Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Q and A gets regular weekly SMH blog

Launched in 2008 the ABC's chat show Q and A has its supporters and its detractors. For my part, I don't usually watch the show but it's clear that a lot of people do. More surprising however is the way that Sydney's newspaper of record - for want of any more accurate term - the Sydney Morning Herald has been running weekly wraps on Tuesday mornings on its website. It's unfailing. Even if there has been nothing of particular note on the show.

I admit to having been a big supporter of the show in the past. What happened to make me stop watching is that run-of-the-mill partisan politics tends to result in "bad TV". In the same vein, a lot of what the SMH blogger tries to do in his column is single out the bits of "good TV". Which is reassuring because it means that I'm actually in the mainstream in that what I want is something out of the ordinary, something that will make me say out-loud, "Wow, that was great." Unfortunately when you populate the show's panel with traditional pollies and other mainstream media partisan talking heads you just get a massive yawn-fest.

It's not really surprising that the SMH has taken to supporting the ABC's flagship Monday-night current affairs program in this way. The media all over the place is changing. So the move by the SMH is not just because the two media organisations have been doing more things together in recent years. You see the same kind of cross-platform bleed elsewhere, such as in the Channel Ten program The Bolt Report which showcases the idiotic blatherings of The Daily Telegraph columnist Andrew Bolt. And there are other TV programs with people who have emerged into prominence inside the ambit of the print media, such as Channel Ten's The Project, which has leftie journalist and academic Waleed Ali.

And as the media landscape adapts to the new economics of publishing in a world dominated by a new distribution platform - the internet - other hybrids will appear as well. You only have to think of the cooperation between The Huffington Post and Fairfax Media, where the local eminence grise is providing sales services for the overseas newcomer. There's also Channel Nine which is working in Australia with The Daily Mail, a UK print masthead.

Getting back to Q and A though, if you asked me what would be the step I would take to make sure people - like me, who have become disenchanted with the program over time - return to watching it, I would have to say that you would need to make every Monday night an exotic. No more routine exposure of the standard policy lines from the left and the right. The program has a particular energy due to its being live-to-air, and it allows ideas to be discussed in a collegial way at some length. So it's counterproductive to use this unique medium in order to simply re-canvass the same, boring talking points that you feature in the soundbites of the regular nightly TV broadcast.

In fact, allowing the grey-suited talking heads to take over the program - which is what normally happens, and which is what keeps people like me away week after week - is a travesty because it effectively nullifies the benefit of this particular way of doing TV. Why ruin a good recipe with poor ingredients when you could be getting a much more compelling product if you worked harder to differentiate yourself from the run-of-the-mill?

Monday, 31 August 2015

Mum getting worse

Today in the nursing home I decided to ask mum if she wanted to go outside into the park for a short period of time. She said she was tired, at first, and we remained in her room, but I asked again later and she nodded so I started to get her rigged up for the outing. After she had used the bathroom at some length I sat her on the bed and put on her jacket, cap and sunglasses.

Mum took the hallway toward the entrance ok but started to flag once we hit the elevator, claiming she felt giddy. I guided her out and around the corner into the nursing home's entranceway where there are a couple of couches. When it appeared that she was flagging badly I told her that we could take a break, so she sat down on one of them. We remained there for about five minutes and then I asked if she wanted to continue outside or go back upstairs; she chose the latter option. We headed back to the elevator.

By the time she had negotiated the hallways from the elevator back to her own room it was evident that she was really poorly and she was also vocalising her distress, so I guided her walker into her room and got her onto the bed as soon as possible. She lay down and took a brief nap. I sat down on the spare chair and waited for her to wake up.

This is the first time that mum has passed up on the chance to get outside into the park to watch the dogs run around. I noticed also this time that she has started to vocalise discomfort a lot more than previously, and has become quite short tempered. I remark on this because it strikes me as being something that has changed since her most recent hospitalisation, and it marks another milestone in her general mental retreat from the world. Instead of understanding what you are trying to say and engaging with you in a normal way, she has taken to protesting against you almost immediately.

It is not pleasant to be excluded in such a way from mum's interior life. But it's just something that I'll have to get used to. Just as I had to keep an eye today on the new pairs of socks that arrived last week in the nursing home addressed to her. I had asked the shoe store that mailed them to her to address the package to a staff member so that the socks it contained could first be labelled before being put away in her drawer. Unfortunately, they didn't follow my instructions so I had to instead fish around for the socks myself, and take them outside to hand to the staff for processing.

You have to compensate for people when they get very old, and this is one reason why nursing homes provide such an essential service. What with leg bandages now and significantly worsening fatigue, mum has become more of a handful for anyone attending to her needs. Better to pay professionals to do it than to simply shoulder the increased burden yourself.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Movie review: Jurassic World, dir Colin Trevorrow (2015)

The echoes of the original film in this franchise are multiple but give a team of creatives enough computers and enough money and they will put together an entirely new experience. This time, the mix is leavened by the addition of Owen (Chris Pratt), a dinosaur-whisperer with an Indy-Jones-type swagger and a knife permanently at his belt, and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park manager, a woman with highly developed leadership skills and a can-do attitude. Then there's the monster, Indomitus Rex, a chemical creation of the park's labs (still headed up by the same BC Wong acting as Dr Henry Wu who starred in the original film, Jurassic Park).

Owen does a nice line in velociraptor training and this skill catches the eye of private defense contractor Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio), who aspires to harness the animals' natural abilities and turn them into something that might be marketed to the military. Owen despises him. He therefore meets a suitable end. Also satisfactorily crunched is the park's owner, Masrani (Irrfan Khan), an Indian businessman typically with fingers in many profitable pies. Masrani aspires to be a helicopter pilot and this passion leads to his undoing. He is hardly a likeable character.

More sympathetic from the point of view of your regular movie-going audience are the children of Claire's sister, named Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson), who have come to the park on holiday and get caught up in the mayhem that is unleashed once Indomitus Rex starts to realise her true potential. The monster - a hybrid of many dinosaurs, including some velociraptor mixed in - has some interesting talents that were imbued in her during the process of genetic engineering, and which lead to outcomes that developers would probably never have believed possible. It's a case of science getting away with itself - as it was in the original movie - but here the emphasis is more on the tinkering with the code than with the fundamental aspiration of bringing back to life extinct animals.

There's plenty of blood but not a lot of it very disturbing. Some scenes might frighten the susceptible but most of the action is pretty formulaic. Owen as lead and Claire as empowered love interest generate meaningful romantic feelings especially when they verbally spar with each other, so there's stuff here for the girls as well as the guys. For the kids there are plenty of velociraptors and tyrannosauris rex fight scenes to compensate for all the mooshy stuff. And keep an eye on the mosasaurus - pictured here - which deals the fatal coup de grace on the monster. Who definitely deserves to die. She's too smart by half. Not unlike humans.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Border Force demonstrates that it's led by morons

Today was quite entertaining in retrospect because a stupid proposal from Tony Abbott's new Border Force was defeated by people power in the course of the day. It was a bit scary at first though. This morning, the Border Force announced that it would be stopping people in the street in Melbourne to check their visas. Which is odd, I thought at the time, because it's not illegal to walk in a public street in Australia without a wallet, let alone any sort of formal ID. Let alone a passport. So how would the latest bunch of brain-dead dipshits with shoulder stripes and guns manage credibly to bring it off?

