Melbourne Grogblogging - June 16th
And so it has come to this. Certain shady figures from the Melbourne blogging underworld are trying to gain some legitimacy. Come, drink, be awkward amongst people whose blogs you've kind of heard of but not read, and...
Meet the pillars of the Melbourne blogging community *
Friday June 16th, 6:30ish
(cnr Queensberry and Cardigan St.)
Meals are available at the pub and are generally good.
The Lincoln closes around 11pm, but plans are afoot to stay out later. If you plan to turn up very late, drop me an email or comment and I'll give you contact details.
* Actual pillars may be less impressive than pictured.
30th May, 2006 12:09:57
[#] [11 comments]
The best searches money can buy
(via Marginal Revolution) Google has a new toy, showing trends in news and searches. Fun, fun. Neither searches nor news are necessarily related to importance, and common terms will dominate, but I am sure this could be useful for something.
And tourism could be one of those things. Because searches indicate interest. With that in mind, here are Australia's major cities
On the news front, Sydney got good press during the Athens Olympics, and bad press in December 2005. Melbourne got a jump during the tennis, the grand prix, and this year, from the Commonwealth Games (albeit less than from the Australian Open).
But in the searches, it is mostly noise, with Sydney well ahead but for one brief period a year.
And what event is it that, more than anything else, puts Melbourne's name on the google search map?
If searches mean anything, than nothing else comes close to the Melbourne Cup.
The linked search there shows three other interesting trends (assuming the data is broadly accurate, which is not necessarily true):
- "Australia" is declining as a search term
- "Australia" is increasing as a news term
- After New Zealand, Singapore and India are the main origins of Australian searches
Update: After more playing, it becomes obvious that pretty much any sporting event known to man will have a flood of Australian searches for it. Particularly from Perth and Brisbane. But the Australian city most interested in "Ashes cricket"...
...Canberra. Ah, this is fun.
11th May, 2006 23:12:09
[#] [3 comments]
In praise of Syn.
Oh those crazy kids. All of them, kids I mean, crazy! Not all crazies, kids. Although you wonder.
I'm listening to the student radio station at the moment, because on weekday lunchtimes it is the teenagers turn to spin records (if they even knew what they were), and talk about contemporary issues, in a clear factual and insightful way.
So the theory goes.
For starters, the music selction is always weird. Normal radio hosts, by which I mean either paid ones, or at least regular ones, think about what their listeners might want, and say wanky things like, "this is the Grates and I am so into this right now", or "this is Britney's latest, and we've been paid 10 grand to flog it to you every couple of hours, so she can pay the lawyers in a forthcoming custody battle with the Department of Human Services" or something.
But the kids, no. They get one shot at this, so they trawl the playlist, like guests on Rage, but without any particular musical knowledge, and a far lower likelihood that they'll play the mate of their's band who is complete and utter shite, but they played gigs together before they got famous for being sort-of decent, and he took up accountancy and moved to the suburbs.
So the kids play the weirdest shit. And I am not kidding, the last three songs: the chipmunks singing locomotion, the theme music to Indiana Jones, Ice Ice Baby!
You can't even program that randomly, because you'll get something normal like "We Didn't Start the Fire" (and why do I keep hearing this song on certain other crap stations that are in my cycle). You've got thirty years to work with people, pick something interesting!
Fantastic selection though, interspersed with real humour. Where, by real humour, I mean, gross incompetence in front of the microphone partially mitigated by infectious enthusiasm -- at least for the giggling girls. The poor guy reading... ve... ry... slow...ly in the dullest monotone outside of a computer science lecture, last week was more tragic than hilarious.
And the attempts at discussing politics? Well, let me just say: this country will not be going backwards in its intellectual endeavors in the future. No sir, we will be staying right where we are.
Go listen, Syn FM, weekdays. Worth every mHz of band-width.
2nd May, 2006 15:38:20
[#] [2 comments]
Vale Jane Jacobs
Every time you read something it changes your life a little. Jane Jacobs greatest work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities changed the way the public thinks about planning; unfortunately, I am not sure we can really say it changed the way all planners do. But it is still a seminal work, and the widespread mentioning of her passing on blogs I read is proof that, hopefully, her simple, but deep, message will someday percolate through.
