Friday, September 19, 2014

Oh, to be in Scotland

Oh to be in Scotland, now the vote is here.

I used to live there.

Oddly enough, I was first female taken on as a general reporter by The Evening News in Edinburgh. The paper was in its North Bridge offices back in those days, with Fleshmarket Close beside and Jinglin Georgies the place where all the journos hung out. I was a bit of a hippie but the gruff News Editor, Max McAuslane, called me "hen" and took me on without hesitation. I soon learned that he had a special claim to fame as the young journalist who had the international scoop on the discovery of Rudolph Hess's parachute landing in Scotland in 1941.

I worked among some wonderful journos, Jim Gilheany I recall and the jovial Jimmy Scott. As a footloose Australian, I was always fascinated that so many journalists had never left Scotland.

I loved Scotland and the Scots - as well I may, carrying my family name of Scott as a middle name.

In those days working on the Evening News, I could walk to work from our little 10/- a week top floor digs on The Pleasance and its view of the Salisbury Crags out the window made up for the fact that the loo was down on the stair and there was no bathroom.

Winter days in Edinburgh meant one walked to and from work in the dark, cobblestone streets often glistening in the rain and shops glowing yellow light. Summer days were long and softly bright - presenting dusk skies of the most magical orange and amethyst hues.

The Evening News was a good way to get to know a city. Having admired Edinburgh from afar as a really important historical big city, the surprise was to find that it was also a very provincial city. The stories I was assigned on the paper seemed very parochial and lightweight compared to what I had been doing in Australia, let alone on AAP/Reuter in Fleet Street. Once I was sent out to report on a burst water pipe.

Then again, as a newbie in Scotland, I had a bad start. On one of my first days I suffered the great embarrassment of coming back from the law courts with no story. Not yet tuned in to the dense Scots brogue, I simply could not understand what the protagonists were saying. "N'argh branergh, ach ey'n nicht bleet..." My pencil poised over my notepad, a sense of panic descending...

A few weeks later, this would not have happened. I soon spoke the language.

When I did present with a big exclusive I had lucked upon due to my association with the Royal Medical Society, the aforementioned News Editor announced that it was too important for a woman and he brought in his senior male reporter. As much as I argued that, according to the rules as I knew them, the journalist who gets the scoop also writes the scoop, sexism ruled the day and the times. As the first woman, I was decidedly token. My ire ran deep. When my working visa ran out, I did not try to stay. I went travelling again and, on return to Edinburgh, wrote for underground arts magazines, moved to the New Town, married my young doctor, gave birth to my first son and then, heaven forfend, moved to Aberdeen.

Five years of my life belonged to Scotland all told. I loved it deeply. I loved the Scots. Back then, they were talking devolution. It was a deep-rooted yearning I thought a bit impractical.

But their history was long and violent.

They had the tribal memory of Culloden. They saw "the borders" very strongly as just that. They spoke dismissively of Sassenachs. They had a strong sense of their feisty independent Highlander identity.

And, once in their midst, sharing stairs and sometimes poached eggs with them, I could only love them.

As passionate, sweet patriots, their place is secure in my heart - and, let's not forget, in my genes.

I tips me cap to their quest for independence and imagine that, despite the no of now, they will not give up.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thoughts on Writers' Festivals

The interesting thing about writers' festivals is their sudden ubiquity. There are so many festivals, it is amazing the writers have time to write at all.

Once upon a time, writers were for reading. They were not expected to be performing seals. Instead, they did a series of carefully-placed media interviews and the rest of the book tour was in signings.

Gradually, the cult of the author has been growing and authors are marketed along with their books.

Authors have to be vivacious and entertaining. A good Writers' Festival appearance can boost sales. A tepid appearance may leave their books on the table.

Then there are the publishers' marketing people and minders who have to schmooze the festivals.

Who pays for what?

If the festivals pay to bring the writers, then they need the revenue from ticket sales.

One would have to ask the publishers how they make it viable to have travelling reps on the ground at events in these testing times.

We should not quibble, though. One thing is good and clear. Book festivals are big business in themselves. They are a sign of a curious and sentient literary market. Maybe a boom of Boomers.

I'm not complaining.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Face(book) of progress

Who dreams up these nonsensical questionnaires?

What rock band are you? What era should you have been born in? How English are you? What flower are you? What is your spirit bird? What sort of wine are you? What superhero should you be? Are you a proper snob? What flavor of jam are you? To find out, one is presented with some quaint choice questions with pictures and - ta-da! You're very 60s, you have an owl, you're Batman, you're tart quince...

