Thursday, December 20, 2012

Frank admissions


With the end of the world finally here, it’s time for a few frank admissions. Starting now…

I don’t write this blog. Every line is written by three blokes in Sri Lanka who I pay eight bucks a month to write cutting satire and insightful observational comedy. They say hi, and thanks for liking the "Weekend at Bernie’s" one so much. It’s their fave.
"Good work fellas. Keep the Kanye gags coming."

Most of my Facebook friends are imaginary. Specifically, T, D and B (seriously, how many real people have you met called ‘Mhaistone’?), Steve D (the imaginary baby sister I always wished I’d had), Kelly D (nooobody is that nice in real life), Brent H (who is basically how I imagine myself if I had friends, talent and a degree in cosmology. And Tourette’s), Ed G (essentially a blend of me, Bear Grylls and Beavis slash Butthead) and Sherrill R (who is my perfect imaginary lunch companion: “Do you want that last Shanghai dumpling? No…? Thanks!”). Everyone else? You are totally real. But you are imagining me.

Most of the advertising spam you receive is from me. I type every message out myself, crafting it to dig fish hooks into your psyche and secretly steer you towards my clients’ product/website/frozen banana stand on Cottesloe Beach. You know how sometimes a web page pops up you don’t remember searching for? That’s me, invisibly pulling your strings. Or when you take a wrong turn looking for your aunt’s place and end up in front of a run-down shopping strip with a travel agent that only sells tickets to Nigeria? Me again. In fact I’m doing it now: two weeks after reading this, you will receive a box of cheap Viagra you don’t remember ordering.
"Uh...why do they say 'Aspirin?" "Oh, that's Nigerian for 'Viagra!'"

Bear Grylls is nowhere near as awesome as everyone thinks. I do most of his stunts. He still does the cool leapy-swimmy-climby stuff; by ‘stunts’ I mean ‘eating bugs’, ‘sleeping in camels’ and ‘drinking his pee’. All the REALLY hard stuff.
"Twist of lemon mister Grylls?"

I wrote ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. It was easier than you might think: I just set up my dictation software and put the microphone in a room with two cats fighting over a pork chop.
"Oh my!"

There are almost no real people on Twitter. It’s just a large-scale Turing test I set up, to see if a computer could write well enough to convince people to follow it. Tragically, there are now so many spambots on Twitter that it is simply a bizarre merry-go-round of computer programs trying to convince other computer programs to send their bank details to Nigerian princesses. What I can’t figure out is why the program is ordering all that Viagra.

You CAN get rich at home using your computer, acai berries WILL make you thin, you CAN lose belly fat using this one weird tip, there ARE singles in your area looking for love right now, and you really have won the New York Grand Lottery first prize of eighty million dollars. Unfortunately you will die of aspartame poisoning, get bitten by a Mexican jumping spider, be chloroformed by two strangers offering ‘perfume’ in a shopping centre car park, or get cancer from mobile phones, power lines, margarine, plastic food containers, disposable chopsticks, soy products or New Car Smell before you can take advantage on any of this.
Damn You Autocorrect: that’s me, every time. You actually send the message you think you typed, but I intercept it and modify your text so the recipient gets a completely different dickweasel.

The Mayan calendar is my work. That was meant to be a blog entry about how we should do our work calendar in base thirteen because it would make it easier to calculate four weeks annual leave (a thirteenth of a year). I didn’t finish it because somebody sent me the link to Gangnam Style and I spent three weeks trying to learn the dance (‘left left left, right right right, left, right, r…DAMMIT!’) Also, it was really hard to get that big round rock back into the printer.

Righto, I can hear the sirens wailing, the meteors exploding overhead, the rising oceans gushing into the basement and the earthquakes rending tectonic plates as Dread Cthulhu/the Mayan God Bolon Yokte’ K’uh rises from his ancient slumber. Time to don the Mayan-proof underwear and head for the Snopes Bunker. Thanks all for reading, and I’ll see you next…
Oh. Right.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New laptop

“Is this the IT department?”

Brief pause. I cast an eye over the stacks of humming computers, the shelves of IT manuals, the label on the door that says ‘The IT Department’. I do my puzzled look, follow it with my light bulb face.

“Why yes. Yes it is!”

“Good. I need a new laptop.”


“Name’s Mick. Pleased to meet you. You are…?”

“The guy who needs a new laptop.”

Nice. He gets one more chance before I decide on Easy Way or Hard Way.

“Okay, mister Newlaptop. Or can I call you The Guy Who Needs A? I’ll need a service desk request.”

“A what?”

“Service Desk request. Online thing, fill it in, tell me what you need…”

“A new laptop.”

“Yes we’ve established that. But I need to know what kind of…”

“A good one.”

Hard Way it is. I’m wondering if I’ve still got that ten kilo 486 we found under the server rack in 2002.

“No problem, Guy. The available models are displayed in Service Desk when you…”

“Can we just skip the paperwork? Give me one you’ve got in the cupboard.”

