Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cat Update

For those who have expressed an interest in the health and happiness of my felines. Percy was OK with his stitches until about the 15th: then he started pulling on them, and we had to fit him with one of those plastic cones that attaches to a collar, and stops the wearer reaching his/her flanks. He put up with this with a better grace than I had expected, but he kept hanging up on things - door frames, chairs and such, when the edge of the cone turned out to be a bit wider than he had expected. However, he was pretty manoeuvrable, and even managed to jump the back fence with the cone on his head, in order to fertilise our neighbour's garden - he got back safely, and our neighbours don't mind him, fortunately.

We finally got the stitches out, and the cone off, on December 23rd. Percy is now a much happier cat, and life has gone back to normal. Mungo has also made a good recovery from his vet experience, and my credit cards will recover eventually.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Four-footed Hostages to Fortune

In the 17th century Francis Bacon observed "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief." (Essays, 1625). Well to that add pets. Once you have them, you have assumed a responsibility and all the associated costs.

Last week my cats, Mungo and Percy had their annual trip to the vet for a check up and their vaccinations. Mungo is 12 and Percy is 11, so they count as senior felines, and they need a bit of extra attention. However, Percy has had a benign cyst on his side for a couple of years, and the vet has drained this cyst in the past. Last year the cyst came back really quickly, and got much bigger, so last weekend the vet announced that both cats needed their teeth cleaned (no surprise there, I had had a look at their gums myself, and I thought they needed attention), and that Percy's cyst should be removed, lest it rupture and ulcerate.

So on Wednesday afternoon I hauled Mungo (10.85 kilos of ginger cat plus a 2 kilo carry cage) to the vet. I picked him up on Thursday afternoon, and dropped Percy off at the same time. I got Percy back on Friday afternoon. Both cats recovered well from the anaesthetic (thank goodness that anaesthesia for cats has improved over the years, it used to be quite chancy), apart from Mungo needing time to get his paws back under control while the anaesthetic wore off. Both are eating and drinking, and seem unconcerned, but grateful to be home. I put my back out (probably moving Mungo), and had to see the chiropractor on Saturday to get it straightened out (thank goodness for Chirosports Coogee).

However, the bill was over $AU2,000, which included vaccinations, dental work, anaesthesia, intravenous fluids and shaving Mungo's rather daggy nethers. We have an excellent vet, and $2K is less than I charge for a day's work, but Mungo and Percy came from the pound: they are rescue cats, not pedigree. Still, I adopted them, so my responsibility.

And Percy now has this big shaved square on this side, and looks as though someone has fitted him with a zipper:

So the next drama will be getting the stitches out in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


My husband Steve and I designed and built our house, into which we moved in 1997. We hadn't intended to build it as owner-builders, but when the builder we had retained went bankrupt (owing us quite a lot of money) we had no choice. Fortunately Steve is in civil construction, and his knowledge and contacts got the house built, though it took longer than planned. On the day we moved in there were no skirting boards, few internal doors and an enormous pile of builder's rubble in the corner of the family room. The main bathroom was a shell, without even lining boards on the walls. The floors were bare concrete, which we sealed with paving paint as soon as we could, to control the dust. At that point in time our only goal was to get moved into the house, as soon as we could get a certificate of occupancy: we were paying rent on the place we were living in, the mortgage on the place we were building, and monthly storage charges because many of our personal effects (read: books) were in a rented storage facility. Our finances were strained, to say the very least.

The local council's criteria for occupancy were that we had a working bathroom and a working kitchen. A working kitchen was defined as having a working cooker and a working sink. Getting the ensuite bathroom fitted was not a problem, because I had bought a bath months before (floor stock from a local supplier), and I had got most of the other fittings at "mate's rates" through contacts at work. However, by the time we got to the kitchen, money was running out.

Now it so happened that I was doing some work for a government agency who would probably prefer not to be named, and while working on the premises of this agency it was forbidden to have a mobile phone switched on - and a junior agency person was detailed to follow me about, and ensure that I complied with this rule. Further more, I couldn't plug my laptop into their network. So I spent a lot of time hanging around their operations room, waiting for computers to load patches or whatever, with nothing to do. I looked around for something to read, and found a copy of "The Trading Post" a local rag dedicated to connecting buyers and sellers, which someone had left lying around. In this paper were adverts from a business selling factory second sinks, and a kitchen manufacturer who was going out of business.

