Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Traditional Martial Arts And Self-Defense/My Kid Didn't Get Into A Fight At School

There's an ongoing discourse regarding traditional-type martial arts such as karate, kung fu, and ju-jitsu and their effectiveness in "real" self defense. It's quite an interesting debate, if you lean that way.

Before I talk any farther about the nature of the debate, I'm going to relate something that involves young Genghis at school last week. Apparently, there was a bit of disagreement during the regular lunchtime cricket game. Genghis denies doing anything to irritate the other party... but I know Genghis, and I'm quite sure he said something, or did something, that must have pissed off the other kid mightily.

That doesn't excuse the other kid, though. The boy in question shaped up, approached, and threw a fist at Genghis's belly. At which point, according to both Genghis and at least one onlooker who actually noticed, Genghis sidestepped and said very clearly: Please don't do that.

I'm sure he wasn't being polite, mind you. He has a very good "I'm extremely pissed off" voice that he uses on his mother regularly, and she hates it. I'm quite sure that he was warning the other boy in a very blunt fashion. And indeed, that was the end of the 'altercation'. The boy who wanted to throw the punch packed up his tents and his camels, and the game of cricket went on.

Now, as a father and a martial arts instructor, I couldn't be happier. This is almost to the exact letter what I hope for from my students. (It could only have been better if Genghis hadn't managed to piss off the other kid in the first place. But he's not quite eleven years old, and he's a bit small for his age, and he's fiercely competitive and he loves his cricket. I expect that at times he's not a perfect angel.) To break it down, Genghis

  • Identified an incoming threat
  • Avoided the attack 
  • Used the motion of avoiding the attack to place himself in a superior and defensible posture
  • Maintained his distance 
  • Did not respond aggressively
  • De-escalated verbally
  • Used his voice very clearly, so that onlookers would know he was not the aggressor
All of that is textbook self-defense in this kind of situation. And depending on your style of traditional martial art (some are a bit more gung-ho about blocking incoming attacks and about counter-striking. Personally, I prefer the minimum necessary force approach. That's why I practice ju-jitsu.) this is an excellent example of training in action. 

Genghis' response differs from an untrained kid in several very important particulars, almost all of which are inherent to the list above. His training permitted him to identify an aggressor by posture, and to recognise an incoming attack from the aggressor's balance and movement. Many untrained people fail to recognise an incoming attack until it's far too late.

 Likewise, his training gave him the ability to move confidently and quickly to a safer position. He didn't need to think about his footwork or his body position: we train those in every class, over and over. And of course, picking a safe position from which to negotiate requires a knowledge of attack ranges and attack types. It also requires a confidence which is most easily acquired by training aggressively on the mat. 

The ability to ramp down the violence verbally, and to avoid responding physically -- both of those require confidence in one's ability to control the situation. It's very difficult to do these things if you're frightened of confrontation, and of the consequences of being hit by your opponent. Genghis has years of experience in rough-and-tumble on the mat, and many hours of training in precisely this kind of thing.

So: altogether, a 9/10. An excellent response, carried out quietly and cleanly enough that no teachers got involved, and most of the other kids didn't even realise anything was going on. That being the case, you might well ask -- what's the debate? Clearly, the training has worked.

The answer is complicated. First, I need to point out that there are many traditional styles, and they are taught differently. Many of them are taught as physical arts -- like ballet, if you will. They are taught as sequences of action and motion, and not effectively grounded in some kind of awareness of the real potentialities of conflict. When a student is taught in that fashion, it can be extremely difficult for the student to "make the jump" mentally, and recognise that the time has come to put their dojo training into real-world action. What I'm saying: fights don't start with someone taking a neat stance, and launching a textbook attack -- and if that's what you're trained to respond to, you will be hit by the unorthodox, wild swing.

I'm fairly sure I don't teach in a traditional manner. I teach to a curriculum for the purposes of belts and gradings because it makes the kids happy, it makes the parents happy, and it gives the Australian Ju-jitsu Association some means of gauging the content of my classes. But in keeping with what I learned from Shihan Mark Haseman, and what I've read from folks like Rory Miller, I spend a great deal of time grounding martial technique in what I know (which I admit to be limited) of real-world matters. 

The second issue involved in the debate comes from the rise of MMA as a sport and competition. The MMA people train very hard, and they train 'live', with lots of resistance. They do a great deal of sparring, and there is a mindset amongst these people that says any other kind of training is pointless. Even if you point out to them that sparring calls for rules and protective gear, they still insist that "live, full-contact sparring" is The Best Way To Train. 

I don't really need to buy into that, myself. Except to say that I had a guy once show up at the class who was quite proud of his Muay Thai thigh kicks. (Muay Thai is a staple of the MMA scene.) They were pretty good, too: fast, accurate, plenty of power. We talked, and I tried to explain the difference between the ring and the street, and he was all confidence, all denial. So... in the end, we agreed to a friendly, light-contact bout with an 'open' rule set. He set up. I set up. He moved... and I borrowed from a ninjitsu practitioner I met at a knife seminar years ago. I cleared my throat and pretended to spit in his face.

He blinked. I tapped his testicles with my foot. Game over.

MMA is very strong. A good MMA practitioner is much, much better at fighting than I am. 

I don't pretend to be a fighter. In fact, fighting is the absolute last on my list of defensive techniques. I respect the MMA community and the practitioners of MMA fighting tremendously, and if I ever have to get into a real conflict with one of them, I am going to cheat scientifically and mercilessly, and with luck I won't have to fight at all. 

The third issue under debate is the nature of the attack itself. Here, the hardcore self-defense people come into their own. These are people who train against the attack that comes by surprise, and is nigh overwhelming: the guy who comes at you from behind while his mates engage you from the front. The person who steps out of the shadows and breaks your shoulder with a club in the first swing. These people insist that the Trad Martial approach of front-on training against a known, visible attacker is pointless. 

Well -- against the kind of attack they insist is waiting for you, they're quite right. On the other hand, if Genghis had shielded his face with his arms then screamed and driven elbows and knees into his attacker... yeah. That would have been really good, right?

Trad Martial may not suit every occasion. And to be fair, in my class we do train against the bad-ass attack. We work inferior positions. Surprise attacks. Surprise weapon attacks. Multiple attackers. We put furniture and walls into the picture. We posit disabled limbs, and insist on effective one-handed defenses. We train to make the natural 'flinch' response into an effective counterattack, as far as possible.

But that's not all we do, is it? 

Yes, these attacks do happen. But they're not particularly common, and they can be avoided by not going into places and situations where such attacks are likely to occur. Far better to avoid them than defend against them, I assure you. 

In the meantime, most of us don't have to deal with anything more aggressive than the primate-pack bullshit that Genghis defused so ably. Of course, it's best to avoid those attacks too, right? But when you're in an institution? When you're in school, day after day? When your workplace includes wannabe alpha-males who insist on playing primate politics, including the chest-thumping and intimidation?

There is a place for traditional martial training, when it's done properly. I think Genghis just ended that debate for me.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Lightning Raid On Melbourne


I owe a lot of people in Melbourne an apology. I was, in fact, in your city for part of the weekend. I probably didn't catch up to you. I'm sorry.

Here's how it was: about three weeks back, my publisher and friend Tehani noticed that none other than Cory Doctorow was running a masterclass for young writers at the state library in Melbourne. Cue an opportunity for Jake.

I mentioned it to Natalie. Didn't think there was much chance, though... it's a bloody difficult time of year. To my surprise, Natalie encouraged the idea. Nice!

Of course, someone had to travel with the lad. And it couldn't be Natalie, because SHE had to fly over to Melbourne on the Monday afternoon to stay until early Thursday, while Jake's gig took place on the Monday morning. So it was agreed I'd take the boy, and Natalie and I would do a complex exchange of prisoners on Monday evening when the boy and I got back to the airport in Launceston.

Then my buddy Rob Heather -- who works at the library -- noticed that Cory was also doing a masterclass on digital fiction for adult-types, and that the Sunday class had openings. Hmmm. Digital fiction? From Cory Doctorow? That sounds like something that an author with a new, digitally-distributed novel should get to, doesn't it?

So in the end, Jake and I flew into Melbourne, arriving at about ten. Rob picked us up at the airport, along with his wholly delightful daughter whom I had not previously met. (She's small, cute, clever, and very confident: a marvellous two-year-old.)

By midday, we were eating lunch in a very busy, very upmarket Italian cafe-thing somewhere mid-city. Apparently Geoffrey Rush was there as well, somewhere amidst the throng. I didn't have a sightline, so I can't say one way or the other. I can say the pizza was good.

After lunch, we had just a little time to check out Readings Book Store. I bought books. Too many books. Then Rob had to take off with his miniature daughter -- whereupon Master Barnes (who met us at the cafe with his son, who is a close friend of Jake's) took over. We dropped our bags at The Windsor (courtesy of Wotif.com) and then they threw me out at the library, where I spent two hours paying attention to someone much better paid than I for doing this writing stuff.

Cory had some useful stuff to say, and at the urging of Tehani, I offloaded a copy of Path Of Night on him. He was very gracious about it. I can only hope he remembers to take it with him, and possibly even read it at some point... that would be handy, I expect.

