Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Dear America: Please stop, you’re scaring me

Right, so you’ve had your fun, America, but it’s time we had a serious talk. Yes, that talk. About your Donald.

I mean… what the fuck, guys?

In order for this to work, I’m going to have to be honest with you. I hope that’s ok, because I don’t want to upset you. I may use language that will offend some. This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this. I am— wait, hang on. Those aren’t my lines. Ah, here they are. Yes. Sorry. I’ll have to say some things you may not want to hear. Sometimes the truth hurts, but in the end you’ll be the better for it. As will the world. So take a deep breath, maintain an open mind, and read on. Yes, all of it.

Fezzik and Inigo

Fezzik, don’t hurt me, but we need to have a serious talk…

It started out as something for the rest of us to laugh about. You had this candidate who was some sort of celebrity in the States, some guy who did a reality TV show, and he was saying some ridiculous things about, well, about anything and everything, about the other candidates, about himself, about politics, about the world. Things no one could really take seriously, and it was obvious that it was just a publicity stunt, just a small… I mean, average-sized middle finger towards the politicians in Washington, who’ve grown stale and cynical and petty, obsessed with their little power games, who have perverted politics and turned it from something that is supposed to help the people of one of the biggest countries into something that only helps the politicians and the lobbyists and the large corporations who are willing to pour money into it to get their way, whether it’s good for anyone other than themselves or not.

I chuckled when my kids, who aren’t really interested in politics – not even Australian politics, let alone world affairs – asked me whether a guy who said those kinds of outrageous things could actually become president over there in faraway America. “Don’t be silly,” I told them, “there are millions of people over there, there’s no way he can fool that many. He’ll drop out of the race soon, thinking he made his point, but no one is taking him seriously.” Because deep down, I knew that there were three types of people who would support a man of his ilk:

  1. those actually dumb enough to believe all his blatant lies,
  2. those fanatical enough and/or filled with enough hate at whatever minority or fringe group Donald is throwing under the bus today, and
  3. those who get what type of person he is but are willing to support him anyway, just to send a giant “Fuck you!” to Washington.

I just had no idea how many of each there actually were.

An election anywhere is almost never about just one or two issues. It’s about a whole bunch of them. Only parochial idiots pick just one or two issues on which to base their decision which way they’ll vote. Sadly, America has many, many more such parochial idiots than I’d suspected. Not you, of course – you’re still listening (well, reading), so you’re clearly not parochial, and you’re comprehending most of what I say, so you clearly can’t choose the wine in front of… apologies, mixed up my lines again (inconceivable!). I meant, you’re not that stupid. But there is an astounding number of people in group #1. The same goes for group #2. A frightening number of them, too. I suppose in a nation that large, a nation that doesn’t attempt to suppress free speech and free will (no, no, I also think those are good things, calm down), there have to be many who take their opinion to the extreme.

Now the next part may be difficult for Americans to understand. I’ll try to break it to you gently. You’re sitting down? Good. You see, we – the vast majority of the rest of the rational world, that is – actually think Obama is a really good president. And we think Drumpf – I mean, Trump – well… hey, do you remember Chernobyl?

What’s that you say? You’re the greatest nation on earth and you don’t care what the rest of the world thinks about you?

Let’s start with the second part of that – you really should learn to care what we think of you. You’re part of the world, too, and just the same way as kids grow up and become more mature and learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that they have their rights but also their responsibilities, and that certain compromises have to be made so that everyone can get along, so you, too, need to learn that you’re part of Planet Earth’s big family, and with the sandpit becoming more and more crowded, you don’t want to be the kid that no one wants to play with, do you? Yes, it’s very important that you get your own affairs in order, but do you really think you need to shut everyone else out in order to do so?

As for the first part, about you being the greatest nation on earth… you’re still sitting down, right? Well, aaactually… you’re not. Not really. Sorry. Don’t get upset, now, I warned you about this, remember? We still like you and respect you. Let me explain.

You’ve done some really great things for this world – yes, you make most of the best movies over there, good example, but I also meant technologically and scientifically – but in some other respects, you’re kind of – remember what I said about not getting upset, okay? – you’re kind of the barbarians among, for lack of a better expression, the “civilised nations”. How can I say that? Well, think about it. The death penalty. Do you really think it’s helping with your crime rates? At all? Do some research yourself – please. It’s barbaric, it’s inhumane, it’s uncivilised. Your obsession with guns is another one. No, hang on now – I understand about your second amendment rights, but do you even remember what time these rights came from, and why they were added to your constitution? Fighting violence with more violence, really? This isn’t the Wild West anymore, you know. Look at other countries, look at how they’ve managed to make it work without everyone owning guns. No, no, their crime rates are actually lower, because— Okay. Uh-huh. You see, in other countries they— You don’t want me to explain? All right. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one, then. Don’t shoot me.

My way's not very sportsmanlike

Not everyone in the world is barbaric, guys.

But let’s get back to Donald. (Oh goodness, I just realised that the whole not-the-greatest tangent could be misinterpreted as agreeing with that silly “Let’s make America great again” slogan, but explaining how the ways in which Donald wants to make your country great have nothing to do with greatness would take too long.)

I was talking about those three groups who support him. Yeah, ok, scroll up and refresh your memory. Back? Good.