“Hm. I could do, but I they’re all old and used. I don’t want to give you a virus.” I do at this point. I’m thinking ebola.

“Can you just get me a laptop?”

“Can YOU just get me a Service Desk request? I need it to track the order through…”

“It’s ONE laptop. How hard is that to track?”

“Well, we order a lot of laptops. We need to track it via Service Desk to make sure we get yours to you as soon as…”

Exasperated grunting. Nice; I usually have to mention the expenditure request to get that. He presses on. “Just tell me the model, I’ll order it myself.”

“Happy to! Will you build it yourself too?”

“Build it? It’s a laptop, not a bungalow.”

“Sure, but…something something software, something something operating system.”


“I said ‘We need to load software, and install the operating system. And fill up the IP fluid reservoir.”

“You’re making this up.”

“No really, you need an operating system.”

“Why are you making this difficult?”

“It’s a performance target thing.”


“I said ‘Perhaps I could help you with the service desk request?’ Shall we do that now?”

Muted rumblings. Grudging compliance.

“See? That didn’t hurt a bit!”

“That was a good laptop you picked, right?”

“Oh sure. There are some really good laptops coming out of Nigeria these days. Most have shortcuts to your online bank built in. And on the subject of money, do you have an expenditure request for me?”

“A what?”

This guy likes that phrase. “A Capital Expenditure Request. A capex. A CER. A ‘where the money is coming from’ document.”

“It’s coming from the company.”

This is starting to sting. I trot out the patient smile I reserve for Windows Vista fanboys. “Yes, but which BIT of the company? Whose budget?”

“I don’t care who pays for it.”

“Nor do I, but that’s too long to fit in the cost code box. Here, this is a blank capex form. Can you fill it in?”

“Why don’t you do it?”

Bored now. “Because you would not like how that would end. Go chat with your manager and get me a cost code.”

“Uh…my manager?”


”Well, yeah. It’ll need her approval.”

“Can we…sort of, not let her know?”

Ahh. “Sure! Hang on…just sign here. And here. And here, here…”

“Uh…these are cab charge vouchers.”

“Yup. It’s thirty bucks back to my place from town on a Saturday night, so fifty or so of these should pay for your new laptop.”

“But that’s…misappropriation or something. And it’ll look like it’s me.”

“Whereas me buying you a laptop without approval is, what, a legitimate travel expense?”

A moment’s silence. A look like he wants to bite out my jugular, but he’s afraid of the digital consequences. He should be: the contents of his current laptop would make  Las Vegas blush. Time to close the deal.

“So, you want a laptop bag with it?”

“Um…I might...”

“Keep the old one?”

“Yeah. For now.” Weird threatening look. “But I’ll be back.”

“Hey, that’s great! Porn you later!”


“Never mind.”

New laptop anyone?

Monday, October 15, 2012


So what is a prequel?

Strictly speaking? It’s a movie they make to squeeze some more money out of something that works. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing, but it’s a tricky place to start.
Broadly speaking, a prequel is a film about something interesting in the movie it, uh, prequelises, that we want to know more about. Example: the Star Wars prequel trilogy. I know, I know, Jar Jar Binks, but put that and the Boy Band actor and the big fish eating bigger fish idiocy aside and look at what the films did. They took the most interesting character from Star Wars (I hate saying it but let’s be honest: it wasn’t Luke), and showed us how he came to be the complex, tortured, interesting character we grew to love/hate. Darth Vader’s arguably the greatest redeemed villain of modern cinema; we were all keen to find out how he became what he was, and that’s exactly what George gave us. Tragically, Vader turned out to be the sugar coating on the roofie: we all woke up afterwards wondering what the hell happened and why we suddenly wanted to cry every time we thought about that shy wonderful Star Wars guy we remember from the first date. Nonetheless, the prequel delivered on the promise; here’s how we got to where it started.

"Whoa whoa whoa! wtf are you DOING?!"

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’ treads similar ground. The Batman mythology’s both well-known and frequently rewritten, but Nolan presented us with something new in cinema: how Bruce Wayne went from a boy crying over his parents’ bodies to the costumed revenant punching his way through Gotham’s lower socio-economic demographic. It follows through to his first villain, his first battle, but again, if you look to Batman’s beginnings as a comic-book crimefighter, it answers the question: here’s how we got to where it started.

"I'm Batman. Well, I will be."
If you’ve seen it, you have an opinion. I have, and I do. I’ll save it ‘til later because I’m mainly here to talk about its fundamental claim: it is a prequel to ‘Alien’.
Now, them is some big shoes it’s trying to fill. Alien is broadly regarded as a modern horror classic. It’s variously lauded and lambasted, called great in its own right and written off as nothing more than stage-setting for the much more bubble-gum (but no less watchable) ‘Aliens’. Ridley Scott’s 1979 original had a lot going for it: any movie that gets through twenty boxes of KY-jelly-as-alien-goo deserves some kind of recognition, but, at its heart it’s just a slasher flick, and develops tension through one simple question: who’s next? It’s what gets teenage bums in seats for barrel-scrapings like Scream, Halloween and Friday the 13th.
Alien though…
A confident, capable female lead. The menace of a pudgy, grinning robot with an agenda. The long shadow of a corporation, casually expending their lives on a curious whim. And most of all, that creature…

"Oh, hai!"

