Monday, December 24, 2007

Have a Good Holiday Season, All!

And please, those of you who are actually in a position to have a good holiday, do spare a thought for those who, for whatever reasons, aren't as fortunate as ourselves.

I, for one, even without the thoughts of starving millions and without taking into account the miseries of people I don't know, know of several people who once had 'happy holidays', but who now, through the vicissitudes of random contingency, aren't in any position to enjoy themselves as much as the rest of us. It's even sadder to know that I am in no position to help them in any way whatsoever; and that is heartbreaking.

And, no, this isn't about 'me', because my heartbreak is utterly trivial compared to their misery, the despair they must feel, and the hopelessness that comes with...well, with no hope of it ever getting better, except through death.

And so, when we enjoy the convivial company of those we love and like, let us appreciate it all the more because of those who cannot. Pause to think of them and be grateful--not to some capricious, sick-to-the-core deity who treated you better than the other guy, but because, in the crapshoot of life, you and yours for this time around at least are safe.

Is there anything more important than that?

To my friends around the world, those few I dare call that and among them those who read this blog and therefore this message, please forgive me for not writing the usual cards or even missing out on an email I really should have sent you. It just wasn't, if you'll forgive me the pun, in the cards this year. Our timing was exquisitely out of tune with the festive season. Still, all seems to be turning out well enough, so there's infinitely more to be grateful for than to complain about.

Y'all be well. Y'all be safe. Y'all be happy. And may 2008 be better than 2007 was; how ever 2007 happened to have been to you.

Best wishes. With affection...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Free Stress Test

Wouldn't we all like one of those. And, bingo!, there I'm walking through Brisbane's busy pre-Xmas shopping mall and at the end of it I chance upon not only a Jesus-man with a loudspeaker blaring at his back, explaining why Jesus saves and everything else is meaningless, but also upon a table with two signs proclaiming

Free Stress Test

and at the table two men on chairs, explaining stuff to two other men on two other chairs.

My curiosity was aroused. Then I spotted a bunch of books and some devices with dials, and it all became clear...

For those who haven't figured it out yet, the books were by L Ron Hubbard and the devices were deliberately-retro-style 'E-meters', possibly of the Mark Super VII Quantum type; but I couldn't really tell, what with not being really up-to-date with such things. All I know is that they looked tacky. Surprise.

I fought a battle with myself and lost; or won, depending on how you look at it. The fight was between the me that told itself "who gives a crap; everybody to his own" and the other which wanted to walk up to the table, place a concerned hand on the shoulders of at least one of the wallys sitting there, listening to these Scientology [...deleted because this is a family-blog...], and say something along the line of "hey, man [for they both were men]; do you really want to spend any more of the little time remaining to you in this world [however much time that might be] in the company of this [...deleted because this is a family-blog...]?"

'Indifference Me' won and I walked on. Later, during the next day, I saw a young Asian woman listening to of of them. It seems that women, despite their overall greater social intelligence, are not immune to this kind of thing.

'Indifference Me' will probably continue to prevail, if for no other reason but that I suspect it is indeed pointless to say anything. People will make up their own minds, for whatever reasons, and that's that. And there is an argument, put forward since forever, that it really doesn't matter what people 'believe' and that what matters is whether they are good people or not; and that underneath the layer of beliefs, there lurks the 'real' human being, and that's what matters and never mind if they believe in this god or that, or no gods or God at all, or the galactic warlord or the Great Roach From Beyond the Stars. (Don't ask me where that one came from!)

But, but, but...

Is this really true? That it doesn't matter what people believe, as long as they are good folk. I think I may have touched on this before, but I'm too lazy to check it out; so I'm going to mention it again.

Thing is this. The notion that there is some underlying 'core of humanity' in people that needs to be considered before passing judgment(s) on them because of their, allegedly superficial, beliefs, undoubtedly has merit. This 'core' has been given to us, if you will, because we are who we are and because we have evolved to be who we are. It's a basic part of our makeup and that's probably so obviously true, that it's almost pointless to discuss it.

But the point is also that this 'core' and the energies residing there, the energies that make us 'human'--just like the 'Force' from Star Wars--are essentially neutral. The basic drives for the maintenance of our lives and/or those others we are connected to, plus everything that comes with it...all that just is. It doesn't make for good or bad people. Just like it doesn't make for good or bad apes, or roaches. The built-ins are what they are, and they are intrinsically neutral. I know religioids would have it otherwise, but that's their problem.

What makes us different from just being a bunch of built-ins, what makes us 'human', are precisely those things that the toleration-nazis would want to dismiss as 'superficial': that is, those elements of 'mind' which determine how we act at the level of 'choice'. These elements can almost all be called 'beliefs'; the stuff we hold, implicitly and/or explicitly, to be 'true'. And it is these things that determine our actions, choices, values, and so on. And those in turn are the things that others see and perceive and are affected by. And they are the only clues, evidence we have about the character of others. Everything else is inference. And inference in anything but mathematics and affected sciences has always been a very dicey business.

Beliefs matter. Beliefs are the results of cognitive choices and essential elements in us making yet more choices.

It would be nice to live one's life, wrapped in the comforting cocoon of the notion that 'surface' doesn't matter. But is just isn't true. Just like in, for example, beauty as perceived by the eye, 'superficiality' rules and determines what is what. That's completely opposed to us thinking of it as being something residing 'deep within'.

How can this be? I think the answer may be found in something I mentioned in a blog quite some time ago. Or maybe, just to save you the trouble, it's that we're all like ogres--onions, that is--of the Moebius kind maybe. If that's the case most philosophy of mind of just about all persuasions is just so much deluded bunk.

So, maybe those Scientology idiots are actually in good company. But that doesn't make their beliefs any less ridiculous and obnoxious, and maybe one could argue that by walking past and allowing indifferent-me to win the argument, I also neglected my social responsibility to those souls I saw sitting there, possibly being reeled in by the E-meter operators.

Just one thing: to all of those of you who maybe one day come across one of those stands where they offer you a

Free Stress Test

Nothing is 'free'. Nothing at all. And least of all this offer.

Way I see it is this:

  • Either you're not in the category of people who can be sucked into the Scientological morass. In that case you're just wasting your time; which might be better spend doing something useful, like having good sex.

  • Else you are a potential candidate for becoming a cult member. In that instance, keep walking. For your own sake. Because right now you may still be a properly functioning human being. But make the wrong choice here and that might well be the end of you. Don't get cocky.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Asinine and the Just Plain Weird

Here's a mail-out from a publisher of science fiction and fantasy. The mail-out is done by a marketing manager who has never been strong on either proofing his output, or the contents of what he writes to begin with. I cite an edited excerpt, to protect the guilty. Substitution of content was used where you see CAPITALS IN RED. Otherwise I have left it as it was, weirdo thought-convulsions, phraseology, typos and punctuation-aberrations included. The guy should be dismissed on the spot; or at the very least not be allowed to publish anything, including email-outs, to be seen by a public and potential readership, who surely must feel insulted by receiving this waste-of-bandwidth stuff from someone representing a publisher who prides itself on producing quality SF&F in what's commonly referred-to as 'The English Language'.

It also occurs to me that just because another weirdo, one Al Gore, received a shitload of money and attendant prestige from an obviously equally mentally defunct Nobel Prize selection committee, that should really not be a reason for a literary organization, such as a publisher of perfectly good, readable books, to scramble madly for a place on the Greenie Juggernaut. What QUASIMODO is also neglecting to mention, and probably doesn't even know, are the studies mentioned here, which cast doubt on the simplistic assumptions and action-and-consequences reasoning belabored in the mail-out below.

QUASIMODO here from SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS, are you aware that everyone has what is called a "carbon footprint"?

For SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS, our "carbon footprint" is significantly higher than the average person's. Simply put, SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS prints books and this process uses up trees; this is what most people know. What some people don't know is what SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS plans to do about our "carbon footprint".

SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS is concerned that in a few decades, the trees that we take for granted now may not be able to keep up with the amount of pollution and carbon that we as a society spew into the atmosphere. Each year, Americans use 50 million tons of paper consuming more than 850 million trees (

There are approximately 2,000 trees cut down every day for the use of paper or wood products, therefore the world looses 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. That equates to 50,000 species a year. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. While 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less that 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been tested by scientists (

Over the next year, SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS is doing our share in rebuilding the forests that are cut down each year. For every tree SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS uses for our books, we are donating a percentage of our sales to plant a new tree(s) to help relieve our "carbon footprint" so that the next generation can breathe clean air, and get the proper medication needed.

SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS will be printing all of our new Spring 2008 titles with an ecofriendly reminder on the first page similar to MAGICIANS OF INSANITY. This is to show that SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS truly cares about our environment. The more SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS books your purchase, the more you help us to save our precious rainforests, forests, and environment.

The "Paper or Plastic Debate" over whether it is better to use paper bags or plastic bags has been in discussion for a long time. Environmentalists have often debated over the correct answer to the "Paper or Plastic Debate", which turns out to be NEITHER! To help the environment, reusable canvas bags are the best solution. They will never have to use energy to be recycled or take up space in a landfill. The next time you buy a book (or two or three) from SUPERDUPERSFPUBLISHERS at a convention, you will receive a canvas bag that can be used and reused so that you too can cut back on your "carbon footprint".

Moving (Part 14 of X): Another Big Step

After 2.5 weeks, finally I have most of the family over here. One daughter remains in the UK, but the other one's over for the holidays and my wife is here to stay. It was an emotional roller-coaster for all of us, methinks; but last night we all managed to sleep in our new 3-months-temporary apartment. Somewhere in Dunedin, NZ, our household goods now rest in storage, awaiting orders to be shipped to wherever; not quite decided yet where and when. We're going to give ourselves a month or two to ponder these things, settle down a bit after the rush, work out our next steps.

One more remaining issue: internet access. Still thinking of going wireless, but need to figure out how to deal with the fact that most wireless broadband schemes have somewhat limited down/upload bandwidth.

Still, apart from such minor issues life will return to some kind of normality, whatever that is. Looking forward to it, actually...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Moving (Part 13 of X): Acquiring A Roof Over The Head

Well, we have one, of course, but a wise man does not encumber his friends for too long, no matter what good and forbearing folk they are—and our friends here have been incredibly accommodating to me and our needs, and have thus made things so much easier.

But with a job and a vehicle and a gazillion administrative details out of the way, it was time to find a roof over the head. How to do this, with our furniture still weeks and months away from getting here? And how to deal with the fact that we are definitely not going to just settle anywhere until we have decided that this is the place to be, whatever 'this place' happens to be, and where and when?

To avoid the need to purchase furniture—yet more, which we really won't need—I ultimately went for a furnished urban apartment in a brand new apartment complex, almost in the heart of Brisbane. Not exactly our usual style of life, but I'm treating this initial phase like an extended working-holiday, until we get some bearings. So we have a 3 month lease to rest for a while after the relocation and get our bearings.

I wonder where we're going to be then...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Moving (Part 12 of X): Acquiring Mobility

Well, we're planning to do a fair bit of traveling and looking around, so I decided to get something decent to do it in.

This our fourth and biggest Subaru. If, as I expect it to, it lives up to our expectations based on its predecessors, it should be with us for quite a few years; especially since the rust that killed the two Subarus before it, is not really an issue here, particularly if we don't intend to use it around beaches or the seaside. Which we don't.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

True Love

Ahh, that should attract the idle surfers of the internet...

Still, the matter is not frivolous, but should be considered with the earnestness due to it, with it being possibly the most important force in the human universe, with its sinister siblings 'hate' and 'indifference' always lurking somewhere near; always waiting to come to the fore.

What brought this one up, just to anticipate a certain friend's and reader's question, are the comments I solicited from some friends of mine: brief vignettes/comments on those books of mine which they have read; purely for my own nefarious purposes, namely to be used as written sound-bites when I get around to updating my webpages. Two replied, and for that I thank them.

Leaving aside the Tethys series, here are snippets from what one of them wrote about...

Continuity Slip

...with Continuity Slip Till gives us a contemporary world setting with 'normal' contemporary characters. The brilliance of this is that the lack of intricate background detail is what makes the story, as the world around the two protagonists [...] changes, the reader is left assured that whatever else is going on, the two 'real' characters are the same 'normal' people that they were presented to us as. As with his other novels Till gives us well realised characters, with realistic relationships and puts them through a variety of situations ranging from car crashes, murder, adultery and true love. A shorter read than Till's other works but very enjoyable.


...a world..with a history spanning back to the Roman Empire, populated by people of various races, creeds and beliefs. An alternate universe, the 'real' universe and the legend of King Arthur are all touched upon in this novel, as well as one of Till's favourite themes, true love. What begins with a helicopter lesson soon becomes a mystical journey, a romance, a pilgrimage and a pulp action adventure before the final confrontation and catharsis.

By way of disclosure it should be mentioned that the author of these comments, as well as another friend of mine, consider Continuity Slip their favorite. An interesting bit of information that I've yet to fully understand. I always considered it a 'lightweight' piece of reading; a vehicle for fictionalizing a notion I developed quite a few years back about the 'multiple universe' view of quantum physics. Definitely a debatable issue, especially as it was represented; but it was fun and easy. Written in a style that included lots, and I mean lots, of quick-exchange dialogue, almost to the extent of making the novel into a story-board for a screenplay; which I might yet tackle one of these days, difficult though it would be to convey the concepts involved. Definitely nothing for those short of attention span or requiring to have everything explained. Still, I am tempted to 'screenplay' this novel one day soon. It shouldn't be too expensive to make, as it would require no special effects of a 'fantasy' nature. And maybe I could scale the big highway car crash down a bit for budgetary reasons. No need to go for the Transformers or The Island extravaganzas; though it would, of course, be good, honest and utterly over-the-top fun! And it would also be a nice crash-bang-boom-whoosh grabber to start off with, after which the apparent action flick would soon turn into a parallel universe murder mystery romance. Works for me, but who else??

Back to the topic at hand:

The writer of the reviews above also did me a major favor—meaning I owe him big-time—by reading
Seladiënna twice; the second time being a proof-read pass where he found some kind of questionable orthographic, grammatical and/or stylistic element on just about every second page. I owe him a great deal for that, because Seladiënna is finally clean enough to be put into wide circulation; which is what I have done.

Anyway, my buddy makes me sound like I could have penned The Princess Bride. Which I didn't, but there's some truth in what he wrote.

Thing is that without whatever 'true love' is, and it has a gamut of possible expressions!, human existence by and large would actually be quite...well, maybe 'dull' isn't quite the word. I was looking more for something like 'colorless'; possibly even 'meaningless', especially for non-religioids like me; and definitely less fun and intense.

Quoting one of the movie's taglines:

Scaling the Cliffs of Insanity; Battling Rodents of Unusual Size; Facing torture in the Pit of Despair. True love has never been a snap.

Sounds about right, doesn't it? The stuff we do for true love...

It is true enough; there's always a dose of sex and violence in my stories. And so what? Sue me if you want, or simply don't read the stories. I love the way my friend wrote about a 'pulp action adventure'. That, in the context of everything else, is possibly the greatest compliment anybody ever paid me, or
Seladiënna for that matter. The ultimate inverted-snobbery pat-on-the-back for the likes of me. I bathe in the warm glow of the compliment.

Point to remember though: sex and violence for their own sake are devoid of meaning. A discussion of this issue can be found in The Chatterley Affair, a 2006 made-for-TV BBC drama. It's not for kiddies, but worth a watch.

But what is 'true love'??

