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My first camera

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Here is another in the occasional series about some of the odd or unusual events in my life. This story recalls an event that, to this day, still makes me wonder just exactly what happened and why.

One hot December afternoon in 1969 my Nanna took my brother, my sister and I into town. As I was only 6 at the time and a trip into the city involved a bus and a train ride, this was a big deal.

To add to the excitement, Perth was all dolled up as Christmas was only a couple of weeks away and every shopfront had Christmas displays in the window, not to mention huge crowds causing my poor old Nanna conniptions as she tried to corral three kids under six through the perils and pitfalls of the big smoke.

As we walked down William street, the very heart of the town (outside what would become Hungry Jacks in about 1982), I spied an old man, probably 35 or so (that’s old to a six year old!), steaming towards us in a big hurry. I vividly remember admiring his brown and tan check Trilby but noticed he was unshaven and, to be frank, a bit shabby looking. He was carrying a box in one hand and I remember thinking the box was really too big to be held in one hand. I looked up and made eye-contact with him  as he was bearing down on us and, as I did, he lifted the box so it was now in both hands, in front of his stomach and I remember being relieved he wouldn’t drop the parcel.

As we reached each other, he suddenly shoved the box at my chest and said “Merry Christmas, kid” then continued past us, possibly moving even faster than before.

While my Nanna desperately called out “Sir! Mister! Come back!” I looked down and saw the box contained a camera kit!

It consisted of a black Kodak camera, a strap, a roll of film and a flash cube.

(These days I know the camera was a Kodak Instamatic 124 and I still remember the confusion I had whenever I considered buying film for the camera – the model 124 used 126 film.)

At the time, this would have been quite a substantial purchase, at least when considering my family’s relative poverty…and my mysterious benefactor was completely gone by now.

There was no bag, no receipt, no sign of being purchased from any particular store so, after examining it for some time my Nanna decided she would leave it up to my mum to decide what to do with it.

That evening, my Mum told me that the camera had probably been stolen and she would have to contact the police to return it to its rightful owner.  She said she knew I would be disappointed but ‘…what if it was meant to be a Christmas present for some other little boy?” (Like I cared about some kid I had never even met!)

I cried for a while but, even then, I understood that complete strangers didn’t give kids random presents unless they were stuffed with a pillow, dressed in red and sporting a fake white beard.

Weeks later, Christmas Day finally arrived and, much to my surprise and delight, I got the camera kit in my stocking!

My mum said she had spoken to the police but there was no camera theft reported and “…after all, he did give it to you, whoever he was.”

I have no idea what happened to that camera but I’ve never forgotten that strange, shabby man and the most unlikely Christmas present I ever received.

 

 
 

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A thirty year war alone and the death of a loyal soldier.

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I went to primary school in the early 70’s and, in terms of my social environment, World War 2 really wasn’t that far away. I had teachers who had fought in the war, neighbours who had lost family, relatives who still spoke about the war or the immediate post-war period. Sure there was a lot of talk about Vietnam and the Malayan Conflict but that was, essentially, current news whereas World War 2 was viewed through the lens of reminisce but it wasn’t something only found in books; it was still real to real people in my life.

In 1974/75 one of the big names in WW2 talk was Hiroo Onoda. A typical Japanese soldier fairly passionately believed that the Emperor would never surrender, Japan would never concede, the Japanese would win through force of will as much as weapons and strategy. The problem with this indoctrinated mind-set was that some people had trouble believing anything other than victory was in any way real. Onoda-san was one of these people. He and 60 other men had been smuggled behind enemy lines in the Philippines during the war and were given the job to, essentially, stage a guerrilla war against the enemy; disrupting supplies, gathering intelligence, creating chaos and mayhem.

A couple of years after they began their mission, the world was introduced to atomic weaponry and, to fairly global astonishment, the Japanese surrendered. This meant that Japanese soldiers scattered throughout the Pacific theatre had to be told the unthinkable, the unbelievable, that they had orders to through down their weapons and surrender. When I was a kid it was relatively common to hear stories about soldiers who wouldn’t believe that the Emperor had yielded. But none was as committed as Hiroo Onoda.

