Aug 8, 2016

The Olympics

The Olympics are on! So I decided to write something about the Olympics.

I've written before how much I love the Olympics. I always have, ever since childhood, when during school any teacher who could commandeer a TV would set it up in a corner of the classroom for as long as they could get away with it.

And I love Rio - who doesn't? Not that I've been there, but I have always wanted to, ever since childhood when my favourite song was Peter Allen's I Go to Rio, and my religious childhood self was in awe of the Christ the Redeemer statue; and later when my early-twenties self discovered samba music.

Buuut.... it's been quite a few days now, and I haven't actually watched any Olympics yet. I'm not sure why not?

Apart from the Opening Ceremony highlights, that is. Holy cow, how good was that? So good! It was so impressive I almost considered watching the whole thing! I didn't of course - that would be madness - because who has that attention span in 2016?

Which is a pity, when you think of the time, money and effort that has gone into four years to create this Opening Ceremony masterpiece:

The main thing I thought, when I watched this, was "Man, fireworks technology has really moved apace in the last four years" - or even since last New Year's Eve.

I mean, they had fireworks spelling out "Rio"! When I saw that I thought I had imagined it - I had to watch it again. For sure, "Rio" is a short word and includes two easy letters already in the shape of most fireworks - but still.

And apparently, despite looking like it must have cost a gazillion dollars, the Rio event was done relatively "cheaply", or at least at a fraction of the cost of the London Olympics Opening Ceremony.

But as for why I haven't yet watched anything else?

Well, OK, I have watched the video of the gymnast breaking his leg. OUCH.

And today I watched a news clip of Novak Djokovic walking off in tears. Made him even more likeable. Who'd have thought the tennis greats would really care about the Olympics?

But nothing else so far.

There is that frustration, common to all Olympics, when, at the only time you are free to sit back and catch some live Olympics action, you click on the TV or live streaming - hoping to see diving, foot races, weight lifting or gymnastics, obviously - and find the only thing on is hockey or soccer or some other boring team sport you can catch any other weekend.

When I watch the Olympics I want to see this:

Maybe even a little bit of this:

Not so much this:

I'll try again tomorrow, and hope I can catch some diving, fencing, shooting, judo or canoe slalom.

Or maybe Friday, and catch some trampoline gymnastics!?!

Now that's more like it.

Jul 11, 2016

The Movie Nut's Meme

Here's a short set of questions and answers about my movie history. I got this from Princess Pandora, who got it from Sunday Stealing.

What was your first movie-going experience without your parents? 

I have wracked my brain on this but cannot remember. I remember what must have been one of my first movie experiences WITH my parents: I remember seeing Sleeping Beauty at about 7 years old and being entranced by the vivid, gorgeous colours. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. 

Do you still buy DVDs or Blu Rays (or do you just stream them)?

I still buy them for the kids, as I don't download movies. But we now stream movies and TV as often.

What is your guilty pleasure movie? What about it works for you?

I have a few: 

Arlington Road, a really good domestic terrorism thriller with Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, Joan Cusack and Hope Davis. I love it as it's creepy and paranoid and really surprising (or it was the first time I saw it)

Limitless, which is objectively silly but a good thriller anyway. 

Without a Paddle, which is just extremely funny. Literally every scene made me laugh. 

The Mummy and The Bourne Identity are, in different ways, perfect escapist movies I've watched many times.

You have compiled a list of your top 100 movies. Which movies do you like, but would not make the list?

Hmm... so movies I like but don't love. Hard to come up with more than 100 movies I like without copious googling, but I will nominate these, for some movies I liked but which weren't my favourites:

Cabin in the Woods 
Gone Girl
Shutter Island
The Departed
The Grey
The Imitation Game
American Hustle

Which movie(s) do you compulsively watch over and over again? What makes it so great?

Maybe Jaws. What makes it great? Great story, great suspense, awesome jump scares, and Roy Scheider.

Another of my all-time favourites is Rear Window. I love the old-fashioned suspense, and the set, and Grace Kelly's perfect wardrobe.

Classic(s) you're embarrassed to admit you haven't seen yet?

The Deer Hunter, Mean Streets, Singing in the Rain, Dr Strangelove. 

Do you have any movie posters hanging on your wall? If yes, which ones and why?

No, but I used to have a movie poster of Salvador in my 20s. I loved that movie, and loved James Woods.

Tell us about a movie that you are passionate about.

I loved Witness as a teenager - it was my perfect movie for years and years.

What is a movie you vow to never watch? Why?

