On the flight out of Singapore the next morning, the attendant seemed surprised when the pale English-looking bloke passed on the omelette and took the chilli noodles.

Arr LHR 13 Sep 2003 08:05 AM, Sat

At Heathrow, my green Kathmandu daypack was sent through the X-rays twice, then set aside for hand inspection. The guard carefully unpacked my books, cameras and film, opening up every individual canister and glancing inside.

"Is this Jessops film any good?" he asked, in a conversational tone.

"Sure," I said, "I haven't had any problems with it."

It was good to know that, whatever my status as a potential semtex-carrying, knife-wielding security risk, my opinion on free replacement film from a large national photo chain still mattered.

Dep LHR 13 Sep 2003 12:00 PM, Sat

It was my first long-haul flight in a while, where "long-haul" means anything over twenty hours. For Australians, four hours is the minimum you need to even get out of the country; eight hours will get you to a country that isn't New Zealand; at sixteen, you're just starting to settle in. The 24 hours from Melbourne to London via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok is the true test of endurance, especially with a Hobart-Melbourne and London-Edinburgh tacked on either end. Only Canberra-Sydney-Honolulu-Vancouver-Toronto can beat it, although Atlanta-LA-Nadi-Melbourne-Hobart comes close if you spend eight hours sitting in LAX.

Fortunately, Singapore Airlines has transformed the long-haul experience by plugging its passengers into hundreds of individual LCD screens with movies-on-demand. (And appropriately, one of their offerings this month was The Matrix Reloaded.) At first I tried to resist this temptation and finish the books I'd brought, but the thought of thirty unwatched movies only a key-press away was too strong a temptation. By the end of the day I'd watched The Italian Job, Bruce Almighty, Confidence, Anger Management, The Quiet American, and Basic in eight web-safe colours and full inferio-sound; and at least half of them were quite good. But then I got cocky, starting a seventh without checking the "time left to destination". Half an hour out of Melbourne, the voiceover asked us to switch off all electronic devices and the screen went blank, leaving a horrible hole in the whole of Holes.

Arr SIN 14 Sep 2003 07:45 AM, Sun

In the hour before my connecting flight I browsed around the shops at Changi airport, where every souvenir features Singapore's national mythical beast, the merlion. This, I knew from my one visit to the city, was a half-lion, half-fish creature which became extinct when its sole source of food, the anteloplankton, was overfished by street hawkers looking for ingredients.

A cluster of touch-screens near the jewellery shops promised FREE E-MAIL, so I stepped up to send a quick hello to Jane, pressing my message out by finger one letter at a time. There was even a webcam for sending e-cards with photos, so I attached a snap of a giant nose and mad grinning teeth. A few days later Jane got an email with the right subject line but nothing inside it; and the e-card never turned up. I wonder who got it.

Dep SIN 14 Sep 2003 09:55 AM, Sun

On the flight into Melbourne I was on the aisle, and if I looked past the other passengers out the window could see nothing but wing; a bit more if I craned my neck. When we were coming in to land, just after dusk, I saw the lights of the city reflected along the wing's polished front edge; but because it was convex, the lights seemed to be crawling in the opposite direction, giving the illusion—even the physical sensation—that we were flying backwards.

If it was a Qantas flight the captain would've been saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, I just thought I'd chuck her into reverse and hang a few doughnuts."

Arr MEL 14 Sep 2003 07:10 PM, Sun

In the baggage collection area at Melbourne airport, the same three bags travelled round and round the belt, following their Scalectrix circuit out of the hole in the wall, past the waiting crowds, and back through the wall.

They should turn it into a ride, I thought. Attach a few seats, strap everyone in, and away you go: through to the mysterious Handling Area, where you could watch animatronic handlers pass suitcases delicately from hold to truck to belt, pausing only to test them for tensile strength and absorbancy. Any baggage that retained its rigidity could then be subjected to a final test by being flung at the watching passengers; items that killed or maimed would be removed as a security risk, and their owners quietly taken into custody.


Wednesday, 15 October 2003

No Comment

[site news] I know, it's quiet. The combination of all that time away, all that work to keep the site online, and all those days of feeling like a wheezing bag of phlegm has made it hard to get enthusiastic about posting again. And to cap it all off, like so many others I've been dealing with comment spam. After six months of putting out spot-fires in the archives I was more than ready for Jay Allen's plug-in, even before "Lolita" dropped by.

