We can forget it for you wholesale

My memory has ways of pulling tricks on me in ways that are most embarrassing at completely inappropriate times. I was out at the shops last weekend with my wife and kids. We’re in the car park finding our car to load our loot and go home, when I hear a voice yelling out my name. I knew instantly who the voice belonged to. We’ll refer to her as “Alice”. Not because I forgot her name, mind you, but more to protect the innocent.

So I hear a voice calling out “Oi, Hoover!” from across the car park. My mind lights up bringing the name “Alice” to the front of my brain. As I’m turning around I mouth the words “Oh, that’s Alice“. Only Alice would yell out my name like that in a public place.

We come closer together, give each other a bit of a hug and start with the general chit chat about what we’re currently doing, where we are currently living, what our jobs are like etc etc. Now, it has been a while since I saw Alice and I’m not sure if she has met my kids, so I introduce them telling Alice their names and their ages.

Next comes the tricky part, and the point of this post. As I’m about to introduce Alice to the kids, my mind starts to freeze. I have the words centered at the front of my mind, written in nice big friendly letters.

I open my mouth to say “And kids, this is….” But the name has disappeared. Where did it go? Inside a quarter of a second I’ve gone from being able to confidently introduce my kids to an old friend to panicking about looking like a douche because I forgot her name. I just had it a few seconds ago! The word will still be there if I close my eyes and look really hard. Oh no, I’m taking too long. Better cover up and buy myself more time by continuing “… an old friend…” But her name doesn’t reappear. What am I going to do? I can’t very well ask her to introduce herself. I just posted something on her Facebook wall the other week. Perhaps if I try to visualise that post I’ll get it. Not coming, need to buy more time. “… and her name is…”

By this time the jig is up. My kids are looking at me expectantly, my wife is giving me “that” look and Alice, bless her, isn’t making eye contact with me at all. “I’m Alice” she says directly to the kids. I slap my forehead and swear under my breath. “I didn’t really forget your name”, I say. “I just had momentary lapse of memory! I know who you are! I talk to you on Facebook all the time! You were at our wedding!”

This happens more than I care to admit. I have this weird mental block when it comes to introducing people I know to others.

Yet for some reason I can remember my Tax File Number (who the hell knows that off by heart?), my Curtin Univeristy student number from 1988, what historical figures each King playing card is named after and other obscure numbers and facts.

And it’s not like I forgot her name, anyway. I even said it out loud as I heard her voice. But somehow there’s a mental block designed to maximise my appearance of being a douche when I mostly need to appear cool. Anyone else experience this? Does it have a name?

Top 10 things my kids will never know, but I will never forget

I’m what you’d class as Gen X, and I had kids fairly late in life. It saddens me to know that there are a lot of things I grew up with during the 70s and 80s thinking they were normal which my kids will never know or experience. On the other hand, it’s a relief to know there are a lot of things I grew up with thinking they were normal which my kids will never know or experience. Some of these are just a nostalgia kick for me, but some are legitimately things that the generations being born now will have absolutely no frame of reference for.

