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Lockdown

Hey so remember when 2020 started and the nation was on fire and we’d just had 2 years of severe drought and we thought, how screwed are we? None so screwed. Only then, February rolled around, and so did some ex-tropical storms bringing half a decade’s worth of rain to be the saviour, and whilst it was wet, lo, it was also good.

Only then, we kinda realised all this time we’d been thinking about our petty little problems in this country, and China had given a heads up about some bad stuff going down with some people who were getting sick in new and novel ways. And so it was that we learned of coronaviruses, and this how this one was to be called SARS-CoV-2, and the thing it caused was COVID-19, and oh heck we just called it coronavirus and stopped drinking that beer.

I think there was one good weekend in there, and we used it to look around at houses way beyond any kind of affordability. FML.

Wow has it been a long couple of months.

A key activity for me since early March has been doomscrolling. Super descriptive, isn’t it? Just scroll-scroll-scroll, try to absorb how doomed we are, try to understand what’s happening, seek happy, escapist thoughts.

I’ve learned way more about epidemiology than I ever expected. I’ve learned way more about infection pathways and the way these strange semi-living things interact, about how the medical system works, about how data should be presented and the logistic curve and how it makes sense that large volume bulk goods are the most visible in the event of a run and indeed just how to get on with things when it all goes sideways.

In hindsight, I wish I’d blogged more when it started, just so I can go back and reflect. I think we went into working from home from the 2nd week of March, or was it the third? Either way, things got weird. My wife too was working from home within days of me being there, and we’ve learned all kinds of things about how we behave at work, albeit in unusual circumstances.

Far too many video calls. The bane of my workday, and then people want to hop online for zoom calls after work? Bah humbug. I need to escape to the room for an hour at the end of the day just to decompress from dealing with these calls.

I thought I’d be more productive with all this time saved and nowhere to go and nothing to do. That certainly didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted. Sure I’ve saved on commute time, but now I need deliberate time for physical activity.

Oh yeah, I’ve been walking, a lot, and regularly. I’m posting my progress for others to see to keep me honest, otherwise I’d cut corners. It’s worked just great until today, but as it gets colder and darker, it gets harder and harder.

Other than the walking and the doom scrolling, the world of video games has been a welcome escape, especially the ones where you’ve got (mostly) omnipresent control. Civilisation, Simcity, and then The Battle of Polytopia, just sucking time away as I find the little strategic moves to own the world.

Tomorrow, the lockdown eases a little, allowing us to visit two at a time for social calls. It seems to have come too soon, and I despair that it’s not been long enough for the world to change, and yet it’s been too long for people to have survived it unscathed.

I don’t know how to describe this situation adequately, it feels like I’m too scatter-brained right now to keep a narrative straight. I’ve struggled to watch movies, struggled to keep focus on a book. I’m not sure if it’s the stress and distraction or if it’s just the constant being-in-the-same-four-walls that’s getting to me… I deeply desire change and yet there’s a strange comfort to the routine I’ve surrounded myself with right now.

Strange times indeed.

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The Web of Broken Links

I went to link to this today, because I thought it was hilarious and insightful and speaks to something within me as a frequent traveller: “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sleeping Positions on a Plane” from The Washington Post – and since I found it especially perfect a post, I thought I’d put it here on my blog.

And then I got to thinking: I have a whole lot of links here… how many still live to this day?

It’s truly depressing to explore.

Many of those links that landed on personal sites are broken entirely; people don’t maintain their websites for decades, they move on and find new homes for their worlds, if any. You’re not always there to notice until it’s years too late, a site you read every day that someday stopped publishing and you didn’t realise.

And equally, on the sites that survive, the rubble of broken links litters their sites.

These ones were perhaps those hosted on long-lived entities like Blogspot, and somehow still remain, a once-populated site that no longer updates. A favourite blog to read for me, Tequila Mockingbird, published its last post 12 or so years ago, at the tail end of 2007, a post like any other that gave no idea that the author wouldn’t return.

