Random Idea

Random idea: Inner-city multi-level caravan “park”

Implementation: Build a big “car park” for caravans in the city, letting people stay in the city with their caravans, keeping it cheap but convenient. Astroturf it even.

Up and down ramps will need to be wider than normal, and height of levels will also need to be more than normal, possibly. Width of parking slots would be wider too.

Why it won’t work: I hate caravans.

A Metro to Nowhere

A friend asked me the other day to name one thing in London that was better than it was here in Sydney. At first, I thought I could pull out a long list, having stayed there long enough to learn the city fairly well. But only one thing really stood out: the tube.

The tube is a foregone conclusion, once you’ve used it for more than novelty value. Having now been to Tokyo, New York, London and Hong Kong, the transport systems of Sydney and Melbourne are quite obviously woefully inadequate.

While Melbourne’s trams go some way to providing a metro-esque service, it doesn’t come anywhere near frequently enough and is beset by traffic. London’s buses fill the same role trams do. Both Australian cities have a commuter rail system, rather than the frequent running and closely spaced stations of the international cities.

The reason behind it might be simple practicality – density of population being far lower here – but it doens’t take away from the fact that without it, our dependence on the car is not going to be shaken any time soon. More closely spaced stations and frequent trains reduces the load on each train and platform, and nothing beats the convenience of never having to look up a timetable, or of having stations spaced close enough to be within walking distance of much more of the population.

The other issue is the Australian systems being far more “hub-and-spoke” – Melbourne particularly so. If you look at the maps (Mel, Syd), you’ll see that it’s nearly impossible to change to other lines without going all the way into the city. Sydney avoids this by having a couple of outer suburban connection points, but both are almost artistic compared to the near-chaos of the tube map.

I bring this topic up because the NSW government has just announced a plan to build a metro rail line in Sydney. They’ve certainly got one point right – frequent services. However, they fail on just about any other measure.

Stations will be 2km apart, on average, which isn’t any better than it is now. The route will service the north-west, ultimately, where population density is probably the lowest in the city. There will only be one route, which is no better than a commuter line that is merely underground. And finally, there’ll be little interconnection with existing routes, again no better than it is now. All this serves to do is facilitate the spread of the city to the north-west, and gives us another white elephant of infrastructure that doesn’t do anything useful.

What we need is something with the chaos of the Tokyo, New York or Paris systems, and bugger the cost. Something as quick, clean and efficient as Hong Kong or Singapore. Hell, something even half of what Delhi is building right now. Suburban rail systems matter, yes, but they should be secondary to getting the inner city services up to scratch, something which makes living in the city as opposed to the suburbs worthwhile. The urban is the definition of a city, and that’s without even considering the environmental benefit of having both higher-density living and efficient public transport systems taking cars off the road.

The argument will always be that it would cost too much. But how have all these other cities built their systems? What price a vision, a change to the order of things? Where once grand projects were embarked upon, government debts raised to provide for people’s needs, to hell with paying it off today, because that’s what governments do. Statesmen with vision – dare I mention a certain presidential hopeful in the US? – led countries.

We now have bean counters and middle managers working to ensure the order of things stays static, manageable and most importantly cost-effective. There’s no chance of a Panama Canal, or a Snowy River scheme being built today, or the pyramids without corporate sponsorship; the national highways built after WWII in so many countries would take 10 times as long and cost a hundred times more than in 1950. A stasis grips the vision of politicians, and we wonder why we don’t believe in their so-called leadership any more.

The Damage

Just to document what exactly has happened:

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It seems to be worst on the grey background – on a white background, it’s hardly noticeable. On a black background, it’s a thin white line.

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I swear it’s gotten better, somehow – I didn’t take any photos when it had just happened (being too distraught and all), but there were patches of dead pixels and a distinct difference whenever something crossed the line. Now it seems like the dead pixels are gone, and it’s just a crack around which the backlight shows through some. My best guess is that the liquid from surrounding crystals has leaked or something, and it’s steadily going to get worse – the corner seems lighter than the rest of the screen.

Moving the screen causes waves of colour to cascade around the crack, and it may well be leaking, though not in any obvious way. It needs replacement, to be sure, but it’s far from unusable. I was considering an upgrade before, and this has just made that decision that little bit easier to make. Still, I wanted to give this one to mum, which would necessitate replacement – and all that aside, it still is a brilliant little system.

Ludicrousness

Price of a new MacBook: from $1499, base model.

Price of my MacBook, when new (16 months ago): $1899, mid-range with up-spec hard drive.

Price of a 42 inch HD plasma, 4 years ago: $5999

Price of a 42 inch HD plasma, today: $1395 (Samsung at Harvey Norman – catalogue price!)

Price of replacing a 13 inch MacBook display: $1300.

$1300.

For a laptop that costs $1500 brand spanking new.

WTF, mate, double-you, tee, eff.

Book Review: Dracula

I first read Dracula in year 8, for English, and I remember then that I had found it a little tedious, and yet simultaneously slightly terrifying. So what did I think when looking at a wall of ultra-cheap classics than “why not pick up this one again?”

I’ll freely admit I don’t have the head for horror stories, be it in movies or books. Indeed, books are worse because my overactive imagination which sees phantoms in every shadow is required throughout the book, while movies are far more passive and creating the horrors has been outsourced. When it’s from your own head, it’s somehow more attuned to the things which get to you, and much more freely called up…

In any case, I was reading Dracula again, despite reservations. I wanted to make an effort to read more of the classics this year, more on a whim than anything else.

Having read it before, I thought it wouldn’t have the same tension to it – but I realised I’d forgotten all but a vague structure, and my continuing dislike of the diarist style of story telling. There’s a lack of flow that annoys me, and the unrealism of being able to remember all the day’s events and conversations to the word is something I can’t quite put aside. It does however show off the writer’s strong ability to think differently for each character, something rare enough even in good stories.

I probably can leave out the bit here entirely where the plot of Dracula is discussed. Suffice to say, it is the prototypical vampire story, and it broadly sets the pattern for all later monster/horror stories. You’ve probably already seen it in one form or another, and it is predictable in many ways.

However… that’s not to say it’s not a strong story. There’s a reason it’s a classic, and it does stay reasonably enthralling. Being able to identify with some of the locations – having been to London – makes the story a little more real and relatable, and those strange noises in the dark make you jump that little bit more.

Stoker is occasionally inconsistent in the characterisation, particularly of Van Helsing, and parts of the story haven’t aged well; for example, when the men decide that Mina Harker is to play no more part in the pursuit of Dracula despite her having thus far been the key to their understanding, she accepts her role as a woman is not to step in front. Indeed, while this may have reflected the times, there is also something of an independent woman glimpsed in Mina’s character, which fleshes her out far more than Lucy.

All told, it is still a classic worth reading; Stoker only steps as far outside the mundane as is necessary to provide some excitement and narrative tension, which leaves it feeling more approachable than the completely extra-ordinary fantasies and horror stories. I can’t help but to think of Mel Brooks’ version of the story, though.