Ahh, now here's the rub. And I'm not going to stand or sit here and risk my tenuous credibility by attempting even a shadow of a definition. But let me put it this way: like with everything else in 'life', the concept needs to be grounded in more than just other concepts; that is, it needs to have roots in life, action, example. And something as complicated and unquantifiable as 'true love' is defined at best by instances of its occurrence; and then people like my friend can go and point and say "true love". Obviously the writer of the comments above 'saw' is there, meaning that whatever was described in the novels for him registered as instances of 'true love'; and this must suffice.

I know this sounds like me saying "buy the damn books and figure it out yourselves".

Well, maybe I am, but the truth is that saying anything else would not just be foolish but untrue to my beliefs about what's what. If it were different I might as well descend into the bilges of human thought and join the hordes of self-help book authors.

Thanks, but no, thanks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Moving (Part 11 of X): Bureaucracy Is An Unwonderful Thing

Yeah, we all know that and love to gripe about it, but when you're trying to establish an identity in a new country—'new' for us meaning returning after 20+ years of absence—the hoops you have to jump through to do even simple things (registering your newly purchased vehicle; getting a mobile phone 'plan', as opposed to using good-old Prepay; and so on) are strangely convoluted and arranged in what almost is a classic Catch-22 situation. I could imagine a set of circumstances—say if you went somewhere in Australia and knew nobody, where it could take you the best part of half a year to get all these things into order and/or set up.

Several times, during yesterday and last week, the work 'Kafkaesque' came to my mind and lips. I can understand the 'why' of the hoops, and I suspect that in other parts of the world the situation is far worse. Still, it makes me yearn for the good old days. But then I run into people who are still living in the good old days and unable or unwilling to adapt to this aspect or that of the current world, and I recite my mantra:

What is, is. Make the best of it; and maybe what will be will be more to your liking.

Or, as Ed might have said, what 'should be' and 'what is' might be the same more often they they usually tend to be.

Still, often 'what is' is also a Papa India Tango Alpha.

Major to-do items left on my agenda for this week in Brisbane: finish the hoop-jumping exercises to get car; find place to live.

Everything else has pretty much fallen into place, with even the house-selling delays in NZ turning out to be ultimately of benefit, financially, despite their vexatious nature. And the car sold yesterday, so that's good, too. One car sold; another bought.

And, in the things that truly matter, our friends here—most of whom we've known for like 'forever'—have been a very positive experience; as I had hoped they would be. They were there and are continuing to be there when we need them. I have learned to appreciate that kind of friendship over a lot of the other variations upon the theme. We owe them and we won't forget.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Moving (Part 10 of X): This Week Wasn't So Bad

One of the Brisbane recruiting agents I was in contact with when still in NZ basically told me that my job-hunting life would be much easier once I got my butt over here. Well, I herewith declare, for the world to know, that he was right. So, oh unnamed one, I owe you for the advice; because without those comments I doubt things would have gone as they have.

Took me five days, a bit more internet activity plus one interview, and I do have a contract job until March, which has a good chance of being extended further than that.

Not bad. Didn't have much time to do anything else but attend to these things, really, but now that they are done—with a gazillion others waiting in the wings, but they can wait until Monday; maybe—I shall allow myself to relax just a little and maybe start catching up with some people I have been neglecting up to this point.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Moving (Part 9 of X): Decisions Made For Us

Sometimes it's good just to wait things out. This is a hard lesson to learn, and one would think that, given the apparently random nature of what you might call 'contingency'—where any kind of crap can happen, and as far as you're concerned it's just about as 'random' as it could possibly get—chances are that 'waiting' as a recipe for dealing with things really promises no better results than not waiting and getting in there and making decisions.

I mean, I'm all for decisions. Decisions are good. Besides, we make them anyway, so we might was well make them open-eyed, knowing that we're making them; rather than pretending it ain't so. But, but, but... Sometimes waiting is better. The trick is to know when—and, let's face it, how would you know? Or that's what you'd think, right? How could you know whether waiting is going to increase your chances of a better outcome than being impatient?

Well, I agree that 'knowing' is probably not on the cards. But exposure to 'life' can at least produce a mental condition where in lieu of 'knowledge' there is at least an 'inkling', and maybe a strong one at that. Your brain is a principal-component analysis machine—scary word and very scary maths, I know!—and that's what 'inklings' are all about: you may not know, but you have a good idea what's likely and what isn't. Search for certainty and you tie yourself into knots. Follow you inklings and you'll be amazed how often they are spot-on. And, yes, it's hard to tell 'inklings' apart from 'wishful thinkings' or 'morbid reflections'. But that's life. You just gotta learn.

Anyway, inklings and stuff told me to wait. And at least one item has resolved itself: the 'where'. For the time being it's going to be Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Things have configured themselves in such a way that this is the place. Whatever that means in the long run is unclear. But that's where we start. Not that it's a 'new' place for either my wife for me. We've lived here before; indeed this is where we met. The city has expanded to grotesque proportions from the days when I was driving a Yellow Cab here, but in many ways and along many roads I can still drive a car and it kind of finds its own way, even though whatever lines the roads has changed, often beyond recognition.

Right now the familiarity extends to memories of very hot days, with near-100% relative humidity. Yesterday was one of those days. I'm certain that there will be more.

Issues remaining to be resolved: 1) the sale of our house and 2) the sale of our car; plus a hundred smaller issues, but it's those big two that are hard to control and simply have to be...

...yep, you guessed it...

Ahh, patience is hard. Not just for the young, I tell you!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What Do We Tell Our Children?

A friend of mine and reader of this blog, in an email, mused about how she wondered how I came up with the subjects that appear in my blog. Not always, but occasionally I suspect she thinks they're coming from a side of the playing field of life that probably only makes sense if you know exactly what's going on in the head of Till—and, let's face it, even Till has problems figuring that one out.

Well, the current subject isn't of the where-the-hell-did-that-come-from kind. It was prompted by an article in a newsletter and a subsequent email, penned by a martial artist I know. The person in question pondered issues associated with the use of violence in our society and the position, I guess, of the 'martial artist' in the scheme of things having to do with the 'martial'; which, let's face it, is all about fighting—on any scale you care to consider.

I think what the writer was coming to realize, after many years of practicing martial arts without the benefit of having a family of his own—which is a benefit whose value and importance cannot possibly be overestimated!—was coming to a point in his life, where the mere 'practice' of the 'art' had begun to show its flaws; as it does to the fortunate ones. And I say 'fortunate ones', because it is 'fortune' indeed blessing one if one gets to this point. The martial arts, practiced as something which is assumed to justify itself by its own virtues by most—maybe more than just 'most' and maybe more a vast majority, including senseis—are just as empty and devoid of meaning as any human activity that does not make reference and connect and ground to the larger context of 'life'; of which they are but a pale simplification. They are, as Randy Pausch might have put it, 'head fakes'. Kansas City Shuffles. The realization that this is so, must surely be among the greatest gifts that fate or destiny or just contingency, in the shape of fortuitous confluences of events that lead one to suddenly 'see', can bestow on a martial artist. For that matter on anybody, who suddenly steps outside the box and sees it for what it is and gets to say Aha!

I suspect that for the martial artist in question these things have been creeping up slowly, until they finally became so visible and prominent that they simply could not be ignored anymore. Still, I suspect, from what he's written, that he is still groping around in a darkness that is only being slowly illuminated by the light of understanding.

The problem with this understanding often tends to be though that, like reformed smokers, those who achieve it tend to go overboard with messianic fervor in opposite directions; forgetting that 'living a good life' is not about 'fixing the world', as utopians tend to believe, but about stuff that's much more basic—for from those basics flows everything else. And these things basically haven't changed for many thousands of years, and maybe more, and they won't for another uncounted years to come.

