Friday, December 11, 2009

091210 Everyone Hates Doing The Dishes

Everyone Hates Doing The Dishes

One of my close and dear relatives recently said that she needed to go on anti-depressants. One of her many legitimate reasons for considering taking mind altering medication under competent medical supervision is that she simply cannot face doing the dishes. This is not a secret, she did post the news on facebook. Everyone hates doing the dishes.

Here are some statistics that may support that statement:
Dishwasher sales in the US alone amount to 1.8 Billion dollars per year. The number of cleaning maids, also known as domestic helpers hired from the Philippines to work in Hong Kong is more than 250,000. The population of Brisbane is about 2 million people. The population of Stanthorpe is about 10,000 people. So, if you happen to live in Stanthorpe, think of everyone you see every day and imagine another 25 people helping them do the dishes. Imagine, at the end of each meal; in this imaginary situation in Stanthorpe, 25 people politely and graciously descend on the table like a flock of well mannered seagulls, clear everything, clean the table; take every plate, knife, fork and spoon to the kitchen where it is thoroughly and vigorously washed in hot soapy water, dried, stacked, folded, sanitised and generally cleaned in the time it takes to unfold your linen napkin, elegantly dab the corners of your mouth, burp and say “My goodness that piece of halibut was good enough for Jehova.”

The BBC had an interesting article about why a particular English family has a maid. The charming and well spoken wife said, among other things, that the family has a maid not so much as to do the housework, but to preserve the sanity. This family would rather pay someone to always be the one to do the dishes and therefore stop the endless bickering about whose turn it is. The cost in dollars and the mental cost of employing a maid is far lower than the mental cost of dealing with the nightly arguments over who is going to wash and who is going to dry. These complementary and diverse tasks set an important social standing within the family. The best way to devalue the position, according to the psychologist running the study, is to make the position part of a different social structure.

Doing the dishes is a futile task. No sooner are the dishes done and the kitchen clean when someone walks in and innocently puts one single solitary dirty glass in the nice clean empty sink, smiling sweetly as they do so. With that innocuous action, the incessant cycle of drudgery starts again. The job was complete for nearly, almost but not quite, 7.62 seconds. Endless, futile, thankless, degrading and lonely; so lonely. Even on chip night, when there should only be that lovely big square of white paper with a few delicious deep-fried crumbs, scraps of soggy batter and a lovely lingering lemon fragrance to be rolled up and dropped unceremoniously into the wheely bin, there is always something in the sink. Always. Always. Always.

Most of the drudgery can be taken away if someone just stays and gives some moral support, but as history has shown time and time again, everyone runs off to do something far more interesting like watching a documentary on the lifecycle of bats.

There was a young bloke in the army who was given permission to live off the base. I cannot believe that a soldier had to actually ask permission to enjoy the very freedoms for which he was willing to risk his life; a soldier, a grown man, trained in the deadly arts of hand-to-hand combat, had to get permission to live in his own house. Anyway, this young bloke soon started showing his youthful inexperience and innate inability to run his own life when he showed signs of ill health and poor diet. His sergeant was asked to go to his private property to see what was going on. To the surprise and bewilderment of all, this young soldier was not doing the dishes. The story goes that he did have a basic common-sense system of standing orders with the duty roster posted on the fridge, but it seems it all went awry when he couldn’t muster the mental energy to do the dishes. After a hard day of marching up and down the square and painting white rocks white and shooting at a moving target, he just couldn’t be stuffed. The whole system collapsed. He became uncivilised. And so that day the legend was born of the Lazy Soldier With Mouldy Pots Who Had To Be Ordered To Live In The Barracks. The pots were taken away by men wearing Nuclear-Biological-Chemical suits and thrown in the dump.

Everyone hates doing the dishes. Even with a dishwasher, there is still the Tetris-like preparation of fitting all the round pots into what is essentially a square box. There is always one pot that takes up an unusual and inefficient amount of space. And this is the part that really gets me fired up – you have to wash the pots before they go in the dishwasher. It is no coincidence that the English language does not have the phrase; I had as much fun as doing the dishes.

