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Uncle Stan

I'm currently reading Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. One of the interesting points he makes is that boys need strong male role models or mentors from the age of about 14. This led me to wonder about who filled this role for me. It didn't take long to come up with the most obvious answer: my Uncle Stan. Unfortunately, Uncle Stan died back in 2002 at the age of 82. I was asked to deliver a eulogy at his funeral but missed this opportunity due a flight cancellation... so I'll share the words I wrote back in 2002 now...

Uncle Stan wasn't my mother or father's brother - he was a bloke my Dad met at the Livingstone Hotel in Petersham a long time ago. Dad and Uncle Stan became close friends. We saw a lot of Uncle Stan - he'd been coming to Xmas with us, on Xmas Eve, since I was in nappies... so I'm told. Uncle Stan was the only uncle we really had - sure, we had other uncles living in Germany and other family friends who we called uncle, but Uncle Stan was always there - he was a member of our family.

Uncle Stan was a thinker and a philospher. He and my Dad debated all sorts of issues across our dining room table. At some stage my brother Peter and I became old enough to take part in these debates. We were allowed to join in as equals - Uncle Stan never talked down to us... More recently he referred to my brother Peter and I as his "old mates". He meant that. He wasn't just our uncle, he was our friend. In fact, he was the oldest friend that we had...

Uncle Stan was always into new technology. He had digital watches, colour TV, a VCR and TV video games. When he upgraded his gear he sometimes loaned or handed down his old gear to us, especially at times when we mightn't have had the resources to buy those things for ourselves. He was generous and fostered a strong interest in technology in us.

He was also curious and he experimented a lot. When my Mum complained that it was difficult to vacuum the top of the wardrobe he invented a new attachment for her. Many times when he arrived at our place we would debate whose digital watch was the most accurate - unable to agree we would wait for the time beeps on the radio, judge the "winner", synchronise our watches and wait until next time Uncle Stan came to visit. Sometimes it seemed he could fix anything with a squirt of WD-40. Around our house he earned the nickname of "The Professor"...

Uncle Stan experimented with beer. The simplest experiments involved buying new or imported beers as they appeared in the shops. The more complex experiments involved his attempts to perfect his own beer recipe. He was astounded when I brewed my first beer a few years ago, using a prepacked mix. Through a bit of luck and stupidity I ended up with a really good beer. He just shook his head and said "I've been trying to brew a beer with a head like that for about 40 years"... I wish I could have added to his scientific knowledge of beer by explaining why it was so good. I couldn't: it was dumb luck, I didn't know what I was doing!

Uncle Stan's interest in technology had a deep effect on Peter and I. It is certainly one of the things that stimulated our interest in computers. When I became interested in computers, Uncle Stan put me in touch with his son Graeme, who he helped me buy a computer at a price I could afford with the help of his staff discount. These days both Peter and I are successful computing professionals. We have all of our family to thanks for that - our parents, who have always supported us... and Uncle Stan.

We've come here today to mourn the loss of a family member and friend. There's no doubt that our lives will be poorer without him. However, in the time that we knew him our lives were made richer. We had good times, we spoke about interesting things... we learned a lot. He was an extremely positive influence. For that we should be thankful. We should all be happy that we had him as a family member and friend.

He was a good bloke. He was someone I respected greatly. I'm very grateful to have known him. I loved him very much...

The Artist's Secret

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A few weeks ago Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert posted this follow-up to one of his less-well-received Dilbert strips. It included this:

The Artist's Secret is that all art comes from abnormal brains. So if you create art that satisfies your own tastes, you have created for a market of exactly one abnormal person. If you're lucky, a handful of other freaks get some joy from your creations too. But it won't be enough to pay your bills. It's not a career until you learn to create products that normal people like.

This is an excellent observation that is absolutely spot on! It is simple genius.

The Artist's Secret can obviously be applied to writing music. It is easy to write a song but it is much harder to write a song that other people consider good and want to hear. You need to make a song accessible yet still different enough to everything else out there so that people will want to listen to your song in preference to others. It's a delicate balance...

Building things

Today was Father's Day. After Sebastian and Mel gave me some lovely gifts and cards we spent the day at home - apart from our morning walk with the dogs that is. I spent some time on the phone talking with my parents including wishing my Dad a Happy Father's Day. Mel, Sebastian and I read books, played with toys and watched an episode of Play School. Sebastian named animals and colours in books and on flashcards. We also built a random construction out of blocks: he added pieces and I reinforced it when it got wobbly. He's a clever little guy and I'm very proud of him.

