Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tokyo Spring 2010

This trip to Tokyo started out very badly indeed, but things finally settled down, and yesterday I went to visit some long time clients, some of whom I count as friends as well as clients. The boss there is the most amazing host, and despite an insanely busy schedule he always finds time for a chat and a beer.

A bunch of the people there came out for drinks last night and two of them took their day off today to give me a guided tour of Yokohama. We wandered all around the harbour foreshore. It's a lovely area, with more food than you can possibly imagine. We finished off at the Landmark Tower.

Up the top there is an observation deck (for which they charge ¥1,000), and I figured I'd best take a photo or two to prove I made the effort.

This is the pretty bit looking out over the bay. Haneda airport is straight ahead in this photo, and the distance successfully hides all the industrial mess between this point and the airport. But the harbour area is pretty cool. Also, on the far right of the photo is about half of the International Passenger terminal, which is made all of hardwood planks in smooth curves with grass growing on the roof. It's pretty special too.

However, it's hard to avoid just how monstrously enormous Tokyo-Yokohama is.

This is the view to the right of the previous shot. And it's only a subset of the view - it just goes on and on. I'm told Fujiyama is out there somewhere, but I don't personally believe it exists. Every time I've been at a spot from which Fujiyama is supposed to be visible, there has been nothing but vague haze.

I still have a soft spot for this city. It's an incredibly friendly place. The food and booze are all good. I just wish I could get some slight grasp on the language. I'm rather behind the eight ball though - I suck at languages at the best of times, and when I finally get the confidence to ask what something means, I'm told it means nothing*. What am I supposed to do with a language which has meaningless, commonly used phrases? There are also 43 ways to say thank you, and only some are appropriate at any given moment.

*Gozaimasu has no particular meaning these days (although it may well have meaningful historical roots) - it's just added to stuff to be more respectful or formal.

A whole new concept in taste

Tonight I went to a number of establishments in Tokyo, but the last was a champagne bar, as best as I can tell. It sold champagne and still red & white wines. At the beginning of the menu it had a tasting guide. This is a fairly sensible idea for a country that has relatively recently adopted the fermented grape as a drink. However, it takes a Japanese sensibility to create a tasting guide that looks like this.

Go ahead, zoom in on that. The first row tells you about body. Yep, I'll give you a moment to digest that.

The second is fairly sensible - varying from tropical fruits to citrus.

The third is something to do with flavour, or maybe aroma, my friends couldn't really help me.

The fourth is a measure of sweetness. Why this is iconified in hearts is anyone's guess.

That last row. What can I say? The left hand side indicates softness, so I can only assume the right end is hard. I don't know what a hard wine is, or why a stubbly man in sunglasses typifies it, but there you go.

The strangest thing? Using this very bizarre guide, I chose a chardy that was divine. Weird and inappropriate, yes, but also effective.

I chose the third one down. Apparently I like my chardys with fat arses.

Vandalism vs Art

This week, a clean-up crew destroyed an artwork in Melbourne. You can see who is complaining and who is defending in the article, but to me, it articulates all that is wrong with our property law. I have no love for tagging, it's self indulgent, ugly and inspires nothing good from where I stand. However, the artwork that grows from the same culture has value, both socially and aesthetically. I think this case in Melbourne highlights the problem. We'd all rather like those good graffiti artists to adorn our drab walls, but we don't want any of that tagging rubbish.

It seems to me that we need to recognise graffiti as a genuine art form, and meet the artists in the middle. Hand over vast areas of ugliness to them to practice their craft - do what you will with godawful overpasses and other concrete monstrosities - so that we can legitimately ask those who excel in their field to illustrate our landscape and share their gift. And in return, I think it reasonable to ask that they don't tag the fences of random punters.

I have a vast expanse of cream wall, which is just begging to be tagged, and it has been. But that's dull. If you want to use my blank canvas for some real expression, I'm open to suggestions. We need to consider all of these kinds of spaces as potential creative sites, and give credit to the artists who deserve it. Maybe we need a "wall exchange" website. :)

Either way, next time you see some graffiti - boring and ugly or stunning and inspiring - think about what we do to foster this artform, and how we might steer the socially unacceptable into a valued and recognised form (which may well require steering our definition of "valuable").

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hong Kong

The problem with working for yourself, is that you pay for your own work travel. That means everything is done as cheaply and quickly as possible. Which in turn means that nearly all work trips are hell on earth. This trip to Hong Kong involved 13 hours on Thursday, 10 hours on Friday and 3 hours Saturday morning. The vast majority of that was in a computer room air conditioned to a cosy 18 degrees and just enough humidity to stop you zapping everything in sight (not enough to avoid dehydration).