The ship has sailed for group #2, that is, the alt-right white supremacists and the other gun-toting idiots who’d like nothing better than to be able to shoot everyone who’s different from them. They’re beyond hope. All we can do for group #1 is to hope that someone slightly smarter than they are has the patience and/or the clout to explain to them how they’re wrong, or that they’ll finally get the drift that they’re on the losing side, and in their finite wisdom decide they’d rather back a winner.

No, my appeal would be to group #3, and my argument would be three-fold. (What? Oh, it means I have three main points. You’re welcome.)

Firstly, I’d like to point out that the “Fuck you!” has been heard loud and clear in Washington. Change won’t come overnight, but keep sending that message (no, without voting Trump, dammit!), and change will happen. It’s a worthy message – just please use a different envelope. The Brits tried to send that message, and it worked a bit too well. So well, in fact, that the first thing they tried to do once they realised that their “Fuck you!” vote had won and they’d be cleaning up the mess it caused for years, they wanted to re-vote because, well, they hadn’t really been serious about actually winning. Your “Fuck you!” could backfire on America much more spectacularly than the Brexit.

Secondly, have you actually listened to Donald talk? I mean, not just to play point-and-laugh – actually listened to his messages? With anything approaching a triple-digit IQ, you should’ve long ago figured out that he’ll say anything he thinks you want to hear. He obviously has no scruples, no conscience, no morals. He has an uncanny knack for knowing what people fear, and he loves to stoke that fear. He constantly thinks he can get away with spouting one outrageous lie after another, and whenever faced with clear evidence that he is wrong, he’ll just resort to calling everyone else liars. He calls himself a winner because he’s trampled on, bullied and cheated people, and used his father’s money and influence to get to where he is.

Do I even need to mention his bankruptcies? Or the ugly things he’s been saying about women, about Mexicans, about African Americans, and who knows what other groups? Now, given all that… is that really the sort of person you want running and representing your country? You want him to blunder his way through delicate diplomatic channels when lives are at stake? Butter up an unbelievably dangerous leader like Putin, not realising what he’s doing? Rip to shreds agreements about climate change that are finally putting us in the vicinity of having a chance to save our planet? Offend nations by groping the women in their delegations? (Because if he believed he can get away with that when he was just a real estate tycoon, what’s he going to think he can get away with once he’s President?) Throw entire international markets into turmoil and gamble with other people’s money because of his unpredictable nature? (Think I’m kidding? Read some serious articles that explain why he’s the biggest danger to international stability the world has ever faced.)

Need I go on? Please consider what kind of a country – and world – you’d create if you voted him into office.

The sound of ultimate suffering

And thirdly, imagine what kind of message that would send to your children, and your children’s children, and… you get the point. By making Drumpf your president, you’d be telling them that it’s ok to bully people, to grope and objectify women, to behave like an oaf as long as it’s entertaining, to disrespect minorities, to lie, to claim all sorts of untrue things about people who disagree with you.

My grandfather fought in World War II. For Germany, actually. Yeah, he was a Nazi when he was young. He’s passed away years ago, but I remember speaking to him about it, and him shaking his head in shame, saying that it all sounded so believable and convincing what the guy was saying, and that for the longest time he’d held on to the belief that all the ugly things they were hearing about their national hero couldn’t possibly be true. There was a guy who was going to “make Germany great again”, they thought. You may not see them, but there are so many parallels there, it’s scary. Seriously scary. Don’t be caught in a situation where something bad happens that you did nothing to stop and suddenly it’s an out-of-control train wreck and all you can do is watch. And despair.

So, in the name of all that is good and right in this world, I beg you: please, let common sense prevail. No matter what you think of Hillary, she can’t be worse than Donald. Impossible. This many awesome celebrities can’t be wrong.

Please, please, go and vote next month to let a loud and clear “Fuck you!” echo around the world to reach the ears of people like Donald Trump.

They need to hear it even more than Washington.

Save the day. The world will thank you.

Fezzik, you did something right!

R U Ok? Yeah, I am… now

Today is officially “R U OK? Day“. And, as much as I despise the Twitter-gen shortening of two already-quite-short words, this is the first time I feel like I can identify with it. Not that I’m suicidal or anything like that, but I do feel as though I’ve been through the wringer a bit.

What is R U OK? Day?

If you don’t know, R U OK is an organisation founded in Sydney in 2009 that attempts to fight suicide and depression by getting people to ask each other a simple question, “Are you ok?” To really ask, and to listen to the answer, and to dig a little if needs be to find out whether someone is really doing ok, or maybe struggling with some issue or other. One of the critical factors in depression and how people deal with it is a sense of disconnection from others around them. Talking about it can be the first step in the right direction, and as with so many things, we have a dedicated day (the second Thursday in September) to remind us about it, but of course it’s a good idea all year round.

Rewinding

To explain why I can now identify more with depression, I’ll have to go back a few months in time. And talk about my work.