Hiroo had maintained the rage, obeyed his orders and fought the fight for 29 years! He hid in the Philippine jungles burning warehouses, disrupting trade, stealing food, killing and butchering cattle and shooting anyone who came too close to his hideout. Some reports say he killed 30 civilians after the end of official hostilities. Authorities tried everything they could to persuade him that the war had ended, including dropping thousands of leaflets from planes, urging him to turn himself in and stop killing the locals, but nothing worked.

Eventually, in 1974, someone had the bright idea of tracking down Onoda-san’s commanding officer from the war. This worthy was, thankfully, still alive and he was flown to the Phillipines where he walked out in a field known to be within range of Onoda’s rifle, with a megaphone. He ordered Onoda to surrender and, loyal soldier that he was, Hiroo really had no choice.

The surrender and cessation of his own private war was big news for a short time and I remember vividly being in a class room where we discussed what social and technological changes Onoda-san was going to face as he tried to adapt to the modern world. This session had a big impact on me as I tried to imagine this poor guy, steadfastly maintaining his mission despite living in a hot, humid, insect-infested jungle, on the edge of starvation, alone, wondering about the lack of fighting in his area, harassed to surrender by an enemy he couldn’t believe or trust.

The other thing that bothered me was that he had devoted 29 years to his futile mission and, as a kid, I believed that 29 years meant he must be close to dying of old age. It quite saddened me that this man, this loyal soldier, had wasted his life on a mission that achieved essentially nothing, for essentially no reason.

Today, Hiroo Onoda died. After only thinking of him sporadically over the last few decades, news of his death reminded me of his story and, immediately, I hoped that the rest of his life had been worthwhile, that he hadn’t spent the remainder of his time locked up, unable to reconcile the modern world with his mission of 30-odd years.

I was thrilled to discover that he did have another life after his mission. For some time he ran a cattle ranch in South America before returning to Japan. I don’t know if he was a good man, if he was happy, if he achieved anything especially notable but I am very happy to know that he did have another life, that he did live some decades in a world that must have been incredibly strange after all those years continuing a mission that, in a very real way, was only a mission in his head. I hope he came to terms with all those years alone in the jungle and that he had some reward for his unswerving loyalty to a dream of victory that was blown away in a nuclear wind.

 
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Posted by on 01/18/2014 in Uncategorized

 

Road-side irritants

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I am a passionate car nut and, over the years have bought over 100 different cars. Most of them have been through private sales via classified adverts, a significant number have been purchased through dealers and some have been bought from the side of the road, including a couple that I bought by leaving notes on windscreens expressing a desire to buy.

On many occasions I have bought cars because I was inspired, not because I was looking and often this occurred because I drove past a car, noticed the price stuck on the window and stopped to examine the car in more detail.

Never once have I bought a car that was parked with a sign saying ‘For sale’.

And I never will.

Many things annoy me in this world but, in the realm of vehicle sales, nothing irks me more than a ‘For Sale’ sign stuck in a window, whether it includes a phone number or not.

The car is parked in a highly visible (generally) location, with a bit of paper, cardboard or wood in the window or, occasionally, big white writing on the glass. From those subtle indicators alone I am capable of determining the car is available. What I need to know is the PRICE!

If I’m passing the car at 60k’s the only thing that will make me turn back is a good price. I can see it’s for sale, dammit, how much do you want for it?

(I have, over the last several years, made a habit of yelling “How much” from my window as I drive past; not because I have any hope the owner will hear me but because it so frustrates me.)

How irritating would it be to visit a K Mart and find every item tagged with a label that said “For Sale, ask at front counter for price.”?  This is how I regard cars with that pointless sign. If an item has a price hung from it people can figure out it’s availability for themselves.

A friend-of-a-friend once told me they use a “For sale’ sign instead of a price “Because I’ll get more inquiries that way.” Personally, I find that assertion ridiculous on it’s face but it may be reasonable for a high-priced vehicle. If your car is worth that much money, spend something on advertising so you can reach a geographically large range of potential buyers. For those cheapies that are only worth a bit of paper or some white paint to advertise it, don’t tell me it’s available, tell me how much it costs!

 
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Posted by on 10/03/2013 in Random short opinions

 

Why should I care if the NSA is spying on me?

