Monday, December 20, 2010

Good Morning, Cockroach!

The cockroach, like all creatures, is a miracle of evolution and adaptation. It's unique segmented body design, and it's hardiness and durability are legendary among popular parlance. It can survive in the most trying circumstances, subsist on almost nothing and thrive on on the most meagre fare.

But there is one thing that it hasn't yet adapted to - a perfectly flat, even surface. Such a thing has not existed for the vast majority of the cockroaches millions of ancestors, and the modern day cockroach is now frequently found adventuring across such surfaces, in the corners of bathrooms and under microwave ovens all over the world.

The problem with flat, even surfaces only becomes apparent to the cockroach when it is unfortunate enough to capsize, and land on it's back. Its method for righting itself is to wave it's legs and antennae wildly, in an effort to grab a hold of the leaf litter, sticks or grass of its habitat, and using the unevenness of the ground, get enough purchase to end up with the sky above it once more, ready to begin further scurrying.

In the absence of such things, as you are unlikely to find on the smooth porcelain of a bathroom floor, all this flailing fails to correct the problem. Unless it can find the edge of the toilet, or a stray piece of paper, or a drain, the cockroach will lie there, legs thrashing, until eventually it dies. The unnatural modern environment, as we have built it, can kill the hardiest of creatures, in the most benign way.

As I stare down at the final valiant, yet ultimately useless throes of a member of this species, shaving my face, and constantly watching the clock on my way to my 9AM meeting, it dawns on me that perhaps it's possible that our modern environment affects us in similar ways. What has humanity evolved to expect, that for whatever reason, is no longer there?

Would we as a species be stupid enough to create such a thing? One would assume that for humans, the things we hold dear and important to our survival would be at the center of any system that emerged from our clever behaviour. I mean, it's not like cockroaches got together and invented linoleum tiles. That would be an ironic end, indeed.

Grabbing a tissue, I scoop the corpse of the recently deceased insect, and, perhaps a little ceremoniously, flush him/her down the toilet.

Time to get to work.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Not The Story

So, I’m Momo.


Why’s it say “So, I’m Momo?”

What? What are you doing Dad?


Dad, just go back, back, back back.

Delete, Delete – Dad! – You’re not meant to be writing this, Dad.



Back –uh – Do back!


(looks sad, but says nothing)

Why don’t you just delete all that?

And THEN we can do the story – if you delete it all.

Make all the letters go away!

Why not Dad? You’re just doing random stuff. This isn’t the story.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I found myself, standing in the entrance to a massive building, being guided by an unknown force that was far too big for me to resist or even to question. As we herded into the alcove, I could see up ahead, an ascending escalator with people riding smoothly up one side, and down the other. Suspended in mid air above the escalator, were 10 different coloured gaseous squares, like a series of lasers swirling through a mist, all at head height. I watched as people boarded the escalator, and rose up, their heads each passing through these strange coloured zones.

Semi-reluctantly, I boarded the escalator, aware of the endless jostling queue behind and in front of me. Easing my way up to the first zone, I felt it pass smoothly over my face. It felt strange, though not unpleasant - like that fuzziness that you feel when you wake too early in the morning. I moved out of the zone, leaving the feeling behind. As I continued the ride up to the top, passing through each of the different coloured zones, I could see out over the room below. It was a massive sprawling metropolis, like a giant theme park. People were idly walking, chatting, riding on thrilling roller coasters, swimming in a beautiful azure lagoon.

I arrived at the top of the escalator, and complicity turned to my right, to proceed towards the descending escalator, following the footprints of the person in front of me. There was perhaps some kind of a way to exit without descending, maybe some kind of administration area at the top, but my feet obediently followed the worn path, and I began my descent, heading through the remaining 5 coloured zones. Again I felt the warm, fuzzy feeling manipulating my brain, removing all the fear, and making life easier.

As I arrived at the bottom, I walked into a kind of exposition, where all the latest technology was being given to those who were interested. There were fantastic cell phones, 4-Dimensional televisions, computer tablets, all being handed out to anybody who wanted them. I ambled past a number of stalls, taking it all in.