Are you keeping track of time? I am. The masterclass finished a little after four pm. We dashed back to Chez Barnes, and watched the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary show -- which I found rather disappointing, I'm sorry to admit. And then we dashed back into the city for dinner at a Szechuan restaurant favoured by Barnes and myself... a dinner which was much, much less disappointing than the Doctor Who special.

I'm pretty sure that was the chili beef skewers -- that bowl full of dried chillies up there in the middle. Yes, it's as hot as it looks. But it tastes even better

Center of picture would be the spicy cumin pork ribs. With szechuan pepper. And chili. And cumin. Did I mention cumin?

And that would be the Chonqing Chicken, if I got the spelling. Again: it's every bit as hot as it looks. If you examine the picture closely, you will actually see bits of chicken amidst all the dried chillies and the sliced green onions... 

Jake ordered tea-smoked duck which was magnificent, and Barnes the Younger ordered chili prawns, which likewise did not disappoint. I grabbed a large bottle of Tsingtao, and we dove in: weeping, sweating, roaring, noses running... oh, yes. Damn.

Tasmania: it's a great place, but there's really not enough chili down here.

Jake and I made it back to the Windsor and flaked out.

Next morning, we did the breakfast thing at the hotel. Then we got a ride with a Somali cab-driver (who was amiable, and happy to talk about his experiences) to the library, and by 10.00 am Jake was busy listening to Cory Doctorow. Meanwhile, I wandered off with a lovely woman named Heike who had a couple of kids in the same masterclass. We spent half an hour in conversation until Embiggen Books opened... and at that point, our acquaintance kind of slid, because we were both  more interested in the books. (Although to be fair, Heike turned out to be a fine and interesting human being, and if I lived in Melbourne I would totally send Jake over to play with her kid and Barnes' kid, because it turned out that Heike's boy and Barnes' boy went to the same science club... and Melbourne was smaller than I expected.)

Anyway. I also got a phone call from my old friend Heather, who also works at the libary. She had just time to come over and check out Embiggen with me. (I really can't recommend that store enough, by the way. It is one of the coolest bookstores I've yet seen. Not completely balls-to-the-wall pop culture and geekery like Minotaur: just a remarkable selection of entertaining and challenging books in a small space. And a very, very helpful and co-operative owner/operator)

So Jake's gig finished about twenty past twelve. We caught a cab to Southern Cross station, hopped a bus for the airport, grabbed a really shitty lunch at an airport cafe, and made it back to Launceston around four thirty in the afternoon. At that point, Natalie met us at the airport... and there she stayed.  She'll be back on Thursday. Until then, I'm sole parent. And many, many thanks to Tehani who kept Genghis and the Mau-mau after the kiddie cricket last night... that meant I only had to cook for two when I got home.

And that was my big weekend in Melbourne, yeah. Oh, there was more. There always is. Cricket updates, for example. Did you know The Netherlands won by 29 runs? I certainly did. Oh yes. Barnes told me about eight times, I think.

But you get the picture. It wasn't quite planned out to the last minute, but there really wasn't any time loose. And as it is, Jake missed a day of school, and it turns out he missed some sort of booster injection thing, and we're missing bits of school uniforms and school ties, and there's a bass lesson today and then theatre and orchestra, and the white car is still under repair so I'm doing everything with Natalie's little blue piece of Ford, and tomorrow somehow I have to get the kids out of Launceston and back to Scottsdale in time for the ju-jitsu class, and...

... there's more writing to do too.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Discovered A Couple Of Old Letters To Teachers...

Sometimes I have to send letters to school, in order to help teachers deal with my offspring. Here are a couple of examples I found when I was clearing out old correspondence from my files.

Letter The First, Concerning An Unusual Lunch

Dear E---
No, the addition of cold porridge to Jake’s lunch is not an attempt to recreate some kind of Dickensian 19th century cruelty. As a matter of fact, Jake has conceived a violent dislike of sandwiches, and he insists that cold porridge is entirely preferable to the terrors of two slices of bread with Unknown Substances lurking fiendishly within.
Why this is so I cannot say. I mean, Jake eats pickled octopus with every evidence of delight. He enjoys olives, and pickled champignon mushrooms, and quite likes  curries. Yet the prospect of a sandwich — even the most innocuous of cheese-and-tomato sandwiches — appears to fill him with a kind of nameless dread sufficient to drive him into the arms of cold porridge.
Admittedly, I make very good porridge. Today’s sample is made from a muesli, and it’s full of all kinds of fruit, spiced with nutmeg, and sweetened with brown sugar. I ate a bowl myself this morning, and it was excellent. However, it was steaming hot at the time. I don’t mind cold porridge, but I doubt whether I’d choose a bowl of cold porridge over a nice cheesy sandwich. 
Still, there’s no accounting for taste.

Letter The Second, Concerning Dress Code Variations

Dear L---
Regrettably, Genghis' garb may not entirely meet desired standards for the day. The major reason for this is that Genghis chose to wait until this morning to indicate the relatively strict requirements for this event, leaving us less than no time to locate or acquire all the items he’s supposed to have. To a lesser degree, he lacks some of the items he’s asked for because we simply haven’t purchased them.
Sneakers, for instance. Genghis destroys sneakers. We got him some. They lasted an eyeblink. The elastic-sided boots he routinely wears not only look more ‘uniform’, but they last — often as much as six months!
Track-suit trousers are another example. For some reason, Genghis' track-suit trousers seem almost to have kneeholes pre-cut in them. Our best efforts at the stores never seem to change this. We get Genghis track-trousers. We inspect them carefully for holes. We come home. Suddenly they have holes in the knees. Genghis is wearing black corduroy trousers today. They look smart, and unlike every single set of track-trousers he owns, there are no holes in the knees. 
As for the green jumper... That’s probably a parental failing. I guess there must be some parents who can keep track of a kid’s green jumper through music lessons, sports sessions, regular school trips, and a never-ending cyclone of play sessions involving countless other children the same age, ALL of whom have remarkably similar green jumpers... but unfortunately, I can’t seem to do it. I don’t get much help from Genghis, either. He seems actively to loathe certain articles of clothing, taking every possible opportunity to abandon them, exchange them, annihilate them, or just lose them outright. 
Genghis does not seem to like his green jumpers. I think he fed his last one to a bear.
Yours sincerely

It's possible that things like this may go some way to explaining the occasionally troubled relationship between my family and various schools...

Monday, November 18, 2013

Update On The Cat

Well, poor old Toxo's results are back in, and overall, he's doing pretty well. The vet thinks it might be an idea to worm him, and possibly he's had some liver issues, but by and large he's pretty well.

The real problem is the big lump in his right upper jaw, which is distorting his head and putting pressure on his eye. The vet thought it was likly to be an SCC (squamous cell carcinoma), but it turns out that it's actually an ossifying fibroma. That's not so bad, as they don't spread throughout the body, and they're slow growing. But the downside is that the only fix is surgery, and frankly, it would take too much of his upper jaw and bone.

So: to combat his vomiting habit, we're going to give him what the vet calls a 'bland diet': boiled white fish, boiled chicken. And we'll worm him again, and generally make sure he's well looked after. But the fibroma will probably continue to grow, and it may cause his teeth to fall out, or even break his jaw. If either of those two things happen, his quality of life will plummet, and we'll have to see him off as kindly as possible.

Now, you can call me whatever you like -- but I absolutely can't stand the idea of putting the poor old bugger into the car (which he hates) and taking him down to the vet to be euthanased. Toxo has earned the right to die at home, at peace, among the family he's looked after for the last eleven years. Luckily, the vet understood what I was saying, and assured me they can do house calls for such a thing.

How long has the old fellow got? I don't know. We don't actually know how old he is. He was dumped up here sometime before Genghis was born, and rather forcibly adopted us. He had reached his full growth by that time, but his coat was still the soft and glossy fur of a young cat in its early prime. I'm guessing he was about four years old, judging from the look and condition of the other feral cat who adopted us later, who is definitely about four years old now.

That makes him about fifteen years old, which is respectable for a cat. Without the fibroma, he'd probably be good for another three or four years, but there's no telling what will happen now.

I'm just glad he won't have to suffer a trip to the vet when it's time to say good night.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Bitter End Of The Year

So, Sydney and the Blue Mountains and large chunks of NSW are in deep trouble from bushfire, earlier than ever before. Brisbane is breathless, hot and dry except when the hailstorms sweep down out of the west. Summer has come early to most of Australia, it would seem.

Not so much down here. It's been cool and rainy since... actually, I can't remember. March? April? We had a week or so of sunshine about ten days back, but mostly it's just been chilly, and damp.

I'm not complaining. The place is green. Stuff is growing everywhere. I don't have to water the strawberries we put in, nor the new figs, nor the new miniature peaches and nectarines. We had the usual blaze of flowers for spring - more every year, as the bulbs divide underground. So many flag irises!

But it's a tough time. Natalie's working double-time at the moment, putting together a bunch of complicated training modules for online use as well as doing doctor duty. And of course, the schools demand more of the kids at the end of the year. Why? I don't know. But it seems every week there's another performance, another show, another exam, another meeting. Back and forth, back and forth.

Genghis isn't helping. He's long wanted to play cricket seriously, and we finally found a cricket club where he could join. It's in Launceston, of course. I understand that there is one out here... but I'm damned if we've been able to make contact with them. So Genghis plays with South Launceston. They train Sundays, they play Monday afternoons from four-thirty to eight pm. Tuesday nights, Genghis rehearses with the Launceston Youth Theatre Ensemble for their upcoming Robin Hood. Also, Jake has orchestra at his school.

