Beach Bum

I managed not to eat and drink myself to death over Christmas, but it was a near thing. Christmas day at my mate’s consisted of prawns, mango salad and turkey, washed down with copious quantities of plonk. The next day it was right back into it with a barbie at my brother’s place. I had travelling friends come to visit the next day, but luckily they were already into their post-chrissie diet and only wanted to eat apples.

lunch
Christmas Lunch courtesy of Fiona

Been getting my money’s worth from Coogee Beach lately. On both Christmas day and Jan 27 there was actually a catchable body break, which is pretty unusual. Granted it was only the shore break at the north end of the beach, but it packed plenty of punch and had a pretty nice run in.

Apparently the backpackers made a terrible mess at the beach on Christmas day, but I was out all day and on Boxing Day, so I didn’t notice. Although to tell the truth, after living in Berlin for 5 years, I am struggling to understand what all the fuss is about. This year they’re putting on New Years fireworks at the beach for the first time. The show’s at 9pm, should be fun. Have to do my drinking at home, though, as there is an alcohol ban.

Took two lots of friends to lunch at the Coogee Legion Club restaurant over the last few weeks. Was supposed to be three, but the afore-mentioned apple diet got in the way of one lunch. Quite a good restaurant, reasonably priced, and the view from the balcony is terrific. Member discounts on the booze contribute to the good feeling!

Bought myself a keyboard as a Christmas present. A Yamaha PSR-E433, with 755 preset voices and all the knobs and buttons a boy could want.

kbd
The new toy

Got it nearly new on Gumtree at a reasonable price. Seller lived in Maroubra, so I got to ride the 353 bus to Eastgardens. Of course the bus was late, (the 353 is always late), but it goes past Maroubra beach, and it reminded me I should go there more often. The surf is so much better.

At some stage I’ll have to get a USB cable to connect the keyboard to the laptop and run my midi software. I also need to get some headphones, or the neighbours are going to get seriously pissed off. Even at half volume, my version of Loch Lomond using the keyboard’s bagpipes sound blows the roof off!

pipes
Sounds like this!

Great night out last night seeing the Khanz and Mabel at the Newtown Social Club (formerly the Sando). Mabel sounded like a cross between George Michael and Elvis Costello, while the Khans played a very groovy kind of electro-pop. Two of the band members looked like Princess Leia and Chewbacca, which was kinda spooky.

khans
The Khanz. Note Princess Leia and Chewbacca on the left.

Before the gig we ate out at Dean’s Diner, the undisputed home of the best burgers in the Inner West for many years. Burp!

For a change of pace, tomorrow I’m off the Sydney Speedway at Granville. Vroom vr-o-o-o-o-m!

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Santa Is An Alien

What else could he be? He must come from an advanced race of extra-terrestrials. Here’s the evidence:

  • capable of mass surveillance and big data (he knows if you’ve been bad or good) (a bit like Google, really)
  • obviously has matter replicator (a.k.a. Santa Claus machine)
  • and a matter-transmitter/teleporter (you don’t really believe he comes down the chimney, do you?)
  • he needs to live in cold temperatures
  • he can travel at enormous velocities in a flying machine

alien_santa

Obvious, isn’t it. Must have crash-landed on earth in the middle ages. Probably comes out once a year because his ship requires a certain astronomical alignment to function. The elves are clearly extra-terrestrials, with their pointy ears. Santa is probably furry all over, a kind of yeti, which is why he lives in the North Pole. (Not my idea. See Jeffrey Vallance, Santa Is A Wild Man).

But the most interesting thing is that he’s not into taking over the world, he just wants to give us presents. But perhaps he’s trying to lull us into a false sense of security until his mates get here. Or maybe he’s trying to wipe us out by making us eat and drink too much. (See this alarming piece – Overeat at Christmas? Be careful – your stomach could explode) Hmmmm. Bad Santa.

bad_santa

The End Of The World – Yay!