Something about this latest assault was particularly depressing. There I was, contemplating how to write about some pretty personal stuff—the place I grew up in, what it means to me, how it's changing and what those changes mean—subjects I've only touched on here before—and in comes yet another spammer treating my personal space as a data-point for a search engine, a billboard to plaster his or her grinning mug on. It was as if the web was saying, Remember, your personal site isn't yours any more... it's part of a big ol' meme-aggregating horde of weblogs. Even if you think you're the one choosing what to talk about, you're probably wrong; it's just part of the meme-stream. And now even the links are out of your control, twisted into the same crap that fills up your inbox. Remember how a "web log" used to be about server statistics? It still is. Your weblog is a statistic.

I was going to add a third paragraph about my loathing for spammers in all their forms, but I think this is one of those times when I can rely on a deep unspoken understanding between author and reader.


Friday, 10 October 2003

It's Time for Something Biblical

[music] I suppose I'd been settling into mid-30s acceptance that my heavy rock days were over: too little subtlety; too much that sounded like everything I'd heard before; too many elderly neighbours to complain about the noise. But this week the Rock was back, as I cranked up album number three by Muse, Absolution.

Having spent 2001 in the thrall of album number two, I figured it was too much to hope that this one would match it; last year's b-sides/live compilation Hullabaloo was pretty forgettable.

But within sixty seconds of pressing play, I knew that pessimism was misplaced. Within sixty seconds, Matt Bellamy was wailing It's the end of the world over an apocalyptic background of drums and bass and thudding piano, and it was clear that the audacity of Origin was still there: if anything, Muse were now even more breathtaking, even more bombastic, even closer to the bounds of parody. Even as I was thinking, "This is totally insane; this is Spinal Tap," I was hooked; and the rest of the album only confirmed it. The invention; the fearlessness; the complete disregard for what anyone says about rock and its long-predicted demise.

From the graceful strains of "Blackout" to the swirling noise of "Hysteria", from the suffocation of "Stockholm Syndrome" to the desperation of "Thoughts of a Dying Atheist", there are sounds here that remind you of rock's most commanding acts, and sounds that remind you of nobody else. The Radiohead comparisons, even the Queen comparisons, are beside the point now; from now on, there will only be Muse comparisons.

Absolution is so packed full of energy and exhilaration that it's hard to believe there'll be anything left for album number four; but it was hard to believe they could top Origin, and they have, oh yes; they've over-the-topped it. Muse are the kings of the high-wire, thrilling the rock and roll circus as they go higher and higher. Here's hoping they never fall.


Last Requests

[books] Interesting thread at MeFi yesterday discussing whether or not artists' wishes that their unpublished work be destroyed after their death should be respected. I once wrote an essay touching on that very question, which sits in my projects folder awaiting a final edit before I put it up here; I used a few paragraphs of it in my comment on the thread.

One respondent reckoned that Kafka's wish that his manuscripts be burned should have been obeyed, because The Trial is so objectionable. Which is exactly the problem: once the artist is gone, the question of what to do with their work is open to debate, and its destruction by a friend or family member removes any possibility of even having that debate. A work's true value may not be appreciated—even by the artist—for years.

But it did get me thinking: which book would I remove from the fabric of history, so that it was never published or even written, if I could? Certainly nothing as harmless as K's. The only one I could really justify obliterating from the space-time continuum is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.


Saturday, 4 October 2003

We Have Lift-Off

[site news] If you're seeing this it means the DNS changes have filtered through, and the site is up and running again at its shiny new host. My old one was bought by a large ISP in a spate of corporate expansionism, and four years of reliable service went down the toilet—reaching its peak outflow in their insistence that I hand over my domain registration password just so they could change the DNS details, rather than trusting me to do it. After one last try (and an hour on hold) I got them to tell me the new details; but it turned out their new DNS was pointing to a month-old backup of the site.

This all happened while I was away, and only a few weeks before next year's hosting fees were due. So I've taken the opportunity to switch to another host (many thanks to Paul for the tip-off). Not everything is uploaded yet, and a few CGI scripts need tweaking, but so far it's looking good.

We have main engine start... 4... 3... 2... 1... and lift-off. Lift-off of the latest Speedysnail mission, and it has cleared the tower.


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