So the next weekend I went out and bought a factory second sink (a returned order, I think, there was nothing wrong with it and it was a good brand), and 1.8 metres of floor stock kitchen cupboards, plus a pantry. The cupboards had no bench top attached, and they had been used to demonstrate different finishes: one cupboard door was blue, one was green, and the other was white. The drawer fronts were cream, with a wood trim. The pantry was white, and I acquired a section of grey laminated benchtop from somewhere else. The overall effect was awful, and the carpenter who installed it all did so on the proviso that we never tell anyone that he was responsible.

I never intended to keep the original kitchen for long, but in the end it stayed until late 2006, when I had it torn out and replaced with the kitchen of my dreams. And this year the original ensuite bathroom, which has seen about 12 years of service, finally had to be renovated.

The trigger was an event in March this year. The shower drain in the ensuite blocked, the shower stall overflowed, the drain in the middle of the bathroom floor failed to cope (an inadequately glue joint between two sections of pipe failed), and water began to pour through the ceiling of the room below. The room below is my study: I was just about to leave the house to go to work, when I heard an odd tap-tap-tap noise coming from the study: I thought that one of my machines was doing something strange, and turned the light on to see what was happening. What was happening was that water, following the path of least resistance, was trickling through the light fitting and onto the side desk where I normally keep my MacBook Pro.

I turned the light off, quickly, shoved the desk out of the way - it's on wheels - and fetched a bucket to put under the drip. Fortunately my laptop was safely in it's carry bag, protected from incontinent light fittings.

The end result of that little episode was a statement from the emergency plumbers that the grout around the shower stall was failing and no longer water tight. They fixed the leaking pipe (by making a large hole in the ceiling of my study to get at the problem joint). They also recommended replacing the light fitting.

Now it is October, and for the last couple of weeks there have been tradesmen around the house most days: since they are here, I'm getting a lot of other things fixed at the same time. The old ensuite has been gutted, re-rendered, re-water-proofed, re-tiled and new taps and other fittings installed (I kept the heated towel rail, the shower screen and the bath). We are now waiting for the vanity unit to be made - about 3 weeks - and installed. The painter should be here on Tuesday, to repaint the bathroom. I'm going to get the kitchen and the front hall repainted, too.

It will be great when it is done, but getting up early every morning is getting seriously tedious. Why do all tradesmen want to start at 7AM?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Darkness Falls

So I arrived at the office on a Tuesday morning, put my Mac Book Pro on my desk, opened the lid and hit the space bar and nothing happened. It took a few seconds for me to register the nothing, because it was so totally unexpected; I felt the first twinge of alarm as I forced the machine to reboot, and still got a blank, black screen. A few minutes of emergency troubleshooting procedures, including removing and replacing the battery, and I knew I was in trouble. I was pretty sure that the machine was powering up, but the screen was dead. Plugging in my external monitor didn't help: the external monitor announced that it was not getting a signal, and went back to sleep.

And of course it was a busy morning, I was due in meetings, and I really didn't have time for a technology meltdown. Fortunately I had cleared all email requiring an urgent response earlier that morning, while I having my first cup of coffee. I could access email from my iPhone, but many of the documents that I needed were stuck in the corporate document management system, which is built on Interwoven, and can only be accessed via Outlook or Internet Explorer. So I logged a call with our Internal Support people. and got on with the meetings.

A meeting or so later, Internal Support handed me a loan laptop, a revolting piece of junk (I won't name the brand) running Windows XP at the speed of an arthritic snail. I struggled through a few more hours, my stress levels rising every time some absurd piece of Microsoft nonsense got between me and getting things done. Finally I got a break, and called the Apple support line. A pleasant young woman walked me through the inevitable diagnostic procedures, and confirmed what I already suspected: the dreaded nVidia 8600 bug had finally struck down my machine. I had known it was possible, but the reports were so long ago that I hoped I had been spared.

I wrote down my case number, and walked down to the Apple Store. I had already checked, and the Genius Bar was booked out until Friday, but I was due to go to Melbourne for a few days break on Saturday, I had no intention of going without a Mac. The Genius Bar people wait listed me, and happily I ran into an old friend, so I had someone to chat to while I waited. The wait was only about 20 minutes, and the resident genius confirmed the diagnosis: dead nVidia processor. At least 5 days wait for a repair. Arrrggghhh!!