I’m a geek; I write software and websites, server-side programming, user interfaces, Agile development, that sort of thing. Might sound boring to some, but I love it, and I’m very good at what I do. For many years, I’ve successfully worked in the IT industry as a contractor, meaning I hire out my services to companies or organisations who need my expertise. Contracting has its pros and its cons over being a permanent employee (permie). You get paid quite well, and you get paid by the hour – no fixed annual salary – meaning if there’s a deadline and more than 40-hour weeks or 8-hour days are required to meet it, you get paid accordingly. (Quite often in the IT industry, as a permie, you’re expected to work more than the number of hours you’re expected to work as per your work contract.) Of course, if the place you work for runs out of work, you’re among the first that get the boot. You also don’t get paid leave – if you get sick or want to take a holiday, you don’t earn money. So you typically get paid for about 42-46 weeks per year, but the higher rates more than make up for that.

Before my most recent contract, I’d contracted for six employers, and in each case was offered multiple contract extensions, typically in 3-, 6-, or 12-month chunks. I’ve been offered permanency, and in a couple of cases worked for the same company for several years. In three cases I was asked to come back (and did) when they had new work and knew that I was familiar with their systems and could hit the ground running to help out where it was most needed. I had great relationships with those employers, and still keep in touch with several of them (they’re great references when I apply for a new job).

Then my employer ran out of work for me, and I applied for a contract with… let’s call them Company XY. It was supposed to be a one-off two-and-a-half-month contract for a small piece of work with technology I was familiar with. Such short-term contracts aren’t usually my thing, but the timing was right with one week off after the end of the previous one, and I signed a contract with them via a recruitment company. It was a slow start, I had to wait two or three days before I had a PC set up at my new workplace and could log into every system I needed to. I was told that they didn’t have a business analyst (BA) on this project, as the technical architect knew everything there was to know about the business requirements, and had written an extensive document detailing everything.

I got to work, found that the code base was an awful ugly mess written and modified by several different people over time who all had a knack for different anti-patterns. Well, I can deal with that, did some cleanup as I worked my way into the code and became familiar with what it was that they wanted me to do. Until I found that the architect’s document had a logical flaw in it. It had a diagram (a flow chart) with text below explaining the logic, only the diagram and the text contradicted each other. I talked to the architect, showed him the document, and asked – always professional, always polite, at least that’s what I thought – which one was right, i.e. which version to implement. He disagreed that there was even a discrepancy, got confused when I explained my unit tests to him, and told me to just do what the document said.

In hindsight, I suppose the guy felt I’d stepped on his toes, or challenged his authority or something, even though I never brought this up in meetings with the project manager. After two and a half weeks, I’d completed roughly 80% of the work for which they’d allocated two and a half months, and was getting to the point where I really needed a decision on which version of the logic to implement. I tried several different approaches with the architect, finally creating a spreadsheet with a matrix defining all the possibilities and filling it in based on one of the two possible interpretations. He said I had it all wrong, created a matrix of his own, and when I went to his desk to tell him that I now got what the misunderstanding had been, he gruffly told me to “Go away!”

I did, and stayed home the next day due to what I thought was a stomach bug, but maybe it was just a really bad feeling in my gut.

I got a call that afternoon from the recruitment guy telling me that Company XY had terminated my contract effective immediately, and that I shouldn’t come back to their workplace but I should arrange for someone to bring my security pass to their reception and to pick up my private belongings.

I was flabberghasted. I was gutted that this sort of thing could happen.

I explained to the recruiter what I thought had happened, and asked to talk to the project manager and other people, to at least tell my side of the story, but the company refused to communicate with me, except to tell the recruiter that their decision was final. I received an email from the recruiter where he’d copied-and-pasted the reasons they had given for the contract termination, and they were all bogus. It seems they weren’t confident that I could complete the required work in time (I was close to done, with plenty of time left), and something about a lack of communication that didn’t register enough for me to even remember it now. I guess the project manager had bought whatever the architect was saying about me, and some other factors played into it as well that I’ll get to later.

In a daze, I arranged for a friend of mine (who still works there; I’ve known him for years) to get my security pass and to tell him what stuff I’d left on my desk. I was sick of it all, sick to the stomach, literally and figuratively. I decided I needed a bit of time off, didn’t feel like looking for other work right away. I binge-watched some series, played computer games, read some books – anything to keep my mind occupied, keep it from having to figure out what I’d done wrong and what I should do about it.

On the way back up

More time passed than I’d intended, and by the time I started browsing job opportunities again, I had so little enthusiasm for a job that’s always been my passion that I didn’t put as much effort into it as I should have. It took about three months before I found another job – as a permie now for the first time in many years, because I’m too scared to sign on as a contractor where they can do that sort of thing to me. I feel much better about myself again, but I can’t deny that it was a pretty dark time. Part of that shadow still hangs over me somewhere, and will take longer yet to shake off completely.

I’m a very lucky person in that my wife is the most wonderful, most selfless, most loving person in the world. Without her constant encouragement, without her support, I would’ve become lost in my darkness. She knows me so well, knows when to let me sulk or lick my wounds, when and how to cheer me up, when to let me know with a quiet look that she’s always there for me. I can easily see how someone’s downward slide could continue without that type of support.

The occasional rejections from literary agents to whom I’d submitted my work didn’t help during that time, but I’d sort of accepted that that would happen (that glimmer of hope is friggin’ hard to kill, though!).

Today

Of all days, today (even if I technically posted this just after midnight…), on R U OK? Day, I had a chat with a colleague at my new place of work. Guess where she’s worked before? Yep – Company XY. Guess which architect once made her cry at work, and made a former colleague of hers almost have a nervous breakdown? It’s a small world. I learned from her that said architect has six children at home and a wife who is seriously ill.