However, I did manage a free room upgrade - possibly because I seriously considered the executive upgrade and then decided it wasn't good value. As a result, right now I am looking straight out over Victoria Harbour.

And this is what it looked like the night I got here.

After I gave myself a splitting headache working at the somewhat-less-than-ergonomic hotel desk for 3 hours this morning, I decided some walking might be in order. Also, since this is my third trip to Hong Kong, I figured it was well past time I made the tourist trip to the peak. Here is my proof that I went.

I've finally started to get some feel for the geography of this place, and this is what the other side of the island looks like

I just don't think they're trying hard enough to pave the entire island.

Nice as it was up there, this is where I'd rather have been:

See all those little sails through the smog down there? It was a magnificent sailing day. Why did no-one organise me an invitation onto one of those boats? I consider this a grave failing on the part of the universe.

Tokyo tomorrow, but before then there are many more shopping hours ahead.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Change of seasons

Somehow, all the fabulous, family friendly, posh garden parties I was keeping Elissa's nice dresses for didn't eventuate over the summer. So as the cool weather sets in, I've been encouraging her to wear any of them she likes. This is one of them.

I figured since she's only worn each of them a few times, I could take some photos before I pass them on to someone else.

It was only after I took this photo that I noticed that Charlie was blowing bubbles.

And right chuffed with himself he was too.

It's not often that the middle child gets to enchant and entertain both siblings - at least not when the middle child is still four.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Scientific faith

Back when I was an apprentice scientist, I found the history of science fascinating. The accidents and ironies of those who are remembered and those who are not inspired some thinking about the nature of science and what lies underneath dogma.

About the same time I started hearing Richard Dawkins evangelising atheism, and I have to say he got right up my nose. His smugness and unshakable faith in his own rightness irritated me enough to swear I'd never read his books.

Over the years, though, I've softened my stance. His utter disrespect for all religious belief is matched only by most religions' utter disrespect for atheism. More strongly in Dawkins' defence, is that society as a whole reflects the religious position - it's perfectly reasonable to demand that we all respect all religions, but it's fine to dismiss and misrepresent atheists.

Dawkins has a point - we should be questioning such things as why all religions are automatically granted tax-free status. Our whole society pays for religion to carry on business as usual, and it is completely fair that we should engage in a dialogue about the value of this business to us all.

Nevertheless, I still have a gripe with the line Dawkins takes on faith. He ridicules it. My problem with that, is that underneath the science that informs Dawkins, is a faith that there exists an observable, describable universe. I share this faith, but if I go looking for independent evidence to support it, I struggle. The most obvious response is that the assumption is very productive - it's worked pretty well so far. The problem with this response, is that "productive" is measured in scientific terms. Science has defined the terms of reference. How exactly does one measure the success of this assumption if one removes all the consequences of the assumption from the measurement? The fact that we've observed and described a great deal is rather meaningless if it's all illusion.

I don't mean to cast science as religion. It isn't. Science has challenge and questioning built into its foundation. While science is anything but objective (the strangest of all the science myths - I have no idea how anyone can know anything much about science and call it objective), the heroes of science are those who overthrow conventional wisdom.

Still, I think if one wants to declare one's own way of thinking superior to that of others, it is essential to declare your own articles of faith. Dawkins is not just an atheist, he is a scientist. He fails to believe in gods, but that doesn't mean he fails to believe in anything. And while science has the questioning of its results built into the system, it has been as resistant as religion to questioning of its over-all worth, validity and moral obligations.

For this reason, Dawkins should be calling for scorecards on science as well as religion. I think we could also add economics, law and other prevailing structures. Of course, I have no clue what framework we use to measure this stuff, but that doesn't mean the discourse shouldn't begin.

For all this, I now love hearing him speak, because I have an affection for really well expressed pomposity, and I feel that world needs a few Dawkinses to balance up the religious conservative voices. Oh yeah, and I essentially agree with him.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nauseating and pointless

An obvious title for a post about my two younger children, no?

Well, not really about them. They keep bringing home these ridiculous, nauseatingly cute and utterly useless decorations. So I am photographing them and sticking them here so I don't have to feel guilty as they tumble into the recycling bin.

First, Charlie Angel, from Christmas last year at preschool.

This is just so..... farcical that I have been unable to toss it. Now it is recorded forever on teh interwebs.

