Have We Earned The Urn?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | 12:12 pm

[Ashes urn] The Ashes Urn contains the burnt remnants of the bails from the first England -v- Australia cricket series. It is the symbolic trophy for the winner, who is referred to for the next 2 years as "the holders of The Ashes".

The confounding part of this is that even though Australia have been the 'holders of the Ashes' for the last 20-odd years, the Urn has never resided in Australia. This is because it is a fragile English national heirloom, and was considered irreplaceable should us rowdy convicts do something untoward with it. Each time we won the series, they let us take home a replica, rumoured to be engraved with the phrase "We won the Ashes and all we got was this lousy replica."

So how synchronously ironic is it that with the series tipped dangerously towards an England victory (Australia must win the 5th and final test next week to retain the Ashes), we may finally possess the Ashes urn on our shores, and may not even be the holders of it.

Call Me, Call Me, Anytime (via email)

Saturday, August 20, 2005 | 4:32 pm

The Major's opinions on customer service brought back memories of the many lively chats that took place when discussing moving the Fan Clubs/magazines to an "internet only" customer service model. A difficult transition for many older Trek subscribers (especially the surprisingly large number whose accomodations were provided by the State Penal system), but I think it was a wise choice for The Company at the time as cost reductions were needed (especially obvious in hindsight!), and supporting their customer service resources was never a priority. He never really liked to concentrate on the tedious bits.

Well, in a coup for that transition, it seems the "internet only" model plan has now been fully executed. All phone services (incoming and outgoing) to The Company have been turned off.

As an aside on phones, I arrived at The Company in 1999 as a Technical Writer, and my role was handling all facets of the rules for Star Wars CCG. My customer-facing email address was jediknight@, and my extension was 1138. On enquiring about the phone number, I could never work out if it was accidental, or a deliberate Star Wars-ism.

And We Crawled

[cocktail logo]Last weekend a small crowd of us had a blast trying to manage a Granby Street pub crawl. The lofty goal was 10 bars, at least one drin kat each, and no drink twice. We ran outta time for the ten bars, and the details have been expertly captured by Squarepants and the fastidious quote collector, but I did capture a few snaps for any interested parties.

My how Granby Street has changed since I was here backpacking in 1998. I stayed for one week in the hotel that is now The Clarion, and from 5pm each night it was nothing but tumbleweeds up and down Granby St. No bars anywhere but Waterside, no restuarants, no life. Now you can't spit without hitting a three licensed establishments, four valet parkers and a bunch of girls in life-threateningly high heels. What a difference a "Mall" makes.

For The Love Of God, Stop.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005 | 9:19 pm

  • Car manufacturers: For the love of God, stop with the "employee discount" sales pitch. The only manufacturer who has not tried that is Sachsenring. Your 'discount' reputation hangs by a thread, with a small lead over Haynes Furniture.
  • Geico: For the love of God, stop telling us you saved motorists an average of 15% last year. We get it. We are sorry that these savings resulted in you no longer being able to spend money on a second peice of market research.
  • Smokers: For the love of god, stop throwing your used butts out of your car window. You don't want to dirty up the inside of your car, so throwing them out the window seems like a logical solution? You don't even bother to put them out first. May a million butts be ground out on your perineum.
  • [god smite]
  • Americans: For the love of God, stop voting for teen idols, best dancers, who to stay in the house, who to leave the island, what song to play on the 80s marathon, who someone's dad should marry, or for anything broadcast on Fox. How about we try voting for your President instead. (I know, I know - maybe when it is held by text message).
  • Pat Robertson: For the love of God, stop praying for political favours. Like freeing up another space on the Supreme Court. Or for the election of a candidiate who suits your tax breaks. We realized long ago that it has nothing to do with religion. Well, some of us did.
  • Cartoon Network: For the love of God, stop moving Family Guy reruns to the same time slot as The Daily Show. All my worthwhile comedies should not have to fall in the same half hour.
  • E! Entertainment Channel: For the love of God, just stop. Stop everything. Stop it now.
  • And After A Short Break, We Are Back.

    Saturday, August 13, 2005 | 11:50 am

    The Gods of soccer work in mysterious ways.

