Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Wire cuts

Courtesy of Tone, I'm remembering and anticipating the Wire. He says, quite rightly:

If you haven't gotten into The Wire by now, you are a complete dickhead.

... which isn't far off the mark. A year back, over at Tone's as it happens, that it was the best hour on television and it wasn't even close, and the intervening time hasn't changed that opinion. (I was hedging at the time by saying "hour" rather than "show", but I wouldn't now).

For those searching for more depth to an already very deep show, one of the best sources I've seen is Heaven and Here, a Wire blog set up (as far as I can tell) by Shoals of the once unparalleled and still occasionally excellent FreeDarko). H&H has been a little dormant, but, in what appears to be a reawakening timed for the show's impending return to the American (and intertubular) airwaves in January, they recently blinked and linked to this article at the New Yorker. As an aside, that publication will forever be characterised for me by the Kauffman character in Adaptation, "great, sprawling new yorker shit".

Perhaps true to form, then, their Wire article is 12 pages long. There is some good stuff in there, though:

... Simon told him that “The Wire” would be “a novel for television. Not in a ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ sense. Each episode would be like a chapter in a book. You could digress, in the way a novel does.

That was said in the context of the show's differentiation in its first season from most other crime dramas, and it's spot on. There is a commitment to a season-long arc of the plot and characters, with almost no identifiably complete storylines within each individual episode. This really allows for a much more nuanced and fleshed-out storylines and characters.

Of course, none of this was by accident. Simon himself, in his pitch to HBO, is both ambitious and prophetic:

It is a significant victory for HBO to counter program alternative, inaccessible worlds against standard network fare. But it would, I will argue, be a more profound victory for HBO to take the essence of network fare and smartly turn it on its head, so that no one who sees HBO’s take on the culture of crime and crime fighting can watch anything like “C.S.I.” or “N.Y.P.D. Blue” or “Law & Order” again without knowing that every punch was pulled on those shows. For HBO to step toe-to-toe with NBC or ABC and create a cop show that seizes the highest qualitative ground through realism, good writing, and a more brutal assessment of police, police work, and the drug culture—this may not be the beginning of the end for network dramas as the industry standard, but it is certainly the end of the beginning for HBO.

There's a lot more in there, replete with big words like "grandiloquence" and "autodidactic intellectualism", but this post is already long. Simon comes across as part insightful genius, part tool, and you get the feeling that this might be his great work, that without the rapport he has clearly built up with the city of Baltimore, he might struggle for the cathartic insight that makes The Wire work. Overall, the article is solid, and if you bail after the first four pages or so, you'll probably have covered the best stuff.

I've said it before, somewhere, and I still think its true, that the closest thing I've seen to the Wire is Janus, made by the ABC back in the 90s before they outsourced drama to the Beeb's crime unit. It was a follow-on to Phoenix, which I missed, and may in some jurisdictions have been known as Criminal Justice or some such. The show had that season arc that the Wire does so well (does better, it has to be said), with the Hennessy family trial, but also the strung-out cop (Peter Faithful vs Jimmy McNulty) who gets too involved in the case, an archetype very difficult to express in an episodic format. I'd recommend getting a copy, but not only have the ABC stopped making Australian drama, and stopped showing Australian drama, they're not selling the stuff they've already made.

Lest I finish on that disgruntled note, let me get back on message to sum up. Don't be a dickhead: if you haven't seen The Wire yet, do so.

Saturday, 1 December 2007


mo-ver, originally uploaded by jsteel.

Thanks to all those who donated to Movember. Our team, the Monkey Butlers, raised about $2000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Beyond Blue.

I'm off for a shave.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Movember 29th

Movember 29th, originally uploaded by jsteel.

Remember, remember the Last of Movember,
The Moustache Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Moustache Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Strong words, and many of them.

Tomorrow is the last day of Movember, and a perfect chance to use that as a pretence, or even a reason, to give money to help address men's health issues, specifically prostate cancer and depression.

To give, grab a credit card and head over to the Movember donation page. The money goes to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and to depression initiative Beyond Blue.

If you find my moustache insufficiently impressive to garner your hard-earn, go and donate via Michael Lawley, at whom such a claim could never be levelled.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Quiche-eating so-and-so.

tarte, originally uploaded by jsteel.

In France I learned that making quiches was really very easy, and I've been doing so ever since. Its not quite so simple here - shortcrust pastry is less easily available in the large sizes, diced bacon is not as common and not of as good a quality, and the crème fraiche is not as good either. Still, they come out OK.

This one, just out ov the oven, has fried bacon, onion and zuccini, some fresh asparagus (which I've not tried before), cheese, egg-creme mix, and some sliced tomato on top.

I might have a glass of white with it, too. I have something worth celebrating today (more details as they become prudently distributable).

Monday, 26 November 2007

... and life goes on

The flipside to all my pretentious analysis of the meaning of the election according to Lewis Carroll, is what I actually did through it all.

I had high hopes of going out to vote early in the morning, but in the end the sun moved past vertical before I wandered up the hill. There was quite a queue, and it took me 20 minutes or so to actually get in to vote.

I was surprised that I didn't have to supply ID (not sure if I have in the past). The woman asked if I had voted before today, and I said "yes", which surprised her until she realised that she really wanted to know if I had voted already today. While I was waiting for her to look up my name, the person next to me was having the voting procedure explained: a number next to every house candidate, and just a 1 above the line for the senate. When my turn came around, there was again no mention of voting below the line, which I found really very strange. I had to ask, and she seemed shocked that I might want to vote below the line. Very odd.

In the evening, I had some people around for a barbecue and to watch the count: Mick, Paul, Julie, Jesse and Ali. The boys had kangaroo - sausages, skewers, and fillet - while the girls baulked at eating Skippy and opted for lamb skewers. A shame, because Jesse did a masterful job with the BBQ, and the kangaroo skewers were really good, and the fillets were perfectly cooked and really delicious.

Anyway, we drank home brew, ate barbecue, laughed at politicians still repeating sound-byte phrases, and watched Antony Green decide the election for us, and everyone went home pretty happy.

And hast thou slain the jabberwock?

So much to say. I'm afraid this is a long post. I'll wind in slowly, with a poem most have probably already read before.

(Apologies to John Quiggin, who seems to have also used a quote from this. It's just so appropriate, though)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The beamish boy (was there a more happy match for that label?) has indeed slain the Jabberwock (again, JW just fits far too well). The vorpal sword was Workchoices, and the promise of investment in infrastructure without sacrificing fiscal responsibility. To be fair, the Jabberwock was not his former self, and I really suspect that he won't personally mind losing so much, as he had mainly done what he wanted to do.

Nonetheless, I could have quoted just the second-last verse, but I have included the whole thing. There are two perils contained within.

The first is that the beamish boy has gone galumphing back to his putative father, and now must deal with his familial legacy. Will he be the son to the unions, or will he strike out as a leader and leave his own imprint? Early signs suggest the latter, in particular his indication that he will select his own ministry rather than leaving it to the caucus. As the prodigal son who has led Labor out of 11 years in the wilderness, he will have some leeway.

The second is that the last verse is the same as the first. Our two major political parties are, in many ways, more closely aligned than they have ever been. Will foreign policy continue to gyre and gimble in the wabe? Will the degradation of civil rights remain mimsy, and the refugees outgrabe?

