Sunday, 31 October 2021 - 12:36pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 31/10/2021 - 12:36pm in

This fortnight, I have been mostly reading:

Further Down the Tubes

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 27/10/2021 - 2:24pm in

As the pandemic was getting into its stride in 2020, I was watching:

Pie Net Zero

Whenever I think the momentum's gone, and the Jonathan Pie character should be laid to rest, he comes back with one that's right on target. This long short is rather charming.

How Myst Almost Couldn't Run on CD-ROM | War Stories | Ars Technica

Like anybody who owned a computer in the 1990s, I was mesmerised by Myst. This compelling little mini-doco shows just how hard the Miller brothers were pushing the envelope to get their concept to work on 256-color graphics cards and first generation single-speed CD-ROM drives.

How does an Oscillating Fan work?

The only thing I can make with my bare hands (and maybe a 3D printer) is a mess. I don't have an engineering mind. Jared Owen's videos make me wish I did.

Carol Kaye - Most Heard But Least Known

Wow.

Honest Government Ad | The Fires

There's a smugness to most things that go out under the label "satire", and this is no exception, but it hits the mark. The summer of 2019/20 seemed like the end of the world. Ah, such innocent times.

The Concept of Language (Noam Chomsky)

I love these interviews where the interviewer asks questions about things that they think are within the domain of academic linguistics but aren't. The polite answers, always with the caveat that he's not really qualified to speak on the topic, show that there's not much that Chomsky hasn't spent at least some time thinking about.

"STATE OF THE UNION 2020" — A Bad Lip Reading

This joke never gets old.

A Quiet Day In

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sat, 23/10/2021 - 1:24pm in

I'm back to work on Monday, after two months off recovering from surgery. I'd been overdoing it a bit on the exercise front, trying to make up for months spent flat on my back, so on my todo.txt under "Wed 20 Oct" I'd written "quiet day". It was cloudy, with a little bit of rain, so a perfect day for catching up on light chores and a bit of reading.

Then, as I was doing the washing up, this happened:

I couldn't record more than a few seconds of the storm at its' height, as it required some serious Marcel Marceau work to prevent being immediately blown back from the doorway.

I've never seen hail like it. Normally when a cold front hits moist air, you get a few minutes of hail before the storm loses it's sting and settles down into heavy rain. But on this occasion, the hail just kept coming. Before long, the Aloha carpark was at least four inches deep in it.

As usually happens in anything but the gentlest shower, the storm water drains immediately backed up, and runoff from the hills behind us started to etch a channel through the pack ice.

If you can overlook the shredded foliage and shattered lamps, the neighbourhood began to look positively festive.

As things began to settle down, my phone started pinging. The shopping centre where I work had been closed down until it could be cleaned up and structurally assesed.

Oh, great. I've been off recovering from surgery for eight weeks, and was due back Monday. My imminent return appears to have jinxed the building to the point where the roof caved in. It (the collapsed roof, not my return to work) made the national and international media.

The messages from work continue: Part-timers like myself may be needed to help clean up, or else at the store in town to deal with the overflow demand. Implied: casuals can go hang - no work for you.

(There's a few dozen on the payroll in my department: one or two are full time employees, the rest are part-time - with minimum contract hours that would not cover the cheapest rent available in the area, or casual - with no minimum hours. This arrangement guarantees a satisfyingly desperate servility from the labour force.)

As my friend Ruben observed, the universe is telling me I need a career change.

The next day I set out for a sticky beak around the neighbourhood. There's still plenty of ice wherever it's been sheltered from the sun and the wind. State Emergency Services are swarming about, clearing ice from roof gutters, throwing tarps over shattered skylights and solar water heaters, and demolishing collapsed awnings.

Nature has turned suddenly Autumnal, except that it's Spring, and none of these trees are deciduous.

Nothing like a walk on a carpet of shredded eucalyptus to really clear those sinuses.

The beloved workplace is indeed closed for the duration.

I went out of my way to bump into some of the less laddish of the lads from work. Incredibly, as best as I could make out from the hyper-masculine grunting, it appeared the plan was that we'd be up and running for home deliveries and click 'n' collect within days, and ready for in-store customers soon after.

I had assumed we'd be out of action for weeks, at the very least, while centre management fixed the roof. Silly me. Centre management have no intention of actually fixing the roof, because they have never fixed the roof. In the lightest of showers it is up to the individual stores to position buckets as needed. In extreme cases, where the sodden interior ceiling gives way such as in this staff lavatory earlier in the year, workarounds will be implemented like so:

Disaster preparedness for the twenty-first century: expect the unexpected, but expect the unexpected to occur long after you personally have moved on to another scam, so it will be somebody else's problem. This from the ideology that also brought you a global pandemic. Thanks, neoliberalism!

