Monday, November 28, 2011


I suppose it was inevitable. And yet - reading the article, I'm struck by an awesome sense of frustration at the unbelievable, indescribable stupidity of what's been done here.

Those of you with memories longer than your average mayfly will recall the Great Avian Flu scare. A strain of influenza associated with birds started killing people in places like Hong Kong, and Vietnam, and there was a looong, nasty, tense wait to see whether it would take off and turn pandemic.

Turned out the virus was a serious killer. Of the folks infected, about 70% just plain died. Systems collapse. To give you some idea, the Great Spanish Flu pandemic which occurred in 1918 and killed more people around the world than all of World War One had a lethality of about 2.5%.

Lucky for us, the H5N1 Avian Flu virus turned out to be fairly difficult to catch. The structure of the virus itself made it pretty non-contagious in humans. It had to be inhaled deep, deep into the system before it could catch hold - which was why almost all the victims were either chicken-herders, or were directly caring for affected victims who were chicken-herders.

Whew. Sigh of relief, eh?

Except now, some unbelievably stupid Dutchman has not only genetically modified the virus to be highly contagious, while leaving it at roughly 5o% lethality... but he's also presented a paper on the topic.

I appreciate the thought that knowing this shit can potentially help us prepare... but to present this kind of stuff in a public forum is the absolute height of lunacy. People are, of course, talking about 'banning the paper'. But it's the 21st century, folks. You can bet that information is well and truly into "the wrong hands" already. Banning it at this point is a waste of time.

Folks... here's how it is. When this one gets out, we're fucked on a scale not even imagined since the 14th century.

Nice knowin' y'all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Martial Musings and a Tangle With Telstra

Yesterday, Natalie came down the stairs with an expression of doom on her face. I was busy listening to our neighbour, Mad Mick the Historian, so I didn't notice at first. It wasn't until she slapped a Telstra bill in my hand that I wondered what was going on. So I looked at it. $1,007.90.

Errr... what?

A cursory reading of the bill showed the problem. Apparently, Telstra believed that on exactly one day during that period (November 4th), Natalie turned on the 'International Roving' function on her Iphone, and sucked up $825 worth of data from some random overseas location.

My wife is a lovely person, but she's not good at confrontation. She was pretty upset. Remembering our various skirmishes with Telstra in the past (six months, unknown numbers of phone calls and consultations - and finally, it was advice from my neighbour which enabled me to set up a functional wireless internet aerial here at home... thanks Telstra.) she was pretty firmly convinced we were going to wind up forking out the eight-hundred plus smackers, and quite reasonably, that made her unhappy.

I, on the other hand, am perfectly willing to plant myself in the road in front of the proverbial bulldozer, and dare it to try coming my way. And most of that six months worth of back-and-forth on the phone was done by yours truly. As well as the three separate visits to Launceston offices of Telstra, etc. So I just asked her if I could handle it. After all - we've made sure on at least a half-dozen occasions now that I have access to the phone accounts.

Well. First, I had to call Nat back down to the phone so she could tell some Indian-accented chap (who was in Sydney, honest, because he could tell me all about the weather. Not Bangalore. Sydney!) that yes, I was her husband, and yes, I had authority to discuss the phone accounts. So, okay: make that seven times we've told Telstra, and been assured every time that they've adjusted the records accordingly.

After that, though, things went quite well. I explained to Mister Accent that Telstra had made an obvious and stupid error. I pointed out that not only did the spike in billing occur on one single day of the period, but that at no other point in our long history of Telstra bills had anything similar occurred. And while he was busy trying to tell me that sometimes people changed their habits, I pointed out very loudly that neither of us had been overseas during that time. At all.

No. Nor had the phone. Nor any of our computers. Not even a little bit.

He got kind of glum after that, and told me they'd initiate an inquiry. At that point, I politely requested his name and his employee number. Through pleasantly gritted teeth he supplied them, and then decided that the investigation should take place immediately, and if I would just hold, he'd put me straight through.

Half an hour of banal music later, Mister Accent came back. Oops. Yes. The investigation suggested that the bill should be adjusted downwards by $825. And just to be sure, he would cancel that pesky International Roving service (which Natalie had never actually authorised.)

Job done.

