The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4

(or The Sydney Diary of Jonathan Scott Aged 54 3/4, Part 1)

This page written between 25 June and 28 August, 2010.

I have been here but two days and already I am remembering reasons for leaving. There was a crash on a motorway that resulted in a traffic jam in which people were caught for 12 hours, and the report on the incident has come back and is in the news. The report "makes recommendations" but blames no person in particular, and is not well received on account of this... people reasonably want action. The problem---nobody took responsibility, presumably no person on scene had the power to act---is not discussed, only how future problems might be legislated away. "Public problem? Legislate it away!" Is legislation a way of forcing someone (else) to take responsibility? Australian politicians have always thought so.

My father-in-law Denis, with whom I am staying, took me to Kurnell to look for whales, and to look around. No whales, though I am told lots in the few days following.

I wandered about Cronulla and walked the beach at sunset.

First Monday on the job. I am, back in the EE building, Room 905, the first office I ever had to myself. Views to the airport. I will appreciate them this time! The old EE building is barely changed, after 15 years. It is cold, and it is not busy-looking. Caught up with Sylvia and Ping. Ping reports that the place has lost its sense of community, its spirit. It feels like that. There is no "tea room", no human focus point.

Ann and I attended the Threshold Concepts symposium on Thursday and Friday of the first week.
The conference was quite well organised. The dinner was at the Quarantine station on North Head, a long trek from UNSW.
We began to realise that most of the papers were of a philosophical mindset, meaning not scientific, not testing or proving anything. There is criticism of TCT, no evidence that it is true or useful. Meyer was dogmatic and insisted that concepts are either TCs or not, no middle ground, almost afraid that his pet subject was under threat from critical investigation... but then, it is. Land, more reasonable, sees them as a tool of thought, he seemed much less threatened but equally uninterested in examining the theory for scientific validity. This is fine, but will not justify the theory in practical applications.

Had a very good Skype call from home base. Edwin has missed me so much that he cried one night. He seems to be handling it better now.

Went to Eric's place Saturday, drank and roasted coffee, then to Peter and Barbara's place for dinner. Helped Eric repair his AirCon system, it was jammed in cooling mode. Had to open the housing as if it was a can and I was using a can opener, but we got the sucker in the end.

The table started discussing various things that blow up, and conversation turned to the idea of blowing up ATMs by filling the shop behind them with oxygen and acetylene and blowing the atm out of the rubble. "Nice piece of physics, that" quoth I. Peter beams at Jack and says "Didn't I say just exactly the same thing?!? THAT is why this is my friend!"

Now Friday 9 July. The last week saw me start reading books on Embedded Programming, which is very boring, catching up with Philip Leong, Andre van Schaik, and a few of the Old Farts Club here at SUEIE, which was quite interesting, buying enough underwear to double my cruising range, which was a relief, and starting to write papers for the AAEE conference in December on the ENEL111 work... which are due next Friday.

I managed to cut my finger on the doorknob of my office, Room 905 in J03, just as I was leaving to go home. It is a cold and neglected room. Amongst many other lamentable shortcomings, the door does not fit the frame very well, so you have to shove or yank to close it. It turns out that the knob has a sharp rim at the rear, so yank hard enough and you are ultimately pulling against a circular knife edge. I bought some plasters on the way home, having stemmed the bleeding with a handkerchief, and I now type this without my right forefinger. It is odd but I find myself typing with two second fingers... the left forefinger seems to be out in sympathy. At any rate, if this happened at UoW I would fill in an accident report form and I am sure there would be considerable ado, comment in the tea room, especially over the global unsafe doorknob situation. I will do likewise on Monday morning and we shall see what happens.

Unable to get a response from Jack & Cath I trekked to their apartment on Saturday to seek them out, or as it happened to leave a note. I suspect they are away.
The trains are all off this weekend, so the voyage was by bus. This probably turned out better for me because busses from Cronulla either went direct to Central, or "all stops" to Hurstville except between Sutherland and Allawah, which suited me well and removed the need to change that would be the case with the train.

Without trains it seems best to stay home and have a lazy weekend. Denis and I visited the markets held in the playground of Kay's old High School. Denis was ever so proud of Kay because she was Head Girl. The markets on a drizzly day made that seem rather lost in history. I was proud anyway.
I read "A larrikin's memoir: Precious Bodily Fluids... The End of 1961" by Charles Waterstreet. It was lying around. Humerous and I assume exaggerated, and with dubious punctuation, but evoking a marvellous vision of Albury and Australia and Catholic families in country towns in the era of Menzies and fluoridation and the Snowy scheme and post-war European immigration. My knowledge of Albury, most Aussie country towns, is more like 1970s vintage, but it rang true. Sydney schools were epitomised by Cranbrook and Scots. I went to Scots. Cranbrook was geographically close, but had no country connection. The Catholic rep was Waverley. There would be no reason to choose those three unless you had the same Sydney geographical exposure that I did. Maybe Waterstreet was a Scots boy after all?
A day spent looking at the way things were.

Within a few hours of me reporting my injury on the door knob, maintenance turned up to fix it. Not bad. There is also no hot water anywhere in the building. I reported that problem days ago. Danny, the building attendant, the only other living creature on this high floor of the building, tells me he has been trying to get the hot water fixed since last October. That tells you how seriously Sydney U takes EE as a place. If only the lack of hot was a threat to safety!