You are a Facebook lemming! We all are. I fall for this brain fluff, too.

This current epidemic of question content is part of the Buzzfeed market grab, social media marketing. It is the current thing.

It arrives in our Facebook faces beside conventional news sources which now, instead of factual breaking news headlines, offer:

Amazing video of what Russians are doing in the Ukraine

11 faults politicians would like to have

Who went faster? The cops or the robbers?

15 ways not to use energy

Tony Abbott upset the palace. What did he do?

500 ways celebrity cult gossip dominates the news

A $5m credit card bill. Why?

10 things that will make you laugh.

Best-ever recipe for boiled egg. Etc etc.

All this is the result of a lot of desperate enterprises to grab a market in new media. All of them are under the impression that the social media target market is pretty damned dumb and can only be lured to information if the information is promised in the form of trivia.

And so we discover our information revolution is upon us as a tidal wave of infotainment tid-bits.

Let's not forget cat videos. They have been beloved since the Internet was a kitten. They're a running joke, very funny and good for the soul. So, the social media information purveyors have grabbed them like a fist full of dollars and re-presented them to the world as their very own viral phenomenon and a magnet to their ad-laden sites.

They stop at nothing.

And they have a marketplace of wide-eyed and willing players who are having too much fun to notice the cynical game afoot which promises to turn our computers into a spamland of endless sales, promotion and greed.

And to think that, just a couple of decades ago, when the Internet was being explored by the scientists, academics and geeks, the excitement flowed from the idea that it could be the great free sharing of knowledge. It was for a while. Until the men in suits found it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

VIT - and proud of it

Very Important Tweeps have trounced the grand old status of the Very Important Person.

Now, suddenly, smart social media marketers have clued up to the fact that the Twitterati are the communicators of the moment. We are not simply as good as our follower figures in spreading the world, but have limitless exponential potential according to the powers of the ReTweet.

It was the marketing person for the Cavalia horse spectacular, which is some offshoot of the Cirque du Soleil mob, who first called me a VIT. She was inviting me, in that capacity, to a free night of the horse experience.

The idea was to bring the VITs together and have them ecstatically Tweeting en masse.

That is a great idea.

As cruel irony would have it, when this invitation arrived, I was suffering the rare indignation of being muted on Twitter. Poor me.

I was overseas in the ricefields of Bali. The invitation leaked slowly down a third world internet connection which optimistically called itself 'wireless".

We VITs have a frustrating time when we're denied instant communications. We're VITs because we're communication addicts. I've been at it since before day one, so I can remember back to the early days of dialup. I never want to go back.

More prestigious by far than being a VIP is being a VIT.

But out there amid farmer women hand-threshing the rice crops in the field, one feels churlish about complaining that your spam is at a trickle, your email is queued and that your Telco has extortionate roaming fees which forces one to keep the phone off. I did the enlightened thing. I let go of the First World.

So I did not even try to RSVP to this wonderful invitation.

But I certainly thought about it.

Way to go, I thought.

Zeitgeist, I thought.

Once, as a newspaper theatre critic, I represented the immense power of mainstream print. Those were the days when people were eager for newspapers to come out with the precious first reviews of new shows. Now those are the olden days. Print media is shrinking. At the same time, the public is wary of paying for online subscriptions. And no one wants to wait for anything.

Social media has stepped up and usurped the old publicity machinations. Instant gratification meets the global parish pump.

And, I'd better Tweet this before it goes out of date.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Don't put your daughter on the stage...

The ire is roused by the sudden discussion on Adelaide's ABC 891 radio about a student actor turning down a semi-nude scene in a student production.

The girl's mother has come onto the radio to report anonymously under the name of Mary. Not once, but twice now.

She is in some degree of indignation that her first year drama student daughter, who also is to be anonymous, had been asked to perform in any way disrobed. Mother Mary said that the daughter was turning down a "plum role" in refusing to show her flesh. It sounded as if she thought the girl should have had the role regardless. She said her daughter feared she would not get "plum" roles because she had said no to nudity. She went on a bit about "plum roles" for her daughter.

That term, in itself, raises my hackles. Clearly the woman means "lead" or "principal" roles. "Plum" makes me think of casting couches and greed. It is not a term which sings "merit". But this is just me and my mindset.

Mother Mary, outspoken and protective as she is, seems not to be of thespian ilk. If she were, this tempest in a teacup likely would not be happening. A thespian mother would have told her daughter that she was quite right to turn down the nude scene if it made her feel uncomfortable. There are plenty of other roles.