The Saw movies. I like supernatural horror, not torture porn horror. 

Tell us about a movie that literally left you speechless.

The Secret In Their Eyes. Very very good. Haunting. Visually amazing and very memorable. Harrowing in one scene.

What’s a movie that you always recommend?

I love Madagascar and Madagascar Escape 2 Africa and am constantly telling grown-up people to watch them.

Who is an actor you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie?

I don't have one now, but my sister and I used to have a Nicolas Cage pact, where we would go and see every movie of his together, because we loved him so much, even though all of his movies are terrible. Snake Eyes killed it for us - even we couldn't keep going after that. He started out so well! Raising Arizona and Moonstruck were great, but since then.... the last "good" one (I loved it) was Face/Off!

Who is an actor you don't get the appeal for? Why don’t you like them?

George Clooney leaves me a bit cold. He's too self-aware.

Who is an actor, living or dead, you'd love to meet? Why do they intrigue you?

Jodie Foster is pretty cool. I think she'd be interesting to talk to. She's smart and down to earth at the same time.

Sexiest actor/actress you've seen. (Picture required!)

How to choose...Benicio Del Toro, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Clive Owen, Ralph Fiennes, Josh Brolin, James Franco...

But actually I think you can't go past Marlon Brando in his youth:

OK, you are casting a movie, pick four or five actors you’d hire to be in it and why we’d love them together.

I would love to see more comedy with women - Amy Schumer, Kristen Wiig, Bette Midler, Mindy Kaling and Jane Krakowski ought to be fun.

Who is your favourite actor pairing of all time?

Kathryn Hepburn and Spencer Tracey. She was so cool, and their chemistry was great.

Have you ever watched movies from a decade that was before you were born? If so, which decade is your favourite?

I like suspense thrillers from the 1940s.

If you were to be in a movie would you rather play the hero, villain or anti-hero? Why?

Jul 10, 2016

In politics, I am extremely against extremism

Listen up, Australia. I am pretty sick of our recent political environment. We do not have to do extreme right, religious conservatism and introduce a sudden pro-gun agenda just because America does those things, okay?

Pauline Hanson, we do not need a Donald Trump, thanks. Get back to 1996 where we thought we left you.

Cory Bernardi - far out. Where did you come from and why do you even exist? We did not have far right politics here once upon a time. There was Tony Abbott, sure. But he was called 'the mad monk' for a reason. Because he was the only one! Why do we have a whole faction of these people now?

And listen, Twitter and Facebook. Despite the above, we do not live in a fascist right-wing dictatorship, so calm the crap down. It's a three-year stint to the next election, the country has not locked itself into a future of doom. I don't mind the odd Get Up! post in my Facebook feed, but I don't want to read political ranting or posts and cartoons from lefty nut job sites masquerading as news or proper commentary.

Listen, everyone: this rabid extremism is exhausting.  And we never used to have it. We don't need it! Okay, we need a bit of it. We've always needed a few people on the edges to swing the pendulum where it's needed every now and then. But the system can never live at left or right - it works much better in the middle.

At work last week I listened to people talking about election day and when I heard a young guy say he "walked in, wrote down some random numbers and left", I was almost glad. Ah, political apathy! In the midst of all the ranting, lecturing and scare-mongering that surrounds us lately, it was almost a relief. Maybe this is what we need! Political apathy and laziness might just save us from becoming a nation of shouters!

There is no political party that represents my views. And even if there was I probably wouldn't whole-heartedly support it. But here are my politics in a nutshell:

  • Taxes should fund health, education, welfare, transport and essential services, science and innovation and environmental protection. 'Small government' is code for skimping on these things
  • But government should limit the things it subsidises - subsidies lead to price hikes and rorting
  • There should never be a large national surplus - if there is, infrastructure is being skimped
  • Government does need to watch spending and not let debt get out of hand - the budget is important 
  • Education and health should be a universal right for all citizens, but cannot be completely free. 
  • University education should not be free but fees should be regulated and student loans should be low-interest. I think our current HECS system is about right.
  • Government alone cannot pay for all the services we now expect and require. Some privatisation is essential. Governments can no longer pay for large infrastructure projects; government-private partnerships are essential. The private companies that provide these services/investments will profit from them, and the profit will be at our expense. That's unavoidable. It's government's job to make sure we don't get swindled.
  • Some services are not meant to be profitable and should not be expected to be. Hospitals and education need to be accepted as expenses and should not be expected to generate their own funds, beyond small amounts.
  • Taxes and government transfers (welfare) inevitably get complex and inefficient in a liberal democracy. Governments have to be fair and accountable and that is expensive. We don't need to wring our hands about our "inefficient" tax system. It will never be fixed.
  • Decent public education should be available for all - but providing that is prohibitive, hence the current government fashion for funding private schools to lessen some of the "demand" for public schools. I have no problem with governments funding private schools to some extent - you have to fund them if you want them to conform to national curricula, programs etc - but funding should be minimal and the rest of education funding should be needs-based 
  • Company taxes should be low, somewhere between 20 and 30%. Even if you loathe them, big corporations are beneficial to an economy, and to a society. Small business is also an important engine in our economy - though there are plenty of crap small businesses out there.
  • For an economy to flourish, there has to be some very wealthy people. They are like a side-effect. Economies that don't allow some people to accumulate massive, unfair wealth are stagnant.
  • Offshore detention for asylum seekers, and turning back boats, are both awful and indefensible - except if the defence is "they work as a deterrent" which sadly, they appear to do.  We should not be doing either of these things - they are cruel and inhumane and wrong. I don't know what we should do instead. Increase aid to UNHCR, increase our refugee intake, increase funding for internal detention centres and processing... all of those things, but none of them will "stop boats" or resolve the massive, international problem of asylum seekers and "economic migrants" - which are actually people living in hopeless circumstances and severe economic distress.  Even if we did all those things, the "demand" and the boats would keep coming - what do we do then? I don't know, but not what we're doing now.
  • I don't think we need a royal commission into the banking and finance sector. We know it's rotten. We don't need more regulation either - ASIC needs more teeth to police and enforce the regulations we have
  • Homelessness should not be a problem to the extent it is - what has gone wrong? There needs to be a full enquiry which no one will hold as no one will want to be held accountable for what comes out of it. But if we're going to hold royal commissions into everything these days, maybe a royal commission into homelessness and poverty wouldn't be a bad thing
  • Minimum wages and working conditions need to be protected. I am ambivalent about penalty rates - these days there's no real difference between a Friday and a Saturday, though I do agree people should be compensated for working anti-social hours (I know first hand the toll it takes on family life for example). And we need to make sure we don't become like the US, where people can work full-time jobs and earn less than a living wage
  • Gun ownership should be limited and controlled, just as it is now. No changes to our gun laws!

So that's politics according to me.

Now enjoy this flash mob ballroom dancing on a New York crossing courtesy of my new favourite site, Improv Everywhere. If only life was more like this:

Edit: this just in:
Here's a piece of commentary I can agree with (though I like Nick Xenophon myself):

In Turnbull and Shorten we had the pick of two decent leaders - now let's all pull together:

Jun 16, 2016

Two App Ideas (please send money)

Dear Venture Capitalists, Developers and Marketers,

I have two great app ideas and would like these developed as soon as possible please.  Please note these are my intellectual property but I am open to sharing the millions of dollars we make on them under a reasonable arrangement.  Please let me know when they are ready.

1. HairNow!

 You know when you go to a hair salon and they have posters of hair styles in their windows or on their wall that look weird because they're always just slightly out of date?

Hairdressers can never keep up with current hair images, either in poster form or in their stacks of style books and magazines (do they still have those?)

The app:
A searchable database of hair styles, and a constantly-updating poster display for screens mounted on a salon wall

How hairdressers would use it:
Replace posters with huge screens and display an ever-changing rotation of latest hair style images. Optionally filter what styles, or types of styles, to display.

How customers would use it:
Phone app can be searched for images by hair style and type, e.g. "cool hairstyles for short thick brown curly hair" (just to throw a random example out there that has nothing to do with me).
Or search for current trends, e.g. "London 2016"

Does not promise to solve this problem

How it will make money:
Free for regular people. Hairdressers to pay a small subscription which gives them the rotating images of latest styles.  I guess the subscription has to be pretty small, if we compare it to the amount hairdressers spend on updating their posters once every few years.

2. PlantLife!

You know when you see a tree or plant you like but you don't know what it is? Or you think, "Is that a maple tree or not?" and you have to Google maple tree images and trawl through them trying to match them to what you are seeing?

Or maybe you live in North America and are hiking through the woods and want to make sure you're not about to walk through a patch of poison ivy.

We can't all be botany experts. That's why we need....


The app:
Like Shazam but for plant pictures. You hold your phone up to scan a plant or tree, focussing on leaves, for instance, or flowers. You press a button. The app trawls through the whole Google/Wikipedia images database or a botany database of some kind and bam! comes up with the name of the plant and some information.