By the next day I had a new doorknob and Ping calling to see that all was well.

Dined with Susan Z. She is still in no.10, having nearly moved to Melbourne for a change.
This picture shows our old block of apartments after the removal of the huge tree in front of Susan's and my apartments. (The huge tree was a fast-growing fig, once a pot-plant on the balcony of my unit, before I owned it. It outgrew its pot and was planted in the garden.)

When I got home Denis had not been able to resist connecting the Ryobi that I had dug out and left charging to the coffee grinder. "It works!" he proclaimed.

Had dinner with Donna at a great Greek restaurant in Erskineville Rd. The concensus seems to be that the St Peters end of Newtown and Eskineville Roads are where the trendy and interesting life has shifted. Rumour has it that The Peasant's Feast has gone down hill, being organic notwithstanding... on the list to be confirmed.

I was getting sick of the manual coffee grind, and Mr Ryobi above expired a couple of nights ago, so I bought a new electric coffee grinder from Target. They did not have any of the old "$25, centrifugal, blades on the end of a motor shaft" type grinders, no sir. This one is a powered conical-burr machine with an electronic timer and a range of grind sizes from "coarse" to "Turkish" by way of "drip, "plunger" and "espresso". At A$169 it is a good start. Eric's cost a good deal more, but a lot less than you can pay, the coffee world is getting serious. Roll on PhD, Cameron!

I am (re-)learning how badly it impacts my productivity to have to think things like "I need to leave by such-and-such a time" to catch a train or meet someone. It has been a struggle all week getting manuscripts for the AAEE conference written. This is typed on the train from Cronulla to Macquarie, change at Central. I may be able to work on the train but it does not make up for the stress and disruption of the commuting effort.

Visited Parker-san with Jim at MU today. The three of us always seem to have fabulously stimulating conversations, today was no exception.

After Macquarie I returned to The Greenwich Hilton, for coffee, conversation, and a meal from the fish markets!
This picture was taken with the camera three uncalibrated stops above 3200 asa. The D90 sees better than I do in low light, I can use it as an image intensifier in movie mode. This photograph, taken hand-held, was in close to darkness.
Sunday morning I pottered back to Cronulla. There was trackwork on the Harbour Bridge, and buses from St Leonard's to Wynyard. The bus was dazzlingly quick, faster than the train would have been, amazing. A Sunday morning phenomenon?

The work I came here to seems very dull and discouraging at the moment, mainly because it looks ever more enormous a job, I am having a lot of trouble reading boring books on the subject. I am not all that productive because I spend ages commuting, doing piecemeal grocery shopping and cooking, and avoiding unpleasant thing by doing stuff like writing this.

I spent some time talking to a long-time SUEE person. He observes that this department does not enough technical support; that it has not enough capital equipment to teach students, to the extent that Godfrey and Jim went shopping using money Godfrey earned consulting to buy second-hand equipment for a teaching lab; that successful pushes from other departments have reduced and fragmented the space in this building dedicated to the department; that it has few professors, and ones who are perceived to have allowed this decline; that it has seen leaders (professors) come and go swiftly because of these factors, worsening them in the process.

Most of the problems could be captured in a spreadsheet and related to current income and the asset base. If such a spreadsheet showed the situation at other universities, it would be clear where the department sits, and the extent of investment (capital, HR, and recurrent) required to return to the competitive forefront. The problem, of course, is that there is nobody here with an incentive to do this, even if such a person believed that the dean and the university might see the investment as worthwhile...

I dressed up and gave a seminar on the TC stuff and the EE application, mostly to show off the bimodality, and attribute it to TCs. Hansen Yee was there, I hope he appreciated the answers after all these years!

On Friday Amelia visited me in my office in EE. She arrived having dunked her phone in a puddle... much as I did with my Palm Pilot when I got to Bywater Grange at first, not being used to stock tanks and their incompatibility with technology.

Saturday 24 July is Denis's birthday, and he turned 85 this year. I went up and photographed him playing Bowls at Cronulla RSL.

Jane and David made a sand sculpture of the numerals "85" on Wanda beach near Denis's place.

Jane had made Denis a birthday cake.

A morning TV program here runs a competition. Viewers register their names and then at a particular time, give or take a few minutes, they ring a viewer at random and if you answer the phone with the name of the TV program you win the jackpot. Today, whoever answered could not manage to say anything before hanging up, and it went from $20k to $25k. I am not sure how it works in any other country---I rarely watch TV and virtually never in the morning---but here the number you ring is a 1900- number and they charge you 55c to register each day! In other words, this is a money-making gambling game. There is an SMS entry mechanism as well. It only takes a few moments to see that they start to make money at about 10,000 entrants, so given a population of 5 million in the catchment area, it looks like a good bet---from their point of view. I have this idea that in most countries these morning prize games are sponsor-funded ways to increase the impact of the advertisements, but apparently not here. Given the money sloshing around and the ease with which the averge Aussie punter is parted from his cash, why would you burden a sponsor with the cost?

In the evenings, Denis does not so much watch TV as sleep by it. Perhaps this is why he watches TV in the morning, so he actually gets to see the news. Last night (Sunday) we watched the ABC, almost the only channel worth watching. After Jonathan Creek there was some nature program, I forget what, and Denis pretty much slept through the changeover, and as I quite liked the look of the program I kept watching it... until Denis suddenly woke up, turned off the TV, and started his nightly wind-down procedure. I am not sure when, or if, he noticed that he was not talking to himself.