I understand from the radio reports that the role the girl rejected was in a play called "Trojan Barbie". It was last year's student production. I wonder why Mother Mary waited until now to bring her indignation forth.

This year, the student play is "Don's Party". I've seen it quite a few times and, while it is about drunks and boors and cheats, it usually features no nude roles, let alone "plum" ones for girls.

Theatre is not about "plum" roles, in my view. It is about all roles. It is about actors embodying other people, sometimes even showing bits of the body. Some of the world's great actors have shown flesh in the name of the play. I remember Diana Rigg completely pristine in the West End production of "Abelard and Heloise", playing against the great Keith Michell. I vaguely recall the lovely Katy Manning, hot from the side of Dr Who, playing a part deshabille in a 70s Edinburgh Fringe show in the round at The Travers. Since the 60s, nude scenes have been unremarkable in the theatre and cinema. Think of "Hair" without its nude scene. My own son wore nothing but a policeman's helmet in a State Theatre production of "What the Butler Saw". Nude is part of the human condition and, in drama, it conveys vulnerability, sensuality and comedy.

Gratuitous nudity is another matter. Compulsory nudity yet another. Neither is at issue here.

That drama students be asked to confront the idea of nudity onstage seems reasonable. They can say "no", as this girl did.

Now the poor thing is notorious for it, albeit anonymously. And her Mother Mary has pushed the issue as one of propriety and of discrimination right through the media. This is where it gets into the headlines, onto the talk shows and up the noses of arts people. It's an issue in the public arena. It's gone national!

All from an anonymous phone call from a conservative mother who thinks first year drama students should not be exposed to such realities of the theatre.

It is my opinion that Mother Mary's views are at odds with the whole ethos of a university. I'd pop them gently in a church hall where they would sit comfortably within a censorious world view. If Mother Mary did not want her little girl exposed to the ever-controversial perspectives of the theatre and the issues it embraces, she should have recommended a convent for her.

In drama studies, that modest girl will be exposed to scandals of every form - from war, violence, murder, and cruelty through to questions of gender and under-age sex. And that's just Shakespeare.

"Oedipus Rex" deals with incest.

Beware the classics, children!

Oh, dear. Wasn't "Trojan Barbie" based on Euripides?

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Great Chili Cook-Off.

Enough with cooking competitions on the television. Sage Adelaide journalist Helen Covernton (below right) whisked Masterchef off the screens and into the domestic dining room to create the last, or first, word in fine, fun dining. The dinner party Cook-Off.

And so it came to pass that two of Adelaide's high-achiever Americans were pitted to showcase their mastery of their native gastronomic classics - Chili.

Chili Con Carne, generally known just as Chili, is an ubiquitious dish in the US. No diner worth its name has a menu without chili either as a main or side dish. Family restaurants, also. And, there are a gazillion of them in the US. Even the beloved hot dog often gets a garnish of chili. The dish has moved up from its Latin roots in Mexico, through southwestern America's Mexican cuisine and into the realm of culinary domestica.

Many are the expatriate Americans who quietly grieve for a fix of classic chili - just as Aussies abroad may yearn for a pie and sauce.

Helen Covernton knows two of them and set up the challenge for them to showcase that iconic dish in a cook-off.

Gale Carnes is an environmental scientist.

Bruce Blackwell is a physicist-cum-space engineer.

Both are chili cooks.

Helen Covernton laid down the rules. As many variations of chili as they wished could be prepared by the two cooks. There would be three judges. Herself. Arts supremo Cate Fowler. Food writer and critic, Samela Harris. The chili would be marked on Presentation, Discernible Ingredients, Chili levels, Flavour.

The competitors would be called upon to explain and background each sample.

The competing chilis were three.

The Cincinnati Chili - Carnes

TexMex Chili - Carnes

Classic Chili - Blackwell

Cincinnati Chili was presented on pasta with grated cheddar cheese. Carnes explained that this was the chili of her childhood, the common Cincinnati take-away, a strong cult version typical to Cincinnati only.

The judges found the pasta perfectly cooked and the cheese a nice complement. The flavours of the chili had them mystified. There seemed to be no tomato in this version. Nor beans. Red or black beans are traditional but this chili was dark and dense ground beef. Its level of chili heat was moderate. The judges found it pleasant. But they tasted the dish repeatedly to discern the other ingredients. There was a mysterious musky flavour. Very agreeable. But was it herb or spice? The more they ate, the more they liked it. Cloves?