So I did what any DINK with an Amex card does: I left the Genius Bar, went down the retail level, and bought a new 15.4" Mac Book Pro. Fortunately my friend was there to provide input, since I was a bit stressed, and would have overlooked the Mini DP to VGA adapter that I needed.

I then went back to the office, wrapped up the working day, and headed home to start reconstructing my electronic life. I had been planning to buy a new Mac Book, but I had really hoped to wait until Oracle finalises the purchase of Sun, and pays out my shares. I had intended to take the money (whatever there is of it) and put it towards new Mac, which would have given me a nice sense of closure. What I hadn't planned was having to conduct an emergency rebuild. Fortunately I had done a Time Machine backup on the preceding Sunday night, but I didn't just want to restore from that. I really wanted a clean install of Snow Leopard. So I started by booting of the Snow Leopard DVD, and getting the install running while I did some planning.

The first thing I load, always, is Synium's Cleanapp. Then Camino, EagleFiler, 1Password, Vmware Fusion, Curio, Evernote. I recovered bookmarks, restored my essential data from Time Machine, and by the next day I could work. I still have a fair bit of clean up to do, and I need to take a cold, hard look at some of my old data and convince myself that it really needs to be on my laptop, rather than archived on an external disk where I can get it if I really need it. But that can happen over the next few days, while I am on leave, because I getting renovations done and need to be at home. But apart from the unexpected expense, to really wasn't that bad.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Objects of desire

Unless you live in cave, you are probably at least vaguely aware that speculation is rife that Apple is about to release, or at least announce, some sort of tablet device. Such a device has been rumoured for many years, but this time the rumours appear to have more substance. The wonderful folks at MacLife have gone so far as to do a detailed workup, with quite drool-worth graphics, of what such a device might look like, and what functions it might offer.

Now let me be quite open about this: I don't care if they call it an iTablet, an iPad (seems unlikely, too much like iPod) or an iBiscuit (iLibris, anyone?). I want it. But only if it will do the following:

Allow me to write, squiggle, doodle and otherwise draw upon the screen, and save my scratchings in some convenient format (JPG will do just fine). As someone who constantly jots things down, my life is absolutely littered with note pads of various descriptions: I can see 4 from where I sit, without turning around to check the shelves behind me. My chances of finding the one that contains the notes I need approach zero. Every conference or vendor event seems to give me another block of dead tree slices to write upon, and create notes that I can't find: there must be a better way.

Read newspapers, specifically the Sydney Morning Herald and the Weekend Australian. I do read newspapers online now, but I like to read a newspaper while eating my breakfast. I eat my breakfast in the family room (large room at the south end of the house, with no computers). Eating breakfast in my study is impractical because a). there isn't space on my desk to put down a bowl of muesli; and b). my white cat Percy expects to be able to sit on my lap while I'm in my study, but he knows that he can’t sit on me while I'm sitting at the table in the family room. It's about the only thing that the little idiot has ever managed to learn, and I'd hate to waste it.

Having access to newspapers on a tablet style device would have numerous advantages, for me and for the environment. Right now, when a newspaper arrives in my house, half of it immediately gets tossed into the recycling basket: I do not read the sports section or the real estate section, and I rarely read the enclosed advertising material (Dell, please note: sending me a flyer every day will not make me any more likely to purchase your products).

This is always assuming that my newsagent manages to deliver the paper: my local newsagent is a half wit, and I have the agency on speed dial, because they screw up so often. Any technology that would spare me having to deal with this particular business would be welcomed with open arms.

Then, when I've finished with the paper and my husband has done the suduko, the whole thing gets tossed into the recycling. Kilos of used newprint leave this house every week, much of it unread. We subscribe to the Sydney Morning Herald, so on Sundays the Sun Herald is delivered to us. The SMH is a OK as a newspaper, but the Sun Herald is the type of rag that you wouldn't used to line a hamster cage, for fear of upsetting the hamster. Shoddy journalism, verging on gutter press, it usually goes straight to recycling.

All this could be stopped, which would reduce the burden on the local council's recycling activities, and keep my house tidier.