It's like my old gripe about the value of ever-more-complicated or arcane or style-defining kata. It's all bullshit, plain and simple. What matters are the small things. Fundamentals. The tiny movements and positionings and accelerations and posture and looking this way and not that. The twitch of the ring finger to give the blade that extra twist. The initial position of the grip at the beginning of a form. The final movements of resheathing; the direction of the scabbard mouth; the readiness to draw again with the speed of lightning should this turn out to be necessary. A thousand elements of micro-repertoire that combine to harmonize the practitioner with the extension of his body that is the sword, and with its purpose and what is required to wield it to perfection.

These small things get one closest to the essence of the 'art'; while the practitioner's attitude to what he is doing is the other path of approach. This maps directly onto 'life'. Thus the 'head fake'.

So, when the martial artist in question asks, not unreasonably, how one must act...act 'right' I order to have something good to tell to our children...

Well, let me try at least a few suggestions. Note that none of these will solve the problems of the world in any way—mainly because there is so 'solution', because there is no 'right' way of doing things on a large scale, and everything has to flow from the minute, and without grand schemes of utopians or aspiring utopians. Indeed, many of these suggestions are inherently non-utopian; for they are at the heart of the problems that some perceive as requiring solution. That's because many problems from the whole realm of human social life have no solution. Everything we do, depending on the context, will be 'good' in some respect and at the same time create problems in other areas.

This has always been so and will always be so—at least as long as we remain identifiably 'human'. It is a built-in paradox and there's nothing, nothing at all, that anybody can do about it—unless we stop being human.

Anybody who thinks otherwise probably also thinks that the universe itself has a right and a wrong way to go about its business; that things should be this way, but not that. But things 'should' nothing. Things are. 'Should' is a human construct with a very, very long and rather ambiguous history.

Given that this is so—and 'so' it is—what do we tell our children?

Well, there was Bob Brown, from the Unit, telling his wife "I can't betray my friends. What would that teach our children?"

Or how about Randy Pausch, who said that there are far more important things than realizing your childhood dreams: your wife and kids.

Or how about the only possible answer to one of those stupid questions I came across on a potential-employee questionnaire: Can you outline a strategy you have used to strengthen a relationship with a client.

There's only one: 'Trust'. And it's got nothing to do with 'strategy'. It's just a very simple human relationship thing. And, of course, it connects intimately to the first point.

Or maybe we should rethink the question itself, for that is the way to step outside the box we've constructed around ourselves.

What shall we tell our children?

Maybe the answer is "Not much at all", for since when has 'telling' ever done anybody any real good without there being actions to ground that which is being told?

Show. Don't tell.

And if your children feel prompted to ask you why you did this and not that, then you can tell them; and then maybe they'll understand it and take it in.

I'm tempted also to add, yet again, a wrinkly old elf's dictum—and since this is my blog I damn well shall do so.

Try not. Do. Or do not.

For if you a Dotryer, how can you ever expect your children to become anything else?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Moving (Part 8 of X): Moving Day +1

In Brisbane now. First day. Flight went without a hitch. Nothing unexpected, but when undertaking great enterprises it pays not to forget that they can falter or be wrecked, destroyed, annihilated, wiped out of existence by the tiny things. A small critical malfunction of one of the million components of the plane and the enterprise could have been stopped dead in its tracks. Literally.

So, yes, the fact that everything went, as one might have expected, without a hitch—except for the damn rattle of awfully assembled plastic fittings inside the Airbus, which is a crappy piece of European engineering, let’s face it!—is a tiny detail; yet it is as crucial as the grand plan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Giant Leap

Never mind the political jerking off inevitable in almost every 'news' item from Reuters, but the essence of this (more info) is momentous far beyond myopic retard politics. Seems to me like the great longevity enterprise—that humanity embarked on thousands of years ago, and which is kind of heading toward a major breakthrough of sorts—isn't just on-target, but ahead of schedule.

Very, very cool.

Moving (Part 7 of X): Counting Down To The End

I may have mentioned that, from a purely have-to-do-this-crap point of view, moving is a real pain in the ass. It takes up your damn life. And the way we're doing it...

Well, on the other hand—and I'm kind-of wondering if we're not actually doing it right, but don't appreciate it—we're undertaking this massive logistic effort in the minimum of time possible. If we had done this more leisurely, I suspect that much more time would have been spent on second-thinking this and that, while right now it's like "you've got seven breaths to decide on this major issue; and that's that." The bottom line is, I think, more intensely used time, which is exhausting but...

Well, it had some definitely good aspects. Like I've lost something like 6kg in the last 8 weeks or so. After checking with my doctor to make sure it wasn't something bad it turns out that it wasn't; just less time to eat crap, more metabolic energy turned over, more exercise on a continuous basis. Which goes to show yet again how truly bad and awful the office lifestyle is. Even if you are a gym-bunny, the fact is that humans are designed to move about and physically do stuff; not to sit on their butts and stare at monitors—which is was office-life is almost invariably all about these days and in our societies.

I knew this well enough, but, let's face it, when you earn your living doing this stuff you really have little option. I'm wondering whether it wouldn't in the end be healthier by far to become an Outback tour guide or something like that. Of course, it probably pays Sierra Foxtrot Alpha; and there's the rub, right? Still, one of these days—and who knows when with our newfound adventurous disposition—it might end up that way.

Back to moving and bodily circumference. I make it a principle never to buys clothes that fit comfortably or are loose. The reasoning behind that is that as one matures—yeah, good word that!—one tends to grow into these 'fitting' garments; and as time goes on, said growth requires more 'fitting' garments, which will be bigger, and so on.

Bad idea! Buy them tight, so you need to shrink into them. By now I've actually reached a stage where they ended up loose—which is a bit of a novel experience for me. But good. A golden opportunity to keep it that way!

So, there's the moving-cloud's silver lining!

This evening I'll have to heave—bit by bit!—something like half a ton of rubbish into a skip; which will be my exercise for the day I suppose. One of the last big jobs to be done before I leave here on Sunday...

So, yes, counting down we are. Unfortunately the house isn't sold yet, so my wife will have to stay behind to handle that. And right now I don't have a job yet. But I sense that I will soon enough.

Yeah, I know: gotta be careful that what you 'sense' isn't just crappy wishful thinking...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Go, Skype - Kick Some Ass!

I am going to submit this to my readers without a comment.

Skype encryption stumps police

8:13AM Friday November 23, 2007
By Louis Charbonneau

WIESBADEN - German police are unable to decipher the encryption used in the internet telephone software Skype to monitor calls by suspected criminals and terrorists, Germany's top police officer said.

Skype allows users to make telephone calls over the internet from their computer to other Skype users free of charge.

Law enforcement agencies and intelligence services have used wiretaps since the telephone was invented, but implementing them is much more complex in the modern telecommunications market where the providers are often foreign companies.

"The encryption with Skype telephone software ... creates grave difficulties for us," Joerg Ziercke, president of Germany's Federal Police Office (BKA) told reporters at an annual gathering of security and law enforcement officials.

"We can't decipher it. That's why we're talking about source telecommunication surveillance - that is, getting to the source before encryption or after it's been decrypted."

Experts say Skype and other Voice over internet Protocol (VoIP) calling software are difficult to intercept because they work by breaking up voice data into small packets and switching them along thousands of router paths instead of a constant circuit between two parties, as with a traditional call.

Ziercke said they were not asking Skype to divulge its encryption keys or leave "back doors open" for German and other country's law enforcement authorities.

"There are no discussions with Skype. I don't think that would help," he said, adding that he did not want to harm the competitiveness of any company. "I don't think that any provider would go for that."

Ziercke said there was a vital need for German law enforcement agencies to have the ability to conduct on-line searches of computer hard drives of suspected terrorists using "Trojan horse" spyware.

These searches are especially important in cases where the suspects are aware that their internet traffic and phone calls may be monitored and choose to store sensitive information directly on their hard drives without emailing it.

Spyware computer searches are illegal in Germany, where people are sensitive about police surveillance due to the history of the Nazis' Gestapo secret police and the former East German Stasi.