I had the good fortune to read this work at a time when I was particularly receptive to it. It not only changed my life a little, it changed it a lot.
I bought Death and Life at the Technical Bookshop, formerly on Swanston Street, and began reading it on a United flight from Sydney to San Francisco. That was the start of a five month overseas trip, with time in the United States, United Kingdom, Belgium France, Italy and the Netherlands. I had chosen those countries because, even before reading Jane Jacob's books, I was interested in the economies of cities, and if you want to see where it all began, then northern Italy, the Low Countries and Champagne is the place you need to go. I had been interested in urban issues as well, which is why I'd bought the book. The confluence of three things -- interest, time to reflect, and travel -- was perfect.
I think all good books start with a rant. It shows the author cares, and that the topic is important. Most books don't sustain the passion, but Death and Life does. From beginning to end it gets at you, explaining why things are happening, why current thinking is hurting those things. And always, in a way that appeals to my liberal/libertarian sensibility and post-Artificial Intelligence cynicism of our ability to model dynamic systems, it focused on individual people first, not collections.
I didn't put down Death and Life and say: I want to be a planner. Nothing is ever so simple. But it put me on the path to planning, because it made me think about the very real problem of cities; an insoluble one perhaps, but endlessly interesting problem. After a few months of these problems, I was safely in the zone of a mid-20s crisis. The problems I was working on in IT had lost their lustre. By the time I returned home I was seriously contemplating a change of fields, and within 12 months I was back at university. Not all the result of one book, but it was certainly a catalyst for my change of state.
Ultimately though, Jane Jacobs' work wasn't really about cities. They were just one problem that she looked at, in some depth, but never as comprehensively as other people, some of whom concluded similar ideas. What she was about was a way of approaching problems generally, that emphasised that many things are self organised and unpredictable; and therefore, that we should be guiding, not leading, encouraging, not restrictive, and amenable to dynamic change.
Planning, for the most part, is none of those things; and rarely tries. Jane Jacobs' legacy is a slightly blurry, cynical, but optimistic, vision of what planning, and society in general, can be, and often is. She was probably wrong on a lot of the particulars, but that won't matter. Her work will outlive her long life by some margin. And for that, I and many others, am very glad.
30th April, 2006 03:51:22
[#] [2 comments]
A Triumph for Medical Science
Yesterday I woke up with an amazingly sore left elbow.
It hurt to bend it.
It hurt to straighten it.
It hurt, less, but it still hurt, to keep it still, regardless of whether it was bent or straight.
It especially hurt to bang it.
And to some extent, to prod it.
And to a greater extent, to put weight on it.
The symptoms were that it was sore, and swollen, but not noticeably dented or bruised. Was I coming down with RSI, from repeatedly leaning on it at my desk, while I read innumerable blog posts and articles? Or from a similarly poor use of it on the bars at pubs?
I was pondering this while I didn't sleep last night, since sleeping involved many of the things that made it hurt, when it occured to me that, since I might need to make a doctor prod it and hurt it, I may as well get the jump on them, so to speak, and prod it and hurt it while I lay there.
My medical knowledge is pretty scant, confined for the most part, to simple remedies for King's Eye and Affright, plus the application of leeches. But one thing I do know is that the body is, for the most part, symmetrical, and that therefore, protusions and bumps on one side tend to be abnormal if they don't appear on the other.
What I noticed, in the dark, feeling my way around my sore elbow and its swollen lumps, was that the bones were intact, and the swollen mess, while full of cracks and dead skin, was not so different to the cracks and dead skin on the other, not sore, not swollen elbow.
But one thing was different. On the tip of the humerus at the inside of my elbow (what Wikipedia charmingly refers to as the medial epicondyle) there was something over my left, that didn't exist at all on the right. With a little flick I pushed it aside, whereby whatever it recoiled into my arm like the vacuum cleaner cord does after it's become unlodged from under a chair.
And lo, my arm was suddenly not as sore, nor as swollen. And it didn't hurt to move it, nor lean on it, which meant I could sleep.
Which was good, because whatever I did to it friggin' hurt.
23rd April, 2006 17:23:19
[#] [2 comments]
Creative Cities, Creative Tourism
On the recommendation of BridgeGirl I went along to the Melbourne Conversations series yesterday, to hear four speakers discuss what makes cities creative. Or more specifically, to engage with the unwieldy and overly broad set of questions relating to creativity and the urban form.
