Archive for March, 2007
While in Singapore at the start of the month, I paid a visit to HP’s Cooltown (not to be confused with Awesometown). Set up for corporates as a showcase of the digital future (woah — did I just write that unforgivably pretentious sentence?), Cooltown shows off HP’s soon-to-break technology and offers a glimpse at what life could be like in five years’ time (except, of course, that in five years’ time, the technology there will be decidedly old-hat).
I got a personal tour, even though the site is closed to the public. Such are the privileges of working for an obscure trade magazine in Asia. I also got a bottle of water.
I’m relatively easily impressed when it comes to gadgetry, because I’m bereft of that geek streak that drives so many to obsessively follow the latest and greatest in tech wizardry. So, when I say I had fun and was almost wowed, take it with that plebian grain of salt.
Actually, though, the first thing I was shown wasn’t actually new to me. I’d heard of infrared keyboards before, but this was the first time I got to try one. For those not in the know, this is a ‘keyboard’ that can be projected onto a flat surface for use with small-screen devices. It looks fancy, and I guess it could have a use in the future for people who want very small devices unencumbered by the bulk of a keypad, but it was very difficult to use. The keystrokes — picked up by lasers — did actually work, but not very well. I tapped around for a little, but couldn’t even type out a coherent word.
But enough writing. You want pictures.
This is the future home, according to HP. That blue thing centre-screen isn’t actually a coffee table. It’s a touch-screen computer, onto which you can download photos direct from your cellphone. You just drop your phone on the surface and somehow it manages to teleport the pictures across. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation for that. You could then resize the photos by using your finger to drag the corners out.
The green thing on the wall is a computer/television/mirror. It looked best when it was in mirror form (har, har, har). It was a pretty neat device, and I’ll probably get one when I’m a grown-up. I’ll wait until I can buy it for $200 on eBay though.
The black thing was a receiver beneath the computer/television/mirror is what HP calls a telephone. Apparently it can be used to speak to people miles away. However, I didn’t see this thing in operation, so I’m suspicious of the claims.
Here is a disturbing look at the future office cubicle. I understand it was designed by a retired fitness instructor. Ummm, not much I can say about this — except that it has good potential for hanging a drip from the upper railing. And where would we put our books? Or, like, m&ms?
This could be useful in the bars of the future (sick of that word yet?). Customers can have personalised drinking vessels, which then can be placed on a special tablet on the bar/counter, which then transmits information about that customer an LCD display. Useful for those who drunkenly forget which glass is theirs.
And that’s about all I can remember.
I’m off to Vietnam tomorrow night, for a week. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do there, but I imagine it won’t involve much computerage, so blogging will definitely be on the go-slow. But when I get back, I hope to have bagillions of photos to post, so stay tuned for that. Tomorrow I break my drinking drought in Ho Chi Minh city. I’ll decide where to next from there.
I know it’s not cool to not beat up on the South China Morning Post, and that wise old Mr. Gweilo says the re-design is suckismo (but then again, hammering away at the easy-target SCMP is OG’s favourite pastime — as evidenced here, here, and here), but here’s the thing: the re-design isn’t blow-worthy.
Actually, it’s pretty nice. The paper looks roomier, cleaner, crisper, and more modern. Getting rid of that annoying single-column story that so often dog-balled the right-hand edge of the front is a definite improvement; and the News Digest down the bottom (i.e. highlights of what’s inside) is almost a must in the days in which readers have little patience or time for wading through every single page to get to what they want. The coloured bars throughout the sections break up the pages well. And the changes are subtle, so it’s not a jarring transition. It’s also good to see the website get a prominent plug in the bottom right-hand corner of the front page — prime real estate.
Still, I have it from pretty solid sources that the re-design, done by the same firm that made over The Standard while soon-to-depart SCMP editor-in-chief Mark Clifford was there, cost close to US$2.5 million. That’s a lot of money to fork out for something that, really, could have been done by good talent fresh out of college.
Soon, SCMP.com will follow suit with its own re-launch. As far as I know, at least some of the site will be free, and you can bet it’s going to be a whole lot more interactive (as the new push on podcasts suggests). From what I’ve heard, the online edition hit a plateau of 25,000 subscribers and had nowhere else to turn to grow its revenues. In today’s web-centric world, 25,000 readers — even high-end and well-monied ones the SCMP can probably rightfully claim — is not even close to being enough. Opening up the site, and bringing it into line with other media sites, is the best thing they can do.