They could not categorise it. They decided it must stand in another class of chili.

Classic Chili was presented on white Basmati rice with a dob of sour cream on top and a light sprinkle of fresh onion.

Blackwell introduced the dish as a derivation of the authentic south-of-the-border tradition, rich in soaked and pre-cooked red beans, its chili flavours achieved by layers of different varieties of fresh chilis and capsicum. This dish was beautifully-balanced with the chili flavors emerging both as an instant sensation and then a good, slow after-burn. "Deep chili", as it is known. There was also a light, healthy sense of vegetables with the fresh tomato base and the perfectly-textured beans. It was moist, the sour cream adding a smooth, luxurious further favour and textures. The meat also was light, being pork and veal. And the tiny, fresh crunch of the onion brought forth exclamations of delight. The judges were rhapsodic.

TexMex Chili was presented straight with nachos on the side and a sprinkle of cheese. Carnes explained that this was a more conventional variation, one she had learned while living in New Mexico. It contained kidney beans and tomato.

It was rich and dense with a very good level of chili fire - softer than the classic, but good with aftertaste. It was more a cayenne than habanero flavor. The nachos were crisp and novel accompaniments giving a very Mex culture and a very hands-on character to the dish. The kidney beans were fairly sparse and nicely textured. The judges could not stop eating it.

The judges repaired to the balcony to compare notes while the cooks re-arranged the table for an ensuing chili dinner for all.

The judges then delivered their verdict.

Cincinatti, it was agreed, required a category all of its own. Quizzed on the elusive flavours, Carnes acknowledged that clove was one of them and also a little Allspice. But the big secret ingredient and that which made it so dense and dark and delicious was chocolate.

The two more traditional varieties, the TexMex and Classic had scored 9/10 from all the judges. Both came first. Both cooks were awarded chocolate Bilbies. There might have been a third chocolate Bilbie to acknowledge the stand-alone winning qualities of the Cincinnati Chili - but it seems that it had already gone into the dish.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Choosing choices

Choice.

It is a terrible thing to undermine our ability to choose - whether it be clothes, political views or groceries.

Hence, the big two supermarket chains of Australia are performing a profound disservice to the people with their campaign to swamp their shelves with own-brand.

It not only threatens the viability of smaller producers and manufacturers but also removes choice for the customer.

Already it has become hard to find Australian-produced canola oil. The globals are in ascent and with them, more and more foods and cosmetics prepared in China. In itself, this is scary, given China's history of contamination and corruption. I was very impressed with Woolworths when it led the way in trying to remove trans fats from its stores, starting with its home brand but, its marketing man in Singapore once told me, setting an example to all food manufacturers.

That fine stance looks a bit wobbly a decade later. I see China-produced confections for children clearly labelled as containing partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil. Lovely, tempting, delicious treats for Australian children - loaded with potentially damaging trans fats.

My respect for and loyalty towards Woolies now wavers. It has removed Evian water from its stock - never bothering to so much as answer my letter on the subject.

The water choices diminish - like all the stock choices.

Coles aisles, similarly, are less stimulating to peruse. The big excitement is seeing how many more varieties are turning up under their own label. There are knock-offs of everything. Just look at the growing range of own-brand flavoured tunas - which are the chic snack de jour - sitting there competing with the brands who may have brought such ideas onto the market in the first place but can't market it as cheaply. Long-term prognosis would have the cheaper brand killing off the original more expensive brand - and the choices declining.

America manages to run supermarkets where the choices are utterly daunting in their scale.

The first time I walked into an American supermarket the impression was definitely "super" everything. Even in small town outposts of New Hampshire or North Georgia, the supermarkets are consumer paradises of choice, variety and invention.

And nothing prepares one for Fairway, the supermarket to end all supermarkets. Like Niagra Falls, nothing can prepare one for its towering scale, its brilliant management, its endless variations on all themes, its fantastic hot and cold food prepared on the spot.

I found it in a rather dowdy old semi-industrial backstreet of Stamford, Connecticut.

Stamford, with its slogan "The city that works!", is not a huge city. With about 123,000 in population, it is only 8th largest in New England. It is an important rail hub servicing New York.

Fairway is a regional supermarket chain - there are other stores around New York. It's slogan is "Like No Other Market". How true.

One can design and have gourmet salads made to eat on the spot or take home for dinner. The supermarket has a cafe - in which I had what may have been the best clam chowder in the USA. Move over Legal Seafoods. The store describes its nearly 85,000 wonderful square feet of pure gastronomic joy as "an amusement park of food".

