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All 107 Posts in the Category: Culture

Sep 18

What it’s like to run a High-Roller Suite in Vegas 

A Bloomberg article, Secrets of Las Vegas’s Exclusive High-Roller Cosmopolitan Suite, shares some interesting stories about high-roller suites and the guests that use them. Nothing terribly surprising, but still a fun read.

Among high-rollers, superstitions can quickly escalate from the demanding to the absurd. Some millionaires will sleep on the couch because they believe a bed with a headboard will beckon bad fortune. Others crowd themselves with citrus—often with holes poked to “unleash the luck”—scattering pierced oranges and lemons around the suite, letting them rot during longer stays. Also lucky for clients from the Far East: filling water basins to the brim. That’s how one high-roller flooded his bathtub … and the suite underneath.

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Aug 18

Million dollar artworks, sold in $20 lots

Masterworks is a like investing in a fine art work fund, but for individual artworks. I can see the appeal to some. From CNN:

Masterworks is one of a handful of new investment platforms hoping to widen access to the elite world of art collecting. The firm will purchase paintings at auction before transferring ownership to shareholders. It then takes a management fee — covering costs like storage, transportation and insurance — as well as a percentage of any profit made when the artworks are sold.

Fees are a roughly flat 10% management fee for the first 5 years, plus 20% carry. So basically a 2 and 20 model.

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Oct 12

Will Sydney finally get street nightlife?

Palo Alto, only 45 minutes from San Francisco, is geographically in the middle of Silicon Valley. It’s also in the middle of suburbia. One natural side effect of this is that everything is dead in town by 9pm. Even on the weekends, California’s 2am last call laws (no alcohol served after 2am) means that things wind up pretty early compared to just about any other major city in the world.

Strangely, it reminds me a lot of Sydney, where everything also shuts early.

However, Sydney is not some podunk city. Sure you have the bars and clubs that open late, but outside of those haunts, there’s nothing but people roaming the streets looking for cabs and kebab joints. It’s missing the midnight mamak stalls of Malaysia, the bustling sidewalks of New York, and the never-closing stores of Hong Kong. Back in my uni days, during exam times, my flatmate and I would take a late night study break and head out to grab a bite. Unfortunately the pickings were slim – we were relegated to the 24 hour McDonald’s down the road, a kebab shop in Coogee, $3 bowls of Laksa at Star City Casino, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in Woolloomooloo, and Pancakes on the Rocks. That was about it.

If this article in the SMH is anything to go by, this could now start to change:

The City of Sydney hopes to double the late-night economy’s annual turnover to $30 billion and increase after-hours jobs by 25 per cent by 2030. But, more than just economics, it is hoped that a vibrant late-night economy will mean more visitors, less alcohol-fuelled violence, an enhanced global reputation and inspired residents.

“It’s about more than whether you can get a latte beyond 11pm,” says Jess Scully, the director of Vivid Ideas. “It’s about the kind of lifestyle and city we want.” …

It would be an interesting experiment to add one thing to George Street at 11pm: open shops. Would party-goers change their behaviour? Would there be a different crowd on the footpaths? Retailers will potentially play a big part in the Sydney of the future, whether it be opening later or activating their shop fronts at night with creative lighting and pop-up events, but there are challenges.

Sydney has traditionally been a city of early risers, reflected in 9am-5pm operating hours, despite demand for shopping hours closer to Berlin’s (10am-8pm), or even our Asian neighbours, who shop until 11pm.

NSW Small Business Commissioner Yasmin King predicts that our complex system of late-night and weekend penalty rates for retail workers will hamper many shops from opening late and a review may be required. She says it will be difficult to source workers, compounded by a lack of transport options to get to and from work. The experience of some retailers, however, suggests it is possible. During Vivid, one ice-cream vendor sold twice as much at 11pm on a winter’s night as he would on a summer’s day.

On Crown Street in Surry Hills, nestled between grungy barbers, boutiques and bars, one bookshop, like many others in Sydney, stays open until 10pm on weekends. The store manager of Oscar & Friends, William Noble, says they have no trouble finding and funding staff to work nights, which is sometimes double the daytime trade. Most of the night workers use the network of bike lanes to ride to and from work. “The demand definitely makes it worth it,” he says. “We mostly get people browsing after dinner. It’s just a lovely vibe.”

Sydney’s a great city, but this is one big thing that it’s missing.

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Sep 12

Honor Among Magicians

Esquire Magazine has an interesting article about Teller (of Penn & Teller) suing for copyright infringement of one of his magic performances. But the article is really about the raison d’être of performing magic and illusion.

When Teller filed his lawsuit, it made news: ROGUE MAGICIAN IS EXPOSING OUR SECRETS!!! read the TMZ headline. Teller did not like the coverage. The publicity might have sold more tickets to the show, but it misunderstood his purpose. Most of the stories suggested that he was suing Bakardy to protect the secret of his trick, the method. “The method doesn’t matter,” Teller says. He has performed Shadows over the years with three different methods, seeking perfection. The first involved a web of fishing line that took a painfully long time to set up; the second version required rigid, uncomfortable choreography; the third, today’s version, he has never revealed. Bakardy, who said that he had seen Penn & Teller’s show, almost certainly didn’t use Teller’s present method. He knew only the idea and the effect it had on the audience. He felt the crackle that runs through the otherwise silent theater when Teller wields his knife; he saw that some people start to cry, little soft sobs in the dark; he heard that some people make strange noises and other people try to make noises and fail. What Bakardy stole from Teller wasn’t a secret. Bakardy stole something that everybody who has ever seen Shadows already knows.

“It’s a particularly great trick,” Steinmeyer says. “It’s beautiful and elegant. It needs no stupid patter. It needs no stupid presentation. Every one of its little surprises makes perfect sense. It has some feeling that it’s bigger; it hints at things that are bigger and more interesting than the trick itself. It’s three minutes long, and it’s just perfect.”

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Nov 11

How diaspora networks, migration and technology are changing the global economy

This week’s Economist magazine has two great articles on diaspora and how migrants impact the flow of commerce around the world – and how technology has change the importance of migrant networks: Weaving the World Together and The Magic of Diasporas. As part of two diaspora communities myself, I found it all a very interesting read. The focus is mostly on Chinese and Indian diaspora, but strangely virtually no mention about Jewish diaspora.

The creativity of migrants is enhanced by their ability to enroll collaborators both far-off and nearby. In Silicon Valley, more than half of Chinese and Indian scientists and engineers share tips about technology or business opportunities with people in their home countries, according to AnnaLee Saxenian of the University of California, Berkeley. A study by the Kauffman Foundation, a think-tank, found that 84% of returning Indian entrepreneurs maintain at least monthly contact with family and friends in America, and 66% are in contact at least that often with former colleagues. For entrepreneurs who return to China, the figures are 81% and 55%. The subjects they talk about most are customers (61% of Indians and 74% of Chinese mention this), markets (62% of Indians, 71% of Chinese), technical information (58% of Indians, 68% of Chinese) and business funding (31% of Indians, 54% of Chinese). …

Shrewd firms are taking notice. China’s high-tech industry is dominated by returnees from abroad, such as Robin Li and Eric Xu, the founders of Baidu, China’s leading search engine. Asked how many of his top people had worked or studied abroad, N. Chandrasekaran, the boss of Tata Consulting Services, a big Indian IT firm, replies: “All of them.”


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Jun 11

A pom’s impressions of Australia

I thought these were two interesting tidbits from this blog post:

In Australia, [Parliament] sits for only 80 days a year – an innovation we should copy – and on each day there is a 90 minute Question Time session in which all government ministers partake. The behaviour in the chamber on this occasion was even worse than the day before. And that’s saying something. I like adversarial politics. I would hate to have a sterile chamber like the US House of Representatives or the German Bundestag, but the Australians take adversarial politics to ridiculous levels. The pure hatred and loathing on the facts of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have to be seen to be believed. And the others take their lead from them. The Speaker, a gentle soul called Harry Jenkins, seems powerless to call order. Every few seconds he murmurs ‘Order’ but few take any notice. He names people. Still they take no notice. He can send people out of the chamber for an hour to cool down, and does. He can ban people. But they see no shame in being named or sin-binned. Indeed, it seems to be a badge of honour. The Speaker doesn’t ever seem to stand. He just sits there and every 20 seconds or so, says ‘Order’. To me, he is part of the problem. He’s not an authority figure, and boy does that chamber need an authority figure. Anyway, during Tuesday’s session I tweeted this…

“The UK House of Commons is often accused of behaving like a playground. It has nothing on the Aussie House of Reps. Unbelievable behaviour.”

This led to quite a strong reaction on Twitter and gained me about 200 extra followers. Remarkably virtually everyone agreed.


Just a final word about my first impressions of Australia on this visit. The one thing that has struck me so far is that it is an incredible optimistic, cheerful nation. People actually smile at you. You don’t get many smiles to the dozen in London, but here, it’s as if people are enjoying life and are not letting problems get them down. Sydney is a very cosmopolitan city and on the outside at least has coped very well with integrating a huge number of migrants from fellow Asian countries. But the prices! My God, this is the most expensive place I have ever been in my life. It’s far more expensive than Scandinavia and Switzerland. A Mars Bar costs £2! A can of coke in the hotel is £5. I ordered a club sandwich, a cranberry juice and a cherry strudel desert. The bill came to more than £55. Breakfast is £30. Madness.

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Oct 10

Rally in DC

The Guardian has an article on the upcoming Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. It’s a rally that’s proven difficult to characterize, other than it’s an attempt draw attention away from the vocal extremists and towards the more reasonable (relative) centrists.

“Glenn Beck is doing something completely different. He doesn’t just do partisan anti-Democratic talking points in the traditional sense. He’s really grabbed on to something much more paranoid and much more dangerous, warning people against the government. It’s not that Obama is too liberal or that his tax cuts are too small or it’s not that he should be more hawkish overseas. It’s really that he’s trying to destroy America and that the reason he ran to be president is that he wanted to destroy the constitution, he wants to take away all your liberties and he wants the government to take over all aspects of daily life.”

You would think this sort of talk would be relegated to the loony fringe conspiracy-type crowd, but in America, this guy has an audience of literally millions.

I’ll be at the Rally on Saturday – it’ll be an interesting experience.

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Sep 10

Stealing from the wrong person

Amanda Enayati’s belongings were stolen after her husband left their car unlocked in San Francisco. Instead of turning immediately to the police, she decided to track down the thief herself, with interesting results. Enayati herself has an interesting background, which made the thief’s decision an especially bad one.

See, aspiring thief, you just never know what you’re stepping into when you hit up a random car on a random street. However badass you think you may be, there is someone on the other side of the robbery. And in this particular case it was someone who escaped the Iranian Revolution as a child; who roamed the world alone for five years because her parents couldn’t get out; who watched from a dozen blocks away as the twin towers crumbled; who had just barely clawed her way out of that concentration camp known as late-stage cancer, if only because she was intent on raising her babies, come hell or high water. And all of this before she even turned 40. Can you see how that someone might be way more twisted than you?

There must be some sort of horror movie that’s based on this premise. Like, stealing-from-a-gypsy-and-getting-cursed kind of horror movie.

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Sep 10

Tipping around the world

As the new batch of international students arrive for another academic year here, one common issue they have is coming to terms with tipping. This is an issue that causes actual, real stress: How much do you give? When do you give it? How do you give it? Failure to get it right can earn you an angry reprimand – something which is unheard of in most parts of the world. Ignorance is a poor defense.

Mint has an interesting comparison of tipping practices throughout the world. Even in places where tipping is a known practice, it seems that it rarely is an expectation (outside of restaurants).

Australia’s not quite so unaccustomed to the art of gratuity, but it’s still a far cry from the States. “Tipping’s not necessary because minimum wage there is a lot higher than it is in the U.S.,” says Bryan Silverman, a Californian who lived in Australia for the past two years. “Usually people just round up to the nearest five-dollar on the bill.”

Mint has also written another post on whether you should tip for bad service.

After two years here, I’m still not 100% used to tipping. When I was in NY at a restaurant earlier in the year, a server offered to put the duffel bag I was carrying off to the side. When I left the restaurant, I asked for my bag back, took it, and walked off, while the friend I was with turned around and whispered to me, “Hey, did you tip the guy?” A brief but sharp wave of dread swept over me. It hadn’t occurred to me at all.

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Aug 10

Languages shaping worldviews

Another fascinating article (adapted from this upcoming book) about how our language affects our worldview.

In recent years, various experiments have shown that grammatical genders can shape the feelings and associations of speakers toward objects around them. In the 1990s, for example, psychologists compared associations between speakers of German and Spanish. There are many inanimate nouns whose genders in the two languages are reversed. A German bridge is feminine (die Brücke), for instance, but el puente is masculine in Spanish; and the same goes for clocks, apartments, forks, newspapers, pockets, shoulders, stamps, tickets, violins, the sun, the world and love. On the other hand, an apple is masculine for Germans but feminine in Spanish, and so are chairs, brooms, butterflies, keys, mountains, stars, tables, wars, rain and garbage. When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. With objects like mountains or chairs, which are “he” in German but “she” in Spanish, the effect was reversed.