Damnit, I really wanted to hate that bullying bastard, but now I can’t.

I’m glad I talked to that colleague today, though. I’m glad she didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s nice,” and changed the subject when I told her I’d briefly worked for Company XY. She was really curious, and concerned, and sympathetic when I told her my story. I’m glad I opened up to someone I normally would not have opened up to.

A few weeks ago, I finally reached out to my Dad, who lives overseas, about what I was going through. It wasn’t easy, telling him that I wasn’t doing so well, that I was struggling with something. But I’m so glad I did. It was another pillar of support, and he gave me some great advice, part of which was that I should write about what happened. Even if no one ever reads it, he said, it’s important to get things off your chest, if nothing else, then to simply be able to put a mental “The End” under that chapter of your life. Wise man.

Oh, and the other thing I heard about Company XY today (from that other friend) is that by now almost their entire IT staff have been sacked – yay, outsourcing!

And you?

If there’s anyone in your life, even if they’re on the fringes, who might be struggling with something, who doesn’t seem to be their cheerful self – don’t hesitate to offer a friendly ear. It really can make a difference.

If you’re struggling yourself, reach out to someone, even if it’s hard to overcome your misgivings. It really can make a difference.

Earth Hour? What difference can I make?

Who’s heard of something called Earth Hour? Oh yeah, it’s one of those treehugger events that’s in the news once a year, and then everybody goes back to their old habits and forgets about it.

Right?

Well… no. Like this moron person in New Zealand, you completely missed the point. Ever heard of symbolism? (Sorry, I don’t usually disparage people. Officially. But those who put down and rant against a global event due to willful ignorance, and because they think they’re already doing the right thing, well, they kinda deserve it. They deserve a counter-rant.)

Earth Hour

Earth Hour. More than a once-a-year-fad.

It started as an event in Sydney in 2007, where they turned the lights off for an hour, including on the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, to raise awareness about climate change and that individual people can do their bit to help save slow down the destruction of our planet. Since then, it has spread and become a global phenomenon.

Will it make any difference in terms of the globe’s energy use, or its climate, if you turn off your lights for 60 minutes (out of over half a million minutes in a year)?

No. Pretty close to zip, zilch, zero, nada, nuffin’.

So what’s the point in joining?

Well, what if just one kid, because of you having your lights out, asks just one question: “Why are we doing this?”

What if, years later, that one kid remembers Earth Hour as a yearly thing, and it doesn’t fade from her memory every year after the event is over?

And that’s really what it’s about. Raising awareness. Getting people to quit yapping for just one hour about all their oh-so-bothersome first-world problems. Get them to remember that, the way we’re going, our planet’s use-by date is fast approaching. Change the world, so that one day, instead of people rolling their eyes at those who speak up and suggest we all do something, the kids of today who’ll be making the decisions by then will roll their eyes at those few (hopefully very few) who are still too lazy to get off their butts to do something about the world we live in and think it’s Someone Else’s Problem.

And if, after this hour, you should end up making no difference to yourself, the earth’s energy problems, the climate, and end up affecting not a single child in any way… how exactly can one hour with some lights off hurt you?

(Yes, you may still watch TV if you want. No, don’t bother switching off your fridge. Pay attention, dammit!)

Read what it’s all about, and what an amazing difference the WWF-sponsored event has made last year, at http://earthhour.org. Donate, if you want, and if you can afford to. Just don’t bury your head in the sand. If you really don’t believe any of this can make any difference (have you watched the video?!?), at least don’t rain on everyone else’s parade.

Okay, okay, I’m getting off my little soapbox now.

Earth Hour Poster

Change Climage Change.

My Earth Hour in Perth, Western Australia, starts in an hour and a half, at 8:30 pm local time. I’ll be turning my lights off. How about you?

Letter to my awesome daughter

My wonderful daughter is now 17 (man, that makes me feel old!) and in her final year of high school. She recently went on her Year 12 retreat, and the school asked every student’s parents to secretly write them a letter, which they would all receive one evening while they were away. They’d be given time to read it in private and to respond with a letter of their own. I cherish every word of what she wrote back to me, but while I wouldn’t dream of publishing her words, I’d like to share what I wrote to her.


My Darling Baby Girl,

If I said that I’ve loved and adored you ever since the moment I helped deliver you out of the safety and warmth of your mother’s womb, and caught you, and placed you in Mum’s arms, and cut the cord, and welcomed you into this world… then that wouldn’t be true. Because, well, I already loved everything I knew about you even before you were born. We had some great conversations while Mum was still pregnant with you (even though I did most of the talking and your contributions consisted mostly of kicking and punching and doing somersaults). I played you my favourite music by holding headphones against Mum’s belly, which of course is the sole reason you have such excellent taste in music even today.

Then, you were finally born, and so… perfect. You were there to comfort me with your bright, curious gaze – never once crying, just studying the strange being whose voice you already knew – when Mum needed an operation right after you were delivered and I was so worried that you might be an only child. It all turned out well, but I was so thankful you were there with me.

You had me wrapped around your tiny finger from the very start.