H.R. Giger, despite sharing initials with a less menacing celebrity, is a unique artist. His work has been described (sometimes by himself) as apocalyptic, biomechanical, organic, even bio-erotic, though it’s the kind of eroticism that would have you drawing the blinds and telling the kids they should never, ever look in the black bag in the closet.


Plenty of artists have stuck teeth and tentacles on things to frighten and titillate (John Carpenter’s The Thing’ took this to grotesquely inspired levels), but Giger’s Alien, under Ridley Scott’s direction, turned a tall skinny delivery guy into something that reached past our awareness and dragged translucent, slimy fingernails down the blackboards of our subconscious. Scott squeezed every bit of menace out of it, turning an improbable, impractical organism into a bipedal nightmare. And it went beyond the visual: next time you watch it, listen to Lambert’s dying scream. I don’t know how they wrung that out of her, but it chills me more than anything else the movie throws at me.

"Is that KY? EWWWW!"

If you haven't figured it out yet, I’m a fan. Sure, I couldn’t go to the movies for two years after seeing it, but maybe eleven was a tad young for my first horror flick. The first sequel built on the franchise, bringing in a much broader swath of fans and giving us characters and dialogue that endure thirty years on. Bill Paxton’s Hudson became an archetype; his ascent from coward to full-auto avenger made “You want some of this?” a stock phrase (watch Seth Gilliam’s scene in Starship Troopers to see how poorly its director understood Hudson’s last scene).

"I am embarrassed by my earlier cowardice, and wish to redeem myself through reckless bravado!"

The next two Alien sequels are harder to quantify. There were mistakes made in both (the ‘mutation’ of the queen in Resurrection was preposterous, the resultant alien closer to a 1950s guy-in-a-rubber-suit than Giger’s vision ), but neither stepped away from the essence of the first two: a pitiless universe, populated by terrifying monsters and run by corporations that made the monsters seem cuddly.

"You want some of this?"

So, on to Prometheus. It’s a story that presages the running and screaming of Alien, the shooting and ‘sploding of Aliens, and the descent into darkness of the third and fourth installments. Big shoes indeed. But does it stand up? Before we consider its ‘prequelness’, let’s look at the things that very nearly crippled it as a standalone movie.
First. Imagine the movie without Charlize Theron. Her “I’m here to make sure you do your jobs” spiel was ominous, but the plot line fizzled. She served no purpose other than to show how dangerous the crash scene was, and, of course, filling out that spandex suit in a way that would get a few more male adolescent boys into the queue. But hey, eye candy’s not a deal breaker.

"<sigh> Alright, let's do it. 'Oh no, the spaceship is crashing! I'd better run away in my figure hugging "space suit"!'

Second. The implausibility of some scenes. Elizabeth Shaw discovers she has a thingy growing in her. ‘Luckily’, there’s an automated doctor machine on board: climb in, swipe your credit card and select the operation of your choice. She selects ‘alienectomy’. Okaaay, no problem, but…yeah, going for an jog after abdominal surgery? I am more than willing to suspend disbelief on FTL travel, monstrous aliens yadda yadda, but that took me out of the moment; there was nothing to suggest that such acrobatics would be possible after such an invasive procedure. If they really wanted to keep the scene and reeeally amp up the ew factor, it could have been keyhole surgery. We could have been subjected to the sight of the alien starfish-octopus-Cthulhu thing being sucked out of her through a straw. Transparent of course. Gross and implausible, but less ‘wait, what?’ than ‘I can jog home from my caesarean’.
"<sigh> Alright, let's do it. "Oh no, I've just had abdominal surgery! I'd better run away in my...wait what IS this?'"

Third. The weirdness of the ‘aliens’. The original was about a monster, a single species, hypothesised to be a bioweapon of unknown origin. Scary on the “It wants to eat my head” level, but even scarier on the “someone is making these things and shooting them into space” level. The Prometheus aliens, and there were several, seemed, well, odd. Most of them seemed to spring from some sort of vase-thingies that melt into black oil (some copyright issues right there I’d have thought.) Said black oil will a) turn harmless wormies into giant death wormies that burrow into people’s flesh and come out their heads for some reason. Said black oil also dissolves helmets and turns the person inside them into marauding superhuman zombie creatures. Oddest of all, a minute quantity of said black oil, if drunk, will float around in the drinker’s eyeball for a bit (stay with me here), then make them sick, then cause any woman they have sex with to be instantly impregnated with a starfish-octopus-Cthulhu thing that grows to the size of a chicken in ten hours, and the size of a gorilla in twenty. The latter without a food source. Fellas, don’t drink the black oil. Your lady will be cranky.

