Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wormholes in space

There has been a lot of speculation about the possible existence of ‘wormholes’ in space. Wormholes are kinks in space and time that can connect two distant parts of the galaxy almost instantly.

I’m convinced that they exist and that there is one connecting Waverton on the Lower North Shore in Sydney and Burrawang in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

Rear Burrawang Hotel in mist

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Meeting someone

In earlier centuries, it was not unusual for women to marry someone’s sword, portrait or block of land—probably far better than marrying their football club.

Modern dating might at times seems extreme and unusual (if not cruel as well). But is it really?
In earlier centuries, it was not unusual for women to marry someone’s sword or for someone to receive a photograph or a painting to assess the merits of a potential partner. Shiploads travelled from Britain to fill a gap in marriageable young women. Advertising was not uncommon.

The fact that potential partners ever met was a miracle comparable to the first plane flight or refrigeration.

Half empty, half full

Asked whether the cup was half full or half empty, I’d have to ask why it wasn’t completely full.

I am beginning to think that the world is made up of two kinds of people. There are those who spend all their time stopping bad things from happening and there are those who are much more focused on making good things happen.
Half empty, half full, too full.

These strike me as the same people for whom the cup is either half full or half empty, but that might be cruel.
For myself, if asked whether the cup was half full or half empty, I’d have to ask: why wasn’t it completely full?

Too close to the television

When I was growing up, we were constantly warned not to sit too close to the television. Now, as an adult, I spend my whole life sitting too close to a television.

When I was growing up, we were constantly warned not to sit too close to the television screen. Now everyone I know spends their whole life sitting too close to a television screen.

Electronic screens have become our second set of windows looking out on the world around us—and even more so on the world distant from us.

Sitting too close

Most homes now have at least one such screen, many have a great deal more. They might be called televisions or computers, mobile phones or PDAs or perhaps home cinemas, but they are all forms of the old television screen that used to show black and white programs from an Australia most of us can barely remember—that’s if we were there at all.

Senseless - cures for the common cold

When I have a cold and, suddenly, I lose my sense of smell, my sense of taste vanishes as well. With a head cold, it’s like eating in black and white.

With the range of modern, life-threatening viruses around, there are plenty of diseases to be worried about in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. With swine and avian flu, AIDS, hepatitis B, C and D, Ross River fever, yuppie flu, new strains of TB and whatever else, there's an awful lot to worry about.

Taste vanishes in a black and white haze

Despite all these extremely serious diseases, what worries me is something far more simple. What really worries me is the common cold. I want to know why it is common. If it was less common maybe I wouldn't catch one so often. What about ‘the uncommon cold’ – why can’t I catch that, maybe every ten years or so?

The safety of strangers

It’s much, much safer in the company of complete strangers. If they hardly know you, then they are unlikely to want to kill you.

I was reading a front page article in a newspaper recently. It mentioned with a sense of alarm that several people accused of murder were currently free in the community.
Safe in the company of stranger

I read more closely and was intrigued to find that every single one of the people mentioned had been charged with murdering someone they were close to – a friend, a relative or partner. They hadn’t suddenly seized upon some totally unknown stranger and murdered them out of the blue.

It brought home to me a terrible truth that keeps being forgotten—the person most likely to murder you is someone you already know—and the closer to you they are, the more likely it is.

Fat held up by salt — all the essential food groups

I looked at a plate of antipasto and realised it was essentially assorted forms of fat, held up by salt and sugar.

Years ago, I was at a wedding reception in a marvellous Italian function centre in Leichhardt, when I looked down at a plate of antipasto and realised that it was essentially assorted forms of fat, held up by sugar and salt.

Fat held up by racks

Slices of cheese, salami, prosciutto, coppa, and pancetta stared me in the face—all tasting and smelling superb, and representing all of the essential food groups—sugar, salt, fat and chilli.

I used to buy large quantities of these smallgoods — a name I could never understand because it was never clear what was small about them.

The history of the future

If you can’t fill a magazine with the past and the present, expanding your ambit to include the future adds a whole new area of material.

I find it interesting that many people who would claim they don’t read fiction, are avid readers of the popular magazines that appear from nowhere in newsagents, doctors surgeries and your mother’s latest emergency parcel. Popular magazines are the last great home of true fiction - if their stories aren’t true, then they should be.

Stars in the night sky, popular magazines, reading palms - the truth is out there.

They are so desperately short of new compelling material, that they have started to introduce psychics so they can add a whole new area of imagined material.