I continued, dazed, along the boardwalk, breathing the rich smells of the delightful food that was being prepared and handed out to eager hungry folk of all ages.

As I walked on, I came to the water, where an enormous cannon was firing a raft filled with people skimming across the water, screaming with delight. All around me there were people content with their lives, enjoying their social media, their freedom,and their food. Across the lake I could see beautiful living quarters facing the water. Lights were starting to wink on as the twilight approached.

I had a near overwhelming impulse to join - to relax and engage in the frivolity. This was plain, easy living, fun loving, stress free existence. I had nothing to fear. I had no stress, nothing to even bother myself thinking about. There was no value to be gained in thinking, for there was nothing to be obtained from it. I had been braincleansed, and released into a free-range human enclosure, specifically designed by caring and compassionate beings to cater to my primate species' every desire.

I knew that this was not the kind of thing that would result in suffering. There was no planned uprising against the humans. We would not be eaten by some terrifying monster, or made into a battery of energy producing cells. We would not be maimed, or harmed for sport. The beings that had built this world for us were benevolent, kind and immensely powerful.

I was astounded. Imagine - never having to work again. Never having to struggle for anything, or suffer. No need for any kind of hunger or want. Never longing for something I could not have. Everything I could ever possibly desire was here. I could stay. I could make myself part of a nice social circle, have a family, settle down, and never concern myself with anything unpleasant or arduous again.

So why did it feel so unsatisfying? What was this fleeting feeling of dread, this sudden lack of potency? I had no need for any kind of power, my rational brain was suggesting to me. Why did it matter? There is no point in being powerful. You have all you will ever want. I knew this to be true. And yet, I remained unsure, aloof.

Suddenly, a powerful and starkly terrifying thought shook me, lurching from my old mind, through my stomach to the forefront of my brain.

This is it, I thought. Welcome to Heaven.

Friday, August 20, 2010

High Noon in Port Moresby

Squatting down on the cement pathway, huddled amidst the short shadows of the passers-by, is a small child. As people stir past him, ambling on their daily chores, he watches them pass intently.

Periodically, he stiffens his back, puffs out his chest, and yells.


The locals ignore him easily, continuing their amiable conversations as they proceed. Most are wearing bilims around their heads or shoulders. A woman carries a small baby nestled in her woven string bag – others are full of lime pots, food and cigarettes.

The sidewalk is a deep rusty orange, the colour of the Beetelnut tainted streams of spit that spurt unexpectedly from the mouths of those who crowd into it. The oppressive humidity seems to lift a little in the middle of the day, to be replaced by the blazing heat of the sun.


I have always had trouble intentionally ignoring people. I have a kind of universal respect for every human, which seems to include at a minimum that I will genuinely listen to anybody when they talk to me. This means that, throughout my life, I have had a lot of very boring conversations about life insurance, salvation and various worthy charities. I am, as the less scrupulous and hardened salesman can attest, an “Easy Mark”.

Each time I am accosted in this manner, I am always slightly offended at the salesman for taking advantage of me. Surely, I think, if everyone has the same sense of respect for each other, we wouldn’t exploit such a notion for personal gain? That would be unfair…

I look down at his brown face. His big dark eyes, bulging slightly. His scruff of curly hair is tightly cropped, and his cheeks are slight, above full red lips. As soon as his eyes meet mine, He knows me.

Our engagement is silent, and flits by in a microsecond, yet worlds of information pass quickly between us.

He can sense my sickly patronising sympathy, which I am desperately trying to suppress. My compassion and sense of dignity that I feel should be afforded to all people, regardless of social or economic background. He can tell that, on some level, I am afraid of him. Afraid. A grown man of thirty-five is afraid of an eight year old? And yet, he is correct. In addition to a general feeling of not being safe, I am fearful of his culture – of his status. In some way his presence offends my worldview. “This isn’t right”, I say through my eyes. My son is eight. He concerns himself primarily with Nerf guns and Nintendo and school. This boy is all wrong. He should be learning and playing, and enjoying all of what it means to be eight years old, not barefoot, yelling at strangers in a dirty street.