And another example:

In order to speak a language like Guugu Yimithirr, you need to know where the cardinal directions are at each and every moment of your waking life. You need to have a compass in your mind that operates all the time, day and night, without lunch breaks or weekends off, since otherwise you would not be able to impart the most basic information or understand what people around you are saying. Indeed, speakers of geographic languages seem to have an almost-superhuman sense of orientation. Regardless of visibility conditions, regardless of whether they are in thick forest or on an open plain, whether outside or indoors or even in caves, whether stationary or moving, they have a spot-on sense of direction. They don’t look at the sun and pause for a moment of calculation before they say, “There’s an ant just north of your foot.” They simply feel where north, south, west and east are, just as people with perfect pitch feel what each note is without having to calculate intervals. There is a wealth of stories about what to us may seem like incredible feats of orientation but for speakers of geographic languages are just a matter of course. One report relates how a speaker of Tzeltal from southern Mexico was blindfolded and spun around more than 20 times in a darkened house. Still blindfolded and dizzy, he pointed without hesitation at the geographic directions.

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Jul 10

Teaching Koreans some swear words

This is gold:

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Night owls

A study by a psychologist observes that night owls tend to have higher IQs, and appears to postulate that “we must now rely on general intelligence to override our early-to-bed instincts. So those with more of it stay up later.” This is a bit bizarre. Might it be that people with higher IQs simply tend to be in professions which demand longer working hours, so they get used to sleeping later?

Night Lights
Bedtimes and wake-up times for Americans in their 20s by IQ.

Very Dull (IQ < 75)
Weekday: 11:41 P.M.-7:20 A.M.
Weekend: 12:35 A.M.-10:09 A.M.

Normal (90 < IQ < 110)
Weekday: 12:10 A.M.-7:32 A.M.
Weekend: 1:13 A.M.-10:14 A.M.

Very Bright (IQ > 125)
Weekday: 12:29 A.M.-7:52 A.M.
Weekend: 1:44 A.M.-11:07 A.M.

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Jul 10

GQ Interviews Bill Murray

GQ has an interview with Bill Murray in their August 2010 issue.

Bill Murray famously does not give interviews—he’s sat down for exactly four prolonged media encounters in the past ten years—and when he does, it’s never clear what you’re going to get. You just have to pray he’s in a good mood.

This is interview number five, then.

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Jul 10

Evidence that the West Coast is happier than the East

This is a visualisation of Tweets by US state of origin. Tweets were analysed for key words indicating moods, producing this:

The West Coast is generally happier than the East. Californians are much happier than New Yorkers, who seem to be perpetually grumpy. Early afternoons suck for everyone. Also, Californians tweet a lot (not exactly a surprise). Other conclusions.

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May 10

The art of the State dinner

Vanity Fair has a fascinating article about the role that State dinners play, all the protocol and diplomacy that underlies them, and how each President brings their own style to these dinner party-of-dinner parties.

Like most presidential couples, both Nixons reviewed the seating plan for state dinners once the social secretary had made up a preliminary chart. According to Breathitt, “Henry Kissinger was in on the seating, too.” The national-security adviser, who was then a bachelor, was clear about his preferences. “One day I walked upstairs to the second floor of the East Wing,” says Breathitt, “and coming out of the men’s room there was Henry Kissinger with Anatoly Dobrynin, the Russian ambassador during the pits of the Cold War. Henry grabbed me and said, ‘Anatoly, this woman will be the death of me. She seated me next to a 98-year-old crone last night who had no teeth.’ So I said, ‘Phoo on you. That was the foreign minister’s wife, and you need to sit next to someone with dignity and rank.’ He said, ‘I know everything! Bring out the beautiful spies who will torture all these things out of me!’ Dobrynin said, ‘Never seat him next to beautiful women. I cannot do a thing with him the next day when you’ve seated him next to a beautiful woman.’ So that became the challenge: Henry was always seated next to whoever was the prettiest on the guest list. If we didn’t know who was the prettiest or see any likely candidate, the military social aides were told at their briefings that they were to report back on the cleavage factor, and we would then have a massive reshuffling of place cards. It finally came to the point where [White House chief of staff] Bob Haldeman told me that if I ever seated Henry next to a beautiful woman again I’d be fired.”

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May 10

How the language we speak affects our worldview

An article in Stanford Magazine about research on how language shapes how we think and view the world. I’ve always found this issue fascinating:

English is not that precise, but it is true that every time you use a verb in English, you are conveying information about time. Depending on whether something has happened already (I made dinner), is happening now (I am making dinner), or will happen in the future (I will make dinner), the speaker must pick different verb forms. Without the temporal information, the utterance would feel incomplete, ungrammatical. You couldn’t just say I make dinner in all three cases.

Not so in Indonesian. Unlike English, Indonesian verbs never change to express time: Make is always just make. Although Indonesian speakers can add words like already or soon, this is optional. It doesn’t feel incomplete or ungrammatical to just say, I make dinner.

This led to another fascinating experimental result—and to Boroditsky’s opening up a laboratory in Indonesia. A student from Indonesia assured Boroditsky, who was still skeptical, that most Indonesians simply do not bother to mark time when they speak. So she challenged the student to set up an experiment where Indonesian speakers would be shown photographs of the same act in a time progression: a man about to kick a soccer ball, a man kicking a soccer ball, a man who has kicked the ball, which is flying away. Boroditsky and the student made a bet. Is it possible that Indonesian speakers wouldn’t mark time progression? If they did not care about time, what would they pay attention to?

The article has plenty of other interesting examples, such as how time is a “horizontal” concept for English speakers (past is behind, future is ahead) but a “vertical” concept for Mandarin speaker (past is down, future is up).

It’s fascinating how such a fundamental part of being human (communication via a spoken language) manifests itself in completely different ways around the world – to the extent that the way cultures have figured out how to communicate belong to a myriad of systems which are often completely incompatible and require a very different way of thinking to interpret.

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May 10

Goldman Sachs’ new HQ in NYC

The New Yorker reports on Goldman’s new building:

Goldman Sachs, one of the largest and most profitable financial firms in the world, has a different view of things. Several thousand Goldman employees have just moved into a sleek steel-and-glass headquarters in lower Manhattan that is emphatically not called One Goldman Sachs Plaza. At 200 West Street, as the building is known, the name of the firm appears nowhere on the exterior, or in the lobby, or even on the uniforms of the security personnel or the badges given to visitors. Forty-three stories tall and two city blocks long, the Goldman building appears to have been designed in the hope of rendering the company invisible.

And here are some photos: view from the 42nd floor; corner shot from same floor; view from the ground (sorry, the only ones I found on Flickr were HDR and B&W).

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Jan 10

River Crab Society

A close friend of mine, an Aussie stock picker living in Beijing, has a new blog called River Crab Society. It promises to be an interesting mix of cultural quips and financial insights about China (if the rodent manages to keep the thing regularly updated).

China’s online travel penetration rate is only 5%. cTrip.com has a 50% market share of China’s online travel market. China’s travel market is going to be massive, so stock up on those overnight adult travel nappies!

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Jan 10

Difficult languages: Tongue twisters

The Economist examines the question, “What is the most difficult language in the world?” I would think the answer is, of course, the one which is structured in the way that is the most foreign to your native language or languages. But what attributes make languages different from each other?

The article delves into a mix of different grammatical aspects, like verb conjugation, consistency of noun pluralization, genderization of words, predictability of spelling (“English is a relatively simple language, absurdly spelled”), case-marking nouns (Estonian has 14), aspect, and level of agglutinization.

It also considers oral aspects, like vowel tonality (like in Chinese dialects), consonant pronunciation (egressive, ingressive, ejective, pharyngealised, palatised, non-pulmonic clicking, etc) and the number of existing sounds (the now-extinct Ubykh has 78 consonant sounds). Then there is encoding, in which concepts are embedded in words depending on their forms.

Here are two punchlines to the article if you don’t want to read the whole thing:

For sound complexity, one language stands out. !Xóõ, spoken by just a few thousand, mostly in Botswana, has a blistering array of unusual sounds. Its vowels include plain, pharyngealised, strident and breathy, and they carry four tones. It has five basic clicks and 17 accompanying ones. The leading expert on the !Xóõ, Tony Traill, developed a lump on his larynx from learning to make their sounds. Further research showed that adult !Xóõ-speakers had the same lump (children had not developed it yet). …

With all that in mind, which is the hardest language? On balance The Economist would go for Tuyuca, of the eastern Amazon. It has a sound system with simple consonants and a few nasal vowels, so is not as hard to speak as Ubykh or !Xóõ. Like Turkish, it is heavily agglutinating, so that one word, hóabãsiriga means “I do not know how to write.” Like Kwaio, it has two words for “we”, inclusive and exclusive. The noun classes (genders) in Tuyuca’s language family (including close relatives) have been estimated at between 50 and 140. Some are rare, such as “bark that does not cling closely to a tree”, which can be extended to things such as baggy trousers, or wet plywood that has begun to peel apart.

Most fascinating is a feature that would make any journalist tremble. Tuyuca requires verb-endings on statements to show how the speaker knows something. Diga ape-wi means that “the boy played soccer (I know because I saw him)”, while diga ape-hiyi means “the boy played soccer (I assume)”. English can provide such information, but for Tuyuca that is an obligatory ending on the verb. Evidential languages force speakers to think hard about how they learned what they say they know.

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Dec 09

The Emu War of 1932

In 1932, military personnel were brought in to conduct a cull of emus which Western Australian farmers claimed were destroying their crops. The soldiers were armed with machine guns. However, the Australian army wasn’t as successful as they first expected:

“The machine-gunners’ dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month.”

On one sortie, a plan to trap and kill 1,000 emus resulted in only 12 deaths. On another sortie, the army used 2,500 rounds of ammunition to take out 50 birds. It became known as The Emu War. (Why did we not learn about this in school?)

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Dec 09

The 56 ethnic groups of China

This page shows family portraits of each of China’s 56 ethnic groups. There’s great diversity there – there are well-known minorities such as the Uighurs and Tibetans; there are spillovers from neighboring countries, like the Russians, Koreans and Kazaks; and there are obscure groups like the Lisu, Va, Oroqen, Ewenki and Salar. Wikipedia has more information on some of these groups. But despite this apparent cultural richness, the ethnic Han Chinese (汉人, Hàn rén) comprise 92% of all mainlanders. Their photo is the last to appear on the page. There are over 1.3 billion of them (or should I say, us), with around 40 million being overseas migrants.

Ethnic Manchu

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Jul 08

Cities and Ambition

Paul Graham wrote a great article on the different kinds of messages that US cities signal to their inhabitants.

New York tells you, above all: you should make more money. … What I like about Boston (or rather Cambridge) is that the message there is: you should be smarter. … As much as they respect brains in Silicon Valley, the message the Valley sends is: you should be more powerful. … Cambridge as a result feels like a town whose main industry is ideas, while New York’s is finance and Silicon Valley’s is startups.

One of the more interesting points from that article is that what gives a city its particular “strength” is the notion that everyone there values the same thing – the peer recognition factor and how everyone is on the same level and frame of mind. It makes certain cities sound like big special interest clubs.

It’s in these more chaotic fields that it helps most to be in a great city: you need the encouragement of feeling that people around you care about the kind of work you do, and since you have to find peers for yourself, you need the much larger intake mechanism of a great city.

Jun 08

Paying the bill in Zimbabwe

The scary thing is, this was back in March this year. You might need three lines to fit the total dollar amount on bills these days…

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May 08

Town moves against Islamic school

I was born and grew up in Camden. My parents still live there. It’s a peaceful country town, pleasant, but not particularly newsworthy. But now it’s making the news, and for all the wrong reasons. In particular, this BBC news article about my hometown is very discomforting. I find it especially discomforting as an Asian Australian and as a former “local”. In a nutshell, a proposal to construct an Islamic school for about a thousand Muslim students has been met by huge local opposition, culminating at one stage in one rabid nationalist (or group of nationalists) sticking two pig heads on pikes with an Australian flag draped in between on the site of the proposed school. The council has rejected the development application based on “planning grounds” and submissions from thousands of people. But the bitter truth is that local opposition has been predominantly based on racial reasons. Here are some choice quotes from the article:

“This has to be one of the nicest places in New South Wales,” said one woman, who has lived in Camden for the past nine years. Everywhere is being destroyed. Why don’t we tell the truth. They’re wrecking Australia. They’re taking us over,” she said. “Why hasn’t anyone got any guts? They’ve got terrorists amongst ’em… They want to be here so they can go and hide in all the farm houses… This town has every nationality… but Muslims do not fit in this town. We are Aussies, OK.”


“Can I just say this without being racist or political?” he said. “In 1983, in the streets of London a parade by Muslims chanted incessantly ‘If we can take London, we can take the world’. Don’t let them take Camden.”

Hint: whenever someone says something like, “I’m not racist but…” they are absolutely about to say something racist.

To be fair, I can totally understand how people would oppose such a development because it would tend to change (perhaps irrevocably) the character of a town which has had a very consistent pastoral, settler-type history since it was founded. There’s a distinct tension between preserving the status quo, and moving with the times. Suburbs do change over time – for instance, predominantly Vietnamese Cabramatta used to be predominantly Greek several decades ago – and there are both positives and negatives associated with that change. I believe there are valid arguments on both sides, but what is not a valid argument, is the one that seems to be the prevailing one among the locals.

May 08

A book to add to the reading list

Malcolm Gladwell’s releasing a new book called Outliers later this year. It’s a book about the backgrounds of the highly successful. Ought to make for interesting reading… I know I’ll be picking up a copy when it comes out.