One-sided conversations

I would have one-sided conversations with strangers—I had a hand-written record of my half of these conversations.

Once, after a particularly virulent cold, I contracted pharyngitis (a bit like laryngitis) and found my voice straining and fading. My voice became fainter and fainter, until it was almost inaudible.

The worst thing about pharyngitis is that your voice fades because of straining of the weakened vocal chords, not directly because of the infection. This means that it doesn’t ‘clear up’ as you recover from the effects of the virus. Because it is physical damage to your vocal chords, the only solution is to rest them, so they can slowly recover.

In other words, you have to stop talking. The more you stop talking, the quicker you recover, the less you manage to stop talking, the longer you are without a functioning voice.

The whole truth

The reality is that fiction can be far more true to life than reality, because it cuts out the irrelevant bits and concentrates the important parts.

How often have you heard someone say that they don’t read fiction? What they don’t realise is that they read fiction every single day—everything is fiction. This is a world in which we are surrounded by the movie, the theme park and the whole virtual experience.

Public figures are fictional creations, everyone in the mass media is a persona, their shape carefully crafted and managed by media minders and spin doctors.

Telling stories - mirror on the world

‘Based on a true story’ is a guarantee of authenticity. Reality television is the most stage-managed and contrived unreality available, because is is a recognition of the fact that to be engaging and interesting, everyday life has to be heightened and concentrated and made into drama and stories.

Beaten by the clock - playing for time

Forget about the curtains fading, the chickens forgetting to lay or the kids going to school in the dark—the real terror of daylight saving is changing all the clocks

Have you ever noticed how every electrical appliance nowadays has its own clock, hidden somewhere within it? I notice this every time the clocks have to be changed at the beginning—or end—of daylight saving time.

Forget about the curtains fading, the chickens forgetting to lay or the kids going to school in the dark—most of us go to work in the dark and stay like that all day. The real terror of daylight saving is changing the clocks.

Facing the terror -changing all the clocks

As soon as it comes time to put the clocks back an hour or forward an hour, I face the huge task of resetting every clock I own. How can there be so many of them?

Greatest hits

It’s been said if you remember the 60s then you weren’t there. If you were unfortunate enough to be there, why should you have to relive it?

I never again want to be told I am hearing the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s, or the 70s, 80s and 90s, or any other long gone time.

It has been said that if you remember the 60s then you weren’t there. I think that if you were unfortunate enough to be there the first time, why should you have to go through it again?

Fender stratocaster takes time out

Applied creativity

While innovation is applied creativity, whether commercial or not-for-profit —the hard question is: what does applied entail?

I have been dealing with the issue of creativity for as long as I can remember. Recently, I have had to deal with a new concept—innovation. All too often, creativity is confused with innovation. A number of writers about innovation have made the point that innovation and creativity are different. In their view, innovation involves taking a creative idea and commercialising it.

Crossing boundaries with innovation

If we look more broadly than the commercial sector to include the not-for-profit sector, such as government, or community organizations we see a broader picture. Of course, the distinction between these areas can be loose—sometimes, in more pessimistic moments, I think we are looking at the difference between not-for-profit organisations and not-profitable oganisations.

Studying philosophy - knowing tables exist

‘How do I know that this table exists?’ seemed indulgent. ‘How do I know that this social class exists?’ led to a totally different appreciation of that table.

When I was at university I spent six years studying philosophy. I cannot imagine studying anything for six years anymore. At the time, I studied, I wrote essays, I left to join the workforce. I thought no more about it.

Knowing tables (and cups, and knives and forks) exist

Many years later, I was discussing some subject and I stopped for a moment and looked at myself and what I was saying, removed from the particular discussion that happened to be going on. I was noticing the nature of the discussion, rather than the discussion itself. I realised that all the things I had learned in those years at university had been absorbed.

Through a glass, darkly — a lighter place

Now I’ll never know whether for all of those few years in Melbourne it was really constantly overcast and grey, or whether it was just my glasses.

Many years ago, for a number of years of my life, I used to possess a pair of glasses with photochromatic lenses. Whenever the day was exceptionally bright (or, to tell the truth, even a bit bright), they would respond by becoming darker, turning into a pair of dark sunglasses.

The whole world became a lighter place
I lived in Melbourne for much of the time, a location, which though always my favourite Australian city, can be very grey.

Years later, standing on a peak near Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, looking out over the valley, I took off my glasses for a moment. I was shocked to realise how dark they were. I finally understood that reacting to the ultraviolet light, they were never quite reverting to totally clear.