Then at about 2pm there was an announcement that the operation would not go ahead and that the press release that had been used to announce it had been issued by someone low down in the organisation. The minister was beyond reproach. All good here, it's fine, move along, nothing to see. Just a poor execution but the basic idea is fine. What a load of bullshit, I thought. And it was just that. A complete load of crap.

The thing is that Tony Abbott is suffering badly in the polls and so it's not really surprising that he's come out with a move like this at this time. It's all about boosting his standing in the eyes of the community. We know from his past performances that Abbott is liable to shoulder up alongside the uniforms when things get rough electorally, and the current impasse is just another example of what he's prone to do.

I asked the Border Force late this afternoon what third-world backwater they had crawled out from. This evening Andrew Wilkie, the independent senator, was on TV wondering if Abbott had not perhaps taken a leaf out of the books of the Stasi of East Germany or of Stalin's Russia. It's all the same thing. Abbott has once again jumped the shark. I heard him on the radio this afternoon talking about his visit to northern Australia and his promise to go every year as prime minister. "Whether I go before the election or after the election, I will keep my promise," he said. I doubt he'll be prime minister after the election, frankly. The man's a complete fool.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Mum recovers her health

After mum was admitted to hospital on Saturday it took a couple of days for the antibiotics staff gave her to combat the infection, to take effect. On Sunday she still could not talk, but just lay there in bed silently. By Monday she was a bit more compos-mentis, and was able to sustain a short conversation with you, but still tended to drop off into a doze at any time. Yesterday when I went up she was much better though, and had chatty conversations with everyone who would give her time to talk.

The hospital discharged her yesterday afternoon after I had left to come home. I will go up to see mum in the nursing home tomorrow.

Even though mum has been discharged from hospital she will still receive some post-acute care from the staff there, who will visit the nursing home twice a day for a week or so, to administer intravenous antibiotics. That means mum will have to put up with the cannula in her hand for the immediate future (she has a habit of forgetting what it is used for and of removing it herself contrary to instructions).

When I was in the hospital ward yesterday a physiotherapist came along to help mum with techniques for using a walker. Mum's walker was still in the nursing home - they didn't bring it to the hospital in the ambulance, of course - but the physio provided another one for her to use. Soon enough, mum was chatting in a lively manner with the young woman. On two occasions yesterday mum pointed out to me that the name of the woman she was talking to was one of the "short-listed names" she had had when she was having children, in case she had a girl. Mum told me once before that in actual fact she had wanted to have six children. Unfortunately for medical reasons that turned out to be impossible. So she never had any daughters.

There's just me. I do my best. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

Using a small drone

Odd for my brother to give me a present for my birthday - we got out of that habit by silent yet mutual agreement ages ago - and even stranger that it should be a drone. The tiny mobile device charges through a USB cable so before going up to the hospital today I plugged it in and by the time I had come back it was ready to run. The small, paper user guide that comes with the toy says it needs 60 minutes to recharge. You also need two AAA-size batteries for the handset.

The instructions are a little light-on but I managed for a few seconds to get the thing to do what I wanted, which was to fly straight ahead at a low altitude. The thing quickly ended up under the couch, where as an additional benefit I found some old papers belonging to a friend, which I promptly threw into the recycling garbage box. The trouble with the drone is that it's not at all clear - and by "clear" I mean in the instant-by-instant sense that applies when you are trying to control the toy in mid-flight - which side of the thing is the front and which is the back. In addition, you have to get used to the fact that the left-hand toggle on the handset is the throttle and the right-hand toggle guides the drone forward or backward.

Once you have turned 'on' the handset you also have turn 'on' the drone on its body. Then gently throttle up and make sure the blue (forward) lights stay at the front of the craft as it slides aerially and hovers unstably in the air. It's a real skill. Once the thing is hovering at a settled altitude you can then do the hard thing, which is to guide it forward. Then gently and silently chide yourself as it veers disastrously out of control and ends up under the couch.

I can see the couch is going to get shifted quite a bit over the next few days. I doubt I'll have the patience to actually do any vacuuming underneath it - as I no doubt should, since it never usually gets shifted for the purpose - as I'll be quickly reapplying myself to the subtle arts of aerial navigation. Let's see if we can get the thing to fly into the kitchen and out the other side back into the living room ...

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Back in Ryde Hospital

Yesterday morning we were planning to go to the nursing home, pick up mum, and take her to my cousin's place for morning tea. I phoned the nursing before leaving home to ask them to get her ready for the outing, including a shower and being dressed. But on the road there were some calls on my mobile which I couldn't take and when I arrived at the nursing home I found there was a voice message for me.

I went to mum's room to find it full of equipment including an oxygen canister. Mum was on her bed and they said she had soiled herself so they had washed her and put her back in bed. They also told me they had phoned for an ambulance, which duly arrived. Mum was barely responsive. The three ambulance crew arrived and soon had mum on their wheeled stretcher and she was taken downstairs. I got in the car with my son and we drove to Ryde Hospital as discussed with the ambulance crew.

In the Emergency Department they put mum on a drip and started doing tests, which showed that her oedema of the legs - the swollen legs due to a heart failure - were infected but that she also had a urinary tract infection (UTI). The doctor knew soon enough that she would be admitted to a ward and we got the details before leaving for the afternoon. We drove up to my cousin's place anyway because they had not met my son. We stayed there for about 90 minutes then left. Back at home I cooked cauliflower fritters while Vivian watched a Johnny Depp pirates movie.

This morning we were back in the car but when we arrived at the ward it was clear mum was not a lot better, so we went out and had something to eat at the hospital kiosk. When we got back to the ward mum said a few words, but it was clear that she was still operating at a minimal level in terms of responsiveness, due to the combined effects of the infection and the underlying dementia. The staff have her on an antibiotic drip but mum keeps pulling the cannulas out of her arm. I told them they could bind her hands to prevent that happening and they said they had done that already. I'll be back at the hospital tomorrow.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Movie review: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, dir Christopher McQuarrie (2015)

This reliable, elderly franchise still has legs, if this movie is anything to go by (and apparently there are more to come, also with Tom Cruise in the lead role), although the backstory does get a little complicated, suggesting that the writers were struggling a bit to find the motivation that drives all the splodey bits. In this film the bad guys led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) are the "Syndicate", an elite corps of reprocessed secret operatives drawn from the full panoply of intelligence services globally, that was initially established by MI5's Atlee - humorously played in the movie by Simon McBurney - but which the prime minister had subsequently nixed. Unfortunately, Atlee let the beast run despite the explicit negative from the man at the top, and it all sort of got out of hand. Instead of being dedicated to "surgically" taking out the enemies of the Free World, the Syndicate ended up perpetrating acts of terrorism around the globe. Sort of like crossing the Navy SEALs with Mad magazine.

I hope you got all that, because you have to concentrate in the movie to pick it up. Spicing up the concoction is a mature woman who is just as deadly as Ethan Hunt, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who acts as Cruise's love interest. Looking equally at home in a cut-to-the-waist yellow silk evening gown or in an unmistakably British pea-souper, Faust is written in such a way as to enhance Cruise's - now looking a bit jowly despite the ripped abs - credibility as the loner Hunt. She emanates a grown woman's passion and loyalty and the effect is rather touching amid the free-diving stunts and the motorcycle chases. If the movie has any theme, it is that friendship is stronger than any other emotion. (Except perhaps greed.)

