Pamela wins an Aurealis

February 13th, 2010
 
Victor's Challenge

Victor’s Challenge
Walker Books 2009

The Australia Day weekend is the time for the annual Aurealis Awards for Australian science fiction/fantasy/horror writing.

Pamela was shortlisted in the best children’s (8-12 years)
short fiction/illustrated work/picture book
for Victor’s Challenge, continuing the story of the nice but stupid prince, Victor whom we first met in Victor’s Quest.

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, she won and from a very strong field.

The rather ghostly photo shows her acceptance speech.

Congratulations to the judges for recognising Pamela’s wonderful writing. And congratulations to the author for a really great children’s book.

Are we having fun yet?

December 13th, 2009

It is about four in the afternoon and the works Christmas party is well under way. Our offices belong to a “campus” with six office buildings around a central open area. We have lawns, trees, a couple of ponds and a little waterfall.

Currently it has been decorated in a sort of seaside theme (although we are nowhere near the sea) with lots of beach umbrellas, beach balls and a couple of fake bathing huts. Coloured banners are flapping on the flagpoles. Various food facilities and bars have been set up under canvas and there is a portable stage with band.

I should have brought my camera, or at least got a phone with a decent camera and memory card on it. So we’ll have to make do with word pictures instead. It certainly is an uplifting sight.

There is bunting and some of the beachballs are hanging like lanterns from the trees. It is a warm day but a breeze is blowing so it’s not too uncomfortable. Oh yes, and there is one little ride thingie which has a mechanical surfboard in it. You balance on it and it moves up and down, faster and slower. Doesn’t look much fun to me but then I’m not a surfer.

Crowds are milling. Admittedly at the moment they are mostly queuing for food and/or drink but undoubtedly they will mill more effectively in an hour or so. I believe the party is scheduled to go on into the evening. Special buses and wheelbarrows are being provided for the incapacitated.

So I have to ask myself, why am I sitting in the first floor lounge of Building F, overlooking everything through large sheets of tinted glass rather than being out there having a good time?

The question contains the answer. I do not regard it as being a good time. It is sad, perhaps, but I never have. While I love socialising with friends at dinner parties, gaming sessions or just chilling out I dislike crowds of people, particularly people I am quite happy to interact with at work but about whom I desire no further knowledge. I could claim to be recovering from a virus (which is true) so I might be more willing to play along if I wasn’t feeling so stuffed but I suspect not. Call me a curmudgeon. No, go on. Feel free.

I know I’m not the only one. Various people are still at their desks, working or pretending to do so. However most of these are people with whom I do not wish to be identified. Surely I’m not as weird and asocial as they are?

So I have compromised. I have left my desk and am almost part of the crowd, albeit behind a window about four metres above it. My chair is comfortable, there is just enough party noise to make me feel I am vaguely part of things and it is quite cool. Every so often someone that I am keen to avoid walks past outside, re-inforcing how sensible my choice has been.

If this joy of avoiding parties (there must be a word for it in some language) was a recent development I might be worried and take a trip to the doctor. Alas, it is a chronic condition which has been with me as long as I can remember.

The worrying thing is, I like being safely behind tinted glass. It feels like being at the zoo although I’m not sure whether I’m outside the cage or inside.

In a little while, people will start getting drunk and unpleasant and I will take the opportunity to go home. Pathetic really.

A man, a plan

September 25th, 2009

This is not original but I had to share it with you. Most of you will probably know the Panama palindrome:

A man, a plan, a canal – Panama!

If you somehow don’t know what a palindrome is, the letters read the same forwards or backwords (O No!).

In 1984, a programmer named Dan Hoey wrote a neat algorithm which took a word list and generated a very long version. It includes not only a man, a plan and a canal but also a cat, a leek, a baronet and much, much more.