If you try to go anywhere outwards from there, it’s just as likely as not to lead to a broken link. How would we ever piece the web back together? Do we need to default every 404 to fall back to a web archive search?

The impermanence of the web is perhaps as much a feature as a bug; the ability for these words to be removed from the web with a push of a button perhaps a blessing for some, history that is erasable in a way that doesn’t even leave a physical trail.

On the other hand, pity the poor historians and archaeologists of the future, finding a web of broken links that hinted at something more vast and interesting than they can ever grasp, like Fermat’s last theorem fitting in the margins of history but the original pages never found, simultaneously mundane and profound.

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Three and a half years on

Three and a half years ago, in a fit of madness, I decided I had enough of having free time, and signed up to go back to university for an MBA.

Boy, did I underestimate how much time that would take up.

Even more so than that, I didn’t think of how much might change between starting & finishing that degree. And change it did.


Just over three years ago, I met someone – talking to her on a whim, taking the chance, and found myself entranced. I’ve mentioned obliquely here about her, but truly, she became a part of my world in a way that I’d never thought I would encounter. The other half of my soul I didn’t even realise was missing. She is passionate, caring, filled with humour and hope and a drive that pushes me to be better and do more than ever. She is an embodiment of what I hope people would be more like; I’m besotted by my love for her.

Little surprise then that I married her not long after meeting her, and now we’re a year married and settling in to life together. This singular event of committing to spending your life with another person has been something that has shifted my perspective in ways I could not have anticipated, and I want to go back to Karan from three and a half years ago and tell him what’s coming so he could embrace it even more quickly than I did.


I thought three and a half years ago that I knew a little about the world, and hoped that I would be able to make a difference – grand dreams of changing and shaping the outcomes. Now, those grand dreams remain – but I find myself knowing more than I ever did, and in doing so, finding the challenge greater than ever.

The world has changed for the worse in my view over the last few years. It’s enough to make one give over to selfishness when you see that people act in those ways. The Australian election in May 2019 felt like a pivotal moment, a rejection of the things that would help us move forward and solve generational problems, and it did indeed make me despair for some months. But… in the end I’m still convinced that things need to change for the better, and it takes work to make that relevant and possible.

Change – truly transformational change – takes longer and more work than I had ever thought. If I’m to make change happen, I need to start more locally, more specifically, build coalitions, build momentum, and use those things I’ve learned in the last three years in ways I had never understood or anticipated. I hope that I keep my motivation to do so over time.


What do I plan to do with this website?

I have thought for some time about whether to maintain this site, an exercise from an era that pre-dated social media and all the services that emerged in the past decade to cater for the desire to share thoughts. Indeed, I spend at least an hour a day on Twitter, largely sharing thoughts piecemeal, so what purpose of this site?

In the end, I came to the conclusion that the site is part of my identity; part of the record of my history, a record of my thoughts that I had been willing to share publicly, and there’s value in that. I consider how we learn the history of centuries past from the diaries and letters of individuals, and I hope in some small way my reflections here contribute to the future – or indeed the present.

So my plans for this site is to return to it as a focus for me to write reflections, thoughts, opinions, and sharing things of interest that I suggest have some more permanence than the little iterations of thoughts on social media from me.

I plan to write up reflections of the past three and a half years of learning; I plan to share more developed ideas and opinions that I think merit sharing; I plan to build my writing skills through sheer volume, and hopefully restore some sense of purpose to this space in pushing the boundaries of what is around me, my family, my community.

For those of you who have read this site for many years and have stuck around, I thank you for your time & attention in following my ramblings. Whilst I write for myself, it is through the comments and feedback and the words of others that I get that I learn more about things than I can ever hope to do so on my own.

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On Problem Solving

I caught myself today acting a bit strange. [Ed: you finally noticed?]

Ok ok I mean stranger than usual. [Ed: how could you tell?]