All this comes at a time when the paper could be set to head off in a positive direction. Sure, a lot has been made about the high turnover of editors in the past five years, but now Clifford — the despised divider — is gone, a new editorial team is in place, and the paper is dressed up in some pretty new clothes. Let’s hope it has also learned some new dance steps.
A friend studying fine arts in San Diego — or, as she endearingly calls it, San Di-crap-o — has just returned to the US after a couple of months break in Wellington — the city in New Zealand in which I’d live if I were in my home country. She shares a fondness for that artsy little city. One of its great points is that you can walk everywhere there (except out in the ‘burbs), and it has a lively vibe and cultural scene. Don’t ask me what a ‘cultural scene’ is — just know that it’s good.
Anyway, she sent me an email that neatly sums up her feelings about Wellington and is cute at the same time. I pretty much share her views, and wanted to share them here. She’s cool with that. She asked me to fix up her grammar, but it’s pretty much perfect anyway:
Wellington is pretty awesome, I think. At first I got back, and I was like “shit man! wellington is small and there isn’t much stuff there” but by the end of my 2and a bit months I was like “wellington rules and i don’t want to leave”. It was just pretty nice having so many friends around who are like proper long time friends, who are perhaps less obsessed with their crappy art work and don’t care about the LA art scene or whatever. And it fucking ruled not having to drive pretty much at all. And having proper cafes. And fewer americans. no ha ha just kidding i love americans! …ok i’m lost in a pit of sarcasm now, but really, americans are fine. Anyway, it was a cool time even though I didn’t get as much (paid) work as I would have liked, plus I crashed my parents’ car on my 2nd day back (turned onto the wrong side of the road waah-woh <—(that is a mournfully jokey trombone noise, just by the way)) and the fact that I was living in the scuzziest house of all time. Although I was only paying $30 [US$21] a week, so there was an upside to that bit.
She also included a photo of Wellington that is so New Zealand I almost vomited with homesickness. (No, not really — but it did make me yearn for home a little). Here it is, a photo by Kelly Pendergrast.
In a previous life, I used to actually go outside and play sports. I guess this was in the days before Al Gore invented the internet. In January 1993, as a weedy and wide-eyed 11-year-old, I found myself playing for the Central Otago A primary school cricket team against, I think, South Canterbury, at Alexandra’s Molyneux Park. I had made the team by virtue of my 43 runs wielding a GM Maestro Select against an intimidating Maniototo bowling line-up — which included Derek Creft, an All Black’s son! — for my local representative team just before the Christmas break.
I opened the batting that sunny day, wearing shorts while everyone else had long white pants, ignored the jibes of some of the older boys on the other team, saw a couple of my partners drop by the wayside, and fought on to make a valiant 17, including one boundary and, I suspect, 13 singles through slips.
I don’t remember who won that game, but I do remember one of my team-mates, a 12-year-old at the time, who bowled gentle leg-spinners. The son of a local policeman was a quiet guy, but well liked, and his face was perhaps even more fresh and cherubic than the rest of us. I had met him on the cricket field a few times before, when my Terrace Primary School team played his Queenstown team. Later I would also play a few representative games with his sister Jody, who — aside from being remarkable for mixing it with the boys — bowled useful left-arm swing. And when my brother was killed the next month, a sympathy card signed by the team bore his name: Mark Burton.
One night eight years later, Mark, by then a paranoid schizophrenic and just discharged from a Southland psychiatric unit, drove through the night to his family home in Queenstown and stabbed his mother to death with two different knives. Being New Zealand, the country stopped what it was doing and fixated on the terrible murder, grieving for the mother, 49-year-old Paddy, while condemning the mental health system that could have so miserably failed.
Today, that system is again being called into question because it has been discovered that, five years after the crime, Mark has been working part-time at the Auckland Zoo as part of his rehabilitation programme. For three mornings a week, working for a company called Second Chance Enterprises, Mark would collect shit from the zoo. As soon as the zoo found out, apparently from the newspaper for which this story will shift a few copies, it arranged to have his employment terminated immediately.
The work was part of a rehabilitation programme that allowed for Mark to have unescorted visits, unaccompanied family outings, and part-time employment as a way of reintegrating him back into society. Mark is apparently now in the last stages of treatment and could be back in the community within 12 months. According to the director of the clinic caring for Mark, the success rate for patients such as him is extremely high, with no patients who had left the clinic in the last four years having reoffended.