  1. Life without the Internet. My kids aren’t going to live in a world where reliable data and information isn’t instantly available. Back in the old days, we needed to read things called “books”, most of which we got from “libraries” where you could borrow them for a short amount of time. They information was all stored in writing and diagrams on bound planes of a biological material called paper.
  2. No mobile phones. I watched a movie with my wife a couple months ago called “American Gangster“. You know, the one with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. What amazed me about the plotline of the movie wasn’t the lengths that some badguys are willing to go to in order to accumulate power and wealth. Rather, it was the fact that these guys were able to set up and manage an international crime syndicate without having the use of mobile phones. The idea that I can almost instant contact almost anyone in the world via the use of a little square thing in my pocket without any wires is still mind blowing.
  3. Grey static. I wrote about this in another post, but the idea that turning on the TV and finding a horrible grey static snowstorm screen and loud white noise instead of your favourite cartoon because the aerial has been disconnected or the TV is tuned to the wrong channel is foreign to youngsters today. Instead, they’ll get a nice bright soothing medium blue screen, possibly with a menu asking what channel they want to get. I remember rolling out of bed on a Saturday morning to watch Autobots or Top Cat or something, still half asleep. When that wall of noise hits you, it sure wakes you up!
  4. Diesel Trains. Before the Perth train system was electrified they were all diesel. Loud, smelly and obnoxious. The passenger carriages were old, tattered, dirty and squeaky. But on the plus side they had windows which you could open and hang out of, or at the very least you could rest your elbow on the ledge. The exciting parts of the trip to the city was in between Bassendean and Maylands which was the fastest part of the journey and where you’d usually meet a train coming the other way. Boom! The sound of passing another train going at 80km/h in the other direction without any warning was quite startling, and would set most babies off crying. But the best thing about these old clunkers was the lack of automatic doors. The doors could remain open the whole way! This provided quite a bit of entertainment when you’d watch someone running for the train as it took off, as well as when it pulled into the station. I’d often see people fall flat on their faces by alighting before the train ground to a full halt.
  5. Milk BottleMilk in bottles. Yep, we had milk in bottles, kids. Glass bottles. And they were delivered right to our door. It became a bit of an issue during the summer if both parents were working and you weren’t as diligent in your collection duties as you should have been, but it was a pretty good system if you worked with it. But we hardly ever did. You were supposed to put your empties out regularly, and you were supposed to pay for the milk regularly but we’d usually let 20-30 bottles collect before we put them out and I’m fairly certain the milkman was close to blacklisting us because we wouldn’t pay him until he threatened us. When a new bottle was opened, you get this 1-inch layer of cream under the foil top to dig out with a spoon or, if you were less refined, your finger.  Do milkmen even exist any more?
  6. Life without remotes and motors. In another article I wrote about my daughter’s first encounter with a medieval window and a winder that you had to physically rotate like you were some sort of middle age peasant.  She had no idea that they even existed. Likewise, kiddies today are missing out on TVs without remote controls (you gotta get off your arse and walk the whole way to the TV to change channel) or even garage roller doors you had to manually open and close. Actually, we never had a garage in the house I grew up in but the first house I bought had a Rolladoor without a remote or a motor so I’d have to get out of the car in the rain and unlock the door and life it up, jump back in to the car, drive it forward 4m, get out and then lower and lock the door. Now it’s all push-button convenience.
  7. Computer sounds. Like a modem handshake. Or a screen degauss. Or a dot matrix printer sending you deaf. LCD and LED screens nowadays don’t need maintenance, and thermal or inkjet printers are near silent. I loved the sounds of a 56k modem because you knew shit was about to go down.
  8. Camera FilmCameras with film. Our family camera was a Pentax something-or-other. It used real film, usually with 36 or 24 shots if I remember correctly. None of this point and click stuff with auto focus, red eye reduction and other high tech stuff. No instantly being able to see your shot in a minature LCD screen and deciding if you wanted to keep it or not. You’d have to make every single shot count because it’d often be weeks until you got the prints back. Once you used up your 36 shots, you’d manually wind the film back into the canister and then take it down to a photomat to get it developed. The price usually included either double prints for the cost of singles or a free replacement film. If the photomat guy was especially helpful, he’d go through every photo with you and tell you where you screwed up and how he would have made the shot better. I never got to take that many photos myself when I was young, and most of the ones I took were rubbish but it was fun. Hell, I even did a photo and animation course at some college when I was 13 or so for kicks and we did a pinhole camera among other things which is about as low tech as you can get. We got to expose some film and develop it using all the different chemicals, then we hung them out to dry! I want to do another course for because my photo skills are crap.
  9. Planet Pluto.
  10. Things built to last. This was a lament of my dad and even his dad, I think. Both of them could identify quality goods, rugged things built to last no matter what you threw at them. I guess this has rubbed off on me a bit because instead of a calendar with pictures of cats or some band I gave a friend a sizable chunk of rock and metal and 2 minutes worth of lessons in how to use it. It was a perpetual calendar and would last until 2038. She recently told me she still has it, more than 15 years later. Consumer goods today seem to have a built-in designed obsolescence or even a perceived obsolescence where it’s desirable to have the newer thing because…. it’s just newer. Most of the toys I’ve bought my kids in the last ten years are either broken or neglected, but I’ve still got toys from my youth in storage which, though worn, still work as well as the day they were opened.