The aisles were so broad with such beautiful, well-stocked and maintained arrays of goods that one went almost into overload. But staff were on hand to assist and advise. Real, live, helpful, employed humans. "Service".

This is not to say that Woolies and Coles don't have fabulous, well-informed and helpful staff. The staff is one of the very best things about them.

But we Australian shoppers are being short-changed by their corporate policies and we need to stand up - or at least, walk away to Foodland and IGA.

They don't have the scale of Fairway but they give small companies a fair exposure to the consumer. They enable access to our gourmet producers, specialist products both local and imported.

They also listen to their customers and will endeavour to stock things which are requested.

We can't do things on the scale of the American model. But we can look at what the American model offers. And it is all about choice.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Twitter, you had parents, you know.

It is almost 20 years now since first I heard the ricochet tinkles of modem connecting to the Internet.

It was love at first flickering light, so to speak. From my desk in suburban Adelaide, I found myself meeting and greeting the world of invisible far-away people on Internet Relay Chat. And thus, instantly hooked, I fell into a crowd - one of the small groups of pioneer netizens, burning the midnight oil, fuelled by Jolt. Making friends, chatting, life-sharing, laughing.

Many of these people remain part of my life today, no longer on IRC but in retained fellowships on Facebook or Yahoo.

In the 90s, few people around me could comprehend what the hell I was doing. I had to explain the IRC and the Internet - which I did with missionary zeal.

Oh the dark and dangerous perils of it all. There were bots and baddies. There were predators. And porn. How swiftly they materialised.

But there were the good and outgoing folk, convivial and lively times. There were people who asserted themselves in ways their normal lives may never have allowed, arriving faceless online under a chosen nick. They assumed Ops, a status as channel operator, would throw their weight around, dominate the evolving communities on their channels. First "virtual communities" they were, drawn together by interests but not location. The borderless world had opened up. Out of Finland, believe it or not. And it was to explode exponentially.

There was Efnet at first and IRCnet - and then DAlnet arrived the Undernet appeared. We explored, regrouped. We hitched in through servers at universities in exotic places.

I navigated my way through the lists and lists of channels to some defined by age. Firstly #30plus, then #40 plus, then #41plus. They changed by breakaway movements. One could open any channel one wanted. With a friend, I created #Ageless and, later, #Greymatter.

Yep. #

Twitter thinks it invented the use of the hashtag.

Wrong.

IRC was your parent, Tweetipies.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Remember when smoking was an ice-breaker?

Something precious was lost when the world stopped smoking.

A tradition of "offering" was stolen from the tentative processes of social overtures.

The proffering of a cigarette packet, one ciggie thoughtfully pulled forth, and the single question "cigarette?" could break the ice in countless contexts. Once upon a time.

It was an excuse to start a conversation, a way to bring an outsider into a circle, a pick-up line, an outreach, a kindness...

It had partner contact lines in "do you have a light?" or "care for a light?" - the swish of a match on red phosphorus, the classy click of a Zippo, the sharing of a living flame. And people came together, initiating further exchanges under an ease of inhaled smoke.

Those were the days.

People could express themselves with their style of smoking - assert an urbane charm or myriad elements of mood and character. A flourish. A toss of the head. An agitated ashing.

Now we are all clean smoke-free, we have forgotten about the old mores.

The anti-smoking fanatics have gone so far as to erase cigarettes from photos and films, even from the period flavor of celebrated theatre pieces. Noel Coward plays lose a lot when the nuance of smoking is cut from the action - since it IS the action. Suddenly, where a character smoked, the character now does nothing. In one production, I noted he was provided with chewing gum in lieu of a cigarette. Hardly Noel Coward, darlings.

And when they do make token efforts to incorporate the culture of the cigarette into period theatre pieces, the tender little actors will light a cigarette, take a lightning-fast suck, not inhaling but blowing fast in a desperate puff and then stubbing the cigarette out furiously. Token smokin'. It is poor form since it does not represent the history or the character. And, for heaven's sake, no true smoker would ever butt out a freshly-lit cigarette.

But there it all is. History sabotaged by reformist zeal.

Meanwhile, what is there to replace the old social icebreaker of the cigarette? One television program introduced an eccentric character offering Nicorettes to people. Nice comment on the lost custom. I wonder how many viewers saw the irony? Too few, since we fast are entering the "before my time" generation made up of those who have only ever seen deadbeats and villains with a smoke in hand. That image has been elevated as part of the anti-smoking propaganda.

