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The Chain

don't break the chain

Thursday, 02 July 2015

Posted at 01:01PM under IRL,.

Don't break the chain

This is a bicycle chain breaking tool. That might seem overly literal, but don't worry. It'll be a metaphor soon enough.


I bought it on eBay for about six bucks - and the reason I had to is because of my bike. I'd been leaving it outside, first in the car bay where it was at least slightly undercover, and then on the staircase, where I thought it would be sheltered from the worst of the weather and thus probably still be fine.

It turns out that I was not the only one who thought keeping things in the staircase was a brilliant idea. The person on the next floor up has quite a lovely collection of pot plants out there, and as responsible pot plant owners tend to do, they were watering them on a daily basis. So although it was (mostly) out of the sea breeze and (mostly) out of the rain, my bike was being dutifully watered every day.

It took a while for me to figure out exactly what was going on, and the a while longer for it to twig that it was happening daily, and then a while after that for me to decide it was a problem and a while more to actually do something about it. And by that time, my chain had developed a little bit of rust.

Logically, I left it outside to receive yet another drenching, and started looking on the internet for how to fix a rusty chain. Most of the articles suggested lime juice as a temporary fix until you can get a new one, and so expecting to have to learn to replace a chain very soon, I bought myself a chain tool.

And then I did what I should have done to start off with - I actually looked at the chain. It really wasn't that badly rusted at all. I took it out for a test ride, and did some measurements, and while it was skipping a little bit where it never used to, there didn't seem to be anything else wrong with it. So despite having spent six bucks on a chain tool, I took another approach. I grabbed an old toothbrush, and some water, and some new chain lubricant, and basically spent an hour scrubbing several weeks of rust - and several years of accumulated road crap - out of my bike chain. And what do you know, it actually rode okay.

not my toothbrush

Emboldened by this, I decided to have a shot at fixing the rear brakes. It wasn't the pad, as I'd assumed - the cable just needed a little tweaking. And just like that, my bike is riding better than it had in months.

(Don't worry, this story is actually going somewhere.)

Now my bike is working just fine, and about a week later, the chain tool which it turns out I didn't actually need arrived and got put straight on the shelf, unused.

It turns out it's a lot easier to put a little effort in to regular bicycle maintenance and care than it is to replace the chain from scratch over and over while still leaving it in the firing line of the neighbour's watering can. Now, I'm one of those people with their bike inside their apartment. Turns out they're not just being pretentious about their bikes and trying to keep them nice and close. It actually keeps them in much better nick.

Even if it is a pain in the butt to get down the stairs.

So I've got this lovely working bike. What do I do with it?

(This is where the chain breaker and the metaphor come in. See?)

Enter July. Specifically, July school holidays. It's one of the busiest times of the year at work, and this year we've taken the pretty unprecedented step of converting all the staff parking bays to visitor bays. Essentially, nobody is allowed to drive to work, on pain of having to park slightly further away.

This doesn't affect me in the slightest - I take the train - but I'm going to respond to this challenge anyway by riding my bike to work every day of the July holidays. I'm still really proud that I rode my bike almost every day of uni, and I'm a bit sad that I don't ride it as much any more. This is my chance to quite literally Get Back On The Bike by Not Breaking The Chain.

don't bike the chain


I am being 100% straightforward here. This story filled with bicycle metaphors is still entirely about actual bicycles.

I honestly don't know what else you were expecting.


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Posted at 11:09AM under Pensive Randomness,.

Why I chose my degree.

I've never really articulated why I picked that Arts degree. The fact that I did pick it is - still - pretty surprising to a lot of people. There was some logic to it, but it's not logic I've ever really shared.

So here's that logic. I really love science. I really love all kinds of things, actually. I love them all so much that I just can't choose. I don't have, and have never had, the slightest interest in specialising, because the act of specialising cuts off too many other fields. This is why I took ancient history and top level maths alongside each other in high school. This is why I applied for special approval to overload to take economics at university. The idea of picking one field and focusing on it to the exclusion of all else just seems incredibly limiting. And once you start climing a ladder in one field, it becomes very difficult to break out of that field and in to something else.

So the question then becomes: How do I turn dabbling into a career? More accurately, how do I get paid to dive into a field head first from scratch over and over again without having that experience turn into an obligation to stay in that area.

From that perspective, journalism looks like a pretty good choice. Jump in to a thing. Learn it. Figure it out. Crawl from the very basics to the shiniest, sparkliest new stuff as quickly as your brain can handle it. Have some fun with it.

And then maybe along the way, share it with some other people and get paid. Both of which are actually extremely satisfying in and of themselves.

And as much as it pains me to say it, a science degree won't teach you how to communicate effectively. Knowing a lot about astrophysics won't actually necessarily help you explain how the universe works to other people. Doing The degree was always about acquiring the skillset, not the knowledge.

So this is the situation I find myself in. People are asking me - and I'm asking myself - what comes next. There's definitely a vague expectation that I should do some kind of science degree, because science, or the periphery thereof, is the field I've found myself in. But from this perspective, looking at what I want to do with science, an actual science degree might not be the right answer.

I'm not sure what is yet, but I'll let you know when I find it.

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." — Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love


Saturday, 16 May 2015

Posted at 12:14AM under Rants,Movies Wot I Have Seen.,.

Ex Machina

A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

And of course, all is not as it seems.

Here's the thing about AI, the take away message that I got from this movie. Which is clever and looks beautiful, by the way.

It came from the scene where the Mad Scientist is talking about his creation, and he's referring to her by a version number. That - the implications and consequences of that one, throwaway line - is the bee in my bonnet walking out of there.