After Sebastian went to bed I spent an hour out in the garage building a keyboard drawer to mount under the desk in the studio. It isn't mounted yet but so far, so good... I think it might just work. "What?" I hear you say! "Who are you and what have you done with Martin? He can't hammer a nail and is so clumsy that he's (mostly) banned from using power tools." Well, I still have all my limbs and the garage doesn't look like a war zone.

While sawing, hammering and screwing I reminisced a bit about my Dad and the things he used to build: beds, wardrobes, "bed cupboards", puppet stages, breakfast bars, BBQs, concrete slabs, ... I'm not at that level but I'm actually turning out to be reasonably practical and useful. I'm a bit proud of myself...

I also spent a few minutes either side of my garage time running a simple test to see why a new computer might be crashing. I disabled the wireless network driver and got the machine to play an album of music. I came back an hour later and it hadn't crashed - that's much better than other recent efforts. So, although one test doesn't provide any certainty, this supports my hunch that the wireless card/driver is the culprit.

My Dad turns 80 later this year. Not too many years ago computers weren't his thing at all. These day he sits at his computer once or twice a day and hops online. He does email and surfs the web. A couple of years ago he was having USB problems. I sent him a USB PCI card and pointed him at an instructional video on YouTube. He installed the card and it still works fine. I'm proud of him.

These days life seems to move incredibly fast. I'm not sure where life is taking us but it definitely seems to be a good place. Wherever we're going, we're going there as a family. I'll always be there for Sebastian, particularly to provide that little better of reinforcement if things get a bit wobbly. I'm proud of him and I hope that one day he'll be proud of me too.

No Outrage?

Why was there no outrage when Dylan went acoustic?

Driving Lessons

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We drove from Canberra to Sydney and back again today. I did 3 out of the 4 legs and found myself continually astounded by the number of bad drivers I encountered. It was very frustrating. Therefore, I'm going to give the world some driving tips.

However, first let me share a couple of things...

  • These days my attitude towards driving is similar to my attitude towards business travel. It is necessary but I don't enjoy it anymore. In fact, most of my reason for not enjoying driving is the sheer number of idiots on the road.
  • When driving long distances I use cruise control. This means I'm not concerned with the speed I'm doing and can concentrate more on the other important driving tasks. It also means that I drive at a constant speed. I set my speed according to the speed shown on my car's climate control system when it is in diagnostic mode. Although the speedometer reads significantly higher, we've verified on several occasions that the speedometer shows an inflated speed and that the speed shown by the diagnostic system is more correct.

Now for the tips:

  • When I'm in the fast lane overtaking, there's no point flying up behind me in an aggressive manner and trying to make me move in front of a car I'm passing before I'm ready. Before pulling out I will have checked that I won't annoy anyone doing a reasonable speed. If I wind up annoying you then you're doing an unreasonable speed. Wake up to yourself before you kill someone.
  • When I finish overtaking one or more cars I like to leave enough room in front of them before moving back into the slow lane to avoid scaring the crap out of the driver of the last car I passed. I have this way of deciding if I'm leaving enough room: I make sure that I can see both of the headlights of the front car I've passed before moving in front of that car. This means I usually don't need to turn my head to check. It also means that I allow more room for really big, dangerous things like trucks. If you're the person I saw today driving the very small car that pulled in front of a truck leaving only about 1 car length then I have a message for you: if you brake suddenly then you're dead...
  • If I pull out to overtake you, I pull back in behind you, I pull out again, I pull back in behind you, rinse and repeat... it does not mean I'm an irresponsible mad lane changing nutter. It is because you're not driving at a constant speed. You're driving slowly when I'm behind you and speeding up when I pull out to overtake. This should cause you to think about your speed. Have you considered using cruise control? Have you considered letting someone else do the driving? How about catching a bus?
  • If you've been sitting 20m behind me in the fast lane for the last 2 or 3 minutes, while I've been sitting in the slow lane, and then we come across a slower vehicle then you shouldn't decide that now is the time to overtake both of us. You should have passed me fairly quickly after moving out from behind me and into the overtaking lane. Oh, you didn't pull out from behind me but have been in that lane for the last 20 minutes and you think you own it? OK, that's different: you're an idiot.
  • If I pull out to overtake you then it is because, while doing a constant speed, I have caught up to you and now wish to pass you. I will do it fairly quickly unless you make things fairly difficult by continuously varying your speed. If I'm out there for so long that you come up behind another car that you need to overtake then you're doing something wrong. When I pulled out I thought about exactly that and applied due consideration. Therefore, I reserve the right to accelerate past you so that I don't have to sit behind you when you decide to sit next to that truck for 5 minutes. Note that if I think I have made an error of judgement, or perhaps you have only annoyed me once by varying your speed, I might also pull back to give you room to go first. I'm a reasonable person.
  • Just because I no longer enjoy driving that doesn't mean that I think you're not allowed to. However, if you're a motor racing fan you should remember that compared to your favourite driver you're probably crap and that you're driving on a road that you're sharing with other people.
  • Finally, if you're passing me and you notice me shaking my head at you, it isn't because I have a neck twitch or I'm in violent disagreement with something my wife has said. It is because you've done something stupid and you are an idiot. You've possibly put my family's life at risk. Grow up.