"Hi! I'm worm-alien-thing. I'll be burrowing into your flesh later. And this here is black-oil-zombie-geologist-guy. He'll be sort of leaping around smashing stuff until the hot chick finds a flamethrower And down the end there? Starfish-octopus-Cthulhu-embryo-thing. Yeah, we don't really get him either."
 But this is a slasher flick, of sorts. Without gruesome aliens, it’d just be a bunch of people who don’t like each other walking around an old building. So, implausible though they might be, the gruesome aliens are welcome at the buffet.
But the big white guy?
The film kicks off with tall, pale, noble alien guy watching a ship leave atmosphere above a pristine Eden world. Then he kills himself. Or he is poisoned, or something goes wrong when he eats a snack pack, and his leg falls off and he disintegrates. It’s not really clear why. The point of the scene was that something sort of DNA-ish happened in the water into which he falls. Did his death intentionally seed humanity? Did he mutate existing life forms and inadvertently alter evolution? Is it even Earth we’re looking at? We’re given few hints, and are simply left with an impression of a bunch of tall white guys flying around the galaxy doing something inscrutable. Which is really, really cool: you spend the rest of the movie thinking “Wow, how are they going to tie this back to leg-fell-off-DNA-guy?” And, even cooler, you’re thinking “that is totally the race that the gunner belonged to! We get to see why he was there!”
Big White Guy (a different one based on leg count) pops up again once the heroes penetrate the mysterious dome. He’s in some sort of suspended sleep. Awesome again! We get to see him do stuff, maybe even tell us what happened! The underlying plot comes to a head here with the revelation that Super Old Guy kicked the whole gig off as some sort of quest for immortality, for answers to questions at the heart of humanity’s existence. When they wake up Big White Guy, the android butler speaks to him in his own language, learned somehow purely from its written form on cave walls in Scotland or something. Big White Guy looks down at him in astonishment…
We’re in the reactor core at this point. We’re looking at the red or the blue wire, we’re watching the hero choose between saving the Earth or saving the girl. In other words, this is it: the climax. The lead character’s religious dogma hangs heavy in the air. The payoff for Weyland’s epic trillion dollar quest is moments away. The answers to the why and the how of the original Alien creature’s genesis are tantalisingly close. This vastly superior being, this cultural and technological colossus, this giant astride the stars is about to deliver what we came to see: how did we get to where it started?
And what does he do?
He beats them up.

"So here's the plan. You go seed the human race. We'll leave all these mysterious clues in caves and tombs and shit. Then when they finally figure out where we are, they'll fly all the way out there, find us in the ship,'re gonna love this...we punch them! It is gonna be FUNNY!"

The android suffers the worst indignity. Not only is he torn apart, he’s torn apart in exactly the same way the androids were torn apart in the other films. The moment it happens, you just knooow we’re going to get another gurgly milky talking-head scene. There’s more death, more running and screaming. But any pretence of a complex plot, of answers to the much-analysed mysteries, or of any actual closure to the religious or spiritual plots are pummelled from your expectations by a pair of giant white fists.
Some other stuff happens after that. By this point I no longer cared. Giant White Alien finally gets into a gunner’s seat, there’s a flurry of horribly overcooked CGI effects, the point of which was that he was going to destroy Earth by shooting melty vases at it or something. No explanation of why; was he that cranky that they woke him up? Couldn’t he just hit snooze and agreed to reveal the secrets of human genesis later? Apparently not; the ship takes off, though there’s a delay in its departure just long enough for the guys on the Earth ship to crash into it and Save The Day. Hurrah, gurgly milky talking-head scene, happy ending, roll credits. Oh wait, surprise ending: Big White Guy gets chest-bursted and we get to see a proto-Giger alien crawl fully-formed from his corpse. Not the skinny little snake-thing that ruined John Hurt’s T-shirt in Alien: a fully-grown Giger alien. No explanation, no justification. All I can think is that the movie had strayed so far from established Alien lore that there was a need to remind us which franchise we were watching (“Ohh, this is ALIEN! Wait, which one’s Ripley?”)

 You’ve guessed my opinion by now. This thing sucked harder than an Avatar sequel. But the film’s infinite suckage is entirely understandable if you take a step back and think about what they were trying to achieve. Here’s how I think all this happened.