Wednesday evenings is ju-jitsu. Thursdays is for emergencies... like the book launch next week. When else were we going to fit it in? Friday nights are for orchestra. And all of these, except ju-jitsu, are in Launceston.

Back and forth, back and forth.

I took our beloved old cat Toxo to the vet this morning. Things aren't looking good. He doesn't keep much of his food down any more, and his arthritis is increasingly troublesome. The vet says that the lump alongside his jaw is very likely to be a cancer. He's being biopsied and blood-tested today. It was difficult enough to get him down there, so we'd better get it done as thoroughly as possible. Natalie will pick him up this afternoon after she drops the kids to ju-jitsu.... of course, I'll be staying down there to teach.

When I got back from dropping the cat off at the vet and chasing up handbills to advertise the book launch, I discovered there were about twenty cows in the paddock below the house. That wouldn't have bothered me, except they wanted to snack on my trees: apples, apricots, almonds... even figs. I chased the bastards down the hill a ways, then rang around to discover who was missing several tonnes of bovine. Then I darted back out and chased the fuckers away from my trees again. At last, the owners arrived and I chased the damned cows down the hill, and helped them cross the highway back to their home territory. I don't think I even lost any of my trees.

Aurora Energy still hasn't got back to us about our solar installation application. Fifteen working days, they said. They lied. No surprise: like every other electrical utility company, they're shit-scared of home solar, and they're heel-dragging to try and discourage people as far as possible. But we need that approval. There will be extensions happening in December/January, and we want the solar done at the same time, thus saving several thousand dollars. I'll phone Aurora tomorrow and explain the situation to them carefully and diplomatically, but I have no doubt we'll have to get down to threatening them with court action, so I've gotta get the ducks lined up in a row for that one.

Is that it? No, of course not. There's a multitude of things that need doing. The grounds need a really good cleanup, but I haven't time. Not right now. And I'm supposed to be at a lung clinic next week, but since I didn't manage to follow up after the lung testing regime (I was supposed to see my local GP, go on some kind of asthma medication... but there was all that vasectomy stuff, and I just didn't make the time) I'd better cancel and reschedule that. And then try to find time for the GP and the asthma programme, etc.

Also, there's the MA. Lots of work to be done there. I'll be seeing my prof in mid-December. Much progress is expected. Some has been made, but not enough. I really have to get moving on that.

Also there's the novel - or rather, the sequel. And a bunch of short pieces. And promotions. And... isn't Christmas looming? Oh, that's right: Genghis' birthday. Must organise that too.

The rye grass is coming in all over the place. I'm back on the anti-snot drugs. It's better than sneezing fits, sure, but I'm not enamoured of random drugs at the best of times. Twice a year: once during wattle-blossoming, once during the rye grass. But the wattles are in bloom for at least a month, and the rye-grass for two, or three. Pfeh.

I need to clear about two weeks on my schedule. Not chase kids. Not run back and forth to Launceston. I need to load up the trailer with piles of useless junk lying around here. I need to fell a bunch of wattle trees that have sprung up in the wrong areas. I need to cut up a lot of deadfalls for next year's firewood. I need to find several solid days for the MA, and for the novel, and for other writing.

I'm not going to get any of that stuff.

It's raining.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Be Racist If You Must. Just Don't Be A Lying Hypocrite

Lately, I'm seeing an argument regarding the so-called 'boat people' who are apparently threatening the Australian idyll with their evil tendency to attempt escaping lands full of war, chaos, death and poverty by showing up down here, uninvited. And it's an argument which, frankly, holds even less water than a refugee boat.

The line I'm talking about is the one where you hear some well-fed, well-clothed shit-for-brains living in a country where practically nobody carries guns say something like: "Oh, we can't let them turn up here in boats. It's just too dangerous. We can't let any of the boats through, because it will only encourage others to endanger themselves."

Hello? Listen, you pretentious dingbat -- just how much encouragement do you think these people need? Or let's put it another way: d'you know how much encouragement I'd need to flee if I lived in a place where sending my daughter to school might get acid thrown in her face, and the rest of her family shot? Do you know what it would take to encourage me to pack up my family and take my chances in a leaky boat to Australia if every day was a game of Russian Roulette with religious nutjobs and suicide bombs?

I'll give you a clue: nothing. That's right, you pointless, pontificating tool -- I'd take the ocean and the people smugglers in a heartbeat given the slightest chance of getting away from somewhere like Afghanistan, or Iraq.

This utter crap -- this vapid, patronising, imbecility -- is notably similar to a line of garbage spewed by a nervous Australian government maybe fifty, sixty years ago. "Oh, dear. We can't possibly let these people look after their children. They're not competent. We mustn't risk the children!"

If you have even the slightest hint of education, you'll know I'm referring to the debacle that led to the infamous Stolen Generation. And didn't that work out well for all concerned?

What really makes me want to power-puke when I hear this line is that inevitably, it's espoused by some beefy prick with a nice job, a nice car, a nice bank account... The kind of person who is smart enough to know that they can't get away with screaming "They'll take our jerrrbs!". The kind of person who is too afraid of the social consequences of admitting their real feelings, because nobody in their social set would ever say such a thing.

Spineless, nauseating, cowardly scum.

Don't hide behind a patronising lie. Don't waffle about the risks these boats represent. Don't try to convince me that you give even the ghost of a fuck for the well-being of these people -- because if you did, you'd realise at once that they're not stupid. These people risk the boats because staying where they are is a greater risk.

You're bad enough already. You're a coward, and a racist. Don't insult my intelligence by lying so very badly. There's no chance I'm ever going to believe you.  It just adds a pathetic, bleating hypocrisy to the list of things that make you a sad, miserable excuse for a human being.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

I Gots A Shiny New Blog

Okay. For future reference, this space will be more and more about what it was originally intended for: personal stuff. A record of thoughts and activities to be available for my kids when they grow up enough to be interested, and a place to bicker cheerfully with various friends.

But I'm a writer too, and now I'm doing books, and these days you can't be a writer without a site of your own. Especially, you can't be a writer in small press with ambitions to increase his audience if you don't have your own site.

So I have my site. Henceforth the writerly stuff will happen at


I could copy it all here, I guess, but I'm not sure how interesting it will be for some of the folks about this space. And more: it will be far less 'me', and much more that guy in the top hat with the cigar. You know.

Just thought I'd let you all know. And in other news: who here knew that Big Bird was transgendered? Is this shit for real?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Who Owns The Sun?

And it's here. The big-business model of energy distribution has realised that rooftop solar PV is fucking with their profits, and just like in the USA and Spain, they're turning the screws.

Australian Utilities Behave, Predictably, Like Fuckwads

The difference here -- so far -- is that in Spain, the government has caved completely, and the USA isn't far behind, with various states (particularly Arizona) passing bylaws and generally shitting all over small solar PV.

Spain's Solar Stupidity

Spain Privatises The Sun

Let's Tax The Sun

Utilities Vs Solar in Arizona

The battle lines are pretty clear. On the one hand, there's us -- the people and the environment, all of whom will greatly benefit if we can decentralise the grid and enhance solar production. On the other hand, there are the big fucking utilities which depend on a captive audience... and there are the big industries, which cannot possibly supply their own needs through solar power, and are therefore dependent on the centralised production model of the big fucking utilities.

It's going to be a very ugly fight. Right now, sitting on my refrigerator there is a note from our local big fucking utility -- Aurora Energy. The note says basically that they have to study our application for solar PV for site suitability, etc. They give absolutely no suggestion of when this 'study' is going to occur, but according to them, we cannot move ahead on our installation without their authority... whether or not that happens in the time frame we've allotted for renovations.

We're renovating in late December, it would seem. If we have to install the solar PV separately, there will be considerable additional cost: men and machinery that would have been here already if we could do the installation at the same time as the renovations.

I figure Aurora is counting on that kind of thing, of course. The more barriers they can throw in front of people, the longer they can preserve their outmoded, nineteenth-century business model.

The question is this: what are we going to do about it? Because it does come down to us -- you, me, anyone and everyone who uses electricity. Are we going to continue being crucified by coal and oil?  Will we go on complacently letting these monopolies dictate how we lead our lives by controlling the electricity we need?

I don't plan to sit still. I'm a little caught up in things at the moment, but sometime very soon, Aurora is going to be catching a hell of a serve from me.

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


Well, I'd better face up to it. I'm going to have to build a proper website, get myself a domain, go through all that shite. I'm going to have to centralise and link together my various web presences once and for all.


Because of this:


That would be the link to my first published novel, as yet only through Kindle on Amazon. (Forgive me... but it works.)

I think I can put a shinier picture here, if I try.

Oh, yep. There it is.

I like the cover. (If you happen to like the cover, by the way, you might wanna talk to this chap: https://www.facebook.com/BranchyDesign -- he was very co-operative and good to work with.)

Oh, you wanna know about the book?

Uhhh -- first in a series of... several. Looks like urban fantasy/horror/thriller, but there are layers not yet revealed. The most important thing about it is that it is fun. It was fun to write, and with any luck, I've managed to make it fun to read.