Conversations with imaginary editors [Ed: oi] aside, I found myself sitting in my car, having returned from a busy day at work, playing a game I found yesterday called Really Bad Chess. It’s an interesting little game where, in order to level the playing field for people who kinda know enough to play chess but are – frankly – really bad at it, the playing pieces are mixed up. You still play by the same rules, but instead of having an AI that plays dumb – because a grandmaster-beating AI is easily available in your pocket these days – you get different proportions of pieces to make the game interesting.

It’s a fascinating game, and especially so for me, because I’m… pretty bad at chess. I tend to think far too reactively or tactically, or I recklessly lose patience and try to slam home an advantage that usually quickly evaporates.

So here I was, on my way home, a hundred little things to do, and instead I’m sitting in my car, trying to solve this particular iteration of the game. I’m solving this game dammit before I go home.

And that’s when it hit me: I spent the whole day solving problems at work, and then during my zone-out time on the train home, I chose to spend my time solving a problem – a virtual one, entirely of my own making and inconsequential as I chose to make it – because I’m addicted to the hit of solving an intellectual problem.

It’s not just this particular game – I’ve done it with games like Threes or Alto’s Oddessey recently. These are defined problem spaces where I can largely figure out the rules and get to the solution in a reasonable amount of time, and it fascinates me and holds my attention way longer than you’d expect.

I wonder if there’s more productive ways to spend my time than getting dopamine hits from solving games. Anyone else experience the same?

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Sonder through public meditation

If you’ve not experienced sonder 1 before, or not done so in a while, here’s a neat public meditation exercise that you can do that’ll open up new worlds:

Pick any person sitting, or standing, across from you. Someone you can stare at without seeming creepy. Focus on that person and get a good feel for their energy and who they are.

Shift to a soft focus on that person and picture them in their happiest moments — Hugging a friend, picking up their kids from school, reuniting with someone they love, celebrating after some good news.

Now, picture them in their saddest moments and imagine what they would look like when feeling low. Feel their sadness and despair with them.

Channel your most loving energy, and thoughts, and put it on that person. Make them feel the love and happiness you’re projecting onto them. Imagine their remaining life feeling fulfilled, whole, and finding peace within themselves.

Ok maybe the “make them feel the love and happiness you’re projecting” bit might go over the creepy-random-stranger line. But y’know, boundaries. (via)


  1. “The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.” (wiktionary)
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Jury Duty: As It Happened

Back in April this year, I got a letter in the mail from the Office of the Sheriff for NSW. For a minute there I thought this had to be a fake, but who fakes a letter in the year 2017? For that matter in the year 2017, how do we have a sheriff? Isn’t that one of those anachronisms that disappeared somewhere in the 19th century? But no, here was a real letter…

Opening it up, I discovered I’d been put on the shortlist for jury duty this year.

Ah.

I’m reasonably civic minded, and jury duty has certainly been something I’d previously been keen to see how it worked. Seeing the inner workings of the justice system was always something of interest, and I’d have been happy to do so under any ordinary circumstances… but the 12 month period to come was looking like a busy one, and I’m not sure I would be able to juggle everything. At that point it was just a notification, so it would be fine.

Three days later I got another letter, informing me I had been selected, and would be required at the Supreme Court shortly. So much for that theory.

It just happened to be that the summons date was when I was going to be out of town on a mini-holiday – and I’d only booked it literally the day that I had received the summons, so I went online and applied to be excused on that basis with some mixed feelings. I thought maybe that was that for the year, that I’d be put back in the process and who knew if I would get chosen again.

Of course, just when you most don’t want it, the universe conspires against you. It’s like getting randomly selected at the airport, the days when you just most don’t need the delay are the days that you get chosen and look most uncomfortable.

So come July, I received another notice. And… it happened to clash with a day that I was going to be out of the state again (thank you NSW for the August bank holiday), and I was once more excused prior to the day.

You know what’s coming next right?

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The Super-aggregators

Ben Thompson of Stratechery writes of Facebook & to a lesser extent Google’s model here:

What makes Facebook and Google unique is that not only do they have zero transaction costs when it comes to serving end users, they also have zero transaction costs when it comes to both suppliers and advertisers.