Ziercke said worries were overblown and that on-line searches would need to be conducted only on rare occasions.

"We currently have 230 proceedings related to suspected Islamists," Ziercke said. "I can imagine that in two or three of those we would like to do this."


Monday, November 19, 2007

Moving (Part 6 of X): People Who Will Miss you, And Those Who Merely Say They Do

It's one thing to leave somewhere and figure out whom of the people you know you'll actually end up 'missing'; that is, you will feel an existential void, of grater or lesser dimension, at their non-presence in your life. With a bit of introspection you'll probably figure it out. I've decided that there's a handful, but that just about covers it.

Much more interesting and difficult is the figuring out of who actually cares and to whom it'll make a difference that you have gone. Or who is actually glad to see the back of you.

The latter is possibly the easiest. Personally, with my propensity not to leave people in a state of 'indifference' about me, there are a number who will heave a sigh of relief, though they probably wouldn't admit it, because that would be admitting that my presence troubled them. I suspect that this includes some people who are not obviously in that category. I have my suspicions about who's who and what's what, but will wisely refrain from giving any hint that such suspicions exist in this particular case or that one. Oftentimes surprising degrees of resentment lurk and fester under very carefully constructed facades of benevolence. This may well come more to the surface now that we're leaving because we're leaving; for while it is regarded by a lot of folk as a little crazy to pack up and ship out as we're doing, it will also be a source of envy for some; occasioned either by the fact that they simply can't do the same though they might like to—as we couldn't have until recently, really—or that they would think that they'd like to but haven't got the...whatever...guts, go, gumption, recklessness, sense of adventure. Whatever you want to call it. The critical drop of gypsy blood, I guess. Jack Vance once wrote, in one of his short stories, of the superiority the settled man feels over the wanderer. Well, I think there's envy, too.

Most of the people I know, however, fall into the category of 'hard to tell'. This is a nebulous set of judgment criteria anyway, as is usually the case in human affairs, and maybe to speak of 'categories' makes little sense. As someone who is 'professionally' interested, as one might say, in matters of human behavior and relationships, I'm observing these folks with interest, and occasionally spend time picturing and extrapolating to their future and what difference my/our absence is going to make to them. More often than not the difference is so close to zero, after an initial period possibly of "hmm, I wonder why they left" or "hmm, that's a bit inconvenient, because... A, B, C, D..."

Then there is the lot of "oh, we really must see you/get together before you go", but who will make scant effort to adjust the course of their own lives for the space of a few hours to take account of the fact that our own is rather madcap right now, with little time to play around with. Not that I expect them to adjust their lives; it's just that it places their relationship to us into perspective. It is, if I may say so, a sobering experience. Not a surprising one though.

The ones who stand out are those to evince signs that they do care; that they do want to help and actually offer it; and who, when asked, don't find reasons why they can't do it then or there; or give off signs, subtle or more overt, that it is inconvenient; or who do it not least because they're getting something out of it. These nice people occasionally come from quarters I hadn't anticipated, and I would probably have added them to the vast middle ground of the basically-indifferent. And so this is a pleasant surprise, and a heartening one, and it tells me something about people and life and stuff I have to learn about them and it.

As for other matters, we just had a weekend where people invaded our house to give it anything from a cursory inspection to the kind that borders on the invasive; though in some instances I believe it was done for the perfectly valid reason of wanting to know just exactly what kind of house it was they were looking at, and if they really might want to consider forking out a heap of money to buy it. Which is perfectly OK, as I probably would do the same. Yet I am under no illusion that there probably were also those for whom the label 'nosy' would be the mildest way to describe their disposition and motive to come to these 'open homes'.

It reminds me how precious our privacy is, and how it goes far further than that whose loss we bemoan when we fret over the invasive nature of modern technology and governmental and other agencies.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Moving (Part 5 of X): Doing Things For The Last Time, And The People I Will Really Miss

One might argue, not without significant merit, that whenever we do anything at all, we do it for the first and the last time. For every 'doing' is unique, set in an unrepeatable context of time, space and circumstance.

Still, this is a narrow view; for we could not possibly survive if we looked at life that way every instant. We look at 'doing' something with repetition, implying that the following 'do' is somehow 'the same' as a former one because it shares certain properties that we consider essential and more important than the vagaries of contextual contingency. A good example, coming to mind because it is on my mind, is a teaching session at the dojo, and especially one where you're the teacher. There are two things in relation to this I'd like to pause and reflect upon.

First of all, I would like to debunk sensei-dom as it is practised in the context of the martial arts. Actually, it should be debunked right across the board, for I think the whole 'teacher' thing is pretty much bunk, not just the 'sensei' version. Still, I don't have the time, so let's take martial arts context as an example.

Maybe I should also mention that I have little or no respect for 'authority' per se, or just because it is 'authority' or because some f-tard says so. For someone to have 'authority' over anybody or anything, and especially me and mine, they have to prove it. Of course, some 'authority' is implicitly imposed in practical social terms and that's OK; but that's authority-by-power-and-social-contract and it is a necessity of social existence. That's very different though from someone telling you 'believe me, because I know' without necessarily having provided one with sufficient and credible evidence that he or she actually does know. As for me, I will bow to no one, except those who have earned my respect and proved their valor; or, alternatively at the gun-point of necessity and expediency. Please remember that when I come to the end of this blog.

Back the martial arts. I deny utterly and completely the validity of the concept that when a man—Pace, ladies! I am being gender inclusive. Just trying to avoid awkward phrasings. But, let's face it, a male 'sensei' is still much more likely than a female one; a situation which I would like to see changed, but remember that you have to be the change you want to see in the world, if you actually want to change it—steps from his everyday identity onto a dojo floor to teach martial arts and assumes the role of 'sensei' he magically becomes 'more' than he usually is; that the context and the role somehow add something to him.

It's bullshit, plain and simple. For all he does is assume a role. He may become something 'different', but 'more'? Hardly. If he isn't that thing he is on the dojo floor also in life outside that context, then he's just faking it. If he however is that thing also in ordinary life, then stepping into the role of sensei on the dojo floor is actually becoming less; for he is reducing himself to the role he's assuming at that point, having to discard aspects of himself that he would bring to his interactions with people during ordinary life. The first casualty is a certain kind of sense of 'equality' with those of lesser rank attending. These people are usually known as 'students'.

I always disliked that reduction of oneself—applied to myself, of course; for what others do with themselves is their business!—and as time went on I have come to dislike it more and I simply won't tolerate it in my classes. I refuse to do it either to myself or those coming to learn during my classes, and especially the ones with whom I develop what you might call 'long-standing' relationships. You see, people come to a dojo usually not because they are compelled to do so—as are, for example, those going to school, who are effectively drafted, press-ganged into the service of a deity called 'education', but which is really a cleverly-disguised demon called the 'education industry', who is, to quote one of Georgette Heyer's enchanting phrasings—magical prose that could have flowed from the pen of Jack Vance—from one of the first chapters of The Black Moth (Amazon link here), 'florid of countenance, portly of person, and of manner pompous and urbane'. And that's being kind. Very.

People come to the dojo for any reason you care to dream up, and then some that you won't, but in almost all instances it is done by choice, not coercion. Those who stick around and who continue to come to one's classes because they find something to give them sufficient reason to do so may be expected to... Well, they should, especially if they pay their fees on time and do other useful things to express their appreciation, be able to expect more than some functionally-reduced version of the person who's showing them what's what. Learning sword stuff is basically a head fake—which is a kind of Kansas City Shuffle—because what you learn isn't what you're being taught. Evereybody looks left and you move right

Note how I avoid the word 'teacher'? Deliberately so. The term 'sensei' hasn't figured into this either yet, but I am going to introduce it now, but in the more literal sense of describing someone who has already gone along a certain path or segments of a path, through his life and maybe your own, insofar as it is a similar path. But that is all. The sensei doesn't necessarily as 'knowing more' even; it just so happens that with regards to particular aspects of...well, 'life' I guess...he's been where the one who calls him 'sensei' is yet to tread. Therefore said 'sensei' can point out some of the features of the 'path', if you will, that will hopefully empower the one who comes after to tread it with more preparedness than s/he would otherwise. But that is all. It doesn't make the sensei wiser or better or more 'authoritative'. It just so happens that he has had a chance and taken it to walk that kind of path. And if he's trustworthy, then why not pay attention to what he's seen along the way?