Honorable mentions: video game arcades, the Soviet Union, MTV with music videos, rotary phones, a good work ethic (wait, did I ever have this?), block cheese that’s not pre-grated, riding your bike out on the street without supervision or a helmet until after sundown.

How many maths nerds does it take to defeat the German Tank corps?

Interesting story on How Allied Forces Used Tank Serial Numbers To Defeat The Germans at Jalopnik.com

Allied intelligence noticed each captured German tank contained a serial number unique to the tank. With careful observation, the Allies were able to determine that the serial numbers had a pattern denoting the order of tank production.

Using this data, the Allies were able to create a mathematical model to determine the rate of German tank production, and estimated that, during the same summer 1940 to fall 1942 time period, the Germans produced 255 tanks per month — a fraction of the 1,400 estimate.

And it turns out, the serial number methodology was spot on: after the War, internal German data put der Fuhrer’s production numbers at 256 tanks per month — one more than the estimate.

The answer to the question in the post title? A division, obviously.

Top 5 movie school bullies

Nobody likes bullies. In all seriousness, bullying is a form of abuse, and usually comprises physical or emotional attacks over time and can lead to trauma or even suicide and nobody should have to deal with bullying. Movies can deal with bullies and bullying more light-heartedly, portraying them ultimately as weak, insecure individuals who always get their comeuppance. Here’s a list of my favourite movie schoolyard bullies.

Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future series (1985-1990). Biff comes from a long line of Tannen bullies. We saw Great Grandfather Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen in Back to the Future 3, and Biff’s grandson Griff in Back to the Future 2. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as all three Tannens use brute force and intimidation. The timeline changes (hey, it’s a time paradox movie) and in part of the movie, at least, he gets humbled but inthe beginning because Biff isn’t all that intelligent he only gets through highschool by forcing George McFly to do his homework. This bulling continues through adulthood as Biff becomes George’s Supervisor at the same company using the same strategy of bullying George into completing his work and taking the credit to get promoted. Like most bullies he’s braver when he’s backed up by thug friends, but crumbles when someone stands up to him.

Johnny Lawrence from The Karate Kid (1984) Johnny is probably the most mindless bully of these five. He’s a Karate expert, leader of his gang who are all members of the Cobra Kai martial arts dojo, and protégé of John Kreese, a Vietnam veteran with no time for feeble concepts like restraint or compassion. “Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy” is his motto. Johnny is the most one dimensional big screen bully and just lets his fists and feet do the talking. If you have something he wants, then he’ll beat you. If he doesn’t like you, then he’ll beat you. If you get up, he’ll beat you again. There’s no way you can beat Johnny and he knows it. Unless, that is, you have a humble, mystic Okinawan immigrant father figure named Miyagi on your side to teach you that belts should only be used to keep your pants up. Johnny redeems himself, somewhat, when he loses the final battle in the conflict with Daniel-san by handing him the tournament trophy himself.

Chris Hargensen from Carrie (1976) Chris Hargensen is beautiful, rebellious and manipulative. She’s the opposite of the timid, plain, inexperienced Carrie and takes great delight at initiating a humiliating and frightening ordeal for Carrie in the showers. Chris is forced to serve detention and is also barred from attending the upcoming prom as punishment and the rest of the movie revolves around plotting revenge on Carrie by manipulating her friends and the school hunk to set her up for a shocking prank at the prom. This is a different style of bullying to most of the other characters. None of  it is physical, it’s all behind the scenes and unknown to Carrie.

Regina George from Mean Girls (2004) With girls like Regina stalking the halls of our modern schools, all I can say is that I’m glad I attended high school in the 80s as a male rather than in the 2000′s as a girl. It would be easy and simplistic to describe Regina as a bitch. She’s so much more than that. She is pure evil in the form of a hot blonde. She wields multiple bullying weapons in her reign of terror. In fact she has stocked up on the whole arsenal: verbal sniping, emotional sieging, tactical threats and intimidation, nuclear tipped slander and other devious or more direct bullying methods to put others down and keep herself on a pedestal where she can hog the spotlight. I’m scared of her.

Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series (2001-2009). If you had a name like Draco you’d be have a chip on your shoulder too. Even his surname makes it sound like he a maladjusted little prick. He’s the main antagonist in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince employs bigotry and snobbery in addition to devious, cunning use of magic to make life hell for Harry, who he feels isn’t of the right lineage to attend Wizard school. The son of Lucious and Narcissa he was raised to believe in the importance of “Blood Purity”, and Muggle-born wizards and witches simply do not belong at Hogwarts and should be denied education in magical practices.  He uses psychological means and verbal taunts to demean and denigrate his victims rather than physical thuggery, which he leaves up to his accomplices.

National Broadband Network myths

I was working on an article much the same as this for the last week or two, but what the hell. This one is much better. It exposes the myths associated with the National Broadband Network. Read it at http://nbnmyths.wordpress.com/

TL;DR version:

The NBN costs too much, private sector will build it, we don’t need anything this fast, nobody else in the world is doing this, our network is already good enough, wireless is better, people don’t even want fixed internet, it will end up costing the consumer too much, it will cost thousands to install, FTTP only has a 15 year lifetime.

The Internet makes you stupid

I dare ya, I double dare ya mother fuckerI’ve been thinking lately on my online patterns of behaviour. I spend a lot of time online. I work in IT, and Internet is critical to the job I work in and the customers I serve. I research solutions to technical problems using various intranet and extranet resources, and have the ability to remotely log in to customer sites all over the world to perform hands on support. This week alone I have digitally “visited” sites in all six inhabited continents, managing servers as if I was sitting at the keyboard.  Outside of work, how much time I spend online depends on who you ask. I think I’m fairly restrained in my usage, and don’t feel the need to spend a great amount of time in front of the computer when I come home, since I’ve already spent 9 hours at work.

I hear about Internet addiction all the time. I’ve read interviews about people, mostly kids but sometimes those more mature, who go through a withdrawal if they’re away from their digital life for more than a few hours. The moment they wake up they’re on their computer checking Facebook or other social media sites. On the way to work they’ll be tweeting like their life depended on it. If it’s not Twitter or Facebook, it’s Texting. You’ve heard of Tennis Elbow? Try SMS Thumb for size.

It’s not until people get to work that the full cost of peoples seemingly endless appetite for distractions is realised. I must say that I don’t observe this at my own work place (hi guys!) but I know people who spend more time on Facebook than they spend on their duties when at work. Between Facebook, Twitter, Texts, Instant Messengers and emails it’s a miracle they get any work done at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the social media aspect of the Internet and often hit up Facebook at home and even at work. Unlike some people, though, I do all this in moderation. I can’t even say I really enjoy Facebook all that much, as there’s sometimes a very low signal to noise ratio.

Having said that, there are other online distractions to tempt you. I compare the Internet to a large Newsagent which has magazines on every subject you care to name. I have absolutely no interest in about 90% of the mags I find at these news stands, and there’s about 1 in a hundred I would find indispensible and would buy without thought if I had the money. Browsing the Internet is like flicking though the rest of  the “fringe” magazines, the ones that aren’t central or vital but catch your eye and pique your interest enough for you to reach out and open them up. You quickly turn the pages, skimming the titles and articles for something interesting. You look at the pictures and graphics for something attractive and meaningful. You might quickly cover the whole magazine by flicking through it in under 15 seconds but you may spend a minute skimming one or two articles which seem interesting. You never really spend the time to sit down and read the mag from cover to cover, at least not without the owner kicking you out.

So it is with the Internet. Any web page has text and pictures, and may include other rich media covering the subject at hand. But there’s also handy hyper-links to other related articles which lead on to yet other pages. Hell, even at Wikipedia you can get completely distracted from your original train of thought or research and wind up at completely unrelated articles before you can say “six degrees of Kevin Bacon“. I find myself doing this all too often.