Cruise's IMF sidekicks include the believable Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), a Puckish nerdy Brit, and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), a straight-up-and-down US spy operative with a smile like a rubber mask. Added to these two worthies is a pudgy and under-utilised Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell. On the other side are a coterie of expendable thugs. Their leader, Lane, has a whiny, irritating voice that was possibly the main reason the actor was chosen for this role, though physically he is lithe and threatening.

A lot of the movie takes place in London but there are also stopovers in Vienna and Casblanca (Morocco). It's all a bit predictable but the way the backstory meshes with events in the real world makes the movie interesting on a purely sociological level, i.e. intellectually. A putative elite hit squad of the kind the US put together in the aftermath of 9/11 - though one here set up by the wily Brits - is an interesting notion that might be further explored. In the movie the aim of the bad guys is to get their hands on a multi-billion-dollar horde of cash stored in various bank accounts around the world. Money speaks. I guess nothing really changes in the end.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

What was working life like as an arts graduate

This morning I read a Slate story about a woman who was the inspiration for a female character in a "classic nerd" movie made in the 80s titled Real Genius. Reading the story made me think about how it had been as an arts graduate leaving university in the mid-80s to go to work in Australia and finding that the lessons learned in academia sometimes put you at odds with people in the workforce.

I aimed after graduation to work with a book publisher but when I applied they said I had no sales experience so I took a job selling chemicals door to door for three months, then reapplied at the publishers, and was successful the second time. But the wide territory I covered in the publisher's car took its toll and about 18 months after starting I resigned and went into the public service. I started out at a local office helping people in the community who mostly had financial difficulties but the organisation transferred me to head office. I opened cheques and developed a spreadsheet on a PC to help track performance at local offices. I forget most of what I did.

The public service was an eye-opener for me. There was one woman working in the unit where I was located, and she did data entry. A younger man was in charge of the computer system, and he did the daily backups of data for the organisation. They worked for a guy who struck me as a time server and this guy was often in the office of the big boss, who looked after something important at a state level. Everyone treated the woman as if she were inferior. The young man who did the data backups was a pompous ass who thought very highly of himself. The guy above him was probably a fixer. I never really worked out who did what because I left to join the police at a slightly higher pay rate.

I had high hopes for the police, who employed me as a kind of data analyst entering information into a massive computer system used by law enforcement. I reported to a woman. I also wrote reports on criminals. We analysts sat in the main office along with the translators and lawyers, and the cops worked on the other side of a wall that had two access doors, in their own world. The cops thought I was a bit of a joke. At one point another analyst tried to have me disciplined "for attitude problems" but I refused to be so treated. The cops were raucous and deeply ironic, unhappy people and I left after a year. One night at a party given by one of the translators I had a breakdown and they threw me out of the house in the early hours of the morning because I was swearing at people.

Because of the breakdown and the bad attitude of the cops - people who I could not stand working with, they were so deeply damaged - I moved to the Department of Education at a higher pay grade and started doing desktop publishing, a new field at the time. The unit I worked at was located in Leichhardt Public School and I produced documents on an Apple Mac. My boss, a woman, was very kind to me.

I moved to a high-tech company where my father had worked, not long after this. My job was to produce user manuals for the software the company produced in Australia. Eventually the software would become a global product offering as PCs replaced the larger, more expensive computers the company had always used for automation systems. I enjoyed working with computers and making documents, and I was good at the work. I handled the production of dozens of sets of documents, for different flavours of the software the company produced for different platforms and markets.

The big break came when I moved to Japan to do desktop publishing at a small, English-language publishing unit attached to a high-tech manufacturing company. The company had been for 70 years allied with the US company my father and I had worked for in Australia. I got to write application reports: stories based on successful applications of the company's technologies. I loved the work. We made magazines, brochures, annual reports, product manuals, and newsletters. It was the best job I had ever had and I worked very hard. When my manager, an American from Illinois, left the company however things started to change and eventually I was moved out of the PR section into sales support. Unfortunately, the stress associated with being taken away from what I loved doing combined with other problems to cause me to have a major breakdown and I came back to Australia. I boarded the Qantas flight in Tokyo in a wheelchair and I had three seats in a row to lie on.

Back in Australia I was still recovering from the trauma of the illness and my treatment by the Japanese company. Losing my job was a big blow for me. I bought a backpack and every week would catch the train to the University of Sydney where I had library borrowing rights. I filled the backpack on each visit and took the books home and read them. I did this for 18 months until I got work as a technical writer with the same institution.

By now writing had become what I did. As soon as I had contractual security I moved out of the share house I had been living in and bought a flat nearer to Sydney on a loan from a finance company that has since gone out of business. I enrolled to study journalism at the university, and graduated in 2008. In early 2009 my position with the university was made redundant and I went freelance as a journalist, writing stories for a range of publications. Then not long after this I relocated to Queensland to look after my elderly mother.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Why I won't read HuffPo Australia

This morning we've got Lisa Wilkinson, from Channel Nine's Today Show, announcing that she has been selected by Arianna Huffington to be editor-at-large for the global media brand's Australian edition. I watched online as Wilkinson gushed about the opportunity. For her it's great because she'll be paid to contribute to HuffPo Australia, but traditionally the company does not pay its writers. And that's the reason I won't read its blogs.

Back in 2011 when Huffington sold the brand to AOL for $315 million she had an opportunity to recompense all those writers whose quality contributions had been the reason for the brand's success for all those years. But that never happened. At the time, there was a lot of discontent among the HuffPo's stable of regular writers about this eventuality but Huffington remained unconvinced and refused to share the wealth with those who had made the brand so successful, the writers.

Now the brand has 15 properties globally including some in countries like Germany and France where, presumably, the writing is done in languages other than English. So even if you don't read the websites you know that there is a continual stream of original content being produced. But the writers are still not paid.

In this time of change when the media landscape has been impacted in all of its parts by the new technology of the internet, there is a need for people of conscience to make sure that writers who work to generate content for media websites get paid a fair wage for their efforts. Evidently, this kind of effort is difficult for publishers to exert. When I wrote for magazines - I stopped doing it in mid-2012, partly because of shrinking budgets - I found that the word rate you could get for newer magazines was always lower than what older publications offered their writers. The landscape changes to reflect the state of the broader environment.

Now, there are word factories where writers are recompensed with ridiculous per-article rates to produce what is still expected to be quality work. And it's just not on. I would never work for those kinds of rates. Ever. You have to have standards. Otherwise your livelihood is just eroded until it becomes impossible to even make a decent living. Without a fair and objective media, where would we be? The grouches and naysayers might scoff at those epithets, but I still believe in them, and I believe that it is impossible to have a functioning democracy without a fair and objective media, one reliably isolated from the corroding influence of unbridled capital.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

How you can comment on posts of friends of friends

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted this question: "Why is one of my FB friends getting updates from another of my FB friends, when they're not friends?" I thought I would do a blogpost to answer the question.

If I am your friend and you comment on another friend's post - and I am not a friend of that friend - then I can still see traces of your activity in the activity window at the top right of the Facebook screen (see image below).