To me, this is a case of a newspaper overplaying a story to foment outrage. No doubt they’ll get it. But what is it worth? In some cases, having a newspaper expose situations like this is valuable because it can lead to an open and vigorous debate about contestable systems and processes. But it also blunts the nuances, polarises the views, and tends to muffle the voices of reason and expertise below the louder and more ignorant voices of reactionary anger. Those voices, after all, make better headlines.
It has happened before with ugly effect in the Sunday Star-Times (such scandal-mongering stories are often the realm of the Sunday papers in New Zealand), when that paper ran a story about a “shock” new law that apparently made it “okay” (at least, according to the newspaper’s editors) for 12-year-olds to have sex. Actually, as Russel Brown pointed out, the propsed law, which had been sitting on the shelves for six months, said nothing of the sort — but that didn’t matter to the quickly created voices of outrage who shouted loud enough to scupper a potential law that would have considered it a defence if two people having sex were older than 12 but younger than 16 and had an age difference that was less than two years. That’s a considerably more intricate explanation than the SST‘s headline offering: ‘Sex at age 12 okay under law change’.
Today’s story has been treated with the same blunt stick. The rehab system appeared to be working. Mark was making good progress. While it will be hard for many people to ever forgive or forget the crime he committed, isn’t the best we can hope for out of all this that Mark be reintroduced to the community as a non-threat who can actually make a contribution?
Mark’s father, Trevor Burton, who acknowledges that his son was “horrifically dangerous” in the past, offers his point of view at the bottom of the story.
“We are proud of what Mark has achieved,” he told the newspaper.
“You don’t flag people away because they have a mental illness — you should love them more.”
Of all the stories I have read about Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer’s murder during the World Cup, none stands out more than this. Written by, presumably, a volunteer for a humble New Zealand blog site, it captures the weirdness, solemnity, and fever surrounding the event in nine brilliant paragraphs. Its author is Hamish McDouall, an alumnus of my university and former Mastermind champion. I defy you to read the first two paragraphs and not want to know more:
Test cricketers die. All the time. Some die at and advanced age (though none have yet cracked a century). Some die very young. Manjural Islam who died the other day was just 22. Ben Hollioake, Fred Grace, Archie Jackson, Trevor Madondo, Ken Wadsworth all died while young, still striving to play international cricket.
Charlie Absolom had a load of sugar dropped on his head while working on the docks. Johnny Douglas died trying to save his father during a shipwreck. Aubrey Faulkner stuck his head in an oven believing he was bankrupt. He had heaps of money. William Whysall tripped while dancing in a nightclub and died of the resulting infection. Raman Lamba was hit in the head while fielding at short leg. Andy Ducat had a heart attack while batting at Lord’s. Cota Ramaswami walked out of his family home believing he was a burden to his family, and was never seen again. Arthur Shrewsbury shot himself in the chest then when that didn’t work as intended aimed a little higher. Jimmy Blanckenberg joined the wrong side in World War II and disappeared into the murkiness of the Third Reich never to be seen again. Leslie Hylton killed his wife, and was hung by the neck until he was dead.
I’ve just been telling a friend via Gmail chat about another friend who used to write for one of my all-time favourite publications: the Weekly World News. While there, he was four different columnists, including the famous Ed Anger — I think becoming Anger represented the zenith of my friend’s journalism dreams. He writes, hilariously, about his experience here.
I have to admit that I’ve only ever read about three stories from the Weekly World News (though another friend used to read one a week on his show at our student radio station — which is how I came to hear of the publication), and I’ve only ever held a copy in my hands once (last year). But then, it’s not something you need to read a lot of for it to become an all-time favourite. Consider some of the stories from this week’s edition:
GRAND WAZOO, Calif. — Nuclear physicists announced the world’s most energetic collision of musical styles today, in a new reactor powered entirely by Jazz Fusion…
BALTIMORE, Md. — According to holistic anesthesiologist Biff Swarmer, patients would be better off with a little ‘rap’ music…
PALO ALTO, Calif. — Computer engineers admit they won’t be producing a machine that thinks for itself anytime soon. But the experts promise that new ‘Artificial Intuition’ technology might be sitting on your desktop before the year is out.
Funnily enough, my friend said his stories were actually fact-checked — the date-lines (i.e. the city names at the start of the stories) had to be correct. The places named had to exist. That’s integrity.