What I have noticed is that this has effected the way I think. I’ve change the way I use my brain and how I focus on tasks. Rather than being able to focus on one particular task for any amount of time, I find that my focus switches from one task to another in rapid succession, often coming back a number of times to the same task to progress it a little more before switching to another new task. This seems normal to me now. I’m distracted by emails, phone calls, alarms and instant messages, but these are all evil necessities in being able to perform my duties. While writing this very article, I’ve checked Facebook, the current Commonwealth Games medal tally, the latest Formula 1 Grand Prix news, how F-Duct technology was developed, tonight’s TV schedule, when the next episode of Caprica will be available for download, what other movies Eric Stoltz has been in… and so on. It’s why I found it so difficult to sit through a trial when I had jury duty. There was nowhere to escape. There was no control. I had to sit there and focus on one tedious subject for a few days and it was hard.

At work I can be working on many different calls on different subjects at any one time, and I have to switch between, say, hardcore VB or C# coding to a  more artistic user interface design solution and anything in between very quickly. The range of products we have is hard to keep up with, and when you introduce new versions of these products each with new features and sometimes new bugs I find that I am swamped with too much information, too much stuff to remember.

Internet makes us (well, me, at least) think broad and shallow, rather than narrow and deep. I can’t tell whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, really. It could be argued that this is the way of things, now. To live in the 21st Century is to think fast, move from task to task, have many transient and temporary relationships as opposed to a few deep and lasting ones. It means rent rather than buy, and to be a jack of all trades and master of none. To know lots of facts and have many experiences, but to understand little and have few meaningful memories.

What do you guys think? Leave a comment if you can pull yourself away from Farmville long enough.

Hey Richard, what’s the time?

I had a friend at Uni called Richard who was quite a character. He’d sometimes sit there barking like a dog for no reason. Sometimes he’d purr like a kitten simply because he was tired of barking. He’d go through periods where he’d take everything literally. But above all he was always very precise with his language. If you were to ask him:

Brian Hey Richard, what’s the time?

Time is the continuous passage of existence in which events pass from a state of potentiality in the future, through the present, to a state of finality in the past.

Brian No no. What is the time?

The time is the continuous passage of existence in which events pass from a state of potentiality in the future, through the present, to a state of finality in the past.

Yes, Richard was a bit of a dick but he still was a great guy.

Lately I’ve been thinking on time. What is time? What is the time? Is time good for you? What can you do with time? Is time even real?

Well it turns out that time can do a number of things. Time is like money. In fact, a lot of people confuse the two. I don’t know the current exchange rate, but you can save time and you can also spend it. Too bad I can’t see my current balance, but if I wanted to give someone my own time then I could if I wanted.

Despite what Douglas Adams wrote, time isn’t merely an illusion although time is relative. I’m often asked, “Hey Brian, you got a minute?” and from experience this minute that I give to someone can end up being more than a couple hours, so what you might think to be one minute might appear to me to be very much longer. I think it was Einstein who came up with that. “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”

Time flies. Yes, time can actually get airborne. Maybe that’s how Long-jump and High-jump athletes and Michael Jordan seem to defy gravity. They spend a lot of time training, so it helps them fly. Time seems to be more efficient if you’re happy because people say that time files when you’re having fun, and athletes tend to be a fairly jovial lot.

You’ve got to be careful, though, how you handle time. Time is something that you can serve, I’m told. And if you serve time, the time isn’t going to fly because you aren’t having fun. Doing time is similar to serving time so if a friend asks you if you want to do some time, just say “no”.

But time also seems to have medicinal properties, so it can’t be all that bad. “Time heals all wounds”. Thankfully, time doesn’t wound all heels or we’d all need crutches. JFK warned against this when he said “We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch,” which means we should use our time to accomplish our goals, not as an excuse when we fail. So if you don’t have time to exercise, then make some! Yes, you can actually make time! You usually make time for things that are important to you.

Time moves in mysterious ways. Time can be “up” but I’ve never heard of time being “down”. It’s usually “over”, but never “under”. Most people are behind the times, few people are ahead of their time. So I guess if you’re out of time then you need to keep your head up and look ahead and you’ll eventually find some time, probably flying overhead.

You can tell time, but time also tells. What does it tell you?

Ode to a small piece of unwanted cake I found in the work fridge one midspring morning

Not even a particularly Nice shade of green

We have a tradition, which I’m sure most company offices have, of bringing a cake to share with everyone on your birthday. The cakes vary between home made and store-bought, and occasionally we get a mix of pastries or party pies and sausage rolls to introduce some excitement and variety in our culinary experience.