Depending on the privacy settings your friend has put on the post, I can see the post they put - even though we're not friends - and maybe even comment on it. It all depends on privacy settings. If they have enabled people other than immediate friends to see their posts, then I can see their post in the activity window because you're my friend and they're your friend.

In the same vein, if they have enabled comments from people who are not immediate friends then I can also comment on their post, even though we're not friends. The activity window at the top of the screen is a way for Facebook to keep you updated on what your friends are doing with other friends. It is quite a powerful tool, and can help you to find new friends even, if you're looking for them.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Schadenfreude

It's tremendously heartening to learn of Tony Abbott's poll problems, which emerged in the last few days, and that show him trailing by - for him - no doubt an alarming margin. Liberals of the small-"l" type must have just a little more of a spring in their step today as they trudge to work in the chill of a late winter morning.

The poll figures augur well for the election due next year, as the current year wanes inexorably. Things haven't been this good for those on the left since February this year, when backbenchers in Abbott's party threatened to unseat him if he didn't change his way of operating. Of course, the new way he assembled following the almost-coup has made no difference to the way the electorate perceives Abbott because he's just such a transparent diddler.

Surrounding himself in press conferences with phalanxes of flags and standing up before the cameras alongside representatives of law enforcement agencies just won't cut it any more, it seems. There are only so many scare campaigns you can trot out to boost your standing in the polls, only so many worthy nationalistic causes you can bleat about in the public arena before people start to get wise to your motives. Abbott has evidently reached the point of no return. The people just aren't listening any more, Tony. Give up.

What we need at this point in the electoral cycle is for Abbott to mercifully stand aside and surrender the podium of leadership up to the next in line, which would be Malcolm Turnbull. I have a lot more time for Turnbull than for Abbott - both are products of the private education system - because he seems a little bit less bothered by an invisible friend in the sky than the Catholic-educated Abbott does. Turnbull lived in his childhood just up the road from where my mother had  her gift shop, so I know his background well. Abbott went to a Jesuit-led school. Nuff sed.

So goodbye, Tony. It was often entertaining entertaining your odd notions about what is good and just in the world, but in the main it was tiresomely irritating to listen to them day after day. And good riddance too. Don't bother closing the door on your way out, we have someone else to do that now. Sayonara. Just ... go away.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

My son visits

My son Vivian has come to Australia to stay for three weeks. I picked him up from the airport on Saturday morning. The plane was an hour delayed from its scheduled arrival time and then he came through the exit into the arrivals hall an hour after it landed, so it meant that I was waiting around the arrivals hall for most of the morning.

We got in the car and came back to my place then we went down to Chinatown on foot and ate a bowl each of Taiwanese noodles. After lunch we quickly visited the English college Vivian will attend during the week during his stay in Australia, and then walked home.

We had a nap for a few hours then went out for dinner. We went to the local pub and had a meal and a glass of beer each. I went to bed at my usual time but Vivian stayed up watching movies on a commercial channel and eating potato chips. He likes movies.

This morning we got in the car and drove to the nursing home to see mum. Mum likes young men. There, we also met with my cousin and so the morning went quickly as we sat in the park watching the local dogs cavorting in the sun and lazily talking about this and that. I took Vivian home then we went out on foot to the Fish Market for lunch. After eating we went to the pharmacy and got him some medicine for his flu-like symptoms, then came back home after buying a flat white each at the Vietnamese cafe up the street.

Tomorrow morning he starts school early and I will go into town with him just to make sure he knows the route he has to take. I have also charged an Opal card with credit that he can use to get into town if he doesn't want to walk.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

At last we fit mum's new outsize shoes

Today as I was ironing my shirts I got a call from Linda at Comfort & Fit shoe store in Parramatta informing me that she would be out to fit shoes for mum this morning, so I turned off the iron and made my way downstairs to the car. I arrived at the nursing home as usual about 30 minutes later, and parked. When I got up to mum's room she was having the dressing changed on her legs. I waited a little while then called my brother in Texas so that he might talk with mum for a bit until Linda arrived as scheduled.

The photo here shows one of the models of shoes that she fitted on mum, and it fit perfectly. It is called a Laurel Xtra and the top of the shoe is special because it completely opens out in order to put the shoe on, so there's no painful levering of the shoe over a swollen and tender heel.

Linda also supplied us with six pairs of special non-elasticised socks that extend up the leg to cover medical dressings but that are not tight enough to stop the circulation in the legs. I took the socks down to the nurse station to ask the staff there to label them so they can safely be laundered.

I paid for the two pairs of shoes and six pairs of socks and saw Linda out to her car. She has visited the nursing home on previous occasions so she has already established her bearings in the building. Her company often sends out its representatives to nursing homes and private dwellings when it is difficult for those customers to travel to one of their stores.

Feeling much better after all the useful activity, I had a quick chat with H in the dining room and then went back to say goodbye to mum in her room. I'll be back there on Sunday with my son, who is visiting Sydney for three weeks from Saturday.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Opal troubles

Because my son is coming out to visit me for three weeks I decided to buy an Opal card he could use on public transport. So I went to the local news agent and told the guy behind the counter what I wanted the card for - my son was coming out to study in Sydney - and he gave me a "child/youth" card. It sounded reasonable so I didn't question the decision. I then put $50 of credit onto the card and went home.

At home I called the Opal call centre to ask about registering the card and linking it with my credit card so that it would have the automatic top-up facility enabled, and the guy on the phone told me that the "child/youth" card was not the right card for my son because my son is 20 years old, and the "child/youth" card is only applicable for people up to the age of 18. He then told me to go back to the news agency to get them to transfer the credit from the "child/youth" card to an adult card.

In the news agency there was a different guy behind the counter now and he was not able to do the requested credit transfer. Because the situation was by now so difficult he got angry with me, asking me why I had told his predecessor that my son was coming out to Sydney to study, presumably implying that I should have known that the "child/youth" card is only usable by people aged 18 years and under. I in turn got angry and told the guy I would never use his shop again. Tempers flared. I quit the joint in a huff.

I then trotted off to a convenience store near my place and got an "adult" Opal card, then went home and registered it online using the internet. I linked the new card to my credit card so that it would automatically top up with credit when the level of $10 is reached. Then I called Opal again and asked them if I could transfer the credit from the "child/youth" card to the new "adult" card, but they said that I would have to go to an Opal card reader and tap on, then immediately tap off.

So this morning on the way home from a doctor's appointment I stopped by the light rail stop down the street near the casino and tapped on. The card was rejected. I consulted the tiny booklet that comes with new Opal cards and it said that the result I could see on the card reader meant the card had no credit in it, so I went into another convenience store, just nearby, and put $20 of credit onto the card. Then I went outside and tapped on and immediately tapped off again.

Back at home I called the Opal help line once more and asked them if I could transfer the credit from the "child/youth" Opal card to the new "adult" card, but they said that I would have to wait 24 hours from the time of the first "tap on" before the credit could be transferred across. So it seems we are getting to the conclusion of the troubles. But I have to say that the amount of faffing around that has occurred just in order to set up an Opal card and link it to my credit card successfully - for the benefit of my son, who hasn't even arrived in Australia yet - is slightly alarming.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Getting mum's shoes issue sorted

The health issue is still being sorted, and I went with mum today to the radiologist's for an ultrasound. There's no deep-vein thrombosis, which was something the doctor suspected, causing the water retention in mum's legs. The images will be delivered direct to the doctor's tomorrow and hopefully we can find out what the problem is during this week.