The promo blurb reads:

Outliers is a book about success. It starts with a very simple question: what is the difference between those who do something special with their lives and everyone else? In Outliers, we’re going to visit a genius who lives on a horse farm in Northern Missouri. We’re going to examine the bizarre histories of professional hockey and soccer players, and look into the peculiar childhood of Bill Gates, and spend time in a Chinese rice paddy, and investigate the world’s greatest law firm, and wonder about what distinguishes pilots who crash planes from those who don’t. And in examining the lives of the remarkable among us—the brilliant, the exceptional and the unusual—I want to convince you that the way we think about success is all wrong.

The reference to “world’s greatest law firm” perked my attention. My hunch is that Gladwell has written about Wachtell. WLRK is a firm which has, on a consistent basis, the highest profitability per partner – and not by a few percent over its closest competitor (typically Cravath) but by margins in the region of 50% or so. And its associates are paid absurdly well because of it (although the rumour is that they push the equivalent of 3000 billables each year – I say “equivalent” because they tend to work on an i-bank-like contingency fee basis). More interesting is that it’s a relatively young firm. In fact, three of its name partners are still working there. It’s also a small firm – only a couple hundred attorneys. Another unique aspect is that it has a partner:associate ratio of about 1:1.

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Mar 08

Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin (“Pride of Malaysia”)

This chap gives the ex-Iraqi information minister a run for his money. The link is to a video and a much needed transcript. In the space of a few minutes, the good Datuk manages to slag off al-Jazeera, ramble completely incoherently and accuse his interviewer of exaggerating “more than what actually happened”. To which the response is, in an immaculate British accent, “As you say that, sir, we’re watching scenes of protesters being sprayed by chemical-filled water!” Now there’s a quote for the ages.

With his unique command of English, Mr Maidin could find a second job as a tech support officer.

Sep 06

Australian happiness studies

This article in the SMH, “We’re richer but not happier” is an interesting one. From a sample size of 1000 Australians, four out of 10 “think life is getting worse despite having experienced an era of spectacular economic growth, rising incomes and low unemployment”. Only a quarter think that life is improving.

I think those statistics, if representative of Australia at large, are surprising and a little disturbing. From an economic perspective, things are going well. With unemployment is the lowest its been in several decades and underlying inflation within the RBA’s target band, the country’s political and economic environment are stable. I was only in primary school during our last recession (the one “we had to have“) but I do remember the gloomy mood at the time – quite a contrast to what’s happened over the last 10 years or so. We fuss about 0.25% rises in interest rates and soaring petrol prices now, but at least we have jobs that can pay for them. And despite the focus on terrorism, eroded civil liberties and various disagreeable government policies, the social environment has been mostly stable as well.

It’s almost trite to say that, past a certain point, wealth doesn’t necessarily correlate to happiness. Past the point where your money allows you to support yourself and your family, everything suddenly becomes relative. That’s why people living on US$20 day in developing countries can feel as happy as someone earning ten times that amount in a western country. It’s an obvious concept, but I suppose a hard principle to live your life by because of the societal conventions we are brought up to instinctively believe. Happiness as a goal is elusive, whereas wealth can be easily distilled into a number.

The article identifies family as the most important source of happiness, but it neglects to say why people currently think life is getting worse. The question asked was phrased: “Thinking about the overall quality of life of people in Australia, taking into account social, economic and environmental conditions and trends, would you say that life in Australia is getting better, worse, or staying about the same?” Which is different from saying, “Is your life getting better or worse?”

The former question looks at macro factors (eg, socio-economic trends and general conditions) which may be quite detached from the personal factors (family, health, community and friends). For example, deriving happiness from your family is largely independent from how the economy is faring. “Work fulfillment” and a “nice place to live” (not sure whether that means a nice house, or just a nice country to be in) which are personal factors more directly linked to socio-economic factors barely rate a mention as a source of personal happiness.

The question about the happiness pill (“Would you take a legal happiness pill that had no detrimental side-effects?”) is a non-sensical question. Happiness is instinctively addictive, since that’s what all of us want in life (even if we don’t consciously know it). By extension, such a pill would be too. But even putting that aside, if we could all afford to pop these pills all day, we wouldn’t need to do anything to achieve happiness, so we could just sit around all day smiling while the world around collapses. But that’s okay, because as long as we’re on the happiness pill, we don’t have to deal with that calamity. Which means pretty much you’d have to keep taking the pill because once you stopped, you’d be facing a reality that would turn you suicidal. That sounds like a pretty bad, unavoidable side-effect to me.

All in all, I do find it peculiar that 40% of us think that life is getting worse. Does anyone have any ideas about why?

Aug 06

Political orientation quiz

Found this 50 question quiz through Ros’ blog which is meant to indicate your political orientation. I’m smack bang in the centre. About 5 years ago, I would definitely have been more to the right. The questions on there are quite interesting. There are some I feel quite strongly about (eg bill of rights), yet there are others whose underlying issues I feel I don’t know enough about to be able to form an informed opinion (eg making the elderly pay for their own care if they can afford it).

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Jul 06

Gambling for the Cup

Asia might have no teams in the knockout stage of the World Cup, but they are still very much involved.

WHEN Totti slotted in the cruel penalty goal that sent Italy, Australia and a Chinese commentator by the name of Huang Jianxiang ballistic (all for different reasons), they weren’t alone. In that same instant around the world, millions of dollars changed hands among thousands upon thousands of people who were now either revelling in a sudden influx of pocket money or despairing the loss of several days’ worth of wages.

Backtrack to four years ago and the 2002 World Cup. Being the first Cup to be hosted in Asia, reasonable timezone differences meant that Australia was truly exposed to World Cup football for the first time. Only having a passing interest in football before that, I quickly gained an appreciation for the game watching the best players in the world strut their stuff.

I remember getting caught up in the event and placing a couple small bets on matches at the local TAB, just like people who have no idea about horse-racing do once a year at the Melbourne Cup. I was pretty proud with my winnings until I spoke to my friend Cheng about it, who scoffed at my paltry wagers. Cheng would have been an international student had he not obtained an Australian permanent residency visa through some vague family diplomatic connections. He was a fairly typical international student, his overseas study being funded by money sent from home. Not exactly poor by student standards, but not from an obscenely rich family either – you know the type, those who buy penthouse apartments for their children to live in while they study in a foreign land.

Cheng bet on nearly every match, each wager usually a triple digit number. Often he’d place a bet through his brother-in-law back in his home country, who would forward the bet onto a local bookie of some description using the cryptic quoting system of Asian odds (where giving or “eating” quarter-balls, half-balls and full-balls give a wider variety of betting choices rather than betting on a straight win or loss). When Cheng couldn’t get in contact with him, he’d resort to the TAB instead.

The 2002 World Cup was full of upsets, and a long string of bad bets saw him saddled with a deficit that was almost four digits long by the time Brazil held up the trophy. Nonetheless, I had been briefly exposed to the Asian culture of gambling that, in my naivety, I never knew existed.

Gambling is very much a cultural phenomenon in Asia. Just like going out for a drink at the pub at the end of the day is usual in some parts of the Western world, making a casual visit to the casino is a similar pastime in Asia. Similar to how we view drinking, gambling in Asia doesn’t attract the same sort of social stigma as it does here. Sure, gambling addicts can end up ruining their lives and the lives of those around them, but this is as large a social problem as alcohol addiction. The fact is that most casual gamblers don’t operate in the extreme, and it is just as easy to blow $100 on alcohol during a night as it is on the dai sai tables. (And with gambling there’s the advantage that you probably won’t end up in compromising positions on people’s mailboxes the next morning.)

When I was younger, I would often accompany mum to a relative’s or family friend’s house, and while I would muck around with the other kids, the grown-ups would always be busy at it on the raucous mahjong table. After the clattering of mahjong tiles had stopped, signalling the end of one hand, chips would be tossed across the table to the victor (along with mutters of disbelief or cries of joy). They always played for money. And I always remember responding with shock when people either lost or won a hundred or so dollars during the course of one night (which to a ten year-old was quite a lot of pocket money, especially for one who never got any pocket money!).

Interestingly, there were never any sour faces after those games, even from those who had lost the most. There were a few choice profanities tossed around by the losers, but it was always in good jest. I recall asking mum why they had to play for money and she explained that it was more fun that way, and the winner would always go off and buy everyone lunch the next day anyway, so in reality the money came back to you in the end. So really, even when the money never actually made a difference, they always still played with it.

Of course, in a casino, the money doesn’t always come back to you in the end, but I suspect it’s that culture of willing to take a loss and not see it as a loss but an expense incurred in exchange for a form of entertainment – a valid way of spending your money – that makes gambling so natural to many Asians.

It’s no coincidence that when you visit Star City at any given hour of the day, Asians will easily outnumber people of all other races on the casino floor. I was in Macau casino recently and was amazed to see that at 10.00am on a weekday, all the tables were at capacity, crammed with people two-rows deep, jostling to split their pair of aces, or place another hundred dollars on red.

The Asian gambling market is “officially” valued at about A$30 billion a year. That’s just the legal operations which operate under government license and pay their taxes. Underground betting organisations are estimated to comprise a massive 80% of the market, which means that the turnover of the whole market is well over $100 billion annually.

Clearly it’s a lucrative market. Centrebet, the Australian online bookmaker, is floating this week on the ASX, and in their prospectus they disclosed that they normally make about a 5% profit off their turnover. Who knows what unlicensed bookies make in their undeclared earnings?

Of course, the flow of wagers is not constant throughout the year, and it tends to spike heavily during large sporting events. And as far as large sporting events go, there is no larger one than the World Cup.

News articles abound of police cracking down on gambling for the World Cup. The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran a report of a police sting where a bunch of Hong Kongers and Malaysians were arrested. They had flown into Australia to run their sports betting operation and were nabbed in their hotel rooms with mobiles, computers, fax machines and tens of thousands of dollars in cash.

Illegal bookies often offer better odds (with odds changing in realtime and bets often being taken up until the final whistle), flexible betting systems (with exotic wagers on things such as how many corners there are in a game), and even personalised service, phoning up valued punters to ask if they’d like to place a bet on a match they’d probably be interested in.

Of course, it’s much harder tracking down gambling syndicates these days where electronic funds transfer makes everything so much less obvious. No longer do you have to lug a suitcase around to deliver on your wager. A bet is only a mouse click or phone call away.

I know someone who opened up an account with one of these underground online gambling operations. Unlike legitimate online operations, signing up only required a referral from a friend (since these operations don’t publicise themselves through traditional media channels), and a username. That’s it – no address, no contact details, not even money to fund his account with. The bookies extend all members an automatic line of credit, with normal accounts providing up to several thousand dollars of credit per day.

If an account goes into the red and hits a certain limit, the bookies will come around to collect. Without contact details, you might think that is a little difficult, but as all members come from referrals (with referrers effectively vouching for, and acting as guarantors for referees), a door knock from a debt collector with a penchant for dislodging kneecaps is only a few degrees of separation away. It’s a fairly insidious instant-credit facility which has shadiness written all over it, but nonetheless the odds they offer are quite competitive, and bets are taken and odds are recalculated all the way up to the final whistle. Conversely, I imagine that they would be reliable in paying up your winnings, since reputation is hugely important – and if the operators are shady, then surely some of their clients would be even shadier.

Meanwhile, during the World Cup a different group of punters hit the online bookies. Except that they aren’t really punters, but arbitrageurs. In traditional finance, an arbitrage is a transaction which exploits pricing mismatches in order to obtain a risk-free profit. For example, imagine you have two marketplaces in neighbouring towns that buy and sell widgets. The first town is selling widgets at $1.00, but in the next town, they are willing to buy widgets at $1.05. So you can buy a bunch of widgets in town A, drive over to town B and sell them for a 5% profit, which will be risk-free assuming the prices don’t change while you’re driving, or your car doesn’t break down on the way or something like that.

This principle works in the gambling world as well, since supply and demand is one factor which determines the odds bookies post. For example, in tonight’s Italy vs France World Cup Final, Italy might be odds on favourite to win the World Cup at $1.50, against France’s $2.00 to win (that is, if you give $1 to a bookie to bet on Italy to win, then you’ll get $1.50 back if Italy does win). However, if reports came out an hour before kickoff that Cannavaro and Buffon had eaten something dodgy at lunchtime and were out with diarrhoea, the sizeable influx of people betting on France to win would push France’s odds down and Italy’s odds up.

Because football betting occurs all over the world, this interaction of supply and demand tends to create pricing inefficiencies between different regions of the world. Casual gamblers often bet with their hearts. (Even Warren Buffet, for reasons of loyalty and sentiment, has been known to never bet against his favourite college football team, even if he knew they’d probably lose the game.) So in Italy, a stream of bets on the home side placed with Italian bookies would push France’s odds up. Likewise in France, patriotic French punters would cause the Italian odds to go up for French bookies. When that occurs you may get a situation where you can bet on Italy to win the Cup with a French bookie for $2.05, and then bet on France to win the Cup with an Italian bookie also for $2.05. Do the maths and you’ll see that if you place two $1000 with those two bookies, you’ll end up with a $50 profit no matter what the outcome of the match is. With the internet, you can place bets with bookies all over the world.

Because the World Cup is global, nationalism runs rampant, and the gambling turnover is mind-boggling, arbitrageurs have a bonanza during the whole competition. A friend has anecdotally estimated that the opportunities to place “sports arbs” (as they are known) have risen as much as fivefold during the last month.

In 2006, Cheng’s brother-in-law has since moved to America, but he still contacts him to place bets. He’s doing better this time around, being in the black. Unlike arbitraging – which is a mostly riskless, emotionless proposition when it comes to watching the match afterwards – Cheng said that knowing your money’s on the line makes matches that little bit more adrenaline pumping, that little bit more exciting and that little bit more sweet, when the team you’ve been cheering on thumps in a goal to win the match. That, and everyone else is doing it.