If the new device would also allow me to read ebooks, and watch the occasional DVD, so much the better. But for me, note taking and newspapers are the big, must have features.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Of books and truffles

My husband Steve and I have a tendency to plan our holidays around food and what might be broadly defined as "cultural pursuits". We've just come back from a trip to Western Australia, which was planned around the Mundaring Truffle Festival (think underground fungus, not chocolate here). The Truffle Gala Dinner at the Loose Box Restaurant was sensational, and definitely something I would attend again, given a chance. The festival itself was a lot of fun, and I'm glad we went early, because a huge number of people turned out for it. And as usual, we ordered wine (which will probably get delivered to my office next week), and as usual we came back with half a suitcase full of books. Neither of us can resist a bookshop.

Next month we are going to Melbourne for a few days, to see the A Day in Pompeii exhibition at the Melbourne Museum and the Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. These two exhibitions are conveniently running in the same city at the same time, and we can combine seeing them with celebrating our twenty third wedding anniversary, which we shall do with dinner at a good restaurant. Steve wants to go to Grossi Florentino, so I've asked Amex to see if they can get us a table; if I didn't have American Express to do the organizing, I don't think we would get holidays.

We have more or less unpacked from the last trip, and the coffee table in the lounge is covered in new books, again. I've got more than 3200 titles loaded into Library Thing - all the new ones we just bought, and I've finished the doing the books in my study. I still have a very long way to go in other rooms, but I've made some interesting discoveries, and some observations. I have some wonderful books, many of which I intended to read long ago; and I've almost stopped reading for pleasure in the last few years: all I seem to read is technical manuals and journals.

So this is going to stop. I'm going to make time to read the books I want to read, and the technical manuals can wait. I joke about buying books to read when I retire, but given the sheer number of volumes in the house, I think I'd better make a start.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered LibraryThing. Now I'm sure most of you have already heard about LibraryThing - it seems to have been written up a quite a few places - but somehow I'd missed out. If you haven't heard of it, LibraryThing is an online service for organising your books. Because I have a lot of books, many rather indifferently organised, this was immediately appealing to me.

I chanced to be Googling about, looking for the name of a bookshop in Brisbane, and Google sent me to a page where a group of Australians were comparing notes on Australian bookshops. They mentioned the name of the one I was looking for (which has slipped my memory, because I haven't had to go to Brisbane since 2005,) so I made a note of it and then decided to check what site I had landed on. Behold, LibraryThing: the page I had been reading was a thread in their Talk area.

So I had a poke about, and registered a free account to try it out. LibraryThing will let you load 200 book records for free, so I extracted a chunk of my nonfiction list, re-organised it to suit LibraryThing's bulk upload system (which is pretty simple), and waited while the file got digested by the loader. It actually created 217 records before it quit, and the quality of the records retrieved was pretty good. LibraryThing searches library and online booksellers all over the world - you can configure which sources you want searched - and retrieves records which you can edit to suit your needs and add to you collection.

However, the stuff in my existing nonfiction records was mostly quite recent (within the last five years). I decided to test a bit more rigorously. So I registered another free account, for testing, and went upstairs to select some books. I settled on Nancy Mitford's "Wigs on the Green", which has been out of print for decades; a four-volume edition of Alexander Pope's "Poetical Works", dated 1853; and a privately printed edition of the Heptameron of Marguerite of Navarre, also 19th century. LibraryThing found them all (OK, we had to dig a bit for the correct edition of the Pope, but we got it).

Impressed, I registered a paid account (unlimited books), and ordered one of their "CueCat" barcode scanners. Then I went back upstairs to the room which is labelled "Bedroom 4" on my house plans, but which is, in fact, full of proper steel library shelving, most of it double stacked with books. I got an armful of old Penguins and Everyman editions from the middle aisle, and started loading books into LibraryThing: most of the old books I own don't have a barcode or an ISBN number, so searching for author, title and edition is going to be the only way to load them. Later I uploaded my entire author/title fiction list.

Some observations: LibraryThing works best if you tag your books, at least roughly, at the time of loading. At least tag for fiction or nonfiction. If you are doing bulk uploads, do not chuck a couple of thousand records on the load queue in one lump. First, you will probably cause the queue to hang. Second, you will have no way to easily check what loaded. Split your load into batches of about 50, and tag them by batch number. Then you can easily call up a batch by tag name, and compare it to the file of data you uploaded. This makes it much easier to identify records that don't get a hit, or records that retrieve bad data. I got a couple of very strange books added to my LibraryThing collection, caused by corrupted ISBN numbers in the load file, and it took me a while to track down which records had caused the error. If you can easily spot which entries in your load file have produced a suboptimal result, corrections become much quicker. LibraryThing has a Power Edit mode that enables you to quickly add, remove and replace tags, so it is easy to get rid of your dummy tags when you are done.