Meanwhile, there are plenty of opprtunities for freshening stale brands with a logotype makeover.

There's a pleasingly novel copper hue to the countryside.

And water views have never been more open, if unnervingly overlaid with a Brothers Grimm vibe.

Still a couple of months left in 2021. Can't wait to see what's coming next.

Sunday, 17 October 2021 - 12:01pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 17/10/2021 - 12:01pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

The Saga of F-bomb Freddy, Part One

Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 11/10/2021 - 1:49pm in

My neighbours, here at the Aloha Home for Deadbeat Divorcees, are a colourful lot. As a rule I've ried to keep out of their way for the last two years. I'm not actually rude, you understand. I smile and nod. I just don't talk, beyond the occasional "good morning", etc. That polite aloofness is how F-bomb Freddy came to suspect me as an obvious snitch.

As I generally don't talk to them, I rarely learn my nighbours' names. When I have to think about them, I use the names I've given them myself for internal reference. As tenancy here is overwhelmingly a matter of unfortunate circumstance rather than choice, a lot of people have come and gone: Boom Box Barry, Zen Ken, Breaking Bad, the Care Bear Kids, Surfing Steptoe, Thumper and Boyband, and so on.

The most memorable, by sheer dint of his desperate need to make an impression, was F-Bomb Freddy.

Freddy was one of those farking people who farking says farking farking all the farking time. His body language strongly suggested that he'd spent some time in prison; that or, less likely, an elite boys' school. Ever-mindful of social rank, he spent half his day swaggering and strutting about like a cockerel, and the other half slinking, glancing nervously over his shoulder as though fearing that he was about to be caught out for whatever past imprudent act was currently preying on his mind.

He occupied what had been the manager's lodgings back in the days when the Aloha was a motel, and had absorbed some of the proprietorial manner appropriate to the tenant of the largest unit in the facility. He always seemed to have a flatmate, but the cohabitation rarely lasted more than a few months before disintegrating into a fistfight in the carpark, followed by a shower of personal effects from the balcony. Yet somehow another flatmate arrived to take the last one's place before you knew it. Each had a shaved head, little in the way of teeth, and a baroque efflorescence of tattoos.

His only constant friend was Mayor McWheeze, who occupied the unit directly below mine. When Freddy wasn't patrolling/slinking about the perimeter in shorts and thongs, or skimming leaves from the common swimming pool to (in his mind, at least) earn his keep, he was holding forth to McWheeze.

Mayor McWheeze was a stupendously unhealthy man; one of those who prefer to approach the art of not dying at the highest degree of difficulty possible. He was almost perfectly spherical in shape, with a voice which started low down - somewhere about his navel - before rumbling up a congested windpipe, doubling back in frustration at a slack, toothless mouth plugged by an omnipresent smouldering cigarette butt, and at last gently seeping out of his nose like politely-suppressed flatulence.

In order to keep a firm footing on the wobbling tightrope which was all that separated near-death from actual death, McWheeze rarely left the table he'd set up at his front window. From behind flyscreen, he had a magisterial view of the only entrance to the complex, and took a keen interest in comings and goings, cheerfully saluting all in a manner which made one feel disconcertingly like Patrick McGoohan in the Prisoner.

In his own mind, Mayor McWheeze was the bright shining star at the centre of a seaside Bloomsbury set. In reality, his days were overwhemingly occupied in dispensing homilies to soothe the wounds from whatever slings and arrows F-bomb Freddy presently felt most outrageous. From upstairs I was mercifully spared the details, receiving only the gist via the to and fro of bitterly spat obscenities and mollifying emphysemic rumbles.

At the start of my tenancy, I wasn't much bothered by Freddy's alarmingly powerful stereo system. As a rule, Australians don't like to know more than a few dozen songs, any of which you can hear any time of the day in any suburban shopping mall. Conspicuous consumption often manifests as hi-fi equipment, so having one's bones rattled of an evening by the bass notes of the same songs over and over again must be accepted as merely the price of entry to suburbia.

However the verve with which Freddy enjoyed the Great Australian Songbook was somewhat disquieting. It had never occured to me that it was possible to whoop and yee-haw in exuberant joy along to the works of Billy Joel, Dire Straits, and the Eagles. Yet somehow Freddy managed to do so. With, it seemed with each passing week, increasing frequency and intensity.