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May 06

World Press Photo 2006 Exhibition

Spent an hour during lunchtime earlier this week wandering around the photo exhibition at the State Library. With full captioning and large format prints, it’s a much different experience to checking them out online. The photographs are all quite amazing, especially when you try and imagine what was happening around the photographer when they took the shot. The exhibition is spread across three rooms, and it’s interesting the general mood created by each room. The first room has a lot of sports photographs – mostly bright, cheery, inspirational and humourous shots. The middle room is a lot more sombre, with photographs from major news stories. The aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. Hurricane Katrina. The Pakistan earthquake. The London bombings. And lots and lots of woe from Africa – both civil unrest and natural disasters. There’s also disturbing series about Guatemalan youth gangs, including a shot with a decapitated head lying on a floor. The third room has the portraiture, arts and entertainment, and daily life categories – photos which balance it all out.

The exhibition is free and is well worth a visit before it closes at the end of the month. You’ll need about an hour.

Mar 06

Australian content on TV is not so Australian?

My friend Jonathan did a story broadcast on ABC Radio (fast forward to about midway in) about “a couple of Home and Away writers who got frustrated at the unrepresentative nature of their show and other Aus TV – ie all blond Anglos, so they are launching their own new TV series written by Sydney young people called Represent. The official launch is next week”.

Interestingly, Australian laws require television broadcasters to show a minimum quota of “Australian content”. The Government’s reasoning behind this is the preservation of “Australian culture” against incursions by foreign shows/culture, but I’ve never found Australian drama or TV in general very representative of Australia at all. If you look at the racial makeup of Australia, it’s not reflected on TV. But from the sounds of the story, it’s more about making Australia a tourist attraction (ie all foreign viewers want to see are blond surfies on beaches). US TV seems to do a slightly better job in this respect. “Represent” should be an interesting show, although of course if it gets picked up by a station, it will launching on a national broadcaster (ABC or SBS) and not a commercial one.

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Feb 05

Singaporean Politics

I came across an interesting post by a (from what I can gather) Singaporean studying law in Melbourne Uni. It details arguments for why it may be true that Singaporeans are not ready for greater freedom of speech. One reason for this, his writes, is that any opposition to the PAP (Singapore’s governing party) is too immature to put forward a coherent argument. “That is not free speech. That is hate speech. And such hate speech is the anti-thesis of what freedom of expression should be.”

To be sure, there are merits to this very patriarchal view of things, but I am not convinced by his reasoning. I don’t feel like writing at length about this right now, but I just wanted to flag the post.

BTW, are there any American lawyers or law students out there that read this site?

Jan 05

I didn’t come here to think…

An English-born sociology lecturer teaching in Singapore was stunned by the reply of a student to his simple request: “But before you put pen to paper, I want you to think for 3 minutes about the question, just think.”

I thought this was a classic symptom of the Singaporean education system (and see the Straits Times article he quoted beneath his post). Of course, this phenomenon is not confined to Singaporeans (and neither are all Singaporeans like this).

but I really want my friends to know.. im really sick of having to fake this “image” when i face them.. I really want to tell them all of this.. but I’m really afraid they will just reat me as nuts and desert me as they have done in high school…. i really dunno wtf is wrong with me… why cannot i just be like others.. e.g. [] .. who just fail every thing at school but dun give a damn… still enjoying life and partying? I’m not doing crap.. I get like HD and D for finance and Cr for law…………. but im just so sick of law.. I work my guts out yet.. i jsut cannot get above Cr… I think it’s my fault.. i know im crap at english.. and written stuff.. I know im shit at grammar.. but i just wanna persue it.. cuz u look “cool” taking law.. look so smart…………. yet im not… im not the smart one who can have fun, do no study and get top grades.. im the one who stress.. work my butt off.. have no life besides study yet do crap…………. Doing law have really blown my self-esteem.. and pushed me beyond my limits.. to such a state that i have just given up………… I’m faced with ppl who get like 100 UAI… yeah..i did ok with 97.25 but everyone else got above me in law…… They are so smart, partying etc…. yet im struggling……….. I know a Cr is not bad.. I get in the 70s.. that is still better than some ppl………… but im really afraid.. each time i have to take a law exam is like taking an english exam in high school.. i face my worse nightmare.. I”m really trying hard…. working my guts off.. i try so SO hard………………………………..

The law teachers are crap…… except one or two.. but majority are crap.. no class ntoes. they just blab.. cant they jut teach and give us notes like commerce????? Like why btoher reading a ton of cases….. why cannot they just tell us the fuckin ratio.. yeah.. just make life hard so they look cool as lawyers.. law is no hard.. is just their fucking exam questions is so vague.. unclear.. esp essay Q’s…. it’s like wtf…………………

I won’t link the blog it comes from, but it’s a pity. With respect to this person, in my opinion I think that it’s the wrong course for them to be doing because they are doing it for totally the wrong reasons. I don’t believe it has anything to do with intellect. (There are very few university courses that require genuine intellect, and law is not one of them.) It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you’re doing the wrong course, you won’t enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t do well at it. You’re much better off doing something else. It’s rarely too late to quit. There are some people aren’t fortunate, for financial reasons or otherwise, to have the luxury of choosing what they want to do (particularly if there are financial constraints), but this person is not one of them (judging from the 29 December 04 entry).

Nov 04

A Photoessay

Here’s a photoessay of the World Social Forum 2004 held in India. I confess that I found the event almost strange and realised it was my western cultural worldview coming through. We don’t often think of social activism occurring in developing countries, but even developing countries do care what happens elsewhere in the world.

Nov 04

Red vs Blue

This site wonders why the American blue (democratic) states should worry more about issues that affect red (republican) states, such as the war, abortion, etc.

Red state voters voted on two key issues: terrorism, and gay marriage. Which is funny, since there have been no terrorist attacks in any red states, and there have been no gay marriages in any red states. Red state voters therefore seem mostly concerned with preventing terrorist attacks and gay marriages in blue states.

I found it a little strange that the “wealthy”, densely populated areas of the country (especially those clustered around major cities) were liberal leaning, because the wealthy normally lean to the right. But I had it explained to me that being around in the city doesn’t mean you’re wealthy. Also, the city also has a higher concentration of academics and people who have the luxury of sitting back and thinking about things that don’t affect them directly, because they can afford to. Still, it seems strange that the post I linked can generalise America like that – because it doesn’t make sense (more so the situation, not the actual post). But what in America ever makes sense?

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Oct 04

The US Election

On 2 November, in one week’s time, over 100 million Americans will go to the polls and elect their a new President. While the majority of the world has no say in who should hold the position of “Most Powerful Person in the World”, most are gravely interested in the outcome of this election because it has international consequences. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to know about how the American electoral system works, because it is a lot different from Australia’s, and of course, I might as well share it here. Americans are welcome to correct my mistakes.

Americans directly elect their President and Vice-President, who head up the Executive branch of the Government. Unlike Australia, the President must not be a member of Congress (the Legislative branch). Therefore, if Senator Kerry is elected, he must resign from the Senate in order to become President.

The Americans use an “Electoral College” voting system. Each State is allocated a number of votes in the Electoral College. Each State has at least three votes, all the way up to the largest State, California, which has 55. The number of votes a State has roughly correlates with its population, but as a result of a three vote minimum, it can be said that individuals in smaller States have a vote that’s “worth more” in per capita terms. The 50 States and District of Columbia combine to produce a total pool of 538 electoral votes. A Presidential candidate must therefore win a majority of electoral votes (270) to become elected. (In the event that no single candidate wins 270 votes, because of third party candidates winning some, the election is decided by the House of Representatives as per the US Constitution’s 12th Amendement.)

So, how do candidates win electoral votes? In Australia we have electorates – areas of Australia which contain a roughly similar number of people. Candidates run for single electorates, and the candidate who wins the most votes via the preferential voting system wins the electorate. The party with the majority of electorates won will govern. In America, their States are very roughly the equivalent of our electorates. Candidates who get the majority of votes in a State win all the electoral votes that the State has – a “winner takes all” rule that is subject to much criticism. Therefore, if a candidate won California (55 votes), they would still be doing better than another candidate that had won several States which only offered, say, 5 votes.

In Australia we have “swing electorates” – those electorates which are closely fought. The US has “battleground States” and it’s these States that really determine the outcome of the election. (If you’re voting in a Democratic or Republican stronghold State, you won’t be making any practical difference to the election outcome, at least not as much as a battleground State voter.) These States are crucial.

In 2000’s Bush vs Gore election, with all but one State decided, Bush had 246 votes versus Gore’s 266. It all came down to who could win Florida. Bush won the State by about 500 votes (out of the nearly 6 million cast), and therefore took Florida’s 25 votes and went on to win the election. The side effect of this is that candidates spend their campaign time pretty much exclusively in battleground States. Bush doesn’t have to worry about campaigning in New York because that’s pretty much Kerry’s. Likewise, Kerry wouldn’t really bother campaigning in Bush’s home State of Texas.

For a better picture, there are sites which aggregate polls from States, such as Electoral-Vote.com and ElectionProjection.com (though the latter seems to be run by a pro-Republican).

Most polls see Bush in front of Kerry by about 6%, with Bush getting in the high 40s, and Kerry in the low 40s (the rest of people polled are undecided, with a couple per cent going to Ralph Nader). Interestingly, some pundits, despite the 6% margin, are calling the election a close one – or even one that the Democrats will take out easily unless Bush captures Osama or something like that. This is due to what’s known as the “50% rule”, described nicely here. In a nutshell, it says that if an incumbent President does not poll at least 50% of votes in a State, they are in danger of losing that State. This is because the percentage of people polled who are undecided, tend to vote against the incumbent when it comes to polling day (the explanation is that their vote evaluates the performance of the President, rather than the challenging candidate, and more often than not they are dissatisfied with the President).

Voting in America is voluntary. It may be instrumental to this election that if enough people who didn’t vote in 2000 are worried about the direction Bush has taken the country over the last four years, they may turn up to vote this year (the converse is also true, but probably to a lesser extent). Incidentally, I had an animated, lengthy discussion with a friend over whether compulsory or voluntary voting was the better system. I came to the conclusion that compulsory voting was more democratic, and he was of the opposite opinion (especially when you have debacles like this). But this is a debate for another time.

In other news, The New Yorker magazine has endorsed John Kerry in a 5 page editorial. It is their first political endorsement in 80 years. Contrast this with the SMH recently deciding to stop endorsing political parties for reasons of journalistic integrity.

Also, a Republican placed an ad in the Washington Post that cost US$100,000+ of his own money.

Oct 04

Republic of Minerva

In the 1970s, a millionaire named Michael Oliver tried to build a new sovereign nation. Not a nation formed by a region declaring independence, but a completely new country. The location where the new country was to be built was in the Pacific Ocean, around the Minerva Reefs, hence the name of the nation being the Republic of Minerva. It was located near Tonga and Fiji. An island was constructed by shipping sand from Australia and dumping it on the reef, whereby a small island was slowly formed. The intention was to make an island which was a tourist destination, while also supporting some other light commercial activities. Minerva then created its own flag, currency and elected a President. It then attempted to declare independence, but as you might imagine, no one really took it seriously.

That is, no one except for Tonga, whose King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV was rather offended by whole incident. (The Prince of Tonga apparently said, “We can’t have people setting up empires on our doorstep”.) Although it seemed that legally no one actually owned the territory in which Minerva had sprang up in, Tonga took steps to extend its territorial sovereignty over Minerva.

In 1972, the King sailed to Minerva on his royal yacht, accompanied by some troops, a convict work detail, and a four-piece brass band, which played the Tongan national anthem as the convicts landed and tore down the Minervan flag. A little while later, the King built their own little islands nearby, named them, and then annexed those islands, and all territory within a 12 mile radius of them (including Minerva) as part of the Kingdom of Tonga.

About ten years later, a group of Americans tried to retake what used to be Minerva, but in came the Tongan troops, and three weeks later they were effectively ejected.

Last year, the Republic of Minerva has somehow been replaced by the Principality of Minerva, self-described as a “government-in-exile”. Minerva is relying on the legal concept of terra nullius (land owned by no one) to stake its territorial claim (this is the same concept used by the British when they claimed Australia, except that it is obvious today that Australia was not by any stretch of the imagination, terra nullius). Looks like Minerva wants to take its case to the ICJ. Pretty amusing, actually. As crackpot as the so-called Minervans may be, it does seem like Tonga did unfairly boot them off and conquer their island. But it’s so small no one really cares.

Sep 04

Fashion Explained

Fashion has always baffled me. Slate explains away a bit of the peculiarity behind fashion week and those ridiculous “you’d never see that worn anywhere” clothes that fit those ultra-thin models out with. Apparently, that’s where I’ve been going wrong. They’re not actually clothes.

Remember that fashion and clothes are not the same thing: Clothes keep you from being naked or cold, and pockets provide a place for your house keys. Fashion, when it’s good, sends the imagination racing and speaks for the wearer’s dreams in a way words can’t. …

Fashion is both democratic and exclusive. Some fashion is meant for broad audiences—New York showman-extraordinaire Isaac Mizrahi, for example, has revived his defunct high-priced label by designing clothes for Target—and some—like the extreme styles of Nicolas Ghesquiere’s work for Balenciaga—is frankly not intended for uneducated eyes. The opinion of the man on the street is irrelevant when it comes to clothes designed for connoisseurs.