I saw the trailers. I soaked up the viral marketing. I love the Alien franchise: depth, character, tension, a wealth of unanswered questions to speculate over with similarly geeked-up friends.
And here's what the trailers showed me:
-the gunner, rising from the deck. “Awesome! We learn why he was there, and how the Alien impregnated him!”
-the alien ship, crashing into a storm-swept planet. “Awesome! We learn why they crashed, and how the company knew to send the Nostromo there!”
-the archaeological thread. “Awesome! We get a plot that touches on questions of the nature and origin of human existence, and their meaning in the context of the lead character’s faith! This will be WAY more than a slasher flick!”
-Noomi Rapace in bandage lingerie and Charlize Theron’s butt in PVC. "Awesome! We…yeah, awesome!”
In other words, the trailers promised one VERY explicit revelation: here’s how we got to where it started.
Aaand how did these things pan out in the movie?
-it was a different gunner. No impregnation, no chest burster, no answers. And the original gunner’s remarkable exoskeletal physiology from Alien was written off as some sort of body-armour-shell-thing.
-it was a different ship, crashing into a different planet. No cargo hold full of eggs, no strange laser barrier, no answers whatsoever.
-a complete whitewash of the religious/spiritual thread. There was a tokenistic attempt to redeem it: after learning that the Big White Guys might have seeded humanity, Shaw still wants her crucifix back, implying her faith is unshaken. That’s not faith, that’s irrational dogma. She’s meant to be a scientist, but she ignores the evidence of her own eyes and clings to her without a word of justification. It’s lazy, it’s unsatisfying and  it’s a complete cop out.
-bandage lingerie, PVC-clad butt. At least they got that right.
So, was it a prequel? The answer comes in two parts;
First. We were meant to think it was. The trailer unambiguously sets us up to believe we’re seeing the events that started Ripley’s nightmare, that led to the death of Kane, Brett, Dallas, Parker and Lambert, that led to Carter Burke’s inspired treachery amid a military disaster, and to Ripley’s lonely death on a bleak prison world. We went to this thing to see light shone into new corners of a chilling epic, and to find answers to questions that have dogged us since the first slow fade-in of the Alien titles.
Second. Thanks for nothing, Ridley Scott. You cheated us. This wasn’t a prequel. You set up the people you entertained and amazed in 1979, all the people who came along for the ride over thirty plus years of movies, books, comics and forum speculation, then you dropped us like last week’s TV guide the moment you had our fifteen bucks. It was at most a side-tale in the same universe, and a poorly-executed one at that. Your characters were unlikeable at best, irrelevant at worst, and universally inconsistent (seriously, how does the survey guy with the magic mapping drones get lost? What possible reason did the android have for poisoning one of the scientists flown out there at considerable expense?) Your aliens surrendered plausibility and understated menace for cheap frights and gruesome effects, and almost none of the characters had any reason to be there. And no amount of PVC-clad butts and bandage lingerie can make up for that.
Still, there’s a bright side. At least you’re not doing anything as unbelievably stupid as trying to make a prequel of Bladerunner, right?
Wait, what?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fate and the Philandering Booby

"People come into our lives for a reason."

I'm sorry, what?

I overheard this line recently when a colleague was bemoaning the effect an ex-partner had had on her life. A friend was trying to console her (and ain't that job a font of cheesy platitudes), and reached for the crusty old standby above. Apparently the douchebag in question had wined and dined her for a few weeks, their liaison developing to the point that she'd pick him up from the airport each time he flew into town. Then the moment she started talking about anything more than a little on-demand booty when he touched down for a day or three, he had a sudden and convenient change of schedule that kept him away indefinitely.
Now it's possible he was legit. It's also possible that when people say "It's not you, it's me," they occasionally mean something besides "I would eat my own head if that's what it took to be free of you." Though I doubt it. And her friend was telling her this gigantic shit sandwich of a human had "come into her life for a reason."

Sure he had. So HE could pick up a little action between getting piss-drunk at the Sportsmans bar and taking trips to Bali to sample the local wildlife.

But of course that's not what she meant. Nor is it what our own friends mean when they lob this stinker into the mix as a rebuttal during a good solid bitter rant. What they're trying to say is that there's some guiding hand; call it fate, divinity, luck, karma or whatever, that steers certain people into our path at exactly the moment they can bring something make our lives better.


Look, it would be AMAZING if people "came into our lives for a reason." It would be a hell of a thing if each and every stranger who stumbled into my life did so to teach me something, help me understand something, make my life better/richer/more righteous, or just give me a good slap when I needed one. Especially the slap thing actually. But...seriously?

Some people come into our lives like a lottery win on your birthday. They're just a whole bunch of Awesome that makes a good thing better, and leaves you feelin' great for a day, a week, or the rest of your life. Your One Partner, your kids, your mentor, lifelong friends, the guy who chases you to give back the twenty you dropped at the counter, whoever; these gold nuggets of humanity are as important to our happiness as decent Internet, cake, Audrey Hepburn movies at outdoor cinemas, and bacon.
(I would like here to throw in a big thank you to all the good people who've added to my life this way; you're all bloody wonderful and I totally don't deserve the joy you've brought me. But don't even think of leaving; I know your passwords.)