How does the design and built form of a city impact upon its public life? What elements contribute to communities and promote cultural interactions. Is it possible to design for sustainability, in the broadest sense of sustainability, to support a creative city? What are the lessons from our heritage? What are the leading examples of innovation in architecture and design for modern cities?
Needless to say, given such a broad brief, each speaker became remarkably adept at turning the topic into to a discussion of their own recent research, and for one, their forthcoming book. Nevertheless, because I think it is an interesting question, and one I have (fairly badly) already attempted to answer; I think it is worthwhile disentangling the various statements from the talks and the mostly decent discussion that followed to try and find an answer.
The most interesting contribution, and one that I think makes the most sense in the context of what governments can or should do to encourage creativity came from Kate Shaw. She identified a contradiction between the way artists improve an area, and the gentrification that raises house prices and eventually forces poor artists to relocate elsewhere. The implication being that creative areas contain the seeds of their own destruction.
On one level this isn't a good argument. As Leon van Shaik pointed out, when house prices rise, the artists merely move to another spot, leaving behind a trail of gentrified neighbourhoods. Because house prices will always operate on a curve related to wealth and income, as long as sufficient housing exists, some of it will be low cost. The question is really whether some low cost housing is unsuitable for artists and the bohemian subset of society that supports them, and therefore, whether some urban design kills creativity.
Needless to say, the underlying context here is anti-suburban, propounded by a group of people devoted to dense, walkable communities propounding their views to a like-minded audience.
The most significant argument in favour of this view is cultural. For van Shaik, who opened his talk by saying that all cities are creative, good design creates a culture that responds, and expects good design. Poor design does the opposite. Thus, the predilection for good design in cities like Milan or Paris, is different to the gross indifference of say, the Gold Coast, or Canberra. For Melbourne, some parts are obviously well designed, and some not. But in a city of this size, and with so much contact with other cities throughout the world, and their own creative impulses, it seems highly unlikely that those influences can be completely killed. Transformed, certainly, but that transformation would be a good thing.
Following the argument of Richard Florida however -- an argument oft-mentioned, but neither properly explained nor refuted -- creativity is not just the artists and their endeavours, but the combination of creative economic start-ups, and other value-adding service providers that Marcus Spiller identified as the main drivers of economic growth. Historically, no really creative city has not also been undergoing extraordinary economic growth -- Athens, Venice, Florence, Amsterdam, London, New York -- and there is little evidence that artists are more important for a creative community than their (mostly young, well educated and high disposable income holding) consumers. Nor that the latter are less attracted to the cheap housing that attracts the artists. However, if cheap housing attracts both, the question becomes what aspects of cheap housing are important. Or rather, why a Carlton slum and not a Broadmeadows one?
Often this is ascribed to immigrants in the inner suburbs, and there is no question they brought great vitality and diversity to the culture of the inner city. But the main reason seems to be simple economics. After World War II, the housing shortage was so great that any sort-of house would do, and would still cost quite a bit. Immigrants being the least financial, they made-do in the suburbs of the inner city in cramped, unsanitary conditions. By the late 1960s, when home-ownership rates peaked and levelled off, this was no longer the case. At this point, housing was cheap enough for the owners of different housing stock to become, and to continue to become self-selecting: families move into the suburbs and young singles and poor artists move into the inner suburbs.
The difference between Broadmeadows and Carlton is space and access to cultural services. In the former you can have a large land-lot, perfect for a young family. In the latter, you have no land, but access to cultural services that for historical reasons, convenience, and by political preference, reside in the CBD and immediate surrounds.
The ability of governments to provide for creativity is limited, but the current focus for events, festivals and venues in the inner city raises house prices in that area, and makes it harder for new creative areas to emerge where housing is cheaper. However, because the housing in the inner city remains smaller than the suburbs, there will always be a tendency for creativity to reside in those houses, even when, as now, the people in that demographic are growing faster than housing to accommodate them.
In a sense then, this is a discussion, not about creative cities so much, but about a demographic, where they live, the type of city they create for themselves, and their size. The trend of the past few decades has been for this demographic to expand, and to create an interesting environment, somewhat regardless of what government does.