My whole world is falling apart. My TV has died, as has my electric razor and my toe-nail clippers (not to mention the fact that my big toenail fell off this morning!) I was watching an episode of Dr Who from a few years ago where the Tardis is severely damaged. Some of the damage must have leaked through the temporal/dimensional barrier, because the next day my TV wouldn’t turn on. Power supply is kaputt. Now I’ll have to wait forever to get the replacement which I bought and paid for online, because it is so close to Christmas. Damn Santa!

tardis
Dr Who broke my telly!

Restaurants are becoming unaffordable. Corner 75 in Randwick cleaned me out and Kerasma in Newtown doubled the damage. Both great restaurants, of course. The main problem is the expensive wines (Tokaj and Agiorgitiko respectively). Luckily there are still all the BYO Asian restaurants in Kingsford  (e.g. Albee’s Kitchen).

Speaking of wine, my liver seems to have gone on strike. After dinner in Newtown at Kerasma (see above), went to the Bank Hotel to see fun rock band The Dead Love. Band punchy, crowd very cool (see pic). Next day I was totally wasted for most of the day. Note to self: drink even more water.

bank_fan
A fellow reveller at the Bank

Paint. The windows in our block are being painted, and the last week has been dominated by ladders, overalls, paint-fumes and yelling and loud singing in Korean.

dali

The postman is dislexic. He delivers mail for unit 4 no 3 (4/3) to unit 3 number 4 (3/4) and vice-versa. I first noticed this when I received a package containing a dress from Hong Kong, which for some reason was not my size. Hmmm…. However, both my uni textbooks were correctly delivered.

You see, I have resumed my on-line studies through Open Universities after a 4 year break. The materials are, if possible, even worse than they used to be – out of date, references missing, links to irrelevant TED videos and Steve Jobs interviews. Aargh!

And just to add insult to injury, it’s been raining the last few days.

But none of this matters. Why? Because I got a job! Yes, one of my bosses from the old days (hi Ray!) encouraged me to apply for a job and put in a good word for me and I start in Jan. It’s a good job too. It’s been a long long time since I suited up for the office. My life is about to change, drastically. But I’m really looking forward to it!

work
Me soon

Actually, even if I hadn’t got a job, there’s almost nothing a visit to the Coogee Swamp won’t cure.

swamp
Nice, huh?

I’m Back!

Yesterday I had to do a bit of archaeology. Seems that when the garden was put in a few years ago, the landscapers helpfully buried the water meter. Heinrich Schliemann  would have been proud of my efforts, as I located, excavated and prised open the entombed artefact and recorded the inscription. Some way will have to be found to prevent the excavations from collapsing and reburying the whole thing.

troy

Afterwards I went into town for a job interview. As I’ve been out of the workforce for more than ten years, this exercise bore more than a passing resemblance to the Return of the Mummy. At Wynyard station, I got to ascend the magnificent wooden escalators to the York St exit. On the walk up Clarence St to my appointment, I was struck by the elegance of the Grace Building.

Don’t really like my chances of getting the job, but I was pleased to get a interview and it was a chance to show my face. Had to iron a shirt and put on a suit and proper shoes for the first time in a while. The shoes were exceedingly uncomfortable – now I remember why I always wear slip-ons. The interviewing committee were absolutely charming and the interview went better than expected.

In the evening, I attended a do at the Australian Institute of International Affairs, where 6 of the Institute’s interns presented on a subject which interested them. The topics were varied: Yemen, geo-engineering to counter climate change, lies and social media, nuclear waste sequestration and Australian policy in the South China Sea. Sandwiches and wine were served before the proceedings. The presentations were pithy and thought-provoking.

After that I walked with my nephew to have dinner in Chinatown at my old haunt the New Tai Yuen. As the evening was balmy, we ate outside. The salt and pepper squid was washed down nicely by the bottle of cheapo Mudgee Semillon Sav Blanc we picked up at the Star Bottle-oh. Half of Chinatown was cordoned off by the Police and Firies, as there had been a gas explosion an hour or so before. I showed my nephew the Trades Hall and shared a few labour movement stories.

kheops-pyramid
Not really Sydney Trades Hall

After dinner we wandered up through Haymarket, checking out the Capitol Theatre and downing a few ales at the Chamberlain Hotel, where an excellent Thai band was serenading a birthday party. The selection of beers was good and the mostly young asian crowd was having plenty of fun.