If you are tagging books, and working on a Mac (as I do), Typinator is a great help: you can establish abbreviations for frequently used tags, and save many keystrokes (if you are using Windows, this won't help you).

Of course, now that I am loading old books into the system, I'm finding a lot that need cleaning or repairing, so my dining room table is covered in piles of books that need help. And I'm finding so many forgotten gems on the shelves.

The CueCat scanner arrived on Friday, and it works as advertised. I've tried it on my MacBook Pro and my iMac, and it does what it says it does. You do get a dialog box as the Mac recognises what it thinks is a keyboard, but you can just close that and move on. Give the CueCat about 15 seconds to get its act together when you first plug it on. Actual scanning technique seems to be the only issue, and I imagine that that will improve as I scan more books. What is scanned is, as the instructions say, gibberish:


that's the scanned barcode for Martin Gardner's "Mathematics, magic and mystery". Feed it into LibraryThing, and it returns the book's details, right down to the correct cover art.

You should be able to see a link to my LibraryThing collection on the left hand side of this page: I've loaded 2,798 books so far, and I have a long way to go....

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Joy of Books

Books (well, printed matter in all forms, but let's concentrate on books for a moment) flow into my house in a constant stream. Quite apart from the ones my husband buys (which are mostly about military modeling at the moment, and come from all over the planet), I buy books regularly. And irregularly. I buy books in shopping centres, in dedicated book shops, in air ports. If I land in a new city, the first thing I look for in the hotel room is a yellow pages, so I can see if there are any book shops nearby. And, of course, I watch out for book fairs. The University of New South Wales has a book fair most years, and I always come away with a box of books.

As you might expect, we have a lot of bookshelves (we designed our house to accommodate books, including reinforcing the first floor slab to carry additional vertical load), and they are all over flowing. And still the books come, from Amazon, from the English Good Book Guide, from second hand shops, from Kinokuniya, from Abbeys. Craft books, cookery books, programming, philosophy, almanacs, fiction, history, biography: I have no resistance. My husband claims that, when he married me, he didn't get a dowry, he got a library. I don't actually know how many books are in the house, because I know that some of the older volumes are not on my shelf lists, but I'd guess somewhere around the 4,000 mark. Perhaps more.

When a book enters the house, I try to avoid opening it at once. As far as is possible, all paperbacks and any hardcover with a loose dust jacket gets covered with self adhesive plastic ( I favour a brand called Alkor) before it gets much handling, to preserve its original condition. Once covered, the title is then entered into my shelf lists, which are large Excel spreadsheets for Fiction A-M, Fiction N-Z and Non-fiction; these are exported as CSV files, and uploaded to the CSV Touch application on my iPhone.

But this takes time, and sometimes a lot of books arrive all at once. So unprocessed books gather on the coffee table in the sitting room, to the consternation of my housekeeper, where they may stay for weeks until I can catch up.

I've just been entering a big batch into the shelf list - the catch from a trip to Melbourne, a foray into Borders, the aforementioned UNSW book fair, an order Steves placed on a specialist military bookshop in England and a couple of strays that somehow got into the general community without getting covered. I'm still behind on covering, but at least the shelf list is up to date (after a fashion, I know that most of the non-fiction I bought before about 1990 isn't listed).

I do an abbreviated form of physical cataloguing, sufficient to record author or editor names, title, publisher's name and location, year of publication and ISBN. Modern books are fairly straightforward, one can expect the publisher's details to be either on the verso of the title page, or in a colophon at the end of the book, and most volumes now have one if not two ISBN numbers. But with older books, it can be trickier. For example, one of the volumes I have just processed is a Viking Portable Library edition of Dorothy Parker's short stories and poems. It has no ISBN number - it does have statement that says "This edition is produced in full compliance with all War Production Board conservation orders", which says something about the constraints that World War Two puts on anyone trying to publish a book in 1944. But the publication details are rather scant. The cover is cloth, and there is a little foxing in a few places. The fly leaf has a signature, "Eileen Langdon", and in a different hand, at the bottom of the same page, the words 'from Leo Packer", but the binding is quite firm for a 65 year old book, and I doubt it has ever been read. I wonder who Eileen and Leo were?