Others come into our lives like a bird into a jet engine. You're cruising at thirty thousand, you've just started in on your second gin and tonic, the kid behind you has finally stopped kicking your seat and you're starting to think maybe the accidental eye contact from that good looking hostie isn't all that accidental. Then suddenly there's a bang, and it's all screaming and oxygen masks and emergency lighting. The best you can do is hang on until the screaming stops, then pick your way through the flaming body parts to the exit with the least burning fuel outside. Random douchebag from the story above fits greasily into the bird-in-an-engine category; the colleague in question was happily single and loving her life until he came along. A few weeks later the only reason I could see he came into her life was to make her mascara run and add a few layers to that bitter ball of hatred she'd been nursing since her first bad breakup. This guy was textbook bird-in-the-engine ; the only lesson she learned from him coming into her life was 'whoops, shouldn't have caught flight 714 to Adelaide the week of the annual philandering booby migration.'

 But in either case, is there a 'reason' these people come into our lives?

If it makes you feel better to believe there is, then go nuts. It's psychology lite; a comfortable lie that gives friends something to say when you're blubbering incoherently about trying to Get Him Back, or reaching for that ninth beer that you KNOW will either send you heaving for the toilets or reaching for the mobile to text her one more time before you delete her number (pro tip: in most cases, the texting thing will leave you feeling a whole lot worse than the heaving thing, and is more nauseating to watch.)

For me though, telling me some soul-sucking parasite came into my life for a reason is an ugly, ugly thing to say. Maybe it’s true, I don't know; I voted for the major parties a few times in the '90s, so I've probably got a few bounced cheques against my karma bank.  That guy who flung open his car door as I came past on my bike: was that a road safety tip? And that girl who dated me right up to the point she discovered I didn’t have the answers to the Psych II exam; did she come along to teach me not to trust Psych majors? Actually that’s a pretty good lesson; humiliation or no, I think I came out ahead on that one.
Bu those were hard, hard lessons. Frankly I think a quiet tap on the shoulder and a “Don’t ride so close to parked cars,” or a “dude, that chick’s totally using you,” would have been a whole lot less crashy-bendy and hearty-breaky than the universe’s chosen method of delivering the sermon. Regardless, you’d still struggle to convince me there was some ‘reason’ behind it. The simple fact in each case, and in most cases throughout life, was that I made a mistake. Maybe I judged someone poorly, and trusted them when I should have run screaming. Maybe I made a decision in a moment of weakness, and paid for it in heartbreak and pain and the silent frustration everyone's felt when their poorly-chosen partner spends two hours pointing out their shortcomings ("...seriously? Who orders extra anchovies!? And don't get me started on that thing you do with your napkin!"). In every case I've learned from these mistakes, and came out the other side determined not to make them again.

So no, I don’t think these people, good or bad, ambled into my life for a reason. Life throws a lot of random stuff at us, and implying there's some guiding force, some rational plan behind it is missing the point. Telling people to learn from the sucky bits is a fine plan, but telling them there’s a reason they get cut off by a knuckle-dragger in a ute every time they get on the freeway is just nasty. Ute Boy is just another bit of a universe that really isn’t paying all that much attention to its component organisms, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves otherwise.

But there are a few tiny bits of that universe that are paying attention. Those bits are the people who come round with the beers and the XBox, the good ice cream and the Friends DVDs, or whatever it takes to get us straight and level again when we've just copped a seagull in engine #2. They more than make up for the knuckle-draggers, the door-flinger-openers, the philandering boobies and the telemarketers who come into our lives for no other reason than that we were in the wrong place at the right time.
I don’t believe these folks came into our lives for a reason either. What I do believe is that they’re staying in it for a reason.

And that, right there, is all the reason you need.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Stale Blackberry sandwich

“I don’t like it.”

This helpdesk visit was off to a poor start.

“You don’t like it?”

“No. the keyboard’s too small. I like my old Blackberry.”


“And this one doesn’t have the slidey-outy screen.”

“No, but…”

“And what’s this thing here? This…hole in it?”

“That’s the camera lens.”

“A camera? What’s that for?”

A range of answers presented themselves. I chose none of them. “It’s for taking pictures.”

Facial expression. “I KNOW what a camera’s for. Why does it have one?”

“So you can take pictures. With it.” Deadpan.

Distracted fiddling. Expression like she’s dissecting a cockroach. “I don’t like it.”

Customer service smile. “I am genuinely sympathetic to your concerns. But…”

“Can’t I keep my old one?”

Ice formed on the smile. “Well, yes. But….”

“I like my old one.”

“Yeah, well I liked my old girlfriend, but she was sleeping with our accountant.”

Oops. Backpedal. “By which I mean ‘sometimes we need to move on’. This is one of those times.”

Still staring. I keep quiet, not sure I can make things any better. Or worse. Now I’m the dissected cockroach.

“She slept with an accountant?”

Ah. “Well, no. That was a metaphor.”

“A metaphor.”


“In which…let’s see, I am you?”


“My old Blackberry is your girlfriend.”

“It’s more of a parable than…”

“Which only leaves you. Are you the accountant who slept with my Blackberry?”

“It’s a bad metaphor.”

“Yes. It is.”

She thrust the new Blackberry into the box, stared as if expecting it to take on other forms. “Here’s another metaphor. This new…thing is a stale salami sandwich.”