Amelia and I went out to lunch. We ate in a cafe above a very lovely-looking bookshop on O'Connell St in Newtown. I showed Amelia where I lived, just down that street, when she was "negative 6 years old".
On the way home we had a deep and meaningful. We discussed political correctness and honesty. Amelia does not aften come out and talk about such stuff, so this was very good, although what she had to say was not comfortable material. She feels that I was not there for her when she was a kid. I knew she felt that, I did not know she felt it had had such a negative impact on her life. She told me that there had been periods when she did not get on with her mother. I cannot explain to her the emotional under-reasons why I was not part of her life, it is no easy matter to see things the way I saw them at that time. Maybe I should put them down somewhere as best I can, to be read in the far future.

I visited Lou and Greg and met the triplets, William, Patrick and Anthony.
Wow, Greg does a lot considering that these are not his kids, best flatmate Lou could ask for.
I reckon that the three strong and staggeringly distinct personalities of these guys will in due course make Lou feel like an animal that has fallen into a river of piranhas. William is an extrovert, attention-seeker, bold; Patrick is sharp, quiet, but very self-sufficient, always looking on; Anthony has adopted the sensitve strategy, hangs on to Mum or whoever is there and is very apt to cry.

I intend to finally release my post box in the Wentworth building. To that end I am trying to cancel or divert any source of mail. Barclays Bank has to be the least friendly, least useful bank with whom I have had to deal in four countries. They changed the procedures for internet banking at some stage so that I cannot now either log in or even get them to generate a new password... let alone change my address of record.

Friday night I dined with Stephen and Pamela in Ashfield. Pamela has fallen in love with playing the drum kit, and has developed a serious obsession with cymbals and their timbre. It appears it is quite an art to produce the clear and varied-sounding cymbals for which Zildjian(sp?) has made its name, but she has found a "Turkish supplier" of marvellous hand-made cymbals... and they do sound marvellous. I also had a chance to talk to Robert, he is very adult-sounding these days. He manages to work with snippets from New Scientist in to his school projects. They were doing grass and photosynthesis and he knew some connection with quantum mechanics from some recent NS thing on quantum photosynthesis that he had heard Stephen and Pamela discussing, so teacher asks him to explain what it is... and he gets up and does his best to explain QM to the class.

It was nearly 1AM by the time I got back to Cronulla.

Had a lovely lunch with Peter and Susanna at Opah in Cronulla. Opah is a Greek restaurant, but it might be better described as "Greek-style", the way Chevy's "is" Mexican.
They do an "All-you-can-eat Greek Yum Cha" that I want to try one day.

Cronulla must be a social scientist's dream. I got a fish-eye view of the natives at play last night when I arrived on a train carrying more police and rail security guys than passengers, and walked past the night clubs and huddles of police persons down the mall and back to chez Denis. I got another chance to watch them at play walking to the restaurant today and waiting on the corner for Peter.
Homo Cronulliensis has distintive habits and rituals, and comes in many different genuses. The ratio of heel-height to dress-taste in the females is huge. The males wear camouflage, usually grey and disconnected pastel colours, the breeding females tend to plain black, the others relax into a variety of colours, but never bold.

On Sunday night I checked back into the Bondi Junction Hilton to work on a book I have to read, and of course commune with the natives. We dined with Gregor. Conversation over dinner with Andrew and Gregor is always delightful and informative.

Monday I visited Peter at NICTA in the ATP. The ATP is a rather lovely environment these days, and John Parker's company is very exciting indeed.

The NICTA building is quite nice itself.

Having spent several very enjoyable hours there, Peter was showing me out when we came across these two gents in the lobby. "Do you know what that machine is?" asks Peter. It turned out to be a machine that measures the British Pendulum Number of a floor, a measure of its slipperiness. HSE strikes again!

The ``Old Farts'' lunch, perhaps the institution that keeps the department functioning, met as usual Thursday. I cannot write it here, but a think I have understood why the department tanked; Emerson's generalization "An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man" can be generalised to the case of more than one person in charge.

News from our CostCo correspondent reached me via the wire. Charlotte writes:
``We've always wondered exactly what [our dog] is, breedwise. My assumption was a Corgi/Cocker Spaniel mix. Well, Costco had OTC canine DNA tests for sale a few weeks ago, so I plunked down the US$40, swabbed the insides of his cheeks, and sent off his sample. Just got the results today and they're kind of shocking! The test report says that he's 25% Miniature Poodle, and 12.5% each Cocker Spaniel, Boxer, Beagle, and Shetland Sheepdog! The other 25% was a hodgepodge of various breed markers that weren't significant enough for them to isolate.''

OK, so 40 bucks is pretty cheap for a detailed scan. Gattaca here we come. Mere paternity tests cost $10k not so long ago. It would be cool to know what can be known about my antecedents, resolve all that Anglo and Saxon and Norman heritage!

Speaking of Charlotte, there is a billboard-style ad appearing on bus shelters and mall walls all over the town for those self-darkening glasses that never work very well. The young lady in them looks remarkably like Charlotte.