Not that I am espousing smoking. I am among the sturdy formers who can't stand the smell or taste.

I am simply reflecting on a social crutch of yore. It was an invidious habit, but it burned the flame of friendship and conviviality and was a shared ritual which has found no peer.

May I offer you a toothpick?

Monday, September 03, 2012

Being aware of consciousness

Anyone working with animals could have told them aeons ago. And did. But today, finally, the massed wisdom of science has acknowledged that animals have consciousness, just like man. Cross-species there always was a communication issue. But, people who have looked into the eye of the whale say that their lives somehow are changed. Indeed, anyone who has looked into the eye of a crocodile has felt a shift in the status quo. They have felt contact. I certainly did. To my amazement, meeting eyes with an old croc in the Northern Territory was a beautiful experience. It was a focused connection, a real hello. I was not expecting it. But I have changed my tune with those ancient reptiles.
Our relationship with cats and dogs, sheep and goats is based on mutual awareness and co-operation. It has been had to accept that the animals we kill for food have that astute conscious understanding of their fates. The smell of fear in the abattoirs. We shut off our knowledge to cope with the guilt - and the hunger. I am among those who has had a pet sheep, which followed one everywhere and recognised one years later when said sheep was retired to the country. There was no doubt about his consciousness. Then the two goats I milked each day in my farming years - smart, interesting, delightful and strongly bonding animals. Now the scientists have allowed us to go a step further and accept that octopus and squid are animals also with the mystery of consciousness. Perhaps even sense of self.
The dark mystery of the cleverness of cephalopods is their short-life span. But just look at the name. Cephalo means head foot. They are mobile brains. I have looked these creatures in the eye - and felt a connection. I also have eaten them. The emotions grow complex and the denial rises to protect one from the self-interest of comfort and survival - not to mention the decadent luxury and artistry of cuisine. I've witnessed hens dealing with threat. They are deemed pretty stupid animals against the Einstens of the parrot world. But they are intelligent and, damn it, clearly conscious. They establish relationships of love. Interspecies love. The scientists have put it down formally. Thank heavens. Here's the official edict.

Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in articular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.

What difference these "findings" will make to the top dog arrogance of humans remains to be seen.

Perhaps science will evolve a way species can speak to each other. Perhaps they will move on to other things - for just imagine if the slaughterhouse sheep could speak forth.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Unmigrated Legacy Blogger - huh?

Google, what are you doing to me? To others? It was you, wasn't it? Sent the email warning that "legacy" blogs were endangered and required to be moved.

You are receiving this message because your email address is associated with an unmigrated legacy Blogger account. As we announced in April of last year, legacy accounts will no longer be accessible after May 30th, 2012 unless they are updated to the Google Account system. Any blog content associated with this account will also be unmodifiable after that date.

To transfer your blog to the Google Account system you need to visit the Legacy Migration page at http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/NQQ3dQolv1dns1 right now to make sure that your account and associated blogs are claimed. If you’ve forgotten the Blogger password that is associated with this email address, you can use our Account Recovery page at http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/PPo3H8hLB9iHIK to request password information to be sent via email.

For more information, please see our initial announcement we posted to our blog at http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/STvPY7lCij04Of . If you have questions, please visit our Help Forum at http://www.google.com/appserve/mkt/jW60wlPTgtyRtX and create a message with [Legacy Account] in the subject line.

Regards,

The Blogger Team Google 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View, CA 94043 ---- This e-mail is being sent to notify you of important changes to your Blogger account.

So, I obeyed. My old Blogger password was not accepted. I had to make a new one. Have I have conned? Hacked? What is this all about? It is now harder to get to Blogger. The pages seem to want me to get Chrome. I already have it/

Really - things don't get easier. One wastes an immense amount of time, STILL, fiddling with technicalities and mysterious tech requests. Or, please, someone tell me, have I just be done like a dog's dinner?