Afterwards back to Coogee, where I lay down in my sarcophagus and awaited developments…..

The Customer Vanishes

I rarely go to McDonalds. Firstly because I don’t approve of its market dominance, preferring small-to-medium-sized businesses, particularly in the restaurant area. Secondly, I don’t like their burgers – they’re too bland and something (possibly in the bread), gives me indigestion. This is partly because I grew up on Greek-Australian hamburgers, which are much spicier, and in fairness I must add that the chips at Maccas are usually good. But I’ve always made an exception for breakfast, because their US-style hotcakes and their coffee ain’t half bad. They are the closest I can get in Australia to my dream breakfast at The Original Pancake House in Bethesda, where I used to go when I lived in Washington. Besides, beach-side cafes have to charge so much in order to cover their swingeing rents that I can’t afford them.
hotcakes
Waiting in the queue, I was impressed with the self-service kiosks and the brilliant digital menu displays. The self-service kiosks, like supermarket self-checkouts, are a clear example of the current wave of replacement of human workers by machines. This is the future, no doubt about it, despite what McDonalds says.

kiosk

I ordered hotcakes, hash browns and a flat white and was served with a perfect McDonalds smile.

When my order number flashed up on the screen, I picked it up and headed to a table. After having buttered my hotcakes and nibbled at a hash brown, I realised that I hadn’t got any milk for my coffee, so I went back to the counter and picked some up. To my utter consternation, on my return I discovered that during my 60 second absence, a server had cleared my table and tossed out 3 untouched hotcakes, a full cup of coffee and one and a half hash browns! After I had berated the very young lad responsible (keeping my protestations within civilised bounds), the staff were very apologetic and I was directed to the counter to get a replacement meal. Unfortunately their coffee machine had just that moment been put on the cleaning cycle, so I had to get a refund for that. The replacement meal and my refund came quickly and the manager tossed in a couple of free coffee coupons to make up for the inconvenience.

McDonalds is famous for having pioneered the use of comprehensively-designed work-practices and for their excellent staff training. What could possibly have gone wrong?

The main cause of the problem is probably just personnel – the insouciant clod who did the deed was probably running on autopilot while he planned his school holiday activities. I know all about that, having been a bit of an airhead myself at that age, so I can’t really hold it against him. But does it say anything about the business too? I rather think it does.

One of the effects of comprehensive work-practice design is ironically to break down the integrity of the various tasks in the business. One person is fully concentrated on efficiently doing the frying, another the checkout and yet another the tidying and cleaning. While this certainly gives rise to a well-oiled machine (to use a pre-digital metaphor), the focus on the customer becomes fragmented. The guy clearing the tables doesn’t know that I just ordered my meal and have gone to pick up some milk. Metaphorically, and in this case literally, the customer is absent.

I also suspect that one effect of minutely-regulated work-practices and corporate-speak staff training is to give rise to cynicism and disengagement on the part of at least some staff. Work becomes like a video game, a sequence of moves, with the customers having the status of digital extras.

This, my friends, is the kind of future we are already living in. We are no longer customers, in the sense of human participants in real business activities, we are [CUSTOMERS], a vanishing locus of digitalised transactional flows. Michel Foucault famously wanted to eradicate ‘man’ from history, announcing ‘the death of man‘, so we can see behind the humanist veil. In order to understand the modern corporation, we need to eradicate the concept of ‘customer’ so we can get a clear view of the atomised exploitative reality in which we really live.

Performer arrogance mars great night out.