Every step you made, every breath you tade… er, took, I loved every moment of watching you grow up. You see, it wasn’t just that you were so cute (and, oh my goodness, were you ever cute!), but also that you allowed me to experience the entire world through the eyes of a young child again. All the glorious beauty of God’s creation, and I’d become so accustomed to everything that I didn’t really appreciate it anymore… until you showed it to me again. What a gift! In return, I wanted to share everything that I liked with you. If I saw a movie that was really moving, or funny, or exciting, I thought, “Ooh, I’m going to watch this one with Debbie when she’s <X> years old!” If I read a book that was really good, I thought, “Oh boy, I hope she’ll become an avid reader and devour books by the truckload.” (And lo and behold, it came to be thus.)

Well, all right – I can’t take all the credit for everything. Nearly everything, though. Yeah, of course Mum was always there to spoil you as well, so… almost nearly everything, then. (Now stop being so nitpicky and let me enjoy this!) And spoil you we did, but, right from the start, one of my goals was to help you be the best you you could possibly be. One of the most important traits I taught you was to be critical. I’d tell you things, even before you could properly reply more than yes or no (but, wow, you understood so much already!), and then ask a question that challenged what I’d just told you. Somehow, you just didn’t let me fool you.

So many milestones* along the way. Having a little brother, then another. Experiencing the wonders of having pets, and of having them pass away. Kindy, pre-school, primary school, secondary school, changing school, making new friends. Becoming a teenager, lying to your parents, reconciling. The first boyfriend (whom I somehow didn’t even kill… no guarantees about the next one, though), your first break-up. Braces. Your first job. Becoming a mature young woman (you were always way more mature than most others your age).

(*Disclaimer: Events may not necessarily be in chronological order. Events in rear-view mirror may seem more or less significant than they really were, depending. On stuff.)

And now, and now… you’re still and will always be Daddy’s little girl, but you’re also a wonderful young woman, so full of confidence – and rightly so – in her ability to handle whatever the world throws at her. Seventeen now, #ohmigoshohmigosh #howdidtimeflysofast?!? You’re old enough to watch horror movies with us, old enough to laugh at all my dirty jokes that I had to bottle up for years before you would’ve understood them (even if you cringe at some of them, you love it!), old enough to write your own stories (which are getting better so fast it’s scary), old enough to have your L-plates and later this year your P-plates. Soon you’ll be old enough to vote!

Your journey in your final year in secondary school will end a chapter in your life that will seem smaller and smaller as you move on and open new chapters over time, but you should always be proud of all that you’ve achieved and accomplished and become during this impressionable time. I know I am and will always be proud of you. Your sharp mind is a weapon, use it to beat life into submission. You can be anything you want to be, because you’ve been handed these most important attributes by Mum and me: awesome brains, the heart of an artist and a poet, a killer sense of humour, and a smile that can melt any heart. There shouldn’t be any situation where the things we’ve handed down are not enough, but if there ever is… I’ll be there for you.

Love always and forever,

– Daddy

 

Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we’ve handed down

And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we’ve handed down

You may not always be so grateful
For the way that you were made
Some feature of your father’s
That you’d gladly sell or trade

And one day you may look at us
And say that you were cursed
But over time that line has been
Extremely well rehearsed

By our fathers, and their fathers
In some old and distant town
From places no one here remembers
Come the things we’ve handed down

– Mark Cohn, “The Things We’ve Handed Down”

Happy Australia Day 2015!

To celebrate having survived the first of several days around 38°C (that’s just over 100 for those still stuck with Farenheit), I want to wish all Aussies and non-Aussies alike a Happy Australia Day 🙂

For a bit of fun, here are two very contrasting funny bits. The first is about how cold it gets in Norway, the second about how hot it gets in Australia.

Norwegian weather

+15°C / 59°F
This is as warm as it gets in Norway, so we’ll start here. People in Spain wear winter-coats and gloves. The Norwegians are out in the sun, getting a tan.

+10°C / 50°F
The French are trying in vain to start their central heating. The Norwegians plant flowers in their gardens.

+5°C / 41°F
Italian cars won’t start. The Norwegians are cruising in cabriolets.

0°C / 32°F
Distilled water freezes. The water in Oslo Fjord gets a little thicker.

-5°C / 23°F
People in California almost freeze to death. The Norwegians have their final barbecue before winter.

-10°C / 14°F
The Brits start the heat in their houses. The Norwegians start using long sleeves.

-20°C / -4°F
The Aussies flee from Mallorca. The Norwegians end their Midsummer celebrations. Autumn is here.

-30°C / -22°F
People in Greece die from the cold and disappear from the face of the earth. The Norwegians start drying their laundry indoors.

-40°C / -40°F
Paris start cracking in the cold. The Norwegians stand in line at the hotdog stands.

-50°C / -58°F
Polar bears start evacuating the North Pole. The Norwegian army postpones their winter survival training awaiting real winter weather.

-70°C / -94°F
The false Santa moves south. The Norwegian army goes out on winter survival training.

-183°C / -297.4°F
Microbes in food don’t survive. The Norwegian cows complain that the farmers’ hands are cold.

-273°C / -459.4°F
ALL atom-based movement halts. The Norwegians start saying “Faen, it’s cold outside today.”

-300°C / -508°F
Hell freezes over, Norway wins the Eurovision Song Contest.