I suspect the 'cancellation' of the IR service was done because they decided not to bother investigating over a mere $800 or so. They probably figured that if we were scamming, we'd be pissed by the cancellation of the service, and they wouldn't be out any more money. Doesn't really matter: Natalie isn't stupid. When she goes overseas, she buys a cheap-ass local phone and sim card, because the fucking ridiculously extortionate IR rates are obscene. (And she raises a good point: don't these halfwitted phone people realise how much money they DON'T make by charging so much for IR? If they kept the rates reasonable, people wouldn't do the obvious thing, and buy that cheap phone. But with rates the way they are, instead of making a bomb, Telstra makes nothing at all from sensible travellers. Corporate brains at work?)

All up, it only took one phone call lasting three quarters of an hour. I'm still debating whether or not I should bill Telstra for the wasted time...

Anyway. In the evening, I had the usual class in ju-jitsu. It's near the end of the year, so mostly I'm working the kids through stuff they can show off for the Christmas parade. They love it: lots of exciting diving and rolling, plenty of sparring and game play, and best of all, they get to break boards. Kids luuurrrve breaking boards. And why not?

That wasn't the interesting bit, though. That came with the older class. I decided that since we were having a relatively quiet evening, we'd do something different, and so I set up a session of very, very hardcore groundfighting.

Not hardcore in the sense of MMA. Hardcore in the sense that biting, gouging, hair grips, ear grips, fish-hooking, head-butting, and finger-locking were all permitted: nay, encouraged.

It went like this. We broke up into pairs. One person became the attacker. Their job was to pin the defender in such a way as to be able to demolish some kind of weak spot: ribs, groin, face, throat. The job of the defender was to prevent that by the most efficient means possible.

Most efficient means possible.

Of course, restraint was required. Nobody actually got busted up, and I'm glad of that. But the goal of the exercise was real, and realised, and it was very valuable.

Y'see, the great paradox of teaching a genuine martial art is that you hope never to use it. And you start off, by necessity, teaching a very rigid, very safety-conscious set of techniques. Beginners are dangerous, but it's not because they're particularly good. It's because they've got no accuracy, and no control. You can't train hard with a beginner because what you want to do is pattern into yourself really sharp, accurate, fast responses, and you can't do that if you have to try to keep them safe while simultaneously trying to watch out for their tendency to stumble and swing wildly. So at the start, you teach people efficiency, and you teach them safety, and you teach them restraint and caution and observation.

And in a real situation of violence, you're unlikely to see many of these things from your opponent. Further: if you apply these principles, you are quite likely to be badly injured by somebody who just doesn't give a shit about rules of safety, etc.

So what do you do?

Many martial arts never actually bother. They emphasise discipline, fitness, perhaps spiritual development, or possibly sporting competition. But the hard core of no-rules, survival-first combat don't get much of a look in.

There are other arts and practitioners who insist that hard, frequent, high-contact sparring will do the job, yep. To those folks, I'd offer this video:

It depicts a handful of some of the UFC's top fighters going up against pairs of US Marines in an open woodland. And to a man, the hard-sparring, super-tough, highly skilled UFC men get completely pwned. Not just beaten: absolutely annihilated. They don't even score points against the Marines. They show no awareness of how to deal with paired opponents, and they're woefully unprepared for the simple hand-to-hand weapons that they are given, and which are deployed against them. The UFC guys spar as hard as anybody in the world, but they have rules, and they live by those rules. Put 'em in an environment where the rules don't apply, and they flounder.

There are some who more or less abandon the term 'martial art', and teach - well, "Surviving violence" might be a good name for it, I think. Try this blog: This guy gets my respect. I believe he knows what he's talking about.

But then, if you orient everything you do towards surviving violence - how do you work with kids? And what about the people who are interested in other aspects of a martial art?

Murky territory.

My background is ju-jitsu, more or less. The traditional kind, involving everything - strikes, locks, throws, kicks, evasion, weapons, groundfighting and anything else you want. Plus a lot of stuff which is less trad: defense from weakened positions, surprise attacks, etc. The instructor I studied under longest was Shihan Mark Haseman, and he quite openly declared he favoured a kind of goshin-jitsu, or self-defense oriented art.

One thing I got from everybody in ju-jitsu - the three different schools I've been with, the three major instructors and visiting masters and the seminars and the rest - was a sense of openness. Ju-jitsu as I know it isn't a closed tradition. It's an open, evolving art. But the heart of it is: efficiency, and survival.

