Thursday, July 30, 2009


As I've mentioned before I'm always on the lookout for opportunities to buy art from emerging artists. Or rather, to buy art from artists who have something exciting to say and the talent with which to say it... which in my price range means emerging artists. To this end I decided to attend an auction this evening at the Central TAFE Art Gallery, built around the work of their 2009 graduating class.

Obviously the Central TAFE isn't exactly the New York School of Visual Arts, but I thought they might have one or two interesting things. And I was right. While there was a lot of triteness and gibberish in the work, there were a few nice pieces. It's difficult to describe in words exactly why one art work succeeds where another fails - it's a matter of fine craftsmanship, unexpected materials, and a big old spark of insight in the depiction of the subject. I liked the heavily structured three dimensional coil of copper wire, the huge iron bolt threaded with silky smooth lozenges of wood, and the sepia photograph of suburbia exquisitely corrugated to resemble a backyard fence or a row of terraced rooves.

Unfortunately the crowd at the auction was heavily populated by parents of the students, and friends and relatives of the parents of the students. That is, people who don't go to art auctions very often, people who have a fair bit of money, and people who get caught up in the giddy thrill of the moment and don't realise until far too late that they've just spent $300 on a clumsily carved piece of wood barely worth a quarter of that. The bids started out reasonably but as the excitement and the free booze started to kick in they shot up above and beyond the range of sense. I left after less than an hour.

Still, at least I got to observe and occasionally smirk at the sartorial splendor of junior art attempters in their native habitat. My thoughts tended to run along the lines of the following:

"Oh, you're wearing a keffiyeh as a belt, thus demonstrating that you're politically aware but also willing to transgress the semiotics of the garment. I hope that everyone else here recognises your brilliance."

"Boys should not wear hand painted shoes. Actually, boys probably shouldn't wear hand painted anything."

"Serious artists wear black, because all of their ornamentation comes from within. Dilettantes wear fancifully embroidered silk smoking jackets."

That's the beauty of the art world - they can look down their noses at me because I'm wearing an expensive suit, and I can look down my nose at them because they're dressed like twits. Everybody wins!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


On Monday night I got a morsel of steak caught between a couple of my back teeth, and when I got out the dental floss to dislodge it, I attacked with a little too much gusto and lacerated my gum. Naturally it became infected and now I have a painful toothache all down the left side of my jaw.

It should clear up in a few days, but the mouth is the worst place to have this sort of minor infection. The pain radiates through all of those hypersensitive oral nerves. Eating or teeth brushing makes it worse. And this sort of injury is impossible to keep clean and dry.

I am at least trying to provide a level of antisepsis in my mouth. During the day this means hitting the antiseptic mouth wash as often as possible. In the evening I've been relying a different form of antispetic - the vodka martini. The near pure alcohol kills bacteria, with the added benefit of numbing the area and, eventually, numbing me too. I've been using a new variety of Zubrowka that has a remarkable bolt of vanilla augmenting the standard herb flavours, with a twist of lemon peel rather than an olive, and it's as fine as any man could want.

While I prefer to address the infection rather than just smother the symptoms, I've also had to resort to painkillers to get any sleep. Fortunately I discovered half a packet of expired Panadeine Fortes at the back of the medicine cabinet, and after using them I've been reminded that we live in an age of wonderful drugs. They took a while in kick in, but once they did the paracetamol bore the pain away and replaced it with the soothing embrace of codeine. It's like being wrapped in soft, sleepy kittens.

I'm actually rather looking forward to bedtime tonight.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


As a general rule, people are not very clever. This can come as a surprise to those of us who are blessed with cleverosity, largely because a) we tend to mix with other clever people and b) we don't often stop to ask random strangers difficult logic questions. But nevertheless it's true.

As a case in point, take this quiz. Go on; it's almost laughably easy. However 90% of people who took the quiz got at least one question wrong. Nearly half got more than five questions wrong. And one out of three quiz takers with a tertiary education didn't know what a laser is! Unless the demographic sample of college graduates was skewed toward people who graduated from The Ponds Institute and Hollywood Upstairs Medical College, this is almost unbelievable.

Of course it's valid to argue that this quiz doesn't test intelligence; merely scientific awareness. But it's also valid to note that the two have a strong correlation.

I love this sort of statistical data and the fascinating factoids that one can harvest from them. For example, while the average score for women was 0.5 points lower than the average score for men, women scored higher than men in the three medical-based questions, as opposed to astronomy, physics, technology and earth sciences. And even more interestingly, these three questions were the only ones in which, on average, women scored higher. The ramifications for male and female psychology, neurology and/or priorities are intriguing.

But for me overall this quiz would tend to suggest two pertinent things. One, the majority of the population is almost too dumb to function. And two, the fact that they do function very successfully means that intelligence is not as important as we smarty-pantses might think.