Covering the books takes time, and before they can be covered, I need to remove all sticky labels (the adhesive will break down and discolour rapidl), and any grubby marks. Old books may need repairs, torn dust jackets will have to be reassembled and patched carefully. Stray book marks - which may be anything from an old bus ticket to a proper book mark - have to be found and extracted. In one case, long ago, I found myself in possession of a novel with a missing page, and wound up having to borrow the book from the library, type out the missing material, and add it to my book.

But I have the satisfaction of knowing that I can find a book on almost any subject somewhere in this house. If I look for long enough.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Significant Events

Quick as you can, think of some experience or event that changed your life. Some "fork in the road moment" that had a lasting effect on the direction your life took. It's possible (particularly if you are relatively young) that you haven't had such a moment yet, but if you have, did you recognize its significance at the time? And if you haven't had such an experience, how do you think you would recognize one if you did?

I've been thinking about this lately, because over the last few weeks I've been doing the Storage Networking Industry Association's Management and Administration course, and the ITIL version 2 course, and the related exams. I reckon that the two activities have consumed about 10 days in training courses, additional study and the exams themselves (I passed both). However, for all the effort, I don't really expect either one to change my life noticeably.

An event that did change my life happened in about five minutes early in 1981, and at the time I barely noticed it.

In 1981 I was working as a library assistant for the Community and Child Health Services branch of the Public Health Department of Western Australia. One of my duties was to take care of journal circulation, the extremely manual process by which periodical publications were circulated among staff who had asked to see them. This meant dealing with hundreds of people and thousands of individual issues of everything from the British Medical Journal to Nursing Times. There was no Internet, and the only way for the medical staff to stay up to date with current information in their field was to read the printed word. So every day scores of periodicals would cross my desk, and I would try to at least glance at the contents page of the new ones, and if anything looked interesting I might put it aside to read during lunch.

On this particular day, the November 1980 issue of Psychology Today hit my desk, having already made the rounds at head office, and during lunch I skimmed through it. There was an article by an American physician called John Eric Holmes, entitled "Confessions of a Dungeon Master". It was about the fantasy role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, told from the perspective of Dungeon Master of a long running game. It probably took me less than five minutes to read it, and I thought it sounded like fun. I was looking for a new hobby, principally because I wanted to find a way to extend my social circle, most of whom at that time were either other librarians or nursing students (read: very few men). I knew that there was shop in Perth that sold the paraphernalia for D&D, because they also sold military simulation games, which I had tried previously. So, when opportunity permitted, I stopped by the shop and asked the owner if he knew of a group that I could join. He said he did, and gave me the name and phone number of someone who ran a gaming club the the Gooseberry Hill area.

I called the number, and spoke to the club organizer, Stephen Neal. And as Miss Bronte has it in "Jane Eyre", "reader, I married him". Not at once (not until 1986), but my husband and I met because I read an article in a magazine. A chain of events started that otherwise could not have happened. When I was offered work in Canberra, my prospective employer (the National Library) would not pay my relocation costs, but
Steve was just graduating from his degree and starting to look for work, so we decided to drive across Australia together. I started work in Canberra, and Steve went on to Sydney and found a job there. I got a transfer to Sydney in 1985, and we married in 1986, just in time for me to get retrenched and accidently join the IT industry.

And I can think of at least two other people whose lives I significantly affected, by helping them get out of poorly paid public service jobs and into better paid (but much more stressful) private sector jobs. All sort of things could not have happened if I had stayed in Perth, and I couldn't get out of Perth without Steve. If we had not met, I would probably still be a librarian, and he would probably work in heavy construction on some mine site. Our directions changed because of a five minute event that I barely noticed at the time. I did work it out later, and while I was still at the National Library, I located that issue of Psychology Today and photocopied the article. I have it beside me now, faded but readable, with a proper citation scrawled on the first page in my hand, giving volume, issue and page number detail.

The important events are not always the obvious ones.