So I compromise. With the young ones, I teach a lot of basic physical skills. They fall and roll, strike and kick and block and throw and dodge. They play games, and they break boards sometimes, and they wrestle, and they get exposed to a range of simple, basic kid-strategies for self defense. They seem to enjoy it all, and they gain a lot of confidence, and learn to move better, and maintain their balance. It's all good.

But with the older students, I try to bring things more to a sharp point. We still go through all the basics of movement and balance, striking and evading and blocking and throwing, etc. But in between the work on the basics -- the effort to make them more than just dangerous, unco-ordinated beginners -- I try to work on the things that are relevant to real self-defense.

The session last night was fascinating, from my viewpoint. I wound up wrestling with almost everyone individually, as we broke up the pairs and shifted them around, and in every case, I had to physically demonstrate what I was talking about. I had to show them how to bite, how they could grab an ear and use it as a handle to drag a face into range of a fist. I had to show them how you could try to pry a finger loose from a stranglehold on your neck, and point out that if that wasn't working - well, you had the attacker's attention on that grip and now you could get a really good handful of delicate groin tissue and tear hell out of it...

Difficult. Very challenging for the women, because they have to overcome not just the manners of the dojo, but the non-aggressive, relatively mild role expected of them by society at large. But even for the males, there was a lot of mental conditioning to overcome. They simply didn't think of biting, for example - not even at times when I deliberately stuck a forearm across someone's mouth.

I'm ... well, I'm not sure pleased is the word, but at least I'm satisfied I don't have any such inhibitions. Twenty-odd years under some very fierce instructors, plus a lot of time on the mat, plus long and careful consideration of the purpose of the training have left me with a very simple, matter-of-fact outlook on this stuff. Put me in a position where I truly have to fight for my life, and I will do - actually, I can't think of what I wouldn't be prepared to do to an attacker, if it was necessary. And I don't have to think about it. Try putting your arm across my face: I'll bite bloody chunks out of you. Get your face too close to mine and I'll use my forehead to spread your nose like Vegemite. Lose track of my hand: you'll find my thumb in your eye-socket. Because those are the rules when you're on the bottom, trying not to get killed, you know?

But it's not an easy thing to teach: morally, spiritually, or even technically. It's hard to balance.

We'll definitely be doing that exercise again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why I Don't Own A Kindle, or The Value Of Actually Owning The Works

Everybody loves their Kindle. But not me.

Ever since I first heard about Amazon/Kindle remotely removing copies of Orwell's 1984 from several hundred accounts for some reason, I've been unwilling to get a Kindle. I don't care how wonderfully convenient they are. If the people at Amazon can control my access to works which I have legitimately purchased, then I don't really own those works at all.

Of course, it's not always a deliberate action. Sometimes things just... go wrong.

You'll note from the references at the bottom of the article that this isn't the first time the problem has been brought up. This is, in fact, a recurring issue.

Bottom line? I'm sure owning a Kindle is just marvy. And I'm sure it's wonderful to have cloud access to all those texts. At least... I'm sure it's wonderful right up until the point when Amazon decides you shouldn't have that access. Or until the government convinces them that the books you're reading are dangerous and naughty. Or until...


You know what? There are e-readers on the market that let you store your own e-books. I'm not yet interested enough to get such a reader, but when I do, that's where I'll be going. And a Kindle account?

Nah. Not until Amazon accepts that when I buy a book, it belongs to me, not them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vale, Anne McCaffrey.

I don't have a lot of time right now. I'm due to go and grab some kids and then teach an evening of martial arts very shortly. But I just spotted this article on the 'Net, and honestly, I couldn't simply stay silent.

I believe I first encountered Anne McCaffrey's works at the Cairns Library when I was perhaps ten years old. At that age, her Dragonrider books were a revelation, and I loved them.

It's hard for me to revisit them as an adult, I admit. But say what you will about her books, there's no gainsaying the wonderful influence she's had. Her work has made a very large number of people very happy... including one boy, some thirty-odd years ago, and I can never be anything other than grateful.

So long, Anne.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Fundamental Flaw In Libertarian Thinking

Of course, the first question is why am I bothering to address this? Isn't the whole 'Libertarian' thing a flaky outcrop of the loony Right of the US?