If the answer to all these questions is "yes", when will a beamish boy arise from the Liberals? At the moment, it seems like the answer will be "a long time". It appears that Costello will go quietly into the night, and one can hardly blame him. The Liberals hold government in no jurisdiction bigger than the Brisbane City Council. The dominance of Howard over the party, and Costello's retreat, leaves with them with a vacuum at the top, and no governments in which to stockpile talent. Howard's long-time political expediency, of blowing with the wind of popular politics, has left them lacking direction. They are a party in need of a moral compass, and its hard to see where they will find one. Certainly the answer will not come from an opportunistic social conservative; such a move would only lead them further down the rabbit hole. Although highly unlikely, it is not inconceivable that the coalition will fracture, or even that the Liberal party will fold, and the Australian political landscape will be reshaped.

The one element where Mr Dodgson's poem has no contribution is the senate. Labor's sweeping gains in the house were not reflected in the upper house. The coalition have a hostile majority there until the transition next June, and even then it seems likely that the government will need the votes of all the Greens, plus Nick Xenophon, and either Steve Fielding or a rogue coalition senator like Barnaby Joyce, to pass legislation. Its hard to see how that will happen, and a double dissolution, either late next year or in 2009, is not out of the question.

We live in interesting times.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

strike one

I try every now and then to keep an eye on French news, partly to keep up my french comprehension, and partly because I'm just interested. Its pretty easy to do on the internet; my current preference is checking out France 3's 19|20 news online.

Of course, the big news in the last week or so is the strikes to do with the transport unions, in particular the trains (SNCF). The Parisian metro, TGVs, and regional TERs have all been dramatically effected, and the scenes of packed platforms in Paris are impressive.

The reason for this is that French government workers (SNCF was until recently government owned, and is still basically government backed) had very generous rights at work. (The same pretty much applies for EDF/GDF and a whole bunch of other sectors). France then went and elected Sarko, an economic reformer, as President. Blind Freddy could have seen that he was going to butt heads with the unions over things like retirement entitlements, and that's exactly what's happening now. The French got the government they deserved, and now, for better or for worse (IMHO a little of both) they are seeing the beginning consequences. I would be surprised if there isn't more of the same ahead, and from any number of sectors; the fonctionnaires (particularly teachers) are rumoured to be talking about strikes this week.

I'm declaring war... on stress.

From the annals of great moustaches, this time from the realm of television: Denholm, glorious team leader.

Team. Team. Team. Team. Team. Team. I even love saying the word team. You probably thing that's a picture of my family. Uh uh. It's the A Team. Body; Doyle; Tiger; The Jewellery Man.

Monday, 19 November 2007

note to self: senate

I vote below the line in the senate. There are lots of reasons for this, the biggest being that parties often set down their preferences in order to get elected, rather than based on policy alignment. John is particularly culpable, doing unthinkable things with LDP preferences. Another reason is that I'm a sucker for numbers and things like voting systems.

So, mostly for my benefit, here is my first cut at a voting order for the senate:
  1. Dems (grp I), John H (Grp B), Waters (Grp M), ALP (O), Greens (M)
  2. LDP (B), CCC (C), Carers (D), WWW (A), Secular (W)
  3. Coalition (J)
  4. Unaligned independents
  5. RR (K), NCP (U), SOL (E), Baker (X), Couper/Brown (N), FF (H)
  6. Fishing (G), Fishing & Lifestyle (P), Shooters (L), Socialists (F), CDP (T), One Nation (Q), DLP (V), CEC (S), Pauline (R)
I guess the list items correspond roughly to:
  1. people I'd quite like to see get elected
  2. people I wouldn't really object to seeing elected in that they're mostly harmless
  3. the incumbents who have abused the senate and thus don't deserve election
  4. independents I know little about
  5. people whose election I would consider somewhat dangerous
  6. people whose election I would consider distinctly dangerous
Pauline gets to go last, not because she's the worst candidate (she isn't), but because she was a significant part of the shift of the Australian electorate a few years ago towards narrow-mindedness, xenophobia, parochialism and other such silly things. I'm not above being petty.

Update: I've been thinking about why senate preference deals matter, in light of the "just vote below the line" argument. If at some point in the STV count, my preferred candidate is elected, I get a bonus part vote. This is because that candidate's surplus votes are redistributed to other candidates, proportionally to the preferences of all those who voted for that candidate. Now, because 95% of votes are above the line, basically my bonus part vote is redistributed according to the party's preferences, not mine. So, if I vote for John, and he gets in (unlikely though that is), then my bonus part vote is going to go to Pauline Hanson and the DLP before Andrew Bartlett, which I couldn't stomach.

change of tempo - golf

Time for a post to break up the politics stuff (which I do enjoy, and which attracts more comments, which I also enjoy).

On Saturday, some NICTA Qld folk organised a day at the golf. It was rainy in the morning, but 6 of us showed up: Felix, Ricky, Conrad, Sylvia, Charles and myself. We hit a few balls on the range before heading out for 9 holes. Of the others, I think only Ricky had hit a ball before, which showed, and so I had a little bit of a role as a coach on the range. I don't think I was very good at it; too much advice, and probably not the right advice a lot of the time.

I played around with Charles and Sylvia, who struggled and tired as the day went on, but stepped up when it counted and both hit over the lake on the 4th, which was 10 times as difficult as any shot they had hit up to that point.

I played really well, which was surprising considering I hadn't gone around since playing with Dad in June. On the second I hit a 4 iron to within a foot of the pin for a birdie, which is probably one of the best (most effective) shots I've ever hit. I only had one hole worse than bogey (the 8th, toughest on the course), and wound up with a 40 for the 9 holes. Its only a par 34, and pretty short. Also, many of the par 4s are quite short; a couple of times I was chipping to the green for two. Still, I putted well (no 3-putts) and I was consistent, so I was very happy.

Labor vs Liberal

I suggested in a previous post that there wasn't a lot of difference between Labor and Liberal* policies in this election, and Keith and Lee both pointed out that there are nonetheless significant differences. They're right, and over the last week I've been thinking about why.

* I hate using that term for the Liberal party - non-Australians should realise that our Liberal party is not a liberal party, and a capital or small 'L' should be observed to distinguish between the party (big 'L') and the ideas (small 'l').

Accountability/process: I really struggle to explain this, but I've had real problems with the way the Liberals have governed. They played fast and loose with truth on some things like children overboard, which is something that can be said of many governments, but in hindsight its shocking that no-one really was held to account for that. Of more concrete concern are things like their guillotining of debate in the senate and their failure to listen to reasonable non-government amendments. I also have a real problem with spending a half million dollars a day during their time in office, and $350 million last fiscal year. Lee mentioned that ALP figures like Lindsay Tanner and Penny Wong are making good noises about avoiding that kind of spending if they take office. We also went to Iraq for all the wrong reasons, which weren't those given us when Howard decided to send troops. Howard's apparent reluctance towards multilateralism in foreign policy is disturbing, and the "free" trade agreement with the US was a real sellout, particularly on issues like copyright term extension.

Education: I just feel like Rudd and Stephen Smith (who speaks very well, incidentally) are saying more appealing things about education. In particular, they seem to have a more real commitment to universities, which makes me think they have a greater appreciation that education is not the same thing as training (although both are important). Their mid-career research fellowships announcement (in many ways an expansion of the existing federation fellowships scheme) appeals to me as someone who has come back to Australia to make a career in research and found it frustrating that the best jobs for me are still overseas.