Obama vs Franklin

In a previous post I wondered just why I should care that the NSA, GCHQ and other agencies have access to, and are probably storing, records about everything single thing I do on the ‘Net. I have very dull web habits, not many Facebook ‘Friends’, an almost-dead Twitter account, not many connections to activist or protest groups and fairly typical shopping and download activities, though probably less than the greater percentage of Web denizens. I don’t even look at porn, in any format which, if you believe the anecdotal evidence, is pretty uncommon these days. Furthermore, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other large corporations can probably compose a better profile of me than any government spy agency. So why should I care about losing my online privacy to official agencies?

And it appears I’m not the only person to wonder the same question.  While browsing the web to get some idea of the general reaction to the recent revelations from Edward Snowden it appears, to a large extent, those reactions fall into two camps: “This is an outrage and must be stopped” (with no explanation of why) and “It’s terrible (with no explanation of why) but we should all just accept that we have no privacy and, if it prevents another 9/11, it’s a small price to pay.” What bothered me was the lack of explanation about WHY invading people’s privacy was a bad thing. Of course, my own first reaction was a similar defensiveness but I couldn’t narrow down the specifics of why I should care.

Years ago I met a student whose thesis was centred around a study of privacy and they suggested that privacy, as we currently understand it, is a Western, Industrial Age concept. Prior to the 18th Century and in many parts of the world even today, my concept of privacy would be alien to the locals. If you live in a one-room hut with your spouse and your 4 children you have no secrets other than what you can keep trapped inside your mind and no real ‘personal space’.

I understand I have no privacy on the web and I have made peace with that, to one degree or another. I felt I was on-track to figuring out why I was ambivalent about the activities of the NSA and others  but I felt that ‘privacy’ was not the heart of the matter. I was starting to think that the real issue I wanted to explore was about government agencies having the ability to develop profiles of any citizen with ease and accuracy and, furthermore, it  wasn’t the ‘agencies’ element but the ‘government’ element that I should focus on.

Continuing my browsing  I found several articles that mirrored my initial “why should I care; I don’t do anything illegal/immoral/suspicious”. It only took 7 or 8 of these articles before I realised that every single one of them was written by a white, male, Western journalist or blogger and I began to wonder if, being essentially the same thing, my suspicion that I was missing something might be related to my environment, my culture and my ethnicity.

But what was it about being a white male in a particularly affluent and generally civic-minded society that made me miss any sense of real outrage about the NSA, GCHQ or others recording my net habits?

While I was surfing and examining this particular issue I suddenly recalled a discussion that changed my mind about capital punishment. I have always worked hard to back my claim that my opinions on any matter can be changed if I am presented with clear, cogent arguments to convince me I am wrong. For many years I was an advocate for capital punishment. I wasn’t particularly energetic about it, I didn’t try and convince others it was right but, whenever the subject came up, I would side with those who thought killing certain classes of criminal was an appropriate response to their crimes.

One day I was having this very discussion with the father of my girlfriend at the time. He had anger management issues but was very well informed, insightful and careful to examine both sides of most arguments so, in short, I generally respected his opinions. Once I had stated my position on the issue of capital punishment he quietly asked “So, you completely trust the government and the judicial system and you believe that they only ever work in the public interest?”

“Of course not, “ I replied “ I used to work for the Criminal Justice Commission (a Queensland government corruption investigation agency), I have a pretty good idea just how corruptible and dodgy some people can be.”

“Well, in that case,” he continued “can you be sure that some individuals or groups can’t “arrange” matters so that an innocent person can be made to look guilty? You can’t recall a single example of someone found guilty of terrible crimes being completely exonerated later because it turned out the original case was manipulated?”

“Oh, sure, I guess that could happen, and has, but the overall benefit of capital punishment has to outweigh the slim possibility that someone is going executed because they’ve been framed.”

“Really? You’re happy to support the idea that an innocent person could be killed by the powers-that-be as long as the supposed deterrent effect of capital punishment is upheld? Or is it that you think your government should inflict some form of ‘revenge’ on some criminals on behalf of the victims and, if some people who may actually have done nothing at all get killed in support of this idea, that it’s worth the risk? Remember, once they’re dead it doesn’t matter if it all turns out to be a mistake some time in the future; they’re still dead.”

