No Other News?

Posted Saturday, June 27, 2009, 6:21 PM

Gosh, have you heard? Michael Jackson died!

Gee, you'd think somebody might mention it on the News.

Look! Up In The Sky!

Posted Thursday, June 18, 2009, 6:34 PM

When I was a teenager, I was not as sceptical as I am today. I assumed that what people said was happening, really was what was happening.

I was fascinated by mysterious goings on, like Bigfoots and Yetis, Loch Ness Monsters, Ghosts, and UFOs. I devoured any book I stumbled upon with this subject matter, though I didn't really seek any of them out otherwise. If they were there waiting, I'd pick them up and read them. And believe them.

That is, until I was about 14, when things started to sort themselves out in my head, and I began to realise that the niggling inconsistencies of these tales of supernatural wonders did not actually stand up to any further scrutiny than a cursory glance.

Most of the best "sightings" had photographs. Many of those photographs truly were amazing - but some were just absurdly clearly obviously fake. This picture below, for example, purportedly showing a ghostly figure in a photograph, is obviously a double-exposure of a man dressed in a sheet. How can anybody take that seriously?

This image below, the best ever of the Loch Ness Monster, which was fully accepted as genuine for such a long time, and was the one that all other sightings were basing themselves from, turned out to be completely faked. And, in retrospect, obviously so; you can see the part where the neck meets the body is shaped like a submarine conning tower. And that is what it was; a plasticine moulded neck and head, stuck to a toy submarine.

And the most famous Bigfoot film ever, showing the beast walking through the woods, has long been doubted. It's certainly very convincing, but there are many unofficial stories behind its origins, usually speaking about the special effects technician who built and wore the suit. It's clearly just a fat guy in a costume.

UFOs are the most persistent, mostly because you don't need to be in a specific situation to see them - you just have to look upwards and sort of catch something out of the corner of your eye that you can't at first explain, and it's enough to claim it's a sighting, and it only takes a little bit of imagination to convince yourself it was a flying saucer from Beta Centauri.

When I read about a lot of these UFO sightings, a consistent description was of a "cigar shaped craft, with windows and coloured flashing lights". Now, as that stands, you can imagine something like a cylinder, with flattened ends, a bulge in the middle, big round windows, and rows of blinking lights flashing off and on down its side.

Except that's not what they actually described. Imagine a cylindrical shape, with a rounded front, and a pointed end. A row of small squarish windows, thirty of them, down either of the cylinder's sides. And suspended off from the sides of the cylinder, and positioned at the front and the end, are tiny lights, alternating a blink every few seconds. And, most importantly of all, if the cylinder was to tilt to the side just slightly, coming into view would be... two wings.

Yes, what they are all consistently describing is a standard jumbo jet.

I realised that's what they had been describing all this time, after watching planes fly overhead here at my new place, as I am right under the flight path for the airport.

It's all about perception. If you are already conditioned to believe the possibility of something exotic and supernatural, it is very tempting and very difficult to stop yourself, to choose to believe that's the explanation for what you saw.

But if you are already a skeptic, and regularly question everything, then more often than not you are more likely to figure out a logical and realistic explanation.

Ejecting The Plasma Core

Posted Monday, June 15, 2009, 9:42 PM

My telly was broken. It had a dirty great line through it. Big thick and black. If it had been somewhere to the side of the screen, that probably wouldn't be so bad and wouldn't interfere with my viewing too much. Tolerable.

But it didn't decide to be at the side of my screen - noooo, it had to be right smack dab through the very centre of the screen, top to bottom.

It's surprising to me how many shows frame their shots to have a character's face right in the centre of the screen.

Luckily, this particular issue was not unusual - there are plenty of other examples of this irritating fault developing on plasma TVs around the world. It is apparently caused by basic physics - a loose connection exacerbated by age and temperature.

I therefore had three options available to me: chuck it out and get a whole new TV; take it to a professional to fix, who would charge excessively and force me to buy new electronics that they'd replace inside the TV; or find out how to fix the fault online, and get a mate who knows his way around electronics to come round and repair it for me.

I did seriously consider all the different options. A new TV would be great, I could get a proper HD screen, but that is really seriously big money I don't have to throw around anymore. Ah, to be back in the era when I was overflowing with cash. And I considered the practicality of getting it down to the TV fix-it people, and if that was my only option I would have taken that step.

But I in fact do have a mate who knows his way around electronics, and he did come round, and we took the back off my TV. That was a bit of a potential nightmare, as there were around fifty screws, a whole lot of circuit boards and mysterious sockets, and a few very hard to reach doodads that had to be negotiated around. In fact if the fault had been in a different location on the screen, it's possible we wouldn't have been able to reach the bits that were the root cause, as some were buried under layers of electronics and cables.

But we found the right bit, we figured out what needed doing, and my wonderful mate Adam soldered up the fiddly part that was causing the whole trouble. With fingers and toes crossed, we screwed the back on again, hooked up the cables, and let it rip.