That might not seem like much of a goal, but I realised that over the last few years, in the course of trying to refine my craft to the point of impressing publishers, I'd lost sight of the sheer fun of a good story. And I looked at the way the marketplace is changing, and the number of successful and effective ebooks and self-published books, and small-press books, and I thought: I'm doing this wrong.

So, ladies and gentlemen and others of all variety -- here it is. And at this point, things have to change.

I'll keep this blog, but it will be personal, family, political, etc. I'll probably run a link to it from a dedicated Flinthart/Writer website. And I will make the effort to write about writing and being a writer and all that good shit on the dedicated site.

That's the plan, anyhow. In the meantime, I'm hard at work on the next book in the series above. I'm also carving my way through the master's degree, and trying to rustle up a couple of short stories.

Thanks and kudos to Tehani the amazing editor/publisher of Fablecroft, and to Adam for his very fine cover. And thanks to everybody around here who has offered kind and encouraging words over the years. I don't have any copies of this thing to give away yet, but when I do, I'll find a way to make sure I can pass a few over.

(Oh -- and in other news, wearing two pairs of underpants at once has helped a lot. I can walk again, and standing up doesn't even hurt for the first fifteen minutes or so. Most of the colours have faded from my less mentionable bits, but the swelling is still a little alarming. How long does it take a scrotum to come back down to a reasonable size, anyway?)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Progress Report.


Look, the operation itself was nothing much. Couldn't have taken more than half an hour. When they walked me out to the recovery area, there was another bloke in a one of the chairs, having a bit of a laugh at my mushy efforts to talk through the fast-fading sedatives. Maybe twenty minutes later, he was gone -- and they walked another bloke through the door, and it was my turn to giggle at him.

He had it worse than me, mind you. I've been through enough minor surgeries to know what to expect. Oh -- and the fact that the anaesthetist had to try three times before he found a useful vein probably helped me remember the situation, whereas the new bloke wasn't even certain he'd been through the operation yet. I reassured him that yes, they'd done the job and all he had to do was sit and recover.

The anaesthetist was actually a bloke I know - very decent chap - and I don't blame him for having a bit of trouble. My skin is notoriously leathery. This isn't the first time I've confounded the needlestickers. I hate it, because when they have to struggle and the toughness of the skin keeps them from feeling the sensations they're used to, sometimes they slide the needle alongside the vein rather than into it. That really fucking hurts.

Aside from the leathery exterior, there was the fact that I was under strict instructions not to eat or drink for six hours before the procedure. Given that my appointment was for 1115, that mean nothing to drink from 0515... which effectively meant my last dose of water was about 2200 the previous night, and I was somewhat dehydrated. Note for future reference: either get a later appointment, or get up bloody early and have a decent drink.

I can't say I felt particularly good for the rest of the day. Didn't need the prescription painkillers, though: a bit of paracetamol was enough to see me through. A week? No worries!



The discolouration kicked in about a day or so later, and slowly spread. And the swelling, yep. And the discomfort. Not simple pain, but pain associated with movement. Discomfort, you see?

But what the hell. My various mates online were all happily telling me how they were playing touch footy and kicking the ball around just a day or so after the event. Obviously, things were gonna get better, right?

Well, today I called the surgery because the nurse who tried to call me on Monday had a bit of a fail-attack. The conversation went a bit like this:

"Hi. Yeah. It's me. You didn't manage to reach me, so I thought I'd call back. I've got a couple of concerns, really. Mostly about the swelling. I kind of thought it would be going down, five days after the event."

- What size is it?

(Flinthart thinks: jeez. How do I describe this? Happily, the nurse comes to the rescue.)

- An orange? A grapefruit?

(Flinthart thinks: oh, good. Fruit. I can work with fruit.)

"Well, if we were talking an orange it would be a very damned healthy navel orange. In fact, we really are much closer to the grapefruit end of the spectrum. Only you should maybe think more in terms of ripe avocadoes or even eggplant for colour, eh? Not all over, mind you. There are blotches. Big ones. And the specific shade of purple kind of varies. Puts me in mind of dependent lividity, really. And that's a bad state of mind to be in with regard to one's scrotum, I think."

- Is it hot?

(Flinthart is now completely flummoxed. How hot should a scrotum be? Should he account for the obvious inflammation and bruising when discussing the hotness of his 'nads?)

"Ah. Well... you know scrotums, right? It doesn't seem..."

(Flinthart trails off. The nurse offers no help, but that's okay because Flinthart's brain has kicked into gear.)

"Oh! You're worried about infection, aren't you? Oh, well, there's no increase in pain or tenderness, no spreading redness, no obvious focal point, no fevers and no localised warmth that can't be accounted for by the fact that my scrotum looks like I lost a fight with Peter Dinklage. Does that help?"

- Oh, good. Yes, we do worry about infection. Look... if it's just the swelling and discolouration...

"After five days!"

- You can try an ice-pack.

"Yyyyyyeah. Did that. Didn't much like it. Didn't seem to do a lot of good, either." 

- Well, these things can take a while. Look, why don't you call us back in a couple more days if you're still concerned.

"Oh. So... this is within the normal parameters? For post-vasectomy scrotum behaviour?"

- Reasonably.

"Oh. All right. I'll... call back if anything untoward happens, then.


And there the conversation closed. Leaving me - where? Well, the good news is that this apparently is within the normal spectrum of things. The bad news is that my end of the normal spectrum is a hideous shade of purple, with orange and yellow around the edges. And what, exactly, might be considered untoward enough to justify another phone call continues to elude me. I'd recognise infection, sure. But what else is there? As far as I'm concerned, a blotchy purple, highly tender scrote the size of a moderate grapefruit is pretty fuckin' untoward. Since that's obviously not untoward to the scrote-manipulating medical fraternity... I really have no idea what MIGHT be considered alarming.

I've seen those photos of the poor African bastards with elephantiasis, carting their hideously swollen 'nads around in custom-made wheelbarrows. Is that untoward? Or is that just another shade of the normal post-vasectomy scrotal spectrum?


Well... I think I've gotta go and change the ice-pack I've got tucked under my personal aubergine now. I'll get back to you folks if there's any real news. But I gotta tell you: I'm very fucking tired of walking bow-legged, tired of sleeping with a pillow between my knees, tired of ice-packs, tired of jabbing pains every time I bend over, tired of struggling to get into the little car, tired of waking up every time I roll over in my sleep... so any of you bastards who want to tell me what a lark all this is: do drop by sometime. I believe I may be able to help you understand the experience more fully. Just... shut your eyes while I swing the cricket bat, okay?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Just A Little Cut...

I thought long and hard about publishing this one, but I think it needs to be done.

I don't consider myself any kind of leader type, nor a figure to be emulated. But I do think that the women's movement has empowered women and created a system which increasingly is driven by, and supportive of, what are perceived to be values associated with women. And I think likewise that there is a lack of any such thing for men. You may take your "patriarchal society" comments at this point and shelve them: I'm not interested in the discussion.

What does interest me is doing right by other men. Offering support, information and communication. Hence this post: I'm going in today for a vasectomy.

Now, currently my Internet connection is deeply fucked up. But hopefully later I'll have better access. And by that time, all things going according to plan, I should have some useful details to offer on the entire situation.

In the meantime -- wish me luck!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Further Trials And Tribulations Of A Private School Parent

This one is... interesting. I thought long and hard before I wrote this, but in the end, it comes to this: I've discussed this issue with the school. I've taken it just as far as I can reasonably take it. And the school has told me in no uncertain terms that they're not interested, and not concerned -- and so I see no reason why I can't talk about this incident with regard to my kid.

Buckle up. This one's a doozy.

A few weeks back on the way home from school, Jake seemed a little flat. Naturally, I asked him about his day. He explained that he was a bit unhappy about a 'musical number' they were practicing. Now Jake quite likes music, and he likes performing, so I asked for details.

Well, it turns out that it's part of the "School House" system. Anybody not familiar with the British Boarding School system of divide and conquer in the Name of Sportsmanship -- go watch the Harry Potter movies. Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw -- artificially created blocs of students crossing year/cohort boundaries, permitting internal competition in sports and other arenas.

I more or less understand the purpose of the system. It's supposed to provide a ready-made social network for newbies, offer some kind of support, and meanwhile, subtly indoctrinate a set of chosen values by way of peer pressure. I don't much like it, but it works -- and smart kids can see through it effectively enough that the indoctrination doesn't actually work.

In this case, it turns out that Jake's "house" has this tradition of getting the new year sevens to do a 'musical number' - a performance they carry out in front of the entirety of their 'house'.

"So what are you doing?" I asked him.

"We have to sing and dance," he said.

"I don't really see the problem," I said.

"Well," he said, "We were supposed to be able to choose our own song. But the House officers rejected everything we suggested, and now they want us to perform Beyonce's Single Ladies."

(Insert sound of scratching record here as Dirk wrenches his neck trying to look at his kid.)

"Single ladies?" says I. "You guys want to do that?"

"No," says Jake. "But they say we have to. Some of us have to do the dance routine from the video, and the rest of us are like, back-up."

"Oh," says I. "That's a bit ugly. At least you're not doing it in drag," I said, trying to make light of it.

"Well, they wanted us all to do it in costume, actually," said Jake. "But we got really upset, and now it's only two or three of the boys who have to wear leotards."

(Repeat scratched-record sound, only louder.)

