Monday, May 31, 2010

A Moment Or So To Spare

Working hard at the moment, trying to make up for lost time in writing and all. I'm way behind on emails, though. And Facebook? Don't make me laugh. I just don't have the time.

Today was good, even though it's School Holidays. Natalie did the morning in Launceston, at the hospital, and the kids went down to play with the Viking Brood at the nursery. Given most of the morning to myself, I achieved 3000 useful words. This is good.

I also did a lot of laundry, and nailed some more decking boards onto the landing in the garage. I've built a platform there at the back, rather than a stair up to the storage loft: a big, solid, deck-like landing, with a short ladder anchored to the building frame leading up to the loft, and another short ladder leading down. The dog can't climb ladders, and the landing is too high for him to jump up, so I can use the loft space without worrying about the stupid creature.

Wheels are turning fast now. I'm behind on virtually everything, I've got school holidays like a rash, and as soon as they end I'll be doing an Introductory Martial Arts Class at the primary school, just to take up one extra afternoon per week. Yeah. (Reminds me. Must send a copy of my paperwork to the relevant people...)

Anyway, I'm still alive and all. Elder Son got over his croop, for which we are all infinitely grateful. Oh, and there was an all-too-brief visit from the wonderful Rowena, along with her partner and the youngest of her Mighty Brood. We managed a kind of hectic post-lunch luncheon, with a bit of walking-around-in-the-rain thrown in, but it was definitely too short. Maybe next time.

Well, I've got an hour or two before bed yet so I'm going back to the writing. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this URL, which leads to an article on the ABC website. If you've been reading around here recently, you'll probably get a chuckle out of the viewpoint of the writer -- but he does state his case rather well, doesn't he?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Not Good

Sick kids -- croop time.

Friends with dying parents.

Random arrivals needing airport collection.

Computer malfunctions.

"Scheduled power outages".

School holidays starting next week.

Natalie doing a raft of extra days at the hospital in Launceston for the ongoing obs/gyn stuff she needs to keep up.

And yes, you'll notice I haven't listed a single fucking thing relevant to my own ongoing activities so far.

I'll get back to you when I can.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Tale Of Two Nations

The following images come from Norway. Norway is a large country in the Northern hemisphere, notable for regularly and routinely clocking into the top ten for life expectancy, quality of life, education, health, air quality, water quality, environmental quality and pretty much every other positive aspect of a decent human existence that ever gets polled and turned into a pretty graphic for the UN.

Pretty, aren't they?

Of course, Norway has an unfair advantage. When they realised they were sitting on a truly fucknormous oil field, the Norwegian government of the 1970s set up the State Oil company (Statoil) to handle the resource. The capital investments required to become a major oil producer and exporter were so great that the oilfields didn't actually become revenue positive until somewhere in the 1980s... but for some reason the Norwegians felt it was reasonable for their national government to bear the costs, develop the infrastructure, and do all the things that privately owned oil companies do elsewhere in the world.

Possibly they thought this was okay because they saw the oil as a national resource, which could be used for the benefit of the whole nation. Possibly they felt that a democratic government was more likely to look after the environment and not just the bottom line. Either way, the outcome was pretty good. Although Statoil was privatised in 2001, the Norwegian government - and hence, the people of Norway - remains the single largest shareholder. According to Wikipedia, Norway is the the third richest (in monetary terms) country in the world, and has the highest capital reserves of any country.

From inception, the profits from Statoil have been turned to the use of the Norwegian government: for infrastructure, for social welfare, and as a safety margin against the unknowns of the future. And today, by practically any standard of decent human living that you care to apply, Norway is one of the very best countries of the world in which to live.

So much for Norway. Now, let's take a look at a few more images. These come from the South Pacific island nation of Nauru:

Unlike most other green and lovely South Pacific island nations, Nauru looks like a pile of shit. And while poverty is endemic amongst the smaller nations of the South Pacific, Nauru is an outstanding case. Things have been so bad for them that in the 1990s, they tried becoming a tax haven, and a front for all kinds of exciting money laundering and banking operations run by (most notably) the Russian mafia. When the global financial heavies got together and shut down these operations, Nauru turned to Australia. More specifically, they turned to John Howard, who paid them all kinds of interesting monies and "aid" in exchange for acting as a concentration camp for boatloads of refugees trying to get to Australia.