As to the shoes issue, I happened to bump into the physiotherapist who looks after residents in the nursing home today and she told me to get in touch with a particular shoe retailer called Comfort & Fit. I spoke with someone at their Parramatta office and so consequently they will make the trip out to mum's nursing home on Thursday so that we can fit something suitable for mum's feet.

The swollen feet issue is bigger than it would at first seem. It's particularly disturbing aesthetically, for a start, because it really looks now like mum has something materially wrong with her. Beforehand the blood disease and the dementia were present but there was no specific outward indication of their presence. When you have horribly swollen feet, on the other hand, there's no mistaking the conclusion that something is seriously wrong with someone health-wise.

This feeling of awkwardness came home to me when I was with the equipment operator and mum in the consulting room at the radiologist's today. Mum had to take off her pants and right sock. We also had to remove the dressing from her right leg that has been helping to collect the moisture coming out of it. Removing the bandages was bad enough because the sticky tape hurt mum when it was pulled off, even though I removed it quite slowly. But the sight of mum's red, puffy feet affecting the legs all the way up the calves is something you really don't need to be exposed to too often. I felt particular sympathy therefore for the staff at the nursing home who must treat this kind of condition on a daily basis, in very close proximity.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

A need for new slippers

Mum has been retaining a lot of water in her lower legs, in a new development most definitely on the downside, and I am looking for suitable footwear for her because her feet have swollen up to a significant degree making her old Birkenstocks practically unusable. On Saturday after dropping by at the nursing home I quickly jumped back in the car and drove through the heavy traffic to Hornsby Westfield. There, in David Jones I bought a pair of Grosby slippers in an 'L' size and then headed to Target where I bought two different sizes of open slipper which are almost like a shoe. Then I took them back to the nursing home.

The Grosbys fit ok so I decided to put the unusable Target slippers in the cupboard in case they might be usable at some future point in time, and in the cupboard I found an identical pair of Grosby slippers, although in a different design. So now mum has two pairs of Grosby slippers, one in powder blue and one in pink. Today I also picked up a pair of Ugg slippers in Darling Harbour on the way back from a walk I made in the morning. I bought them in size 9, which would normally be a bit too big for mum, but with her feet the way they are currently it's all bets off as far as size goes. Whatever fits, fits.

The GP looking after mum has asked for a new test called a "dopler" which is apparently an ultrasound performed on the lower legs. The nursing home actually called me about this on Thursday but I was busy that day and the next so I didn't have a chance to get the test done last week. So it's something I'm planning to book in as soon as possible this week.

The problem with the water in the legs is that it comes out of mum's body around the feet and makes everything wet, so it's quite inconvenient. In addition, it is difficult with the swollen feet to find shoes to fit, and you need shoes for simple things like going to the dining room for lunch, and visiting the park. I normally take mum out to the park where we can watch the dogs playing when I visit the nursing home. We'll have to work on this shoe problem a little more.

I have seen some suitable slippers sitting on the feet of another resident and the staff told me to get some like them, but it's not immediately apparent where you'd buy them in Sydney. They are sort of like big bags for the feet. That is, they're foot shaped but they are loose and close up at the ankle with elastic. If you know where I can find anything like them, please let me know.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Going back to inspect the Campsie unit

Yesterday I met with the estate agent who is managing my apartment in Campsie where I used to live from the end of 2005 to the middle of 2009. The unit has been rented out to a succession of different tenants since I moved to Queensland at that latter time. Now I am back in Sydney I can drop by to see the old place when the leases expire, so I drove out on the Western Distributor in the car and then down through Ashfield across the Hume Highway.

From the outside the tan-coloured brick structure was familiar although I did notice that contrary to body corporate rules the downstairs tenants on the street side had hung laundry on their balcony. The side fence still has not been fixed since I left all those years ago, in fact it has gotten worse with more of it missing, taken away no doubt because it had started to obstruct access to the driveway.

Inside the unit I noticed immediately that the carpet needs replacing, but the agent has already found a new tenant and it's not clear whether this person will have time on their existing lease to wait - the property they are living in has been sold, apparently - while new carpet is laid in the Campsie unit. In the bathroom I noticed a new wash basin larger than the one I used to use, which had obviously been installed after I left. The venetian blinds in all rooms need cleaning. In the bathroom two shelves from Ikea that I once installed myself need to be replaced because of damage due to moisture. On one of them the chipboard has rotted and is exposed, on both the aluminium brackets are corroded. The agent told me that if I do the carpets I'll have to also do the walls, and I said "Ok".

Another thing that struck me when I went inside is how small the living room feels now that I have lived elsewhere. The small rooms are not improved by the bad carpet, furthermore. But I remembered how I had completed a university degree while living in the apartment in Campsie. I also remembered how sick I had become later, in 2008, when the paranoia returned with its delusions and had suddenly flipped my life upside down. It was in those rooms that I encountered those hellish days and nights, and fought off that terrible disease with my whole being. The sounds, especially, of those days come back to me as I write. Sounds that other people no doubt thought were completely innocent ...

The agent showed me where rain coming off the roof due to blocked gutters had backed up in the balcony well and caused damage to the carpet after seeping into the unit under the balcony door. Outside, she pointed to the additional escape drains that were drilled in the slab to make sure such an accident wouldn't occur again.

I walked down the hill to the side street where I had parked the car. I used to park the same car out the back in the unit block, where the concrete slabs have cracked on the sandy subsoil. The street I was in was almost deserted off the main road with its constant traffic. I got in the car and wended my way back home through the busy streets.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Outside the Lansdowne Hotel at lunchtime

Yesterday morning I organised to meet with a friend for lunch at the Lansdowne Hotel, partly because we knew that the historic Sydney pub was to close, and so it was to perform a farewell of sorts that brought us to the corner of City Road and Broadway at lunchtime. As I arrived before my friend at the spot, I decided to turn on Periscope to broadcast the street view to followers. I have set up the app to automatically save videos to my camera roll but for some reason the recording is not as long as the video I actually broadcast initially. But never mind, there's no point in crying over spilt milk.

For me it's a familiar location. For most of the time I was an undergraduate I lived not far from this spot, in Glebe on Franklin Street just behind Grace Bros, which is now the Broadway Shopping Centre. Which is why I have an old photo taken in those days showing a Kingswood cornering eastward from Broadway onto City Road. It was always a busy intersection but it's a lot busier now than it was then, for obvious reasons.

When my friend arrived we both went inside the pub but since the hotel is closing down - it will become a music school - the kitchen had closed for good the night before, so we just drank a celebratory beer each at a shaky table on the footpath then jumped in a cab and headed south to the Marlborough Hotel in Newtown for lunch. I had the schnitzel and chips with gravy and my friend had the felafel salad. We had more beers and a bottle of wine, then a final beer to finish the session. Eventually my friend went off to meet someone at a location further down King Street and I jumped in a cab and came home, where I teased my daughter with drunk tweets on Twitter. Bad form, I know, since for health reasons she doesn't drink as much as she used to.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Book review: Being Mortal, Atul Gawande (2014)

I've been struggling with what to do with this book for some weeks. In that time I haven't picked it up but I've been wondering whether it's worthwhile spending any more time reading it. As you can see from the image that accompanies this blogpost, I have reached about halfway through the book. Tonight I decided to go ahead and do the review and that I would probably not read any more of the book, after watching a segment on the ABC's The Weekly With Charlie Pickering in which the host spoke with an expert in end-of-life health. I mulled over the program when I woke in the night and got up to write a message to the program's producers.