    We were dumped out of the Portsmouth league play-offs by a very unfancied side (yes, I got beat by a team called "The Wombats") last Thursday night. Besides our teamwork, more pain was provided by my two cramping calves (which forced me to limp off with 5 minutes to go and giving me a great vantage point to watch them score the winner 3 minutes later), and more bug bites than anytime since I left Australia. If they had not scored, extra time would have been played in near-total darkness, whereby no-one would have been able to see the giant mosquitos carrying players away. I'm still scratching like a leper.

    The upside was that escaping a Saturday semi final match provides me with an unfettered couch position for all the dizzying proceedings of the opening week of the English Premier League season. First game off the mark? A 7:30am match between my boys, Man U and Everton. Praise be.

    {Ruud and Rooney]Even after a 3am bedtime last night, I launched out of bed like greyhound this morning for the match, and was rewarded by a competent and heartwarming Man U win. A balanced first half saw chances both ways, but the breakthrough came right before halftime with an old school snipe by Ruud, and then 40 seconds into the second half a fullback error gifted Rooney the second. Man U should have capitalized with one or two more, but even without any more goals, they were rarely threatened in the second half.

    Best signs for this season:

    • New boy Park Ji Sung looked good on the left and right with some great runs, and excellent passing. Great signing. Could have grabbed a goal also, but not quite there in front of the net yet.
    • Other new acquisition Edwin van der Saar in goal added stability that we sorely needed, and pulled of a great reflex save at 0-0 to stop Aussie Tim Cahill giving Everton the lead.
    • Ruud was much sharper looking.
    • Rooney is just getting better. Unbelievable talent. Smart passes, where last year he might have shot, and better still he showed a much improved temperament.
    • Shane Warne stopped the follow-on (yep, this is cricket. Checking if you are paying attention) and rain halted most of the Day 3 play at Old Trafford. We have had big leads get thwarted by rain before, so I would happily welcome some weather irony to save our arses.
    Worst signs for this season:
    • Defense looked a little shaky, especially against Arteta's curling set pieces. Everton got far too many headers on goal.
    • Central midfield took a while to dominate. Not a young midfield either, and most feel our next signing has to be there.
    • Like last year, we looked totally unthreatening from corners. And we get so bloody many.
    • Chelsea spent another £ 52 Million. Their pockets seem to have infinite depth. And depth is their primary advantage this year. I rate Man U's first 11 as able to beat Cheslea, but The Blues have very strong players not even on the bench. God help Wigan tomorrow.
    • I won't be seeing The Man of Cheese every Monday to talk about the weekends fixtures. Sad. Must begin to love IM....

    Liverpool have just marched out against Middlesborough. The couch is calling!

    Blob Munchers.

    I have a bunch of half-finished blog entries needing more work. But here's a quickie (yeah, right) I have been meaning to add for a while.

    During my lack-of-tenure, I did a lot of stuff on my computer. For the vaguely interested, or those who don't skim like Brad, it's a 2GHz iMac G5 20" running OS X "Tiger", and was a confirmed purchase about 4 hours before I got laid off. I almost sent it back in a cash-flow panic, but as my wife rightly pointed out, I would have gone crazy without it.

    I realized recently that I never touched the Playstation once during that whole free time period (in fact, haven't for months, since Star Wars Lego turned up for my birthday!). This is good, because it is summer, but I still played a lot of one computer game, on my Mac nonetheless. Which game? Pacman. I kid you not. A simple, free Tiger widget version. Great 10 minute mind-invigorator. I just want a quick game these days, no lifetime commitment!

    My favourite Pacman story? That it was originally to be called Puck-man by its creator, and indeed made a lot more sense (cause he looks like a hockey puck), but some smart soul worked out that this was too easy to deface on the arcade cabinet. All a kid needed was a scratching device, and 5-seconds with the letter "P". And as I recall the arcades of my youth (everyday after school, and for a year there, before school also!), (s)he was right.

    [Namco Bastards]Anyhow, it seems the free widget is now no longer because Namco said the author had to cease and desist. What a crock. If Namco were competing for the free-widget market, I would almost (not really) understand.