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Jul 04

Vocab List

I’ve been keeping a small text file with new weird and wonderful words that I come across from time to time (mostly from reading legal judgments). The list currently contains:

probity abrogate promulgate
pecuniary recidivism vernacular
usufructuary derogate enure/inure
indefeasible a fortiori demesne
apposite sartorial gravamen
captious vituperous propinquity
nugatory legerdemain supervene
aleatory cataleptic contumelious
bibulous misandrist cognoscente
cloying philology Panopticon
amanuensis adumbrated heterodoxy
primogeniture bailiwick coterie
aphorism autochthonous discombobulated
apothegm parvenu

The problem is, I keep forgetting what these words mean. Ahh, learning vocabulary for vocabulary’s sake is actually pretty useless and impractical, unless you derive some sort of twisted enjoyment from sending people scuttling for the dictionary everytime you drop one of these words into writing.

Jun 04

Photo Exhibition

Went to the World Press Photo 2004 exhiibition at the State Library yesterday during lunch. The photos there were excellent. A lot of them are even more confronting when blown up to poster-sizes. A lot of them are the product of, more often than not, being in the right place at the right time, when everyone else would be thinking it’s the wrong place at the wrong time. There was one photo which was shot from ground level in an African country, with a dead body in the foreground and a street in violent turmoil the background. I was wondering how someone could have the brazenness to lie down on the ground in the middle of gunfire and take a photos like that when I read the caption and learnt the photographer was only lying on the ground because he’d been shot through the leg and had an artery severed. Unfortunately, the great majority of prizewinning photos in the news categories are depressing, depicting war, pain and suffering. Not unexpected, but it’s hard to find a more upbeat photo there.

Jun 04

Cost of Living

Mercer has released the results of its 2004 global cost of living survey. Tokyo and London head the list as the world’s most costly cities to live in. New York City is 10th. Sydney places 20th, buoyed by a strong exchange rate. Top 50 list is here as a PDF. The survey “covers 144 cities and measures the comparative cost of over 200 items in each location. These include housing, food, clothing and household goods as well as transportation and entertainment”.

Cities in Australia and New Zealand have risen most in the rankings this year due to the significant appreciation of local currencies against the US dollar. Sydney is the most expensive city in the region, increasing from 67th place in 2003 to 20th position, with a score of 91.8. Other high-scoring cities in Australia include Melbourne in 67th position (77.5) and Brisbane in 87th place (72.7).

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Jun 04

RFC: Professional and Personal Relationships

I was recently sent this e-mail:

Question I’ve been wondering about for the last couple of weeks, for reasons
that I guess are pretty transparent. What kind of loyalty is expected –
socially, not legally – in a job?

What I mean is this. As far as I can tell, people see it as their God-given
right to look around for a better job, and to take it with the minimum
allowed notice if they find one. However, the same thing is looked down on
in, for example, a romantic relationship (I guess there are plenty of
liberal-minded people who would even disagree with that). One difference is
that the decision to take or keep a job is usually financially motivated, so
a better financial offer is considered enough of a reason to abandon it –
but it also has a social ripple effect, because by leaving you add to the
workload (and not necessarily pay packet) of other people, or else decrease
the company’s productivity, which will come back and affect its employees;
either way that will have an effect on their lives, both financially and in
terms of stress, free time, yada yada… And in any half-decent job you’ll
have some kind of friendship with other employees and your employer; in any
other situation, doing something for self-serving financial reasons while
inconveniencing people around you would be seen as a betrayal of
friendship, wouldn’t it?

Of course, employment contracts tend to have clauses that allow you to
leave – specifying the amount of notice you have to give/get, whether you
can go and work for the competition, and so on – so in some sense your right
to leave is anticipated and accounted for. But there is (relatively)
clear-cut divorce law as well; that doesn’t make it open season for “keeping
your options open” all the time.

Does it make a difference what kind of work it is? If a bricklayer leaves
for a better offer, they can be replaced by the next guy that comes along
with (I imagine) a minimum of adjustment – not to say anything against
bricklayers, just that it’s the nature of the job that skills are
transferable almost universally. But in programming for example, it might
take a new employee months to come up to speed with the work done by someone
who left (especially if they don’t write good comments :); so it’s a bigger
investment, and kind of a vote of confidence, for the company to take you on
in the first place. Does that demand some kind of loyalty?

I’m interested in what other people think about this.

I’ll start. It’s true that there are certain similarities between the
commitment necessary for a job, and those required in a relationship.
As I’ve alluded to in the title of this post, however, there still is
– or should be, at least – a strong divide between professional and personal
relationships. As long as activities can be confined to those spheres,
then things aren’t going to get as morally problematic.

If you break your contract and go to work for a competitor because they
are offering you a hefty pay increase, then maybe you aren’t going to be
very well liked in your old company. Do it too often, and your professional
reputation may be shot. (Corporate slut, I believe the term is!)

Which is fair enough. When you are offered a role in a company, you
are making a commitment because the company is also making a commitment
to you in terms of training you and educating you. You’re also privy
to the inner workings of the business, and while you can’t legally
run off with trade secrets, there are intangible skills and techniques
(ie, experience) that you take out with you to other companies. You’re
understandably going to piss off more than a few people if you jump ship
at a critical time in the year and you’re a vital cog in the project.

Remember that it’s a two-way relationship, however. The company must
work to keep you as well. If the company doesn’t treat you well, then
it’s only fair that it doesn’t drag your career down a path
you don’t like. And since we’re talking about professional corporate
relationships here, we’re really boiling everything down to a sterile
cost/benefit proposition. What’s that phrase they keep flashing up at the
start of The Apprentice? “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

Companies don’t attract people merely by the size of the paypacket. The
perks, the people you work with (company culture), the opportunities
you are given to develop and the overall performance of the company are
some other factors. Perhaps the most important of those is the company
culture. There has to be a fit.

Things aren’t that cut and dried in real life, though, and there is a
fair amount of overlap between personal and professional matters. Whether
this is intentional (romance with a colleague, social events with
colleagues that aren’t work related) or unintentional (getting pissed off
with someone who is not pulling their weight in a team and taking that
grudge with you when you leave the office). Forming personal friendships
at work is expected. I mean, when you spend the majority of time of your
waking life at work, and you see these people virtually every day, you’re
going to befriend at least some of them! The better you fit the culture
of the company, the better you will get along with your colleagues on
both a personal and professional level.

And with any type of relationship, you’ll respect each other and if you
do have to jump ship, try to give sufficient notice. Not all companies
will dislike you if you swap companies. Some will be even supportive
(you’re alumni, after all, and could be working for a future client or
supplier). Personal considerations may play a part. Let’s say you’re
managing a small business with your wife, or a close friend. You get
a stunning job offer. Obviously your personal relationship with the
person is going to affect whether you take that offer, or don’t because
you know the stress it will cause the other person. But if we’re
talking about a large corporate enterprise, with people you may only
have known for a year or two, the strength of the personal relationships
is going to be a much lesser consideration in this case.

So, should there be loyalty? Unlike a marriage, where there are vows,
there are no such vows in business. Contracts are promises, but they
are not moral undertakings. Breaching a contract is not a criminal
offence (in a typical case), and if it’s worth your while to breach
one (accounting for money/reputation concerns) then there’s nothing
inherently bad about it in a moral sense. Professionally though?
It can be bad, yes.

Ok I’ve rambled on about this far longer than I intended. Comments?

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May 04

Bright Lights

Denise linked to this article which has a blurb saying, “People move to Sydney seeking fortune and opportunity in the bright lights. But many leave despondent, friendless and fed up with living a shallow existence.”

I found it peculiar to read Sydney being described as a “hard city”, full of superficiality, materialism and hard knocks. After all, Sydney is still Australian, and the Aussie lifestyle is generally laid back and less rushed than most other industrialised countries. Shops still close at 5pm.

I haven’t spent a significant amount of time in a foreign city, but I would say that Sydney doesn’t approach anywhere near the “hardness” of other “global cities”. New York, for instance, emasculates Sydney in terms of this. Property prices are extreme, people there are snappy, and it’s a pretty intimidating city that unmistakeably means business. A friend who attended Columbia Uni there told me of how when he first moved to NY, he had to rent out a small one-bedroom apartment while waiting for campus accommodation. He shared the apartment with a friend, paying US$700/mo for a hole in a ghetto area.

Even Singapore, which is smaller than Sydney, projects a “harder” lifestyle. Life is faster, people stress more, and status is a key part of society. Singaporeans ooze materialism. Few Sydney-siders would brazenly ask questions like “How much do you earn?” and “Is your family rich?” to people they’ve just met. There’s even an age old apothegm there which dictates what every Singaporean needs, called the “5 Cs”: credit card, cash, car, condominium and country club membership. (Well, that’s actually 7 Cs, but who’s counting?) There’s superficiality for you, and it’s a product of the city’s culture.

Judging how friendly a city is can be misleading. You only meet a handful of people when you’re in a city, and you have good and bad days. Although the article claims it’s hard to make friends in Sydney, Sydney proved it could be friendly during the Olympics. A small city isn’t necessarily friendly. Another friend claimed that Adelaide, which is really just a really big country town, “freaked him out” because the people there were pretty rude. I didn’t find that the case. But then again, I found Parisiennes helpful and the Swiss obnoxious. It’s just a matter of personal experience.

One overriding factor is that you’re normally going to feel more at ease in a city you’ve grown up in. If you’ve moved from another city, then you’ll feel more comfortable with people who have also come from your home city. You grow up feeling attached to a city’s character. The densely packed crowds and constant hustle and bustle of activity in Hong Kong is an endearing part of the city for its residents. It’s something they’ve got used to, and Honkies who have moved to Sydney may understandably find the relative quiet here quite boring. Conversely, the opposite is true.

However, I would agree that Sydney is probably becoming more materialistic and consumerism is more pervasive. Fashion is a bigger issue than it was ten years ago. Cuisine here has blossomed. Perhaps it’s just the natural process of a city becoming more “global”, and thus by extension, more “globally aware”. I love Sydney, but that’s not a revelationary statement coming from a Sydney-sider.

(Shrapnel, I know you’ve been in Sydney for a few months now – how do you find it compared to Vancouver?)

Nov 03


I normally find Miranda Devine’s articles contentious, but I do believe she has a valid point in this article: Church and family can save kids.

I’m sure the cynics and naysayers will find flaws in the causal links espoused in the article, but as a generalisation, I think it is quite sound. When moral norms in society fluctuate, what does a child growing up have to grasp upon? Genetics only go so far in moulding people – it is mainly the societal environment that shapes how people think and feel about things in life. What’s “cool” and what’s not.

“Family and spiritual values” sounds like prudish, staid and boring conservatism. Definitely not cool. But as with everything in life, there has to be a balance. And that also means balancing conservatism with the highly iconoclastic tendencies which have accumulated in society over the years, masquerading under the banners of “experimentation” and “question everything with a healthy dose of cynicism”. What do you think?

The response of the babyboomer Left to this epidemic of youth misery has been to blame government and economic rationalism.

You will hear them moaning about the boring 1950s, when they grew up in a war-weary society that valued order, civility, domesticity and tranquillity. You will hear them fondly reminisce about the 1960s sexual revolution, their Kombi vans, their often-still-active ponytails.

Never will you hear them accept responsibility for trashing precious social institutions, destroying taboos, devaluing motherhood or squandering the moral capital built up by their forebears. Now, when their children and grandchildren are suffering the consequences, they see higher taxes as the cure. They seem not to listen even when scientific evidence emerges like a slap in the face to say childhood suffering is caused by a lack of spiritual meaning, an absence of expectations and limits and a breakdown in authority structures.

Nov 03

Short Skirts at Westfield

Oh for goodness sake…

A woman is suing shopping centre giant Westfield for defamation and wrongful imprisonment, claiming security guards detained and harassed her about her mini-skirt. …

Mrs Strasberg alleges Ms Remoundos told her: “There have been complaints made against you. You are dressed in a provocative manner. You are dressed inappropriately. It is offensive. Your skirt is too short.”

Mrs Strasberg alleges those words were defamatory and Ms Remoundos spoke to her in an aggressive manner, standing with her fists clenched on her hips.

Read Article (with photo).

Oct 03


Another very interesting Wired article:

In 1974, a Harvard sociologist made a seemingly unremarkable discovery. It is, in fact, who you know. His study asked several hundred white-collar workers how they’d landed their jobs. More than half credited a “personal connection.” Duh. But then it got interesting: The researcher, Mark Granovetter, dug deeper and discovered that four-fifths of these backdoor hires barely knew their benefactors. As it turns out, close friends are great for road trips, intimate dinners, and the occasional interest-free loan, but they suck for job leads and blind dates – they know the same people you do. In other words, it’s not so much who you know, but who you vaguely know. Granovetter called the phenomenon “the strength of weak ties.” He had discovered the human node.

I reckon uni is a microcosm for social networks. As for human hypernodes in uni… you know the people I’m talking about.

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The Diamond Industry

Have you ever tried to sell a diamond? Intriguing article written in 1982 about the diamond trade and how the market forces are carefully regulated by the De Beers cartel. I though the 40% premium idea was a particularly nasty, but clever, piece of work. Compare with this Wired article, over 20 years on.

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Oct 03

Lethal Injections

This is quite disturbing. I was always an advocate of the death penalty, but over the last couple years, I’ve gradually come around and realised that it’s not a good thing at all for society. This article may not constitute a reason against a death sentence, but it certainly raises the unsavoury nature of having to impose such sentences.