Spending and pork: How can a party claiming (by name) to be liberal be so convincingly winning the drunken sailor spend-a-thon? John posted a rundown of their election spending the other day, which included an astonishing $12 billion on roads, a domain that is normally the remit of state governments. This is at the same time as university and research funding have essentially been frozen at 1996 levels (as I understand it).

Federalism: If John Howard wants to dissolve the states and federalise the things they historically take care of (health, schools, transport, etc), then he should come out and say it. Personally, I can't help but feel that he's just playing games out of frustration with the present weakness of the Liberals in state politics (nowhere moreso than Queensland, perhaps). I support the idea of the GST, but I don't like the idea of using it to control state issues to the extent that Howard seems to be doing.

Civil liberties: The sneak and peek powers (including non-judicial warrants), sedition laws, and other anti-terrorism laws seem to me (not versed in legal stuff) as gross infringements on basic civil liberties established going back hundreds of years. Whether they're applied to Australian citizens (Izhar ul-Haque) or others (Mohamed Haneef), its just not on. Its an easy electoral sell to blurt "we need more powers to catch bad guys", but its cheap and unworthy. It remains to be seen whether Labor will be any better, or repeal any of these laws.

Environment: I would be quite happy if, as Keith suggests, Garrett is playing possum and will be much more aggressive if/when he becomes environment minister. I don't really understand Kyoto, but I've heard that we're on track to meet the targets anyway, in which case a symbolic non-signing is just being a dog in a manger. I also don't feel like the Libs actually believe in acting on climate change; it feels too much like they're just trying to keep up with public opinion, not leading it.

Industrial relations: I think the Liberals have a vendetta against unions, which at the end of the day are just employee advocacy groups, even if they have had problems at times with the manner in which they represent workers. Labor was the party that moved against centralised wage-fixing, and I can't see them being regressive in this, but I do believe they will move to limit employers (who have an intrinsic advantage in contract negotiation) convincing workers to trade away their rights to things like penalty rates and overtime.

I've probably missed some issues.

In the end, I have some problems with the Labor party, in particular in terms of the way they're set up in terms of unions' role in party voting. However, I feel like Howard and the Libs have been bad for Australia on a number of issues, and don't ascribe them as much economic credit as they have taken. Perhaps they can find some more small-'l' liberal roots if they lose an election, Howard retires, and they have some time in opposition to have a good hard look at themselves.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

senate blogger

My first senate vote will probably wind up going to Andrew Bartlett. I'm philosophically close to the Dems' policies, even if they are a bit fuzzy on some things, but most importantly, I feel that Bartlett has shown real and admirable openness about his job at representing Queensland. The only parliamentarian (to my knowledge) with an active blog, he posts regularly about what he's doing, from consultation with interest groups to senate proceedings, and responds to feedback. His press is sparse, partly because he lacks the charisma to draw cameras (or at least to draw them for the right reasons), but in the media I have seen, and in the webcasts of senate proceedings I've watched (I know, I'm an unmitigated geek), he has struck me as constructive and well-spoken.

I would encourage other voters to give him consideration for the senate, and I would encourage other senators to consider the transparency he has shown during his term.

The likelihood of him actually being re-elected is small but non-negligible, partly due to the unfortunate state of his party.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

'tache two

'tache two, originally uploaded by jsteel.

11 days, and not an awful lot better, but starting to look more like a moustache, at least.


Jesse has been bugging me to put up a rundown of the candidates for the HoR seat we're voting in, Brisbane. So, here we go, in the order they appear on the ballot:
  • Ewan Saunders (Socialist Alliance): The Socialist Alliance are left-wing crazies. They don't have much info on their house candidates, and I don't much care to read what they do have, because a brief foray into their policies just made me giggle.
  • Ted O'Brien (Liberal): The liberals' policies, seem centred around throwing lots of cash at the buzzword of the election so far, "working families". There's also a good whack of pork barrelling for roads and sporting facilities in marginal seats (or so it seems to me). Their very mild tax break/reform has been largely offset by all this, as far as I'm concerned. The candidate, Ted O'Brien, seems to be some sort of itinerant businessman, which I find less than inspiring. He had a spot on ABC local radio about first-time candidates, with a Labor candidate from some other Brisbane seat, but Ted pulled out, apparently because the merits of appearing in the media were outweighed by the cost of having the ALP guy appearing in the media. I wasn't impressed.
  • Arch Bevis (Australia Labor Party): There really isn't an awful lot of difference between the ALP and the Libs on policy. Lots of cash being thrown at "working families" and a good slab at roads, offsetting a mild tax break/reform. IR is an exception, and it will be interesting to see how much they strip away from "Workchoices". The candidate and sitting member, Arch Bevis, is a teacher by training, although he spent only a few years teaching, and the time since split between being a union rep and a politician proper. I don't hold being a union representative to be a demerit, and I do like that he has an identifiable "trade" (in a loose sense of the word), unlike O'Brien.
  • Nick Contarino (Citizens Electoral Council): The CEC are protectionist crazies, and will go last on my ballot, as they should on just about every ballot (although the socialists are also pretty wacky).
  • Elizabeth Guthrie (The Greens): The Greens are growing into a more credible party with a broader base of policies, but I still have real concerns that they are more activists than constructive policy- and lawmakers. This is particularly true for Bob Brown. Their candidate for Brisbane is an interior decorator, and seems a reasonable enough candidate.
  • Mark White (Family First): Family First are a conservative "values" party, who do a reasonable job of keeping their religious base out of things, but basically push christian conservative policies on social liberty. They're also a party with a very narrow policy base. The candidate is alright, as far as christian conservatives go, I guess.
  • Don Sinnamon (Democrats): The Dems are a sad affair, a party quite close to my political sympathies, but devastated by personal disruptions. Its hard to identify what their key policies are, but they include rolling back parts of workchoices, and much well-motivated gesturing on climate change without really worked-through policy. The same might be said for indigenous and asylum-seeker/immigration issues. They do seem to be strong on civil rights and parliamentary process, which are two things whose degradation has really annoyed me in the current government. The candidate, Don Sinnamon, seems a good soul, and certainly a much better candidate than they put forward in Ryan last time around.
This is all very cursory. Last time around, my reason for doing a run-down of candidates was to point out that some parties I would consider voting for had candidates that were basically unelectable. This time around it seems better. Arch Bevis strikes me as a good candidate. O'Brien is OK, although I'd be more comfortable if I knew what he did - he seems a bit like a faceless MBA-type. Sinnamon is similar, but a faceless advocate-type. Guthrie seems OK, and the others I can't consider because of their parties (7,6,5 will respectively go to CEC, SA and FF on my ballot, probably).

Thursday, 8 November 2007

mo 1

mo 1, originally uploaded by jsteel.

A very pathetic looking first trim of the 'mo. Age 6 days, I'm afraid to confess. (I had couple of days' delay starting due to a job interview).

Meanwhile, Michael is powering ahead, and Jesse isn't doing too badly either.


During Movember (the month formerly known as November) I'll be growin a Mo. I'm not genetically the first guy you'd choose for such a task, and I'll probably end up with a Pedro rather than a Merv, but I believe in changing men's health and the fight against male depression and prostate cancer. Why...

  • Depression affects 1 in 6 men...Most don't seek help. Untreated depression is a leading risk factor for suicide.

  • Last year in Australia 18,700 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than 2,900 died of prostate cancer - equivalent to the number of women who die from breast cancer annually.