    How did we let bloody lawyers start stifling so much that is harmless and making no one any money? And what irony that they do it by treating everything — EVERY.LITTLE.THING — as so horribly not-harmless. every minor case is a most despicable, democracy killing, capitalism stifling, constitutional right breaking, deadly serious issue, usually of negligence or indifference. Yeah the bloody coffee is hot! You didn't order an iced coffee dickbrain, so don't pour it on your pants!

    My assumption here, with no research whatsover, is that Namco did this to show active copyright protection, regardless of whether they think there is any harm to them as a money-making entity or not. Which judge is responsible for deciding that if you don't actively show yourself as protecting your copyrights, then you may rightfully lose them? Didn't anyone realize this was just lawyers working out one more way to never run out of work?

    This started the corporate trend of harassing young web designers and fledgling programmers about the content, graphics, or free games (or dream-card images) on their 100 hits a month website. Whew. The world is a safer place.

    The Art & Myth of Sledging

    Sunday, August 07, 2005 | 7:37 pm

    In my continuing attempt to bring cricket to the 'ex-colony', and in order to forget Australia's nail-biting 2-run loss to England in the second Ashes test today, let's talk about some of the less sportsmanlike aspects of the game.

    "Sledging" is a collaquial term for the practise of surreptitiously directing on-field comments at your opponent in order to undermine their confidence. Although applicable to any sport (e.g. a catcher to a batter in baseball, if Bull Durham is anything to go by), cricket is a game that suits itself especially well to this practise. Besides having hours and even days in the field to throw all manner of comments at your opponents, the unique formation of the fielders in cricket means there can be anywhere from 1 to 10 opposition players within talking distance of the batsman. The advent of on-field microphones behind the stumps(1) reduced the obviousness of sledging in televised matches, but their is still plenty of opportunity out of mike range, such as at the end of an over(2).

    The Australian cricket team are acknowledged connoisseurs of the sledge. It is a dubious honour, but as the world #1 in both the Test (long) and one-day (short) form of the game, if you are going to act like cocky buggers, it's best that you be able to back it up.

    [Waugh]The greatest ever sledge, as voted by Australians, is reported to have come from Australian captain Steve Waugh, a quietly spoken and statesmanlike cricketer with a deep love for the history of the game, but renowned as a ferocious competitor on the field. The venue was the hallowed (for Man U supporters like me) ground of Old Trafford, and the occasion was nothing less than the 1999 World Cup. It was the final group game for Australia versus South Africa, and the Aussies were in danger of the earliest of tournament exits.

    Chasing 272 runs to win, the green & gold had started poorly. At 3 wickets(3) down for only 43 runs (the team total), Steve Waugh strode to the crease and began to claw the Aussies back into it. He had scored 56 (individual total) when a misjudged drive presented a regulation catch to Herschelle Gibbs. The joyous South African pockted the catch but threw the ball away too early. The umpire adjudged that he did not exhibit control of the ball for long enough, and it was not out. Legend says that Steve Waugh later passed Gibbs, and purportedly asked him "How does it feel to drop the World Cup, Herschelle?"

    Just verbal head-games? Sure, but prophetic words nonetheless. Follow the dominoes in this trail: Waugh went on to make 120 not out and guide Australia to victory in that game. Both Australia and South Africa qualifed for the next stage of the tournament, but Australia finished first due to net run-rate. They met up again in the semi-final a few weeks later, in what is arguably the greatest one-day match ever. With the scores level, South Africa's last wicket fell to a run out(4) as they failed to complete the winning run (see the picture below), and the game miraculously finished in a tie.The tie breaker? Rankings at the end of the group stage.

    South Africa were out of the tournament, and Australia took their momentum into the final against Pakistan who failed to bring their A-game, and were summarily demolished.

    Many say this sledge is mere folklore, because who would really know other than the players out there. Even various books written by cricketers state that something else was said that day, but regardless, what a great blog story.