May 03


And the Archibald Peoples’ Choice prize goes to a painting by Dalu Zhao of Prof Steve FitzGerald.

Apr 03

Who Lives Here?

A look into some people’s bedrooms. You can pretty much determine the gender (if not clear from name), age and interests of the bedroom’s owner just by the contents and layout of it.

Mar 03


Thanks Kev: “American actor’s culture shock in Australia.” SMH Article

Jan 03

The Myth of Talent

Interesting article pointing out that in business, it is a well-oiled team that can achieve more than the “star individual”. Of course, good leadership is about managing people so that they work at their best, regardless of innate talent. {src: AJH}

Dec 02
Oct 02

A Pox on Thee!

Today’s well-rounded gentleman should know how to swear.

Sep 02

Wai Wai

Yes, the Japanese are definitely a weird lot. The articles there are pretty entertaining, some amusing, some intriguing and most downright bizarre.

Aug 02

Quality of Life

From Kev:

What we always knew: (but unfortunately what some overseas students can’t seem to appreciate!)


For those interested, a fuller treatment can be found here: http://hdr.undp.org/
(The site also contains the China & Arab Human Development Report.)

E-Mail from Canada

As a quick run-down, the first week was primarily sight-seeing and touristy stuff. Vancouver, Whistler, Kamloops, Calgary, and now finally in Edmonton. Highlights so far? For starters, the scenery is quite amazing – the rockies are gorgeous, massive, and well… a sight I’d recommend for everyone to see at least once in their lifetime. Went to a baseball game (that was a first for pretty much the whole group. We were making more noise than the rest of the stadium combined, and get this – we were on “Plays of the Week” on CBC Sports here. They filmed us dancing and going nuts in the stands, so yeah, the group managed to get on TV.

– From Pro, currently touring Canada with a dance group.

Jun 02


Turning your back on the President when he makes a speech now constitutes as disturbing the peace. America, vanguard of democracy, threatens arrest of students for dissenting with the President – for facing the wrong way! Does anyone else find this distinctly troubling?

yeah, bush is a real totalitarian, ain’t he?

the story you linked was nothing more than a distorted whine of a
spoiled college activist (regardless of whether you disagree with the
policies of the president, he deserves a modicum of respect for agreeing
to speak at any commencement ceremony). your assessment of it was quite
inaccurate as well.

the author writes that the police officer told him “if we chose to
leave, the charges would be dropped immediately.” sounds like what
really happened is a couple people got ejected for being dicks at a
commencement ceremony and were threatened with arrest if they decided to
defy the ejection. i see no evidence that anyone was arrested for simple
symbolic dissent.

commencements in america are often stringent like this. i know of
several guys who were forbidden from participating in graduation
exercises for far, far less than this.

america has arrested no one for simple dissent, as you laughably claim.
come on!

Now that is an interesting point, isn’t it? True, these students were not arrested. They were ejected, and I assume if they defied that, then charges would be pressed. Whether the police could legally press charges for an act like that or not is really a separate issue. The fact is that they were censored, and subsequently threatened. I am not sure of the exact circumstances of this report, nor am I sure of American law. I suppose it is also the right of any organisation to eject visitors to private property (the stadium), but the motivations were not exactly democratic in this instance. I’d also agree with you that this is nothing new in society, but it is also interesting to note how it does not bother some people at all.

“regardless of whether you disagree with the policies of the president, he deserves a modicum of respect for agreeing to speak at any commencement ceremony” – I would agree that his status as President entitles him to respect. As part of a Democratic nation, even though one does not vote for the President, by being part of a Democracy you agree to defer to the majority. In the same token, no one is inherently wrong for disrespecting the President in a situation like this. It is rude, yes, but there is nothing unlawful about being rude (save for instances of contempt in court etc.)

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Mar 02

Blog Media

Do blogs really have an influence on things? It’s a little about the quantity versus “quality” (the word “quality” being loosely attributed to formalised mainstream media) debate. And although many westerners foster dislike of mainstream media, it does have a moderating role in society. You only have to look at a free-media-less country such China (the Xinhua news agency is state-moderated and effectively, state-run) to see the downsides. I think some people put too much self-importance in blogs. If you’re an influential voice, it doesn’t matter what medium you choose to speak through, you will be heard. Some media are better than others (people will listen to more “official” sources rather than a throng of rumour), though.

Feb 02

Internet in China

Freedom of speech is a huge benefit of the internet – anyone can have their say about anything and also find information on everything. So for political freedom starved China, an information network that can withstand a nuclear bomb attack through its millions of linkages should have been a huge success. Would it really be possible to censor and keep track of 1.2 billion people? It was, and is, for the Chinese government, who has managed to do this with the help, ironically, of companies hailing from across Pacific, all driven by capitalist motivation.

Jan 02
Dec 01


How much is $1 million these days? And these are American dollars we’re talking about here.

Nursery Rhymes

I must have been taught at least half of these nursery rhymes, yet I can only recite like… four or five, word for word… And now reading back on them, whoever wrote them must’ve been on crack. I mean: “See-Saw, Marjorie Daw; / Sold her bed, / And lay upon straw.” What the??

“Jack be nimble, / Jack be quick, / Jack jump over the candlestick.” Yeah and Jack better not misjump or he’ll land on the candlestick. And that would hurt. “Jack in pain, / Jack yell “Shit!” / For poor lil Jack sat on the candlestick.” Fractured fairy-tales indeed :)

Nov 01


Interesting SMH Article. A study of Iranian women vs their Western counterparts has shown that womens’ obsession about weight may not stem from the media.

Nov 01

The Western World has often criticised the Singaporean government for its tight authoritarian control of the island-state. Political freedoms are minimal and laws are restrictive. Yet there is no doubt that the country is prospering and lacks the political turbulence of its neighbours (especially the muslim countries of Malaysia and Indonesia). How then, do the Singaporeans themselves feel about the government? This is one teenage girl’s views. Intriguing.

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Nov 01


I found this link trail from TW on a few people’s comments about memes (click that link, you’ll need to understand the dictionary definition before you continue reading this post) – 1, 2, 3. I do believe there is an underlying flaw with the point Simmons (1) makes: that cultural ideas spread through memes seems to imply that there is no truth in thought (that it is all “propaganda”). That assertion turns out to be somewhat true, but not for the reasons he is thinking of. Truth of thought is not necessarily necessary.

Firstly let’s deal with the issue of culturally-based practices. Truth is an irrelevant concept here because culture is neither “right” nor “wrong” – it is simply how a society has evolved. Evolution is a key part of the concept of memes. The stronger memes rise to the top and influence society’s practices. There are no absolute right and wrong practices when it comes to culture. (This point is slightly arguable on moral and ethical grounds, but even morals and ethics are culturally influenced.) For instance, if we take the idea of arranged marriages. For most in Western society, the idea would seem somewhat repressive, or unfair. The connotation is negative because freedom of choice is highly valued in our culture. If you judge arranged marriages from the perspective of our culture, then it becomes wrong. But you cannot do that – it’s called Cultural Relativism. (See this excerpt from Barad & Robertson – it’s a good book). So truth and memes do not come into play for this aspect.

What about cultural ideas, then? Or how about, just ideas in general? Surely there must be “truth” when it comes to solid ideas? There are many schools of thought on this issue, but when it comes to science and putting forth ideas, there is one school of thought that declares there is no truth. Positivism, specifically the theory of falsification, states that nothing can be absolutely proven. Theories are never completely true. They may be supported by evidence, yes, and they may be used to formulate other theories, but they can never be completely verified. On the other hand, theories can be conclusively rejected if there is evidence that they are wrong, or there is a better theory that explains the same thing. Many scientists, including Hawking, subscribe to this theoretical perspective.

So Locke’s (2) attempt to point out about western biologists being unable to agree on the truth is flawed because, working on a positivist view, there already is an agreement that there IS no truth! The real problem that exists is mainly political. Ok, let’s take evolution again. When research takes place that produces evidence to reject it, the theory is often not rejected. Why? Because, the supporters of that theory reject the research that produced the contradicting evidence. They are enabled to reject the rejection (so to speak) by saying that the research of those that disagree with them is invalid/flawed and thereby not capable of invalidating their theory. But who’s correctly rejecting what? That is hard to tell through the political smokescreens. (I’m not going to mention Locke’s point on relativism… which enters the realms of epistemology.)

“But I still hate memes. They’re used by people like Locke to take control of things we care about” (3) seems to be a misinterpretation for what a meme is, or maybe I’m a bit hazy on the definition myself – any ideas that are disseminated within society may be considered as a meme. They are not inherently evil. The idea of a meme is simply applying evolution of the physical (Darwinism) to evolution of thought (culture and ideas). You can’t say Darwinism is inherently evil – it just explains things the way they are. However, just as evolution has not been proven conclusively (but there is enough scientific evidence to support it!), neither has the idea of memes. It’s interesting to note that memetics may itself be a meme. So is this a post on meta-memetics?

In this case, I suppose that you could consider all thought propaganda. If so, then the thought that is accepted in society may be considered as propaganda that has been assessed by the community, and found acceptable. Propaganda has negative connotations, that’s why it’s hard to see it in that aspect. Memes shouldn’t have the same connotations.

(Uni is having a bad influence on me…)


Well, I read your post about memes and it reminded me of something I learned in my classes and that I whole-heartedly believe in.

You were talking about cultural relativism and how there is no absolute truth because in different cultures, people believe in different things. The same is true about people. There is no “absolute truth” because each person views things thorugh their own filter of their experiences and ideas, so everyone can view the same thing differently, even from the same culture.

I once had a quote on my page that said “truth is relative; perception is everything. ” I believe in that. Our individual perception on things is our “truth” and everyone’s perception is different.

The scientific theory can help us to look at things objectively, but be that as it may, we all have different past experiences and differing amounts and kinds of knowledge, so our perception, our truth, is different.
Fallen Angel

Nov 01

Hay Gaan?

How to say greetings and common phrases in hundreds of languages and dialects. Fascinating. A bit of tongue-in-cheek when it gets to English (specifically, the Strine dialect). The title of this post is in Strine, and I doubt Aussies will have trouble interpreting it but any non-Aussie would be saying “oddo nunnerstairn”.

Oct 01

All Look Same

Think you know the difference between what Chinese, Koreans and Japanese look like? Test yourself at All Look Same. I am an absolute shocker at it. It’s easier to distinguish in real life because fashion styles tend to be different, as well as how each race acts (although if you’re talking about ABCs, the differences blur somewhat.) For a static photo, you’ve only got facial features to go on…

Oct 01


This classic post was originally from TripleOptix, some time ago. It’s about the “Trevor” phenomenon – where a Caucasian guy is going out with an Asian girl.
Anyway, all the terms relating to it are:

Trevor or Classic Trevor – Aussie guy with a hot Asian girl
Super Trevor – Aussie guy with a super fly “oh my gawd” Asian girl
WTF Trevor – Trailer park butt-ugly Aussie guy with hot Asian girl
Reverse Trevor – Asian guy with an Aussie girl – a rare sight (“Rev
Semi Trevor – Aussie guy very good friends with hot Asian girl
Semi Rev Trev – Asian guy very good friends with Aussie girl
Darth Trevor – African American guy with Asian girl
Greasy Trevor – Aussie Italian/Greek/Lebanese guy with an Asian girl
Pimp Daddy Trevor – Dodgy Aussie guy (usually with a mullet haircut) with 2 or
more Asian girls who look like pornstars
Tool Trevor – Aussie guy who the fly Asian girl is going out with just
to get attention from the Asian guys
Trevor Trevor – Gay Aussie guy with gay Asian guy

So what do you call a Eurasian that goes out with an Asian/Caucasian? Half-Trevor?

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Oct 01

Cavalier Hand-Kissing

Uh, everything you ever wanted to know (or wanted not to know) about the concept of hand-kissing. “DO NOT run around grabbing any lady’s hand, and kissing it, at random. They might just eviscerate you on the spot, and any person witnessing said evisceration will only point and laugh at your social faux pas. Or help out by handing the lady a dull knife or two……if she offers her hand to be kissed, kiss it. If not, DON’T!”

Aug 01


If you’re reading this, the salt you eat every day is iodised. Iodised salt is one of those things that we not only take for granted, but are probably unaware of. However there are in places where salt is not iodised which has led to severe health problems – most notably nations where poverty is common. India is one such place, as this informative article from Salon explains.

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May 01


Esperanto is a language created in the 19th century that claims to be at least 4 times easier to learn than English. It features conventions that don’t have exceptions (eg: no conjugations of verbs, same suffix endings for tenses, prefixes/suffixes that can be added to anything to change meaning in a predictable fashion – such as “-ega” for emphasis).  Don’t ask me how I came across this site. I don’t remember.

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Interesting article on Asians undergoing surgery to obtain double eye-lids.

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May 01


FAQ on ABCs (American Born Chinese). Side observation: Is it just me, or does there seem to be a dearth of ABC (Australian Born Chinese) girls who can design a good web site?…

Apr 01

A Bit of Etymology

Find out about the speculated origins of some English phrases.

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Apr 01

Miscellaneous Article of the Moment

Read about the Fugu (Blow-) Fish, Japanese equivalent of Russian roulette.

Mar 01

Moot Point of the Day

Was taking a leak when my mind went for a wander. It came to rest on school kids asking their teachers whether they could go to the toilet – in particular, the following exchange:

Student: [Waves hand in air] Can I go to the toilet?
Teacher: Yes. You can go to the toilet… but whether you may, is another matter.
Student: *Sigh*, OK, may I go to the toilet?
Teacher: No.