Friday I had lunch with Amelia and gave her a birthday present. It was an electronic picture frame. You know how some presents hit home and others are just so-so? Well, I suspect this one is a homer. I had to unplug it and drag her off before we both died of hunger. I had pre-loaded it with every photo in our whole database in which Amelia appeared, and that was the booster.
These frames are now becoming reasonable in price, as there are many brands in competition. Extensive investigation in-shop and with mine and Denis's models suggests that the best operating system slam-dunk is the one on SmartParts frames (I forget the name of the software). The Sony ones, on the other hand are the aesthetic winners, and they have orientation sensing so will flip between landscape and portrait modes instantly. The flipping is cool, iPod-esque, but not so useful when the thing is installed, you just do not flip it when in the intended ``background'' mode of sitting on your shelf, desk or wall.

The library got two of the books I had ordered. One of them, a UK book by Wilmshurst, is uncomfortably close to what I have in the proposal I am here to write! Reading it this weekend. The first chapter perfectly deals with two issues I have planned, that all other books fail to address. Let's hope the rest of the book is not so good or I may be out of a project!

On my way to work on Friday August 6th I saw one of the rail staff handing out a leaflet advising that Monday would be a Free Day for rail travel. Seems the rail unions and Railcorp and the NSW government have failed to reach a new collective employment agreement to replace the one that expired in March.

This brings up a major question I face on this mission...

How will Australia respond to the serious economic bubble, especially in real estate prices? From a union perspective, salaries need to increase to make life livable. Looking at the median-price to median-income ratio, housing in Sydney is ferocious at a ratio of about 8x. By comparison the US runs about 3x long-term average, Canberra is currently at 4x. The most obvious response to a rise in prices is a rise in income. This causes inflation, that in turn causes dept deflation, but your currency winds up in the toilet. A sudden correction (crash) fixes the problem but whacks recent purchasers. What will happen? Will a decade of flat prices serve to sort it out? Or will there be a crash a la California and the US?

Steve Keen and other globally-rcognised economists expect a crash. Historically, Sydney housing simply sits at a constant level until wages and inflation catch up. Three factors work against a (much-needed) real estate crash here:
1. Mortgages work differently, you can't walk away if the mortgage goes underwater here, you owe the bank the value of the loan, not limited by the value of the house. So a crash only locks owners in for the period of the depression.
2. The Chinese are buying real estate here madly, it is seen as both the safest place to put money, a launch pad for their children to go to a university (the two top unis here have huge foreign student cohorts, EE at Sydney for example has 95% Asian grad students), and a retirement place. This has caused a serious housing shortage, and new apartments are sold before the foundations are laid.
3. The price of housing in Sydney is not so far from the price in similar major cities; it is the salaries that are low as well.

A recent report from CA, post the first crash, paints a worse picture:
Sales of existing homes fell off a cliff in July. The National Association of Realtors said closings on home resales were 27.2% in July. According to the National Association of Realtors©, that's the largest monthly drop since 1999, and 25% below the July 2009 figure. With a 12.5-month supply of homes for sale, more sales were made to investors (19%) though 38% of sales were to first-time buyers. All-cash sales increased to roughly 30% of total sales. Meanwhile, sales of new single-family homes hit their lowest level since the start of record-keeping in 1963. The number sold--276,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual basis--was 12.4% below the June level

Speaking of toilets... I cannot help noting that the average Australian toilet is lousy at flushing. I quite frequently need to flush twice to remove all the evidence. Kay and I noticed this when we first moved to the US. Toilets there are quite different, they have a deeper pool of water and somehow a more efficient removal action. I secretly expected Kiwi loos to be a return to what I had known in Aus, but it was not so. No idea why.

Friday I returned to chez Mills. Always a delight in terms of coffee as well as conversation. Brenda has bought an elliptical trainer. I provocatively asked how long Eric predicted the exercise regime would last. He wisely declined to place a bet. It is certainly a very sexy machine, powered by a generator using your own effort it is solid and free of fiddly parts. Interestingly it has the track upon which the wheeled ends of the leg levers run at a steep incline. Wheras Kay's is like cross-country skiing, this one is like climbing a hill or a flight of steps.

Saturday back in Cronulla the TV antenna needed a little adjustment. The U-bolt was seriously rusted and gave way instead of loosening. Second assault on Sunday.

Denis and I went to the Arts Theatre to pick up tickets, turns out he is a life member on account of all the productions that involved Kay's mother Mary and Denis. They are doing Adrian Mole!
We had dinner at a small Spanish restaurant around the corner. It was superb food, best paella I think I have ever had. I have to get some of those 16-inch plates!

Telstra offer various rates on the mobile broadband I am using, for example $20 gets you 225MB (=8.9c/Mb) or $60 gets you 3Gb (=2c/Mb). However, they also say "Your data rates and allowance are determined by your most recent recharge amount", meaning that my plan of spending $60 up front with $20 top-ups to keep the thing alive (there is a 30 day timeout) meant that the latest recharge got me a lousy rate! What a deceptive plan. If I was here more than 3 months it would be worth changing carriers!

Monday I visited Sapphicon. They are at Olympic Park. This is another work of Sydney construction that has come in my absence. The locale is all spacious and shiny, and the station, naturally enough, is designed to handle huge crowds. Sapphicon itself is yet another attempt to make a fab in Australia pay off. Perhaps this time it will work.