Australian summer

You know it’s hot in Australia when:

1) The best parking spot is determined by shade, not distance.
2) Hot water comes out of both taps.
3) You learn that a seat belt buckle makes a pretty good branding iron.
4) The temperature drops below 32 degrees C and you feel chilly.
5) You know that in January and February it only takes two fingers to steer a car.
6) You discover you can get sunburnt through your windscreen.
7) You develop a fear of metal door handles.
8) You break into a sweat the instant you step outside at 7am.
9) Your biggest bicycle accident fear is: “What if I get knocked out and end up lying on the road, getting cooked?”
10) You realise that asphalt has a liquid state.
11) Farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to prevent them from laying hard boiled eggs.
12) The trees are whistling for dogs.
13) While walking back barefoot to your car from any event, you do a tightrope act on the white lines in the car park.
14) You catch a cold from having the aircon on full blast all night long.
15) You realise that Westfield Shopping Centres aren’t just Shopping Centres – they are temples where we worship Air Conditioning.
16) Sticking your head in the freezer and taking deep breaths is considered normal.
17) A cup full of ice is considered a great snack.
18) A black-out is life threatening because your aircon and your fans no longer work.
19) No one cares if you walk around with no shoes on.
20) You keep everything in the fridge, including potatoes, bread and clothing.
21) People have enough left over beer cans to make a boat and compete in a regatta.
22) The effort of towelling yourself off after a shower means you need another shower right away.
23) You will wait patiently until the day it starts raining to go on a run.
24) You worry your ceiling fan is spinning so fast it will fly off and kill you.
25) You laugh because this list is so accurate.

Skyworks on Australia Day in Perth, Western Australia

Perth Skyworks: half an hour of awesome fireworks, synchronised to music broadcast on radio. #LoveThisCity

Happy Australia Day, and loads of fun to all those heading down to the Perth foreshore or to King’s Park for tonight’s Skyworks (the biggest in Australia!).

New year, new theme

I believe…!

(*clears throat and climbs up on his soapbox, manifesto in one hand, microphone in the other*)

I believe...

… that there are a few things I need to say at the start of the new year, 2015.

General

  • … that people who wonder about the meaning of life either don’t have kids or don’t pay enough attention to them.
  • … that love, humour and hope are the three main ingredients for happiness.
  • … in happy endings in real life. (In stories, they sometimes make me cringe, though. Even if I did silently hope for them.)
  • … in the importance of people being able to talk to each other… non-electronically.
  • … that you don’t need to drink alcohol in order to have fun.
  • … that smoking should be outlawed except for people willing to wear a permanently sealed-off helmet, and that the influence of tobacco lobbyists and the like are despicable. We all know what it does… why is it still around?
  • … that America and the UK need to stop hanging on to their confusing versions of the imperial system of units and finally go metric (your medical and military people are doing it… no, not with each other, I mean they use the metric system). Also, the US need to stop insisting on formatting dates with the middle value followed by the smallest value followed by the largest value. WTF? Oh, while you’re at it, guys, fix where punctuation goes on quotes that are less than a “complete sentence”.
  • … that bullies are almost always cowards too weak to stop doing to others something similar to what’s been done to them.
  • … that the most wonderful sound in the whole wide world is that of my kids laughing uncontrollably.
  • … that I’m the luckiest guy alive because my awesome wife, best friend and soulmate gets me and loves me including all my faults.

Politics

  • … that religious extremism of any sort makes this world a darker place, and that the rest of the world should take heed of how Australia handled her first real encounter with it. #IllRideWithYou
  • … that Australia needs to get rid of its current village idiot, climate-change-denying leader to start moving in the right direction again. We’re the joke of the world, being pretty much the only country in the world that is moving away from actively doing something about global warming, and it’s a friggin’ disgrace.

Software

  • … that OSS (open-source software) is the way to go wherever there’s a choice.
  • … that DRM (digital rights management) is wrong.
  • … that I couldn’t live without some of my favourite pieces of software (sounds like a future blog topic to me!).
  • … that installing a piece of software on my PC or an app on my phone doesn’t give it the right to do things like collect data about me without my explicit agreement, to not give me a choice of when it can dial home or check for updates, or to access any information on my system it doesn’t absolutely need to function. Worst offenders being companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Adobe, but also increasingly “do-no-evil” Google. (I love Cyanogen!)
  • … that it’s a crying shame that Smalltalk isn’t more widely used as a programming language (try Pharo and Seaside if you like to tinker, you won’t want to go back).
  • … that I am fully within my rights, when I see an email from someone that ends with “sent from my iPhone” to add to my own response, “Sent from my 64GB/3G Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz Quadcore OnePlus One with Cyanogen 11S that kicks your iPhone’s arse (and costs less than half as much)”.

Work (in IT)

  • … that programmers shouldn’t have to wear business clothes.
  • … that software architects should have the guts to recommend the right software for the job, not based on which sales reps can throw more money at decision-making board members who still believe that more expensive must mean better.
  • … that IT recruiters are right up there with lawyers and other blood suckers. The fact that they charge between 10% and 40% (or even more) on top of a developer’s rates without really knowing anything beyond buzz words is just appalling.