The reason I wrote to the producers of the program is because of something that also really bothered me for a lot of the time I was reading Gawande's book. In both cases what was being ignored was something absolutely central to any discussion of end-of-life health, and that is the wishes of the carer of the elderly person, who is usually a spouse or a child of the elderly person. Gawande eventually - belatedly, it seemed to me - got around to dealing with this issue in his book, but on Pickering's program the figure of the carer was completely absent, which resulted in a program segment that was not worth much at all.

In the end the reason I decided to put down Gawande's book is that it is too culturally specific. In Gawande's case this just means that the book is about the US situation, which is a status quo that is quite different from the way things are run for example in Australia. A nursing home in the US is quite a different beast from a nursing home in Australia, for a start. The other big difference of course is that in the US the principal or his or her family are the ones who have to pay the entire cost of residential aged care, whereas in Australia the government pays all or at least a part of it, depending on the financial circumstances of the principal.

When it came down to it these mismatches made all the difference for me. I found myself physically screaming in frustration at one old boy who didn't want to go into residential aged care and who egregiously imposed on his poor daughter who was forced to make major changes to her life just to accommodate the wishes of a man unable to look after himself anymore. If I had been his daughter I would have had a stern discussion with him about what was possible and what was not on. My reaction shows how important it is for there to be third-party help for families such as the government supplies in many countries, but not in the US.

Nevertheless, having read Gawande's book I can now better understand the situation of an American friend of mine whose father lives in the basement of the home of his other daughter in the midwest. From time to time when time and finances permit my friend travels back to her home country to take over the caring duties, and gives her sister time off from them.

While it may therefore be deficient for non-US readers from many points of view, what Gawande's book does provide however is to give some insight into the specific kinds of activities that the elderly find satisfying. Where I left off reading was at the end of the chapter where an ambitious geriatrician introduces birds and other animals into a residential aged care facility. It's true that the elderly have particular affinity with animals, probably because that kind of relationship relies for its maintenance on very unambiguous and often purely physical modes of communication. The elderly find this kind of interaction reassuring because they often miss out on noticing more subtle social cues. So surrounding elderly people with animals seems like a useful thing to do. Of course, you'd have to first secure the support of the managers of the facility, who have to think about the wellbeing of staff as well as residents.

I found myself wishing that Gawande had written from an Australian perspective. While it is unfortunate for families living in the US that their government provides no support toward residential aged care, it's unreasonable to wish that their politicians would change their system. At least that's really a matter for Americans to deal with at some future time. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Problems with Medicare's Express Plus app

The screen shown on the mobile phone at right is the main menu of Medicare's Express Plus app. This is the screen I had been trying since yesterday to get to see, but that I could not see. I would go to the app and punch in the login code but then a message saying the app was "not available" would appear, telling me to "try again later".

I got a bit fed up with this outcome because I was trying to make a Medicare claim. So this morning I went to the contacts page of the app and looked for a way to get in touch with the organisation; the organisation's Orwellian name, as you probably already know, is the Department of Human Services. I found their Twitter handle and tweeted my problem to them. They got back to me after a lengthy delay telling me that there were "some isolated issues" and to call a number.

When I eventually got through on that number, which took about 15 minutes' waiting, the woman who answered the phone on the other end told me to unlink my Medicare profile from my my.gov.au account. I felt a bit annoyed at this suggestion because it had taken me a fair while, back in May, to do the linking in the first place. I told her that it was inconvenient for me to do as she had recommended, and she just said, getting a bit annoyed herself, that this was the solution they had been told from above to recommend to people calling with the problem I had mentioned. So I just hung up the phone and went online.

Unlinking can be a bit scary because you need to have one service linked in order to own a my.gov.au account. So when you unlink your Medicare profile and your Medicare profile was the only service you had linked, you also get rid of your account, but I plunged on regardless. It took me about five minutes with the correct information at hand to make the connection again.

I went back to the phone and tried to log in once more but the same message appeared. So I did what you would probably expect a reasonable person to do at this point in the proceedings: I deleted the app and downloaded it again. After it had completed downloading to the phone I punched in my old access code and the main menu appeared. Success. Although frankly it was not a good look to have to make me go through all this malarkey because of something that had happened behind the scenes and that Medicare will never tell anyone about. The word "monolithic" comes to mind.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Remedial building works

It has been about three weeks since they installed scaffolding at the back of the apartment building in order to enable workers to have access to balconies. The workers are removing tiles and screeds, and removing and reinstalling steel elements on the balconies.

During the day the noise is quite loud, and it sounds like a huge dentist drill operating throughout the day at high speed. I had a look out the back today and there was water falling off the balcony above mine into the well created by the scaffolding. The noise stops in the late afternoon. It doesn't start until about 9am each morning.

According to the architects the work on this part of the building will continue for five weeks, which means there's two more weeks to go until they remove the scaffolding and set it up further around the building. The building spans two access points on two different streets, so you can understand that it's quite a large structure to deal with. I knew about this failing in the construction of the building when we bought the apartment in 2010, but it finally became reality in this form recently.

The workers are currently working out of a shed erected on the lawn next to the outdoor swimming pool. I don't see much of them because the work is currently being done on the back of the building, and I usually exit the building via the front door. It's not a major inconvenience, and as long as it ensures safety in the building for decades to come, I have no trouble with it. It will be nice when the whole thing is done though. Eventually they will be moving their scaffolding around to the front of the building also, and that means it will be right in my face each day. But that's probably not going to happen until next year.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Nineteenth century photos restored

This handsome fellow is present here because the daguerrotype that was taken of him in the middle of the 19th century survived the trials of time and capricious storage solutions. There is also an ambrotype of a woman that is in good condition, and another ambrotype of a woman that did not survive the 2011 flooding of mum's garage with sewage. Unfortunately, that last item is beyond fixing.

Fortunately though, mum did make a print of it some years before the original was damaged, and that print is still on the wall of mum's room in the nursing home. The original of that ambrotype is now stored away safely - despite the terrible damage it suffered - in a custom-made archival box.

Each of the prints has its own archival box. The boxes were made for the prints by the conservators in Annandale. They also disassembled the prints - ambrotypes are printed on glass, daguerrotypes on metal - and cleaned them, and put them back together with improvements. As far as I know this is the first time the prints have been looked at professionally in this way since they were taken all those decades ago. What is furthermore unfortunate is that I do not know who the prints depict. I presume they are distant family members. Most of the clan came to Australian in the years immediately after Transportation ended, settling in the free colonial cities of Adelaide and Melbourne. I know this because of the genealogical work that dad put in after he retired. But that doesn't really help me to narrow down who the prints are of.