But none of that relates to urban design. Urban design itself cannot create a creative class, although it can inspire them, and it does afford different potentials. As I discussed here, Melbourne's laneway culture and relaxed atmosphere would be different with a differently laid out city and different building materials. Leon van Shaik noted the importance of local input to local architecture, the way stories interact with what is built, and the poor quality of buildings done by outsiders in cities like Barcelona. But if the creative class moved elsewhere in Melbourne, they would still be a creative class. They would (and already do) produce different things in a different style.
26th February, 2006 19:08:48
[#] [0 comments]
"Despite my admiration for the carton, I felt superior to those who reached into the supermarket's dairy case and withdrew Sealtest products, admitting to the world that they didn't have home delivery and hence were not really members of society but loners and drifters."
- Nicholas Baker "Mezzanine"
Such privileges were a rarity for me. If was I was old enough to be alive when home delivery of milk existed in Australia, it was well gone by the time I started paying attention to what receptacle it arrived in. The one time we did have home delivery it was in England which is quaint, if not a little backward in certain things -- notably plumbing and closing times.
Not that it was all cartons. When I was growing up in Warnambool, and then later, Horsham, milk came in bags . Giant, unwieldy bags, the milk would slop around in, falling to the edges across the crease in the centre of your hand if you held it there, and thus resisting any centre of gravity that would make them possible to carry in one hand. Or at least, with one small, rather weak hand.
When they worked the bags were not, in themselves, so bad. They were placed in big plastic containers, and the corner cut off. Despite what you'd think, They poured reasonably sensibly once you got past the first little bit that would, like those idiotic square fruit containers, literally jump out of the packaging; and contrary to what I'd expect now, I don't recall them ever collapsing into the jug into a mess of plastic and milk.
But they were the bane of my existence as an eight year old.
The problem with the bag is it isn't particularly strong. A leaky bag was pretty common, bringing on something of a crisis in a small boy who didn't know that you could complain to adults about the level of service you received, when one of those adult's products leaked down your leg and into your sock.
Dropping them was worse. A carton might leak a bit when it hits the floor. But if you were, say, trying to load the plastic container, and it was say, 6am in the morning and perhaps a little dark, and the bag for instance, decided it would unbalance itself and tip the container over, and you, being a small boy, perhaps dropped said bag, then you were in for a shock.
Because those babies exploded!
Cleaning milk up from every conceivable surface in a kitchen would definitely suck. Lucky for me it was my birthday.
And just try and carry one on a bike. A bag of milk weighed about ten percent of what I did, so trying to balance with it in one hand wasn't going to happen. Nor could I put it on my lap and peddle. So I tried putting it on the handle bars. A hundred metres up the road the bag swung its way into my bike spokes: more milk on the feet, legs, bike, ground...
But that isn't the point of this post, merely a segue from a funny quote into the general area wherein we shall find the point of this post.
Having spent so much of my youth drinking milk in large quantities, I was also somewhat surprised by friends who didn't drink milk, and who, as a result, were offered the wide variety of alternative drinks we had at home, including... um.... water from the tap?.
It has also made me relatively picky about my milk. I can tell the difference between milk from different regions, between milk from different companies (farmland is crap), and between fresh milk and stuff the supermarket has left sitting on the floor for an hour why their pubescent 16-year-old shelf-stacker had a smoke and tried to chat up the girl on the checkout.
And so, being picky, this morning greeted me with a very unpleasant surprise when I opened the fridge at work for milk to go in my morning milo . Because instead of the normal collection of actual milk, there was only six litres of pretend milk, also known as low-fat milk.
And I hate low-fat milk. Low fat milk is not milk. Low fat milk is water with white colouring in it. It is an abomination. It is the negation of the only thing that is good in milk. It turns into a cloudy pale, lifeless, substance, devoid of taste and any redeeming value. And so to people who subject others to low-fat milk, let me make the following plea:
If you have such a problem with fat in milk, then drink less friggin milk , or water it down yourself, or instead of saving 1g off you daily fat intake on milk find an actual fatty food to save it on, or maybe do some exercise. Or even stop being sucked in by marketing techniques trying to make you feel guilty by targeting the most commonly bought products.
And let me enjoy one of life's simpler pleasures without having it destroyed by your pallid excuse for milk.