I like to think of myself as a tolerant sort. I thought it not unreasonable to surmise that perhaps Freddy was nursing a broken heart and, having been spurned by some lady — or indeed gentleman, he was proving to himself that he had much left to live for, including slapping a thigh and hooting like a klaxon whenever Greatest Aussie Pub Rock Favourites Vol. 1 worked its' inevitable way around to Working Class Man.

Out of this desire to make allowances for a little high-decible self-care, and also a keen interest in finding a reason not to provoke someone who appeared considerably less reasonable, and more practiced in pugilism, than myself, I sought inside knowledge from Mayor McWheeze. One evening, as the keening strains of Sweet Child O' Mine etched visible ripples in the asphalt of the Aloha carpark, I stood by his window and asked, as casually as I could whilst shouting over the din, "What's the story with your mate over there?"

The hitherto relentlessly genial McWheeze turned dour, even going so far as to remove the cigarette butt from his mouth and stub it out. Possibly in an ashtray. It was impossible to tell through the flyscreen at dusk. "He likes a drink. Enjoys a bit of music," he pronounced at length, before lighting another cigarette to signal the end of the matter.

Ah. Jolly good. Just an obnoxious arse, then. "Is there anything you could do about it?"

He drew on his fresh cigarette for as long as his severly compromised lung capacity would permit, and gazed into the delicate tracery of burst capiliaries at the back of his drooping eyelids. "You could try writing a letter to the strata body."

"Right." Thanks for being so helpful. I will indeed correspond with a handful of people empowered to say "Stop it at once, or we shall be forced to ask you to stop it once more." I went back upstairs and shut all the windows.

Later that evening, Neil from the Young Ones, residing a few doors up the first floor landing from Freddy, had the temerity to slink over and knock on Freddy's door. He was tossed back like a leaf in a gale of full-throated farks. As Neil, on his heels and suddenly finding himself back at his own door, slipped inside, trembling, Freddy came out onto the balcony to address the gallery of twitching blinds.

"ANY OF YOUSE OTHER LOWLIFE FARKERS WANNA FARKING GO AT ME, YOUSE FARKING MAGGOTS?"

And thus mollified by the comparative silence of nothing but passing vehicular traffic and the lazy trotting of A Horse With No Name, Freddy returned to his lair.

After an hour or so, with no sign of the festival of easy-listening rock abating, Mayor McWheeze, motivated by some glimmer of community spirit, left his customary seat and waddled across the carpark.

He had no hope of ascending the stairs to the first floor landing, so he stood below, calling with increasing volume and urgency "Freddy… Freddy!"

I couldn't hear much of the resulting conversation over the J. Geils Band's 1982 smash Centrefold, but it was clear that Freddy transitioned from curiosity to shock, to outraged betrayal, and finally an explosion of fire and brimstone farks that had McWheeze skipping back to his flat as though peppered by buckshot.

At this final egregious violation of the sovereign Aussie male's right to feel the bassline of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer reverberating deep in his substantial loins, Freddy seemed fit to rend his garments, had they not been pretty thoroughly rent already. Instead he spun on his heels, and bellowed one final, desperate "FAAAAARK!" to nobody in particular before slamming his door behind him.


The next morning, Freddy was back on McWheeze's doorstep, the two exchanging politely convivial farks like characters in a Jane Austen novel.

There's something deeply disquieting about the aloof cameraderie between Australians who consider themselves mens' men. There's a sense of things understood but unspoken, seeming to hint at dark, soul-eating secrets; of tramatising initiation rites, pacts, threats, and decades-old unspeakable crimes. At least that's how it appears to me.

A few days later, I was sitting out on the landing with my laptop. Kitty, my darling fluffy grey feline familiar, had got it into her head that it was dinner time at two-thirty in the afternoon, so in the face of her implacable entreaties, I had no option but to put myself on the other side of the lounge room window in order to get some reading done.

Zen Ken, a petite, tanned, and alarmingly fit gentleman who eschewed shirts and footwear, and was in the habit of rising early to sit out on the back lawn cross-legged to greet the dawn, stopped by on his way downstairs for a spot of impromptu mindfulness among the stand of banana trees behind the pool. He asked me how I was settling in and what I thought of the place.

"It's fine, apart from…" I glanced in the direction of Freddy's flat, "the odd colourful character."

"Oh, I think he'll be pulling his head in from now on," he smiled, "After that letter to the strata body."

Oh, dear God no. I couldn't imagine anything more calculated to elicit Freddy's ire than a window-faced envelope and the use of the menacingly passive voice ("All residents are reminded that…"). Still, it was nothing to do with me.

"Your cat seems to want your attention," Ken observed, and went on his way, accompanied by the hum of finely-tuned chakras. No sense in wasting the best mind-emptying hours of the day in idle chit-chat.