If anyone happens to know Doctor Holmes, say "Hi" for me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Noise Pollution

I see that some well meaning but misguided boffins at Lotus are talking about building systems to add sound effects to electric cars. The justification for this is supposed to be two fold: to allow the driver to judge by ear how fast they are going, and to alert pedestrians to the approach of the vehicle, so that they don't step out in front of it. Now I will admit that it took me a couple of weeks to adjust to my Prius, and not being able to judge speed by sound (which I hadn't fully realised that I did, until it stopped working). But I'm adaptable, and I learned, fortunately before I got a speeding ticket.

But I see absolutely no reason to add to the noise pollution of this planet to alert pedestrians to the approach of cars. If a pedestrian is about to step into the street, they should assume that there may be a car approaching and check. Most of the people I have to dodge in the city have the ear pieces of some electronic device in their ears, anyway, and probably wouldn't hear it if my car made a noise like a jet taking off. Bicycles can be silent, so are we going to add noise makers to them, as well?

The average human being does not pay nearly enough attention to what is going on around them as it is. If we could just reintroduce some large carnivore to our communities - I'm thinking a sabre toothed tiger or similar - people would become a damn sight more alert to their surrounding, and less inclined to wander about in a daze, expecting others to avoid them. This might lead to a general improvement in manners and general standards of behaviour.

I can dream.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The sky is not falling

I am one of the people for whom the recession (or whatever you choose to call the current financial maelstrom) is something that is happening to other people. I have a secure, well paid job. So does my husband. We have no debt apart from our mortgage, which we are well ahead on, and we are gaining ground as the interest rates fall. I am conscious of how fortunate we are, and I'm being careful resist the urge that seems to have struck a large part of the community to reduce their spending. If your financial position is in any way unsteady, by all means review your discretionary spending and make appropriate cuts. But if you are not in trouble, why panic? I'm deliberately maintaining my normal spending pattern: supporting the same charities and cultural organizations, buying the same magazines, and the same groceries. It wouldn't occur to me to cancel my gardener's contract, or my housekeeper's. Because if I reduce my spending, all the people who rely on my business for part of their cash flow suffer.

I have two principle problems in implementing this approach: stores that decide to "rationalize" their inventory, and stop carrying the products that I want to buy. And the entire fashion and clothing industry, which seems to be stuck in some strange alternate reality.

Several stores have done the inventory rationalization thing to me in the last few weeks, apparently under the delusion that if they stop carrying product A, I will just buy product B from them instead. This is not what happens: if I want product A, I'm going to get product A from someone. All you are achieving is to cause me to shop in other places. Last weekend I conducted my normal grocery shopping at Coles. Coles seems to have stopped carrying several products that I use routinely, so I made a side trip to Woolworths. Woolworths had what I wanted, so I may very well do my whole shop in Woolworths next weekend. Some products I am now sourcing from on-line stores. I will not have my shopping habits dictated by a grocer.

Clothes have been a headache for me for years. I'm fussy about clothes, and I'm not prepared to wear whatever has been declared fashionable just because it's fashionable. I do not read any magazines which feature fashion - in fact the only magazines I read which are principally targeted at a female audience are those dedicated to knitting. And I'm not a standard size (is anyone a standard size?). I have a waist, and I expect to be able to put a belt around it, to support my mobile phone and various sundries. I do not want anything low waisted: this is a look that really only suits girls who have a rather androgynous figure, which a lot of young women have these days. I blame this on BPA leaching from plastic bottles, which I avoid like the plague.

However, the clothing manufacturers seems to think that every woman will be happy to wear whatever tasteless tat they are showing this year. Consequently I normally have to shop in one of the few stores that has worked out that there is a market for clothes for women who can tell the difference between good taste and fashion, or I have to employ a dressmaker or tailor. I happen to be between dressmakers at the moment (my regular lady went off to become a mother), so I am about to start the search for a new one. Using a dressmaker can be a little more time consuming, and doesn't provide the "instant gratification" of shopping in a store, but you do get to choose your own material and buttons, you know your clothes were made by someone paid a decent wage, and as long as your weight is stable and you stick to classic styles, you can wear the same garments for years. And no one ever has the same outfit that you do.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I do not believe it is April. What happened to December, January, February and March? I am certain that time goes faster as you get older, or perhaps I'm just getting busier. Certainly the last few months have been extremely busy for me, hence the lack of regular blogging. I was promoted to Team Leader a little while ago, and am now coming to grips with the extra duties required of a "people manager". And I am now properly engaged in my job, which means that I always have plenty to do, and then some. However, today is a public holiday, and I have some free time.