  • Men are far less healthy than women. The average life expectancy of males is 5 years less than females.

To sponsor my Mo please go to http://www.movember.com/au/donate, enter my registration number which is 168359 and your credit card details. Or you can sponsor me by cheque made payable to the "Movember Foundation" clearly marking the donation as being for my Registration Number: 168359. Please mail cheques to: PO Box 292, Prahran VIC 3181. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.

The money raised by Movember is donated to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue - the national depression initiative, which will use the funds to create awareness, fund research and increase support networks for those men who suffer from prostate cancer and male depression.

For those that have supported Movember in previous years you can be very proud of the impact it has had and can check out the detail at: Fundraising Outcomes.

Movember culminates at the end of the month at the Gala Partés. These glamorous and groomed events will see Tom Selleck and Borat look-a-likes battle it out for their chance to take home the prestigious Man of Movember title. If you would like to be part of this great night you'll need to purchase a Gala Parté ticket .

More info is available at www.movember.com.

Movember is proudly grown by Commonwealth Bank, Holden, Schick and VB.

Movember is proud partners with the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue - the national depression initiative.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Oh but reader, heal thyself
Put the book back on the shelf

By the time the bus drops me off on the way home this evening, I will have closed the cover on the third and final installment of Neil Stephenson's Quicksilver trilogy. The cycle has taken me a number of years to complete, which I will put down to its considerable length (approaching 3000 pages, I would guess), and a few intervening activities generally incompatible with reading novels, most significantly the writing of a thesis.

I have enjoyed the series tremendously. I struggle to summarise it to people when they ask me what I'm reading. Its certainly an adventure story, with much buckling of swash to be found in exotic locations. Its also well and truly historical fiction, covering important periods of history in Europe, and movements such as the standardisation of currency and its trade, the development of organised science and engineering which eventually lead to the industrial revolution, and the slave trade from a European perspective. Although the setting is different, this mix is very much similar to the one he used in his previous book Cryptonomicon; indeed, he reuses character names (and associated archetypes) from that book, quite considerably.

The scope of the whole thing is quite improbable, and although Stephenson won't win any prizes for being prosaic, he tells a very good yarn, and has obviously done his research well and has a genuine affection for his subject matter.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, 25 October 2007


I've had a steady stream of weddings over the last 7 or 8 years. Emma & Andy, Cav & Layla, Afe & Trish, Dan & Afro, Jesse & Alison, Jacques & Sophie, Sandy & Neil, and Manu & Erwan (the latter two being celebrations of marriage but not weddings in the strictest sense). This past Saturday, that company was joined by Dave & Maria-Luisa.

I really enjoy the whole spectacle of it: the getting dressed up, the making speeches, the gathering of friends & family, and the excuse to consume food and drink in high quanities and quality.

Having said that, one thing that Lach mentioned to me this week is that weddings are a poor way of meeting new people. Statistically speaking, this shouldn't have been the case on Saturday, as Maria's side featured no-one I knew, and outnumbered Dave's side by probably 2 to 1. Despite that, Lachlan's law prevailed and I really didn't meet many new people, instead spending most of my time talking to people I already knew.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Heinlein and libertarianism

How strange. John, who spends a lot of time pushing libertarianism, mentioned reading Heinlein a few days ago. Then, today, Kerry mentions Heinlein while expressing her skepticism about libertarianism. Small world!

I've only read a little Heinlein - Stranger in a strange land, and possibly Starship Troopers, although I'm not quite sure - and it was at a time when I wasn't really thinking about politics much.

Monday, 15 October 2007

election announced

The federal election was announced yesterday for the 24th of November. I followed the previous election reasonably closely, albeit from a great distance, and suspect I'll also be very interested throughout this one.

Some of my closest involvement has been through John and the party he has started, the Liberty and Democracy Party (LDP). They were previously known as the Liberal Democratic Party, but the AEC (effectively, as I understand it) ruled that the Liberal party had a monopoly on the term 'liberal', which is both ironic and wrong.

John has cast around at a couple of social gatherings recently for warm bodies to run in House races for the LDP, including asking me. I was pretty tempted, and haven't totally ruled out signing up for a run in Ryan, but I think I'm probably more interested in discussing policy than in a Quixotic candidature. I'm also not sure to what extent running lots of "token" candidates(with all due respect to those I know who are running) is a good idea for the LDP; they're up for $500 registration per candidate, with little likelihood in most cases of gathering enough votes to be reimbursed.

I have strange discussions with John about politics. I agree with most of the philosophies and principles of the LDP, but have trouble with some of their policies, in terms of where they have chosen to apply their principles (e.g. shooters' rights, smokers' rights) and the practicality of doing so (particularly regarding privatisation and deregulation). It certainly makes for interesting discussions, though.

I'd encourage anyone who is remotely interested in politics to seek out others who are or might be, and to engage them in discussions about what you think is important for this election. If you have been unimpressed by something your government or your representative has said or done, one of the reasons that happens is because people don't engage enough in the political process.

Monday, 8 October 2007

RWC07 - hardly knew ya

I hadn't gotten into the rugby world cup at all - no TV, and shocking timing with the bulk of it taking place during the much more important AFL finals.

At the urging of a french friend, I followed the online commentary of the Wallabies' loss to England, and it sounded to me like dour English "don't score a try at all costs" rugby defeating a Wallabies side that couldn't kick a penalty into the ocean if they were standing on the shore. Still, I don' t really feel any personal loss, as I was never invested.

No doubt my French friends are happy that they're through to a semi-finals devoid of the top 2 teams in world rugby. I didn't see the game, but looking at this, its hard to understand why more kiwis, in particular, aren't pointing out that the French will be there pretty much on false pretenses. I'm an AFL fan, so I like a forward pass as much as the next man, but that's a disgraceful no-call.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

a bit of lip

I just pulled out my trumpet for a practice (that's not a metaphor, if you can believe it) for the first time in God knows how long. The usual debacle ensued, of remembering fairly quickly the keys, and being surprised at not having lost an awful lot of range (though range was never my strong point) until about 10 minutes in. I then decide to try a song and see that range completely disintegrate until after 20 minutes I'm doing long note warm-downs and conking out at a ridiculously low note.

get rent

Researchers once again prove common sense. Yes, young people prefer to live near stuff. Yes, renters hate the idea of a tight rental market run by bastard agents. Surprise, surprise.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007


Busy weekend.

Friday night was Julz' birthday, and a bunch of us hit the Bowery for cocktails, then wound up back at Abingdon playing a dancemat game around 3am.

Saturday was grand final day, and a bunch of us made a blokey afternoon of it around at Neil's place.

Following that, I popped over to Mick'n'Paul's place for dinner and a screening of Oldboy. I gave Julz her birthday present, a Neon Genesis Evangelion model (possibly this one), which we then spent a few hours assembling into the early hours. We also had a visit from some guy wearing a headband and obviously either crazy or crazy high, who hung around talking to himself and playing with Mick's car until we called the police, against the possibility that he'd do either himself or Mick's car some harm.

Finally, on Sunday, Mum and Dad came down with a set of drawers and a set of shelves. We also went for a look at sofabeds - didn't buy one, but not far away now.