For your delectation:


A man, a plan, a caret, a ban, a myriad, a sum, a lac, a liar, a hoop, a pint, a catalpa, a gas, an oil, a bird, a yell, a vat, a caw, a pax, a wag, a tax, a nay, a ram, a cap, a yam, a gay, a tsar, a wall, a car, a luger, a ward, a bin, a woman, a vassal, a wolf, a tuna, a nit, a pall, a fret, a watt, a bay, a daub, a tan, a cab, a datum, a gall, a hat, a fag, a zap, a say, a jaw, a lay, a wet, a gallop, a tug, a trot, a trap, a tram, a torr, a caper, a top, a tonk, a toll, a ball, a fair, a sax, a minim, a tenor, a bass, a passer, a capital, a rut, an amen, a ted, a cabal, a tang, a sun, an ass, a maw, a sag, a jam, a dam, a sub, a salt, an axon, a sail, an ad, a wadi, a radian, a room, a rood, a rip, a tad, a pariah, a revel, a reel, a reed, a pool, a plug, a pin, a peek, a parabola, a dog, a pat, a cud, a nu, a fan, a pal, a rum, a nod, an eta, a lag, an eel, a batik, a mug, a mot, a nap, a maxim, a mood, a leek, a grub, a gob, a gel, a drab, a citadel, a total, a cedar, a tap, a gag, a rat, a manor, a bar, a gal, a cola, a pap, a yaw, a tab, a raj, a gab, a nag, a pagan, a bag, a jar, a bat, a way, a papa, a local, a gar, a baron, a mat, a rag, a gap, a tar, a decal, a tot, a led, a tic, a bard, a leg, a bog, a burg, a keel, a doom, a mix, a map, an atom, a gum, a kit, a baleen, a gala, a ten, a don, a mural, a pan, a faun, a ducat, a pagoda, a lob, a rap, a keep, a nip, a gulp, a loop, a deer, a leer, a lever, a hair, a pad, a tapir, a door, a moor, an aid, a raid, a wad, an alias, an ox, an atlas, a bus, a madam, a jag, a saw, a mass, an anus, a gnat, a lab, a cadet, an em, a natural, a tip, a caress, a pass, a baronet, a minimax, a sari, a fall, a ballot, a knot, a pot, a rep, a carrot, a mart, a part, a tort, a gut, a poll, a gateway, a law, a jay, a sap, a zag, a fat, a hall, a gamut, a dab, a can, a tabu, a day, a batt, a waterfall, a patina, a nut, a flow, a lass, a van, a mow, a nib, a draw, a regular, a call, a war, a stay, a gam, a yap, a cam, a ray, an ax, a tag, a wax, a paw, a cat, a valley, a drib, a lion, a saga, a plat, a catnip, a pooh, a rail, a calamus, a dairyman, a bater, a canal – Panama!


(In case you are wondering, I checked it with the following bit of perl code and it is correct)

my $str = 'the string to verify';

$str =~ s/\W//g;    # remove any non-word characters
$str = lc $str;     # lower case everything

print (($str eq (reverse $str)) 
    ? "Is a palindrome\n"
    : "Is not a palindrome\n");

Blue Sun, Red Dawn

September 24th, 2009

The emerald city turned red yesterday. We woke to an orange-red light in the sky and wondered if the world had ended. I checked on the net and google was still up so I relaxed a bit.

It was always possible that we had been transported to Mars in our sleep but no such luck. Pity. I’d always wanted to see the canals.

No, what we had was a gigantic dust storm which was sweeping the east coast of Oz. No doubt the good people in the outback would have noted laconically “bit dusty today” but in Sydney it was a major event. Tens of thousands took the day off work; ventolin sales went through the roof; and the car wash people rubbed their hands with buckets of glee as a pall of red dust settled over everything.

I heroically trekked off to work but Pamela very sensibly stayed indoors. Everything was kind of fuzzy like a heavy red mist.

The really cool bit was the sun. Every so often it managed to shine through a thinner part of the dust cloud and it was a perfect, electric blue circle. You could even see discolourations of sunspots. It was like being on a planet circling a Class A star. Or at least, so I assume. Perhaps not quite as bright.

I took a few photos but I have no idea if they came out ok. I’ll post a couple if they were any good.

Update: and here are the photos.

Kindling

August 20th, 2009

In principle, I have nothing against e-books. Much as I like the paper version I can accept that things must change. However, there are certain features I insist on and these are not all available yet:

  1. It shall not cost more than $200
  2. It must have a capacity of at least 1,000 books
  3. It must have a battery life of at least 24 hours
  4. Contrast and glare must be at least equivalent to black print on white paper
  5. It must be readable in all circumstances that paper is readable (e.g. in bright sunlight)
  6. It must also be readable at night
  7. It supports all major document formats (including Word, Open Office, PDF, ASCII)
  8. I can freely upload any document which is out of copyright in the country where I am at the time
  9. Purchasing of copyrighted documents is easy from a large range
  10. If there is DRM then there should be a standard that everyone supports
  11. Authors are compensated to at least the level they are compensated for printed works
  12. Books are at least 50% cheaper than the printed version
  13. No third party can delete documents without my consent

As you can see, there is a way to go yet. Battery technology isn’t up to it; contrast/glare/readability is getting a lot better but still isn’t as good as paper; there don’t seem to be any DRM standards yet. There are probably other requirements I haven’t listed such as the ability to search text or the ability to move my files to a different device, not necessarily produced by the company from which I bought the first device.