I had to leave at this point and go and have a think. In the end I decided that he had changed my view completely. I have worked in government and I have worked with the judicial system and I do not have faith that these systems are completely reliable, let alone incorruptible. Even if the current elected officials and all the judges, magistrates, lawyers and barristers around today are infallible and completely honest and trustworthy, that doesn’t mean the same would apply in the future. We’ve all read stories, heard songs and watched movies about injustice from governments and judiciaries and, on a personal level, being aware of those events makes it impossible for me to support capital punishment.

This memory surfaced while I was cruising the web and it meshed with my ruminations about white, Western men writing about  GCHQ, NSA, ASIS and other agencies tracking and storing my on-line activities. I may be slow but eventually I can get there….

I am a white, heterosexual, working, tax-paying, married, Australian man. Pretty much by definition I am the least oppressed person in the world. Government agencies collecting data about new users are almost specifically ignoring me but you can bet that if I changed my name to Muhammad al-whatever I would suddenly feel a damn sight more nervous about Snowden’s revelations.

Much has been made in the media about the NSA and other agencies collecting and using all this information to ‘…prevent another 9/11’ and that is a relatively admirable goal but, in the process, it means that truly staggering amounts of information are being gathered about perfectly innocent people simply because they have a name that attracts more attention, or relatives who warrant scrutiny, or they live in a region specifically assessed as being inimical to Western powers. They may be just like me, working to pay the bills, watching TV, surfing the web for a few laughs (in fact, I’d suggest almost all of them are doing exactly that). But, for reasons that have nothing to do with them as individuals, they warrant closer scrutiny, according to some government algorithms.

I should be outraged about the activities of the US and other Western governments not because it impacts me but because it impacts those whose voice is implicitly less valued than mine. I should be horrified not because they are looking at me but because they are looking at others…for the time being.

Here and now I am willing to admit that I have smoked marijuana in the past, an activity that has always been illegal in my country. If it is illegal, it would seem obvious  I should keep these crimes to myself  and yet I am willing to publicly admit my criminal activity. Even if I was caught in the act of smoking a joint today the reality is that I would get off with nothing more than a token fine or some work for my community or, entirely possible, a stern reprimand from a magistrate. These things are true because my ethnicity, background and culture mean that I am, at least in my home country, the epitome of ‘low-risk’. These truths apply to me right now but imagine if circumstances changed.

What if, horror-of-horrors, an ultra-conservative government came to power in Australia and they enacted a law that said that anyone who smoked pot or had ever smoked pot and publicly admitted it was liable to a mandatory 12 months in a re-education camp? What if said government made the law retro-active and  that any evidence or confession ever publicly uttered was sufficient grounds for ‘re-education?’ Then I would be far more concerned about the blog records, emails, tweets and Facebook posts kept by governments. I know such a thing is unlikely in the extreme here in Australia (though I am not convinced it, or something like it, is impossible in America’s future) but the scenario serves to illustrate why my lack of concern about Snowden’s revelations is directly tied to me as an individual. Because I am ‘low risk’ and I am aware of that designation, the activities of government agencies and internet companies doesn’t immediately trigger a threat response in me.

I am not the target of such surveillance but, if I’m honest, I should be appalled about the NSA’s activities on behalf of those who are the target.

The US, in particular, has a terrible record when it comes to what are notionally called ‘human rights’.  Once upon a time in the US, joining the Communist party, perhaps as an expression of social conscience rather than any great desire for violent overthrow of the government, eventually meant thousands of people couldn’t find work, were ostracized by their families and had their reputations tarnished for decades. Gay people have struggled for any form of legitimate status for generations but they are still marginalized in many quarters. Black people in the US have endured well-documented miseries and, now, very similar discrimination and prejudice is being shown to those who attend a mosque rather than a church.  The NSA claim that their intelligence gathering is not about aiding discrimination and maybe that is true but the reality is the US government could subpoena whatever records they chose to claim, for whatever reason (though I’m sure it would come under that broadest of umbrellas: “the national interest”), at any point in the future. They could use data already collected to construct cases against any individual, any group, any type of person. By focussing on some data and burying other relevant information it is possible to create the image of an overwhelming case to prove any alleged perfidy and, as we all know, the image of a thing is often enough to convince the public of its truth. Given access to sufficient data I’d suggest a case could be constructed to prove almost anything about anybody and the government agencies and internet companies are gathering truly astonishing amounts of data.