I love a reasonable degree of uncertainty. I'm miserable out in the suburbs, because in the city you feel that at any moment anything might happen. Nothing ever does, but the potential is electrifying. However that's a different kind of uncertainty to the knowledge that you have an explosion coming, and you just don't know when it will arrive.

One morning, while getting ready for work I heard a knock on the door, shortly followed by the unmistakable "whomp" of a sheaf of paper hitting my doormat, and seconds later the beeping of a reversing delivery van, long gone by the time it took to walk the length of a very, very small flat.

The contents of this A4 window-faced envelope were at least a hundred pages thick and it was addressed to Freddy at unit 21. Mine is unit 20, where the line of rooms runs out, so it wasn't at all unusual for lost postmen (and once, a pair of police officers in armoured vests) to ask for the location of 21, over at the opposite end of the landing, next to unit 12.

I had so far managed to avoid any interaction with Freddy beyond nodding hello, but in the circumstances there was no alternative to being neighbourly. At least it clearly wasn't from the strata body. No consortium of landlords would take the time to devote over a hundred pages to anything.

The door was answered by a young man I'd never seen before. Did Freddy keep him in a cupboard?

"This is for here. Postman left it at my place."

"Oh, right. Thanks."

Crew cut, tattoos, crumbling teeth: Freddy definitely has a type. I never saw him again.


Freddy had just bought himself a new ute (the Australian term for a sedan-sized truck Americans would call a "pickup"). Gleaming white, like something out of the 1970s TV series Battlestar Gallactica. Lord knows how he could afford it; Freddy didn't seem to work.

I grew to love the absence of that vehicle. Freddy's unit being at the entrance to the complex, it was parked at the very front, and could be seen from a hundred metres away. When returning from work of an evening, my heart always sank to see it. I don't know why. In retrospect, it's clear that as he had no need, or particular desire, to go anywhere, it's absence could only mean that he was out purchasing a carton of cans of rum and cola, prior to filling a rotisserie of CD platters with the fruits of the bargain bin, cranking up the volume, and hitting the "shuffle" button.

Returning home one evening about a week after my little chat with Ken, I heard Freddy already in full swing before I saw his ute. I didn't know if Freddy was partial to any drugs other than rum and coke, but at the very least he was definitely one of those people who use alcohol to get wound up rather than to wind down. Quite apart from giving we mild, decent alcoholics a bad name, that class of drinker scares me.

I hurried up to my flat, keen to remain unobserved, though I'd hardly made it through the door before robust exchanges of opinion began echoing across the car park. By the time I'd served Kitty her dinner, the arguments that Freddy was simultaneously conducting with multiple interlocutors, like a chess grand master, had reached record-breaking intensity.

I drew the blinds. My neighbours all had curtains and/or venetian blinds, but my unit was kitted out with roller blinds. These were wonderfully low-maintenance, but had to be raised to at least half-mast if one wanted any fresh air or natural light. Positioned as I was at one end of the top row of units, with three big windows, it was rather like living in a giant illuminated fishbowl. When signing the lease, I reasoned that if somebody had any desire to watch me doing the washing up, or to stand out on the landing, nose pressed to the glass to enjoy the spectacle of an old wreck sweating and snoring though a humid summer night, that was very much their problem. This opinion had been under review for a while now.

The agitation outside was starting to sound as though an element of physical contact had worked its' way into proceedings. Concern for the welfare of my neighbours led me to open the front door and take a look.

Freddy was standing near the top of the stairs leading to his door, and I was relieved to see that it was unlikely he'd just pushed someone down them, as he was vigorously summing up his assessment of the character of Boombox Barry, for the latter's moral edification.

On noticing me framed in the light of my doorway, resplendant in business socks, boxer shorts, and burger-flippers' polo shirt, he swung round and thrust out an accusing finger.

"And YOU! If you've farkin' got something to say to me, whyn'tya come over here and farkin' say it to my face, ya cat-farker!"

The customary colour (a kind of mottled green-grey) drained from my haggard face. Oh, brilliant. He thinks it was me that made that farking — sorry, I mean that blasted — complaint to the strata body.

Freddy leaned over the railing, and dropping his vocal pitch for dramatic effect, announced in a low rasp, "I've got my farking eye on you, ya c**t!"

Unlike most of my neighbours, I lack any of the zest in my emotional repertoire that would enable me to respond with matching vigor, and so somewhat at a loss, I took a step back and closed the door. Freddy moved on to his next target without missing a beat.

Kitty had finished dinner, so now it was cuddle time. The fact that Freddy had chosen to make a point of Kitty's existence (and also, in passing, his unsettling explanation for why he thought anybody might want to keep a pet) unnerved me.