He knows that I am not of this place. That I am here fleetingly, on some whitepela business deal, that I am uncomfortable and awkward.

I can see that he is not enjoying this, yet he does not dream of being elsewhere. I know that he is hawking these streets at the behest of some other entrepreneurial adult, probably somewhere nearby. I know that he is hardened, pushed well beyond things that are expected of such a young child in other cultures. That he has seen and experienced things that my sheltered upbringing and ever so slightly wayward youth never forced upon me. I know a sense of unfounded remorse, of inherited shame.

And I know that he knows that in this instance, he has found himself an easy mark.

I look away, and attempt to resume my passage along the sidewalk as if nothing has happened. I adjust the laptop bag I am carrying on my shoulder. The average wage earner here would have to work for about three years to afford the contents of my laptop bag. It’s like carrying a fucking house in the boot of your car.


I stop, and look back at him. He hurriedly waves me toward him. Slowly, I turn and comply.
In his hands, he holds some cheap horrid looking perfume in a glass bottle, that proudly proclaims itself to be “Drakkar Noir”

“Manspray, huh?” I ask. He looks at me again. This time, all business.


I hand him the cash. He offers me the bottle.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Meta Mutter

The late morning sun lights up the slats of the wooden blinds, casting striped shadows across the floor of the room. The winter solstice just passed, and the wind behind the pane of glass shuffles the trees slightly, as if trying to find a more comfortable position to settle down in for the coming day.

Seated cross legged on the bed, typing these words into a computer, is Gordon Taylor. He yawns, stretches his toes and removes the blue hood from his head. What kind of a story is he planning to tell you? In truth, he doesn't know himself. He is inspired to begin writing only because he loves the way words sound when they are describing things, the way they can conjure a picture of reality using the abstract constructions of letters and phrases. In truth, such a notion is not the best reason to begin to write. The best reason to write is to share a tale, to amaze, affront, astound and challenge the reader (that's you). Gordon would dearly like to be able to construct such a tale. He has made several attempts, but each effort seems thwarted for various reasons.

The main reason that Gordon likes to attribute these failures to, is time. "Who has time to do such things", he wonders aloud. To his left, his wife Alison stirs, mutters an incomprehensible answer, and rolls over - trying to find a more comfortable position to settle down in.

Time, or the linear progression of events that we perceive it as, is a wonderful scapegoat. And yet, there are the same number of hours in a day as ever we started counting them. Any other person who ever achieved anything did it within the same structure of days, weeks, months, years. No, Gordon knows that his assertion, while comforting, is not correct. If you are inspired to tell a tale, or to write some music, to pursue some creative endeavour for which you have a flair, or even a fondness for, what you need is not more time, it is more passion. It is the ability to commit that is the real reason for manifesting anything into the world.

And so now, an inspiration to begin writing something beautiful has turned, for Gordon into an effort in self-chastising. He is not happy about this. Like many humans, Gordon does not appreciate the lens of reality being directly applied to his motivations, even by himself. He can feel a sense of resolve building within him - there are facets of his life that he knows need more commitment, and greater passion, if they are to be successful. There are, as he likes to say several "things he has been kidding himself about" that simply will not proceed unless substantial, concerted, wholehearted focus is given to them.

There are no shortcuts to be taken. There is no amount of re-scheduling, or time-blaming, or productivity hacks that will magically reduce the effort required. No, what he needs to do, is to convert this internal sense of resolve into a commitment. And then work on those commitments unfailingly and without relent, until they are real enough to be described in a story such as this.

That's all very well, thinks Gordon to himself, as he amends the title of this story.

But then he thinks that it might be time for breakfast.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dark Galaxy

Dark Galaxy was a web based strategy game that in early 2002 became a huge time sink at the software company I was working for. I can't actually remember the point of it, or how the whole thing worked. But while shuffling through some old files, I stumbled upon this story that I had written about it.

Tosh re-lit the lantern as the rest of the workers filed into the small portable kitchen.