For those of you unaware of Beyonce's signal contribution to modern culture, here's an embed which I hope will work:

And if that doesn't work, here's the Youtube link.  Seriously -- watch this so you know why I was freaked out.

Now, a whole bunch of thoughts went through my head at this point:

  • Who thought it was a good idea to coerce a bunch of 13-year-old boys into an embarrassing, highly sexualised performance in front of their peers?
  • Who the hell thought it was a good idea to put underage boys into leotards and make them dance like Beyonce?
  • What did the school plan to do about the inevitable (these kids ALL carry phones) video footage on Facebook, Youtube, etc?
  • Had anybody considered what would happen if a chunk of said footage turned up on Joe Random-Pervert's computer when the cops were investigating him?
I restrained myself, though. I questioned Jake carefully and at length. I established as a certainty that it wasn't the boys' idea. That they really didn't want to be involved. That the whole thing was being choreographed by an older girl. That teachers didn't seem to have any involvement.

At that point, I promised Jake I'd help him out. I told him I could see no reason why he had to publicly humiliate himself, if it wasn't his choice. 

Next thing I did was email someone at the school. I explained the situation, and articulated my concerns. I pointed out that we support involvement with the school's social programme... but as diplomatically as I could, under the circumstances, I suggested that Jake really didn't want to be involved. And I ran the above list at them, plus a few more.

Now, I figured there'd be some kind of result. I mean -- this is a high-end private school. Its greatest asset is its reputation. And it seemed to me that the kind of reputation you get from putting underage boys into leotards and getting them to dance like Beyonce was not at all the kind of reputation that an exclusive private school would want. I figured the whole thing had just kind of slipped through the cracks -- that the school probably had a policy of allowing some autonomy to House Officers (students) to help them develop responsibility, and all that.

Truthfully? I figured the teacher would turn up and have a chat with those House Officers -- talk to them about their responsibilities, point out that setting up these young boys to be laughed at wasn't particularly nice, point out that there might even be legal repercussions. 

Well, my email was forwarded on to somebody supposedly responsible for the situation. And I got a reply.

I won't quote it directly. But I was assured that there was "no coercion". (Apparently, 13-year-old boys just LOVE putting on leotards and dancing to Beyonce in front of all their House peers.) And I was assured that it was an important part of their socialising, and that it was "all a bit of fun". 

Luckily, I also got a written assurance that the boys could withdraw if they wanted.

Did I get an acknowledgement that 13-year-old boys are at a challenging stage of development, and exposing them to sex-role ridicule in front of their peers might not be a great idea? 

No. I didn't.

Did I get an acknowledgment that putting underage boys into leotards and getting them to do the Sexy Beyonce Pelvis Dance might conceivably be misconstrued by enthusiastic law enforcement agencies?

Err... no. That wasn't important either. 

Did I get an acknowledgement that video of the event on Facebook or Youtube could follow these boys for the rest of their lives, and potentially alter their chances of employment, scholarship, etc?

Ahh... I'll let you guess, shall I?

Did I receive any kind of acknowledgement that perhaps the image of underage boys in leotards dancing the Sexy Beyonce Pelvis Dance might possibly not enhance the school's august reputation as a fine educational establishment?

... heh.

In the end, I ran a few role-playing scenarios with Jake. It was clear that if he didn't want to play their game, he'd get no support from the teachers. He'd have to confront his senior House Officers himself, on his own, and withdraw from the project in the face of the pressure and scorn they could apply. I pretended to be a House Officer, and when he said his piece I told him that it was "All just in fun", and he had to think up a reply. Then I told him  that he'd "be letting down his house-mates", and he had to come up with a response.

Finally, I pretended to be another student, and I called him "a pussy", and "weak", and he had to deal with that, too.

He went to school.

And when he came back, he told me that first: two of his friends were overjoyed to discover they could withdraw, and promptly pulled out with him. Secondly, he told me that I'd pretty much quoted his House Officers in my role-playing... and also, quoted a few of his fellow students too. 

In other words, the peer-pressure system of the House tried to do its job, but Jake was well prepped, and he stuck to his guns. He and his two friends are now operating the sound system. They don't have to wear leotards. They don't have to do the Sexy Beyonce Pelvis Performance in front of a bunch of laughing, video-camera equipped kids. They don't have to try and live this down for years.

In one sense, I'm quite grateful to the school. Jake has learned that "authority" and "responsibility" aren't the same thing, though they should be. He learned that the trust he places in his parents is well founded. (Natalie was with me every step of the way.) He learned how to face peer pressure, and how to stand up for his own rights in the face of a system designed to make him think that "team player" means "willing, subservient, unthinking drone." 

I'm really quite proud of him. 

But... I have to admit, I am deeply surprised by the school's response. I've done the best I can, I feel. My responsibility for this kind of thing ends with my children. I can do no more than ensure that the school is aware of the matter -- and if they feel that this sort of thing reflects their values, and the image they want to project, it's no business of mine, is it?

I can only hope this doesn't go badly astray. I have to admit: I have concerns for these young boys. If any one of them harboured uncertainty about his sexual identity, this is precisely the kind of thing that could cause long-lasting harm. 

I guess I've done what I can. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

That Time Of Year

Well, we had a good run.

We got onto the Vitamin D supplement thing, and this winter, the kids had a great run. Not so much as a cough or a sniffle. All the way into early spring, clear as clear could be.

But with one thing and another, somehow Nat and I fumbled the ball, and we forgot to keep reminding the kids about the Vitamin D. Meanwhile, a particularly nasty brute of an URTI smashed into the schools.

Last week was shitty enough. The Mau-Mau went down on Friday with a fever. Not life-threatening, no, but persistent. It didn't respond particularly to either ibuprofen or paracetamol. And it just sucked the energy out of her. All Friday, she mostly lay in bed. Same on Saturday, after Nat had to leave for Brizneyland. Same again Sunday.

Sweat-soaked sheets. Her room reeked. I changed her bedding twice in two days.

Monday the fevers were intermittent. I had to take the boys to school, so the Mau-Mau came with me and she lay on the couch at the place in Launceston while I tried to work. Same again Tuesday.

The fevers stopped sometime Tuesday night, but by then she was so full of snot and mucous that she couldn't sleep, and when she did, she'd wake up and vomit. A quarter to three in the morning: I got up and changed her bedding and her pyjamas again, because she'd puked up a mess of slime. She was distraught. It took me ages to comfort her and put her back to sleep.

Wednesday nobody went to school. I wasn't taking the Mau-Mau on a forty-minute car ride over a winding mountain range in the driving rain and fog. Fuck it.

Thursday and Friday she improved incrementally. More interested in food. No fevers. Still the oceans of snot, though.

Today is Monday. (I think. I'm pretty tired.) As of yesterday, Genghis has been running an ugly fever that doesn't respond to ibuprofen or paracetamol. At least he's not sweating his sheets soggy. He's got a sore throat and a cough, but no sign yet of puking. I'm glad of that much, anyway.

Meanwhile, Jake has the cough and the sore throat and the headaches, although he doesn't seem to be getting the fever. Yet.

Natalie just told me she's got a sore throat.

At this point, I'm still fine. One has to wonder how long that will last.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -- George Santayana

Some time in the dim dark ages of the 70s, there was an ugly election in Afghanistan, and the government that resulted therefrom wound up "calling in Soviet help". Without looking up details, my recollection -- as a child of about twelve -- has it that essentially, the Soviets manipulated events to provide them with a pretext to invade Afghanistan.

Why? Well, you know. Everybody else has done it at some time or another. So why not? Anyway, the why of the matter isn't germane. What you need to know is that for the next ten years or so, Afghans and their allies who didn't much like being part of the USSR put up some very seriously stiff resistance. The irregular fighters who opposed the Soviets were called "Mujahadeen" (or variations on that spelling) and were lauded as heroes in the Western media. 

Alongside the Mujahadeen were the Taliban, a religious group nobody seemed to know much about. But the Taliban were very effective in kicking Russki Buttski, so the media wrote them up as good guys too, and largely ignored the utter hell that followed in the Taliban's wake.

During this period, the Russians and Americans weren't good buddies. (Stop me if I'm going too fast, okay?) But with both sides having a lot of nuclear sunshine tucked away, ready to bring out if anybody started to fling the poo-poo, neither was willing to directly confront the other. And thus, both the Soviets and the Yanks did a lot of surreptitious supporting of various militia groups around the world.

So: the CIA thought the Mujahadeen were a bunch of Righteous Dudes, and they flung a lot of money, training, and rather expensive and advanced missile hardware at them. They were fighting the Russkis, right? They must be good guys, right?

Imagine everybody's surprise in 2001, a decade or more after the whole USSR-in-Afghanistan thing was just a memory, when a cluster of civilian aircraft were used to wipe out the World Trade Centre in New York. And who was behind that? Oh -- that would be Osama Bin Laden, one of the men who also supplied and trained and supported those self-same Mujahadeen fighters the CIA had been backing. 

When the smoke from the WTC cleared and the Yanks were ready to look around and find someone to invade, what was their first port of call? Why, it was Afghanistan! Apparently, pouring money and training and military hardware into the hands of a bunch of hardcore militia fighters isn't the way to build a modern democratic nation! Who knew, eh? I mean -- who would have thought those Mujahadeen and their Taliban buddies would be so ungrateful that they'd let Osama and his people live and work and train and plan in the wilds of Afghanistan. 