It's tempting however to speculate on what kind of people these were, who had their portraits made in this way at that time. What did it mean to have your portrait made like this in the middle of the 19th century? Was there a typical type of person who did this kind of thing or were the technologies so compelling that literally everyone had their portrait made at some point in their lives? I suppose there will be someone who can answer these questions. It might be a good idea for me to give these prints to the Art Gallery of New South Wales at some point so that they can be reliably looked after for the next three or four hundred years. I might just do that.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The next stage in mum's illness

We went out into the park when I arrived at the nursing home to see mum today, and watched the dogs. There were nine dogs at one time while we were sitting there in the winter sunshine. Mum had on two jackets, one on top of the other. I asked her several times if she was cold but she said "No". Eventually the pain in her legs coming from sitting on a hard wooden bench made her get up and head back inside to the air-conditioned warmth of her residence.

But when we had gone through the front doors of the nursing home she had to sit down, out-of-breath and struggling with her legs, which were tired from her exertions. I sat down opposite her on the couch near the front door and after five minutes prompted her to go back upstairs to her room. I mentioned the episode to the nurse at the first-floor nursing station when we had left the elevator. The haematologist had already written a letter to mum's GP informing him of her low red blood cell count. Here it was again. The haematologist had also recommended blood transfusions. We have an appointment to see the haematologist again in less than two weeks' time.

I took mum back to her room and left, got in the car and drove back to the city on the highways, as I usually do. I wondered as I drove back how many more times I would have to take that route home, if mum was getting so much worse at this point in time. The blood disease had first of all attacked her platelets, but the haematologist had medicated her and those had gone back up, but now it was the red blood cells that were under attack in the bone marrow. You need red blood cells to carry oxygen to the different parts of your body, to stay alive. The shortness of breath was a sign they were low in her blood. A transfusion can help for a few weeks, but it's not a permanent cure, only a palliative measure.

In the photo mum looks lively and well, but in reality she's dying from the blood cancer, and day by day getting worse. I don't know how much longer she'll continue. Another reason to put off looking for work, in my case.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Just happened to walk down Foveaux Street

This photo shows the building site on Foveaux Street where the taxi depot used to be; no doubt there are new residential apartments going up here. I didn't plan to go down Foveaux Street when I set out this morning however. It just happened that way.

I left home around 10am and went across the Pyrmont Bridge into the CBD, stopping briefly at the mobile phone shop underneath Myer. There, I asked about cleaning the power socket of my five-year-old iPhone 4, which had gummed up with lint and stuff from my pocket having never been cleaned in that vicinity before. The technician on the little stool in the tiny shop in the underground arcade took my phone from me and proceeded to use tweezers to dig all the fluff out of the gap around the power connector. And they didn't charge me anything either - even though I had a $10-note ready to whip out - so if you need any work done on your phone, go to them, they're very obliging.

After emerging in Pitt Street Mall I turned south and walked up Pitt Street, crossing Park Street and sauntering along the almost-empty weekend CBD pavements. I admired the YMCA building ("1907") which is now just the facade of a Meriton residential tower, and the Edinbugrh Castle Hotel on the corner of Bathurst Street. I turned up Bathurst and crossed Elizabeth Street into Hyde Park, then got onto Oxford Street thinking that maybe I would go to the Paddington Markets for a change. Instead, at Taylors Square I turned down past the fountain and the lovely old Belgenny Building onto Bourke Street heading into Surry Hills, then turned right at Fitzroy Street, which transitions at that point into Foveaux Street.

On the corner of it and Crown Street at Shannon Reserve there was a flea market and I stopped by there for ten minutes or so and had a quiet stroll among the stands of books and bric-a-brac set up on tables erected on the grass plots. It was by now almost 11am and warm for winter, and I noticed all the young women wearing summer tops and skirts. At the exit on Crown there was a man with an ancient prosthetic leg slung over his shoulder talking with a young woman holding vertically a bugle attached to a rubber bladder. She was consulting her phone.

I turned down Foveaux again and passed under the rail line at Central Station, crossing Eddy Avenue into the park. After going through it I crossed over Pitt Street and headed up Pitt to World Square where I attended to nature and then paid for and ate a container-full of nachos with spicy pulled pork chipotle. I then walked up George Street and popped into Kinokuniya to get some books for mum; she had asked me for books when I went to see her yesterday at the nursing home. Then it was through the QVB and down Market to the bridge, and home. On the way I bought a large flat-white at the Vietnamese noodle-shop-and-cafe on Harris Street after helping an enormously tall young Korean (Korean?) man find his way to the Fish Markets.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Why has Phil Walsh's son Cy just disappeared from view?

It has been almost a month since the coach of the Adelaide AFL team was allegedly stabbed to death by his son Cy but we have heard nothing about the young man's whereabouts since the day of the tragic events, on 7 July. We heard that Cy had been taken into protective custody in a secure ward of a hospital facility somewhere but that's all we know. We have heard nothing about further interviews with the suspect in the crime but it appears clear that Cy was a person living with schizophrenia who finally gave way to the messages he was exposed to in his mind. In the absence of any other information, that's how I read the situation anyway.

It's curious how softly the authorities are handling the case of Cy Walsh. Other deranged murder suspects have not been so fortunate. But on the other hand it feels like Cy has simply disappeared into a black hole of authoritative ministration, like someone embraced by a dark cloud of ectoplasm and subsequently hidden from view completely. It's almost unaccountable.

It's not as if the public has nothing to compare this case to. Most notably there was the case of the 2009 stabbing of art dealer Nick Waterlow by his son Anthony in Sydney's eastern suburbs. A book on the murders - Nick's daughter Chloe was also killed in the same incident - appeared in 2013. We have plenty of information about this terrible disease and the things it sometimes makes people do. If Cy - and subsequently his father - is another victim of it, then surely the public has a right to know so that we can better deal with the disease. But just dropping the poor man off the side of the universe into the bottom of an administrative gunny sack is not the way it should be done.

To me the notoriety gained by people who work as football coaches is somewhat unaccountable, but surely this is an opportunity to raise the profile of a terrible disease that many people in the community live with every day. Not in a bloodthirsty and unthinking way, but in a way that allows us to come to grips with it and so deal with it better. The silence surrounding Cy Walsh is in my mind just another example of the stigma that always still surrounds mental illness, and that prevents people from talking about it openly, which is what we need to be doing in order to better deal with it as a community. Only by facing what it means together can we effectively manage it, and hopefully help to improve the lives of many people who - heroically and unseen - live permanently with mental illness.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Spectator sports should be put on hold

As news comes in the Adam Goodes is thinking about retiring sooner rather than later, it's time I think to consider what spectator sports are doing to us as a society. I know some of my friends will have different ideas than me, but I have to say my piece. This issue was brought home to me strongly this week when I saw the ABC program on Don Bradman, and heard his son talk about changing his name to escape the pressure put on him personally by fans of his father, and his granddaughter talk about her own psychological struggles which manifested in various ways.

The pressure to perform places on athletes, and the pressures put on those who are close to athletes, are something almost unconscionable, or at least something that can easily be regretted by a reasonable person.

Personally, it's easy for me to say these things because it's always been difficult for me to be a joiner. By nature I'm an individualist, and I always have been. This came back to me a couple of years ago when I was writing a poem about my romantic involvements. I found that I was having to talk about someone who prefers to be alone. Solitude has always been like a second nature to me, and any diversion from it has seemed like a cheat.