And that's all.

And now, to an unnamed person I take a bow...

... for she has earned my respect—and that usually takes some doing.

She'll earn even more of it, I'm sure, because I assume that she will, unless she stumbles or forgets, my last bits of advice during our final dojo session and always have the presence of mind to remember that ultimately she's the one who needs to observe and police herself, so that she knows exactly what she is doing with her mind, her body and her sword at every moment. For nobody is going to do it for her. Teachers—who should be senseis in the sense above, but rarely are—by and large suck at this job of pointing out some important aspects of the path, while at the same time leaving those who trod along it after them, or a similar one, to make their own decisions about what to actually do. This is known as 'empowering', and it can be difficult, because the temptation to make the damn horse drink, too, by shoving its face into the pond or other ignoble and possibly futile means, is great. But that's not empowering, which is all about enabling and encouraging people to make decisions and know they are making decisions, rather than finding excuses why they do this or that, or why life is giving them a hard time or whatever.

I hope this little bow of respect and acknowledgment of mine doesn't go to her head, for she has got a long way to go to get to the stage where she knows enough about the mind-body-sword thing to be able to claim that she 'knows' something substantial. But she's just started, and so I hope that her current attitude, which in certain regards qualifies as 'ornery', will see her through the traps along the way. That and an inherent earnestness, which is quite remarkable. 'Earnestness', as one should maybe point out, is different fron 'seriousness'. Give me a choice and I take the 'earnest' person anytime. By and large they are the ones you can rely on, and if you need a friend, earnest is very good indeed. And we all need friends. Real ones.

Anyway, this is one person whose presence I will definitely miss. And to her—in a paternal and respectful, but definitely 'friend' kind of way, for I regard her as such as well—I would like to say, as I have done to my daughters more times and in more ways than I can count, to always derive style from substance. It is possible to infer substance from style, of course, but the inference is usually tricky and laden with pitfalls—and is inaccurate much more frequently than it is not.

How to discern the 'substance' of any given thing? Well, yes, but who said it was going to be easy? If it were, many more people would do it, and not be who they are or do what they do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Moving (Part 4 of X): Disposing Of Possessions And Other Uncontrollable Events With Even More Uncontrollable Outcomes

Two basic polarities of possible answers:

  • "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot are you talking about? Of course you can control it, you 'tard!"
  • "Duh! What else is new? Nothing's ever under control."
The truth lies, of course, between those two extremes. Somewhere between them, who knows where and depending on the context. Intelligence may be measured by the degree to which a person—just a person; not talking about non-people here—is able and prepared to assess just exactly where that truth lies in any given situation, and to adapt their behavior accordingly in order to maximize the benefit to them and theirs.

This 'moving' crap is a classic case in point. House-selling is a major one: you can lead the horse to water and all that shit. Since said house is a major possession of ours and since we really can't actually control anything but the 'leading to water' bit, here's a cause for major stress and impatience; with 'faith' being sorely tested: faith that we're doing the right thing.

Ahh, faith. Usually and by the time it gets to this point—wherever that point is we're at right now—it at least appears entirely evidentially flimsy, to say the least. Sometimes, I guess, you just gotta hang in there. Actually, I take that back, you've always got to 'hang in there', because that kind-of the prerequisite for everything else.

And, yes, a decision was made, to take certain items of furniture that have been with us for decades; because ultimately we could never replace them, and even if we replaced them with crap it'll cost us much more than transporting it across the Tasman will. So, there's one lot of possessions we're not going to let go of. We were seriously thinking about it, but there's also the factor of selling this stuff, which could become quite a pain in the ass, and would probably have ended up with us being very unhappy about getting a pittance for what for us has some historical context-meaning. But this instantly doubled the volume of stuff we're taking. So much for living out of two suitcases!

To end with, allow me to change perspective from mundane matters of moving: to nudge some people I care about into directions I think they need to think about—and, yes, I know: you can lead a horse...blahblahrhubardrhubarb...—here are a few quotes from my current list of favorite sayings, some of which come from Randy Pausch's last lecture at CMU; some from other places. I know, they're just quotes, but they're good ones. Those to whom they are addressed—some of them to myself, as I don't mind admitting; but some definitely to very specific people—will hopefully understand that it is they I am talking to. So, here's to wishing they're reading and damn-well listening!
  • We cannot change the cards we're dealt; just how we play them.
  • Things more important than your childhood dreams: wife and kids.
  • Most of what we learn, we learn by learning something completely different than we think we're learning.
  • Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want something; and to keep out those who don't want it enough.
  • Wait a little longer and most people will surprise and impress you. If they're not doing it, it's possibly because you haven't given them enough time.
  • It's very important to know when you're in a pissing match; and it's very important to get out of it as quickly as possible.
  • You have to be lost to find a place that can't be found.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Experience Is What You Get When You Didn't Get What You Wanted

This is a line from Randy Pausch's final lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, at Carnegie Mellon on the 18 Sep 07.

It's such a good line that I'm not going to say anything further in this blog.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Moving (Part 3 of X): The Rest Of The Junk

The garage sale done, now there are the leftovers, many of them destined for 'charity'. This includes everything from crummy furniture that should have been gotten rid of ages ago, as well as things like miscellaneous pieces of wood, plank, board and a gazillion cans of spray-paint that weren't used completely, to clothes. Moving from the very changeable climate of Dunedin, a minimum of two seasons in your average day, to, initially, Brisbane encourages one, even females, to look at one's extensive wardrobe with different eyes. I have a quite small personal 'wardrobe', much to the chagrin of my wife who would like more variety and imagination there I suppose, but even I was able to produce a small mountain of clothing of the why-do-I-still-have-this kind.

The purge continues, but I really want this part finished by next week, so I can focus on the next part, which is...more purges, of course. Like the wardrobe in the study, which isn't a wardrobe but a 'storage area' for documents, stationery, photos, plus a miscellany of things that will need to be taken, but should be sorted out.

Yeah, sorting out. Our lives are going from an emphasis on 'painting' to one on 'sorting out'. Time, methinks, to also decide just exactly what it is we're going to put into our hand-luggage. The weight there won't be clothing, not for the 30-odd degrees Celsius of Brisbane, but two laptops, a MacBook and a (secret and powerful ward-off-evil-sign placed in this position in the blog) Compaq Windoze machine, plus some external hard-drives, plus my Sony FX1 with the essential accessories. My graphics tablet. Some essential documents. My iaito, though I'll probably ship the bokuto with the bulk of our stuff. Doesn't sound like a lot of items, but everything is heavy and together we only have 40 kg allowance, plus whatever we can sneak in hanging from our shoulders as 'cabin baggage': that would be the laptops and the FX1.

Still, somehow all this pales into insignificance compared to something else: the need to sell our house and preferably soon. It's 'out there' now, www and Otago Property Press, and there will be a sign outside today or tomorrow.

OK, House, so please find yourself a good home. And do not dally!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Moving (Part 2 of X): Bargain Hunting Freaks

So we had this garage sale last Saturday. And I remembered why I don't like even going to garage sales. I guess it must be because I'm not of a disposition as most of those showing up: picking over people's possessions, which they're selling for whatever reason that's entirely their own business, and trying to get them for nothing.