“Another turn’s work completed”

“Yeah- I reckon that harvest should keep ‘em going for a while”

Tosh was tired. Tired of farming. The genetically enhanced super food crops would soon be ready for more harvesting in another turn – then what? Off they’d go again… More harvesting, more carrying, more trudging through dirt. The food would be loaded onto the giant robocarrier that would take it off to the holding cache. I hope those folk in the colony appreciate what we do for them, Tosh thought, distastefully.

The lantern cast eerie shadows on the scraggly beards of the workers as they took off their boots and began chatting amiably. Tosh was tired of their stories, their same old friendly nature- the predictability of their lives. They were farmers - happy with their lot.

His mind wandered back to the tales Sat had told him – the stories of the planet that orbited a giant bright space light. On that planet, Sat said – half of the time the planet was bathed in an enormous bright light – that lit up everything as far as you could see like an enormous lantern. Then, as the planet turned, darkness enveloped the land. Tosh was used to the darkness. Everyone here was. It was the idea of something different that made Sat’s story sound so appealing. Tosh stared at the lantern, burning a giant pink blob into the back of his eyes.

“Hey – Grub’s up!”

Tosh turned towards the voice, blinking. The pink blob stayed obstinately present as his eyes opened and closed.


The tall farmer with a pink blob for a head held out a tin plate of food towards Tosh.

“Oh – uh, thanks” He took the plate and began to eat.

With a sputtering noise, the fusion lantern hanging from the ceiling blacked out.

Laughing and muted cheers from the farmers as they resumed their feeding.

“Really Tosh – I don’t know why you bother with that stupid thing – It hurts my eyes.”

Another voice agreed – “Much better in the darkness – that’s the way we was born”

“Not Tosh – his Mother was a Fusion Reactor!”

More laughter.

Tosh silently crept to his hammock hanging at the back of the room, and curled up for sleep – more determined than ever before to find something different.

The Impulse woke him at the beginning of the turn, sent him-half asleep into the field, where the newly regenerated foodcrops waved in the breeze, waiting to be harvested again. Autonomously, he began picking pods from a nearby grove of tall daschun plants. Slowly coming to his senses, he realized all the men nearby were doing the same thing.

Not today, he thought. I can’t do this again. Or could he? It seemed so natural- so easy to use the Impulse, to work within the boundaries… A moment of brief internal struggle showed on his face, as he forced his feet to walk further afield.

“Hie – Tosh! Where you going?”

“There’s a good patch just over here – I saw it yesterday”

Diving through the plants, Tosh heard the sounds of the farmers fading away as he forced his way through the plants. He forced himself to walk away, leaving the field for a dense plain of scrubby, dusty earth, that seemed to go on forever. As he walked, he contemplated the difference between the light and the dark, and pondered his destination.

His first thought was to get back to the colony, but when he tried to remember which way he had come when they set out to build the farm, he found he could not.

That whole six turn process had all been done under the Impulse, and was a hazy blur of subconscious memories, like cloudy dreams. In fact, life in the colony seemed a dream. Maybe it didn’t even exist. Ah, but Sat did. Those tales were real, and so must she be. Tosh ached to see her again. How long had it been? Many, Many Turns. He wondered what she was doing now… Was she even on the same planet as him? Sat had spent a great of turns in orbit, after building the Colian Habitat, the first of the four habitat rings. Tosh looked up at the sky. Over the horizon, he could just make out the glow of the four generators that powered a habitat ring. He imagined her there, looking out one of the huge bay windows so the planet filled her view. Maybe, she’d be thinking about me. The frivolity of such a notion made Tosh shake his head. How far had he been walking? He turned. The farm was no longer in view. All around him, nothing but empty dry plain.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One Day by the Sea

This post is in honour of my father's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I couldn't be there in person this year, but I was there in spirit. And as one of those solemn and awkward blonde kids, I hope this story will give you some insight into how much that day meant to me, as well as to you both.