The proximate cause of this rant, however, is a recent action involving Amazon and Kindle. Apparently, Amazon had obtained the right to 1984 from someone who didn’t actually have those rights. So they refunded their customers and automatically deleted the documents from user’s Kindles, without even telling them.

There are two significant points here:

  1. Deleting the documents, as well as not being part of the terms of agreement, violates #13.
  2. 1984 is out of copyright in various countries; just because the US keeps extending copyright so that Disney can hang on to Mickey Mouse is no reason for the rest of the world to have to follow, thereby violating #8.

I have been told, although I find it hard to believe, that Amazon charges people for loading non-copyright material onto their Kindles. I’m prepared to accept that this is a vicious rumour.

Anyway, even if technology improves such that all the rest of my requirements are met, there is no way I am buying one of these Kindle things. Anyone who believes they have the right to delete stuff from one of my devices without my consent is never going to get a dollar out of me.

So there.

Where’s Wally?

May 6th, 2009

We had one of those emergency evacuation things at work yesterday. We are all pretty much convinced it was only a drill – there was no fire, no earth-shattering ka-boom, and no email to tell us about the danger we had all miraculously escaped.

It could have been very tedious but, fortunately, we managed to amuse ourselves at the assembly point with a quick game of Where’s Wally

Where's Wally?

Photograph © Emmanual Juanengo

Home Alone

April 30th, 2009

Earlier this month, Pamela and Robert took a trip out to see Lake Eyre which has recently had one of its occasional (every ten years) fill of water. Pamela figured it was worth going to see and she even managed to convince her publisher to do a book on it, thus paying for the trip via the advance and the tax deductions. Unfortunately, I had to work so I had the house to myself for about ten days.

It’s the first time since we were married that this event has occurred. One of us has always been at home with Robert or else the whole family has been travelling. But now he is getting older so this becomes less important. Anyway, it was an odd experience.

They flew out on the Saturday morning so I had the weekend to myself although I had to go up to Gosford twice to see my father. Saturday night was good – it felt almost luxurious to have the place to myself. However, we had arranged to get painters in during the week because Pamela gets very sick from fresh paint so it made sense to do it while she was away. Sunday therefore was spent packing stuff away and moving furniture away from the walls (and driving to Gosford and back).

The painters arrived at 7:00am on the Monday and it was at this point everything went downhill. There is something very intrusive about having strangers trample all over your house. Add to this no curtains on the windows (because of the painting) and the consequent being on display to the world and it all starts to feel a bit uncomfortable. Fortunately, we have an attic room so I made a little bed from an old matress and camped up there. It provided a bit of personal space and made a big difference.

Pamela and Robert are back now and they had a wonderful time. We’ll post some photos in due course. It is great to have them back.

Next time this happens, there will be no painters…

New Kafka novel discovered

March 24th, 2009

We are pleased to present an extract from a previously undiscovered novel by Franz Kafka. It is entitled ‘The Hyperlink’ and seems remarkable prescient for its time.

ACMA: Mr Kafka, your website links to a site on the ACMA blacklist. Remove the link or you will be fined $11,000 per day.

Kafka: What list is that? Can I see it?

ACMA: No, Mr Kafka. The list is secret – we can’t tell anyone what’s on it.

Kafka: But my website only links to my wife’s Fluffy Toy Shop, my grandmother’s Stray Cat Welfare site and fifteen Federal Government websites.

ACMA: I’m afraid we can’t comment on any individual website, Mr Kafka.

Kafka: This is ridiculous. Oh very well. Which one do I have to remove?

ACMA: I’m sorry, Mr Kafka, but if we told you that we’d be telling you it was on the list and we’ve already told you that list is secret.

Kafka: So I have to remove all links from my website?

ACMA: Oh no sir. Just the one on the blacklist.

Kafka: Yes, but which one is it?

ACMA: I’m sorry sir, we can’t tell you that.

etc. etc.