So far, so good. Three hours have passed as I write this, and so far the black line has not returned. This is a very good sign that we have fixed the right bits.

Though I suppose it's possible just jiggling things in the back may have been what really fixed it. If so, that'd be awfully disappointing.

Time will tell if it's really fixed. But I am optimistic.


Posted Sunday, June 14, 2009, 6:01 PM

It's bloody cold.

Australia is not known for it's freezing temperatures. Dunedin, New Zealand, however, is famous for it. So when I moved here I thought those cold miserable days were behind me.

For the most part I was right. Winters are not exactly tropical, down in the southern parts of Australia, but they at least don't get snowy and icy. In fact, I sort of miss the frozen puddles and snowy fields. But I don't miss the shivering and shaking, the suffering the cold temperatures each day.

An unexpected development in Melbourne's winter this year, is that it started early with quite a sharp, biting cold snap. I don't have efficient heating in my new home, there's not a jot of insulation in this, rather shoddily built, cottage, and the heater built into the air conditioning is, undoubtedly, sucking up electricity that is going to hit my bank account hard.

So I have had to just sit and tolerate it, so far, which is not very pleasant. I have found a couple of warm blankets I like to sit under, all toasty, while watching TV, but I can't really wear them when I'm at the computer, so my extremities are a bit exposed for most of the day, which is quite the discomfort indeed.

I have always preferred the warmth to the cold, that's one of the reasons I moved here and don't miss being back home, but the four months of winter chill is unavoidable, and I guess all I can do is grin and bear it.

From There To Here

Posted Saturday, June 6, 2009, 10:56 PM

I am not from around these parts.

I lived in New Zealand until 1999. I love New Zealand as an entity, as a country, and its people are delightful. I do miss it. But it has a fundamental flaw that it cannot do anything about, and so is forever going to lose out, in my estimation.

It's too bloody small. And by being small, and, worst luck, at the arse end of the world, relative to the development of civilisation, nothing really happens there of any note. It gets ignored, dismissed, and generally loses out on any benefits other countries might get.

Now, NZ is hardly alone in this. There are bunches of countries where I hear their names and I don't have a clue where they are, what they are known for, or sometimes even that they existed. I don't know where Pago Pago is, or what happens in Guam, or who lives in Andorra. Spanish people, I suppose, though I only discovered Andorra's whereabouts recently, when it was a question on a quiz show.

But NZ is considered a force to be reckoned with above those countries, because of its association with Australia, its participation in World Wars I and II and beyond, and because it's vocal in its attempts to be noticed.

1998 was a weird year for me. I had a small group of wonderful friends who I loved to hang out with, were the funniest people I have ever known, and had creative ideas out the wazoo. However, we had no resources to speak of so it was a bit of thrashing around with no real action. But then, one by one, each of my friends disappeared out of my life. They all either moved away, or in one case died, in a very short space of time. And then I looked around me and saw that I had no ties anymore. And worse than that, I was in a rut that was very bad for me.

How do I deal with a situation like that? I was tempted to keep going as I was, in the hope things might change. But I also looked at my home town, and what I saw was a ghost town. Shops were closing, familiar landmarks were being covered over, and everything I knew growing up was, I realised, already gone.

I decided the best way to get out of my rut was to move away. And not just to a new town, where I ould end up in the same rut only with different buildings around me, but to a whole different country. Admittedly Australia is not that different to NZ, hence its attractive nature to ease the culture shock, but what it also had was convenience, proximity, and a "no Visa required" immigration policy between it and NZ.

And most importantly, it would force me to have to find a way to take care of myself, and not fall into a rut anymore.

It was a little bit hard to start with, as I had never visited Australia before, but having learned some skills as a website designer, and having a few friends I met online to help me, I soon found my feet, and things have turned out very well, for the most part.

That was exactly ten years ago, and I haven't regretted it one moment. I love it here, it feels like where I always was supposed to be. Melbourne, especially, is just perfect. I lived in Sydney for about a year, and didn't like it there at all, but here in Melbourne - well, I expect I'll be here for the rest of my life, barring unforeseen developments.

There are some things I miss about home - the beautiful landscape, the short distances to get anywhere, some distinct foodstuffs, and my family (though I visit often enough to get my fill on them when I can) - but Australia has so much more than NZ will ever have, so I can't complain really.

I am a little disappointed that I left NZ right at the point of its renaissance, when Peter Jackson single-handedly put it on the map and attracted all the big names to work there with him (even as we speak, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Guillermo Del Toro, and Neill Blomkamp, amongst others, are all working at Weta Studios for their next productions), and changing the face of the industry in the process, let alone the local identity of NZ. Oh well, I probably wouldn't have ended up working there anyway - I hate Wellington, and was already blacklisted from Weta, so it was out of reach.

So things are good here in Australia. Not perfect, but it seems to me I'm on the cusp of taking the next step, and if I'm careful and optimistic, I should be well on my way to a new stage of my life here in Melbourne.