Possibly. But I found out yesterday that it's also taking root in Australia, which is disturbing. And while I'm at it - when I was a kid, reading Robert Heinlein (who might as well be one of Science Fiction's patron saints of Libertarianism) the philosophy seemed to have some good points to it. And is it not axiomatic that "...that government is best which governs least"?

Except that the so-called Libertarian philosophy is built around a fundamentally unsound basis.

The basic ideal of Libertarianism is: you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone, and we'll all be better off. Libertarians oppose government assistance schemes, government interventions of just about any sort, and "impositions" on personal rights, such as seatbelt laws. It's a basic ideal of the movement that one should be permitted to choose actions which may lead to self harm if one is aware that the harm is possible, and one desires to do so. Whose life is it anyway?

Unfortunately, that only really works if the whole world is composed of Libertarians, each fully self-sufficient and in no way beholden to any other. To show exactly how it falls down, consider the question of immunisation.

There are plenty of people who oppose immunisation of children. Despite the claims of harm being long since debunked; despite the removal of mercury-based preservatives (thiomersal) from childhood vaccines - despite all evidence to the contrary, there are people who insist that vaccines are potentially dangerous, and they shouldn't be required to subject their children to them.

There are enough such idiots (and I use the term deliberately, because anyone whose behaviour flies in the face of a century or so of scientific research and successful, effective medical practice, and endangers their own children in so doing is manifestly an irresponsible idiot) that recently we've seen a minor epidemic of whooping cough in Victoria, and if I recall correctly, there's now a measles epidemic going on in New Zealand... despite the fact that both these diseases are eminently preventable.

Lets take the Libertarian line, shall we?

* * *

"The government has no right to impose this on me, or my family. I can protect my own family."

Oh? How will you do that?

"If there's an outbreak, I'll isolate myself and my family. We'll wait until it passes. We'll be fine. We've made preparations."

Aha. So somehow, you're going to get your entire family into complete isolation before the first symptoms of the outbreak occur in your local community. Because, of course, many -- if not most -- diseases are communicable before they're symptomatic.

"I'll read about it in the newspaper. On the Internet."

Interesting. Given that an outbreak can last several months or longer, you're prepared to wait that long in complete medical isolation?

"... That's a worst-case scenario, right?"

No. It's pretty common. So - what will you do if your children catch this disease? Will you refuse medical treatment and let them die?

"Of course not. Libertarianism embraces the exchange of valuable skills. I can pay for medical treatment. We're not unreasonable. Nobody can have all the necessary skills and resources on their own."

Really? Doesn't that make Libertarianism kind of... untenable?

"No. No. We accept and understand a society in which all participants are involved on a voluntary basis, where everyone knows and take responsibility for the consequences of their actions."

All right. What will you do if your child requires hospitalisation? Let's say - for something like Whooping Cough? You know - because the outbreak arrived before you got word, or because you didn't stay in isolation long enough. Will you permit your child to enter a public hospital, if necessary?

"We're not monsters or idiots. We've got nothing against hospitals as such. They're necessary. If a child needs to be hospitalised and we have the money or the means to make that possible, then of course we will do what is needed to save the child. Who wouldn't?"

I see. So... how are you going to explain that to the other people whose children may have to visit that hospital? Babies, for example - too young as yet to be immunised against Whooping Cough. When you send your righteously non-immunised (but now desperately sick) child to the hospital, you're exposing an entire community to the disease. And yes: you're exposing children too young to make the choice about vaccination - even too young for the option. In fact, by insisting on your right not to immunise, you are now endangering the youngest, most vulnerable members of your community.


Tell me: what's the Libertarian philosophy on people who deliberately endanger, harm, or kill small children? I'm just curious, you understand...

* * *

Our fable ends there, but the principle which it illustrates remains. I know perfectly well that not all (in fact, probably not most) people who call themselves 'Libertarian' are stupid enough to refuse vaccination. But under the Libertarian "philosophy", it's their right to refuse vaccination for themselves and their children. Because the Government has no right to intervene, and impose these things on people.

The truth? "Libertarianism" is little other than a nice six (or is it seven? How many syllables in "-ism"?) syllable word that is pretty much absolutely equivalent to another six-syllable construction: "Fuck you, Jack. I'm all right."

I'm happy to concede that there's a need for greater personal responsibility in the society we've built. I'm appalled by a lot of the crap we've imposed on people who are really not endangering anyone else, nor even themselves. But 'Fuck you Jack, I'm all right' is no basis for a civilisation.

