I can go home now
Russell Degnan

The primary purpose of this trip was to visit places I didn't get to last time I was in Italy because of time constraints.
The most important of those two places are Mantua and the Dolomites.

Mantua, I know as a typical north Italian city state, strong in arts patronage (Opera was first given a hearing there). Whenever you see Mantua, it is a shot of the castle from across the lake. Hence, one of the most important things I did in Mantua was to find that photo...

The Dolomites are famous from many angles, and many distances. They are probably best in Spring, when the snow lingers on the mountains and the warm sun and longer days are available for walking. But, the impeccably clear skies I was treated to were very nice as well...

Halfway around the world and back for two photos.

Days Spent Away 29th November, 2004 04:37:29   [#] [2 comments] 

Food and the North
Russell Degnan

A Brief Guide to Dutch Cooking

Pulverise ingredients.
For a sweet dish, deep fry in batter and cover in sugar.
For others, fry, and cover in sufficient gravy to make it edible [1].

[1]: Note, this may be a LOT of gravy

Swedish Food Guide

- Julmust - Christmas Cola. Like Cherry Cola and Creamy Soda combined. Horrifically sweet.
- Ko:ttbullar and Lingonsylt - Meatballs with onion in them and a red berry sauce. Served in mushroom sauce sans mushrooms.
- risgrynsgro:t - Rice pudding and milk covered in cinnamon and sugar. The last two are very important to prevent you tasting the rice pudding.
- A:rtsoppa - Pea and Ham soup - Big chunks of ham, no pea pieces. Has mustard added to give a bit of tang.
- Chocolate - 30% cocoa. More body than Cadbury's but slightly sweeter. Not bad.
- Filmjo:lk and a:ppelmos - Sour Milk and Apple Sauce - Sour milk is pretty much what it sounds like. I can't say I'll be rushing to food stores to find it.
- Glo:gg - A christmas drink. Not very alcoholic, and tastes like a mince pie
- Polkagris - Bolied lollies. Apparently very Swedish.

Short Impressions of a Swedish Formal Dinner

- Singing
- Copious Toasts
- Snow, Guys, A Big Circle...
- Beer, Wine, and Spirits...

Days Spent Away 25th November, 2004 03:16:36   [#] [1 comment] 

Housing and Melbourne weather
Russell Degnan

What Melbourne really needs is the odd week or two of sub-zero temperatures. Not many days; they cause a complete shift in the manner you interact with the outside world. Just a few. Enough to make it clear that the way we build houses in large parts of Australia is actually a disgrace.

Right now, where I am in Sweden, it is 24.3 degrees inside, and -11.4 outside. The house is light and airy, the temperature is constant throughout. The difference no drafts, insulation, double glazing and water heaters running slowly but steadily is remarkable.

Except in exceptional circumstances, you shouldn't need to heat homes in Melbourne. The heat from appliances (especially computers) and the fact that it is normally warm enough on even the coldest days to get some warmth should allow them to maintain a near constant temperature. Similarly, summer days are never so hot that you should need an air-conditioner.

However, because we can get away with shoddy contruction and cheap materials, we do, and we suffer for that in the quality of the indoor environment we live in. As nice as laying in a chair wrapped in a doona, listening to rain land on a tin roof. It is not that nice.

Sterner Matters 25th November, 2004 03:13:38   [#] [2 comments] 

Flights and waiting
Russell Degnan

You spend a lot of time waiting when you are flying. Before the flight because you have to get there so early, then more when it is delayed by weather five thousand kilometres away. Then more again while you wait for another long flight in the sterile, bizarre world of airport lounges.

The flights are worse though. At least for me. I never really sleep. My legs are too long, so I end up partly bent, and partly squashed against the back of the seat. I prefer to stand up and walk around, but that means getting an aisle seat - which I didn't on the Brisbane-Tokyo flight.

Every now and then though they, give something back. The birds-eye views from the front on the plane on take-off and landing is great - particularly at night with the lights of the runway mapped out, and the passing of clouds after take-off.

Better yet though, as the plane reached the coast of Japan. Nearer the ground the area around the airport is dull, grey, with off-green rivers meandering in steep but shallow valleys full of mist and low trees and spotted with smoke-stacks. From above the clouds though, the morning sun lit up sparkling craggy peaks in the distance. The low clouds obscuring the rest of the island, leaving you alone with the gold and pink peaks, and the white and purple clouds.