Monday, July 27, 2009


On Saturday I bought some Lego. I was in the mood for it. I justify these occasional purchases by maintaining that my nephews love to play with it when they come to visit, but let's face it, that's just an excuse. A man buys Lego because it's fun. This explains why there are Lego sets which cost more than most children will see before puberty.

I bought the two cheapest sets in the new Space Police range, since I have a bit of a sci-fi theme running through my Lego collection. The scenario for each set is roughly the same: Space Police man barrels about in a rather ostentatious Space Police vehicle, chasing down an alien dude involved in anything from pickpocketing or running red lights to gold heists or prison escapes.

Unfortunately when adults play with Lego they ask stupid questions and give themselves even stupider answers. It's indicative of our hypersensitive, politically correct society that it seems somehow unwholesome that all the Space Police are human, while the criminals are aliens. What sort of society are they living in? Why are there no alien Space Police? Why are humans the only ones enforcing the Law? Is it because the Law is something they're imposing on others? And why are there no humans breaking the law? Does the Law not apply to them?

It's like something out of Cory Doctorow's most fevered fantasies.

I say that this poor alien has enough on his plate without being profiled as a criminal. His species obviously evolved on a planet on which it was more important to know what the weather was like than to know if you were about to trip over something; it's the only way to explain why his eyes look up rather than out.

Given that it's physically impossible for him to see any item he's holding, the poor guy probably doesn't even know that he has a 100 Space Dollar bill in his hand. He probably thinks it's just a chocolate bar or his TV remote. And now some little Lego Yellow Supremacist is all in his face about it. The fascist.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I've just finished Vernor Vinge's latest novel, 'Rainbows End', and as I put it down I reflected on it with wonder and a hint of delight. Wonder because the man is a towering genius of imagination. A hint of delight because even a towering genius of imagination isn't beyond occasionally screwing up the narrative and limping home like a baseball player who's been shot in the kneecaps.

In 2006 world-renown poet Robert Gu succumbs to Alzheimer's disease, and drifts along in a dark fog of confused memories and vague interactions with the world with no sense of the passage of time. When he surfaces, thanks to a new Alzheimer's cure, he discovers that he's living in 2025 with his middle-aged son and a granddaughter he never knew he had. Gene therapies have returned his body to an almost teenaged state, and although his personality seems to have altered somewhat his mind is as sharp as it ever was.

He needs every bit of his intelligence, however, as technology has improved exponentially since he was a professor of literature. Computers as we know them no longer exist. Smart paper, which can become anything from a camera to a web browser, is obsolete and used only by the elderly. Anyone under the age of 40 has wi-fi clothing and HUD contact lenses, so that with the correct series of gestures, squints and twitches they can access any information and overlay it across reality. Staring at bottle of orange juice will cause its expiry date and calorie count to hover across your vision. Glance at a shrub by the side of the road and have its Latin name pop up before your eyes. And if you're bored with your neighbour's house, you can arrange for it to appear to you as a castle, or a tree, or a giant statue of Gene Roddenberry.

This is an intriguing idea, but Vinge has a talent for taking these technological concepts and pushing them in unexpected directions. He extrapolates today's Google-savvy teenagers into youths who are functionally illiterate but have vast vocabularies because they can call up a thesaurus literally without blinking, and who are thunderingly ignorant and yet can know anything as soon as it's asked of them. This generation can know every fact imaginable, but only in isolation - as one older character notes, they don't know any of the framework around those facts. They can instantly find any piece of data but not say why that piece of data is important.

Vinge is even subtle enough to throw in the occasional glaring error as one of his teenaged characters chats knowledgably on a topic: the equivalent of discussing the exact release dates of obscure Billie Holiday recordings while at the same time assuming, from the name, that she was a man. Facts accessible in isolation lack the framework to prove or disprove their truth, making obvious errors harder to pick up.

Of course there's more to the book than this. There's a plot about a fiendishly complicated government conspiracy to check the population with a mind-control virus... but it's difficult to follow and eventually fragments under the weight of its own convolution. The last couple of chapters read as if Vinge had lost interest in the story and his editor had quietly passed away. Even so, Vinge's novels are great more for their ideas rather than their narrative. The plot itself rests on the idea that globalisation and the Information Age drives down the prices not just of dishwashers and laptops but also of WMDs and viral labs. By 2025 anyone with internet access and a bad hair day can create a species-threatening weapon of mass destruction, and it becomes harder and harder each year to prevent this from happening.

If you haven't read any Vinge I'd wholeheartedly recommend him. He's not prolific but what little he does write is fascinating.

Friday, July 10, 2009


At last, an internet craze that the lazy man (i.e. me) can get behind. Or on top of, as the case may be.


In a spirit of self-improvement I've started to address some of the painful aspects of my life, as mentioned in my previous post.