Invariably there is always one piece of cake left which without fail finds it’s way to the top shelf of the kitchenette fridge sitting all alone on a plate with a hurt look of dejection after being shunned by my workmates.

It must be out of some sense of nobility that nobody ever wants to eat that last piece of cake in our workplace. Granted, in some workplaces and households there’s often a mad scramble and sometimes deception, bullying, begging, pleading, threats and intimidation involved when it comes down to the last piece, but not here. It’s all, “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly” or “No, you go ahead. I’ve had enough”. And it’s all sincere, too. Not one single person reveals that look of “Please don’t take it because I really want it” via sheepish, pleading eyes.

So, what happens with that last piece of cake? Nothing. It sits there on the plate on the top shelf and keeps drying out, looking more and more like the “Before” shot of a Botox story in Women’s Weekly. It withers and dries after a few days, and when most of the moisture has escaped is when the mould sets in.

The cake is evolving, gaining sentience and is trying to escape. To what end? Probably for vengeance. For days the cake has been shut in a cold, dark box waiting for a saviour to take him away. The monotony has been broken by rare glimpses of faces opening the door to put their own lunch in the fridge, and turning their noses up in disgust at the horror they see before them on the top shelf. Well no more. The cake wants to find a human and eat all but the head, and leave the head sitting powerless trying to deal with the fact that nobody will finish it off. It’s going to grow appendages and lash out the next chance it gets.

To break the chain, when we had an office birthday last week I offered the last of the cake around to everyone and then made a move to throw it out after it was refused. “What are you doing?”, came the cries. “You can’t throw out perfectly good food!”.

“Face it,” I said. “It’s just going to sit on the top shelf like all the others until it grows mould and has to be thrown out. What, you didn’t think all those other single, lone pieces of cake were actually eaten, did you? I threw them all out, and this one will share the same fate. I’m doing it now just to save time so I don’t have to do it later.”

Eventually I was talked out of throwing it out, and there it sits. And there it will sit, evolving and plotting terror until someone else decides that sanitation is the better part of valour and has the guts to remove it. That person isn’t going to be me this time. I just hope I’m not the one to open the fridge to find a self-aware dessert with claws and teeth and a personality disorder brought on by a lifetime of rejection.

Sputnik to ISS: you’ve come a long way, baby

Today is the 53rd Anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1. It was a spherical satellite of modest size and weight, yet the seemingly innocent beeping it emitted was enough to invoke mass hysteria in the West.

Let’s compare Sputnik to the current state of the art in Space Exploration, the International Space Station.

Sputnik 1


Built by: Soviet Union Involved partners: USA, Russia, Canada, Japan and 11 participating ESA Countries
Mass: 84 kg Current mass: almost 400 tons
Dimensions: 39cm radius sphere with four 2.5m antennae Current dimesions: 50m x 110m x 20m
Total orbits: 1440 Current orbits completed: more than 68000
Crew members: 0 As of October 4, 2010, 195 individuals have visited ISS, including the three current Expedition 25 crew members. NASA astronaut Frederick W. Sturckow has visited four times while 15 people have visited three times, and 66 people have visited twice.
Total cost: nobody really knows, since it was a military mission. Estimated cost: ranges between 35 and 160 Billion dollars, making it the most expensive object ever created
Payload:instruments capable of measuring the thickness and temperature of the high upper atmosphere and the composition of the ionosphere. Also, a radio transmitter than went “beep, beep, beep” Facilities for research and experimentation in Human Research, Biology, Biotechnology, Physical and Materials Sciences, Earth and Environmental Science, Education

In between these two marvels, we’ve seen craft carry dogs, monkeys, and men into orbit. We’ve seen them land on the moon, Mars, and Venus. They’ve intercepted asteroids and comets, and have scurried through Lunar and Martian dust. Telescopes like Hubble and Chandra have gazed into the far reaches of the universe. Next year, a Russian/Chinese mission will be launched to return samples from Phobos. It’s inspiring and breathtaking living is these times of discovery and wonder.