It's a shared world. The resources of the earth are finite. We are interdependent, both upon the people around us, and the world and environment which supports them. The 'philosophy' of Libertarianism is a stupid, shallow, meaningless mouth-noise used to provide a shiny disguise for the worst kind of venal, greedy, self-centred, mean-spirited xenophobia...

...and I say let the Americans keep it, if they really want it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Great Stupid Smartphone Debacle

So, not too long ago my trusty Nokia flip-phone became untrustworthy. Its little LED screen expired in a blaze of blue, and I could no longer access any information except by guess. And that really wasn't much good.

I knew the SIM was okay. I could still receive calls, and make calls. So that was all right. I figured I'd just replace the thing, you know? No drama.

Bit of backstory: I grew up in Far North Queensland, mostly. Did not have a landline in the family name until I was eighteen, and living in a flat of my own in Brisneyland. Horrible bloody place it was, too... and as it happened, the phone number was literally one digit different from one of Queensland's non-existent illegal brothels, so we occasionally received some very peculiar calls.

The point I'm making is that I'm pretty ambivalent about phones. I don't like conversing over the phone. I don't like the lack of feedback. If I can't see you, read your posture and your gestures and your expressions, it's not a conversation at all. It's just a limited exchange of information. I expect I have all the phone manner of Jack the Ripper, to be honest. But I absolutely do not give a shit.

The mobile phone revolution has left me quite unimpressed. I'm a big user of computers, and I love the Internet, but mobile phones? Meh. Who really cares? Who actually needs to be on-call to the world 24/7, eh? Not this little black duck.

Nevertheless, I have three school-age kids. I live on a rural property. My wife is a GP, often on-call, who delivers the occasional baby. It follows that sometimes I need to stay in contact. The choice is: get a mobile phone, or don't go out.

I got a mobile. And you know - it's been really cool to have it for the SF conventions, and the occasional visit to friends and different cities and stuff. Very convenient. Yep. But not so's I couldn't live without it. Completely pre-paid; that's me. And I generally spend maybe twenty bucks a month that way.

So I trundled on down to the post office, and went through their shiny toys looking for another cheap-arse mobile. Turned out they were carrying a funny little thing, branded by Telstra. It was called a 'Touch', and it was Android-based Smartphone, and it cost under a hundred bucks.

Well, I didn't expect much at that price, but what with everybody in the world positively fuckin' swooning over their you-beaut World Interface Devices, I figured I'd put a toe in the water. See what it was like.

And in fact, if I were to extend the toe-in-the-water metaphor, I'd have to say it was a lot like discovering the water was full of toxic waste and mutated piranha-squid with a vengeful hunger for toes.

First of all, the Telstra Touch is as fugly a piece of coprophagic illegitimacy as ever I'd hope to avoid seeing again. Even with the provided stylus, its touch-keyboards are buggy and untrustworthy.

On top of that, it comes preloaded with a mile-high pile of shite. Instalinks to Facebook, Fox News, SportShite, and a hundred other pieces of dung. Good luck figuring out how to remove 'em: half of 'em appear to be permanent. Unless you wanna crack open Android, of course.

If I'd been more interested, I might have bothered. But I wasn't. Instead, I went and turned all sorts of shit off. I did enable the 'contacts' application. Which was stupid of me. I should have twigged when it demanded my gmail address - but how was I to know it was going to download all my gmail contacts? That was especially pointless, actually, since I don't keep phone numbers on gmail. Just email addresses. I have another database for addresses and numbers. I don't trust "the cloud" with vital information, and I don't trust it with the personal details of my friends.

So, having pared the new phone down to a minimum, I figured I'd try using it.

...what an utter waste of time and money.

What do people use these bits of crap for? Oh, Bluetooth? I never use it. Music? Hey, I have an MP3 player, and it doesn't chew through batteries like the Telstra Touch. GPS? Oh for fuck's sake: I'm an ex-cabbie. I use maps. I don't get lost. And if I did, I'd use my goddam phone and I'd ask for directions. It's not difficult. Appointments and calendar shit? Hey -- that's what a memory is for, right? I've still got one. How about you? Games? I don't have the time, or the interest. I play a bit of Dwarf Fortress because it's crazy-making complicated, and I'm considering this new "Skyrim" because it's supposed to be an open world, and I like that. Otherwise? Sheeit.