    [Aus v SA Tied Match 1999]

    (1) Stumps (also called "the wickets"): The three pieces of wood behind the batsman that the bowler is aiming at. The 'strike zone' if you like. If they are dislodged during a delivery, the batsmen is considered "out". It doesn't matter how they get dislodged either: for example, the ball can ricochet off the bat into them, or even hit the batsmen causing him to fall on them, and he is still out.
    (2) Over: 6 consecutive deliveries by the same bowler. No bowler can bowl more than 1 over in a row, and so, at the end of an over, the next bowler attacks from the other end of the 'pitch'. The umpire tracks deliveries (or balls bowled), and tells everyone when the end of the over has arrived, such that the play can 'change ends' as it were.
    (3) Wicket: In this context, a wicket refers to a batsmen that is out. Each teams get 10 outs per innings. A one-day match consists of each team trying to accrue as many runs as possible within only one innings or 50 overs, whichever comes first.
    (4) Run Out: When a batsmen, in attempting a run, fails to make his ground before the ball is thrown back to the stumps (the ball, or a hand holding the ball, must touch the stumps). This is crickets version of being beaten by the throw heading to home plate (except, you have to touch the ball to the plate).


    Saturday, August 06, 2005 | 12:05 pm

    You Know You're At A Real Job When...

    Thursday, August 04, 2005 | 10:45 pm

    After a 2 year hiatus, you start wearing a watch again.

    Could you rub my ego? Yeah... that's the spot.

    A 21 year old girl in Wonderbar last night guessed my age as 26.

    My real age is a decade beyond that. Indeed, I was returning from the Duran Duran concert — that's a tip-off right there. But the details in this case are irrelevant (as far as I am concerned). The positive glow effect lasted for hours though.

    Mind you, if I am playing the "how old do you think I am" game on a Wednesday night in bars at my age, then she was probably just guessing my mental age.

    Not the same Wonderbar.

    You Know You're In A Real Meeting When...

    Monday, August 01, 2005 | 11:45 pm

    I have covered some of the sadnesses of leaving the failing Old Company for a new Company, and let's face it, most of it was due to lifestyle changes (mates, soccer, walking to work) — and the horror at learning I having to track my time).

    But today was my first day proper at the new place (outside of one week of training), and it immediately highlighted other more positive differences. So for the amusement of old work mates, here's my cathartic version of "spot the differences". Today's topic is meetings.

    (1) Friday afternoon, I was invited by Outlook invite to attend a Monday 8:15am phone-conference to review an upcoming project.
    (2) We started at 8:15am, and attendees included two senior managers and the COO, and two more employees via phone.
    (3) Even though everyone has a laptop, none were in the room. Just handouts.
    (4) The meeting was led by the senior manager, who considers this project a priority, and moved a 9am meeting to ensure we reached agreement on all points.

    (1a) The meeting was planned, rather than inviting people in 15 minutes after meeting start.
    (1b) "Outlook invite" implies that there was some semblance of an agenda.
    (2a) Snr managers turn up early, not after lunch.
    (2b) Meeting started on time.
    (2c) Distance management is not an impossible challenge.
    (3) This means that at no point did anyone stop to watch movie trailers, read old emails, or visit other companies websites under the delusion that the next Amazon.com could be created with 2 programmers, a web designer, and 72 hours to spare.
    (4) The words "led", "priority" and "senior manager" were used in the same sentence, without the words "aimlessly", "to distraction", or "to hell" appearing.

    Yeah, it's a job not recreation. But I suppose if it has to be a real job at a real company, then it's a bonus to find a real company that seems to have it's head screwed on.


    Myself and my beloved watched Closer this past weekend, a movie recently mentioned on Cheese Man's blog. Really enjoyed it &mdash intelligent adult entertainment, an increasingly rare commodity.

    The film had some weaknesses, but avoided two of the biggest pitfalls of this genre by:

    • Not having actors burst into screaming histrionics every 5 minutes in order to show they were upset.
    • Having a movie almost universally about infidelity, including many scenes about sex acts, but never really showing a sex scene. Thus keeping you firmly based in the emotional, rather than distracting you with the physical.
    Mike Nichols (Dir.) maintains many European sensibilities.

    From those who have seen it, I have a question for you: was there a character you identified/sympathizied with more than the others? Everyone seemed fallibly human in this movie, so I think the person you identify with wil be a very individual choice.

    Trivia A: Did everyone catch the name on Natalie Portman's passport at the end?
    Trivia B: There are only 6 speaking parts in the movie. Four principal actors, and 2 bit-parts. Can you name the two bit parts? (this is not intended as an test of your use of IMDB by the way ;)