How it will make money:
Obviously this is so useful that the money will just come rolling in from advertising we will host on the app. We will offer a premium edition with no ads but over time we will gradually put ads on the premium edition too, and raise the price. We will market this as an educational tool to schools and universities and maybe create a tie-in game? You guys can figure this stuff out, I am sure. I can't do everything.

OK so that's it for now, please go ahead and make these and I look forward to getting rich soon.
Thank you.

Jun 12, 2016

The Art of Leisure

I just came across a post in my Facebook feed called The Lost Art of Leisure, which I didn't have time to read but which I have bookmarked for later. I think I know what it says though, and the title struck a chord with me.

When I was younger, and the world was not yet digitised, I had ample time for leisure and I used it for the most part wisely - reading, walking, visiting art galleries, trawling bookshops, dinner with friends (we didn't do coffee or breakfast or brunch back then), going to see bands at pubs.  I had a big music collection and listened to it. I did painting classes. I sketched, and wrote poetry.

In short, I was probably an insufferable young idiot, but I did know how to enjoy myself.

When Y. and I lived in Santorini, many years ago, we spent our precious free time coasting around the winding roads on his bike, lying on the beach and drinking coffee or beer in cafes. This was high quality leisure time.

When I lived in Twickenham, my favourite activity was to walk the towpath to Richmond and back, snug in my army-surplus parka, a Kate Bush or Blur cassette in my Walkman, headphones on.

When I lived in St Kilda, my favourite activity was to go to the Espy with my boyfriend to see a band, and wander home in the early hours of the morning to his untidy flat, feeling happy and at home.

When I lived in Auckland, I loved cooking up dinner parties with my university flatmates and the sorts of long, honest conversations you only have at that age.

Growing up in Auckland, we were conscious of being at the outer limits of the world, and we lapped up everything that visited our shores. We saw every visiting art exhibit (though I only remember Monet), and every band or singer (Billy Idol, Bryan Ferry, America, David Bowie, U2 - it didn't matter who, in general if they came, I went to see them - though I did draw the line at Dire Straits, and was pleased to have my decision borne out by everyone's judgement the day after that "the laser show was really good").

But of course, as everyone knows by now, that all disappears when you have kids. And honestly, you don't mind. I didn't miss any of that stuff. Well, except walking on my own, and reading in a quiet corner - I could do both of those things forever.

When you have kids you grab your leisure where it's available, and when it's available you're not always ready. Or you only have a few minutes or half an hour, or a two-hour block, or whatever - not enough time to really sink into a full leisure activity and enjoy it without an eye on the next obligation.

Nina Cheng / Flickr CC

And of course we're all so busy. Kids, no kids - we're all busy with work and with keeping up with all the ceaseless household, personal and digital administration that is part of modern life.

All of which creates the situation we now find ourselves in, where leisure time is a five minute break huddled over your phone playing whatever dumb game is your secret shame, or strapping on your exercise shoes and convincing yourself that the 20-minute power walk you are forcing yourself to take at lunchtime is "relaxing" instead of a guilty workout.

We don't seem to have time to enjoy proper leisure, doing activities that absorb us and bring us joy, often enough.

Well, maybe this is only me.

But my guess is that an article called "The Lost Art of Leisure" means that it isn't.

The reason this article struck a chord was that I found myself, one day last week, quite unexpectedly enjoying some leisure time, that was actually leisurely.  I set myself the task on Sunday of doing nothing much, except beefing up my Spotify playlist and cooking a good winter meal for the kids.

I used to have a lot of CDs and a stereo, and I listened to music all the time. Then I had an iTunes account and listened to music on my iPhone. Then I changed to a Samsung phone and converted my music to Google Play, and.... I sort of forgot to listen to it. Or maybe I got older and music just gradually fell down the priority list, competing with podcasts and reading articles and watching Cracked videos on YouTube?

Phil Mike Jones / Flickr CC

But recently one of my daughters set me up with a Spotify playlist (it needs some work, but you can check it out here) and I have suddenly rediscovered the joy of music.

Jake Kitchener / Flickr CC

I dug out a couple of CDs and played them while cooking on Sunday. Then when they were finished I put on my Spotify playlist and listened to that. As I stirred a slow-cooking meat sauce and chatted easily to my daughter, with nothing else planned for that afternoon, I felt a strange sensation. It was a sweet surge of joy - a simple, swelling happiness that lifted with the music and reminded me that these moments, while fleeting, should be more than just gaps in a busy life.

I liked it.

Do you possess, or covet, the art of leisure?

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