Update: The Tokyo-Amsterdam flight was full of little moments:
- Mt Fuji poking out of the clouds as we circled away.
- The stark contrast between the steep valleys and their dams and the heavy urban areas of the Japanese interior.
- Russian glaciers flowing into the sea of Japan.
- Thousands of kilometres of frozen, barren wasteland in the Siberian plains.
- The low crescent moon setting off the wing of the plane as we chased the sunset over the arctic circle.
- The Swedish and Danish islands and the cities of Stockholm, Malmo and Copenhagen sparkling away.

Days Spent Away 16th November, 2004 13:22:23   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LII, November 2004
Russell Degnan

This Thursday, November 11th, is Separation Day (and Armistice Day). This is the monument in Flagstaff Gardens. Taken September 2002.

Melbourne Town 9th November, 2004 20:28:54   [#] [0 comments] 

"Tragedy of the Commons" or "Open Source" - Part I
Russell Degnan

What does the planning system say about us, as citizens?

Underlying it are a lot of assumptions about the way people interact with the public and private realms. The outcomes they wish to reach, the conflicts different goals will cause, and the importance of alleviating those conflicts. Somewhere in there, the planner gets to provide their two cents worth on the best way for a city to grow, and to judge the different goals on their relative merits.

Partly because of our common law system, and partly as a historical artifact of the way planning developed as a profession; the biggest assumption made is that the the primary purpose of the Act is the protection of other people's rights to use their property. It parallels the idea of sustainability by maintaining other person's "rights" - to sunshine, to a quiet road, to a pleasant street - in the future, while allowing developments and uses compatible with those rights today.

The public realm holds a special place at the bottom of the hierarchy in the planning legislation. Every property interfaces with the public realm in some way, and extracts some benefit from it in the process. The public realm is therefore protected from uses which will diminish it. A classic "Tragedy of the Commons" where no person can be trusted to not destroy it - even if they are doing so inadvertently.

Contrast this approach to the public space with that taken to another public realm: open source software, and the Wikipedia. Pedants will tell me - correctly - that they are not really public goods. Like public space they have administrators, who are to some extent owners, who keep the space from imploding on itself. What is different is the underlying assumption on usage. Underpinning open source approaches is the assumption that the developers (and users) of the object will be working to enhance the public good. Control is passed to them to do so, and the results are quite spectacular.

Many questions come from this:
1. Are these approaches incompatible?
2. If so, what are the underlying differences that make them so?
3. And does our own public realm really exist as common tragedy, instead of a open good?

The first two questions are probably best answered as one. I will leave both those and the third to another post so I can ponder them better. What do others think?

Sterner Matters 7th November, 2004 21:58:47   [#] [1 comment] 

A Trichotomy of Tourism: The Dumb
Russell Degnan

Guidebook bearing, fast paced, exuberant and fond of the word "quaint".

If I was being cruel - and I will be - I'd say that the dumb tourist is missing the point of travel. But that takes an unnecessarily narrow view of travelling. The dumb tourist isn't after experience and reflection - which travel provides in spades. They are after places to say they've been, art to say they've seen, and mountains to say they've stood before, and they want to get them as soon as they can.

The worst of them, who are all too often the "American" [1] of them, have barely changed since being endlessly pilloried in Mark Twain's "A Tramp Abroad".

They sit under the Eiffel Tower and list the places they've been like badges on a Scout uniform. That for many of them this involved getting off a bus in Pisa, or Reims, being shuffled through the cathedral, past a souvenir stall, and back onto the bus, is irrelevant. They've been there, they sent you a postcard - did you get it? No matter, it should arrive soon.

For those who avoid the packaged tour and its attached horrors - bad sleep, bad food, bad backs, bad hygeine - the beaten path is sufficiently beaten to guide them on their way. Attach a Baedeker, a Let's Go, or a Lonely Planet like an umbilical cord and off you go. The maps may be simplistic - if not indescipherable - and the history may be more potted than an Italian highway, but if the only people you are talking to are seeing the same sights and reading the same histories it won't matter.

I assume the dumb tourist is not unaware that the places they are seeing bear little resemblance to anything except the other tourist infested places of the world. But if so, why do they bother with the phrases from the back of the guidebook - sometimes slowly, like they are talking to a five-year old. When the spruikers outside cafes in Brugge cycle through several different languages trying to entice you in, it should be obvious that their target market isn't the local populace.