Blogging

  • … that I should take the time to blog a bit more. (Yeah, like that’ll happen. *sigh*)
  • … that there are too many good, honest blogs out there to read – how I wish I had more time to invest in being a good follower!
  • … that following another blog without really being interested in what it’s about, i.e. just to get them to follow you back, is akin to lying. Thanks to all those who do occasionally read my humble scribblings, and I hope to find more time to read all your blogs. (I _am_ interested in those I follow! I just roll my eyes whenever someone new follows me whose blog is about “making money by blogging” or the like.) For now, though, my aim is simply to have (not necessarily build) a platform while I focus on writing my book. Building my platform will come later, when I have more time for that sort of thing….
  • … that WordPress is great, but they should finally accept that I like the “old” stats page better and stop asking me to vote in their silly survey every time I load it.
  • … that WordPress needs to finally find a way to fix the “invalid certificate” bug that causes security errors. I keep forgetting that certain things only work in certain browsers because of it, and that it sometimes causes my “likes” of other blogs to be lost. Not cool!

Writing

  • … that I’ve had enough of distopian future stories whose premise I don’t buy, or whose premise I buy, but they then make ridiculous assumptions about human nature that I just can’t swallow (might be another future blog post).
  • … that everyone should take grammar seriously. Not just grandpa. All jokes aside, don’t let our language decay because people have to fit everything into 140 characters. Do your part, write things out, learn how it’s done right without needing a spell checker, and gently educate those who fall short. Or, like, mercilessly correct them, or… whatever.
  • … that my story is worth telling.
  • … that 2015 will be the year I finally finish my story. Watch this space. #amwriting

Conclusion

  • … that you should all have a Happy New Year! All the best for 2015 (and beyond).
  • … that it’s about time I stepped off this soap box. Ahem. Sorry for ranting, but occasionally it’s nice to get this sort of stuff off my chest. Now somebody give me a hand getting down, it’s higher than it looks. Huh? What do you mean, the microphone wasn’t on?!?

YAMCBP (Yet Another Merry Christmas Blog Post)

Just logged in and saw a few nice “Merry Christmas” blog posts, and, at the risk of being very unoriginal, thought I’d hop on the bandwagon.

So, a very quick but jolly

Merry Christmas

to everyone around the world from sunny Perth, Australia.

Was I duped by Sarah Daltry?

My dilemma for the past couple of weeks has been that I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to blog in support of Sarah Daltry or one… well, warning about her. I’ve been trying to weigh both sides of the story, since I felt it was worth a blog post, but simply couldn’t decide. Supporting either side felt, and still feels, wrong. When I moped about it to my wife, she – wisely, as always – told me that there’s nothing wrong with continuing to sit on the fence if neither side appears palatable.

So, here I sit.

Undecided, but wanting to get my doubts out.

The email

After my passionate rant in her defense (and that of anyone who’s ever been bullied) when I heard that she was withdrawing her written work and her social media presence due to extreme bullying, I didn’t hear about the issue again for months until I received an email from someone who said she was a friend of Sarah’s. She apologised for the delay, saying she’d only found my post recently in a Google search (and that Sarah wouldn’t do such research herself), explained Sarah’s current situation (which was apparently much improved after she was suicidal and required professional help, so improved, in fact, that she was “coming back, with a focus on […] the stories she loves and what the writing means to her”), and thanked me for my supportive words in the open letter I wrote.

Honestly, that felt good. I’d done the right thing, stood up for what I believed was right and smote (well, with words) what I believed was wrong. And I was being thanked for it. I was under no illusions that my words had pulled Sarah back from the brink of darkness or anything that dramatic, but I was sincerely glad to hear she was doing better and writing once again. Someone who’d had that many bad things happen to her (bullying, via bad reviews as well as emails and on social media, rape, poverty, depression, suicide attempts…) surely deserved my help.

My reply

I replied to the email, thanking her for the update and confessing to be a “sucker for happy endings, but enough of a realist to understand that it’s not always like that”. I offered to help if I could:

“If there’s anything I can do to help, please do let me know – however much, however little, I’d be glad to help, whether it’s a new blog post with your words (only with your permission, of course), beta reading, feedback of any kind, or simply taking down the old post if Sarah prefers and never mentioning it again… just let me know.”

Research of my own

We emailed each other another couple of times; she was happy for me to do a blog post, even to post the contents of her first email, and, since Sarah was currently “rewriting her NA series that was originally romance [into] a new series [that was] geared more towards YA”, I could share upcoming promos for that series.

I agreed, saying I’d do a blog post later that week (over two weeks ago). In the meantime, I wanted to do a little bit of research to know more about Sarah’s story; surely, many others had carried the torch as I had, had stood up to bullying in their own ways in support of someone who’d been treated that badly.

The original “Open Letter to Bullies” post, in which Sarah announced that she was giving up, conceding defeat to all the hate, was no longer available, but there’s always the wayback machine for such cases (even if the styling is off, the content is there):

http://web.archive.org/web/[…]/open-letter-to-bullies/

The other side

To my surprise, what I discovered next was quite a different story. Rather than the social media outrage I’d expected at an author being bullied, the first three results of googling “Sarah Daltry” were her author pages on goodreads.com (with quite a favourable rating), her own site, and amazon.com, followed by a blog post by a site that seemed dedicated to stopping bullying on goodreads, except… that one was not supportive of her at all. Instead, just four days after Sarah published her open letter to bullies, it claimed to have sufficient information to take the stance that the whole thing was just a PR stunt to promote her work:

http://www.stopthegrbullies.com/2014/04/09/sarah-daltry-cries-bully/

Wait, I thought, aren’t you guys supposed to be trying to stop the bullying rather than adding to it? I read through this post with skepticism sitting heavy on my shoulders, but starting to slip as I found out that she’d reversed her decision to take down her site and her self-published books. Reading through the comments, people seemed to be quite willing to get right back to bashing Sarah (or was it “back”?).

