In the Shadow of California

This page written circa 10 July, 2005.

Kay and Edwin are already in Australia; Merinda and I are about to fly to Sydney and eventually join them. It will be quite an adventure showing the kids around a very different place. I have some vision of how I would like our time to go: We plan to base with Denis in Cronulla, and to visit places and people in "surgical strike" fashion, with camera and toothbrush in small packs, returning late by train or staying a night or two here and there. We have not hired a car, and I would like not to have to do so. Travelling in pairs or as a foursome, relying on public transport, shopping, sightseeing and calling in on old friends, these are the things I want to do. (Last time we travelled on aeroplane, train, lightrail, cable car, truck, car, boat, monorail and ferry, and this time we hope to add steam train.)

Robert Lucky, writing in Spectrum, recently reflected dubiously upon Microsoft's experiment to record all the minutiae of (Gordon Bell's) life. Lucky observed that he has never deleted a single digital photograph he has ever taken, nor renamed one, not even "close-up of finger over lens", with the result that he never looks at them. I delete 96% of the frames I take and I studiously rename and file the others. I really enjoy reviewing my photos; I have just enjoyed the images from the last trip once again! But the minutiae? How could you ever search them? What use could this be?

Lucky also kept every email. So have I. What's the difference? I can search the emails very effectively, unlike jpeg photos. I forced myself to store the photos selectively and searchably, having anticipated the problem that now kills the value of Mr Lucky's collection. It is likely that neither of us will ever search many years backwards in our email (I do search a couple of years back on occasion, mainly to discover when something happened or who was informed), but it is somehow comforting to know that we can. I would derive no comfort had I kept the long-deleted images, because I know I could never search them effectively, unnamed and in their tens of thousands, and mostly worthless.

Searching, as an aside, is quite the modern art. Google has so many followers because it turns the web from an information wormhole through which you can reach any piece of information whose location you already know, into a bright machine that can show you almost anything you can name. Googalists say that the hard part is not the server and disk farm but the search result ranking algorithms. This was hard for me to understand, as a person whose databases can be searched with nothing more powerful than grep, and whose main uses for the web are accomplished by going at once to a small handful of known sites such as IMDb or Amazon. The concept of ranking through the density of hyperlinks looks obvious with hindsight, as with many an idea, but I guess it was not so except to those who had already bought the farm, so to speak. Will we one day be interested in storing and searching the millisecond-by-millisecond record of our existence?

While discussing what became the central point of the last soapbox, my friend Dan correctly observed that I try to pack as much experience into life as possible. This seems to have been my main motivation for having kids, though breeding fitted well with being in California, working at HP, and living in a town rather than a city. Mr Lucky notes that Socrates said "the unexamined life is not worth living". Methinks it may be that only the well-lived life that is worth examining. (Except of course if it someone else's and well ballsed-up---nothing like a bad example.) However I accept what I believe is Socrates' point: You have to look at what you are doing in the context of your values and adjust your actions, in order to optimize your life. I keep photos for my own pleasure in review, and to allow the examination. My own review is half of why I write soapboxes, and in the hope of feedback for myself, and feedforward for my children and friends.

I wanted to write this last Soapbox before I leave and I wanted to call it "The Call of Home is Loud, Still As Loud", from the the Slade track, but the truth is that I fear the call will prove not to be so loud. Nick tells me that "the government is trying to kill the rail system". I read the web site of my old friend Jack Herman, whose views are extremely left wing to my way of thinking, and I remember that Australia leans way to the left. In Aus as it is here in the USA, the right-wing politicians are such biggoted hypocrits that they are easy to ridicule to an educated audience and do seem busy lining their own pockets; Jack's ANZAPA writings make the right look utterly evil. Nevertheless, these right-wing politicians preside, and over remarkably healthy economies (Bush II may change this). It ain't the no-brainer Jack would have you think it.

Years ago, my friend Jim described taxation-funded social services as "paying the populace not to revolt"; the Western democracy's method of subjugating the proletariat. And you might have thought of it as sharing the fruits of working as a collective, national community---silly you! The description takes some reconciliation, but both are perfectly valid ways of looking at it. My friend Andy observes today that "America has demonstrated that the price point is lower", meaning that Australia has been overpaying its proletariat for their cooperation. (I have reflected before on the preposterously high pay given to readily-replaceable workers in Australia.) Now this is a question to Ask Jeeves: How little can I allocate to social services and keep the people working? Shades of 1984.

What will Sydney really be like and why do I care? I'd prefer to live and have my kids high-schooled in a big city, where there is more life, more choice, and more of a community, and I want a city with more variety in people, food, architecture and entertainment, and incidentally I would like to be near my old haunts. I would like to be where there is a decent public transport system, and national healthcare, but I am not sure these are sensibly achievable. Yet I do not want to live where interesting high-tech work is rare and ill-paid, where taxes and duties are unnecessarily high, or where I have less freedom. Jack cites a study refuting the idea that reduced tax acts as an incentive. Who did they survey to get that? The most fundamental reason I live in Santa Rosa rather than Sydney is the high spending power, and the fact that Santa Rosa and California are on par in other respects (though SR is a bit rural). Perhaps I am simply unusual. I am kind of hoping Andrew or Jack or Warwick or Sydney will convince me that I would be happier in Sydney.

It is lousy timing: On one hand I am on a roll with projects at work, with promotion and reward on the cards, the kids love their school and teachers, and we have friends and a nice house here. On the other hand, Agilent is offering a generous voluntary severance package, and real-estate is at an all-time high here, the US$ will probably slide down in coming times, and I am about to visit the place I might well seek a new job. Nirvana might be that wonderful job, based in Alexandria or Redfern or the city, and starting in 2007!

Will the call of home be loud, or will I be reminded of why I am living here and how hard it is to imagine a suitable lifestyle in Sydney? Time, and perhaps the next edition of this Soapbox, may tell.

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