Where change comes from - helping make good things happen

Change comes from outsiders, those who respond to the statement ‘that’s not how we do things round here’ with the question ‘why not?’ or even possibly ‘where’s here?’

It’s very pleasant belonging to a group, fitting in, being like everyone else, speaking the same language, liking the same things, having similar ways of viewing the world, doing things in the same old way. It’s very comfortable and reassuring.

Secession Dome Vienna 1898

Unfortunately this can mean that nothing much useful happens—it can limit innovation, restrict new ideas and encourage complacency.

Looking down on birds

It’s like learning another language—the language of apartments. You walk in and shut the door and close yourself off from the world.

For decades I lived with gardens, watering and weeding and inspecting the progress of plants. Since then I have been steadily relocating to ever more urban locations. Life as an apartment dweller is the culmination, perched high in the sky, looking down on birds.

Life as an apartment dweller, perched high in the sky.

Living in the high country as I do, inhabiting an apartment keeps me in touch with life in big cities. After all, I am just down the road from the country’s largest city. Any time I choose, I can descend in the lift to the car and in three hours be on some of the the busiest streets in Australia.

Living in an apartment gives me the anonymity that I liked so much about life in big cities. Celebrities are supposedly moving into apartments for the privacy. One real estate agent commented that ‘people come and go in apartments and no one ever knows.’

High country - the dry high winter country

When I moved to Canberra, I discovered that I had come back to the country where I grew up—the dry, high winter country in the shadow of the mountains.

Here in the sky country the coastal plains, after rising through the lush, damp forests of the Southern Highlands, have finally given way to the lofty rocky sprawl of the Southern Tablelands, with its stunted trees and thin, shallow rivers.

The source of the Murray in the shadow of the mountains.

But I didn’t grow up in Canberra, but rather in the dry centre of Tasmania, where the Great Lakes and the mountains of the Western Tiers define the brittle, stony landscape.

Exercising in the gym of happiness

As though happiness consisted of no more than a technique – learning to meditate quietly or breathe in the endless gym of happiness.

I was watching a special on television recently about scientific research into happiness. That’s what I love about research—it can be carried out on anything and everything, profound or trivial, inexplicable or obvious.

The longer I watched it, the more unhappy I became. Something about it didn’t quite seem right.

The endless gym of happiness

The program focused on a Buddhist monk who was able to make himself happy simply by meditating. Brain scans showed what was happening.

Creative industries - applied arts and sciences

The Nineteenth Century approach to nature, arts, science and industry has many lessons for the modern creative industries in Australia.

In the gloriously ageing upstairs dining room of the Menzies Hotel in Sydney, reputably soon to be renovated, I came across a print of the Garden Palace, a vast building in the Sydney Botanic Gardens, which was the home of Australia’s first international exhibition in 1879.

This was the Australian version of the great Victorian-era industrial expositions, where, in huge palaces of glass, steel and timber, industry, invention, science, the arts and nature all intersected and overlapped.

The Musem of Economic Botany

The Garden Palace was built of timber and it burned to the ground in 1882 — but not before becoming the inspiration for what eventually became the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences — the Powerhouse Museum.

Life on a movie set

Is the world really just one big movie set? What is the dividing line between nature and society and reality, hyperreality and the virtual world?

Is the world just one big movie set? Where does reality stop and the virtual world begin? Or do they overlap?

In Brisbane recently I walked through South Bank and I was reminded of Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hyperreality, about idiosyncratic private museums in the US. South Bank is a massive theme park and, for anyone who knows museums, it is fascinating.

Life copies art

Queensland is full of theme parks – South Bank, the gated communities and private estates built by developers, even the restaurants. I went to a Belgian-themed restaurant, one of the familiar franchises which have opened in many cities – food theme parks.

Lines of desire

Not the prescribed paths of planners, architects and administrators, but instead the paths that suit those who make and use them most often.

When you seee a path—dead straight— worn in the grass diagonally across a field, you are looking at a line of desire.

The shortest distance between two points

Lines of desire appear everywhere. They are the paths worn by people who do not want to follow the prescribed walkways of planners and architects and administrators, but instead make the path that suits them best.

Pristine cities

Visiting old German cities, the compelling thing that strikes you about them is the sense of how brand new and pristine they seem.