Tonight I was encouraged by friends to attend a CD launch by a Sydney country blues band at the Camelot Lounge in Marrickville. Why it’s in Marrickville, I don’t understand, as it is 100 metres from Sydenham station, but we’ll let that pass. Transport links good, venue great, food and service very good. The support act, a guy called Luke Escombe, was witty, artistic and seriously fun. His piece on East Germany, Lipsi Blues, is probably the most intelligent take on that sad era that I have ever heard.

luke_escombe
Luke Escombe

The main act, the Green Mohair Suits, is a cult act among inner-city spinsters, a status largely deserved, I must say. However, my decision to continue to listen to cracker music after the US election result was severely tested. The band was playing a pretty smooth set at reasonably high volume. My friends, who are fairly devoted to the band, had booked a table right at the front, so we were sitting near the stage. At a certain point, my mate makes a joke that two of the band are like John and Paul from the Beatles. Presciently as it turns out, because the next song, a piece by band bad boy Canadian Brian Campeau, sounds like it was written by George Harrison. Which I say to Mike at the volume required to be heard over an amplified band. After the song, Campeau has a dummy spit and complains that he could hear what I said. Naturally I tried to laugh it off by saying that he got to hear what I said for free. To which he replies that I should leave. Which I did.

I had spent $20 entry and $70 at the bar. How come this preening princess gets to ruin my night and the night of all the people I was with? I could understand it if he was doing something other than playing derivative american music to a well-heeled audience. But I suppose that’s what you get for patronising pretentious pseudo-popular bourgeois culture.

Everyday Wizardry

Yesterday, I bought a printer on Gumtree for $20. I had to go to Kingsford, but the next bus wasn’t for nearly an hour, so I walked. The route went past my old alma mater, UNSW, which brought back lots of memories. Assignments completed by staying up all night, student politics (a shout-out to Luke Foley, who is a genuinely nice and funny guy), Tharunka, beer, love, the whole caboodle.

Just outside the seller’s house I came eye-to-eye with a huge black crow sitting on a gate-post. It reminded me at the same time of three things: the raven in the battleground scene at the start of Vikings Season 1 Episode 1; Ted Hughes’ masterful book of poetry ‘Crow’, with its illustrations by Leonard Baskin, and the late great Graham Kennedy making crow calls on Blankety-Blanks: faaaaark, faaaaark, faaaark….raven

Carried my printer home in my back-pack. It works, but it won’t print over the network from my laptop. I think it is a Windows-Linux thing – like many things, its supposed to work (using samba sharing) but it doesn’t actually. I’ll keep trying coz I’m stubborn like that.

After dinner I caught the bus to Newtown, where my friend Michael Fridge was performing with his band New Fridge at the open stage night at the Town Hall Hotel. On the way I got talking to a bearded pensioner who actually looked like he might be a wizard. He told me he spent all his holidays in a tent in the Spanish Basque country. He learned Spanish and French on the internet and had even a smattering of the Basque language. Impressive.

At the pub the boys did a terrific rendition of Michael’s original songs, especially his great hits ‘God’s Out To Get You’ and ‘In Bed With Tony Abbott’. fridge

The following act was a guy who must count as the hardest-working man in show-biz. His name is Chase Spencer, he comes from Vancouver Canada and he really, really wants to be famous. He’s pretty talented and hey, maybe he will make it, but it’s a hard world out there. chase_spencer_is_famous_sm

Whenever I go to the Townie, I’m always amused at the shoot-em-up arcade game in the main bar. The NRA would be very pleased.bang-bang_sm

Today I didn’t get much done, but I popped up to Randwick to pick up a book from the Library. On the way back I had a Captain Cook at a certain magnificent statue on the corner of Belmore Rd and Avoca St. captain_cook

After dinner, I watched a series from the SBS On-Demand site, called ‘The Wizards of Aus’. It’s very silly, but actually remarkably good – some of the jokes are screamingly funny. Wizards coming to Melbourne as migrants and trying to assimilate while suffering discrimination and harassment. Very SBS, but somehow it really works.