Monday, 17 September 2007

passing thyme

A couple of things that have happened in my life since starting work:

I had a nice trip down to Canberra for work a few weeks ago. I flew down Monday night, was picked up by Lee, and stayed at her place after a nice dinner, which gave a good few hours for chatting and catching up. She has a really nice apartment down there. She dropped in to my workshop at ANU the next day, and when it finished early I had the opportunity to walk over to Liz & Mike's place, a few blocks away. It was really good to chat with Mike and Tom, although I had to leave before getting a chance to say more than "Hello/Goodbye" to Liz.

There have been a few good nights spent with Mick/Paul/Julz/Celia/Nené/Andy and that general crowd. One was Mick's birthday dinner at Garuva, after which we went back to Wynnum Rd and had white & black russians on the back deck. Another was Celia's birthday, for which we headed up to Keperra for some paintball, which was hella fun, and well worth the bruises that we all carried (and still carry, in my case) out of it.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

new digs

About 3 weeks ago I moved into an apartment in Teneriffe. Its a one-bedroom place, but its pretty big with a nice balcony, and its in a pretty expensive suburb (the most expensive in Brisbane, I was told at the Capalaba Sports Club last week).

Over those three weeks I've slowly been going about filling it with stuff. Twice in the last 4 years I've been reasonably flush with furniture, appliances, and the sorts of things that one needs to feel at home in a place (as opposed to just camping there). Twice I've sold all that gear to move overseas, so I find myself once again looking at buying a fridge, washer, bed, table, couch, TV, etc. I'm going OK so far, having acquired a fridge and washer, paid for a bed and table/chairs for which I'll take delivery reasonably soon, and just about filled my kitchen with some nice gear (pots, pans, knives, etc). Thanks to a mission to Dan Murphy's with Lee, I also have a reasonably well-stocked cave. Nonetheless, until I get my few remaining items, I still feel a little bit temporary.

no news is ... ?

It hasn't been through any express decision or desire, but I seem to have stopped updating here about what I've been doing. On the off-chance that I still have anyone reading this blog, would you prefer to find here more regular accounts of what I've been doing, occasional flawed insights into politics and the way the world works, or a combination of both?

Monday, 10 September 2007

Tongue Lashing

Either Alexander Downer has a very dry wit, or he is under grave misapprehensions about what one learns from a 2-month course in French conducted in Australia, and how French compares to Mandarin as a language.

This is the email I just sent him.

Monsieur Downer,

Vous êtes vraiment un gros nul.

Ce n'est vraiment pas normal qu'un ministre des affaires étrangères ne

reconnaisse pas que apprendre le francais et apprendre le mandarin ne
sont pas la même chose.

De plus, c'est évident que M. Rudd parle couramment mandarin.

Peut-être que vous êtes un prodige en langues étrangéres, mais
personellement, ayant appris le français (en france), je trouve
difficile à croire que vous parlez aussi bien français (que M. Rudd
parle mandarin) grâce à deux mois de cours en australie.

Finalement, je trouve honteux, dans une culture où l'étude des langues

et moins en moins valorisée, qu'un ministre des affaires étrangères
dénigre quelqu'un qui a clairement fait l'effort de bien apprendre la
langue de notre plus grande partenaire de commerce.

En essayant de rester quand méme poli, veuillez agréer, Monsieur, mes

sentiment les plus distingués.

For the benefit of those that don't understand that (a number which I personally suspect will include Mr Downer):

Mr Downer,

You really are a moron.

Its outrageous that a foreign minister not acknowledge that learning French and learning Mandarin are not the same thing.

Additionally, it is clear that Mr Rudd speaks Mandarin well. Perhaps you are a foreign language prodigy, but personally, having learnt French (in France), I find it difficult to believe that you speak french comparably well after two months of courses in Australia.

Finally, I find it shameful that, in a culture where the study of languages is less and less valued, a foreign minister belittles someone who has clearly made the effort to learn the language of our largest trading partner.

I noticed a bunch more letters in the Australian, including from the head of Asian studies at ANU. Rightly so.

Friday, 3 August 2007

batshit crazy awards

And the batshit crazy awards for today go to:
  • Telstra, who are going to sue the government over broadband rollout contracts. Should that fail, they plan to "tell Mum".
  • Manchester United, who have signed a 9 year-old from Brisbane. While that might sound pretty silly, sillier is the fact that they sign about 40 players of that age every year. An honorable mention goes to the family of the kid, who are moving (back) to England in order to be closer to the club. Just to recap, the kid is 9 frikkin years old.

Thursday, 2 August 2007


This is just outrageous. Making the police accountable to the judiciary and to the law itself is an important element of a free democracy. If as the article suggests the government is claiming, there is a problem with the judiciary leaking information about operations, then surely that is criminal activity and needs to be dealt with as such. The checks and balances in the system have to be respected and maintained. The solution is not, however, to remove those checks and balances. We covered all this 60 years ago, for goodness' sake.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007


Andy, Jesse, Neil and I went along to the footy on Sunday to watch the Lions butcher Carlton. The blues were as soft as I reckon I've ever seen a side; just no attack on the ball whatsoever. Brisbane were OK through the middle despite missing Black, and did a really good job of getting the ball to their forwards and finishing. Brown kicked 10, but it was far from the best game I've seen him play; the delivery was good, and the defense woefully poor.

Friday, 20 July 2007

entretien du francais

Veronique, my erstwhile french prof from Rennes, had encouraged me to sit the DELF french proficiency exams while I was over there in May. Unfortunately, a combination of laziness and a general focus of my efforts elsewhere meant that I didn't do so. Upon getting back to Australia, one of the things on my long list of tasks was to sign up for french lessons with a view to sitting a proficiency exam in the near future.

Thus, last week, I signed up for lessons with Alliance Francaise Brisbane. After some cursory evaluation, they decided I'd be best off in the DALF class, which surprised me, since this was above the level Veronique had suggested I might take. The first lesson was last Saturday, and in fact the level seemed fine. I felt like I spoke at least as well as anyone else in the class, and better than some. We tried a sample exercise, which I thought may have been intended to scare us, but I figure I managed a pass mark, even if I didn't exactly ace it. More importantly, the people in the class seem nice, which might give me some future avenues for social circle work. It was notable, though, that I was the only guy there, reminiscent of my high school italian classes.

To back up the class, I wandered along on Wednesday to Mercuriales, AF's weekly conversation group at a South Bank cafe. This week proved exceptional in that Anne, apparently a regular, was having her birthday. As such, we wandered up the hill to a greek restaurant for dinner instead of drinks. Much fun was had by all, mainly in french, although we switched back from time to time particularly to accomodate beginners or non-french-speakers.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Damn you Migaloo, damn you to hell!

The quiz night is, I suspect, a curiously anglo obsession - I never heard tell of it in France. I toddled along to one a bit over a year ago with an enormous crowd including Chris & Anjum, Mick and Paul, and all orchestrated by Dave Coyle. We had a good time and won, that night, at Dooley's.

Last week, Jesse and Ali invited me along to a similar event at O'Malleys. In this case the team, the Secret Squirrels, was small - just the aforementioned, plus a couple of girls from Ali's work, and your humble scribe. The questions were, in my estimation, on the easy side, and we squeaked home by a point and once again walked away with a bar voucher.

Last night I was faced with a choice. The Squirrels were back, and meanwhile word came in of another foray at the International in Spring Hill, led by Dave Coyle and Sandy now-Hookins. Superior numbers of people I hadn't seen for ages won out - the International it was.