I can't write and type on a Smartphone. And data access is brutally expensive. Besides, as most people who know me will confirm, I'm used to keeping a small Wikipedia in my head. If I really need a piece of information I don't have, generally I can wait. Oh - and I don't mind actually carrying a Netbook computer if I think I'm going to be doing that sort of thing.

So. The Telstra Touch. Battery life: maybe 24 hours, even with everything I could find switched down. And as a prepaid customer, the fuckin' thing cost me around $100 a month because it kept quietly accessing the 'Net at ruinous prepaid rates. On top of that, it barely worked as a phone.

I have now purchased a little, minimalist Samsung flip-phone. Of course, I can't transfer my number, because I had to get a Telstra specialist to transfer my number to the Touch - and the Touch used a mini-SIM which (upon investigation) appears to be irretrievably lodged in the phone, now.

Therefore: if you think you have my mobile number, you're wrong. And if you think I have your mobile number, you're probably wrong, because I didn't manage to transfer most of 'em from the old Nokia to the Telstra Touch.

If you really want contact details, you can email me, or even leave a note here. And of course, there are a number of you from whom I would very much like contact details. You know who you are... and even if you just suspect, well, hell: take a punt, and send me a note.

In the meantime, it'll be a cold, cold, farkin' day in hell before I waste time and money on a so-called Smartphone again. For me, the 'Smart' side of the phone is near-enough useless. And y'know... I have a sneaking suspicion that all you people who are using them to augment your own memory are busily making yourself more stupid and forgetful. Your brain is like most other organs and systems in your body: stop using it, and it atrophies. Smart phone -- not so smart brain.

Use it or lose it, they say.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Little Bit Of Fun

There's those of you floating around here who aren't always in the loop on my stories, and so forth. That being so, I thought it would be useful to put a link right here:

That would be a straight-up SF story (yes, Mr Birmingham, I do 'em with or without elves and dragons) of about four thousand words or so.

Um. It's not a very nice story, you understand. There's some naughty words in it, and some very bleak thinking. But I like the central premise, and the choice that the protagonist has to make by the end, and the implications/questions it leaves. So... check it out, find out for yourself, see what you think.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tip Of The Top Hat To Young Jake

Jake and I are still playing with the Suave Guy webcomic. And currently, the storyline that we are reconstructing is pretty fracking stoopid. The original, I mean. Ours is actually a little less so. Which is scary.

Anyway, yesterday I threw him a loop by giving That Suave Guy a dance routine. So today, his new post has That Suave Guy following the dance routine with a song. Really.

Bearing in mind that he mostly had to use commas instead of line breaks 'cos of the software we're using to make new speech bubbles, I think he did a surprisingly good job in rather short time, so I'm giving him a shout out. Check the latest Suave Guy adventure here!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

R.I.P David Bowie

Which stands for "Rest In Pieces", by the way.

Not David Bowie the glam-rock icon, of course. What kind of eejit expects breaking news about one of the biggest names in modern music history to crop up in the obscure online diary of a Tasmanian writer? No: David Bowie the chicken. The Silky Bantam, to be precise.

Longtime readers will recall that some time ago, my wife decided that our three kids should have the divine joy of raising a baby chick each, to go with our regular, amiable Australorp eggmachines. She acquired some Silky Bantam eggs from a so-called 'friend' (friends don't let friends raise bantam chickens) and after a few unpleasantries, three chicks were duly hatched.

And they got names. I think. The Mau-Mau named hers 'Cutie Chick'. 'Cutie Chick' expired pretty early, a victim of Too Much Love, I suspect.

Jake... I can't remember the name of Jake's bird. But unfortunately, it was a cockerel. And if you know anything about bantam roosters, you know that you don't even try to keep them around kids. Not if you want your kids to keep their eyesight. Jake's bird eventually fell victim to high-velocity lead poisoning, and it is very telling to note that Jake was not in the least upset.

The final bird was 'David Bowie', so named by the ever-enigmatic Genghis. Apparently it had to do with the chicken's hairstyle - reminiscent of the wig worn by the real Bowie in his turn as the Goblin King, in the film Labyrinth. And to be honest, there really was a resemblance.

David Bowie did well. She never really managed to get along with the Three Fat Sisters, but she found a comfortable niche of her own in the chookyard, and took to turning out very credible bantam eggs on a daily basis. Genghis was delighted, and didn't seem at all concerned that "David Bowie" turned out to be female.