Of course, with the unstable governments in the region, one might well think this is par for the course - just a blip, an outlier on the curve of marginalisation caused by factors like isolation and small size. But there was a time, once, when Nauru was wealthy. No, not wealthy: stinking, filthy rich. For a time in the 1960s and 1970s, Nauru boasted the highest per-capita income of any sovereign state on the planet. Including Saudia Arabia, yes. And other small-sized nations like Lichtenstein, Luxembourg and Monaco, where banking has brought wealth.

So... what happened?

Well, it was all about the phosphate rock. Phosphate is vital to agriculture, and very handy in munitions, and Nauru was pretty much made of the stuff. Throughout the 20th century, various corporations and nations pulled an unbelievable amount of phosphate out of Nauru. Just -- ripped it out of the earth underfoot, packed it into boats, and shipped it off. And as the figures and the historical facts show, a rather incredible profit was made.

But not by the people of Nauru, no. They now rank among the poorest on the planet. There's literally nothing left in Nauru that anybody wants. In fact, what with the damage left by the mining operations, there's hardly a Nauru to speak of. Just a fringe of green around a wasteland. Just the kind of place where a real bastard might send boatloads of helpless and vulnerable refugees from a range of war-torn countries -- a place so utterly dispiriting in aspect that places like Afghanistan and Iraq were supposed to look good in comparison.

So. Two countries. Each with a (proportionately) massive fortune in natural resources. In one country, the development of those resources was wholly managed by the state, and the profits were put back into the country. In the other, the exploitation of the resources was handled by corporations and the free market, and the profits went... where profits go.

And the point of this discussion?

Simple. I live in a large but isolated South Pacific country, with what is a rather marginal ecological structure. This particular country has truly enormous assets in the form of mineral deposits: iron, coal, aluminium, magnesium, copper, lead, tin, zinc, gold... you name it, we've got it.

Our Prime Minister has just suggested that we should tax the profits -- not the gross, mind you, but the profits -- of mining companies operating in this nation at 40%. Our Prime Minister seems to believe that the government of the country, and therefore the people of the country, and their inheritors, deserve a 40% share in the bonanza being reaped by the corporations currently getting fat on the natural wealth of this land.

For some reason, the mining companies don't like this idea. Well, fine. But oddly, there are a lot of otherwise sane and normal people who seem also to dislike this idea. And to me, that's just beyond bizarre.

Nauru versus Norway. I know where I'd rather live. And if the mining companies really don't like it -- why, they can fuck off out of my country completely, because it looks to me as though the Norwegians had it right.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Letter To The King

Note: I discovered the remarkable PC game 'Dwarf Fortress' a while back. Cool Shite needed a review, so I found some tutorials, and figured out how to play this... utterly bugfuck insane game.
I really don't want to waste my time talking about the mechanics of the game and the system. You can, after all, find my review on Cool Shite here: Dwarf Fortress Review. Or you can just Google on Dwarf Fortress, and see what you find. It's worth the effort.

In the meantime, here's a letter from the Town Manager of my fortress to the king that sent him and the other dwarfy colonists into the wilderness, hopefully to prosper and thrive. Hopefully it'll give you some idea of how this lunatic game plays out...

Your Highness:
The Baroness has gone mad.
At least she’s had the decency to do it in an appropriately aristocratic fashion. A forlorn, ragged figure, she haunts the byways of our mighty Fortress Alebaldness, clutching her annoying baby, whining endlessly about the Dungeonmaster having a nicer dining room than her, and occasionally screaming with hallucinations as the withdrawal symptoms set in.

The Baron was much more forthright about it. He went mad about a month after his wife, and promptly turned berserk in the ground-level statue garden. He managed to kill one of the war dogs before The Hammerer turned up and put an end to the brief, rather pathetic rampage.