Now I was curious. “Uh huh.”

“I am a person who doesn’t like stale salami sandwiches.”

“I see where you’re going …”

“And you are like a person who isn’t letting me keep my old stale salami sandwich.”

“Technically that’s a simile, but…”

“I don’t like it.”

Familiar ground. Time for the crunch. “Yes, but your old one will stop working soon.”


“We’re changing providers. Your account will disappear.”


Crestfallen. She seemed to shrink two inches. I briefly contemplate a comforting hug. Given she’d just called me an accountant who slept with stale sandwiches or something, I decide against it.

“So I won’t be able to play poker on it?”

“Poker? Well, yes.  You don’t need…”

Brighter. “I will? What about Sudoku?”


“Do I really need this account thing?”

“Well, you can’t connect to anything without it.”

“Yes I can. You told me I can when I got it. You said I get hi-fi network in the office.”

“you mean WiFi?”

“Well, some sort of fi anyway. So I can keep my old one?”

“Not really. Without an account you won’t get NextG. You need that to…”

“NextG? What’s wrong with my current G?”

“No, NextG is…it came after 3G. You need it to…”

“How many Gs is NextG? More than three?”

“No, these are just names. NextG came after 3G, which came after GPRS.”

“I don’t need that. I never get lost.”

“You’re thinking of GPS. That’s…”

“You’re making this up.” Accusing.

“No, really. It’s…”

Something snaps. I grab the handbrake and pull. “You know what? You’re right. Keep the old one. I’ll delete all the Gs off it, connect you to the office hi-fi and, uh, refill the Sudoku cache.” Too far? No response; apparently not. “But when we change providers, you won’t be able to make phone calls anymore.”

Big eyes. “Phone calls?”

“You mean you…wait, can I see your old one real quick?”

She hands it over. Wallpaper image is the vampire guy from Twilight. Nice. I trot out Critically Inspecting face, move on quickly to Look Of Understanding.

“Ah, now I see. Your account is on the ‘Poker and Sudoku’ plan. We were going to move you to a ‘Phone calls and camera’ plan, but we’d have to add at least five Gs to do that.” I hand it back. “Good luck. And never draw to an inside straight.”
“A what?”

“Never mind.”

New Blackberry anyone?

Monday, May 28, 2012

On coffee

In which a range of coffee experiences are recounted for the edification of the connoisseur.
Andean Chuitlachacha
The freshest beans are handpicked after sunset to make chuitlachacha (pronounced ‘hooWITlaCAAcaa’) coffee. Carried down the mountain in woven sacks lashed to surefooted donkeys, the beans are taken immediately to the processing house in the tiny village of Xholotchuwichu (‘shoLOTchooWIchoo’) where they are allowed to rest for a day and a night before being gently roasted over wood fires. Only when the hereditary master of the roasting house, the venerable Xhoclatxhipchuchi (‘chocLATchipCOOkee’), is satisfied are they decanted into woven sacks lashed to surefooted donkeys, then transported to selected sellers in quaint coastal towns where cars are a rarity and afternoon siestas are the norm.
"Oh sure, I'm in transport now. But they've promised me a job in marketing."

And all of this is immediately apparent in the first taste. Smooth nutty overtones dance and swirl amid light chocolatey notes, while the subtle lemony tang leaves you in no doubt you are in the presence of liquid greatness. Only the best-trained baristas are allowed to brew this magical liquor, and all are required to spend a year picking beans on the western slopes before they are allowed to attempt their first cup.
"For the first week, they lashed woven sacks to me."

Acknowledge the barista with a nod and a smile as you accept your beverage; they have put twelve piping hot ounces of their heart and soul in your hands

Best for: The sophisticated connoisseur with a developed palate
Worst for: Undifferentiated swillers of instant coffee
Available from: Discerning coffee houses

Robusta Robusta
An ancient and popular Italian blend, this is the coffee that gets most of Rome out of bed and onto their scooters every morning. The deceptively mild aroma whispers sweet nothings to your nostrils, holding your attention while the full-bodied flavour knees you lovingly in the groin.  The experience mellows slightly as your taste buds are numbed by the onslaught, leaving you to enjoy a caffeine hit best described as ‘apocalyptic’. Mild chocolate overtones attempt to fight their way through the bitter tide, but are resolutely kerb-stomped before they get far. A delicate balance of subtlety and extreme violence, this is caffeinated dynamite in sheep’s clothing.
Ah, Rome: history, culture and two million VERY alert drivers.

Legend has it that Rome’s legions marched on the taste of Robusta Robusta, and you may find yourself understanding why. One cup will put you in the mood to repress local barbarians, while two will drive you to sing marching songs and invade neighbouring countries. Only the weak feel the need to soften the blow by adding milk, and the withering contempt of the highly-trained baristas who serve you will make it clear you are insulting them. Order it strong, order it black, order it when you are expecting trouble from those pesky Visigoths.
"Eight thousand short blacks please. To go"

This is man’s coffee. It comes to you in a cup made of electrified barbed wire, with poisoned barbs. And there are radioactive scorpions floating in it. And it’s on fire.
"A handle? You can't HANDLE the handle!"