Being six foot two, and typically sporting pretty threadbare attire, I've had the luxury of living my adult life without much regard for my personal safety. I've strolled merrily late at night through some notorious precincts with blithe unconcern about being singled out as a target for assault and/or robbery, and am well aware of my privilege in that regard.

By drawing attention to Kitty, Freddy had struck at the heart of that complacency. After nearly fifty years on the planet, my major moral obligation was to that adorably vexatious ball of fluff. She was also my sole motivation: after a number of very difficult years, I was managing to keep it together for the sake of Kitty. And we were very happy in that condition. We were very nearly one person, except that no one person, at least in my experience, cares for themselves as Kitty and I cared for each other.

And that dim, foul-mouthed, petulant man-child was somehow cunning enough to identify her as my critical vulnerability. In doing so he had upset everything.

Continued in part two.

Sunday, 10 October 2021 - 3:31pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 10/10/2021 - 3:31pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

Boris: "We Took Back Britain. Now We're Taking Back India!"

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 10/10/2021 - 1:20pm in

In a surprise move, the UK government has announced plans to retake it's former colonial holdings on the Indian subcontinent, in a bid to bolster the country's post-Brexit global trade profile.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the media late yesterday from his "Westminster Shag Pad", saying "This deal, skillfully and unilaterally negotiated with our subjects, means that Britain immediately becomes not only self-sufficient in tea and sugar, but also the world's leading exporter of exotic spices, jute and fine muslin."

Shaking his pith-helmeted head at suggestions that that the return of the Raj to India might incur domestic job losses, Johnson claimed that "For those seeking work as colonial administrators, I am pleased to announce that at last the lean years are over. Indeed if anything this initiative will be a significant net job creator for boys who went to good schools."

Addressing former European partners, the Prime Minister provocatively asked "Do you see the wan and effete peoples of France, Holland, Portugal, or God help us the Belgians, hamstrung as they are by petty bureacracy, embracing the world beyond their doorstep - with gunboats if necessary?"

"This government is bold and forward-looking. This government is committed to building an empire fit for purpose in the twenty-first century. And this government will have access to a steady supply of opium beyond its' wildest dreams. Huzzah!"

Down the Tubes

Published by Matthew Davidson on Thu, 07/10/2021 - 1:41pm in

Every now and then I find a video worthy of comment, and I never quite get around to commenting on it. Instead, I stick it in a directory labelled "blog".

Now I'm out of disk space on my desktop, my laptop, and for that matter my phone, so while I free up space here it comes, in installments. Back in the pre-pandemic days, I was watching:

How Dark Patterns Trick You Online

If somebody is required to show you something they don't want you to see, you'll find it in a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard".

The Decentralized Web Is Coming — ReasonTV

Ten years ago I might have agreed with the title. Now I have no fight left in me, and I just have to say nope; it's hopeless.

I particularly like the way that they introduce Richard Stallman into the narrative with a photo of some guy with a beard who is definitely not Richard Stallman. I don't know who that person is, but apparently he must be the person who "helped create the popular open source operating system Linux", because that is not a description that RMS would apply to himself. Bonus lazy journalism points for illustrating the concept of "programmer" with the man page for grep.

Visiting a British Pub with Burgess (The Penguin) Meredith

"We're only trying to point out that some of these people are a little more… reserved than some of us."

From a World War II US Military Training film. Times have changed. These days they'd just take out the pub with a drone strike, and get offended at the lack of gratitude.

Endnote 4: How the Alt-Right is Like an Abusive Relationship

I can't help but be fascinated. I'd never slow down while passing the site of a car crash, but maybe I feel compelled because now we're all in the same car — the one that is crashing.

This Is Neoliberalism

This is a really nicely done series. Wish I'd done it.

2020 Harcourt Lecture - Professor Stephanie Kelton

If you've not heard about Modern Monetary Theory, you've not been to the pub with me at any point in the last seven years or so. If, under present circumstances, you aren't able to buy me a drink or six, the next best way to learn about MMT is from Stephanie Kelton. This lecture is from when she was a visiting professor at Adelaide Uni, immediately pre-pandemic, and just prior to the publication of the book which would make her the most influential economist in the world (among everybody but economists).

Season 26 Trailer | The Collection | Doctor Who

Just lovely. A damn near perfect series of Doctor Who, and the last for sixteen years.

Plus Nicholas Bloody Parsons!

Sunday, 3 October 2021 - 1:43pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 03/10/2021 - 1:43pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

Sunday, 26 September 2021 - 10:57am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 26/09/2021 - 10:57am in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

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