Well, I never thought I’d say it, but I owe John Howard an apology. Sorry, John. I would have sworn that no other Australian government could have come up with the deceit and stupidity which characterised your time in power but I was wrong.

Senator Stephen Conroy, the Federal Communications minister, has come up with an internet filtering idea of which Franz Kafka would have been proud. The government will maintain a ‘blacklist’ of sites which ISPs must block. Even linking to one of these sites will be a criminal offence.

But, there is no way to find out what is on the list. Which means that there will be a sudden increase in the number of criminals in Australia – admittedly part of our proud tradition but we were doing fine anyway thank you very much. Revealing what is on the list is, in itself, a criminal offense.

Now, I’m completely in favour of prosecuting every child pornographer we can lay our hands on. I’m happy to fill Long Bay with them and if we accidentally lose the key it won’t affect my sleep. But, this is not the way to do it.

Ignoring for the moment the technical problems associated with filtering and the impossibility of dealing with secure, encrypted connections, there is simply no way we can both keep the list secret and guarantee that it only contains ‘bad’ sites.

For example, a recently leaked list shows that one Queensland site was on the list because the owner had committed the heinous crime of being a dentist. All right, none of us like going to the dentist but I don’t want to be prosecuted just because I link to his site. Especially given that I had no way of knowing (apart from his evil profession) that he was on the list in the first place.

While the technical problems have been exaggerated a little (Cisco make some very powerful and expensive hardware which can perform Deep Packet Inspection with very little loss of speed) this is not the point. It is (adjusts soapbox) a serious invasion of our rights. It is the classic totalitarian tactic of depriving the populace of information – in this case with the clever twist of making it illegal to try and find out what you are not being told in the first place.

However, we still live in a democracy. The fact that we put up with John Howard for more than ten years proves that. So, if the issue is seen to be sufficiently unpopular as to actually start costing votes, the pollies will take notice.

If we all make enough noise about it, Conroy will eventually get a tap on the shoulder and one of the party enforcers will have a little chat with him starting with the the dreadful words “Stephen, ma-a-a-a-ate…” and it will all be quietly dropped.

This is my little contribution. Please make yours. If nothing else, link to it – if you get told to remove the link we will at least know one item on the list.

Mountain Music

March 16th, 2009

Last weekend, Pamela and I went up to Katoomba for the 14th annual Blue Mountains Music Festival. We stayed at the historic Carrington Hotel – built in 1882 and a most elegant place to stay. I always prefer to stay in such places, even if some of the room facilities are also historic.

There were six venues of varying sizes playing more or less continually. This meant there were more acts available than you had time to see (a welcome change from your average Science Fiction convention, concerning which I have written elsewhere). The Carrington (at the top of the hill) had two of the venus but the other six were at the bottom of said hill so we got quite a bit of exercise.

We ended up seeing the following (in chronological order):

Bluehouse: a real find. A pair of Melbourne-based female vocalists who were great. We bought the cd.

Blue Mountain Rain: a Blue Mountains based bluegrass band who don’t seem to have their own website. They overlapped with Bluehouse so we called in to have a look. They weren’t at all bad but the main problem I have with bluegrass is that the first song sounds fabulous; the second good but rather like the first one; the third is ok but really sounds a lot like the other two; the fourth one – I know I’ve heard this before, time to go and listen to something else.

Pugsley Buzzard: a gravel-voiced stride/blues pianist playing various classics (Your feets too big; closer to the bone). Took a little while to get going but great once he hit his stride (no pun intended). He was in the small ballroom at the Carrington and it was packed so we had to leave a bit before the end due to oxygen deprivation. Still recommended.

It was by now 4 pm and what with one thing and another we were very tired so we went and had a little nap before the evening’s festivities. Waking refreshed and groggy at quarter to six we headed down the hill looking for something to eat prior to a 7pm act we wanted to see.

We didn’t anticipate any problem finding something to eat – we had seen plenty of eateries earlier, easily enough to feed all the festival attendees. It was not until we walked past a long series of closed cafes that we realised that this is city thinking and probably most of the proprietors had in fact gone to the festival.

Eventually we found a place with an ‘Open for Dinner’ sign outside with a list of dishes of the Bangers and Mash variety. This would do, we thought. However, upon entering the waitress-person told us that they were only serving coffee and cake. But there’s a sign outside saying ‘open for dinner’, we protested. Yes, she says looking puzzled, it said that yesterday as well.