I’m quite grateful to The Hammerer, really. Because I must admit: we do have an alcohol problem in Alebaldness. As you know, the dwarfs you sent here only function properly at a high level of regular drunkenness. Apparently, our fields and farms are too damned fruitful. We have room after room of food storage: piles of prickleberries, wild strawberries galore, oceans of plump helmets... and meat! We have cat meat, dog meat, cow meat, muskox meat, carp meat, sailfin mollymeat, rhesus macacque meat, deer meat, goat meat, and some mouldering piles which the cooks assure me are still edible, but can’t actually be identified at this point. Then there’s the plants. We’ve grown them and harvested them. We’ve gathered them from the wild. We’ve processed them endlessly, and now we have so many stocks of ‘plant’ that nobody really knows what to do with them, except stick them in yet more goddam barrels.
And therein lies the problem. Apparently, the brewer can’t actually create any more sweet, sweet moonshiny booze until he has a barrel or two available, and even though I've got three carpenters working fulltime turning out nothing but barrels, the damned food-storage lackeys keep running off with them all, to stuff them full of yet more anonymous plant matter, mouldering meat, and plump helmets. (Note: what, exactly, is a ‘plump helmet’ and why do we eat it? It sounds terribly... metaphorical. Like a coy nickname for an erection. I’m not really sure that sort of thing constitutes a good diet.)
In any case, I’ve put a stop to all farming. I’ve even created a Royal Guard, in the hopes that perhaps the few remaining nobles will be suitably flattered, and thus not go quite as insane as the Baroness and her consort. The Hammerer and the Dungeonmaster are actually quite useful chaps, and I’d hate to see them charging about the place, rending their shabby clothing, gnashing their yellow teeth, and baying at... well, the ceiling, what with us living mostly underground.
At least the goblins have backed off for the time being. Now that we’ve got two squads of marksdwarfs and two teams of champion wrestlers in chainmail, they have been taking a much softer approach. True, we still get the occasional snatcher wandering the boundaries, but in general the populace seems quite cheered by the spectacle of goblin snatchers being torn to pieces by mighty champion wrestlers. And now that the perimeter wall is finished, the only ways in are through the gates with the chained war dogs, the cage traps, the stone drop traps, the weapon traps, and the drawbridges which we can close on a moment’s notice, providing the dwarfs in the control room aren’t too fucking drunk to to pull a lever. Still, it can be quite entertaining if they’re a little late. Three or four goblin pikemen racing frantically around the compound, screaming in horror as the dogs and the wrestlers tear them into itty-bitty green and bloody pieces is a bracing spectacle.
The last goblin raid was actually rather helpful. Since we’ve completed the wall and the drawbridges, the greenies have seemingly decided to time their attacks for the arrival of the regular merchant caravans, in the hopes we’ll leave the gates unguarded. Or something. They sent a score or so of goblins with pikes and crossbows, led by a human Axelord. The arriving caravans were overwhelmed so fast that pieces of caravan guard were still raining down by the time the greenies got to the wardogs chained at the gate. I sent three heavily armoured Champion Wrestlers out to greet them, and raised the bridges. Meanwhile, a team of perpetually half-drunk and insubordinate marksdwarfs set up behind the fortifications and supplied some alleged covering fire. They didn’t hit any of the All-Star Homicidal Wrestling Freakshow this time, so I suppose that’s good.
The slaughter was unspeakable. We lost a hunter who didn’t get inside the perimeter in time, and two babies carried into battle by the lunatic leader of the Pleasant Syrups, which is the title our foremost squadron of steroid abusers has taken. The goblins and their axelord, on the other hand, were ripped into so many pieces by the withdrawal-maddened Pleasant Syrups that over a month later, we’re still cleaning up the mess.

The conflict was so horrific that the sole surviving human merchant instantly went stark raving mad. And his dromedary, too. They just stood there amidst the blood and severed limbs and heads and the vomit and the dead babies. Naturally, I was forced to rescue all the gear they brought with them. We got barrels of free booze, still more plump helmets, a remarkable variety of meats, a range of iron toys, some useful weapons, an entire mule in a cage, and best of all, we got five iron anvils. Five! Added to the four we so laboriously purchased from various over-charging merchant bastards, and we now have more Magma Forges than any sane fortress could possibly use.
Did I say sane? Strike that. In any case, how can you possibly have too many Magma Forges?
The only drawback of the whole event seems to be that the human diplomat went away unhappy. (And how did he survive, anyway? I certainly didn’t see him anywhere near the carnage. Where was he?) Evidently the sight of a goblin army eating his fellow men alive distressed him. Or possibly it was just the fact that we took all their stuff after the event. Which is just tough snot for him. We would happily have negotiated with the remaining merchant, except all he did was stand in one spot and babble meaninglessly. Him and his equally insane dromedary. And you can’t barter with a mad camel, can you?
No, I think the goblins are under control for the moment. And once we complete the Very Long Fake Entrance Hall Of Hideous Trap-Laden Doom With Optional Flooding And Drowning, I think we’ll be fine. So it’s the skeletal mountain goats that really piss me off. They hang around the slopes to the south, where the dwarfs inexplicably go wandering.