Herb and Ailsa swam towards their summer cove, for what seemed to Herb like the thousandth time. The morning sky was a pale grey as Herb idly broached the surface, taking a quick breath before returning to his spouse.

"I still think we should have stayed home. The water isn't any warmer here."
"Yes, Dear", Ailsa said, almost automatically.
"And you know, Hank was going to take us out to visit that new wreck he found. I wanted to see that..."
"I know Dear. It will still be there when we return, I'm sure"
Herb opened his beak as if he was about to speak, and then thought the better of it. They swam on together in silence.

The summer cove had been a longstanding part of Ailsa's family tradition, and not even Herb's staunch grumpiness could sour the anticipation she felt as they arrived in sight of the brown rocks that marked the headland. The annual trip back to the cove was always a touchstone for Ailsa. Each sandy path through the rocks brought with her a childhood memory - her sisters bravely daring each other into difficult and more dangerous underwater caves, her father calling her home as the day faded. Strange and delicious new foods. Late nights with the pod, laughing in the moonlight. But most of all, the cove brought a kind of security for her. No matter what Herb's position was, she would be here. And Herb knew that as well as anyone. With an extra spring, she leapt high out of the water, taking the time to survey the familiar yellow cliffs and scraggy casurina trees that clung to the windswept sides of the cove.

The tide was particuarly high, as it always was this time of year, and as Herb sluggishly chased a school of Tailor off towards the deeper waters, Ailsa ventured a little further into the cove, where the swell was starting to break. Kicking her tail, she nestled perfectly into the curl of the wave, and felt the warm sun on her dorsal fin as the wave propelled her forwards, faster, and faster, into a salty white foam. Again she leapt from the water with excitement, with scant regard for her age, like a dolphin 30 years younger. It was on this brief flight that she noticed the crowd out on the beach. It was strange to see so many humans crowded onto the lonely beach of the cove. And what was even stranger, was that they were all so quiet. It was a golden sunny day, and save for a few fluffy cumulus clouds, the sky was the deep blue of late summer. Perhaps it was just the memories of her reckless youth, but Ailsa found herself intrigued. She slowly swam closer, away from the breaking waves, up one of those sandy paths between the rocks. Carefully rising above the surface, she could here the speaking tones of a single human. The noises they made were so strange...

As she rose, Ailsa could see the humans had arranged themselves into a strange formation - a male and female were touching their bony flippers together in the centre of the congregation. Alongside the female were more females, clutching flowers, and three blonde haired children stood beside the male, looking solemn and awkward. A gaggle of spectators watched enthusiastically. A single human addressed the male and female in the center:

"...Do you Ian, take Catherine to be your Lawful Wedded Wife? To have and to hold, in sickness and in health?..."

There was more muttering and strange staccato sounds from the humans. Surely, Ailsa thought, this was some kind of courtship ritual. A human bonding. Ailsa's thoughts went immediately to the day that she and Herb were bonded before the pod. Surely, to a human, that would look just as curious as this? Ailsa turned, and let out the familiar clicking sound to alert Herb that she was nearby. A click returned through the water:

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm still coming. There's plenty of food here."

Ailsa again poked her head above the water. There was more talking, and then the Male grasped the Female between his flippers, and pressed his flat beak up against the beak of his new spouse...

The thunderous applause, and cheering noises that immediately followed caused Ailsa to shoot below the surface, and swim against the waves back to the safety of deeper water. In her haste, she didn't notice Herb, returning with a beakfull of Tailor.

"Hey! What's the rush?" Herb looked concerned at her flighty demeanour, as she collided with his side.

"Oh, it was... Nothing..." Ailsa had to settle from the unexpected noise, she felt dizzy from overbreathing.

"Well, there's lots of great food to be had out there. I uh, caught you some. And you know what, I think maybe the water is a little warmer. I haven't felt this speedy in months!"

Ailsa turned to look at her spouse of 25 years. Fish was hanging out of his beak. He had that same hangdog expression that he was wearing when Ailsa had first met him, same furrowed brow. On the spur of the moment, she swam alongside him, and clasped his torso with her flippers. She pressed her beak up against his beak.