Finally we found a Chinese restaurant. It wasn’t high cuisine but it sufficed and, fortified by Won Ton soup and noodles we stepped out to continue down the hill. There was a major thunderstorm going on. The awning beneath which we stood did not continue all the way down the hill and we did not have an umbrella. Unwilling to sit wet and shivering through a concert we made our way back up to the Carrington getting only slightly wet in the process. It wasn’t what we had planned but the hotel also had acts going on so we went in to see:

Pat Drummond: an Australian singer/songwriter. Not bad but nothing special. I enjoyed his story of the fight between the locals and the council about the massive searchlight in the local lovers’ lane and how sharp-shooting and chainsaws finally won the day. There wasn’t enough to keep our interest beyond a few songs so we eventually left.

We thought about trudging back down the hill (the rain had stopped) but decided to wimp out instead and go to bed. We ended up watching a really bad movie (The Core) on the room tv – I’m not sure why we did that.

On Sunday, we had a lot more success in doing what we planned. We decided to eschew the horrors of the Pagan Poets’ Breakfast and have breakfast in the hotel instead. Around 10am we sauntered out – the first act we wanted to see not being until 11am. We passed a church advertising a Gospel service at 10am so we snuck in the back but they were dreadful so we snuck rapidly out again.

The following acts were on at the big tent venue with half-hour gaps so we grabbed good seats at the beginning and stayed put.

Grumpy Old Men: Eric Bogle, John Munro, Mike McClellan and Doug Ashdown. Not playing as a group but swapping songs around on stage for an hour. Some more entertaining than others (Bogle needs to chill out a bit more) but good fun.

The April Verch Band: given that our main reason for seeing this was because it was on between the other two acts it was a pleasant surprise. April Verch is a perky Canadian who specialises in fiddle-playing and Ottawa stepdancing (think Riverdance with more arm movements). In the final number she even managed both at once. The band was pretty good as well, including the most amazing tambour playing I have ever seen – he was actually playing tunes on it.

Paul Kelly: – with nephew Dan Kelly. Paul Kelly is something of an Australian institution. He ran through a few of his hits in a professional manner and was well supported by Dan. The sound man had the guitars mixed rather too forwards to it was hard to hear the lyrics at times (which was a pity because the lyrics are most of what the songs are about). Enjoyable but not spectacular.

This concluded the main acts we wanted to see. However we desperately needed toilets and the site facilities were, to say the least, primative. The men’s urinal, for instance, consisted of about three meters of six-inch plastic duct tube, cut lengthways and placed in front of a sheet of waterproof cardboard. Pamela refused to describe the women’s beyond stating that she nearly threw up. So, one of the acts being in the local RSL club we decided we would really like to see it so that we could take advantage of the RSL’s more sophisticated plumbing.

The Field: – laid-back jazz. Slide-guitar stuff – very melodic and ideal for going to sleep by. The drummer looked as if he had a very late night and was having trouble staying awake. Pleasant.

Left to ourselves we might have stayed longer – Bluehouse were playing again and we would have liked to have seen them – but Robert had been staying with friends since Saturday morning and we felt it would be a friendly act to take him back in a timely manner. Given the longish drive back from Katoomba we called it a day.

A good experience and one we hope to repeat next year. We haven’t been to enough live music recently and this has made us realise it.

New Railway Line

February 26th, 2009

The Chatswood to Parramatta Epping rail line opened a couple of days ago. One of the new stations (Macquarie Park) is right next to where I work so I decided to give it a go. I waited a couple of days so they could work the bugs out of the system (like the train that refused to start yesterday).

The railway has been needed for some time. The industrial park area in North Ryde has been growing apace. When I worked here seven years ago it was quite a reasonable drive. Now it is not at all reasonable so the train is a good thing. The original plan was to run it from Chatswood to Parramatta but it stopped when they got to Epping. This is a pity because it needed to connect with the west, not just link two north shore lines, but it is better than nothing.

The station is 10-15 minutes walk from where I work so it is a nice stroll (on a fine day). I can certainly use the exercise so that is a good thing.

Other than that, it is pretty much like a lot of other railways. It is nice and clean and very new looking. The tunnels are straight, unlike the older bendy ones under the city. It is running the newer carriages because some parts are too steep for the old ones. On the whole, it’s not too bad.

I’ve posted a few photos of Macquarie Park Station if anyone is interested. Also the Historic Electric Traction site has some photos of the line underconstruction which are worth looking at.


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