It is perfectly normal to hate doing the dishes. It is perfectly normal to feel less than enthusiastic about the prospect of yet again, and knowing that, and this is the bit where the psychologist helps, the whole dreary job will have to be done again in three hours.


Monday, May 18, 2009

0905183230 Tax Time

The Rudd Government announced an important new measure to ensure that workers who earn income overseas do not have an unfair advantage over workers who earn income and pay tax in Australia.

This latest change to the tax system only effects the relatively few Australians that have decided to live overseas, but it does make me think about what will really happen to the planned gain of 675 million dollars.

The United States has a similar system where all citizens must pay taxes for the upkeep of their country while they live elsewhere. It seems only fair given that overseas citizens are still entitled to the same rights. Expatriates have access to consulates and legal representation, they still want their nation to be protected by a fully funded and happy police force. Teachers, doctors, politicians and public servants all need to be maintained in perfect working order just in case an expatriate decides to use that freedom to return to their homeland.

There was a story a few years ago about how the Victorian government tried to raise money by increasing the tax on diesel fuel. They researched the sales figures for diesel fuel sales and figured that they would raise ( I forget the number ) an extra couple of million dollars. What they did not take into account was the fact that the interstate truck drivers stopped buying the more expensive diesel in Victoria. So instead of raising more money, the government actually lost money by changing the way truck drivers managed their fuel. - they bought the cheaper fuel in New South Wales. So the real world effect was that the state of Victoria lost money while its northern neighbor pocketed the money that Victoria so carefully planned on getting in its collective grimy little mits.

The bit that really fired me up was the unfounded allegation that overseas residents have some kind of perceived "advantage". What is the advantage? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses that amount to some kind of "unfair advantage". The Prime Minister has an unfair advantage because he can ask the air force to take him on overseas business trips - has he done anything to balance the "unfair advantage" by offering free air force flights to business travelers? Politicians can have their retirement benefits paid in full when they leave office - other people must wait until they are at least 65 years old before they can "derive any benefit" from their own hard earned personal superannuation funds. Is there legislation to redress this gross indecency?

If my argument is to be transparent and non-discriminatory then it could be said that just as everyone in Australia is free to choose to live overseas and, simply by co-incidence, pay less taxes then I must also have the freedom to choose to become a prime minister and have free business travel.


note: use of capital letters:
a prime minister - a description of the office
the Prime Minister - the title replaces the proper noun of The Honorable Mr. Kevin Rudd MP Prime Minister of Australia.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

0904091230 Facebook is the latest CB radio

0904091230 Facebook is the latest CB radio

Facebook reminds me of the CB radio craze of the 70’s. The Citizens Band Radio, has, or rather had, an opportunity to radically change the way people communicated, instead, the medium degenerated into a laughable game where it was forbidden to speak in an intelligible manner. For reasons that were never explained to my satisfaction, every utterance had to be in some kind of code. The code wasn’t even secret – the list of codes was available to the general public at any electronics store.
Using a CB radio in the 70’s was like an early version of a chat room except people were really talking, actually speaking instead of typing. Random people would wantonly transmit their voices into the ether and hope that someone equally lonely would listen to them. Occasionally, people asked what time it was by asking if anyone had the “10-36” even though it takes a lot longer to say “ten thirty-six” instead of “time”. The simple addition of a clock into a CB radio was never a design consideration – that sort of luxury had to wait until the Betamax video recorder.

People just talked on the thing. There were some truck drivers that asked the exact location of police cars but mostly people chatted about nothing in particular. The word “police” was treated like a swear word. It was forbidden to utter the sylables. Everyone had to say “bear” or taking the image yet another diabolical and cryptic step further, “Smokey”. It was this last sinister change that completely and utterly failed to fool any of the worlds law-enforcement officers. For some reason the truck drivers thought the police would remain ignorant of their little code-making game and the truck drivers honestly thought that no one would ever know what “bear” meant. It was their little secret.
The ultimate downfall of CB radio was the randomness – there was no order, no control and way to call one single person, there was a lot talk but little communication. It was a bizarre social experiment to see if people would change their language just to show other CB users that they could. The whole industry failed the basic test of actually being useful. It really had no use. It was, as history has shown, useless. Who, when their CB eventually stopped working, actually replaced it.