I have booked flights back to NZ for a dirty fortnight brief holiday. Excitingly I discovered that between leaving Hamilton and now Pacific Blue cancelled the direct Hamilton--Sydney flights. Cute.

I am travelling to and from AKL. The cost for the flights on Emirates is about $400. Getting to the airport at either end will represent a relatively large cost; the default of AKL shuttle and Sydney taxi would add $250 to the cost! In Sydney the trains now reach the airport, but that last station costs $15, so it might cost me $3.20 to get to Wolli Creek, but one more station to Airport will cost over $18. The high cost of this last link is the subject of much complaint in Sydney, as shown by this SMH article. I plan to test catching a taxi from airport to Wolli Creek on my return....

Out of the blue last week I got a call from someone at the Commonwealth Bank wanting to talk to me about my superannuation (401k). Today we met. In Australia, the money you pay into super is taxed (but at a lower rate than the maximum marginal rate that cuts in well under $100k/pa), and it is managed by the financial institution of your choice. They charge about 1.6% per annum for this service. They also charge about 2% of capital to make any change to this sum. It's bad enough that I will never get any of my tax back from the government as social security (you have to be poor in assets and income for that), but the superannuation schemes trap your money and bill you to keep it as well.

Catherine Smith and Tim turned up to the "Old-Farts Lunch" this week. I have not seen her for about 15 years.

Donna needed someone to do some electrical work, so after lunch we visited Ikea in Rhodes and did a little work. Next week, the garage door!

I got on a Cronulla train this evening at about 18:15, but only just. It was full to overfilling. This is no way to commute.

Having said that this is hard work, the real reason for this trip---the book prospectus---is going well. The draft is looking more solid all the time.

Friday. Finished reading the second-last textbook. I ought to be feeling happy, I am on schedule, even if the task is shaping up as way bigger than anticipated I have a vision of beauty... maybe unrealisable beauty, but it means to me that I can see the landscape. I stretch, and look out of the office windows whose view I neglected when I first occupied this office. If I do not feel overjoyed it is because of the prospect of living in Sydney without nasty compromise is not looking good. Donna tells me that 96 Chelmsford St sold for $1.88Meg, having sold in 2008 for $1.45Meg in substantially the same condition.
All the indicators are there, slowing clearance rate, unrealistic price comparisons, excessive personal debt rates, but I am betting no crash, a mere "softening" at worst.

Rose has lived in Erskineville for 22 years over which time it has become quite a lovely community. Every Friday she and Jim eat pizza in the lovely open restaurant that was once a post office, and I joined them. Great pizza, great environment, Erskineville has a good feel. That is Jim and Rose waving in this picture, but it was taken with my Pilot so there is neither a lot of pixels nor a great lens!

There are so many exciting things to do in Sydney that you do not get in Hamilton:

I have been browsing the lingerie shops with a view to buying myself a present (use your imagination there) and I came across the magnificent development depicted adjacent. These things look like they will not work, just like a slightly squishy, slightly padded bra with no particular resiliance and no stickiness. When you get the care-and-feeding instructions you start to get the idea that there might be a lot going on in there... they should not be crushed, and they have to live in the container in which they are supplied to "air dry" between uses. Like the ladies' pectoral muscle builder, I am unequipped to test these, but the woman in the shop tells me they have not had a complaint in the 6 months they have been selling them, which is "usually the best indication" that they work well.

Saturday evening was spent at chez Mills. We tackled the mysterious case of the microwave oven whose turntable only rotated when it should be still (door open or oven completely off). It was another case of arced-over coil in the turntable motor... naturally the least-accessible part in the machine. It did have a neat pressing for the bottom of the cabinet... some quick work with side cutters left you with a piece of metal that could be rotated and reattached with a single self-tapping screw once the motor had been dealt with. Neat mechanical design.

I returned to Cronulla thinking I would catch the Kites at the Air Festival at Wanda Beach but it rained hard as I passed Janalli. When I got there it was sunny but swampy, and only the people with the bouncy-bungee machines and the camel rides were seeing any action. In spite of a bunch of food stalls it was a bit of a fizzer by 13:00.

The storm that drove away the kite flyers was a typical antipodean storm---it blew over quickly. Here you can see it disappearing out over the ocean to New Zealand. Another shower came over after I got back to Kirkwood Road, but by 3PM it was bright and sunny again. It hailed in the city, apparently.

Tuesday I dined with Glenn Leembruggen. With various people, such as Glenn, I often finish feeling as if I had not said everything I felt there was to say. It is a good feeling, on the whole, it means you have a lot you want to hear and tell.

Wednesday I went into town to do some high-tech shopping, and having not gone there for about 35 years, I visited the Museum on College Street. It is in the same vein as Te Papa in Wellington, though housed in an old stone building renovated inside instead of a new and avant-garde architectural marvel. It is not quite as grand, and visibly geared to handling school groups. It is very good, if you like rocks and skeletons and so forth.

Tuesday morning Denis and I drove up to Cronulla to do a big load of shopping at Franklins. I went off to work, he took the stuff back home. Tonight (Wednesday night) I looked for the large tub of icecream I knew we had bought.
J: Where is the ice cream, Denis?
D: It's in there.
J (searching): No... here it is, it's in the fridge, not the freezer!
D: Well I didn't do that!
J: Yes you did, you brought the shopping home, I went to work.
D: Oh yes....