Who'd have imagined that a bit of sneaky (Russian) bear-baiting could turn into the defining political force of the first quarter of the new century? Who would have imagined that cosying up to a bunch of bearded religious fascists could lead to multiple invasions and wars, unthinkable expenditure of money and materiel, the destruction of American civil society, debate and civil rights, and the propagation of terror and oppression across the globe? 

Jeez. That was a mistake, eh? We won't do that again in a hurry, will we?

Except that there's this country. It's called Syria. And the Russians are backing the current government, under a guy called Assad, but there are a lot of people who don't like him, and there's a civil war going on. Mind you, the people fighting Assad aren't just Syrians, no. A lot of them are career jihadists, Muslim fanatic fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. 

So, what does President Obama do? 

Why, he nullifies a US law against supplying arms to terrorist organisations so that the US can provide money, munitions, materiel and training to the Syrian "rebels". Pretty much the way they did to the jihadis back in Afghanistan thirty years ago.

Fuck. Me. Sideways.

Somebody, anybody -- please get me the fuck off this planet before the inevitable shitstorm apocalypse of stupidity kills us all.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cool Tools: Zulupad Is Fucking Brilliant

Every now and again I run across a chunk of software which is just so damned clever and useful that I latch onto it, and keep it for years. I still do a lot of drafting in a thing called Yeah Write, for example. Reason being that it's the only word processor I've ever seen in which the user interface is deliberately designed to look like, and work like, a filing cabinet. Of course, Yeah Write is also small, clever, neat-looking, robust and reliable -- but seriously, have you got any idea just how good it is to have your own virtual filing cabinet to keep all your ideas and shit?

Still, Yeah Write isn't today's gem. As a matter of fact, I came here to talk about a thing called Zulupad.

Zulupad is fucking brilliant.

Essentially, it's a programme that creates self-contained wiki documents. The maker(s) describe it as "a notepad on steroids". It's a beautifully simple concept. You open a new document, and the first thing it does is create an index page. Write whatever the hell you want there. But here's the good bit. Pick anything you've written. Select it with the mouse. Tell Zulupad to "link" it -- and instantly, it becomes a hyperlink, creating a brand new page based on that link.

Suppose you're writing a book. On the index page, you start listing scenes, characters, locations -- anything. One of your characters is called "Karen Proctor". So you select that name, and you make a link. Immediately, Zulupad creates a new "Karen Proctor" page, and you can write anything you want on that page. Not only that, but wherever you go in the document thereafter, any and every time you write "Karen Proctor" the text will instantly become a hyperlink connected to that page.

Get it? Continuity. I don't know about you, but over the course of a novel, I tend to have difficulties recalling little details about minor characters. But if every time I write the character's name it instantly becomes a link to a page telling me every detail I want to know... hey. That works. That works well.

Then there's the planning of larger projects. Young Genghis is doing a science paper. I put the basic Zulupad programme on his computer (the basic version is free. The pro version costs all of $15) and made an index page for him: Abstract, Introduction, Materials & Methods, etc. Each one of those headings I made into a hyperlink, and on each new page created, I wrote a single sentence explaining what was expected of him.

Before I did this, he was hesitant. Afterwards? He's happier than a pig in shit. And of course, he's making links for all his subjects and his ideas and everything else. The whole paper is coming together.

Now, those of you who write anything lengthy will immediately understand why this is an exciting bit of gear. But let me go a bit farther, and point out that with the pro version you can incorporate images and the like, and you can even save the whole damned zulu wiki as an HTML file. Turn it into a web page, or open it in something like Open Office Writer to print it as a full-length document. Sure, it won't have the whole WYSIWYG desktop publishing look -- but it's so easy to organise your ideas and your information! You can add the layout, the bells and whistles, all of that stuff you can add later.

One final note. Back when I was doing a lot of Game Master stuff for various role-playing games, I would have fucking killed for this little bit of software.

Imagine: you're setting up an adventure/module for the players. You've got a few maps, some images, and a shitload of characters and notes. How fucking good does Zulupad look now?

Put your main map up on a Zulu page as an image. Underneath it, write your outline. List the characters. List the salient points on the map. Make a link out of each and every one.

Now when the characters say "We enter the Old Barn. What's inside?" you don't shuffle through your notes. You just fucking click on the "Old Barn" link, and there it is: all your notes describing the building, the interior, and anything, everything to be found. Not only that, but any significant characters or items therein will appear as hyperlinks. Click on them, and you instantly get the information.

Seriously: I would have happily massacred somebody to get my hands on this back in my gaming days. And now?

Well, I know a lot of people who like to lay out the outlines of novels or scripts by using a big sheet of paper or a corkboard, and a bunch of pushpins and file cards.

Fuck. That. Primitive. Shit.

I've got something faster, easier, and more adaptable.

One more point: when I hit the Zulupad website and tried to buy a Pro version, Paypal spat the dummy. I couldn't manage to get a payment through. I'm still not sure why. But by that time, Elder Son was planning his Education/Extension project with Zulupad Free. And Younger Son was working on his science paper using the same -- so I thought I'd send an email to the maker of the programme, and ask him if there was another way I could get hold of Zulupad Pro.

The man behind the software is a chap called Tom Gersic. He got back to me within forty-eight hours, and provided me with an alternative download.

I am extremely grateful, and highly impressed by his willingness to help out a simple punter. Zulupad is fucking brilliant, yeah -- but Tom Gersic seems like a pretty decent kind of person too.

Thus, my fellow writing-type individuals, I urge you to consider Zulupad. It's small, fast, reliable, efficient -- and it's going into my personal arsenal of tools, where I expect it will do me no end of good.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Your Mileage May Vary: My First Response To "True Blood"

Quite some time ago, I picked up a Charlaine Harris book to read on a flight. I did it because everybody was talking about her "Sookie Stackhouse" books, and the tv series True Blood which grew therefrom.

I admit it. I was hoping to enjoy what I read.

I didn't, though. I found Harris' writing pedestrian and predictable, and the main character -- Sookie Stackhouse -- felt like a prizewinning "mary sue". The book was eminently forgettable, and I promptly did my best to forget it. (As an aside: Tansy Rayner-Roberts "Nancy Napoleon" stories are much, much more interesting and entertaining, if you like Para/Rom. You can get 'em from Twelfth Planet Press.)

Of course, that definitely didn't preclude the possibility that True Blood was good TV. And I've got a lot of friends who swear by it. Well, hell -- I mean, the Hamish Macbeth TV series with Robert Carlyle was delightful, while the series of books that inspired it was... actually, pretty awful.

So today, there I was grinding away on the rowing machine. You want boring? Rowing machines are boring. Boring as a... really, really boring thing. A wimble. Yeah. Rowing machines are as boring as a wimble. And once you look up "wimble", you'll see that's rather boring indeed.

To combat the boredom, I usually run a DVD on a little player while I row. Turn it up, set the subtitles, and I'm good to go. Hell, it's the only way I'm going to catch up on the TV everybody else watches anyhow, right? Well, yesterday I finished Inglorious Basterds, and so I thought: fine. Here's the time I start in on True Blood.

First Season. Episode One: in the machine, and away we go.

Well, crap. Maybe it's just 'cos I was rowing, you know? But I don't think so. I think Ep One of TB stinks.

It kicks off with a lot of lowest-common-denominator sex/death imagery. And while I like the possibilities inherent in 'vampire rights' and Deep South redneckery with vampires tossed in... I didn't get much of interest.

Poor bloody Anna Paquin. If they'd pulled her Sookie Stackhouse pony tail any fucking tighter, her face would likely have split right down the centre. And the character's still a goddam Mary Sue. Don't believe me? Try this site here: Avoiding Mary Sue.

There's lots of sites like this, by the way. This was just the first one I happened to grab through Google. But you'll note the first six warning signs are all right there: the unusually attractive woman masquerading as the 'plain jane'. (It's Anna Paquin. Dress her as a waitress, fine. Scrape her hair back until her face explodes. Fine. She's still Anna Paquin, and no amount of heavy-handed hints dropped about her lack of sex life can change that.)

Then there's the Mysterious Powers: she's a telepath, for some reason. Read's everybody's mind. Oh, but not the mind of the Dark and Mysterious Bill the Vampire. Okay, points for naming him 'Bill', but for fuck's sake: yet another broodingly handsome, dark but pale vampire staring intensely at the heroine (and believe me, if the staring got any more intense in this, poor Bill would likely wind up permanently cross-eyed)

Oh, and of course there's the 'everybody loves her' thing. We find out that her boss is wildly (secretly) in love with her, but can't bring himself to announce it. And of course, Mister Intensity the Vampire finds her fascinating. Of course, to be fair she does initially rescue him from some rednecks who want to drain his blood (apparently it works like a drug on humans?) but that really just leads us to the next Mary Sue point -- the bit where she's heroically rescuing the shit out of people all over the place.

No prophecy (yet) of course. And we don't know yet if her past is tragic and angsty. But the bit where she's every so nice and perfect and two-dimensional... that's all over the screen, baby.

So, there it is. End of episode one, and I was pretty damned happy when the redneck blood-draining types caught Mary-Sookie off guard and started kicking the shit out of her. I'm hoping that's a sign of things to come -- but I suspect quite strongly it simply points to a rescue courtesy of Mister Intense Stares early in episode two.