Oh, and since when did Blogger stop formatting? Why is everything running together these days? Do I have to do a refresher course in HTML?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

I only turned my back for a minute

There comes a time when the new blood of the Internet has made it all a bit hard to keep up with. Those of us who leapt into cyberspace the moment the window opened got used to things the way they were. In many aspects, they were very good. Sometimes they were a bit hard to learn. I recall without affection the list of DOS commands one had to enter simply to get connected - and the general hiccups of getting online at all with the old dialup connections from "backyard ISPs" through 14k modems. But, ahh, the sweet music of those electronic trills and buzzes as connection was made and there was the world right there at your fingertips - wonderful, living people on IRC. That was the early 1990s. It is incredible to think that we now have a generation which has not known the world without the Internet. Back in the 90s, people thought you were mad to spend so much time on it, to be so enthusiastic about it... They wondered what it was. Now they have taken ownership of the technology - along with the new breed who are making their living and often their fortune from it. But they can't leave anything alone. If it ain't broke, they bloody well will fix it. And thus is Facebook so appalling with its obfuscating Timeline. And what on earth have they done to StumbleUpon. What a mess of a wonderful application - the most civilised open online community ever. Now we are transitioned and transported on Google. I have been busy on other things - and I turn around and find the blogging world about which I have written so much over the years has had some sort of a facelift. I should merge other applications with it. Um...now which password do I use for this? The original blogger password was outdated some time ago. It is all Google now? Let's not get on to the subject of passwords. The new generation, who I have nurtured and adored and in whom I have oft expressed my trust and hope, has been being too smart and too short-sighted and, methinks, not listening and certainly not reading. Just making changes because they can - and they wish to make a mark. They wish to impress whoever is paying their wage. We all do that, I guess. But it's not improving things. If only there was some sort of artistic director, a Steve Jobs to arbitrate quality control and logical elegance of style. If only.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Striking the union

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has won. He played hardball with the unions and a flaccid Labor government was not there for the workers. The $5 million-a-year Irishman can now move forward and "modernise" the country's one-time flagship airline with cheap crew and service from Asia.

This is profoundly sad and negative for Australia - and the sort of compromised dividend one may expect of privatisation and outsourcing.

But I fear an even sadder prognosis long-term for the breaking of the unions which have been effectively vilified by the endlessly indignant dominance of the corporate powers. They bellow at how hard done-by they are when a union stands up for workers' rights or pay entitlements. Just as they up the bizarrely huge salaries of their executives. What is the CEO of crumbling Coles getting now? $15 million a year? With a staff dominated by students on casual hours?

The worker is being systematically devalued.
The idea is that the worker also must be de-powered.

Solidarity has been all the workers have had. The company of peers and the organisation of the working force of the union has been their stability, ensuring that they are able to have planned lives. Workers actually pay for this. Union dues are not cheap. But the union goes in to bat. The union defends workers against exploitation, standing up for their rights, achieving for them things like sick leave entitlements, holidays and wages which have some accord with cost of living increases. They have done this through strength of numbers and, sometimes, some very harrowing conflict. But they have never tried to destroy business - obviously, since they also wish to protect the source of their employment. Doh.

But companies always cry foul and other countries with bigger, stronger, ruthless corporate interests have broken the backs of unions. The word "union" is almost a dirty word in America. And it is becoming so here in Australia. Unions have been merging and fighting for their own existence.

Young, new workers, have not heard of unions and hence have no idea that their fair work conditions were negotiated for them by unions.

The contracts they sign these days have to reflect these rights, long ago fought for by the unions. But contracts remove that old thing, security of employment. Less and less does one see "permanent full-time employment". It is an option companies would rather not offer.

Gradually they have moved on to fairly inviting contracts which may pay more but will call upon certain added commitments to the company - unpaid overtime, perhaps. They present and couch the contracts in such a way that the new employee will feel special.
But that is a well-wrought illusion. The contracts don't have to be renewed, if the company so wishes. This keeps workers on their toes.

Without proper contracts, they can end up as casuals.
And casual work is the direction in which the workplace is headed. It is the dream workplace for the Alan Joyces of this world.
It is the perfect arrangement for big business. It is cheaper to have three casuals than one full-time permanent staffer.
A casual workforce is the corporate ideal. Cheap, cheap, cheap.
They may be paid more by the hour, but they don't know what hours they will get.

And, of course, looking at things like aircraft maintenance, outsourced casual workforce with low pay expectations, are much better for the bottom line.

Casuals only work when they are invited to work.
They may work one day a week or five, depending on demand. Maybe none.

They have no entitlements.
If casuals are sick, they are not working and hence not paid.
The company calls up another casual.
If a casual wants a holiday, a casual may take a holiday. Their time is their own. The company is not committed to them, so there is no holiday pay. Just another casual to fill the gap.

The phenomenon of the casual worker has been growing prodigiously - but quietly. Twentysix per cent of the workforce and rising.
Who is going to speak out for them? There is no organisation for them of which I know.