From the first sip, this one lets you know you’re in Man Country. Every cup is brewed from selected beans that have passed at least once through the digestive system of a pissed-off lion. How pissed off? Lions don’t even eat coffee beans. The aroma will light a bushfire in your nose hairs, scour your sinuses bare of life and sensation. The crema has been likened to foamy napalm, and is used as a decontaminant at toxic waste sites.  Less a drink than a rite of passage, ManJava is for those who need a pick-me-up that will carry them through to their retirement party. One cup will keep you sharp and alert for the rest of the day, two will leave you unable to sleep for the rest of the year. With the unmistakable tang of surplus rocket fuel from the shuttle program, the aftertaste is so potent your first-born child will emerge with an expression of shock and awe. Less than a dozen men have ever finished an entire cup, all of whom were immediately enlisted in the SAS. Chuck Norris tried to drink a cup once, but it roundhouse kicked him to death before he got the lid off.
Steve soon regretted asking for a double shot

Nutty, with light chocolate overtones.
Best for: Men
Worst for: Twilight cast members
Available from: Secret locations inside active volcanoes

City brew
From the surly expression of the barista to the “wait, what?” prices, this coffee is a uniquely urban experience. Early customers are treated to the sight of yesterday’s dishwater being poured into the coffee machine, while latecomers must make do with seeing the morning’s coffee grounds being recovered for one more lap through the wringer.  There’s a ten-minute wait just to place an order, then a five minute standoff while they threaten you with a loyalty card that entitles you to a stale baguette if you survive fifty coffees. You are treated to the privilege of watching the staff text their partners, chat about last night’s movie, inspect each other’s sick new lower back tattoos and a range of other activities, none of which are remotely associated with crafting a hot beverage in return for the cash money you just coughed up.
"YES I'm making your coffee. In my MIND..."

When it finally gets to you, the robust aroma reassures you the coffee machine has been recently descaled, and the descaling fluid is still working its magic right there in your cup.  The connoisseur will note the cup is thin enough to scorch your fingers the moment they make contact, and fragile enough to occasionally release the entire contents before it has cooled below groin-searing temperature. A hint of coffee fights its way through the reek of burnt plastic, but the first taste tells you it’s less a hint of what’s to come, more the ghost of beverages past. Experienced customers will know to hold their noses as they drink to minimise the detergent tang, and to swipe away any foam from the upper lip before it has time to leave permanent discolouration. There’s a silver lining to this dark brown cloud though; every cup discarded in disgust does that little bit more to descale the city’s storm drains.
"Milk and sugar?"

Best for: CBD workers with no other choice
Worst for: People who like coffee
Available at: That place close to the office

Served warm to hot, this drink has flavours that range from ‘Slightly bitter’ to ‘Not really very bitter’, and ‘Faintly nutty’ to ‘Huh? Nutty?’ Made using beans that are indistinguishable from each other by anyone who hasn’t spent a lifetime snuffling at sacks of the damn things, highly trained baristas grind them up using a grinding machine, then force hot water through it using a machine that forces hot water through ground-up things. The resultant dark, bitter-or-not-bitter, nutty-or-not-nutty drink is then drowned in so much frothy milk that any subtleties are lost in a lactosey deluge. The discerning drinker will then add sufficient sugar to remove any lingering doubt that it’s basically a warm milk shake. Served in a cardboard cup covered by a plastic lid with a hole in it to sip through, it’s nice on a cold day, and serves as a handy icebreaker when you’re meeting someone for the first time, or trying to schmooze a client or suck up to your boss or something.
Strong coffee notes interwoven with complex coffee overtones, and a delicate coffee finish.

What it definitely is not is a drink worthy of the endless superlatives heaped on it by macchiato-swilling hipsters looking for another way to demonstrate what gigantic douchebags they are. There most certainly are hidden depths to every cup, but they’re lost to most of us who barely have time to grab a cup from the place nearest the bus stop before we head in to the office each day. Coffee is good gear, and the rituals and experiences that surround our consumption of it make it as potent a social lubricant as alcohol, though without the annoying teenage pregnancies, hangovers or coyote mornings. Sure, different places make different-tasting coffee, but that’s more about how much milk they use, how hot the water is and when they last cleaned the machine, not whether the beans were grown on the south slope and tended by Columbian virgins in peasant blouses.
"Uh...I'm Jordanian. And these are grapes."

Buy it. Drink it. Throw the cup away. And don’t encourage the hipsters by nodding when they start flapping their gums about single-origin beans or double shots pulled short or anything else. Fresh coffee, clean water, a well-maintained machine and a coffee guy/gal who remembers to clean the milk jug every now and then. Everything else is noise.
Thank you, and mine’s a flat white.