There were a few other sites that were similarly dismissive of her claims, stating that Sarah had made quite a profit out of “crying wolf”, getting many “sympathy buys” after asking publicly for support, etc., and that there was no proof that she’d ever been bullied by bad reviews, with high ratings on both goodreads and amazon.

Who’s right?

Hmm. So either Sarah Daltry was right with her claims and those other websites were just adding to the incredible unfairness she’s experienced, or they (I’ll call them her “decriers”) were right to call BS and Sarah has been abusing the sympathy of a great lot of people, myself included, for her own profit.

Either way, I feel I have a right to be outraged. I think. I’m just really reluctant to direct my outrage at anyone unless I can be sure that, when I get down from my fence, I land on the right side.

Here’s what I emailed back to Sarah’s friend after I’d read up on the issue:

Wow, do I feel stupid. I was about to write up that blog post I mentioned, but, having just done a bit of googling myself, I’m not quite sure what to believe…

The reply was… well, understanding, ending with: “I will respect your choice either way, because in the end the choice is up to you as to what you believe.”

Checking newer posts on Sarah’s site like this one, she replies to comments by Nicholas (whose post first alerted me to the whole issue and who I think is a genuinely nice guy) that, yes, she’s read positive things as well as negative things posted about her.

What doesn’t add up for me

Here’s why I’m not willing to leave my perch on the fence just yet, some things still don’t quite make sense….

Assuming Sarah Daltry’s claims and reasons for withdrawing from “public life” were legitimate:

  • Why did she claim that she’d be removing her books but then did no such thing?
  • Why are her reviews so high on goodreads and amazon if there was such extreme bullying?
  • Why does she claim that she reads positive and negative things about herself when her friend says she’d never do that (only two days earlier)?
  • Why wasn’t her friend more, I don’t know, outraged when I said I wasn’t sure what to believe? If your friend gets treated really badly and someone says they think she might be lying about it, wouldn’t you get upset?
  • Would a site that’s supposed to be about protecting those who were bullied call BS on someone claiming to have been bullied, unless they had pretty good evidence?

Assuming it was all a farce and those who say she cried wolf to engender false sympathy are right:

  • Couldn’t the lack of evidence of bullying and the positive reviews just be because the abusive reviews and comments were removed from the sites in question? (I honestly don’t know what their policies are.)
  • Is Sarah’s “friend” who emailed me actually just another one of the multiple personas her decriers claim she maintains?
  • Why does the “stopthegrbullies” site not post the “evidence” that proves who Sarah Daltry is? Is it really because of a promise to those who gave them that information, to protect them from Sarah using her other personas (“socks”) to write bad reviews about them? Even if she abused sympathy to sell her books, making Sarah sound like an evil kingpin with that much power doesn’t quite gel.
  • Why did the “stopthegrbullies” site remove commenters’ last names and links to their websites? Because of “trolls stalking their blog” to protect the commenters, really? Sorry, but that seems far-fetched to me. By the same token as their argument about Sarah’s “socks”, some of those commenters who were “convinced” could then well have been the site owners themselves.

And, either way: Would people really do that?!? Wow, maybe I’m just too naïve.

So… was I duped?

What do you think? Or know? Have I missed any major information? Am I being silly in not being able to reach a conclusion, one way or the other? Should I just “let it go” and stop fretting?

Please let me know in the comments below, or feel free to email me (amos at amosmcarpenter dot com) if you’d rather not make it public.

Introducing: Shadow, our new kitten

I’ve mentioned previously that our new kitten “Shadow” has been a welcome distraction in our household after our older cat passed away. As threatened promised, here are a few pictures of him. Beware: continuing to read this post may lead to uncontrollable utterings of “Aaaawwww!” and the like. You have been warned.

Shadow is a Tuxedo cat, being mainly black with white socks, chest and neck, and one awesome white moustache.

Tuxedo cat

You know I’m adorable. Go ahead. Say it!

Thanks to his very cheeky nature, he wasn’t shy for very long after he arrived at our home, soon making a variety of new friends…

Hunting guppies

From harmless guppies…

Dog encounter

… to Summer, our dog.

Hair-raising encounter

Meeting our other tomcat, Merlin, proved a hair-raising encounter at first…

Game of Thrones

… because if you don’t respect the big cat in the house, it’s Game of Thrones time.

Merlin was not fond of being attacked by the cheeky little devil at every turn.
Unwelcome

There was a fair bit of hissing, spitting and flattening of the ears initially…

Shadow gets comfy

… but what are you going to do if the cute little guy just ignores all that and ruthlessly cuddles up to you…

Insistent cuddler

… and even if you try to turn away…

Sneaky cuddler

… he just snuggles up to you over and over…

Friends at last

… until you just have to accept it?