My new black leather jacket is getting a workout. Yesterday I managed to get some lanolin-based leather cream from the shoe department of DJs. I gave it a good rub. It is acquiring that well-used patina that gives leather a style. It ought to be, I am using it every day, so it is getting rain and UV treatments, not to mention regular crumpling and uncrumpling. Probably costs a fortune to buy this pre-battered look.

I met a colleague today who works around engineering at UWS. I think things are pretty bad here at Sydney U in EE, but it is apparently worse at UWS.

"To give you some idea, the place is bureaucracy gone wild", quoth he, "You have to practically fill in forms in triplicate to buy batteries for equipment that is routinely used". The head of the school of engineering is of the Civil discipline, and the other sections---electrical and mechanical---hardly get a look at money, which is in short supply. "They hardly do any research", says my contact, "but in all fairness it takes at least a little money to do that, but if there is any money they use it to go to a conference."

There was considerable dissatisfaction when "the offices of the vice chancellor were renovated, new air conditioning, and we cannot get batteries for equipment for teaching classes". I am not sure if that is true, but if it is there is a serious disconnect between the aims of the management and the needs of the staff at the coal face.

It is my impression, after years in this business, that it takes about twice the cost of attending a conference to establish even the most slender of research pushes in EE. In industry a minimum costing would allocate to an engineer about 5% of his salary for equipment and consumables (software, components, etc.) if any research whatsoever is to be achieved. In addition, one requires a little help, sort of infrastructural support... help to select topics and set up a web page (or alternative) to attract postgraduate students, help filling in grant applications, help finding books and papers to come up to speed on a topic, help locating colleagues with whom to collaborate. Oh, and as well, you have to want to achieve these things, so it has to be reflected in incentives, like making it very clear that promotion (if not continued employment) requires research activity.

Further discussion (a few days later) revealed that "the government gave UWS a grant to help set up a medical school, but it was only about 25% of what you need". This is consistent; Jan has always thought that the best way to have people think that UWS is a serious university rather than a glorified tech college was for it to have a medical school, and if nothing else the large Western Sydney teaching hospital is handy, at Westmead. Now I do not know if this belief is correct, but I am sure that UWS will not get taken seriously if its departments do not do research that is published in world-significant journals, and EE is well short of that both in the quality of staff, and the resources available to them. Could be a vain and disastrous attempt, but if it succeeds they could can engineering and cluster biotech things... convert engineering into biomedical and mechatronics, infrastructure for biomedicity. Could work.

My next visit with the Commonwealth Bank confirmed my suspicion, that they have a high-priced, probably commission-based, financial advisor who is mostly a salesman. He produced about 60 pages of "specially prepared" proposal and expected me to sign on the spot to "get the process started". I think I will save a few thousand dollars and go with a plain and simple managed fund. JFK confirmed my belief that they perform almost as well as the best fund managers.

The garage door in Chelmsford St has failed. Great. I inspected it today. When I left the problem was that they no longer made the door opener that is capable of operating in that tight space between the end of the door and the wall, about 100mm. I can hear the relay working in the control box... so the fault is probably in the motor housing. Groan.
The options would seem to be to call the Roll-a-door people, or fix it myself. I imagine they will say that they no longer support that model, and that the newer model will not fit in the space, so at best they will have to fit a whole new door, for an outrageous sum.
Spoke to AJC and he reckons the same happened to his old door, but B&D replaced the controller for a few hundred dollars, installed. On that basis I asked Donna to at least request a quote.

I had a superb dinner with JFK at Linda's in Newtown. Linda's on King has not changed terribly much in the last decade. Graham and Linda still run it, it is still delightful. We had a monstrous six-course meal finishing with a nice botrytis and some of Graham's magnificent creme brulee, and coffee. JFK and I staggered off to the train station half an hour short of midnight and I got back to Cronulla about half past one.

This was not a good day for Kay... She lost one of the girl chicks in the broody pen to a ferret, got conflicting instructions from Berkley that she repeated to Merinda to be greeted by her saying "No, it's X" in that "oh-you're-so-dumb voice which teenagers and some husbands adopt (rolls eyes)", found that Moon had lambed during the night and something had eaten so much of the lamb she couldn't tell whether it had been a boy or a girl, followed by Edwin popping back in and telling her that "the bus never arrived", discovering that he had cross-country even though the notice said FRIDAY 19th, meaning THURSDAY 19th. The run continued with a phone call from Berkley about 2pm, saying Merinda had hurt her foot, may be a broken a toe or two, so she picked her up, went to A&E (meaning she has taken every member of her immediate family to A&E for an x-ray!). Only sprained and bruised 2 small end toes (she slipped on a piece of laminated paper wearing socks, fell back and her foot shot forward into the corner of a large wooden crate/box, the corner of which forcibly separated her littlest toe and its neighbour into toe splits). Now she has a protective shoe to stop her sole flexing, and a pair of crutches, but still insisted on going to Berkley for Open Night... her teacher Mr Smith said "she's such a trooper". To round out the sequence there was a bit of social as Anna had Chyna Rose put down last week, her computer's not working, her camera got left out in the rain, and she's talking about buggering off for a few weeks and skipping her birthday altogether. At midnight, Diamond lambed twins but one was dead (at least it was a boy) in spite of Kay's resuscitation efforts, and worse of all, she weighed herself and hadn't lost anything since yesterday despite being very good.