Tragically, David Bowie is no more. Sometime last week, Natalie went down to the pen and found a puff of silky bantam feathers, and no more. We didn't know the cause, but since then, the Three Fat Sisters have also been killed, one at a time.

We have a quoll in the area, it would seem.

Quolls are right bastards around chickens. The Dept of Primary Industries website says: " The best protection against these persistent predators is a 1.5 m high, well-footed, paling, corrugated iron or mesh pen; the latter with a roof, "floppy-top" or electric wire."

There's no way I'm going electric, so it looks like it's time to go nuts and rebuild the chookyard. One and a half metres all the way around, floppy-top fencing... great.

It's not like I didn't have enough to do already. But chooks are important. They do such a fantastic job of clearing up table scraps and cooking fallout... and those free-range eggs are fantastic.

I suppose I'll have to start tomorrow. Today it's grey and wet and rainy, and besides, I have to teach classes this afternoon/evening. But tomorrow's a new day.

Ave, David Bowie. The New Chookyard will rise upon the site of the old, and it shall Be Fiendishly Secure. The new inhabitants shall know your name, and speak of you with honour for your sacrifice!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Spring Rush

Last weekend I was in Melbourne. Briefly, but I was there.

It was a good thing to do. I met with the truly remarkable Prof Boylan, and with Bangar, and Melbo and Catty and Trish, and we had an excellent lunch at The Mitre, which is a fine Melbourne oddity. It's a colonial-era pub that's been left standing in the heart of the hightower district, which is as strange as strange can be. To find it, you have to venture down alleyways between gleaming glass monoliths that hold the sky far from your head... and then, suddenly, there it is. Little. Almost ramshackle. But solid, and old.

The food was good. The booze was better. Bangar and the Prof and I hit the Fat Yak, and then I noticed that their wine list included the Kreglinger, and the Prof decided we needed a bottle. He was right, of course. (He usually is, I have discovered.) But this time he was righter than he knew... the Kreglinger bubbly that comes off the old Pipers Brook estates here in Tas is an exceptional drop. They had the 2004 there at the Mitre, and I felt like an utter wanker when I explained that actually, the '04 wasn't a really good year because the weather that year was kind of shitty for the grapes... but what else could I say? I live here. The weather that year really was kind of shitty for grapes.

Despite that, the '04 Kreglinger was still a very fine drop. Even a poor year hereabouts yields a remarkable wine.

It was a long afternoon, but very enjoyable. Bangar and I retired with the Prof to the Adelphi, where we talked his ear off until it was time for dinner. By then, poor Prof Boylan was feeling the effects of travel and constant yammer, so Bangar and I took off with Mr Barnes, and left the Prof to catch up with his snoozing.

Dinner took us to the House of Sichuan. This is a glorious little establishment to which Mr Barnes introduced me on my last Melbourne foray. It's located at the end of a tight little alley in Chinatown, and if you don't know where it is, you won't find it. But it's worth it. It is soooo worth it.

Barnes ordered the Chili Cumin Pork Ribs. He always does. It's a good stratagem, because the platters are huge, and so he winds up sharing the stuff that other people order. But he orders the Chili Cumin Pork Ribs because they are so farkin' good.

I ordered the Baked Chili Chicken. That's a bit of a misnomer. They take wee bits of chicken, coat it was spices and (probably) rice flour, and fry it crispy. But then they take all those tasty bits of chicken and they put 'em in a flogging great oven dish, and they pour dried chilis all around and through and over and they mix it all up, and they bake it until the oil starts to come out of those dried chilis and coat the chicken pieces.

Yes. It's a touch spicy. But again: once you get started, it's very hard to stop.

Bangar ordered the salt-and-pepper quail. Unlike most places, you actually get a stack of the little things. And they're tasty as hell.

Young Mr B ordered... food. I distinctly remember it was food. And then we ate. And ate. And ate. And sweated, and growled, and ate.

Tragically, Bangar had a small cultural lesson to learn. Tsingtao beer is sold in 750ml bottles. He had two. And the last half of the second bottle went down rather quickly, as we were leaving. Taken as it was atop a vast pile of lavishly spiced food, there were... side effects. But he bore up well, and he is stronger for the learning experience, because it did not kill him. Mr Barnes and I definitely observed that he was not dead.