We aced the first round, but a tie meant we missed out the $80 prize for that. We aced the very easy second round too, and won a bar voucher after a very close tie-breaker question about the census. We slipped up in the third and got 15/16, which could have been worse if Dave had succeeded in confusing the German and Belgian flags. We were lucky in the fourth, and got 15/16 on a couple of lucky guesses, which gave us (by our reckoning) the lead going into the bonus round. The bonus round, in which each question was worth 5 points, proved our undoing. We were unable to identify the white humpback currently cruising the Qld coast as being named Milooga, and consequently slipped back to 5th on the night, 3 points off the pace. Fortunately, the regular group from whom we were an offshoot due to climbing numbers managed to claim the main prize, which eased the pain a little.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007


Thus far, my time back in Australia has been characterised by a distinct lack of concrete developments.

I have a driver's license, I suppose, but I have yet to take any lessons. My other local registration activities have met with mixed success. Private health insurance was easy, but public cover is proving more difficult. The medicare office refused to believe, despite my physical and vocal presence in their office, that I was back in Australia, as I had no stamp in my passport to that effect. Of course, from my perspective, they had no proof that I'd ever left, since my passport is entirely devoid of Australian stamps despite 6 passages under their auspices.

I'm still living in temporary accommodation, and haven't yet made any headway on looking for somewhere more permanent. I have grand plans of getting myself an apartment, but the limited time available to search might make that difficult. Share accommodation just seems like it might be more immediately available, and simpler to boot.

The job front has been positive. I had interviews with a couple of places, one - my preferred option - of which has advanced to an offer, which I expect I'll sign and return next week. I also stumbled across another half-offer via an old colleague met by chance, but given the advanced stage of the other situation, the boat may have sailed.

Monday, 11 June 2007

back in the AUST

For those following at home, I'm now back in the land down under.

I had a very busy week last week sending boxes, dispersing my possessions and cleaning my apartment, the latter with significant help from Em. There were also a number of farewells, each time promising to see people again, knowing that it may only be true in half the cases. On Thursday I handed back the keys to my apartment and jumped on a train to the airport. From there it was off to Dubai, and then after a delay on to Singapore and then Brisbane, arriving on Saturday morning.

On arrival I was met by Lee and Mick at the airport, and we headed into town for breakfast and coffee with Paul, Julz, Celia and Andy. In the afternoon we headed up to Toowoomba and the family seat.

Sunday, 3 June 2007


My packing is underway. I dumped my clothes into my suitcase and pack in order to see how much it all weighs, but the news isn't good. Closer to 35kg than not, plus another 25 or so in books, CDs and assorted other stuff. I've since sorted it down to perhaps 27 or so in my packs, plus 20 in a box ready to send (130 euros with the post), and another box in preparation. With a little luck I can squeeze everything into those 4 receptacles (plus my carry-on).

Tonight is the last real dinner I'll cook. Key leftovers included a pack of red curry, a can of coconut milk, a half can of bamboo shoots, a bottle of fish sauce, some frozen green beans and a handful of rice. Its shaping up as a kickass dinner that will run into tomorrow, although I'll have to go get some noodles to fill it out.

Thursday, 31 May 2007

the employment game

I had a job interview this morning. Going into it, I was lukewarm about the position, but having learnt more about what it would involve, I can see myself doing and enjoying it.

I expect to have a couple more when I get back to Brisbane in a couple of weeks.

getting ready to go

Over the past few weeks, and more particularly over the last week, I've been getting ready to head back to Australia. The magic day is next Thursday, June 7, when I jump on a plane back to the wide brown land and a future of uncertain employment and certain sporting rennaissance.

I've renounced the lease on my apartment, although I have to eat a big chunk of rent because I didn't give enough notice.

I've sold a bunch of my furniture - desk, table, bookshelf, wardrobe, washing machine, couch - although their remains a few large bits - mattress, chairs - and a whole raft of small things left to sell.

I've started looking at options for transporting things home. I'm only allowed 20kg of baggage on my flight, so I have another 30kg or so to send home either by freight, unaccompanied baggage or freight.

I still have any number of things to take care of. I have some loose ends to tie off at work, I have to wind up contracts for internet, gas and electricity, I have to sort out my bank, and worst of all, clean my apartment.

All this has made unemployment much to busy for my tastes.

The Emblog

My sister, recently arrived in Europe for a one- or two-year swing, has a blog, named "Gen Y Not". Check it out.

heel dragging

Long time no post. No time. That's a lie - lots of time, but lots of TV to be watched...

The weekend of the 5th of May was the second round of the french presidential election, as well as a 4-day weekend because of VE day. Mum, Dad and I rented a car and drove up into Normandy to Courtonnes-les-deux-églises to visit the Cassavettis. The 3 of us, Gabrielle, Francis, and their Australian friends Des and André had a really nice few days walking around, watching the election, and eating and drinking well. Dad managed the driving pretty well considering it was his first time driving on the right hand side of the road.

After that, Mum and Dad pushed off to the west for a swing through St-Brieuc, Brest, and Quimper with day trips to the Pointe du Raz, Concarneau, and Pont-Aven. In the meantime, Emily arrived in Rennes from Australia via Hong Kong and Finland, albeit just for a night on her way to Tours. Mum and Dad got back, but pushed off quickly again, this time flying over to England to attend Sheena's funeral and in so doing meet and stay with Elspeth and Derek.

They arrived back on the Thursday, and Emily on the Friday, and on Friday night we piled into a rental car and drove out to Chanteloup for dinner with Véronique, Yann, Jules and Rosalie. We all had a very good time, and Mum's gifts seemed to be a hit with the kids.

Em hung around Rennes for a few days, then mid-last week headed over to Paris before catching a train down to Madrid for a week.

Last Thursday I went around to Erwan & Manu's place for dinner with Liz, Ashu, Fabien, and the couple themselves. A good time was had by all, but it was sad to be seeing Liz for the last time. She hates goodbyes, but in all probability it could be a long time until we are once again in the same part of the world at the same time.

Following that, on Saturday, I wandered down the hill for a barbeque with the Gruël family - relative to Manu: herself, her husband, her son, her sister, her brother in law, her nephew, her niece, her mother, her father, then Ashu and me. One reason for the gathering was the final day of the french soccer league. All seemed well with 2 minutes of injury time announced in Rennes' match against Lille, but the Lillois scored with 20 seconds to play to push Rennes back to 4th and the UEFA cup instead of the Champions' League.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

up to ouistreham

On May 1st I headed up to Ouistreham in the jumper with Nono, Soso, Liz, Angie, Cris and Ashu. Ouistreham were having their club anniversary and were hosting a gala game between the nearby pro team from Mondeville and the N2F Ouistreham girls bolstered by a couple of Avenir players (Liz & Agnes) and a couple of girls from La Glacerie.

The game was fun. the N2 girls hung in there for the first half, and in fact the pros were only really kept in front by their French national team point guard. In the second half they got their offense going, though, and pulled away to win by 30 or so. A few of the N2 girls really looked like they belonged, notably Liz, Agnes, Rachael, and in the second half the german girl from La Glacerie.

After the game we had a drink, followed by a session in the carpark with the ever-crazy Julie and Charlotte from Ouistreham. We even adjourned to a MacDonalds on the way home for a very pulp-fiction buying Royale with Cheeses and beers for the road.

Sunday, 13 May 2007


Its been a busy couple of weeks, between family visiting me and me visiting family. I have a possible family-free window this afternoon, in which I might try to record the hilarity here.