Right, now that you have some clues on driving, how about being less annoying next time?

Magic?

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Socks and undies

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Today was Father's Day. When Mel and Sebastian gave me a card and gifts this morning, I commented that I hadn't really thought about this Father's Day as being about me. For the past 7 months since Sebastian was born, life has been a mad scramble to try to get things done and get enough sleep. That doesn't seem to be what being a parent is about... or maybe it is?

The card included a failed attempt of ours to get Sebastian's handprint for another project. Mel cut it out and had managed to sketch it into an image of an elk. The gifts included some obligatory socks and undies, which Sebastian apparently insisted that Mel buy for me, and a beautiful photo book that I'll treasure forever.

On the day that Sebastian was born, 7 weeks early, I was terrified that we would lose him. Every time I went somewhere in the hospital I would drop by the NICU to make sure he was OK. His crib was visible from the doorway at the entrance to the NICU so I didn't even have to wash my hands and go right in to check on him - a quick glance from the doorway would reassure me. In the late afternoon I went home to feed the dogs and to organise a few things. In the evening I returned to the hospital and took a detour past the NICU on my way to see Mel. I stood in the doorway of the NICU and my heart hit the floor - Sebastian's crib was empty. However, the monitor above it was still doing all of the right things. I squinted to try and get a better view into the semi-darkness but the crib was still empty... and the monitor was still ticking away. I took a step forward to get a wider view and found that they had pushed Mel's bed up into the NICU. Mel was holding Sebastian for the first time and was smiling the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.

Sometimes music is about the bits you don't play and the space that you leave, allowing the combination to sound much more impressive than any of the parts. Unless you're used to this you can be dissatisfied because all you can hear is your own limitations. In a similar way, sometimes a celebration is about putting together the pieces that you didn't realise were painting a bigger picture because you were busy worrying about the details. Sometimes you need someone to put those pieces together for you and show you the wider view. This isn't just an endless repetition of some crazy day that we manage to scramble through and keep on coming out the other end of. We've come a long way in the past 7 months and it is simply amazing...

Mel, thanks for showing me "amazing"... and thanks for the socks and undies, I'll wear them with pride.

Ich bin der King von Gauntlet

A short conversation this morning while we were paraphrasing some of the things Sebastian "says":

Hey Elvis!
Yeah, Helga?
Elk needs food badly...

Yes we can, we're caterers!

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While out walking this morning there was an old-ish woman standing in the middle of the road outside the makeshift church at the local park. She was holding on to a wide open car door and didn't seem in a hurry to move. We weren't concerned for her wellbeing since there were other people around her. However, we did wonder how long she was planning to stand in the middle of the road.

After a while, a van that we've seen around the area a lot came down the road and was heading towards her before slowing down. This prompted me to have the following conversation with myself on behalf of the people involved:

Woman: Take me now, God!
Van driver: Sorry, I'm not God, I'm a caterer!

However, Mel corrected me...

Van driver: Yes I can, I'm a caterer!

She's right, you know... although I guess you need to know an earlier story to make sense of this...

Several years ago I was waiting in the car for Mel to come out of her workplace. I had reversed into my standard corner, with a row of bollards blocking the road behind me and nestled up against a kerb to my left. A van drove up and stopped a short distance away. The driver honked his horn and waved me out of the way. I wound down my window and said "I don't think you can go down there."

He replied "Yes we can, we're caterers!"

I moved, he 1/2 mounted the kerb and drove past the bollards...

I told Mel the story, wondering what other laws, or indeed laws of nature, do not apply to caterers. Got a problem? Call Superman? No! Call some caterers! Want to put your people back to work and open doors of opportunity for your kids? Call some caterers...

In case you're interested, the old-ish woman was not harmed - she moved. And, no, it was a different catering van...

The smiley bald head nods which is extremely lovely

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