On the subject of wizardry, I had a bit of trouble juggling all my wands and spells (that’s remotes and programs for you unimaginative ones), which made me feel a bit like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I played the videos from the computer onto the TV. It took me ages to work out why my mouse pointer kept disappearing (it was on the desktop of the other screen) and why the sound wouldn’t play (the TV was expecting sound from the DVD player, which was still switched on). I used the terrific if misleadingly named (coz it only controls computers) Unified Remote App on my phone to control the mouse and keyboard from the couch. Hocus Pocus Alacazam right click and the video disappears in a puff of smoke!

Hikers Guide to Budget Tech and the Dark Reign

The Ghost Who Walks (I’m trying it out as a nom-de-plume) returned to Randwick on a perilous mission – find something to read at Randwick City Library and buy some cheap CD’s at Vinnies. Yes, I’ve now got a CD Player, but it’s not actually the one I expected.

The CD Player on the stereo I just bought is indeed cactus, as I was warned by the seller on Gumtree, and no amount of time running a lens cleaner made any difference. That’s the second Sony stereo I’ve had with a busted CD player – I don’t think it can be an accident. Still, the amp, radio and networking work, so I got what I paid for.

But a Bluray/Home Theater unit I picked up from the trash on the way saved the day. Not only does it work fine, but it even plays CDs, and the amp isn’t bad at all. It will also play my videos both over the network and with a USB stick, neither of which my dodgey TV will do without its help. Mind, it has no remote, but a little improvising with the SURE Android universal remote allows me to operate it. I have to use two different SURE remotes, as none of the Disk Player remotes have a volume control, which is only found on the Audiovisual Receiver remotes. But hell, it cost me NOTHING!

I spent the morning working like a navvy doing internet piracy. I found a torrent with a substantial portion of the oeuvre of one of my favourite composers, Claude Debussy. However, when I downloaded it, I discovered that the files were in flac format, which in addition to being huge, won’t play on either the stereo or the Bluray player. So I had to install the awesome Audacity free audio editing suite and use its Apply Chain function to batch convert the files to mp3s, which (between installation and file conversion) took about 2 hours. Sometimes being a cheapskate is really hard work!

Speaking of costing nothing, how good are public libraries! Borrowed a cool text-book on Photoshop, Bad Monkey – a novel by the great Carl Hiaasen, and a Marvel trade-paperback comic, which should keep me going for a while. Then I popped down to Vinnies, where I scooped up some jazz and classical CD’s to give me something to listen to. I felt a bit betrayed to get home and find that one of the taped-shut CD boxes was empty – when for once I’d actually paid for the music! Karma. But the rest of the CDs are pretty good, especially the Tschaikovsky.

While in Vinnies, I overheard a guy telling his friend that when he’d been young he had a job selling paintings like the ones at Vinnies. He had to go door-to-door and pretend to be the artist. I told him it was as honest a job as most work and that he was selling dreams. He said he had been ashamed of it and had given it up after a short time, even though he was making $1000 a week. He then delighted me by doing a magic trick where he pulled a coin out from behind my ear and made it disappear. Perhaps he made my CD disappear too!

I’ve already finished the comic, Secret Invasion Front Line. It ends with Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, being put in charge of US national security. Crusading journalist Ben Urich, of Daredevil fame, writes a lead article about what this will mean. The story talks of the Dark Reign which is coming. I rather fear that in recent days life might be imitating art.

Craigs List Angels Blues

Woke early this morning, checked into Gumtree, the Aussie equivalent of Craigslist. Finally someone advertising a stereo with DLNA so I can play my mp3s on my hard disk over the home network. These things are rare as hens teeth – everyone is using Blutooth with their phones now to serve music files to their stereos. Put in a bid for the asking price of A$80. Apparently the CD player is in need of repair. I don’t care, all my CDs are back in Europe. I want the DLNA – badly. Finally the lady gets back to me and we arrange for me to inspect the equipment in Monterey, which is a fair distance south from where I live, near Botany Bay. Her husband will be there. I contact my trusty mate Mike in Newtown and he agrees to let me borrow his car. The sellers advise to call when I arrive, coz the dogs are dangerous.