The schoolboy-level conversations that I had about a CB radio were always accompanied by these concepts: The mystery of the standing wave ratio. I heard someone say that they had tuned their radio by shaving one eighth of one inch from the base of their antenna – they were of course, lying.
The total lack of understanding about a phenomenon called “skip”. In another conversation I overheard someone say that a tin roof could amplify a signal – they were sadly mistaken and I believe remain so to this day. A tin roof can, under right conditions, reflect a signal, it can focus a signal, but it cannot amplify a signal.
What was a “sideband” and what made it so special that, with one, you could talk to truck drivers on the other side of the world in America. What was squelch – was that even a real word? Apparently it involves the impossible compromise between either listening to constant static or listening to a signal so weak that reply was impossible. Then there was the useless switch marked ANL for “automatic
noise limiter”. It didn’t – someone incorrectly told me it was the “analyser” even though he had no idea what it analysed and how it even showed the results of whatever it was analysing. I’m sure the electronic engineer that designed the radio had laboured into the night to think of a way to reduce noise, but really, for all intents and purposes, it was just another switch that the marketing people wanted to use to fill in a blank space on the front panel.
And so in this modern age of communication we have long ago replaced the near-useless CB. First with computer chat rooms and lately, and for the time being, facebook. The internet’s equivalent to the CB radio and humankind’s latest thing for people to tell each other what they are doing. Facebook is the medium for self-promotion, for creating your own brand image and advertising yourself and your chosen personality for all the world to see, albeit with a perfunctionary wave to privacy.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

0903171930 Your own Sunscreen Song

The Sunscreen Song is thought provoking, I really like it. I first heard this song at a time when I was slightly ticked off at the universe in general, not God, just the universe, for my utter failure to become an air force pilot. I quite wrongly felt that life the universe and everything owed me a job.

A journalist wrote the Sunscreen Song when she had a deadline to write a few hundred words by the end of the afternoon and, by a strange coincidence, happened to see some teenagers going to their senior prom and wondered, if she was asked, what she advice she could offer. The result was a down-to-earth list of random pearls from her “own meandering experience” that, to me, seemed to put a lot of life’s complexities into some kind of order. It did this by roughly explaining that there actually is no order. The song has a real life honesty that extinguished the mad rush of the 1980’s that seemed to constantly call on people to manically Do It!, Win!, Go! and other overly positive and irritating slogans – the
type of unrealistic, delusional rhetoric that motivated Olympic athlete Gabriela Andersen-Schiess to stagger to the finish line after running a marathon even though she suffered a stroke. It was this wild 1980’s positive advice stuff that motivated me to leave a fairly good job that had reasonable prospects for a future, to go back to school and try to become an air force pilot. My optimism was fuelled by the prevailing aforementioned ridiculous advice that flourished during the eighties, that stated with the air of some authority, that if you really tried and always had a clear direction and always had a chipper smile on your face then by golly goodness you will succeed. Always. I studied all the right subjects, I even passed most of them. Then the Australian air force, in a moment of amazing generosity, granted me an interview, a psychological test and an aptitude test which I promptly failed. In one afternoon my plan for a fun-filled exciting career as a fighter pilot was gone. There was no plan B. All that good advice from the 1980’s never mentioned the fact that a lot of jobs in the military have age limits and 26 years old is too late to become a soldier – even if it is for the second time. This is where the real advice of The Sunscreen Song made sense. It said, inter alia, that your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s. I was never in a position to make a choice about my career, but really who is?

One day in grade three, the teacher asked the students what job we wanted when we grew up. Everyone in that classroom wanted to be
either a doctor, a policeman or an astronaut. So who was going to be an accountant or a teacher? In my class, all the boys wanted to be astronauts. I wondered what would NASA do with fifteen more astronauts – they only needed seven astronauts for the entire mercury project. That night I asked my dad what he used to say he wanted to be when he was a kid, before life started changing things for him. He said that he wanted to be a diesel mechanic. He became a diesel mechanic.

So, there I was standing outside the air force recruiting centre with no future as a jet pilot when I decided to go to university. I was fairly
interested in computers so I thought that it would be a relatively simple task to complete four years of university to study electrical engineering. At the time I had every confidence in myself that I would know what to do. I had done fairly well at high school so I figured that the university lecturers would tell me and every other student exactly what we needed to know and I would, after four years of classes, a few assignments and then a some exams, have a neat little set of initials to put at the end of my name. Not so. QED.