Why? Sometimes they say they want a drink. And yet the fortress abounds with wells and underground canals, all nicely set up for guzzling. Sometimes they claim they’re ‘putting items in stockpiles’. What items? What stockpiles? I have a feeling the dwarfs in question are out gathering up bones and skulls of previous victims of the evil skeletal goats, or even the skeletons of previous evil goats torn apart in hideous training exercises by the demented Pleasant Syrups... so you can see it’s a sort of self-sustaining cycle, and I’m damned if I can figure out what to do about it. Except maybe drink more. And even that’s problematic in Fortress Alebaldness, isn’t it?
Of course, the most horrific problem is the children. There must be something in the water here, or perhaps it’s just the perpetual exposure to heavy metal residues. The children are suicidally stupid. They wander around the magma forges at will, getting in the way of the smithies as they pound molten bronze (oh, how I wish we could find some goddamned iron!) into chainmail for the Pleasant Syrups and their fearsomely violent ilk. They play games on the edge of the bottomless chasm, which is particularly annoying because nobody else will go there for fear of the skeletal antmen some ten levels down, who are trapped forever and permanently incapable of harming anyone or anything. Nevertheless, I can’t use the chasm as a garbage dump because my dwarfs get scared and run away from the edge whenever they see the skeletal antmen down there, waving their bony antenna in feeble, futile menace.
But the children aren’t scared, are they? Oh no. Nor are they scared of goblins. In fact, they love nothing more than rushing to the forefront of a battleground before the military actually arrives, so that the goblins can dismember them and make a fine, nutritious snack of young dwarf jerky in order to prepare themselves for the upcoming battle. And of course, there are the babies. Why do the soldiers always breed? And why do they insist on carrying their babies into the battle with them? Why arent the other dwarfs whooping it up and producing offspring at the same rate as those hideously fecund champion wrestlers?
Never mind.
Just a few notes to finish up, your Highness. Fortress Alebaldness is short of a few vital things. We can trade for iron (if the merchants survive the goblins long enough to avoid catatonia) but so far we have no sources of sand with which to make glass, and weve run out of turtle shell. These may sound like small matters, your Highness, but so far two of my dwarfs have been taken by Fey Moods and seized the glass furnace... only to gradually go mad for lack of raw materials. The score for turtle shell is even worse: weve lost three. Naturally I walled them up until they died, but the stench is dreadful, and since nobody wants to bury the corpses of these maddwarfs, I’ve had to order them dropped into the Magma Pits for disposal. You can imagine what thats done to morale around the place, I’m sure.
Therefore, if you could just see fit to include some glass and turtle shell with your next shipment of totally fucking useless nobility, your Highness, we might possibly see another year or two out of Fortress Alebaldness. Only -- please, for the love of Armok, don’t send us any more fucking Philosphers. The one you sent keeps changing the prices of goods without warning, and staggering about the corridors muttering “I drink therefore I am”, and giggling to himself in a very disturbing fashion. I think one Philosopher is really all that any fortress should have to take.
Yours sincerely,
Cog Tosidlar,
Town Manager of Mabdugroder (Alebaldness.)
PS: And send more booze. Or at least send us a lot of empty barrels. The goddam elves have demanded we restrict our tree-cutting this year, which makes barrel-making and therefore brewing quite difficult. And if it comes to a choice between the entire fortress going mad from alcohol withdrawal or war with the pointy-eared treehugging hippie stoner bastards, you know which way I’m going to jump, don’t you?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Unimpressed By Facebook

Yeah, I know. All of you who have linked to my Facebook site know that I'm listed as female. And my birthdate is wrong. And the photo/avatar is the same little pirate guy you see pretty much everywhere for me.

And why would that be? Simple: because I didn't like the look of Facebook from the outset. Too much information. Too little ability to control it. (And of course, it was as random and scattery as a mad dog's breakfast. I mean... I can play Dwarf Fortress, but it still took me over a week to figure out what the hell was supposed to be happening with my stupid Facebook page.)

Anyway, the cat's pretty much out of the bag on Zuckerberg's attitude to online privacy. Now admittedly, the Net makes virtually all your public-domain information accessible in short order, yeah. But by and large, it doesn't make a business out of aggregating every word you print, every site you visit, every single thing you link to and turning all that into an aggressive marketing nightmare.

I stuck my nose in Facebook this morning and discovered that the very few things I'd listed as 'stuff I like' had now become an either/or option. Either I could link to pages created specifically for these things, and have my connection to them broadcast far and wide -- or I could simply not like them on Facebook at all.

No middle ground. No way to share stuff with friends only.

Well. Like I said, I never gave Facebook much to play with anyhow. I wouldn't actually mind letting the world know I'm fond of "The Princess Bride" -- except that when I'm not given a choice in the matter, I tend to get bolshie.