At the beginning of this week, the local Sun office started its current round of local redundancies. Monday and Tuesday I got a lot of calls, SMSs and emails from former colleagues to tell me either that they had survived, or that they were now ex-Sun employees. Everyone knew that this was coming, and I was deeply grateful last weekend that I no longer worked for Sun, and I didn't have to worry personally. When I quit in July 2005, I calculated that Sun would survive for between 3 and 5 years, based on observed performance, and that I probably had no more than 3 years to broaden my skill set to something beyond just Sun if I wanted to remain employable. Of course that was before the entire world caught the financial flu, and I would no longer bet on Sun to survive until July 2010: if the Sun management team have not figured out to make the company consistently profitable in the last 4 years, they are unlikely to suddenly work it out now. While I still believe that Sun has wonderful products, and some of the most brilliant technical people I have ever worked with, all the technical excellence in the world will not generate a profit if badly managed.

I feel deeply sorry for those who have been laid off (in Sun jargon, RIFed. RIF stands for Reduction in Force). Being made redundant is seldom a nice experience - I do know one or two people who deliberately went after redundancy - but if it is unexpected it is a horrible shock. I was made redundant by the Australian Public Service in 1986, and I can still remember the sense of disbelief and of shame. In 1986 I was still working as a librarian. The government of the day (Labour, left wing) announced an across the board cut in public service staff numbers. I don't think I paid much attention: I had mountains of work to get through, and I was just about to be married.

I returned from a brief honeymoon (all we could afford, since neither of us earned much in those days), and on the first day back in the office, I was told that I was being made redundant. I was horrified: Steve and I were saving stringently to get a deposit on a house, and now I had lost my job. I couldn't believe that my work was so unimportant that it could just be stopped (as it turned out, it couldn't: services had to be cut). Where I came from in those days, you only lost your job if you had done it badly. I was shattered.

I was lucky: I found another job within days, and in fact left my old job much sooner that the Public Service had planned - they had some scheme whereby they could make someone redundant, place them on the unattached list, but still keep employing them for some months while they looked for another position within the Service. This satisfied the politicians, while not immediately disrupting anything. The department that made me redundant expected me to be there for at least another six months; in fact, I was out in a matter of weeks, and starting in a new career in IT. But that is another story.

In the ensuing years I have lived through many, many rounds of cost cutting and redundancies a various places. Perhaps the most terrifying was the place that brought in a new manager just to handle the lay offs. You would come into the office in the morning, and desks would be suddenly empty, as if something had come in the night and expunged the existence of the previous occupant. Nothing was said: people just vanished. Morale, predictably, plummeted. I got out as soon as I found another place: I do not like working under such circumstances.

The first round of lay offs at Sun were targeted at allegedly low performing staff members, though I would question how the rating was done, since some very good people were made redundant, and some complete idiots were retained. Subsequent lay offs seems to have been variable - some targeting senior staff, who were paid more, some targeting particular areas of the business. None really effective, because they caused the company to lose talent and experience, while reducing the proportion of people who generated revenue and increasing the proportion of people who performed non-revenue generating duties. When I joined Sun in 1998, the organizational structure was relatively flat: there were people in the Sydney office who were only one or two "steps" from Scott McNealy. Year on year we got more layers of management, and it got worse after I left.

So if you have been laid off, my sympathies. Remember that it is unlikely that you could have done anything to prevent this happening, because it is not about you, or your performance. It is about someone who probably doesn’t understand what you do trying to save money. If you got a pay out of some sort, use it carefully, because in this climate it may have to last a while. Some companies are still hiring (my employer is, see here), but many are not, and many are conducting stupid lay offs, because they think they should because everyone else is. This will hurt them later, but doesn't help you.

If you have time on your hands, study something new, and consider doing a few hours volunteer work each week, to keep yourself engaged and remind yourself that you are useful. A lot of people have major problems when they lose their jobs simply because the structure of their days disappears. They wind up sitting in front of the television while the days drift by. Don't do that: set up a schedule and stick to it. If you have spent the last 10 years in front of a computer, take the opportunity to get some exercise. If you haven't had your hair restyled in the last decade, get that fixed before you hit the interview circuit - an old hairstyle dates you instantly.

And please spell check your resume.


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