What is the difference between may and can? Let’s turn to the good ol’ Macquarie dictionary.

may: it is used to express: a. possibility, opportunity, or permission: You may enter

Fair enough – since asking a teacher about emptying your bladder is a request, may is used correctly. But…

can: to be able to; have the ability, power, right, knowledge, qualifications or means to: You can lift the box

Why does one ask the teacher? To be granted permission to leave for the toilet. Without permission, you have the ability and knowledge to take a leak, but you do not have the right or permission to do so. Thus, you can’t in fact go to the toilet because the totalitarian nature of school deems that the teacher must give you permission to physically move from your seat to the bathroom. Asking whether you can go is verifying whether you have the right to go off and piss. Thus, it is used correctly.

To put it succinctly, teachers who say “You can go to the toilet, but whether you may…” are ignorants spewing shit.

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Nov 00

Planet Project

>It’s a worldwide survey 3COM is conducting. Check it out, fill it out. The results are very interesting.

Nov 00


This month’s E-Mag is out. As usual, it rocks. There’s a feature about Japan and has various articles about the Japanese culture which is very interesting. Coincidentally one of the articles is about the abundance of vending machines there and the foodstuffs (among other things) they sell (see yesterday’s post). Man, it’s a whole different world there.

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Oct 00

Only Two

Only two people allegedly know the Coke formula at any time, and they are not allowed to be on the same plane at the same time. Is this true?

Um… Interesting…

Gang Bang Feminism“. You’ve heard about the world record (251 men in 10 hours), now read about the sociological analysis of it. Thanks Kev.

Sep 00

Fun With Foreigners

It’s 3am. I’m about to call it a night, but out of the blue a random ICQ message comes from a Honkie by the name of Kong (apparently a horny 17 year old) and the following conversation ensues (I was being a slack bastard… but hey, it was late :)

Honkie: hihi, iwant to ask u are there very open in australia?
Me: very open?
Honkie: i mean about sex!
Me: oh yeah… they do it in the streets
Honkie: really, then have u ever c it?

[Now thinking, “Is this guy for real?”]

Me: all the time! why do you ask?
Honkie: coz i will go to ur sch, and i want to know will i have sex experience in australia!
Me: UNSW? yeah… plenty there. just add alcohol
Honkie: then are the girls in unsw have so many sex partner?
Me: yes. i think they are known as sluts.
Honkie: then will i need to pay money for it?
Me: not at all… no money needed

[Ok, now I was wondering how far I could push this…]

Read the rest of the conversation. (Easily offended? Then don’t click. Don’t worry, doesn’t contain anything explicit.)

HAHAHAHA… well, goes to show that that “tips for Olympic visitors” mail I sent to List-en isn’t as ridiculous as it may sound

Sep 00

Top Aussies

Yeeeeah… top Aussies! Funny shit :)

Aug 00

Quick Post

HAHAHAHAH. But wait, there’s more… Thanks Kev for the links. BTW, the skiing at Uluru really is as great as they say… just gotta be careful of those drop bears. Side note: There is no such thing as a “koala bear”. That is a misnomer. They are just koalas, period.

Aug 00

More Handball

But the lines rule (which was mostly used in year 4 5 or 6. Well at least i think it was?) was when if it hit the line and was clearly not in anybodys court. You had to have a showdown between the two of you to see who will win. This rule was clearly banned in later years because there was so meny fights. And was sometimes really boring if we were playing 6 or 9 squares.

Another thing I remember about handball was the names of the squares. Like King (or acE dont know why?) queen, Jack, dunce, double dunce, triple dunce, and more. We had even more names like like prince and princess and stuff but that was clearly ousted because of the (“Princess! HAHA you a poofter now ner ner”) factor.. :)

At our school a big rule was you had to ask the “Boss” before you could join a game. Which was really a problem for me cuz i had the ball so I was the boss hehe :)

Anyway handball was truely THE aussie game. Up there with backyard cricket.

Yep, we had it in Albury schools too. There were quite a few variants, the one with the queue and aces and intos, and ones played against a wall, and the adjacent squares type with no hierarchy aside from the server.

U’grads also played it at UNSW at one stage when I was there, where they were lampooned in Tharunka. The handball they play in the Olympics is completely different. That’s sort of a hand-oriented version of soccer, somewhat reminiscent of waterpolo, except played on land of course. It’s popular in Europe but almost unheard of in Australia.

Are you sure none of you yanks have heard of it?

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Aug 00

More Handball

In answer to the handball query, here in Melbourne it was known as downball…played in two forms, against a wall, and in a court in the middle of our school’s quadrangle. Other than that I don’t know much about it, being so very very bad at it and all.
Mikal 5

yeah, but never heard of wogs. i think it’s similar 2 like “grabs” or something which some ppl did mainly on the backhand side. which i think we tried 2 ban after a while. we had the 4 rectangle courts in wyvern (prep school) then the 6 rectangle courts in the main school. and sometimes we got many ppl 2 play over like 3 courts or something. so it was a bit of a challenge serving 2 the old king or ace. looking thru the journal, we also had poison, interference and also i think we had something called “challenge no breaks” between 2 ppl and if u lost in the lower square u ended up in dunce and if u won, i think u swapped squares with the person. i think we scrapped the “lines” rule after a while. i hated rolls since i tended 2 lose. also i think the king could request a player 2 hit back 2 him so he could slog some1 out
Pistol Pete

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Aug 00

Handball Responses

Fuzzy had this to say – and I quote, “Stu over at Comments (0)”. I think his news publisher is stuffing something up because there’s still a reference to my old URL in the code there :) Something more meaningful beneath:

Ahh…the memories…

I didn’t play much in primary school — my handball career started in Year 7 (and finished about mid-way through year 9). We had some different terms but the essentials were the same. The serving square was “Ace”, not king (and consequently one had to serve to the “old ace” — but only if the former ace remembered to make this call before the serve was made). If play was interrupted the call was “intos”; a player had the option to reject a serve if it was unreasonable (so the point would be played again).

“Slogs” were commonly called “power shots”, although I later conied the term “wanker shots” as the people who used them were commonly very pretentious, well, wankers — it didn’t take much skill to learn to do them, and they were very difficult to return. The real skill was in beating someone *without* using them. Four players arranged in a 2×2 square was a very rare occurence; usually the games were conducted either in a nice nook which had 2 obvious squares and walls on 3 sides (for rebounding), or in the long corridors around the quadrangle. [Image]

You can see in the back of the photo (the wall roughly opposite the camera) contains a corridor behind it (going along the wall). That’s maybe 50 metres; often we used half (up to the middle arch) or more of the corridor, sometimes even playing around the corners. This made serving to “old ace” quite difficult: you had to bounce the ball so that it would travel some 30 metres, and be reasonably enogh to be accepted by the old ace. And you only got 3 faults; if you couldn’t do it in 3, you went to Dunce and the Old Ace was reinstated (of course he now had to serve to *you*). It got to the point where the square before Dunce served it to the old ace.

There were other square names too: the one below (in rank) ace was King, then Queen, and, optionally, Jack. If there were more than 5 players, however, square names were often disregarded. Another rule often used was “poison” — if a player was for some reason distracted from the game (eg. to tie a shoelace), they could call poison, and the others would have to hit around or over that square; anyone hitting it into the square would become Dunce.

Yet another variation was the “full played” rule: if someone did a full, and you failed to notice and continued playing the point, they could catch the ball and call “full played”, shafting you into Dunce. If, however, they were also too vague to notice that you played a full, it would be “forgotten”.

Sometimes, when we had 3 walls are were feeling really bastardly, we made a bounce off a wall count as a bounce; if the ball bounced off a wall in your square, you would have to hit it before it made contact with the ground – very difficult. A very skilled shot from the ace square in the nook with 3 walls (in ace, a wall would be behind you and on either side) was to, when the opponent (deliberately) hit it hard enough to make it bounce off the back wall on the full, to touch it as it was returning without disrupting its course enough to send it out, but enough that it bounces in your court after you hit it (but, of course, you could hit it into the wall…)

So ends my treatise on handball…ahh the memories. Oh, and handball is an Olympic sport?!?!

Poison! I’d forgot about that rule… and yeah I remember doing all sorts of stuff using walls to rebound balls and stuff. We had a nice long court in school which was bordered by a slanted glass wall looking into the indoor pool – great for rebounds. Another rule I’d forgotten – borking. It permitted you to go into someone else’s square and distract them however (as long as you didn’t touch them or the ball), and of course, you had to rush back into to your square afterwards. And yes, handball is an Olympic sport – but I’ve got no idea as to how that is played.

I’ve seen a version played here in Rochester, New York where there is a wall, ball, and group of kids. The ball is thrown, and returned, but if you botched the return you had to run to the wall before someone threw the ball and hit you with it. If they hit you, you would have to stand facing the wall, while every other player would take turns throwing the ball as hard as possible at you. It’s a rather violent version, but haven’t you ever played welt ball instead of pingpong?

Yes! Yes! I remember that now… I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called here… wall ball or something? There was a great court we used to play at – the area was called by the school as the “Greek Ampitheatre”. Stage at front backed by a slightly concave brick wall, with layered steps (where audiences would usually sit) extending back.

Aug 00


I saw a few school kids playing that long forgotten game (long forgotten to me, at least) of handball the other day. Not the Olympic sport, handball, but the handball where you took a tennis ball, designated a crack in the pavement as the line and that was all you needed for a game. I used to play that game all the time as it was, pretty much, a daily ritual back in primary school. It was a part of primary school life for everyone. In fact, the entire asphalt area of the playground was marked out with handball courts. They were four-square courts, marked out in a fading yellow paint.

By the time I made it there in the morning, all the courts would already be filled, and it was just a matter of finding a game with friends in it. Same deal for most recesses and lunch (when we weren’t playing bullrush, brandings or some other game). During the hot Summer days, you could easily build up a sweat playing in the sun. Yet, under the glaring sun, there’d be queues standing alongside courts of people waiting for their turn to play. A generation of kids who’d no doubt develop skin cancer in the days when the phrase “no hat no play” was not dreamt up yet.  There were kids darting around the grounds chasing the ball that was hit too hard. The constant patter of bouncing tennis balls. The occasional chant of “Out! Out! Out! Out!” from those queued up to a player who’s decided to chuck a McEnroe and dispute a line call (try getting the crowd to do that at Wimbledon!). Sometimes the court has a wall bordering it (or roof above, even), and if so, was usually employed to rebound the ball off.

For those who have no idea what I’m on about, let me take a moment to describe the game of handball. In a simple two player game, you have a rectangular court with a line across the centre. Basically you hit the ball so that it bounces once in your half of the rectangle, and once in your opponent’s half (although the opponent can hit your ball on the full on return). Anything landing outside the rectangle is out, of course. Asides from hitting the ball out of play, the other two ways to lose a point was to hit a full (where the ball crosses the line without bouncing in your half of the court first) and doubles (ball bouncing twice in your half of the court before crossing). The person who served the ball was in Kings, the serving square, and the other guy would be in Dunce. Whoever won the point would move (or stay) in Kings. If there were more than two players and the person in dunce lost, they would exit and someone new would take their place. That’s all there was to it, basically.

One of the interesting things about handball was the terminology used to describe the various aspects of the game. Asides from the usual fulls and doubles, you had a variety of other terms. “Slogs” were used to refer to balls hit low and hard. Then there were “wogs” (back then, no one knew it was a racist term. I have no idea who would have come up with such a term in the first place) where you would grab the ball in the air, give your wrist a quick twist in a downwards motion and release the ball. Sounds strange, was strange. It often rendered the ball virtually unplayable. Wogs were normally used to take the pace out of the ball and drop it close to the line (it was mainly employed when you were at the line and your opponent was backcourt). However, to return a wog successfully was something worthy enough to boast about. In many games it was not allowed (sort of a “house rule” that changed depending on who was “in charge” of the game – that is, whoever owned the tennis ball). “Reflexes” was generally agreed to be a stupid rule and consequentially was often banned in game play. It allowed you to catch the ball and basically chuck it across the court at a ludicrous speed. I remember having a game where reflexes were allowed. Points lasted two hits – the serve, followed by the unreturnable reflex. Whoever was in King never lasted more than one game, maybe two, if the person in Dunce was uncoordinated enough to not catch the ball (resulting in the thorough bagging out of that person). Most games disallowed wogs and reflexes, instead opting for slogs, which required skill to hit as low and fast as possible, while aiming it cross court.

N.O’s (said, “en-ohs”) were called out if something interrupted game play (an errant ball bouncing through your court in the middle of a game, for instance) and the point would be restarted. If the ball hit a line, “lines” was called and the point restarted, with the server serving the ball from the centre line. Rolls was another quirky rule. Sometimes allowed, sometimes not, it referred to what should happen if the ball starts rolling. If disallowed, the point must be replayed. If allowed, play continued. A side-effect of this was lots of skinned hands as we often dipped them too low thus scraping them along the concrete as we attempted to belt the ball as hard as possible across the court floor.

To make matters more complex, there were dialects of handball terms used by people playing around the different parts of Sydney. In country-town Camden, N.Os were not heard of. Interference, or “obs” (short for obstruction) was called out instead. “Wogs” were unheard of, and an explanation of what they were only brought a look of distaste (not a sentence to be taken out of context! I have good friends who are Greek.) Slogs were called grasscutters.