Last week the hot water in J03 was repaired! Took a while to reach the 6th floor, but on 9 all looked rosy.

It failed this week so we are back to cold water.

I am remembering what I liked about this room atop the EE building, apart from the view... the seclusion. There is one other person with an office here, and he is as scarce as I. I have a nice bathroom right next door, and a shower I would use if the hot water was at all relaible. As Jim lamented lately, it is a shame that roof access is centrally controlled, it was good to walk out and take in the 360-degree views too.

And speaking of views, the building you see in the photo with the red lights on it is a new building for Channel 7. In daylight you can see this dish on the roof. This is not your regular satellite TV antenna.

Dinner with Jim and off to Andrew's place tonight. Good thing Bondi Junction is the terminus on the line, I woke up there in an empty train. Could have found myself on an express to Waterfall.

I went to Flemington markets on Saturday morning with Andrew. It was wonderful. The range of vegetables, the fish and shellfish, nuts, dates, olives, cheese, preserved meats in all shapes and sizes, boxes and trays and buckets of them!
Actually, it was the experience of shopping with Andrew that was so good. I do not get to go to produce markets very often, if I go I do not get to go with just one other person, and that was lovely, but there was also a delightful nostalgia because we did such things in the 1980s. I feel a similar warmth staring out of 905's window.
I am not sure if it was an upside or a downside, but the prices were as low as the variety was wide, and the comparison with Hamilton brought home the reasons for wanting to live in Sydney (food & friends).

It's days like today I catch a glimpse of what life could be like. We filled Di's SUV with food. I am now in Andrew & Di's kitchen, watching Di cook (although she had her knee operation yesterday and is still on loads of pain killers!), but there is a party for 35 people tonight and she is cooking fit to bust... the kitchen wraps around her in an octagon so she can reach stove, sink, oven, cupboards with one leg planted. The room smells fantastic. There are spices, dips, alcohols, breads, prawns and eggplant all doing their things. Andrew has gone to vote. Alexei has unpacked all the rice and cereals into plastic containers, and now he is making mounds of garlic bread and generally helping Di. There will be enough food to feed an army. Di is giving Alexei instructions like he is a pratt, "don't cut the bread through so it stays together while in the oven", "sweep the spilled rice grains up", "put that in the dishwasher", "moths don't eat sugar darling", "wrap it this way...", but Andrew tells me that he would tell them that he knew what he was doing even if he didn't and then fluff the job... if he was not micromanaged. I would find the micromanagement annoying. I am thinking "my kids could do this right". Can't tell if they think he is useless because Di always told him what to do in detail so he stopped learning for himself, or because he just plain does not like doing this kind of stuff. Maybe he hates these activities but has not realised, not said 'I hate kitchen stuff'? I'm still typing this and photographing, and occasionally stuffing my face with Turkish bread and tsadziki. The smells swirl around in the wind, this house is very windy. Andrew has to build a windbreak on the balcony later to stop the BBQ from getting blown out, the weather is seriously windy here. I have rediscovered something I knew before, that I enjoy people's company more when we have a mutual task... helping Eric fix his heat pump, helping Andrew shopping, helping Donna putting in new light fittings. Right now I feel like some social-science observer, like David Attenborough observing a tribe of chefs in a smallgoods jungle. The smells are changing again. Andrew tells me it is like this most Saturdays. Alexei now eats so much he takes two lunches to school every day, Di cooks them in advance along with the weekend's food after the shopping is done. Andrew has come back from the cake shop. They decided to go French instead of Hungarian, which is a shame because Sydney is good for Hungarian cakes and they are massive, superb, solid things, you could kill your enemy downstairs by dropping one on their head. These are not cakes to be trifled with, someone quipped. Time now to put down the netbook, grab another mouthfull of tsadziki or tzatziki or however you want to spell it, and do something to help. Andrew tells me that the average operating life of a domestic power drill is 12 minutes. Could be, but not around me.

Saturday night saw the traditional Taubman election party. To the minds of the thinking left it was not a good election, no clear majority, with the bad guys odds-on favourites to occupy the Lodge. Much concern and watching of the political pundits.

In spite of having had knee surgery on Friday, Di could not be prevented from catering furiously. Fortunately the kitchen suits a chef with one foot planted, as it wraps around neatly.

In what is becoming a very pleasant trend, Sunday morning found my host and I engaging in an engineering puzzle. We inspected the powered shutters outside the living area windows. They had recently failed. We ascertained that the failure was not "normal wear and tear", but wear local to one small area of the ribbons that raise and lower the shutters. Some detective work suggested that the ribbon was rubbing where it should have neatly passed through a hole, but that the hole's alignment did not seem to be adjustable. We finally figured out that the whole frame of the blinds must have been installed slightly out of square, only 10mm or so, but enough to guarantee that the system would fail prematurely.

Sunday lunch brought me to DJS's place. Fortunately, Andrew had loaned me his car, because it is quite a hike from Bondi Junction to Balmoral Beach in Mosman. The house is absolutely spactacular, fully automated, solar heated and solar powered, not a straight wall in it, more racks of control gear than a small factory. I left about 6PM, long lunch. David and I talked and cooked for hours, covering a huge range of topics from embedded programming to the state of Sydney Uni and coffee roasting.