"My darling", she said warmly, "Happy Anniversary"

"Happy wha? Get off me, have you lost your mind? Hey!" Herb struggled against the unfamiliar embrace.

By the time he had struggled free, his Wife had snatched the catch from his mouth and he found himself staring as she flipped her sassy tail to disappear into the deeper waters of the cove.

Grinning, he swam after her.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hey, look at me, I'm a Business Jerk.

In a crowded hotel room, hastily assembled, the desks arranged in a U shape. Business people are seated sedately, all wearing collared shirts, some with ties, listening to a discussion about the grant funding capacity of the Australan Government in Papua New Guinea, and the benefits to the state of Queensland. Lame jokes elicit predictable polite courtesy laughter.

The Queensland Treasurer, a young politician looks bored and fidgets idly with his pen. It's not surprising. The topic bores us all, and I am forced to write down what I see in order to give the appearance that I am taking notes. I look up and nod periodically, as if to say "Yes, that's a good point" or occasionally with a furrowed brow - "I don't know about that..." Nobody notices. Secretly, everyone's mind is wandering. The Asian gentleman to my right is fighting sleep- his eyelids conspiring against his desire to be seen to do the right thing in this artificial social envionment.

"...This is an exciting time..." says the speaker. Oh no it's not. The blackberry wielding, hurried young businessman with the striped shirt rubs his eyes fiercely, and adjusts his position again on the uncomfortably hard hotel chair.

A question from a concerned participant changes the tone of the room for a brief moment, before the dull monotonous warble of the original speaker resumes. In a way, his voice is welcome, like a familiar blanket, returning the participants to their somnambulistic business daydream.

In my mind, I stand and announce loudly to the room:
"My God, this is Boring! I'm leaving. Enjoy your business jerk meeting, suckers!"
The speaker stops, aghast. The smirks hidden behind expressions of mock surprise turned my way all reveal the same inner thought - "Yes!"

The room errupts into hubbub, as everyone has an opinion to express at once. I can see Tammy, the meeting organizer frowning harshly at me. I slam the door as I gleefully depart to the freedom of my independent life.

...The Treasurer interrupts my fantasy. It's clear he's considering the same idea. Instead, he tells a joke, and asks a direct question in an effort to curtail the rambling. The rambling answer that's returned takes several additional minutes from our lives. Again, the Treasurer interrupts. This time to thank the speaker and politely insist that the meeting is over.

Smiling and nodding, I file out of the room into the bright lobby, adjusting my tie.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Buzz - I wonder why it does

Apparently web based social services need to be named after animal noises. We have Twitter and now Buzz, so that's the birds and the bees covered. Hopefully Microsoft or Yahoo can get in on the act with something with a bit more grunt - Oink! Or "Moo" perhaps...

Seriously though, a few things struck me about Buzz that I wanted to share.

Google has, via gmail, been collecting a lot of my social capital. It knows who I talk to most, and presumably at least semantically, what I talk about with whom. In the back of my mind, I was vaguely aware that this was going on, but Google's "don't be evil" mantra kind of reassured me that this data wouldn't be exploited. With the launch of Buzz, it becomes apparent precisely the scope and scale of this profile mining excerise that Gmail has been. As a heavy Gmail user, buzz came pre-configured with all my friends, and had 75 interesting posts from them, at launch.

Compare this with Google Wave, which launched with an empty canvas. My Wave inbox still has 10 "waves" in it, all of which say roughly the same sort of thing: "wahoo! I'm on a Google wave..."

So is Buzz going to replace Facebook for me? - I hate to say it, but there's a real chance that it will. I live in Gmail, and only rarely visit facebook - mainly posting through my Twitter account. How is this going to affect workplaces? Will they begin limiting access to gmail, just as many today block Facebook? Will there be a Buzz for your Domain" feature, akin to Yammer for Google Apps? How would such a product fit in with the compliance and regulation governance rules around retention and records management?

As usual, more questions than answers. But I think this is really the most game changing thing I've seen from Google since Gmail itself. Crazy interesting times. Baa!