There were various modes of play, too. Apart from the usual singles and doubles, you had 4, or even 9 players in a square configuration. There was also games for three players and up where the court consisted of squares all in a line – such that to serve from Kings to Dunce you had to bounce the ball a fair distance and over the intermediate squares. With these games of more than two people, extra rules existed. The “X-King” rule stated that if someone recently was ousted as King (thereby becoming Dunce), the new King had to serve to the old King. And if you forgot to do so, too bad, your short reign was over. To complicate matters, players can call out “service” before the King serves. If you were the first to call out “service”, the King had to serve to you. However, “X-King” overrode the “service” rule.

There was also this rather contentious “struck” rule that everyone generally hated and disallowed. If the ball hit by your opponent landed out, but you made an action to hit the ball (even though you may have not made any contact with the ball), you were out. This caused plenty of disputes. “You struck!” “Did not!” “Did too!” Etcetera.

I must’ve spent hundreds of hours playing that game, which I why I still remember all the vagarities of it. You’d get to know the calibre of everyone else in the grade… who was lethal with the ball, and who just plain sucked – sometimes so badly that it just wasn’t fun to play with them.

In early primary school, no one is particularly coordinated. This changes as the years go by, though, and soon skill levels gradually improve as your motor coordination develops. Shots are added to your repertoire… people learnt how to put spin on the ball, play with their left hand (or right, if left handed) and naturally, the ever popular hitting the ball between your legs backwards. Then there was the ability to hit a slog such that the ball was hit low enough so it rolled across the ground at some scorching pace. Of course, the pinnacle of skill was to be able to successfully return slogs. It might all sound elementary, but to a young kid who hasn’t hit his/her teens, it was intricate. And at that age, all girls pretty much sucked at the game. No, it’s true.

High school came and handball was still played, but by then people had discovered the fun of kicking balls across the quadrangle (and breaking classroom windows), touch footy on the ovals and also dumping smaller kids head-first into rubbish bins. Handball took a backseat. The last time I played was a couple years ago. It felt like learning a new game. A long forgotten sensation, something foreign to me. Yet, I remember how it all felt natural so long ago… Until a few days ago I had all but forgotten about handball even though it occupied a significant amount of playground time about a decade ago.

One thing I have never known is that if handball was a purely Australian game, or was it known elsewhere in the world (or even outside of Sydney)? What other rules existed? I’d be interested to hear if any of you non-Aussies have, or haven’t, heard of it.

Jun 00
May 00

Sex, Drugs and… IT?

Now this Salon article, “If code is free, why not me?” is the weirdest one I’ve seen for a long time. The incredulous first paragraph really grabs your attention. Funny, cos today we were talking at lunch about how prevalent drug use was in different industries. We came to the conclusion that the IT industry contained mainly “soft” drug users, whereas the arts industries… well it doesn’t mat t er if those guys walk around tripped out for days on end. Sounds like open-source people are artistic geeks :).

May 00

Inter-racial Relationships

Very interesting points of views expressed here (primarily about Asian <-> American relationships). Y’know, I don’t know if it’s just me, but in Sydney Asian chicks going out with white guys is fairly common, but an Asian guy going out with a white chick is very rare. Is it the same in America? Can anyone explain?

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May 00

Reader’s Digest

This month’s Reader’s Digest had two articles I found really interesting, so I scanned them (about 300kb/article). The first is on the topic of sleep and raises some interesting points about it. How you can fall asleep for a few seconds, even with your eyes open (and how they experimentally determined this), how sleep affects health, lifestyle, mood and quality of life. It also explains why most people feel really awake at 9am and 9pm, with a trough at 3pm. Right now I have a sleep debt so large I might as well declare bankruptcy.

The second is about shyness and social phobia – what causes it, what it means, how to get over it etc. If you see the “spectrum of shyness” on the second scanned page, I’d probably be very close come under, believe it or not, “extreme shyness”. In certain, very very specific situations, maybe even social phobia. Or maybe that’s the product of low self-esteem? Or lack of sleep? Or all three :)

“Shyness is a nearly universal human trait. Almost everyone has bouts of it, and half of university students surveyed describe themselves as shy. But at some life juncture, according to one study, one out of eight people become so timid that they suffer from social phobia. During certain kinds of encounters, the heart races, palms sweat, the mouth goes dry, words vanish, thoughts become cluttered and an urge to escape takes over.”

May 00

Slate: The Size of Shopping Carts

Often changes in very specific things in society reflect changes going on with the whole of society. Slate looks at how the size of shopping carts (the physical kind!) has changed over the decades and what we can deduce about society’s traits at the time with regards to income, time management, technological change and even our choice of pie! It’s pretty intriguing – the amount of extrapolation you can achieve with such a simple starting point. Thanks Fuzz *”*!

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Apr 00

Deroes on the Net

This homeless (but obviously not homepageless) guy wants your money.

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Apr 00

Astronauts Have Headaches, Too

I found this article on Wired really amusing.

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Feb 00

Watch Yo Ass In Australia

As reported by today’s Column 8:

THANK YOU Ms S. Karene Witcher, staff reporter of The Wall Street Journal, for your contribution to the world’s knowledge of Australia with a recent front-page article about the dangers Olympians and Olympic visitors will face. Olympic Ideal: Make Sure Those Sharks Don’t Score a Goal says the heading. She discovers “the bull shark” waiting in Sydney Harbour to dine on a triathlete “with a worldwide TV audience of 2 billion people watching”. Australia, she says, “seems to hold many of the most dangerous and venomous creatures on Earth. She lists the box jellyfish, the blue-ringed octopus, the stonefish, killer cone shells, and “the most venomous sea snake known to man”. Add crocodiles, “most of the globe’s top 10 toxic serpents”, the redback, the white-tailed and the funnel-web spiders … but she didn’t list the baby-eating dingo. Phew.

Combine this with an e-mail I got, and it makes me wonder what kind of people are going to be in Sydney come September. Damn Yanks :)

This may confirm everyone’s desires to be as far away from Sydney as possible during the Olympics……then again, it could be fun to be around offering friendly assistance to our friendly visitors….

I hear that all Australian women are beautiful. Is that true and if so, can you send me pictures of the available ones? (Italy)

I want to go swimming at Bondi Beach on October 20th. Will I turn blue?(Germany)
More likely brown.

Will I be able to see kangaroos in the street? (USA)
Yeah, Hume Hwy, Pacific Hwy, Sturt Hwy etc, not so much in, but on.

I want to walk from Perth to Sydney – can I follow the railroad tracks? (Sweden)
Why not ? But if you jog you’ll get there quicker.

My client wants to take a steel pooper-scooper into Australia. Will you let her in? (South Africa)
Yes, but we do have flush toilets.

Are there any ATMs in Australia? Can you send me a list of them in Brisbane, Cairns, Townsville and Hervey Bay? (UK)

Where can I learn underwater welding in Australia? (Portugal)
Tasmanian waters or the Great Aust Bight would be a good place for someone of your obvious well endowed intelligence.

Do the camels in Australia have one hump or two? (UK)
Depends how amorous they feel.

Do you have perfume in Australia? (France)
A very good one is Australis

Can I wear high heels in Australia? (UK)
Yes, and are you a natural blond?

Do you celebrate Christmas in Australia? (France)
Yes and Easter too.

Are there killer bees in Australia? (Germany)
No, the killer wasps eradicated them.

Can you give me some information about hippo racing in Australia? (USA)

Are there supermarkets in Sydney and is milk available on all year round? (Germany)
Yes, and unlike Europe, it’s drinkable too.

Please send a list of all doctors in Australia who can dispense rattlesnake serum. (USA)
None, you’re a walking deadman.

Which direction is North in Australia? (USA)

Can you send me the Vienna Boys’ Choir schedule? (USA)
Austria dickhead, Austria.

I have a question about a famous animal in Australia, but I forget its name. It’s a kind of bear and lives in trees. (USA)
I have a serious question about you too.

I was in Australia in 1969 on R+R, and I want to contact the girl I dated while I was staying in Kings Cross. Can you help? (USA)
Is her name Huckstedd, then see a Mr McPherson.

Will I be able to speak English most places I go? (USA)
Everywhere, but keep your mouth shut, you are obviously a fool.

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Feb 00

Japanese Sociology

Perhaps Japan would be a great place for Bence to move? :) Or maybe there are many people like Bence in Japan. What makes me say this? This report on Gamecentre.

Nov 99

Wintertime? Summertime?

Sheesh. You yanks are so ignorant. Look, Saturday’s SMH Column 8:

THIS COMES up from time to time, but still amazes us. Tracey Schmidt, of Sandy Beach, near Coffs Harbour, says: ”I knew Americans didn’t know much about Australia, but when I was asked this by a ’30-something’ American mum (sorry, mom), an e-mail penpal, I was flabbergasted: ‘I hope this doesn’t sound stupid, but is it now summertime for you guys? I heard that it’s the opposite on the other side of the equator. So your Christmas is warm?’

One more thing. With Winter comes colds and other illnesses. Remember that Vitamin C is a cold preventor – it won’t really help you that much once you get it. And stuff like Ribena which has four times the Vit C of OJ helps more :). I haven’t fallen sick for over half a year and I reckon it’s the Vitamin C.

Oct 99

In Column 8

This in column 8 today… geez… no wonder why you Yanks and Canadians get the wrong impression. Remind me to go feed my pet kangaroo in the backyard later on…

VISITING Canada, Julian Faigin, of Sydney, found in a Toronto newspaper an ad for “Kiwi Shampoo – Venture Down Under”. “What does it all mean?” asks Julian. “I guess NZ is ‘down under’, too: After a long day of wrestling crocs, chasing Kangas and slinging back the coldies by the billabong, you need an escape … Whether you’re a Bruce or a Sheila, our natural fruit extracts will help revitalize, strengthen, condition, and restore moisture to your hair. And if the sun and blowdrying are leaving your hair like burnt shrimp on the barbie, our added heat and UV protectors will provide extra protection on those days in the Great Outback.“What do Canadians think of us?

Sep 99

The Internet and the Psychology around it

I can’t remember where I got this link from (really sorry!) – it was one of those 100 sites on the left. A very voluminous analysis of the net and the sociology around it. Compares it to real-life sociology as well. Wonder how much FA knows about this (pysch major if I remember correctly). FA?

Sep 99

School’s Back

Thanks for the enlightenment. So you’re not all a bunch of 22 year olds forever repeating your final year at high school…

Yeah, in America school can refer to high school or college.  If you’re in college, you can say you’re going back to college or you’re going back to school.  I don’t think anyone calls it going back to university here, but that might just be this part of the country.  People do the same thing for grad school too.  I guess it can get a little confusing, but we seem to just use a person’s age to figure out what they mean.  If they’re 18, its probably college.

Ok man it’s simpler here in the states.  The collective term “school” refers to any learning institution, public or private.  This include high school, technical school, college, art school, film school, terrorist school, or even driving school.  Generally, if a 20 year old says he’s going back to school, he’s taking college classes (hopefully).

yah, over here people generally say they’re going back to school for both high school and college.

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Sep 99

School? College?

All the Americans are starting a new year of school (we’re half way through). I’m a little confused as to the terminology though… you talk about going back to “school”. Am I right in saying this refers to both high school and college (cos I’d be worried if some of you 20 year olds were going back to high school)? Over here school refers to high school (and also departments within university faculties). Uni refers to university (what you call college), and college to us is actually on-campus student accommodation. Bizarrée. Tell me what’s going on here…

Aug 99

Makes You Wonder…

About people you “know” online. Click.

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Aug 99

Idle Observation

Why do all weblogs seem to have a fetish with the prefix word “meta”?


/me’t*/ or /may’t*/ or (Commonwealth) /mee’t*/ A prefix meaning one level of description higher. If X is some concept then meta-X is data about, or processes operating on, X.

For example, a metasyntax is syntax for specifying syntax, metalanguage is a language used to discuss language, meta-data is data about data, and meta-reasoning is reasoning about reasoning.

This is difficult to explain briefly, but much hacker humour turns on deliberate confusion between meta-levels. (www.dictionary.com)


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Feb 99


This stuff from the aforementioned Magazine of repute.

HIGH-TECH GIRL TALK Girls love secrets, but until now they’ve had to stash diaries and other prized possessions under mattresses or in trunks to keep snoopy little sisters from prying. Newcomer Girl Tech is offering some electronic alternatives. Its Password Journal locks with the sound of the owner’s voice. And the Door Pass sticks onto a bedroom door and requests a verbal password each time it detects motion outside. If the voice doesn’t match the one stored in memory, it blinks to indicate that an intruder may have entered the room while its owner was out. Each product costs $20.

The only problem is, now you’ll get little sisters bugging their big sister’s rooms with microphones so they can get their voice on tape. And excuse me, aren’t these products just a little sexist? Boys keep diaries too. Oh, sorry. They don’t keep diaries… they keep journals. I wonder why they failed to make that distinction when naming it “Newcomer Girl Tech Password Journal.”

Hear Ye! – Inferno’s Online Diary. Exposing his emotion turmoils, expressing his inner feelings.

Dec 98


Something that happened yesterday made me think – how close a friend can you be to someone you’ve only met and known through the net? Are they really “worthless” ’cause you’ve never seen them or talked to them? Or can they be friends in the familiar sense? My guess is somewhere in between. Of course, once you actually make contact with that person, the relationship may develop (even @ landays etc.). There are all sorts of interesting sociological experiments you can conduct on the net – especially through icq and the anonymity that comes with it.

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