A few years later, after I had either, depending on your belief system, lucked into or been blessed with a good job with the nation’s telephone
company as, of all things, a radio surveyor, I was thinking about the Sunscreen Song from 1997 and so I wrote my own version.

This is what I thought about life in 2002:

My own 'Sunscreen Song' 2002.
Wait and think when given a task, a plan will form in a few minutes.

Speak clearly, speak loud, tell the truth. Don't make anything up even if you're sure it will happen. Report your achievements, not your plans. Your 'to do' list is not an historical record.
Be honest, to God, to your family, your employer, to yourself. You have certain human rights. Do not allow yourself to be exploited unfairly. It is not being humble.
Read the scriptures every day. You will discover a little more each time.
Pray every night on your knees, it will help you stay grateful.
Pray every morning on your knees, it will help you stay confident.
Let your kids live a happy life. They need time with you more than products. Let them speak to you, listen to their stories, get to know their view of the world. You do not have to prove yourself to them, they know all too well that you are only human.
Enjoy it when your kids play. Boys will play rough and get hurt, let them. It's a tiny model of life. Compliment Hugo on all his mighty accomplishments. He is doing great.
Compliment Alex on all his mighty accomplishments. He is doing great. They need extra attention while they grow into men. Build them up on true principles.
Compliment Rachel Ruby on all her mighty accomplishments. She is doing great. Listen to all her great stories. Get to know Rachel Ruby to the extent that you can answer questions about her personal life.
Your kids will remember what you say - think carefully before shooting your stupid mouth off.
It is better to remain silent. You will never have to explain, defend or retract your silence.
You will never be ridiculed, embarrassed or accused because of your silence.

Listen to your inner self, when in doubt, don't speak at all. By your own experience, this should be most of the time.
Act for yourself, do not be acted upon. Drive yourself towards the right. Disregard all of societies foolish, confining conventions & do what is right.
You do not need permission. Act for yourself after serious thought.
Keep your cool. Everything that happens to you or around you is an opportunity to practice thinking clearly under pressure.
Be generous with your time & talents. You will only waste them on something selfish.

Do not assume that anyone is your friend.
Sleep is more important than entertainment.
Time with your kids is more important than sleep.

Beware of pride. Yes you are special, but not that special.

TED talks have an artist who did something similar and made his own list of times when he was happy and related those experiences to his love of design. His list looks like this:


Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997 entitled "ADVICE, LIKE YOUTH, PROBABLY JUST WASTED ON THE YOUNG" by staff writer Mary Schmich.
Some versions have an introduction saying that it is for the class of ’97 others say the class of ’99 – either way, I don’t remember the year that I first heard this.
Photo credits - Hugo took these pictures of me in two different aeroplanes - one in Amberly in Australia and the other in a Jaguar in France.

Friday, February 27, 2009

0902271700 Proof

The other day I was talking with some of the other teachers at the Chinese Catholic Girls School at which I work and one of them kind of, in a friendly, happy, joking sort of way, expressed some doubt that I could have had more than one job in the forty odd years that I have been keeping an even tally on the number of times that I have breathed in and breathed out. It seemed to me that one of the only ways to convince her that I really have had a varied career path would be to simply show her a picture of me doing the various jobs.

It was not that simple. I sent an email to one of my old friends at Telstra and politely asked him, as a special favor, if he could look in a particular file for a picture of me working on the roof of a telephone exchange installing an antenna. I may have mistaken the name of the town because my friend could not find the picture. It was not there. The picture may have been removed because it was damning evidence that I was not wearing a safety harness while working at heights – but I doubt it. It is odd that even though
I worked for Telstra for about 15 years, I don’t have a picture of me actually working. There are no pictures of me working at my desk, no pictures of me carrying test equipment and no pictures of me managing the design and construction of any particular mobile phone tower. None. I do, however, have hundreds of photos of where I worked and of projects in various states of completion, but none of me at the site, on the job, actually working. It’s like I was never there. It is as if Winston Smith, while working at the Ministry of Truth, received a request via his telescreen to make me an un-person.

" Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word." George Orwell, 1984.

The only record of what I actually did while working from 7:30am to 17:00 for five days a week for
fifteen odd years is safely hidden from the prying eyes of the general public in the Brisbane Telstra office basement, in the dark, on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

I did manage to dig up a few photos of me of when I was in the army. Although I constantly carried a camera around with me for years while on an army exercise, I took very few pictures. I was always too busy with some sort of machine gun thingy that they made me carry. It would have given the sergeant a raving conniption if I suddenly stopped the accurately aimed suppressing fire on that unarmed but altogether menacing figure eleven target just to take a quick happy-snap of the event to help explain to my mum exactly what I had been doing for the last three months. There was also the niggling
problem of deciding what would be an economical choice of subject. You see, I usually had only 36 or so pictures stored in a truly ingenious mechanical/chemical invention that consisted of a thin layer of flexible yet mechanically sturdy plastic that was evenly coated with a variety of special light sensitive chemicals. It was called “film” and I am told that film is still available in some parts of the world. Even though each picture only cost a few dollars to process, I only had about 36 pictures and I had to be prudent and wise in my choice of subject so that I had some pictures in case something really interesting happened. My camera had a self timer but I rarely pointed it at myself, there was no need – the proof was the picture – it was always generally assumed by the more reasonable portion of the population that a hardcopy print was evidence that you were actually there. Nowadays, you have to be in the picture. And even that carries some doubt due to the amazing skill some people have with photoshop.

George Orwell. 1984.
Douglas Adams. Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.
This photo was taken somewhere on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland Australia in 1987. That was my Land Rover and I don't remember the name of the guy in the front seat.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

0902162030. Things that cannot be explained before they are experienced.

0902162030. There are many things that cannot be explained before they are experienced firsthand.

There are some customs and manners in other countries cannot be explained until they are experienced. Sometimes it is impossible to understand the directions regarding how to operate a new appliance until you actually know how to use that appliance, only then do the instructions make
sense. The things that we need to know how to do, we learn by doing them.
When we arrived in Hong Kong we were told that we would need a certain appliance called a dehumidifier. This device was, as we were told by many friends and associates, essential to maintain a healthy living environment in the warm humid climate that is typical of any place that is as far north of the equator as Brisbane is south. The weather in Hong Kong lately has been indescribable – I have no other experience for a comparison: I have been hot on a humid day in the summer and I have been cold during on a dry day the winter, but lately it has been cold and humid. It doesn’t make sense. There is a thick fog over the beach while the local Chinese people go swimming. Do I wear shorts or a ski-jacket?

Vespa in the rain.
One of the many interesting things about a Vespa is the well-known historical fact that this gorgeous modern icon of personal transportation was designed by a brilliant aeronautical engineer who did not actually like motorbikes, in particular, he did not like the way that a typical motorbike offered no protection from the elements. In fact, on most motorbikes of the day, it was the rider that kept the machine dry.

The other day while scooting along the picturesque winding mountain roads on the south side of Hong Kong, the heavy grey skies sagged and the perfect combination of temperature and humidity was reached, clouds formed, saturation limits peaked and then, and only then, did it start to rain.
There are two major concerns that every motorcyclist has in this situation, first is adequate traction and the second is keeping dry. My little Vespa is fitted with a fairly new pair of Pirelli hoops so traction was not a real concern, not while commuting at a stately and dignified fifty kilometres per hour. Keeping dry was the next concern. A few seconds after the rain started I instinctively waited
for that familiar but unwelcome cold wet feeling of water seeping through the stylish outer layer of my chucks and chilling my dainty pair of tups. The first dreaded sign of impending cold feet is the noticeable absence of warmth, the comfortable feeling of warmth silently departs like a shy guest at a loud party, then the inkling of cold as the persistent rain tunnels its own torturous path past the shoe laces and through the loose weave fibres of pure cotton socks, and then, like a predator coming face to face with its victim, comes the inevitable cold, wet feet. It is futile to resist, pointless to do anything in response, the only remedy for wet feet is to get home and peel off the wet disgusting messy socks as if they were two dead lifeless soggy fish that died in an attempt to swallow whole, two oversized steamed Dim Sims. I waited, I waited a bit longer – the feeling never came. My feet stayed dry and warm. Apparently that front bit on a Vespa is there for a reason, not just style, not just to hold the headlight at a convenient height, not merely an engineering structure designed to add stability. It actually keeps the rider dry. Not only did my feet stay dry but most of the rest of me did also.