And unfortunately, that was pretty much the end of my Melbourne sojourn. Because I had booked with Shitstar, you see, and that was the weekend when that cocktastic turdgurgler Joyce pulled the plug on Qantas.

I was supposed to be on a comfortable midday flight home on Sunday. But Saturday afternoon, Shitstar rang me to say my flight was cancelled, and I had the choice of flying home at Oh Fuck Too Early in the morning, or Oh Shit Way Too Fucking Late at night.

Now you need to understand that the Shitstar people were lying to me. My flight wasn't cancelled, as I confirmed the next day. Shitstar went into and out of Launceston exactly as normal all day. No - what they were doing was simple. I hadn't yet nailed down my seat on the flight, you see. I had a ticket, yes, but no seat allocation. So essentially, they fucked me. They threw me off my booked flight in favour of some poor Qantas bastard who got even more screwed than I did.

So. Knowing that my family were expecting me, and had made plans, I took the What The Fuck Am I Doing Awake At This Stupid Hour option. And Mr Barnes kindly saw me off to the airport, for which I am very grateful...

...pardon me. I just got called away to put sunscreen on five kids. It's a public holiday today in Tas -- something to do with Obscure Historical Figure Day, I think -- and we have two extras in residence. Fortunately, it's a beautiful green, glorious, sunny day. The boys are renovating the cubby house, industriously laying down old carpet and tacking it into place, and working with two-part epoxy to put an improvised door handle on the cut-down cupboard door that guards the interior. Meanwhile, the girls are zinging around on the trampoline, gathering flowers, playing. The morning has already seen a full-on expedition into the hillside forests, complete with pith helmets, compasses, walking sticks, mapping tools, and screaming younger sisters.

I doubt I'm going to get a lot of work done today.

Er. Where was I? Oh yes. I flew home and left Melbourne. And I'm kind of shitty with Jetstar, who have now fucked up my last four flights with them. And I'm really shitty with the CEO of Qantas, who accepted a $2 million payrise in the middle of a shitfight with his pilots and engineers, in which he claimed the airline is running on empty and he couldn't possibly afford a single cent more for the workers...

Prof Boylan thinks I'm temperamental with regard to my position on Qantas. But right now, I think the government should be stepping in. Mr Joyce should be brought to the table and asked to negotiate in good faith. He should be given exactly one chance to do this. And when he fails, the 2IC of Qantas should be brought in, shown Joyce's bloody head on a pike, and then asked to negotiate. In good faith. With the new next-in-command waiting in the next room.

For those of you who think I'm excessive on this, I suggest you check Senator Xenophon's information on this matter. Particularly with regard to the way Jetstar is being used to strip Qantas' profitability, leaving the national carrier vulnerable, and weakened. There is bastardry at work here, folks - and as usual, you and I are the ultimate victims.

I did manage to get Tuesday night to watch films with the Shite Boys (and ladies; best to you both, Tiarne and Heather!) but that really was it for personal time. In between, I've been writing like hell, assessing manuscripts, teaching martial arts (Thursday was Community Sports Day for the primary school. I organised the setup for the Mau-mau's music lessons when I delivered her to school. Then I opened the dojo, and ran a session sport-style ju-jitsu until about 12. Half an hour later, I ran a second session with a new group of kids until nearly 2. Then I packed up, raced home and grabbed the necessary crap for the gymnastics run. Picked up the kids from the bus stop. Left Jake with Viking Neighbour. Took the others to gymnastics. Did the grocery run while they did their thing. Came home, picked up Jake, produced dinner for all including on-call Natalie... sat down and read and wrote and reviewed manuscripts until one in the morning...) and then finally, the weekend.

Which was about Iaido. The Australian head of school came out from Adelaide and ran seminars on Saturday and Sunday morning. No way I was going to miss those, so I got up early and drove into town, waved swords around a lot, then did the grocery run and came home, cooked for everybody, etc etc etc.

Good weekend, yes. Hard work. But today is Monday, and the extended weekend with the extra kids is not a joy, but a bit of a burden. I should be having a quiet day to myself, in which to work like a bastard. Instead, I'm keeping my ears and eyes open, making sure that five kids are sunscreened, fed, watered, and more or less aimed in a safe direction.

Ah well. Eventually they'll go to bed. And there's always the late night hours, right?