So - don't bother contacting me via Facebook. I'll keep a minimalist involvement there because it has helped me reconnect with four or five people with whom I'd lost touch. But I won't be updating, posting, Farmvilling, Mafia Warring, Hugging, or doing any of the rest of that intrusive, irritating, time-wasting shit.

And I will be keeping a very, very close eye on the following:

It's a project run by some interesting folk who want to create an open-source social media network that places a real value on privacy, and on personal control over the information. If they stick to their principles, I'll be there as soon as they've got the goods online. And at that point, my 'Facebook' involvement will consist of nothing but a redirection page...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Not Dead. Just Bored With Social Media.

Huh. Where does the time go?

I suspect I'm becoming more cynical and less social with time. I like my hillside here. I like the exertion of digging holes to put in posts so I can create a secure strawberry bed. I like the quiet effort of filling a wheelbarrow with mulch, and pushing it over the soft, uneven hillside ground so I can lay a protective layer around my new blackberry plants, and around my trees. Sure, I've got a trailer, a tractor, and a 4wd, and I could shift all this mulch a trailerload at a time... but I don't want a trailerload at a time.

And I don't want all the frigging around with hitches and towbars. I don't want to drive the tractor or the 4wd around the place with a trailer on the back. I like the sound of the shovel in the mulch-heap. I like the effort of pushing the full barrow downhill, and unloading it. I like the exercise of pushing the empty barrow back up the hill to refill it.

Do a job; see it done. Dirt under your fingernails. The musty, living scent of damp, new-turned earth. The sweetness of ferment from within the enormous heap of woodchips. Autumn sun on your back, sweat in your eyes, vagrant breezes: fresh mountain air.

It's real. It feels good.

Last week I helped some folks move house. Only a day's worth, because I'm so very tied up with other stuff, but it was heavy work, and useful, because they needed the help and there was nobody else with the time, the energy, the spare vehicle and trailer. My daughter and the little girl from the other family ran around with each other all morning, while her father and I shuttled in and out. We carried an enormous refrigerator, and wondered why they don't build handholds on such machines, as we shuffled and nudged, and eked our way around tight corners. We hefted a vast washing machine, delighted to discover that the designers actually DID build handholds into the side of it. Points to LG for that one, yes. But points deducted for the fact that the handholds are too goddam shallow: you can only get the last joint or so of your fingers into them, and after a while, if you've been heaving furniture all morning, your muscles get tired.

But again: do a job, see it done. Sweat in the sun. Rope and tie and tarpaulin, load and offload, drive slowly and carefully between one small town and the next, watching to see that the tall, tall refrigerator doesn't wiggle too much over the shoddy, bumpy roads, with the winds of travel blasting at it.

And it's real, isn't it? When you're done, something good has happened. A family is closer to being in their new home. Order emerging from chaos. Sore muscles and sweat, but with good cause.

I've been meaning to get back on here and chronicle, because this is my way of writing down my life for my children. At least part of my life; certain parts of it remain in posts that I don't put online. But the act of keeping in touch here helps me keep the momentum of writing this day-to-day stuff, and if I leave it too long, it starts to lose urgency. Mustn't do that.

So, what else? A lot, really. Hopefully I'll find time to write more. There was a truly brain-bending movie with the Cool Shite team last week. Really. Japanese horror flick from 1977 - "Hausu", or "House". Not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. But... brainbending.

Then there's a game I've been hearing about online for a while: "Dwarf Fortress". I tried it once before, but the learning curve was too steep. Following posts appearing in BoingBoing and elsewhere, though, I thought I'd try again, with the help of a proliferation of tutorials and wikis online. I'm still using version 40d, which isn't the latest -- but this time it's working. I have dwarfs, and they have a fortress. It's called "Alebaldness", and it's the successor to the ill-fated "Razoredwheels". I'll have to write about that, as well.

Also: it appears we're going to actually get a holiday this year, as a family. This is a rare event. Even more rare: we're getting organized, and going somewhere unusual. Borneo, in fact. And so, I have been ordered to cease and desist on Spanish for a while, and brush off my high school Bahasa, so the family will be able to order food, ask where the toilets might be, and bargain for stuff at the markets. This should be fun...

But for now, I have to go. Behind on too many projects. And this afternoon, I teach ju-jitsu again. Meanwhile, outside the autumn sun is golden after a day of rain. I could finish putting in the posts for my strawberry patch, couldn't I? No... too much else to do.

And I really do have to say something on Facebook sooner or later, right? Bleah.