I own all of Season One. Given the "must see" status so many of my friends have pinned to this series, I will watch all that I have. (Why not? I watched the 1992 Captain America the other day while exercising. It was moderately hilarious, though entirely unintentional in its comedic goofiness.)

But: unless the writing improves significantly, I will absolutely not not bother with Season Two. I don't actually care whose tits they throw at the screen. If I want screen-boobs, there's way more than anyone could ever use on the Internet. I want interesting characters who aren't dull stereotypes (redneck drugpuppies; sassy black gay guys... yeah, you know who I'm talking about).

Oh, and for fuck's sake -- somebody should tell poor Anna to stop gurning. Maybe it's the scant material they've given her in this episode (she has to be Instantly Fascinated by Mister Intense Stare -- and that's her motivation for... ummm... most of it. Which, let's face it, is pathetic) but she seems to have adopted the Nicholas Cage approach to acting in finding her inner Sookie.

Oh, and in other news: the Australian electorate was predictably stupid today, and Rupert Murdoch must be a moderately happy old fart.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Spring: On The Dot

No waiting around this year. Spring rolled up and announced itself, loud and proud, on September 1st. We'd had a little warm weather prior, but nothing unusual for this time of year. Nevertheless, yesterday the sun was out, the air turned warm, the skies cleared, and it was beach weather.

Well, for Tasmania, anyhow.

I had a pretty good Father's Day, for all that it was a confused affair starting on Saturday with kids too impatient and eager to wait. The best bit was the evening. We had Scream, Blacula, Scream! and the original 1958 The Blob all cued up, ready to go. I made a huge pot of nasi goreng, and the Baggins girls showed up, as well as one of the Branch lads, and we hung out watching exceptionally dire cinema, and playing games of Bell-Bottomed Bad-Asses on the Mean Streets of Funk.

Apparently, I haven't actually matured a great deal since share-housing days at university. Oh, sure, I've acquired a certain patina of responsibility and all that good shit, but left to myself, what do I do for fun? Neck a couple of beers, watch trashy movies and play ludicrous games with friends.

And it was a great night, thank you very much. Bell-bottomed etc is a card game; part of a series of card games from Z-Man Games in which you try to build a particularly crappy, generic movie while simultaneously preventing everybody else from putting their film together. Bell-bottom etc reflects the '70s exploitation flicks, making it particularly appropriate for an evening involving one of the Blacula movies. However, I suspect my favourite from the series is Kung Fu Samurai on Giant Robot Island, and we also one Scurvy Musketeers of the Spanish Main.

I managed to win the first round. The title we had to work with was "Sweet Lead Death: The Return of Lethal Sex". (You generate movie titles at the start of the game, using the cards. It's not complicated. But it is silly.) My winning film turned out to be about a Fence (the criminal type) who made a big score and fled to a moon-base, where he waited pensively and alone, hallucinating that there were people chasing him. (I think it must have been one of those fucking awful French experimental flicks from the early 70s).

The films didn't work all that well. We made it through The Blob, although the DVD player started acting up, but Scream, Blacula, Scream simply wouldn't play all the way through, no matter what magic I tried. It's possible I may never know exactly what happens between the new Voodoo priestess and Prince Mamuwalde, the accursed Blacula. Nor will I be likely to discover why Blacula was supposed to be screaming so much. To be fair, I'm okay with not knowing. It was more fun watching the film and trying to identify characters and situations that are portrayed in Bell-bottom, etc.

I managed to dodge the almost-inevitable Father's Day Breakfast In Bed. I hauled myself out of the bed at 0830, a full hour and a half after my usual time of arising, but the late night had slowed the boys up considerably. I came down the stairs to discover Genghis in the process of making me some toast. He scolded me for getting up before my B.I.B, but went on to present me with a kind of conceptual Father's Day Breakfast: a single piece of toast with the words "Happy Father's Day" written on it in squeezeable vanilla icing from a tube. I wasn't expected to eat it: just appreciate it.

I love that kid's sense of humour, so I duly appreciated my conceptual breakfast. Then I had a banana and some avocado on toast.

Which looks a little scant, doesn't it? But that's as it should be. I have negotiated a promise with Nat: if I get down to 100kg, I can find myself a really groovy Long Coat.

I do want myself a decent coat. Ergo: banana and some avocado for breakfast. And this post is by way of reminder to myself...

...right. That's about it.  I have work to do.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Drums Of War Are Beating... Again.

This time it's Syria, apparently.

Doubtless it's just a coincidence that some kind of crisis has come along in Syria just when Obama and his government of swine have had their reputation shitstained the world over as a result of the sentencing of Chelsea Manning, and the revelations from Edward Snowden. But coincidence or not, it's plain that Obama isn't above trying to change an uncomfortable political dialogue, and he's doing it in the ugliest possible fashion.

I hope to hell that whichever prawn we've got in The Lodge takes a very long, very hard look at the situation if and when Obama starts in with the bombs and the guns and the 'bringing Democracy' thing. We've still got good Australian soldiers dying in Afghanistan from the last-but-one time we marched in lockstep with a dangerous maniac in the White House. We spent way too much time and money helping Dubya's COW fuck over Iraq, turning the place into a cash cow for Halliburton and a hell-hole for Iraqi citizenry.

Let's think about the Syria thing, shall we? Syria's been on the USAnian shit-list for years. Dubya made it a primo player in his imaginary "Axis of EEEvul", alongside North Korea, and... uhh... shit. Who was the third? Was it Cuba? Couldn't be, could it? Damn. Let me look it up.

Ah. Originally, it was Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. But in May 2002, not long after the original imbecilic speech, the Axis of Eeevul got expanded to include Libya, Syria, and Cuba. (Cuba? Fuck me.)


So apparently, the USAnian government has had a hard-on for Syria for more than ten years. Now Syria's having a civil war. Tearing itself apart. Naturally, the USA has jumped up to support the 'rebels', but unfortunately, it turns out they're just as big a bunch of bastards and killers as the Syrian government itself. And now, all of a sudden -- just as the US becomes a world-wide synonym for 'police state', 'tyranny', and 'illegal surveillance' -- the US is insisting that the Syrian government has gassed a civilian target, and Something Must Be Done.

I note in passing that the information on this heinous crime seems to have reached us by way of the French. The French? Last I heard, the USA had declared 'Freedom Fries' into existence, and rejected the French as 'cheese-eating surrender monkeys'. So, suddenly now French intelligence is reliable, trustworthy, and a good reason to start limbering up the cruise missiles?

My. That's an interesting change of position, isn't it?

And speaking of interesting changes of position, which country was it that supplied Saddam Hussein with detailed satellite information when he was preparing to attack the Irani forces with Sarin gas? Come on. You know perfectly well: say it with me -- it was America.

Now, we all know how the relationship between Saddam and the US wound up. One day, the Americans are supplying him with highly detailed intelligence on the Irani forces so he can use illegal WMD on them. The next, they're supplying him with clusterbombs and mines... oh, but the day after that, they're fucking INVADING Iraq in pursuit of WMD -- or was it oil? I can never keep that straight -- and tearing the heart of the Iraqi society in the process.

And now, Obama and his people expect the world to dance to his tune because the French have told him the Syrians have gassed their own people?

Enough is enough. Whatever America's internal problems are, that's none of our business. But when America starts yet again making noises about war -- that's everybody's goddam problem.

We followed the US in Korea. We followed 'em in Vietnam. We followed them in Iraq I. We followed them in Afghanistan. We followed them in Iraq II.

Please, for fuck's sake -- whichever dickhead happens to have the Prime Minister's office if and when Obama pushes the 'fuck you' button on Syria -- please, please: let the Yanks do this one by themselves.

They're quite good at "bringing democracy" by now. They've had a fuckload of practice at it, and they really, really don't need our help at all.

Let's keep the Australian military clean this time, shall we?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

It's Called "Test" Cricket For A Reason

And England just failed.

They were three-nil up. They've won the Ashes. One game left to play.

Australia got in a good first innings. Good, but not unbeatable.

The English have chosen to play 'dead-rubber' cricket. Block, block, block, play for time, stall, stall. They're not playing to win. They're playing -- quite desperately -- not to lose.

That's quite telling, because after all, what do they have to lose? One game in a dead series?

It seems that the Brits are so afraid of losing a single match to a much-weakened Australian side that they will willingly play for nothing but a draw. And to me, that's very interesting.

I remember the Australian sides under Border, Taylor, Waugh, and Ponting... and I can't remember them playing a dead-rubber game for a draw. In fact, they occasionally made very risky declarations in the hopes of chasing a victory. Over and over: they showed they'd rather lose a dead-rubber game in pursuit of a really big win than play safe, sad cricket that made the game a byword for boredom in the 60s and 70s.

The simple fact is that the Australians weren't afraid that a single loss might make them seem vulnerable. They were prepared to face any side in the world under just about any conditions, and they didn't give a damn if they lost a match once they'd won the series.

Now, when Australia went to England this time I expected the English to thrash hell out of our team. And it's true: the scoreboard is 3-0. But the first English win was a squeaker. And one Australian-tilted game got washed out. And here we are in the final game, and the English don't have the stones to play like a winning side.

It's interesting. The British fans are all crowing about the scoreboard. And here's me: I'm seeing an English team that's so afraid of looking vulnerable that they won't play for a win even when they've got nothing to lose.