 My ignorance on this subject is quite broad. I don't know for instance, if milk came in bags in Melbourne, although I never saw it at the houses of relatives in Melbourne. Also, for all I know milk still comes in bags in the Western District, but since I don't live there I don't know that either. I suspect deregulation put a stop to any remaining bag distributors.
 Note that this was in Traralgon, not Horsham, where offering water from the tap is somewhat akin to offering your guest a glass of cats piss you've spat in, except less healthy.
 The morning milo being different to the afternoon milo, and the "everyone has gone home at 5pm so lets have another" milo.
 Particularly if your only putting it in coffee, and you probably are. I find it hard to believe the 2% of milk that has been converted from fat into something non-fat has any particularly gratifying taste.
28th January, 2006 01:54:27
[#] [4 comments]
Gone but not forgotten
This summer I decided to be lazy. Not necessarily by choice, but certainly gratefully enough, having not bothered to take proper time off since 2003 or maybe 2002. So I am working two day weeks, scrimping my coins (lie), reading more books (partial lie) and resting up while I wait for the school year to start (partially true).
Except resting is boring as bat shit after about two days. And even though I haven't actually seen bat shit, I gather from the expression that it doesn't attract field trips from schools outside the state system.
The solution was to make a to-do list. At the top is the thing I really should do, because it important, and which I have, as yet, left unstarted. Beneath that are assorted other tasks in varying degrees of completedness.
The garden has been the most successful. My housemate and I pulled off fence pales (some intentionally), sawed through off-cuts, imported dirt, sealed stuff (though the shower is more in need of the latter), and have ourselves a funky little garden bed. We haven't actually planted anything yet, but there is more potential growth there than in an old dot-com, and probably a similar likelihood of success.
I've also burnt backups, ripped songs -- and could I add here that Frente's second album Shape is grossly under-rated -- sent emails and packages to all corners of the globe (well, Europe), and posted something on my blog. In short, I've been wonderfully unnecessarily productive.
I also took to my blog-roll with a set of garden shears. While it is more of a manicure than the sort of gun-ho machete wielding manic displays I'd subject my parents' hedges to when they forced me out of the house in previous summers, it is a little smaller.
Mostly they are blogs that don't write so often now (if at all); others that write so often I can't keep up; and a couple don't spend enough time talking about what I added them for. But they are listed below for reference, and they are good blogs, so you should check them out
Brave Our Burbs
Darlene Sees Stars
The Discouraging Word
The New Companion
Your Daily Art
18th January, 2006 23:15:44
[#] [0 comments]
Canberra and Sydney: a Character Study
We are often given to describe cities as if they were people: Melbourne is sombre but relaxed; London, cosmopolitan and inventive; Paris, a grandiose show-off. But what does this mean really? That it invokes that mood in its visitors, or in its inhabitants; or that its inhabitants create that mood for themselves? If it is, at least in part, the built form that creates these responses in people then we need to ask what properties they give spaces, that they create such different effects.
Canberra and Sydney are two cities that provoke substantially different moods, as well as being as differently planned as any two places can be. Our national capital is generally derided as boring and left at that. Perhaps it is hard to define a mood in a place often devoid of people. By contrast, Sydney is wanton and harried. The harbour sparkles and invites a gaze but like the congested, shadowing streets is busy. The parks offer refuge but even these are full of movement and events, or workers out for a run at lunch.
And that is an important difference. In a week in Canberra I never saw anyone running. Cycling, often, which is an activity preserved for the clinically insane in Sydney, but never running, for fitness or any other reason. Canberra comes across as a city where people make their own time. But that probably isn't the case.
The urban form prevents anyone from rushing in Canberra. Noone walks anywhere of any great distance. I tried it, and it is long, slow and tedious, akin to bush-walking in many places, like trudging across endless playing fields (or a paddock) in others. If you do walk anywhere, it is because it is close, like the local pubs in the older suburbs -- actually that is probably the only place you would walk to. Otherwise people drive, the distances between things, and the tedium associated with seeing noone else. precludes walking. The roads themselves are processions marked only by endless unindicated lane merging; too wide and slow to seem dangerous, most driving in Canberra seems like a trip to the country.