Slow bus trip from Coogee to Central, Central to Newtown. Walking down to Mike’s place I pass a female body-builder with muscles like Arnold Schwartzenegger and wearing braces with ‘bitch’ printed on them. Made me horny. Mike gives me the car keys, and on the way to the car someone is throwing out a Bluray player/home theater unit. I ask if it works, and when they say yes, I put it in the car. Then it takes me 20 minutes to enter the address into the Garmin GPS (Tom Tom Go is so much easier). When I get there, to a place bordering a park and a canal, I ring the husband, who doesn’t answer. I call out and his mum comes out of the big house and goes to fetch the son from a smaller building on the same block. Guy is concreter, blonde, mid 40’s, real friendly. Place smells of dogs. Not only do I have to fight with him to pay $70 for the stereo – he said I should only pay $50 – but he even offers to get one of his friends to give me a free car. I decline because I can’t afford the running costs, but how nice is that?

At home I set up the stereo. For some reason it won’t connect to the WiFi, but works fine when I connect it via ethernet cable. Eventually I head back to Newtown to bring Mike’s car back. We walk to the Union Hotel to hear a band from Melbourne called The Lost Ragas. The food at the pub is good – I had the lamb roll – and the first support band is an excellent pub rock act. We avoid the second act, a solo, and pop down to the Botany View, to see if there is anything interesting on. On the way I tell Mike that I really must stop listening to American country music, as it stands for the racist values of Donald Trump. At the Botany View an awesomely powerful youngish grunge-punk band (sorry, didn’t get their name) was playing to a devoted audience of inner-city things. When they finished we ducked back to the Union to catch the headline act.

So much for my vow not to listen to country music any more. The Lost Ragas wowed us with their modern bluesy country. The singer has a stunning vocal range, and his lower register reminded me of gospel singers. The band simply rocked, with steel guitar, vocal harmonies, mandolin and great original songs. Like a cross between Jackson Browne and Keith Urban. But I still want you Trump supporters to know – just because I like your music doesn’t mean I’m not real ticked off with you crackers. I bought one of the band’s CD’s to play on my new stereo, if I can only get the CD player fixed 😦

Check the bus timetable to get home. Nothing for half and hour, so I spend $30 on a taxi. The driver is playing black music on one of the commercial radio stations, 106.5 KIIS Fm, which didn’t use to happen when I lived here before. Progress, perhaps?

Moonwalking

Tonight I went to see the movie Dr Strange and discovered that I have a super power which lets me enter new dimensions – walking.

Instead of catching the bus from Coogee to the Spot at Randwick to see the movie, I decided to walk. On the way there, it was a revelation how close the cinema actually was. The buses are so slow and infrequent that I’ve started to think of Randwick as somewhere distant, like the City or Newtown. But it actually only takes 20 minutes to walk the mile which separates me from it – the same time it used to take me to walk to the station to buy my comics when I was a kid. Sure, going uphill on the way there is slightly strenuous, but the workout gave me the perfect excuse to enjoy a beer on the balcony of the Ritz Cinema bar.

The film was a total trip of computer-generated augmented reality. Coming out of the darkened screening room into the bright labyrinth of the art-deco cinema, patrons had trouble working out which door was the way out. We joked that perhaps we were trapped in another dimension. The stairs down with their geometrically-patterned carpet looked like they could dissolve at any moment into a multi-dimensional Escher tableau.

Walking around at night is really to enter another world. There is a little short-cut through a neighbourhood garden just before The Spot, lined with palm trees, with no street lights. The fruit-bats shrieked in the fig trees and the crescent moon was haloed with mist. Down on Dolphin St, someone has sculpted a pair of bushes under a street-lamp into perfect spheres. A few blocks on, the stink of sea-salt wafted over from the beach. Suddenly I was home again. What a magic, mystical evening!