Then at Easter, we got an Elissa Chicken

Why do they do this? Only heartless parents toss out cutesy photos of their kids. They are trapping me between mountains of ridiculous craft and becoming Cruella Deville.

So, I inflict them upon you, instead. Have a nice day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Beagle battles

Have you ever got to know a beagle? They are a very particular breed. Dog trainers will tell you that you can train a dog with positive feedback alone, because dogs want nothing more than to please you. In that case, beagles must be cats. Beagles have no interest in pleasing their human landlords. They please themselves. You'll notice the beagles at the airport are rewarded with food, not pats.

Bailey, our beagle-in-residence, rarely has any use for us, except at dinner time. He has a mat in the TV room to sleep on, but he doesn't like to admit that he wants to be near us.

Apparently it's a little stuffy in there - he was forced to stick out his nose for ventilation.

But certainly no eyes, nor ears.

Beagles are also notoriously vindictive. My first beagle, Rana, had a 24 hour bladder (I think her record was 30 hours without a pee - it was cold outside), but if one of us had somehow offended her during the day, she would, for example, desperately need to go out to the toilet at 3am.

Bailey is clearly unimpressed that Crash is away. I have been feeding him only what he needs. He is an Unhappy Beagle. Each night he has started howling outside at around midnight. The first night I let him in to the main part of the house, and all was well. I knew I'd been had, but I wanted sleep. The second night I just locked his dog door and left him in the laundry area where he sleeps. That went ok. The third night he refused to be locked in the laundry, so I let him in again. He rampaged all over the house, scattered dirty washing over 3 floors and destroyed several items. When I got up he was locked out for the whole morning. I was an Unhappy Mummy.

Last night I knew the battle lines were drawn. Just after midnight he started again. I locked him in the laundry and he kept howling and yelping. We argued for TWO HOURS before he finally gave in and went to sleep. How do you argue with a beagle? It goes like this:



Lather, rinse, repeat.

Anyone want a rather aged beagle?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Car chat

This afternoon in the car:

Charlie: Where do we get our selves from?

Me: Our brains

Ben: And our Mums.


Elissa: [At an unrelated mention of Ginny] I love Ginny. I love Gavin too.

Ben: What about Nerida?

Elissa: Oh yeah, I love Nerida too. She tickles me. She's a tickle do-er.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Belated Easter

Yesterday we had our tight-fisted, beagle modified Easter egg hunt. Up until Ben started school, we managed to ignore Easter altogether, and even since he started school, the only thing he was really keen on was the egg hunt, and so I relented. For the last two years we have done the hunt on Easter Sunday, as prescribed. This year, when I looked at the price of Easter eggs, I abandoned our non-tradition, and planned to buy the eggs on the Monday, when they would be half price or better.

Having my cheaper-than-half-price eggs in hand, I still couldn't actually hide the eggs. We are in possession of one beagle, and if I hid the eggs, it would be a one-beagle egg hunt. The kids wouldn't get a look-in. So I hide gold plastic pirate coins. The kids bring the coins, one at a time, and put them in their bowls, and then I exchange coins for eggs.

And then, being the bleeding heart commie lefty that I am, I redistribute the eggs to make sure everyone gets the same number.

The kids seemed happy with the strategy.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Genetically bad parents

A couple of weeks ago I took Elissa to see an eye specialist because I could see she had a squint. Turns out she has the trifecta - very long sighted, small squint and very poor vision in one eye. The working theory is that the long sightedness caused the squint, which in turn caused the lazy eye. I have to say, I am fairly unconvinced by this theory. The squint is small, and hasn't been there very long. It seems far more likely that the poor vision in one eye has caused the squint, or that they are unrelated. Nevertheless, I'm not the one with the piece of paper, so we follow the strategy and see what happens.

The strategy is glasses correcting for the long sightedness for a month or so, and then see what that achieves. The likely next step is patching. This gives me the horrors - I remember being patched. Being forced to use an eye that doesn't work properly is infuriating and frustrating. In my case, it was also pointless. I bring this past to my daughter's treatment. It's going to be hard work to make sure it represents valuable experience and not obstructionist bias. Time will tell whether I also brought it to her as genetic inheritance.

But, the glasses seem to be helping her to see. This I base on the fact that getting her to wear them is not a complete shit fight.

Although, as I type, she has not yet got dressed for the day (the photo is from yesterday), at 11am, and is therefore not wearing her glasses.

Charlie's glasses and surgery were a doddle in comparison.