I've discovered that I can compensate for the lack of tap-tapness in my new shoes through the simple expedient of carrying castanets wherever I go. As I walk I can tap out an appropriate soundtrack, with the added benefit of being able to introduce complicated flourishes as the mood takes me. Suddenly everyone in the office is convinced that I'm performing surrupticious flamencos in the corridor while their backs are turned.

I've compensated for the scrolling on the digital recorder by realising that the machine has far greater flaws. If I tell it to record, say, The Simpsons, it will start recording at precisely 8pm and stop recording at precisely 8.30pm. This is a problem, as the weenies in charge of TV programming at Channel Ten don't seem to want to let any given episode of the preceeding Masterchef program end. Maybe they worry that any attempt to limit the goose that lays the golden ratings will kill it? Perhaps they do not understand the mysterious voodoo that made it popular and cannot approach the Make It Stop Now button without fear and trembling? Whatever the reason, I'm resigned to missing the denouement of every single episode of The Simpsons for here on. How I will cope without closure remains to be seen.

And finally, I've solved the issue with my iPod by deleting a whole bunch of music. The iPod only holds 18.55 Gbs, or about 4,500 songs, and I had more than 5,000 in iTunes. So goodbye to most of The Pixies. So long to Velocity Girl. Sod off to great swathes of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, and tìoraidh! to anything Enya recorded after 1995. And unfortunately it's bon voyage and bin voyooge to several hours' worth of Goon Shows. I burnt them to a data DVD, so it's not like they're lost, but it won't be the same without random jokes suddenly popping up when I'm listening to music on shuffle.

Okay, so I lied about one of these solutions. You got me. As people who know me well will attest, I would never delete music off my iPod.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Cri de Coeur

The Unending Agony That Is My Life:

My new dark brown formal shoes have rubber soles, so instead of a smart, brisk tap-tap as I walk across hard surfaces, I just move in eerie silence. How am I supposed to insinuate that efficiency and seriousness have arrived when I have self-effacing shoes?

Most days the sudoku in the newspaper is too easy.

Most days the cryptic crossword in the newspaper is too hard.

My new HD digital TV recorder shows the current TV station in a scrolling display, and it's annoying. I read the manual and found out how to turn it off, but for some reason the toggle is missing from the on-screen menu, so I can't.

My 450 thread count egyptian cotton pillow cases show the dirt too easily.

I've run out of space on my iPod.

Monday, July 06, 2009


Like a lot of mid-century advertisements for cars, this one hints at an America entirely populated by slender midgets who like to jam themselves into the corners of large cars.

The new GM with Body by Fisher: even if the front falls off and the wheels disappear, it will still do Warp Factor Nine. Apparently a good paint job can make up for all sorts of failings in build quality. Who knew?

Note that the "rubber weatherstrips are mechanically attached". As opposed to using voodoo, presumably.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Back in the heady days when people still thought that Science was pretty damn cool:

The man who thinks for himself knows... only Viceroy has a thinking man's filter... a smoking man's taste... resulting in a smoking man's prematurely wrinkled skin and a dying man's lung cancer.

Nobody respects astronomers any more. The only way that Science can be used to sell things these days is to park a smug woman in a white coat or an unthreatening boy-man with a winsome expression in front of a grassy meadow spotted with wind turbines. Possibly with a Prius puttering sedately across the background.

Not like the good old days. Cigarettes! Taciturn men in suits! Big phallic machines! The stars themselves spiraling down into the observatory to obey our every command! It doesn't make us happy but we don't care, for we are Men of Science!

I like to think that the guy in the background is saying to himself, "What the hell? There's a sixth planet in the solar system? Whoa!"

Friday, July 03, 2009


More vintage advertising from the 1959 Life magazine:

Does she... or doesn't she... shave off her own eyebrows and replace them with upside down Nike swooshes?

Only her hairdresser and her pyschiatrist know for sure!


Our receptionist at work recently celebrated her 50th birthday, and to mark the occasion we bought a Life magazine from the week of her birth off eBay. She was delighted, if a little embarassed by the proof that she was born in the era of tailfins, President Eisenhower and magazines that cost 19c.

I borrowed the magazine after she'd had a chance to flip through it and scanned some of the advertisements. Judging from those ads, people in the late 1950s liked big cars, classy booze (including at least four varieties of gin) and planet-despoiling petrochemical products.

I really was born 50 years too late.

She remembers beer, even when you can't remember where you live. Bless 'er.

This image cracks me up. We have a slim man with a fluffy little lapdog lying in a frilly hammock, wearing what appears to be a pair of kicky capri pants. If this guy's married it probably isn't to a woman.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


It's only been a little over four years since Michael Jackson contributed a post to this blog, but it seems a lifetime ago. It was only a brief relationship, conducted entirely via lawyers and threats, but I remember it with fondness.