Also worth taking a look at from the WWN is this startling footage of an exercising poltergeist.
I really hope that’s not the last time I’ll get to write “startling footage of an exercising poltergeist”.
A short ride with a suspiciously cheerful taxi-driver has cheered me considerably. As soon as I got into the cab, the bespectacled man with a thinning mop of wiry black hair was laughing, for no apparent reason. He asked where I was going, didn’t get me the first time, and then when I explained exactly where, he couldn’t thank me more profusely. “Oh, thank you very much, sir, thank you very much.”
Man, all I did was say, “Queens Road East”. I wonder what a breezy “Lockhart Road” would get me.
This guy (and because I’m drained I’ve already forgotten his name) then did a rare thing for a Hong Kong taxi-driver: he talked to me throughout the trip.
Where you from?
Oh, New Zealand! Very nice. [Bellowed laughter]
New Zealand very big! Hong Kong very small!
10 million people in Hong Kong. Because, you know, the people come from China, but they don’t have ID. They don’t register. You know? [More chortling]
They come Hong Kong because it’s very freedom. More opportunities! [Inexplicable cackle]
He only had another hour until he knocked off for the day. In fact, he was actually working for an extra hour because business had been slow. It was 2:30pm at that stage and he had been working since 5:20am. He wasn’t complaining.
I am always pleasure in my work. Today it is not busy, but tomorrow might be better.
Once again, he laughed a mirthy one. I joined him.
During the process of our break-up, my ex-girlfriend told me I don’t actually live up to the ideals I set for myself. I didn’t argue the point. She was right.
I sell myself as a nice guy, hopelessly honest, always friendly and happy, and without prejudices. That’s very much the person I’d like to be. Like many people, I’ve probably even fooled myself into believing I am most of the time. To be even-handed, it’s probably fair to say I am bits of all of the above. That is, I am often nice, mostly honest, sometimes friendly, more-than-averagely happy, and I’m not rotten with prejudices.
But it’s also true that I have the capacity to be positively nasty, especially if I think the subject in question isn’t going to find out about it. I have lied, in ways that have proved to be hurtful. I have pretended to be friendly just to work a situation to my advantage, and I have sometimes exhibited appalling selfishness. Though the happiness point is probably the one least in question — and that’s something I would describe more as a (secular) blessing than a characteristic — I have been guilty in the past of prejudging people based on their looks, religious or political affiliations, or even their writing abilities (as lame as that sounds).
Sorry for the moment of depressive self-reflection. Feel free to stop reading now.
I’m not sure why I’m writing this — it could have something to do with the series of late nights I’ve had working, and a lack of sleep. That tends to put me in a more emotionally fragile state. I’m certainly not seeking sympathy, reassurances, or reaffirmations of my ego. Perhaps it’s because in the last few months I’ve had a few lapses where I’ve inadvertently pissed people off because I’ve been so stuck inside my own little head that I’ve failed to see the negative effects of my behaviour. Maybe writing this down I can remind myself that there’s a world out there that doesn’t revolve around me. Again, I’d like to think I was already hyper-aware of that, but I suspect the truth is that’s not really the case.
Another reason I’m writing this down, I guess, is so I can come back in years to come and see what I was thinking at this time, as a 25-year-old living in Hong Kong. I suspect this uncomfortable grappling with self-interrogation is never going to get any easier, and that answers will never become clearer. Will I come back to this post in 20 years and think: “Gee, I’ve really made no progress”? Chances are, yeah.
So perhaps that’s reason enough to give up. I’m yet to meet a flawless human. I could just accept I’m an asshole, become more of one, and revel in a gluttonous and self-indulgent lifestyle. But then, if you don’t bother to strive for any sense of goodness — and what a contestable term that is — then you’ll never come close. Assholes can still perform occasional acts of charity.
A couple of years ago, in a trashy Irish pub in Antigua, Guatemala, I met a fellow kiwi traveller. He was about 10 years older than me, drifting along, learning Spanish, kinda aimless. He wasn’t driven to any great goals; didn’t have any lofty aspirations, but he seemed relatively content. We were talking about travelling, experiencing these new cultures, and, I guess, about our place in the world. Drunkenly, I shot him a piece of C-grade Hamish pseudo-philosophy (the only sort in which I dabble): “Once you come to realise you’re nothing, you can get on with the business of being nothing.”