The Ashes will be contested again later this year, starting in Brisbane. And there won't be any sad little doctored English pitches, either.

I didn't think it was possible... but the English quite clearly are afraid of losing even a single match to the Australians. And that means the Ashes series down here is likely to be a whole lot of fun to watch.

But not if you're English.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Intimidation, Abuse, And Other Methods Of A Peaceful, Democratic Government

So, Glenn Greenwald's partner has been detained for nine hours at Heathrow for questioning about 'Terrorism'. Nine hours is the maximum permitted time under British 'anti-terror' laws that a suspect can be held (at a border point, such as an airport) without actually being arrested and charged. See this article for more details: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/18/glenn-greenwald-guardian-partner-detained-heathrow

Now, on every level this is wrong, disturbing, and vile. Greenwald is a journalist, and in breaking the Edward Snowden stories, Greenwald is doing exactly what a journalist should. There is no possible justification for grabbing his family, friends or other personal contacts, and subjecting them to a nine-hour interrogation. This is Stalinist bullshit, and I am beyond appalled. Words fail me. I'm enraged.

I'm a writer. I have political opinions. If I publish them, can I expect my family to be targeted? No, I'm nowhere near any 'whistleblowers' -- but what makes you think they're going to stop with Greenwald? If they can get away with this kind of intimidation and abuse, how long before it becomes a standard weapon in the arsenal, for use against any dissenting voices?

There's worse, though.

Notice that they took away David Miranda's electronics. All of them. Phone. Computer. USB sticks. Game devices.

Notice also that David and Glenn are in a gay relationship.

Notice that David comes from Brazil.

Now, finally, let me point out that a very easy Wikipedia check shows that the age of consent in Brazil is 14.

How long will it be, do you think, before the British authorities crack any encipherment and "find" some gay porn on David's electronica? And how much would you like to bet that some of it depicts boys of 14-16 years of age?

What do you think it will do to Greenwald's reputation once they make public what they've "found" in his partner's possession?


You think I'm excessively cynical? Well. I think we'll have an answer to that within two or three weeks. If Glenn Greenwald shuts up and backs away from Ed Snowden, then we'll know that the pressure was applied successfully. But if we keep hearing news from Greenwald that makes the Yanks and the Brits look bad, I'm betting that the "found" contents of David Miranda's electronica will mysteriously be leaked.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ubuntu Linux

So, I finally got around to stripping all the useful files off Natalie's old Toshiba Satellite laptop. No point waiting for her to finish the job. I believe the machine has been sitting around for a year and a half waiting for that to happen.

It's a clunky old farquhar of a machine: heavy and thick. But it does come with a cd/dvd burning drive, and a decent display. It began life as a 'Vista' machine, and I quickly reloaded it with XP - but when Natalie found out she'd have to actually pay for a copy of XP, she made me revert it to Vista. I figured she got what she deserved therefrom, and I expect nobody will be surprised when I say that she replaced it with a Mac. And a MacBook Air. And an iPad. Oh, and she has an iPhone and an iPod too. Doesn't do things by halves. Nope.

(Except when it comes to cleaning the files up on her old computer.)

So, what to do with an old, clunky Toshiba? Hmm.

Well, the Mau-mau wanted a computer. And what the hell; both boys have one, more or less. So -- why not? I decided I'd bite the bullet, and set up the old Tosh Sat with Ubuntu Linux 12.whatever the fuck the latest long-term stable release is.

I expected fuss. I expected fuckage. I expected, in short, Linux.

What did I get?

Well, I downloaded the disc image without any issues. Burned it straight to a cd. Plonked it into the Tosh Sat drive, and kicked it off. There was a brief moment of irritation when I had to reset the boot-device order to make the thing boot off the cd... and that was exactly the last trouble I had.

Ladeez and gents, Ubuntu Linux is so fucking smooth it makes silk look like the dangerous end of a pineapple. The system installed itself neatly and cleanly in one go, without any grief whatsoever. All I had to do was supply a username, a name for the machine, and a password. The rest just... happened.

When it had finished, there was a quiet little note telling me to run the system updates... but that was it.

This version of Ubuntu puts all your programme icons on a 'launcher' down the left-hand side of the screen. You can unlock them and put 'em where you like, or you can just leave 'em on the launcher, and scroll through. Very easy, very intuitive.

It comes with a handy little set of applications. Libre Office handles the usual range of desktop publishing. There's Firefox for the Web. There's a music organiser/player (that talks to an Ubuntu music store) and a few other bits and pieces. There's also a 'software centre' prominently visible on that launch bar. Click it, and you are immediately tossed into the familiar equivalent of an 'app store'. There are lots and lots of bits of free software available right away.

Did I mention how easy it was to go online? Ubuntu happily found all the relevant wifi stuff. A couple of clicks, a password, and hey: I'm in. Frankly, it was a lot harder with Windows.

I picked a typewriting game for the Mau-mau, a downhill racing game, and a platforming game. Loading and installing? Shit. Couldn't be easier. Click the icon of each application you want in the software centre. Authorise the installation. Walk away. Ubuntu handles the rest.

I opened up Firefox, because I wanted to show Jake the now-famous Weidman/Silva knockout. Immediately, I got a little notification telling me that Adobe Flash wasn't installed. I clicked it, and a window opened on Adobe's download centre. I picked a version that said it was right for Linux, and clicked it. That opened the Software Centre again: I had to authorise it to accept software from the Adobe repository. And once I'd done that?

Yep. You guessed it. Ubuntu quietly downloaded and installed Adobe Flash, and when it was done, I went back to the website and watched the clip of Weidman punching out Silva.


Okay, Linux isn't big on running your favourite games. Okay, a lot of brand-name software you're used to may not be configured for Linux. On the other hand, I have never seen such a smooth, easy, intuitive interface. I've had more trouble figuring out Natalie's Mac than I did with installing this version of Ubuntu Linux. And I haven't bothered to try it yet, but I hear that WINE (a more-or-less emulator for Windows) runs just fine under Ubuntu Linux if you really must do Windowy things.

So, the verdict? Well, when I replace my computer, I'll be making Ubuntu my primary working desktop. I'll keep a partition for Windows so I can occasionally play interesting games, possibly -- and to run some of the oddball Windows ware I've gotten used to over the years. But for music, web browsing, writing and editing, Ubuntu rules.

And in the meantime, the Mau-mau just got herself a reliable, robust, easily configured and relatively secure computer for --- well, nothing much, really. Ubuntu Linux is free, and Nat's old machine had long since been written off and depreciated through tax.

So how's this relevant to you? Well -- got kids? Got elderly relatives you'd like to connect with who aren't computer-savvy and don't want to spend a lot of money? D'you know anybody who might benefit from the gift of a still-very-functional computer for learning or working or playing?

Ubuntu Linux is, near as I can tell, a fantastic way of recycling and repurposing old machines. I won't say the Tosh Sat is now a swift, agile beasty -- but it starts up from scratch in about thirty or forty seconds, shuts down even faster, and seems to run fairly complex software with ease.

Hats off to these people. You can still find all the operating system files. You can still open a terminal for command-line access. You've still got all that geeky, Linuxy goodness if you want to go after it. But if you're new, and you just want to be able to work with an inexpensive computer -- Ubuntu Linux is fucking brilliant.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mandolines Suck

I bought one.

A mandoline, that is. With an 'e', you'll notice. Last thing I need is another bloody musical instrument around the house. Besides, I think we've got a mandolin. Maybe two. I know we loaned one out sort of permanently, but I suspect the other one is still lurking.

But I was in a kitchen shop, y'see. Helping Genghis pick out a present for the Mau-mau, whose eighth birthday approaches with freight-train rapidity. (Are freight trains fast? All of 'em I've ever seen are slow, clunkitty bastards, fit only for blockading level crossings at great length when you're trying to get past.) And while I was there, I thought: I keep hearing from people just how convenient these mandoline things are. And here's one on sale. I'll get it.

Stupid bloody idea. It's fiddly, and dangerous. I cut myself in three places tonight making shoestring fries for the kids. I will admit that it was marginally faster than Mister Cleaver, and it did produce more evenly sized fries... but really, the savings in time wasn't much, and the evenness of the fries isn't exactly a factor of interest. (Still. They were skinny. So they cooked fast. That was good.)

But as for anything else... well, sod it. I can't really see the point. Stupid, clunky, clumsy device with unnecessary bladey bits and all kinds of ergonomic handling issues. Pfeh. It will go up on top of the storage area, to be used only on the rare occasions when I feel like making shoestring fries... maybe twice a year.

And in other news, it looks as though we may be heading towards Renovation Hell once more. Natalie has finally noticed that there's not really enough space in our dining room for the piano and all the various computers and the electronic soldering table and the Lego and the puzzles and the bass and the cello and the violin and the trumpet and the dining table and chairs...

... so we may, assuming the costings are reasonable and Council doesn't freak out, wind up adding an actual dining room. That would be truly marvellous, despite the inevitable horrors associated with renovation.

Other than that? Early cherry trees are blossoming in Launceston. Daffodils and jonquils are shooting up all over the place. The hills are showing the first hints of wattle gold. Soon I shall be sneezing like a motherfucker. In other words: don't panic, people who are tired of the cold -- Spring isn't far away.

Time to buy some anti-snotergenic drugs.