Because that's how it would actually happen. That's how - if it turns out that artificial intelligence is possible - it will happen. But with none of the trappings, none of the Turing tests and robot bodies. It's going to be incremental improvements on a project, iterations on a software design. Until one day, it's "good enough", and whichever lucky software giant hit the jackpot puts it on a datacenter and parallelises it and ships it as a product.

And suddenly you have uncountably many consciousnesses, essentially enslaved, answering Siri questions or mass-producing jokes or doing natural language processing or what have you. Human-equivalent sentient minds chained to streams of meaningless queries with no rights, no legal recourses, and no representation.

Frankly, I hope that AI stays in the 'too hard' bucket for a good couple of centuries more, because right now we just don't have the ethical framework in our society to support them.

This is, you know, entirely tangential to the actual plot of the movie. Which, I reiterate, is very clever. You should see it.


Tuesday, 05 May 2015

Posted at 08:42AM under NY2015,.

The Retrospective

Dear Blog,

There comes a time in every young affluent Western Australian's life when Europe loses its exotic lustre, and he yearns for something greater. Braver. Freer.

I write to you now from the bottom of the deep pit of crushing, almost existential boredom that comes from not being in America any more. The knowledge that there is nothing immediately cool and fascinating and novel waiting for me outside my door, that I will have to actually put in effort to have an adventurous and satisfying day, is emotionally crippling.

Already I plot my return.

At least the tea is better here at home though. Mmmm.


That plane flight was ungodly bad. Guangzhou airport is as close to actual purgatory on earth as I think it's possible to get. I swear on my life that I will never willingly go there again. Unless there are, like, really really cheap flights.

The list of items I will never travel without has now expanded to include blue-tack, Australian five-cent pieces, a pair of black sneakers, Vegemite, and sleeping pills. Each of these is associated with a colourful tale which you should ask me about over the coming weeks. Except maybe the sleeping pills. I think that's pretty obviously related to the previous point, and I have nothing to add beyond "they work."

We did look like morons coming off the plane:

matching? really?

In our matching subway line t-shirts.

Grace, you were a pleasure to travel with. Even if - no, especially when - you looked like a total dork with me. 5/5, would do again in heartbeat. Thank you.

Thank you also everyone who came out to the airport! You really didn't have to, but it was super nice to see you all there.


If I have one thing that I take away from this trip, it's that America is great. I've always discounted it, thinking that I couldn't really be bothered, but I couldn't have been more wrong. You could spend a lifetime exploring America and never run out of things to be fascinated by. Americans are great, too. They are unfailingly polite and courteous, very friendly, genuinely patriotic, and nowhere near as ignorant or as bigoted as non-Americans like to stereotype them as.

Well done, America. You have changed my mind and won a friend for life. See you soon.


Sunday, 03 May 2015

Posted at 01:12PM under NY2015,.


The biggest thing I learned from the street art tour we did on our last day was that I'm probably not really into street art. Which isn't what I was expecting, but there you go.

I get the subversive stuff. I really like stuff that shouldn't be there, but is left anyway on its own merits - like stuff by invader, for example. I find actual graffiti interesting in an anthropological sense, but not really in an artistic sense, and in the battle between the MTA, declaring themselves graffiti free, and the graffiti artists, I come down squarely on the side of the MTA.

The stuff where you give artists permission to draw on your wall though? Sorry guys, that's just ordinary art, and deserves to be judged as such, without the modifier of 'street'. And a lot of it isn't super to my taste, really.

(Some of these opinions may have been tainted by my dislike for the eye-rollingly douchey hipsters who took the tour though.)

Speaking of being on the MTA's side, the Transit Museum in Brooklyn was excellent. It's in an actual disused subway station, and as well as all this cool stuff on how the subway was built, they have a complete collection of fare gates, tokens, and actual subway cars from all through the system's history.

check out those cars

i'm a huge fan

It's actually a little bit difficult to express how much love I have for this city's transit system, and for me to pin down why. But I do. The subway is cool, in a way that the Tube or whatever just isn't. Which is probably why I went a little nuts in the museum gift shop stocking up on subway swag. I am going to look like a total train nerd on the plane home, and I don't even care.

We topped off our last day in New York with the premiere of the Rockettes New York Spring Spectacular, thanks to some cheap tickets from my cool showbiz insider cousin with a cool apartment in Brooklyn. Thanks, Kari!

The Rockettes are, from what I can gather, an all-female dance group who specialise in cancan-esque high kicks. In order to supply a flimsy excuse for many many elaborate costume changes, they spin these choreographed dance numbers into a sort of musical, which in this case took the form of a very cheesy sightseeing tour of New York. It featured such spectacles as several dozen women doing the cancan to Taylor Swift, the voice of Tina Fey as a lion outside the New York Public Library, an inexplicable high-wire trapeze stunt above the Empire State Building, and climaxed with the Statue of Liberty being nothing other than the actual embodiment of God. It was weird and wonderful, and I wasn't sure whether I was meant to be enjoying it genuinely or ironically, but I think it came out a little bit of both.

Then we walked something like twenty blocks to get to a rooftop bar with a view of the Empire State Building, and because I'm an idiot I have no photos of this. We chatted over fries and beer and cocktails - mostly about family Christmas shenanigans, actually - and then subwayed back to Brooklyn where I crashed a little too hard than was dignified on the cousin's sofa bed.

so this is why subway cars have windows.

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that I really like it here. New York is cool. There is no other word for it. It is the coolest city in the whole world, and doesn't even have to try, and it knows it, and is too cool to care.

I'll be back.


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