OK, so I admit, I have been to garage sales, but it really isn't my scene. I don't think I've ever looked in a newspaper for whatever sales are 'on' and then try to go there for the specific purpose of seeing what I can get, preferably for next to nothing. In fact the only thing of any value I ever got at a garage sale, was in Atlanta Georgia, where I think my wife and I came quite late in the process; and I saw this watercolor painting, which not only was just $2—or maybe $5; it's been a while—but it instantly touched me; and I was telling myself "Why is this guy selling this for this kind of money? Doesn't he know what it's worth?" And, yes, it may indeed not be 'worth' anything much in monetary terms, but I really like it. The picture below doesn't do it justice, of course, but maybe you get a faint idea of why I was attracted to it. It's been with us ever since. I took it out of its crummy frame to scan it and then used Photoshop's 'Photomerge' to join the bits together. Works like a dream!

[Aside: Click on the image to see a larger version and scroll down to the bottom, where the signature is. Anybody have any suggestions what the actual name of the artist appears to be?]

Did I say anything to that guy who thought he should let it go for $2 or whatever? No. It was his choice to not appreciate what he had there, and I told myself that this total 'steal' went somewhere it was appreciated. And I was surprised that it was still there and someone else had not grabbed it well before we came along. Maybe nobody saw the value. Maybe the garage sale crowd was looking for something else. Not treasure but 'stuff' to be got cheap. But not everything is—in fact very little is—measurable in terms of monetary value. But at this garage sale at our place I saw far too many people who did think only that, and who came there to get something for nothing or next-to-nothing. Yeah, I know, what else is new? But that doesn't change the fact that I find it a sad reflection of futile materialism.

There were notable exceptions. Some really nice people showed up, too, who were respectful of the fact that this wasn't a shop, but a private place, and who stopped to chat about things other than whatever it is they wanted to scrounge. Some of them even gave me good advice on how to dispose of stuff that might be left over. To them I owe, because they were gems in a torrent of quarry rocks. And then there were a couple of buddies from work, who helped to carry stuff and kept an eye out while I wasn't able to look. To you, too, thanks. I'll make it up to you.

In other news: our house is now on the market and you'll find pics here. They'll be up for as long as the house is on the market; after that the link will not point at the right page anymore, I guess. Want a really lovely place In Dunedin, New Zealand? Here's your chance!

And that's all for today, because I've got far too much to do to be blogging.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Moving (Part 1 of X)

The technicalities of moving are, not to put too fine a point on it, a pain in the ass. Both buttocks, plus some choice jabs in other places.

This time it's harder than ever. This time we've been put for enough years to have accumulated so much junk! junk! junk! that it's like wading through...ahh, words fail me.

'Junk' differentiates itself from 'valuable things' by several sets of criteria; which are occasionally mixed up, as is usual in this untidy activity we call 'life':

  • monetary value
  • 'memory' value
  • 'might-come-in-handy' value
  • 'object per se' value
The money thing works like this: Is item X worth taking—cost and effort wise—or can we buy it at the other end? Do we actually need it anyway? Will disposing of it (maybe selling) and having to re-acquire it or a similar object, mean a lesser or greater cost, in monetary and/or practical terms than shipping it?

Memory: Does it 'mean' anything to us or our kids? Does it qualify as 'irreplaceable' in terms of what it is?

Might come in handy: A classification admitting an infinite variety of what is junk. Hence the best answer is: who cares? Still, sometimes the argument is pertinent and must be considered. Still, going to Brisbane taking thick woolen pullovers for those few days that the temperature might just drop to the point where they 'come in handy'...well, that seems kind of pointless.

Value per se: Like my set of the Vance Integral Edition, such objects may well have a monetary value; but the deciding factor is, again, what they 'mean'—in this case not in terms of 'memory' but whatever other value might be attendant to them. Since it's really an emotional value-judgment all sorts of objects come under that heading.

Such considerations right now are being applied to just about every one of our 'possessions'. Some are easily decided upon; others require more extended consideration.

Moving as we do is an exercise in serious possession purging; including my customary 1/3 of current books in my library; some of which have already been sold on TradeMe, New Zealands national version of eBay, just like my old eMac, which has now found a new home in Christchurch. Other books will hopefully go tomorrow at our massive garage sale, and the rest will be donated to some good cause like the traditional Dunedin Regent Book Sale.

Looking at the pile of stuff we're going to try and sell tomorrow from our driveway, I ask myself: how did we get this overloaded with junkjunkjunk?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In the Beginning Was the End (Parte Sexta): NZ»OZ

So, here I've been preaching the gospel of The-End-Before-The-Beginning, but sometimes...

Well, 'sometimes'.

We–that being my wife and I–have pondered the scenario of leaving Dunedin and going back to live in Australia for some time. The ideal situation would have been to get a job there while still here, then selling the house and packing up our stuff and sodding off to warmer climes. A safe kind of adventure, making one's own fate contingent upon the timing of processes vastly beyond our control and weighed heavily against us.

Phone job-interviews are not a very productive process; and I must admit that I have some sympathy for a decision-making on hiring someone for a job where face-to-face interviewed candidates get a better deal and where candidate-distance becomes an automatic factor for relegation to a less significant place in a potential employer's consideration. The thing gets worse for contract jobs that often require a fairly quick start.

So, bottom line, we said "enough" and "let us end this" and... well, yes..."in the beginning is the end" and "what do we really have to lose" and "what if instead of Y years old we were X years old" (with 'X' less than 'Y' by something like a factor of two) and we decided to end it in order to allow a new beginning. We're about to hand in our respective and required notices at our work-places, put the house on the market and become serious about getting those things done that need to get done if you're doing what we're going to do. Everything from new passports to transferring bank accounts to saying good-byes to everybody and sundry.

Big thing this. Kinda scary. But it's been some while in coming and our recent visit to the N.T. sort of provided the shakabuku. (By the way, I don't think that's a real word, and it may indeed have only come into existence in the movie Grosse Pointe Blank; which, by the way, was my favorite flick of 1997.) And here we are. The end is nigh. Departure date from NZ, if all goes well: Dec 2, 2007. The end of an era spanning more years than I'll admit to on a public forum.

Today was 'Resignation Day', far too long in coming, but entirely through my own doing. My elder daughter called from the UK to wish me a 'Happy Resignation Day'. The younger one sent me a text with basically the same content. My wife did the same thing in her workplace a day ago.

Things have become definite, and it's amazing how choices makes life easier. Never mind the consequences, which, given due circumspection or sheer dumb luck, hopefully will not be as dire as they would be had different decisions been made. But I'm all for choices as my trusty readers hopefully know.

So, this is the End, which has to come before the Beginning.


Monday, October 29, 2007


...for a major announcement, coming up tomorrow!

Ahh, the suspense...


το όπλο - to Hoplo (n) : first meaning was: "tool", "instrument"; later meaning was the tool of war = weapon

το όπλον - to Hoplon : (later generic use) tool of war, including all kind of weapons

Hoplophobia: the irrational and uncontrollable fear of instruments; based on "the idea that instruments possess a will of their own, apart from that of their user". As the inventor of the neologism put it: "The essence of the affliction is the belief that instruments cause acts."

The guy had an acerbic wit and was a source of many quotables. One of my favorites is "One of the notable aspects of the democratic process is that one need not know anything about a subject in order to pass laws about it." Does that sound familiar or does it?

Anyway, about hoplophobia. It had been invented to refer to a fear of weapons, and guns in particular; but it applies in equal measure to, say, the notion that James Dean's car was cursed or that computers have minds-of-their-own.

Hoplophobia is based on the notion of—and I'm making this one up here and now—Hoplanimus, the silly idea that an animus may possess/inhabit inanimate objects. The notion that this may be so has been revitalized—not just 'revived' because it's been around like forever, and merely sprung another sprout—in a pseudo-rational form in recent times through the advent of computers, which once were known as 'thinking machines'; and this has now assumed grotesque proportions in the notion that 'the Internet' may possess an animus of sorts. The whole notion is an unholy marriage of crass superstition belonging into truly 'dark' ages and equally crass and primitive...well, let me call it 'materialism', the kind which postulates that every sufficiently complex physical system may become possessed of an animus of sorts, and should therefore be treated as if it did; if not in terms of 'rights', than at least in terms of being very leery of what it might end up doing or being. Hence Matrix and Terminator and so on.