It is the weight of nearby humanity that makes them different. Canberra has only a few places (the Civic mall) where you can sit and watch people, so people don't, they return to someplace else. In Sydney you can't help but watch people, you can hardly escape them (at least in the central city), and so it isn't a city for meditation. Melbourne has a CBD almost as large as Sydney, but its parks are larger and further away, and its streets wider and more open. You can set your own pace. You can tell the rest of the city to shove off. You can't in Sydney, there are always eyes on you wondering what you are doing, or things happening to draw your attention. As Canberra has nothing to engage your brain in social activity, so in Sydney you can't escape it. And as the urban form of the central city makes everyone akin to the social pages of a glamour magazine, so the character of the city reflects that.
It wouldn't be right to say the character of a city is just about its places. It is also its economy, its climate, its cultural mix, and its self-awareness. But those things combine with places that carry the potential of the city's character. Even as Sydney's streets push people to the gentler margins of the CBD, those places allow certain activities that define the character of the city: drinking in a sun-drenched bar along the harbour edge; jogging through the undulating botanic gardens; promenading through Hyde Park; or an older image I get that still seems to fit, of a hat-wearing man reading a newspaper in a be-shadowed Wynyard Square.
But does the reverse apply? If Melbourne's cafe strips, or laneway bars be imported into Sydney, would they fit, subtly understated as in Melbourne, or look out of place? If anything, Sydney came to Melbourne in a few places; at Docklands, and in parts of Federation Square and Southbank. Docklands is still finding its niche, but it is clear already that it won't be the brash destination the promoters originally pushed. For climatic reasons, if nothing else, the cafes are sheltered with gas heaters at the ready; fewer people abound, moving slower; the mood is subdued.
We can conclude that the character of a city is an open vessel, filled by its inhabitants. But not all cities offer much to their inhabitants. Canberra really is boring, pretty at times, but it offers no social comfort to the citizen on the street. Sydney's citizens though, have shaped the city to its surroundings, which in turn shapes its citizens to it. And like any city worth visiting, it has a character all its own.
10th January, 2006 13:25:52
[#] [1 comment]
A Modest Proposal
Having had time while in Canberra to take in Parliament on a couple of occasions, I had to admit my dissapointment. The lack of any actual policy debate was compounded with indifference, posturing, shouting, and heckling; even divisions produce foregone conclusions as everyone troops in to stand around making jokes for a few minutes before dispersing. All in all it is quite boring, and so, I humbly offer up a few suggestions to reinvigorate Australian democracy.
Answers in question time have to be yes or no only.
No more tedious answers to dorothy-dixes, no long-winded diatribes on the previous government and the failures of the opposition; nothing but punch. "Mr Treasurer, will the budget be in surplus this year? Yes", "Mr. Prime Minister, did children actually get thrown overboard? Ah... No", "Minister, have you stopped beating your wife?..."
Allow members to be dragged across the floor during a division.
Forget the balance of power, now it is all the weight of your factional heavies. Sure, parliament becomes little more than a pub brawl, but what an entertaining one. Think of the match-ups: Vanstone v Ray, Ruddock v Garrett, Downer v Kate Ellis (I'm tipping Ellis).
Replace the governor-general with a heinous beast.
Expand the reserve powers to include scratching, biting, and mauling; and replace Yarrallumla with a gladiatorial arena. The final hurdle to pass legislation will now involve hand-to-hand combat against lions, tigers and gorillas with the Prime Minister armed with nothing more dangerous than a mandate from the Australian people. Should do wonders for Costello's leadership aspirations.
Sure, we've got the House of the people and the State's House, but it hasn't been enough to stop bad laws being passed. I propose a few more: the House of Fun, the House of Pain, the House of Cards, the House of Ill-repute, and the Little House on the Prairie. And the good thing is, Canberra has most of these already.
Misleading parliament should be met by a formal challenge.
Noone ever admits to lying in parliament, "I'm sure if you examine Hansard you'll note that I said nothing at all". But under this new system, who cares? Nothing says you misled the House like a glove on the chamber floor, and two feet of steel in the gullet.
Not that any of these improve the quality of legislation of course, but if they are going to act like bogans we, the Australian public, should at least see a little blood on the floor.
22nd December, 2005 13:15:14
[#] [3 comments]
[<-- previous] [next -->]