Monday, 30 April 2007


Since the defense, I've actually been pretty busy, if you can believe that.

On Tuesday, we ran a little workshop with presentations from each of my jury members. Krzysztof had to leave early, but Robert, Bernhard and Birger all gave good presentations, and we had a lunch afterwards, which gave a good chance to chat a little further.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we had our team retreat up in Dinard. We had some good acivities on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning trying to apply the techniques we work on to real domain problems. We also played a card game called Loups Garrous (or something to that effect - means werewolves) for a few hours on Wednesday night.

On Friday Mum and Dad headed off to Jersey for a 5 day visit to see Aliki. At my last day of work, I managed to clean out most of the stuff from my office, before heading off early for my last physio appointment in town.

On Saturday night I went out to Acigné for dinner at Erwan & Manu's place with Liz, Ashu, Nanou, and Manu's sister's family. The three little kids - Noam, and Tara & Elliott - amused us for a couple of hours, then once they were to bed we sat down to the usual Ashu feast, with Nono and Fabien turning up later on.

On Sunday I had big plans to go for a big ride, but I left my run late, and only got about three-quarters of the way out to Betton before turning around and heading back to Avenir for the cadettes game.


OK, so just to elaborate a little.

The defense was in the afternoon, and there were about 25-30 people showed up to listen: the jury of 5, plus most of our research team, plus my parents, Liz, Ashu, and Valentine.

I presented for 45 minutes, and I was pretty happy with how it went - the feedback I'd gotten on the two practices I'd done was really valuable, and I got in a better zone than I had on the Friday previous.

After the presentations, each of the jury members asked questions. Krzysztof asked lots, and the others asked a few, and it wound up taking a bit over an hour, which I think is a lot by normal standards, but I didn't feel especially stressed.

Once the questions were done, the jury retired and deliberated for a while - half an hour, perhaps - then came out and conferred upon me the title of Dr of the University of Rennes 1. They don't give mentions any more, which was disappointing because I'd anticipated it, but in general its a good policy, as they had become meaningless.

We then retired outside for champagne and nibblies, which also went really well. I was worried about how much food we would need, but as it turned out we got it just right, and the tartes were really good, and pretty much everything got eaten. The only catch was that the Australian bubbly I'd ordered got lost in delivery, so we had to settle for some Blanc de Blanc de Limoux that Dad and I had bought on Saturday as a backup.

In the evening, the jury, myself, Mum and Dad, and Pierre Alain all went out for dinner at the Taverne de la Marine, a seafood restaurant in town, which was a good opportunity to chat and relax a little.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

what's up, doc?

Yesterday morning I had a beard and no PhD. Today I have a PhD and no beard.

All communications may be addressed to Dr Steel.

Friday, 13 April 2007

holiday leave

I just noticed that I now have 68.5 days of accumulated holiday leave. France has the most generous government in the world in terms of leave, particularly for people who are paid by the government, which I am. I am entitled to 35 days of leave per year, plus 5 days of RTT assigned by my employer, and another 5 assigned by me.

The problem is that despite having all this leave, I actually only have 11 working days left on my contract, and once I finish, the leave is not paid out (as is often the case). Otherwise, I'd be able to start a holiday in two weeks and remain on paid holiday through all of May, June and July, and halfway into August. As it stands, it will just fall on the ground.

This country is crazy.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

busy boy

You would have thought that the time between submitting and defending would be calm. You'd be wrong.

In the next week, I need to:

  • Make corrections to my thesis and explain them to my examiners

  • review two papers, and write another

  • fill out administrative crap in order to placate people bent on teaching me English and presumably selling rice to China

  • polish up some of the implementation of my thesis work in Kermeta

  • organise my examiners into making their visit to the lab even more productive than attending my defense

  • try to wrangle some of my financial affairs back in oz

Its all very daunting.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

you can't see me.

Big fat over-ear headphones are a wonderful way of hiding in plain sight. If someone tries to establish eye contact while you are wearing them, you are quite within your rights to not notice, since such an impressive piece of equipment will obviously block all 5 senses, not just sound.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

4000 up

4000 up, originally uploaded by jsteel.

This was a much better weekend.

For the first time in probably 4 months, I had a weekend with no thesis work hanging over my head. (Which is not to say that every weekend in that time involved thesis work, but each probably should have).

On Saturday, I rode out to Decathlon and put my bike in to be fixed, which wound up involving a new chain and gear blocks, both front and back. In the afternoon I went for a shop out at LeClerc, then went back to pick up my refurbished bike. The difference was really noticable - the first time I've been able to stand up without the chain jumping for many months. In the evening I went to see the Avenir game, and caught up with Tortue for the first time in a long, long time. Avenir played one of their worst matches on memory, but still got away with a win against an RPA team that played hard but just doesn't have the personnel for that level. I hung around after the game, but not for too long - those nights haven't been the same since Audrey left.

On Sunday I buggerised around most of the day without too much guilt, then in the afternoon went out for a ride. Actually, I first spent an hour playing around cleaning and tuning my bike. I rode up to Betton along the canal, which isn't looking as pretty as it has, with a fair bit of work being done both on the cycle/walk track and on the canal itself. It was a really beautiful day, and there were lots of people out walking, running and cycling. I wound up riding along in a T-shirt, in a good sign that spring is right around the corner. I clocked up about 35km by my reckoning, and pushed my bike computer over the 4000km mark since I started with it about 2.5 years ago.

pot calling the kettle balck

After 3 years of correcting my colleagues' franglais, the shoe passed to the other foot last week, as I pulled my finger out on writing the french summary of my thesis. Franck C, Franck F, Jacques, Sophie and Erwan all helped me with my copious spelling, grammar and style problems.

Coming through my various (and admittedly not particularly deep) studies of English throughout high school, I was usually the kid who had only a few comments on his assignments when they came back. I was kind of a nerd. Shock, horror. It was weird this week to get documents back awash in red, blue and even green ink. It gave me a little insight into some of the students I went to high school with. Its not that I didn't understand the rules of french grammar. Its just that when I read English, errors just seem obvious, whereas in French, I really have to look for them. Anyway, the net result is that I'm pretty crap at French written expression.

I declared the french summary innings closed today, though. I actually played the bureaucracy game last friday, but the doctoral school handed me a Skip-A-Turn card because my boss had signed the wrong page of my thesis. Fortunately, the scolarité (postgraduate studies?) didn't seem to care, and processed the rest of my paperwork with nary a batted eye.

Tomorrow I'll take my thesis back to the doctoral school, and I should be done with it until my examiners come back with corrections.

Monday, 26 February 2007

to london, to london, to milk a fat pig

When I'm done with INRIA soon, I will miss its seemingly eager approach to travel funding. To cash in while I still can, I chooffed off to London last week for the MAST workshop, having initially been invited by Laurie way back just after the Australian cricket team finished belting the English 5-0 in the Ashes (just in case anyone had forgotten).

I flew over from Rennes airport via Paris, bringing to three the number of different modes of transport (with train, ferry) I have now used to get across the Channel. Upon arriving, I headed straight over to Earl's Court and caught up with Afe and Trish for dinner. We had a pretty intense talk about movies, something I've enjoyed doing in the past with them, and something I haven't done often enough in the last few years. They seem to have settled in really well in the last couple of weeks.