He let the thought hang in the air a moment — lending it the profundity only a seriously intoxicated man could believe in — before wholeheartedly agreeing with me. I followed the comment with a self-deprecating scoff about my pretentiousness. But I secretly believed it, and still do — to an extent. If I committed myself fully to this paltry doctrine, perhaps I wouldn’t have to feel guilt about the negative influences I’ve had on some people’s lives (I am still racked with remorse for calling a classmate with unfortunate teeth ‘Mega Gums’ as a 13-year-old in my first year at high school), because surely if I’m a nothing, then so is the next guy, so what’s the big deal?
But that won’t do. I still have a strong streak that believes it’s possible to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you without being evangelical in going about it. After this little psychotherapy session, I’m thinking that to do so, I’d best come clean and admit that I’m at least a bit of an asshole and that it’s time for me to escape from myself for a while.
I’m probably coming across as a pathetic flake. At the moment, that doesn’t bother me. I have written this for myself now, and for myself in years to come. Tomorrow morning I might wake up and want to delete this post. But I won’t. And tonight I’ll still sleep easy.
Sorry for the obvious title, but unfortunately it does ring true. This cricket World Cup has been depressing for a number of reasons.
First, and most obviously, Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer’s suspicious death. Going by reports, and logic, it seems increasingly clear he was murdered. For the cricket uninitiated among my readers, here’s how the story goes:
The Pakistan cricket team, both adored and reviled by its cricket-crazy nation, loses a first-round match against minnows Ireland. To say this is an upset is an understatement. A team like Ireland beating a strong and former world champion team such as Pakistan is akin to the New Zealand under-19 girls’ softball team beating the Atlanta Braves. The fact that Pakistan has a history when it comes to match-fixing, a particularly lucrative and cut-throat business for bookmakers, is a complicating factor. Then, less than a day after the loss — which disqualified Pakistan from the tournament — coach Woolmer, who may be working on a book that outs bookies in Pakistan, is found dead in his hotel room with blood and vomit on the walls and floor. Jamaican police have reportedly found traces of poison in the room.
Meanwhile, after the game, angry fans mobbed the captain Inzamam al-Haq’s house in Pakistan, chanting “Death to Woolmer, Death to Inzamam”.
In another suspicious loss, heavyweights India were soundly beaten by Bangladesh — a country that is to cricket what small cup sizes are to America — prompting a bunch of rabid buffoons to tear the wicketkeeper’s house to pieces. In its next game, India — who, surprise, surprise, also have a history of match-fixing — went on to score a World Cup record 413 runs (albeit against Bermuda, a team even lower on the shitting order than Bangladesperate). Can someone explain to me how the fuck that happened? I don’t think my theory is an original one.
The fact that New Zealand is doing well so far in the tournament is only a mildly cheering thought. Once again, humans have exhibited that preposterous propensity to forget that cricket is a game. No matter what happens from here on in — even if the tournament culminates in a series of games exhibiting some of the most remarkable cricket ever seen — this World Cup is not going to be remembered for its winners. It’ll be remembered forever as the one in which the Pakistan coach died mysteriously after a match that reeked of rigging.
It’s confirmed. Woolmer was murdered.
I slipped last night. Well, not slipped. It was a necessary and conscious move. I got drunk. Very, in fact. But it was justified. My friend, Ed — the one who got kicked out of Hong Kong because of his tax-dodging boss — booked his flights to leave today, a day earlier than he had hoped. Which made last night his last night. Which meant the obvious. What sort of friend wouldn’t get drunk with his departing pal on the basis of an arbitrary, self-imposed drinking ban?
So, Mum, can you give me a pass on this one?
Getting drunk again reminded me that it’s a silly thing to do. Working was very difficult today. I just wanted to put my head down on my desk and sleep. I felt shit, and no amount of water or dried mangoes seemed to have any effect (other than on my unfortunate vowels). But then, I also had a lot of fun last night, and we did a good job of giving Ed a decent farewell. At one stage of the night, disturbingly early, Ed said a farewell of his own — to the contents of his stomach, which he deposited neatly in the toilet at a bar in Knutsford Terrace (which I know, hilariously, as Kuntsford Terrace).
I now will return directly to my self-made pact of not drinking. And I’ll do another dry month later in the year to make up for this lapse. Maybe.
I feel like it’s been too long since I stuck a photo up here, so here’s a little something to keep y’all going. And by “y’all”, I mean me. It’s a picture of one of the main streets of Wellington, where a lot of my friends live now. Just to remind me what I’m missing.