Friday, February 13, 2009

0902131900 Friday the 13th.

Happy New Year and Happy Chinese New Year. I have not checked the figures on this so any corrections would be welcome, but I think that Hong Kong has the most public holidays of anywhere in the world and surrounding districts. Australians are generally seen as fairly happy and relaxed due the amazing amount of holidays we enjoy and even our allies in the war against terror in the United States of America think themselves fairly lucky to have two weeks’ vacation per year – but here in the Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic of China we have just had two weeks off for Christmas, a brief and sobering five days at work, then another two weeks holiday for the Luna New Year. In five grueling weeks, there will be yet another two weeks off for Easter. All these holidays occur in the most lucrative and dynamic capitalist economies in the entire universe. Economists can talk all they like about productivity.

There are two perfectly correct and yet completely contradictory theories on relationships. One theory says that a couple, that is each person in a couple, has to constantly work at the relationship and always put the spouse first and constantly think of what can be done to make their collective lives better, happier, more fulfilling and more nutritious. The other more simple theory is that the couple will always get along if they simply like each other. This can almost be explained with another story:
When I was a soldier in the Australian army, I was taught how to fire a rifle with the accuracy needed to pass the marksmanship test. The test required that I fire five rounds into a five centimetre wide circle that is 100 metres away. To accomplish this
amazing feat a soldier simply holds the rifle in comfortable position and closes both eyes and gets very comfortable. The soldier then checks to see if the rifle is pointing at the target – if not, the soldier then moves his or her whole body so that the rifle naturally points at the target with no physical effort. This is the important phrase – with no physical effort. As much fun as it is to fire a few hundred rounds from a 7.62mm rifle at an innocent paper circle, the sad truth is anything, no matter how enjoyable, becomes work if it requires constant physical effort. The whole idea behind this marksmanship skill is that a rifle must point somewhere – even if, and especially if it is not being aimed on purpose, and that somewhere might as well be smack bang at the centre of the intended target.

So getting back to my theory on relationships, a couple that actually like each other with no effort should be happy for at least the rest of their lives and according to your belief in God, be happy for the remainder of eternity.

Facebook is soaking up my life – it is a time-sponge. I can use Facebook to post a few quick photo’s of my adventures but it doesn’t have the depth and feeling of a blog.

Our Lady’s Primary School.

Today was yet another celebration of the Luna New Year, apparently there is a need to have some kind of festivities for the waning of the moon when everyone returns to work so Sister Maria, the wonderful kind principal at the Chinese Catholic girls school at which I work decided to throw yet another party.
When I arrived at school, some students were wearing Red Cross uniforms and practicing marching. Marching up and down the square is a subject with which I am familiar and so I took some interest in the drill movements and wondered if the wonderful little Red Cross volunteers were doing Chinese or British drill movements. It looked familiar to me and so I guessed that the Hong Kong Red Cross must be doing British marching as a remnant from the old colonial days. They were being instructed on “turns at the halt” – which in layman’s terms means - how to turn left and right when you are not going anywhere.
The drill instructor was good – he toned down his drill instructor’s voice with good reason because shouting at little primary school kids can make them cry. I mentioned to another teacher that I was an Australian soldier during the nineteen eighties and that the drill movements look British. Chinese soldiers march with straight legs like Russians. I did not mention that most of the time while in the army my fellow soldiers talked about how we were training to repel an imminent Chinese invasion. Looking back on it now, it sounds like I was Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 – other soldiers would never mention that Japan had actually bombed Australia – we are at peace with Japan, Australia has always been at peace with Japan…
Later, while talking about how the Facebook farm is soaking up my life, one of the teachers conveyed a feeling of doubt that I could have been an Australian soldier and a telecommunications technician and worked on a farm all in one lifetime. I never even mentioned my short career as an Avon representative.