The workshop was really good, but I'll leave that to my other blog. After it was done, we adjourned in good research fashion to a nearby bar, and then to a dinner with waiters with an obsession over maintaining our glasses entirely full. After that was done and they booted us out, Laurie and I went for one more in a pub in Holborn.

On Thursday I made the worst of the miserable weather and went for a walk. I walked from my hotel up to the Natural History museum for a look through a couple of exhibits, then from there up past Imperial College to Hyde Park. I walked the length of Hyde Park to the corner tube, and jumped across to Piccadilly. From there I walked over to Leicester Square, where I temporarily surrendered and went into Starbucks to read my book for an hour or so. I met up with Ben for a nice Japanese lunch, and we continued walking, down to Nelson's Column then down Fleet Street to St Paul's. By then it was time for me to fly home.

I think the whole time I took one photo, in a continuing pathetic lack of photographic effort. I'll probably put it up sometime, if it doesn't look too awful.

Thursday, 8 February 2007


To reassure those, notably Jesse, who were concerned about my beardedness, I have trimmed it. Part of this was due to the responses I got comparing me to various wild and unkempt things. Part of it was because I had soup for dinner last week and ended up filtering it rather more than I would have liked. From a metaphysical point of view, it would be nice to say that the trimming of the beard coincided with the beginning of the trimming, or revision, of my thesis. That would be a lie. It was more the comments and the soup thing. Perhaps I'll take a photo at some point.

I still need a haircut though. There was a reason the last photo had me wearing a beanie.

Friday, 2 February 2007

decisions, decisions

MOF and other metamodelling documents have some history of including reference to the quokka. For the moment, I've put a glossary in my thesis expressly for this purpose. I'm now tossing up whether to go a little more subtle, and include the quokka's closest relative, the pademelon, instead.

petit pas

I gave a copy of my thesis to my boss yesterday, complete except for the conclusion. This is a good thing. I'm getting closer.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

A bush in the beard is worth two...

Beard @ about 16 weeks, originally uploaded by jsteel.

I have a shocking confession to make. I have a thesis beard.

Actually, this is hardly a secret. Such things make poor secrets. I stopped shaving back in early October, and although for a while it looked pretty pathetic, it now does actually resemble a beard.

My initial plan was that I would keep it until my thesis was sent off to the examiners. My physio, Jerome, however, reckons that's cheating, and that I should keep it until they give my PhD. He has a point. A playoff beard doesn't get shaven when you make the Stanley Cup finals, only when you win or lose them.

On the other hand, Sophie and Rosalie have both refused to greet me in the proper french manner until my cheeks are once again available for kissing. I'm going to put them down as being against the idea.

Its a dilemma. So, in the spirit of, erm, not being able to make a decision, I'm going to throw it out to a straw poll. Does the beard go when I send of my thesis in the next couple of weeks, or do I keep it going until they give me my ticket'o'leave sometime in April? Leave your votes and, if you feel the urge, reasons, in the comments.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007


Its snowing, and with no small enthusiasm. For the moment its too warm, or the snow too wet, to hang around, but it makes for a pretty view out my window. With a little luck it'll make its way over to Switzerland in the next couple of days to lay down some powder for Mick and Chris to go skiing/boarding this weekend.

choose your weapon

My biggest distraction over the last week has been choosing my examiners. Its a weird process, whereby I don't specifically choose my examiners, but am extensively consulted with by my boss in the selection. It comes back to the same thing. Its a weird vibe, kind of like choosing one's own firing squad. If I have top-notch examiners, it looks good on my CV, and makes me feel validated if they approve of what I'm doing, but it does expose me to more risk.

So the score thus far in the process is 2-3, in that 2 of the people I've asked have said yes, and 3 have said no. The no's have been bigger, in that they've come from the side where I know fewer candidates, which has led to a good deal of head-scratching between my boss and I. I only need two examiners, but two of them have to be professors (strictly speaking, have HDRs, but that pretty much means profs or readers), which is not the case for one of the two who has accepted.

If anyone has suggestions, I'm open to them :)

3 years and counting

Someone asked me on Saturday night how long I'd been in France, and I realised it had been 3 years. My first post to this blog was on the 20th of January, the day I arrived in France, and talked about taking myself out of my comfort zone, which I guess happened, albeit that after a period of time I have pretty much adjusted.

So anyway, its a little shocking to me that its been a week since I posted. I've been unsuccessful in having a complete draft (minus french summary) ready, but that's not overly surprising, I guess. Still disappointing, though, because I think I'm still a week away from that point, albeit not because I haven't made progress. I went into the lab yesterday for the arrival of my new office-buddy, and actually made reasonable progress, so went in again today hoping to duplicate it, with only moderate success.

On Saturday I went along to see the Avenir girls rack up another 100-point game and easy win, then followed them over to RPA to watch the Ouistreham game. I probably could have gone on to the creperie with them afterwards, but conscience drove me to bail and go home, not that I was likely to get any work done between 11pm and 1am. Anyway.

Monday, 15 January 2007


I guess, while I'm posting gruesome photos, I might update, since I haven't done so since Christmas.

I had a quiet Christmas, really. I chatted with Chris and Mick in Basel, and my family in Toowoomba, both via webcam, and also with the extended family who were in Mullumbimby by phone. I watched a bunch of films, and had a pretty luxurious dinner with ham and smoked salmon, followed by a roast chicken, and date and walnut pudding for desert. A bottle of Champagne awaited me in the fridge, but my medications forbade it, so it remains in the fridge, perhaps awaiting submission of my thesis. I also managed to find a nurse, who came around in the evening to give me my shot of anticoagulant.

The nurses (3 in all) came every day until last Monday, to give me my heparin shots, change my dressings and take my blood test. On boxing day, I also started physio, which I've been doing 3 times a week since then. I've been impressed with my progress, which has been noticable, and the physios tell me I'm coming along very quickly. The rehab doctor, who I saw last Friday, agreed but encouraged me to take it slowly.

In between physio and being stabbed by nurses, I've been making progress on the thesis. Its been a bit sporadic, though. After Christmas was pretty slow, then I had a good week after New Year's. Mick arrived for a few days on the 5th, which slowed me only a little, since he was happy enough to amuse himself for at least one day catching the train down to Vannes.

I went into work last Tuesday for a meeting with Jean-Marc, and he seems to agree that I'm still on schedule to send it off in early February. I hit a bit of a speed-bump on Thursday, with a design change to Kermeta setting my finish date for Chapter 3 back by a few days. I got back moving yesterday though, and today has also been productive. With a little luck, I will start Chapter 1 tomorrow, and after a week or so on that and Chapter 5, I can give Jean-Marc a fairly complete draft. Mark has been kindly riding me to keep making progress every day, which is good of him.

I guess the other thing I've been doing is watching films in ridiculous quantities. I've seen 42 in just 22 days since getting out of hospital, which is obscene.

Anyway, back to it.

knee to now

A little slideshow about the progress of my knee since surgery. This was taken on my phone while I was in hospital - I think it was the day after the operation, or perhaps two days after. The little tube is draining out bad blood into a bottle strapped onto the brace. The left leg has a compression stocking as collateral damage.

Knee in Hospital

A few weeks later, at home, before taking off the last bandage.

Knee with bandage

Skip to today, nothing left except a scar, pretty much. There's a stitch hanging out at the top, and a couple on the side, all of which I'm assured will either dissolve or fall out at some point, presumably without my knee falling apart at the same time.

Knee with scar