The debate surrounding Adam Goodes makes me think about spectator sport and what it means. Almost like a religion, spectator sport creates community, which is something that people mostly like. In fact even loners like to feel they belong, although they may not always admit it easily. What we look for is some sort of community, even if it is the community of rejection. By rejecting the mainstream we are not rejecting community itself, but rather we are asking others to take our conditions into account. We are discerning. We are something like an elite. Like elite athletes, we are personally accountable for our actions, but when it comes to sport it becomes harder and harder - the further up the tree you go - to match the demands of the discipline with the spectacle most people are comfortable with.

They are two different things. We don't need them as much as they need us. Or vice versa. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Making a difference is one of the best things about being a journalist

This is the side of a 95-gram can of Sirena tuna that I bought this week and it says that the tuna is 73.5 percent pole-and-line caught. The can underneath this can is a 185-gram can of Sirena tuna I have had for a fairly long time but it says nothing about the method of fishing. The reason why it doesn't say anything about the fishing method is the same reason Sirena used to come last in Greenpeace's canned tuna ranking system, because it was once caught in industrial-sized fishing nets using fish aggregating devices (FADs), which are both ways designed to maximise bycatch (the capture of animals other than mature tuna, such as for example dolphins and turtles).

I used to write stories for magazines, and I did two stories back in 2010 on tuna fishing. One of them, for the National Times (a now-defunct Fairfax publication) is linked here and is titled 'Can shoppers save the tuna'? It seems some people were listening, not unimportantly the folks at Sirena, because pole-and-line fishing was a fishing method I discussed in the story as a sustainable way to catch this particular type of fish. Tuna is rare and getting rarer.

It's a great feeling to know you have been part of something big that has made the world better. Hopefully all other food companies around the world who sell canned tuna can also get on-board and mandate better ways of staying in business. We certainly don't want to run out of fish, although the way things are going it's a very real possibility that wild fish will become unavailable in the not-so-distant future. I talk about these things in the story if you're interested.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Video niggles

This is a shot from a video I made this morning on my iPhone when I was up at the nursing home seeing mum. The odd thing about this video, which shows mum talking with her eldest son on her iPad, is that there is no sound in it. My brother was chatting away about planets and space travel and mum was working hard to keep up with him - she brightened up perceptibly when his cat came into the picture, which tells you a lot about the priorities of old people - and I was sitting on the bed taking the video on the iPhone. When it finished with about five-and-a-half minutes of footage captured, the funny thing is that the camera screen just froze. What I did then was to assume that something had gone wrong, and I rebooted the iPhone.

What had been happening however was that during the period when the screen seemed to be frozen the iPhone was actually processing the video and saving it, and I had interrupted this process by rebooting the device. I know this because I successfully made a second video on the iPhone while talking with mum in her room - a video of about three-and-a-half minutes' length - and I was able to see that one in the camera roll immediately. By the time I had driven home the first video had appeared in the camera roll, but after uploading it to YouTube I found that it had no sound. So I have a 5-minute video of mum talking to my brother on the iPad but with no sound. Sad.

That's not the only video niggle, however. To sort out the second video niggle, I just now successfully made a broadcast using Periscope. But when I had tried to do the same thing while I was sitting in mum's room in the nursing home Periscope refused to work. The 'Broadcast now' button would not appear and after the program tried to initialise it would just drop out back to the regular iPhone home screen. I guess that the problem in this case was the bandwidth. I do remember checking the phone's signal strength and remarking to myself silently that it looked ok, but it must have been too weak for the broadcast to go ahead, and Periscope had just given up when the required signal strength failed to come through in the program.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Microsoft now updating software remotely

A couple of weeks ago Microsoft asked me to change my PC login from the simple one-password login I had used for years - since I bought the new PC in 2013, that is - to a new login that I had actually set up some time before, when Microsoft bought Skype, one that involves an email address and a password. It was a bit annoying. I didn't really mind because I had made a record of the new login that I could bring to hand when I suddenly needed to use it. I didn't even make much of a fuss - apart from this blogpost - when Microsoft asked me if I wanted to back up all my files in the cloud. (Answer: a definitive NO!) But now other things have started to happen on my PC I didn't expect.

Yesterday as I was using the PC normally - for social media mainly, although I did do a blogpost as well - Facebook started to hang. I clicked out of Chrome to Outlook (which is always open), and found that this application, too, had started to hang. So I started clicking around between Chrome and Outlook to see where the problem might be, or to find a reason why these things had started to hang. I couldn't find anything but then I decided to reboot the modem in case the broadband system had fallen out for some reason.

When I got back to the computer it was clear however that things were going really wrong. Not only was Chrome whited-out (where the application goes white in the window because it cannot function any more) but so was Outlook. Also, Outlook's layout had changed to something I had not seem before. In the past, one of the menus was always visible along the top of the application window, but now it wasn't. I could only see the 'File' menu highlighted but no menu command icons showing. Normally I keep the 'Send/receive' menu icons showing because to check my email I need that 'Send-receive' icon to be visible all the time. It wasn't there anymore.

Because nothing was working at all now I rebooted the computer and brought Chrome and Outlook back up after logging on for the second time that day. I saw that Outlook had changed permanently. Although I had thought that the new menu configuration was part of the glitch that had brought my PC to a standstill, it turned out that the new configuration was the new normal. What had happened of course was that Microsoft had entered my computer and done an update to Outlook without telling me. That's why the computer hung. And the application that I was running now on my desktop was not the same application that I had bought in the box back in 2013 when I had bought the new PC on the Coast.

So Microsoft ad decided to update my software remotely without telling me it was going to do so. I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I am very certain that I feel they should warn people before they take over their PCs and cause all their running applications to freeze. I hope in future Microsoft will let people know when they are about to do this kind of thing.

The main outcome of this little exercise by Microsoft might have been to make me learn to use the F9 key to do a "send/receive". Because the default menu in Outlook is now the 'File' menu - which has nothing in it along the top of the application, when selected - it might now have saved me time to use the shortcut key instead of first bringing up the 'Send-receive' menu and clicking on 'Send/receive'. If you leave the 'Send/receive' menu visible, in any case, the associated menu items inconveniently overlap the top email message in the feed, which of course you do not want. Also, once you bring up the 'Send/receive' menu and do a "send/receive" you can't just click back to Chrome, but instead a click out of the application closes the 'Send/receive' menu first, so you need two clicks to click back to Chrome.

However, there's still a lifesaving, small 'Send/receive' icon at the top of the window on the control bar which you can use. Thank goodness for that. (I almost didn't see it.) It's a bit small, though. I prefer a large icon to click on. Less margin for error.

[UPDATE 29 July 2015]: The same thing happened again, today. Again! In another event, I had earlier in the day contacted Microsoft help desk about a different matter and had asked them if they had remotely accessed my computer to update Outlook, and they said "No". However they did say that my version of Outlook was the latest version, and was different from the version I had installed in 2013 when I had originally purchased the PC.

[UPDATE 30 July 2015]: A technician came to look at the computer today and found that I had inadvertently changed the Outlook display options, probably while clicking around when the software froze. He checked for why the computer had behaved the way it had but could find nothing specific, but deleted some unnecessary functions running in the background.