Monday evening saw dinner with NDR in North Sydney. We ate at a remarkably tasty Indian restaurant, and we drank a very good bottle of Angus. I may get a chance to fly to Ballina for a few days, it would be good to see Nick's coffee roasting setup (a Bellaroma fluidised-bed machine).

Riding the Sydney train system quite a bit, you get interested in how it is run. Trains pretty consistently lose money, they are subsidised. The management has come in for a lot of criticism in recent decades, with accidents and failures. The engineering looks good, and there is a lot of new work. The following, taken from an SMH article, suggests that a lot of attention is being paid, and there there is money in them-thar rails, at least at the moment:

The Chinese manufacturers of Sydney's next generation commuter trains apparently have a hard time: ''The Germans want to observe everything and with the French you have to endure their holidays,'' Mr Lu said. ''But with Australians it's mainly technical requirements. We think the burden is not necessary. We have had arguments with them.''
Those production headaches are a large part of the reason that the first batch of trains is running eight months late and way over budget, causing Downer EDI to write off $190 million and churn through three chief executives and two chairmen. Last week the chairman, Peter Jollie, said he would soon step down.
One challenge for the Chinese project managers is that Australia is almost alone in the world (alongside the US) in demanding stainless steel trains, compared with the aluminium ones used in Europe and Asia. ''It's like a tank,'' said Mr Lu, explaining that Australian carriages are almost twice as heavy as those he is used to and why he has had to get Downer's help in training a separate workforce to do the welding.
NSW laws require that an eight-carriage Waratah train must be built to withstand a head-on collision at a speed of 55km/h without any structural damage or passenger injuries. In China the bar is set at 10 km/h.
Aside from NSW safety standards, which were substantially toughened after the Waterfall derailment that killed seven people in 2003, Australian commuters demand that their seats ''roll over'' to face whichever direction the train is travelling, when the rest of the world is happy riding backwards. And then there is the requirement that the interior paint must be graffiti proof - a specification unknown in China - and that the seats must be impermeable to razor blades. Even the windows have to be fitted with a special interior cover so that vandals can get the satisfaction of thinking they have gashed a glass window when in fact they have destroyed only a removable plastic film. And there can be no visible screws that might enable a bored student to dismantle the train when riding home from school.

Some specs. Some cost, too, I bet.

On subjects of recent interest: "U.S. Treasury data showed that China was a net seller of Treasury bonds in June. That's the second month in a row of net sales, though China continues to be the largest single holder of Treasuries. Japanese officials also were reported to have agreed with a Chinese official's statement last month that China had displaced Japan as the world's second-largest economy during Q2 2010". This (and recent continued stock market slide) might cause the feared double-dip in the US, needed I suspect for a housing crash in Sydney.

Had lunch with Amelia. Told her about some UWS EE reports I have heard. Spent some time talking about SUEE issues that came from another channel. She likes the prospect of the Scotts coming to Sydney one day. Finally we spent a long time Skyping with Edwin. He seemed more confident about the idea of the ``Berkley+1'' plan, and was not saying anything about his travel entitlements (after M's Japan trip, he will be owed two overseas excursions).

Wednesday I worked at Cronulla, and walked to the plaza at lunchtime to do some grocery shopping, stopping by the baths to "smell the flowers".
I was actually testing out a new circular-polarising filter for the D90. It works brilliantly, but mostly when the sun is high, circa noon. It has relatively small effect at dawn and dusk. I wonder why this is?

Wednesday night we went to see Adran Mole at the Cronulla Arts Theatre. Denis's name is on the board of life members, position number 5.

The hot water is back. Apparently an ongoing fight with the antique water system, plumbers and electricians joined together by a common foe.

The Ultramicrocontroller Book Proposal was visualising more of an encyclopoedia than an insightful book on programming in the ultramicro arena. Time for a rethink. I have ordered some more books.

Had a great Skype with Marion and Kent. They liked the phopto of "the three horsemen" above. Told them about Jim's future plans.

Tomorrow, Saturday, I go home for 2 weeks. In accordance with the plan I stopped at lunchtime to look around and appreciate the environment. This is me sitting in the Old Darlington School Building garden, with the EE building in the background. My room is the highest window in the south wall.

I dined with Jim and Rose in Erskineville. On the way home I walked with Jim and he took me through "The Carriageworks". This is the renovated space once occupied by the Eveleigh carriage works, now a theatre and market. In the middle of the market they have left three of the huge presses. There is a gourmet food market there on Saturdays.

Saturday 28 August, and I am about to get on a plane for 2 weeks home. I have to fix the hot water heater, amongst other things.
It is an Emirates flight, and the aircraft is an A380. My first time on one. I have seen an A380 parked on the tarmac, they are absolutely huge! It will be good to get a look inside.
Emirates looks promising. They have a huge baggage allowance that I did not use. I have a whole 14kg of stuff going back to NZ, and I will have no check luggage at all on the return to Sydney, but the allowance is 30kg. So far I have counted 14 female flight attendants, every one good enough to bonk. When was the last time you saw that on United? They have ensured a selection of nationalities, asian, caucasian, middle-eastern. Even the uniform is a clear winner. Oh, two more flight attendants just arrived, blonde and gorgeous. Oil speaks louder than rocks.

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