Travel for the dumb tourist is holiday work, there are places to go, routes to be organised, timetables to keep, and only a few weeks to cram it all in. Thomas Cook's motto, "Enjoy every moment" sums it up. Discovery is not important. Getting hopelessly lost, finding yourself without a place to sleep, or wasting a day or two because the guy your travelling with wanted to chat up the cute girl in the computer store is not on the agenda. If it at the end it had all the intellectual stimulation of a television documentary, then at least you can say you went there.

I'll let them speak for themselves though. The statement I (and half the town square) overheard in Brugge that, "without proper directions we could end up walking around for hours" sums them up completely. Leaving aside the impossibility of walking around Brugge for hours without finding yourself on the same street again; implicit in the statement is the idea that walking around for hours would be bad. For other types of tourist that is the best - even only - way to see things.

For all that though, the dumb tourist is a vital cog in the tourism industry. The most important in fact, because they bring in the cash, read the guidebooks, and ensure adequate signage. Then, having provided these services they huddle in a great swarming mass for just a few months a year so they can be easily avoided. Bless 'em.

[1]: I wouldn't want to suggest for a moment that all Americans are bad tourists. They aren't. Their biggest problem is that no matter how bad the stereotype, a little travel will always unearth someone who matches it - and reinforces it - completely.

Days Spent Away 7th November, 2004 20:43:59   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: LI, November 2004
Russell Degnan

I don't have a picture of Flemington. Here is the conservatory in the Fitzroy Gardens instead.

Melbourne Town 2nd November, 2004 20:13:45   [#] [0 comments] 

Random thoughts on recent subjects
Russell Degnan

The tenders for installing a ticketing system for Melbourne's public transport system have closed. The smart-card may or may not be a good idea. The devil will be in the details whether it is better or worse when it comes to fare collection. What I would like to mention is the consistent description of non-paying customers as 'fare-evaders'. That they are isn't in dispute, however it approaches the problem from the wrong direction. It sees it as a failure by the commuter to pay, instead of a failure by the system operators to collect. Other businesses spend a lot of time and effort ensuring customers pay when they are required, while still making the process efficient and simple.

The user-interface design of the public transport system is neither efficient nor simple. They make up for it by fining customers, making it unfriendly as well. To that end I think we need to rethink how public transport ticketing is operated, starting with some basic principles:

1. Fare collection should be integral to the system operation itself; collecting fares should be the responsibility of the operator whose revenue depends on them (or should).
2. Fines should be abolished. Regardless of whether every other system does it; it is an easy way to avoid making a workable system and an abuse of legal privilege.
3. Payments should be easy to make, the method of doing so, easy to understand, and as with any design, assume no prior knowledge and no particular intelligence on the part of the commuter - who will invariably find a way to break your system no matter how simple it is.

If it is good enough for other businesses, it is good enough for p/t.

Water, we are running out. I've talked about water before, and those two articles give a good summary of proposed developments to alleviate Melbourne's projected water shortage. I will therefore only make a few comments:

1. People who use aggregate statistics or usage trends to describe Melbourne's usage need a good talking to. Although water saving measures have made a marginal difference, the drivers of water usage are the water restrictions being imposed - if any; the number and size of public and private gardens; and the amount of recent rain. Since we can't control the last element, the politically sensitive issues of restrictions and people's gardens will remain the problem.

2. We don't have a major shortage of water, except in the most basic sense. There is a lot of rain - albeit highly variable - that is running straight into the bay, and except for evaporation, used water doesn't disappear, it only gets dirty. Therefore, there are vast untapped resources of water that we are just beginning to look at now the simple dam approach is no longer available. However, water will need to become more expensive to cover these changes and a lot of attention will need to be paid to how local modifications affect their immediate environment.

Apparently someone just noticed that the corner of Springvale and Whitehorse Roads doesn't move very fast. The key quote is this one, courtesy of Peter Batchelor:

"We are not ever going back to that [low traffic road conditions] because there are more cars than ever before, travelling further than ever before."

As discussed ad infinitum here and elsewhere, more roads - and for that matter, more public transport - makes people travel further. Infrastructure provision needs to focus on getting people to places close to them, in the most efficient manner possible. It would be nice if people started keeping that in mind when discussing it.

Sterner Matters 2nd November, 2004 19:45:33   [#] [0 comments]