While it may well be that...
  • machines may well end up complex enough and in contexts that will endow them with animus-like qualities (though said animus will be so utterly strange to us that we'll have a hard time recognizing it, since we implicitly understand 'animation' in terms of what we are!)

  • humans, being biological machines, can lay no claim to a special status in the animus department (which would require a complete revamping of the animus concept itself)
...said animus is based on something very different than the mystery-substance inhabiting an object like a gun or a sword, to name just two of the 'weaponry' kind.

Failure to differentiate between the two is expressive, if nothing else, of a) a dismal lack of education in the science department in not just the ordinary man on the street but also those who really should know better, b) the pervasive desire of humans to see 'mystery' even in the most un-mysterious places, and c) the complete lack of correlation between 'education' and 'good sense'. For it appears to me that, counterintuitively, apparent 'education' and hoplophobia often go hand in hand.

But explaining the origins of hoplophobia doesn't make it go away. It is real enough. I've watched it in action first hand in a guy I know; this gut reaction to the presence of instruments whose only purpose, let's face it, is to kill. And killing isn't nice on the whole, though we tend to be selective about our ethics in that regard. Of course, some zealous Buddhists will try not to kill anything—but they are waging a battle they can not only never win, but are actually losing at every instant of their lives, since their very existence is contingent on the endless killing going on inside their bodies: vegetable and animal; either ingested, and if not that, at the very least bits of themselves.

Animism with regards to killing-instruments is probably invoked by a variety of impulses, whose exact nature depends on the hoplophobic individual. But the main one is probably the recognition--explicit or subtle and never-realized--that with the instrument comes the power of delivering death to other living creatures and in particular human beings. This is both, cause for weapons-fetishism ('hoplophilia'?) and hoplophopbia alike; plus a gazillion other strange and often bizarre behaviorisms, especially among those who are in positions of power of fellow human beings anyway, who are more often than not a pretty twisted bunch of

Hoplophophics and hoplophiliacs--just the other side of that coin, really--share a defect in character, which merely expresses itself in opposite ways, depending on what their otherwise disposition is. The ones fear what the weapon stirs up in them; the others revel in it. In either case it reveals a weakness, usually profound. In some instances, or maybe more than just 'some', it reveals potentially pathological tendencies. Either that or just a disposition toward fervor, like that evidenced by, say, gun-nuts and anti-gun-morons alike.

Weapons are what you make them, literally and figuratively. And a person's attitude toward being shown, as well as his behavior and actions upon being handed an instrument designed only to kill, will reveal more of his 'deep' character than hours of endless talk, no matter how probing.

By the way, and in terms of a illustration that you can take as you like, both the 'weapons' depicted above are fakes. The sword is a blunt alloy practice iaito and the gun is an imitation BB gun for plastic pellets. They both can hurt you, but so can a plastic spoon.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The only comment I have regarding a certain recent decision of the Nobel committee...

Do-Gooders Go Global

So, it's official, the Obesity Epidemic is a global phenomenon, which is worrying those who aren't already worried to distraction by Global Warming.

Do-gooders in search of a cause will no doubt rejoice; with an implicit license to transcend international boundaries and do their dirty work anywhere it damn well pleases them—because, after all, it isn't the fault of the obese that they are obese! The best way to combat this, at least in the 'obesogenic'—I f....g well kid you not! that's a word now!—societies where this is possible, is to install yet more cameras, preferably and most effectively in people's houses. Maybe, if they're outfitted with some serious behavior-recognition software, not only could we ensure that dietary offenders get punished—maybe by electric shock or laser zapping—and thus become conditioned in the manner of Pavlovian dogs to swear off injuring themselves through food, but quite possibly such tendencies might be spotted, with really advanced, internet-based software provided by and included with 'automatic updates' by Microsoft®, thus actually preventing such injuries before the stupid dimwits can actually take a bite of that obesifying food.

And that's just one hi-tech solution, which ignores the many other options of delivering behavior conditioning to those incapable of policing their own habits—meaning basically everybody but those who know better. Of course.

I am so looking forward to the South Park piss-take on the Global Obesity Epidemic (GOE)!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sunlight and Cancer: An Inverse Correlation

With three 'light-skinned' women in my family this here appears highly pertinent and worthy of a small blog entry to call attention to it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Beauty: Where Does It Go To When It Goes Away?

To which (or a similar question) the father of Guyal of Sfere replied: "Beauty is a luster which love bestows to guile the eye. Therefore it may be said that only when the brain is without love will the eye look and see no beauty."

My buddy Haszari—and yes, I really do know where he is sitting and whence he sees what he sees: about 30 seconds down the hallway from my office—responded to my last post with the 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' rote, which is related to what I wrote, but is is also a non sequitur; defining, as it does, a different space of meaning altogether. His response maps more into Jack Vance's fictional response by Guyal's much-tried father.

For what beauty 'is' requires a definition—at least if we want to talk about it and understand mutually what it is we're talking about! Where it exists, if you will, may well be an entirely different question that will complete our understanding of it, but it is different entirely to the 'what'.

Thing is 'beauty', like everything else, doesn't just exist in a vacuum. It's a linguistic term and stands for something, and—yeah, I know you know that by now!—every half-decent General Semanticist will tell you, as I do, that every word describing an object or a concept requires a definition that links it to that which is points at.

The other thing is that literally everything in the conceptual universe—that is, the universe we experience cognitively—is indeed in the 'eye of beholder'. Hence the rote about beauty being there is without any significant semantic content, except in the sense that it says that 'beauty' is a concept of sorts and therefore is one of those things which is in the eye of the beholder. Big deal.

Of course, the purpose of the beauty-rote is merely to put it into a place where the concept itself becomes essentially inaccessible to any inspection outside the scope of the individual. Now, it may be true that the experience and awareness of what beauty is and does, is potentially sufficiently different between people, so that talking about it is pointless. But then...well, then there's really no point in talking about it, and why should anybody ever say to anybody else "You're beautiful!" or point at something and say "Isn't this beautiful?" unless it were not to make a statement about an actual 'property' of something—a lover, a sunrise—but merely an enumeration of instances of individually perceived 'beauty', that hopefully conveys to the person it's being conveyed to, something about what the speaker considers 'beautiful'.

But that's not what we do when we make those declarations! We presume the pre-existence of some understanding of the concept; a shared definition of sorts. 'Art' presumes such a shared definition, no matter how much 'in the eye of the beholder' it may be. The concept of 'beauty', much as the concept of 'love' is a cultural binding element, and it will serve to distinguish this culture from that one. It is a shared personal experience of some sort, which is given the name 'beauty'. While this experience when applied to certain things—like, for example, objects of 'art', or just human faces and shapes—may differ even between persons inside the same culture, there is something there nonetheless that we all sense we share. And when someone tries to define it, as that, possibly fictitious, line from Next, then we should acknowledge it for what it is. Not necessarily something complete or all-encompassing; but nonetheless and attempt to delineate the nature of something that serves to bind people together—usually in a positive way.

And, as definitions go, this one was good. Just like the reply of Gyual's father, though it kind-of avoided a direct reply; which could not be given to the question as it was obviously intended by the questioner. But at least Gyual was perceptive enough not ask what beauty 'is'. Instead he posed the question from an existentialist point of view: "Where does beauty vanish when it goes?" (This is the original quote.)

What something 'is' defines itself mostly, as some would argue—including I—by what it does or what effect it has on those objects or people it affects. And here, too, the longer I think about it, the more I actually like that definition that prompted my buddy to pen his last comment.

And look what he got in response!