Of course, this is precisely why I should be equally appalled about Google, Facebook et al gathering and storing information about me, as much as I am horrified about the actions of those government agencies. I am confident they have no interest in me other than as a consumer, a member of a marketing demographic and a user of their products. But they keep records on servers in the US mainland and, once again, this makes them vulnerable to subpoenas or other legal mechanisms for, essentially, purely arbitrary reasons. If this sounds like I am saying I trust huge, multi-national corporations to be less hostile to my life and lifestyle than governments, you’re right, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

My initial reaction to the revelations about intelligence gathering on the web was one of ambivalence because, comfortable in my  white, Australian, working-class world, I intuitively appreciated that that they weren’t spying on me. Now that I have considered the matter I am properly appalled because it does impact, literally, millions of people world-wide who are perfectly innocent. I’m confident that my opinion is, in the greater scheme of things, worth precisely nothing but at least now I know what I can tell people who ask me “Why should I care that my web activities are being spied upon?”

 
 

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NSA naive?

I’m going to have to look into this because I feel I must be missing something. What do I care if the NSA or Google or any other agency read all my emails and haunt me all over the Web? I’m sure my life is incredibly boring and I’m equally sure my web habits are less than mundane.

Anyone surveilling me might get to see some jokes they have only seen 20000 times before and may wonder why the hell I watch algebra and physics video’s on Youtube and, “… seriously mate, you’ve got cameras. Why do you keep looking at other ones?”

I guess maybe I might get in trouble for downloading a TV show or a song or two but, even then the quantity is likely to make a judge wonder if he or she downloads more than me. Honestly, I don’t even look at porn so I’m sure the poor bugger who trawls through my online presence is going to be very bored.

So, I reiterate, why should I care who is watching my net activities? Am I missing something?  Is there some great threat to my lifestyle that I am naive about?

I’ll go and research and see what I find….

 

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Why are we still using DVD’s and BluRay?

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Am I the only one that finds it hard to believe we are still buying* our movies and TV on spinning sliver platters?

Surely USB drives are cheap enough and common enough that we can now be buying all sorts of entertainment on USB drives? I can pick up 16Gb USB drives cheaper than I can buy a new release DVD so it can’t be a matter of limited data storage.

Blu-Ray, DVD’s and, indeed, CD’s are inherently frail, easily scratched and rendered unplayable. I remember when CD’s first came out there was a lot of talk about how much harder they were to scratch than vinyl but ask any parent with a DVD played repeatedly by their kids if they believe these discs can’t be damaged. I have heard people say that USB drives are easily damaged by magnets but I once took two weeks holiday and came back to work to discover my magnetic name badge had attached itself to a USB drive, presumably two weeks earlier, and that drive still functions perfectly and none of the data on it showed any sign of deterioration or corruption.

Why should I tolerate devices with moving parts? DVD and Blu-Ray players still use drives to spin platters; surely completely solid-state media players are, by design, stronger and more reliable, to say nothing of allowing much more flexible design. Look at Boxee for example. I may not actually like the shape but kudos to them for trying something other than a flat black rectangle.

Some may argue that the marketing opportunities are significantly reduced if we switch to USB because a DVD or Blu-Ray case is larger than what is required to hold a USB drive but there is no reason the same size case can’t be used to hold a USB stick.

iPod’s and iPads and assorted tablets are great for carrying a range of movies, music and TV but they are mass storage devices and I am asking about the purchase of individual shows, not Gigabytes worth of mixed media.

*Yes, buy. To one degree or another I still prefer to buy my entertainment and keep it on shelves. Call me old fashioned.

 
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Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo

Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo

I finally managed to get a shot of a Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo that gives some indication of wingspan and the amazing colours in their tail feathers.

 
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Posted by on 02/09/2013 in Photos

 

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