So, if you don't have a regular or predicable income, how do you get a loan, take out a mortgage, buy a home?

You don't.
Forget health insurance.

But looking ahead, as outsourcing takes over to ensure the company profits required for shareholder affluence and millionaire CEOs, we see a new generation of workers in this insecure condition. A new, growing underclass.

And, unless there is a big change in the way the financial world functions, these young people will not be buying their own homes. Indeed, they may have to have incomes subsidised by pensions to lift them off the poverty line. How would that work? They'd be better off on the dole.

The future looks messy.

I look at the babies of this new baby boom and wonder about what they will face as the workforce of tomorrow.

Renting properties rather than buying, being unable to forward plan their own lives for fear of losing casual shifts...

A culture of increasing socio-economic disparity is emerging - along with it a population growth of amotivated and unfulfilled people.

It is a bit scary.
But maybe, just maybe, some of tomorrow's workers will stand up for each other - and maybe even invent something called a union.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Facebook and the face of history

So Zuckerberg, Facebook supremo, proposes that his 750 million users use their Facebook pages as lifetime scrapbooks - posting childhood pictures and records of rites of passage and family moments. If I understand this rightly, as detailed in Mashable's
report on Facebook Evolution, Facebook says it will place these things into timelines so our lives are recorded and displayed chronologically. And, of course, stored in perpetuity.

I have some problems with this - mainly choice. I would like to be able to arrange things my way. I am not keen on Auntie FB taking over for me. I feel I have lost choices in the new face of FB and realise that I am going to have to invest time I really don't have in reorganising my world and who is who and who sees what and how much I want to see.

However, ever since email and the Internet became a primary form of communication, there has been a concern about the history record. The loss of letters was a blow to libraries and historians as people turned to email. The very nature of communications was truncated by the easy ping of email and, of course, people quickly lost their records of emails sent and received as their old PCs crashed or they moved from one generation of computer to the next, often leaving old content behind or being unable to transfer it.

How much can one store and how can one navigate through it, especially in these frenetic years of multitasking information overload.

And do not scoff at these cliches. They are the way it is.

So where does it leave historians and academics researching exchanges with people - the sorts of content which was once made of paper and stored in boxes at libraries? Don't tell me everyone prints out copies of their emails and files them for posterity! They don't and can't.

All that data is cached in electronic caves which may or may not be buried under the landslides of subsequent data. I think the archiving abilities of computers has improved significantly in the last decade and the forensics of seeking destroyed data with it. So it is possible there is just the mid-nineties to mid-naughties which may be the black hole of record. But, I do believe there is a gap in the history of correspondence.

And that the status quo of correspondence as a form of record is changed.
We shall see if books such as that which I now am reading, the letters of artist Nora Heysen with her famous artist father Sir Hans Heysen, will be replaced by "the emails of..." Perchance there are some prescient emailers out there. But on the whole, and definitely in work environments where email volume outstrips storage capacity every day, emails are biting the virtual dust by the billion.

We don't do all our correspondence on FB, but we do quite a bit. And there is a bit of spam and unwanted promotion there, too.

We have to realise that nothing is private if we have published it online. Nothing. FB messages are ostensibly private insofar as other FB contacts are not seeing them but they are still in the massive FB data pool. So they are on the record. They are stored for history. Historians may well find themselves supplicant to FB for access to its massive store of human interest.

Just as one's employer has access to a record not just of what you have said and produced and seen on their computer systems but even of how many keystrokes you have made. We just have to understand and live with it.
It is the way it is.
Privacy is not ours if we are using someone else's technology.
We can't expect otherwise. We can only be prudent about what we share.
And we can be positive about history and the public record.

It is vastly different from those wonderful old letters which crossed the world on ships with exotic stamps. It is vastly different to those long and detailed reports in the newspapers of yore. But, add to it blogs and Twitter and the ensuing modes of communication and connectivity, and it is all a wonderful resource.
To which we may add these scrapbooks as suggested by FB.

How many people do I hear moaning and groaning about digital photos and what they can or can't do with them and will they be lost because they have not stored them outside their computers.

Posting on FB and Flickr and other sites is a way of storing for posterity. And let's not get too fretful about it all. We take too many photos now we can take them so easily. If we are wise, we post the best of them just as we used to print the best of the photos we took with film cameras. The rest were culled out and discarded.

All the photos everyone ever took are not around. Thank heavens.
We would be shuffling about knee deep in them.

So things are not as bad as we think.