Compare this to a city like Lyon, which is genuinely old and worn and dirty.
I don’t know if my visit to Europe was life changing or life threatening, considering the way Europeans seem to live.
In Germany, everything seems to have been bombed. The part that were most heavily damaged during World War 2 was the Altstadt, the most ancient and historical part in the centre of the city.

After the war, in a vast miracle of recreation, after the Trümmerfrau (the rubble women) had cleared the wreckage by hand, whole city blocks were built again from long-forgotten plans and drawings, unearthed in municipal offices and museums.

Remembering Dresden

Silly dogmas and empires and failed social experiments cannot withstand the power of the everyday, the desire to live long and quietly and productively.

The age we live in is one of small, short wars. It affects some of us in large ways, but most of us, hardly at all. This is a return to the norm, for the widespread horror of world war is unusual this century—at least, so far.

A lesson for our fragile times

When I was growing up, my experience of wars was handed down from a father too young to enlist, despite misguided attempts, and a batch of uncles, loaded up with decorations and unexpected survival. For me this legacy was a defining factor in my sense of history—as was the Depression for my parents.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Irregular contact

Remembering and organising celebrations for significant events requires easy to use technology, underpinning superior organisational skills.

I find it curious that many people still look at the quirky world which has grown out of email, the internet and ubiquitous computers as something unusual.

Ships, or at least ferries, in the night

When new technologies are first introduced, it always seems to be the technically minded who are most interested and involved. Usually these are men, but this is not inevitable.

However, as the technology becomes widely dispersed and part of the everyday—to the point of becoming invisible—then it’s those who maintain social connection who pick it up and make it their own. These are more likely to be women.

A tourist in your own town — revisiting the familiar

The true gift is to be able to be a tourist in your own town – to see your everyday locality with fresh eyes every day.

Those for whom a certain language is their second are often more acutely aware of the idiosyncrasies, foibles and strange delights of the language than are its native speakers.

It is much the same with travelling physically. It is usually the inquisitive visitor who fulfills the function of tourist, directing locals to wonders and curiousities they drive past every day without a glance.

The true gift is to be able to be a tourist in your own town – to see your everyday locality with fresh eyes every day.

Murrumbateman Field Days

I have to do this now because all my relatives live on the land and have a pressing need to buy heavy duty agricultural tools or baby goats or water tanks.

The other day I went to a Murrumbateman Field Day. I have to do things like this, because so many of my relatives now live on the land, and have a pressing need to buy heavy duty agricultural tools or baby goats or water tanks.

All this is totally irrelevant to me practically speaking, but endlessly fascinating.

What would be relevant to me would be wine tastings or great mounds of fresh produce. Luckily none of these were to be found because this was a serious country fair. It wasn’t about the end consumer, ie me—it was completely focused on industry—productive inputs, as economist like to call them. If you couldn’t use it to produce something else, then it probably had no place being there.


The bizarre habit of interning your enemy’s worst enemies seems a bit of a failure of intelligence in all senses of the word.

On a recent trip to Adelaide I did some of the interesting things that tourists do. One of these activities was a piece of ongoing detective work.

l have some Scandinavian-style lounge chairs, curved ply and leather which were purchased years ago. At one stage, someone had seen them in the Immigration Museum in Melbourne.

Rotunda, Elder Park, Adelaide

The designer was a German who came out to Australia after the war, but no-one could remember his name. I visited the Immigration Museum when I was last in Melbourne, to find out who he was, but there was no longer any sign of the chairs or word of the designer.

Eating on your own

At a table for one there is not a great deal of conversation. I quickly realised that at most tables of two, even less conversation was underway than at mine.

Eating on your own can be a strange and unusual activity. When I was younger, I found it very hard. I always felt that I was an oddity, sitting there without anyone to talk to.

I needed a newspaper or a book to shield me from the rest of the world, to make it appear that I had something to do – that is apart from staring at every one else in the restaurant, wondering why they were there and what their relationship was to the person sitting opposite them.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Like a long lost masterpiece

Many decades ago in Adelaide when I was much younger and a student I used to march in National Aboriginal Day Observance Committee marches. They were shorthanded to NADOC marches, back in the days when Islanders hadn’t yet been included and there was no ‘I’ in the name. They later became better known as NAIDOC marches.

I realised a while back that I must have been marching under the new Aboriginal flag at its birth because it was designed in Adelaide in those years and would have been first carried in local marches there. I had a poster from those years which I used to cart around with me until one day late in 2004 when I was about to move yet again. I  decided to donate it to the National Library of Australia. As a memento I kept a poor quality photo of the poster.