An interesting way to think about it; Facebook’s suppliers are its users, since they produce the content; this attracts and retains other “suppliers” – you and me, the friends of those on Facebook, and in turn that gives Facebook its “product” that it sells to its market, the advertisers.

Facebook doesn’t really do much work in between – sure, yes, they host the site, and make it possible to share thousands of photos and videos and whatnot – but they don’t need to make that happen on a personally-involved scale; they don’t call you to post on your profile to pull in other people who are also simultaneously shown ads.

Facebook and Google seem to be unique in this position – other networks don’t seem to have scaled in that same way, which is what makes Facebook & Google the “super aggregators”, and chances are their combined power wil eventually swamp the other also-rans that didn’t make it to that level of power.

(Note also: Facebook et al make the best attempt to steal the sole resource you have that is non-renewble, your time.)

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Winter’s over

Winter’s over before it got cold. I mean, like, really properly cold. I think went out of my way this year to get exposed to something resembling the winter of old – biting cold that makes you happy to be inside. I went to Melbourne and to the mountains and to the valleys outside Sydney because it felt like autumn never ended at home, like a cold snap was just around the corner, like I’d need to take out my blanket next week, but now the calendar tells me winter is over for another year.

If I were to describe in detail the way things have been busy, I’d be here until summer, I suspect. This month, I travelled away for the weekend twice, both pleasant occasions, and spent the other two weekends up to my ears in attempting to be a junior economist, creating two papers I’d actually be proud of. Turns out that I really, really like studying economics, and even if I get an average mark, I’ll be pleased to have been exposed to it, and I could spend hours debating it and the implications.

Unfortunately, between that and work, I ended up with such free time as I attempted to fill with a show that told me winter was coming, and with a series of books that enthralled me like few have in years. The Expanse is a universe I’m struggling not to devour, knowing my pace of consumption far outweighs the scope of the content produced to date. Reading for pleasure was an itch I’ve been trying to scratch for well over a year since I ploughed through The Dresden Files, and finally something stuck, and now I’m almost afraid to finish it for fear of having nothing to go on to.

I also during this month discovered Apple’s Reading List feature – and I guess I mean discovered in the Captain Cook sense, in that there were a bunch of people who have been using this for years – and I marvel at the way things are so easy now, bookmarks magically synchronised across devices at a wonderous speed. I’ve been stacking up things to read and things to share there for some time, and it looks like this weekend may be it, with little else to do in all honesty, so the chance to unwind mentally and unpack the things I thought worth squirrelling away for future will come out with the end of winter as the hibernation ends.

(I say that, but it sure doesn’t look like things will ease up at all in the coming months – it’ll be Feburary before I can well and truly relax.)

(oh and I’ve realised I’m planning to head to the US again at the end of the year, against perhaps some better judgement considering the political scene, so I’ll be getting all the dose of winter I could ever ask for over there.)

(for a post that started with mentioning how winter’s done, I sure did end up focusing on it a lot huh.)

Here’s to unwinding with the longer days, and cracking open this year’s supply of antihistamines.

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Then it was Ma- Jun- July. 

A draft starts in April, and then it was May. And despite the fact that May feels like the longest month ever – did you realise it’s 31 days? Does anything actually happen in May after May Day? A day so boring they couldn’t even come up with a more interesting name for it? Is it even a month that counts given the uncertainty expressed in its name? – it ended up being a rather wholly busy month, and so it was June, and you know what June is like. Honestly, May should trade its 31st day to June so we can have a chance to get some things done before the middle of the year arrives all in a huff. It shouldn’t be surprising when 30th June shows up and all of a sudden you’re in the back half of Twenty bloody Seventeen and 2018 is just around the corner. Remember when it was still 2016 and you thought “how can this year get any shittier?” and then 2017 arrived and the conclusion was “oh, yes, this is how,”? Well, we’re now further away than ever from the utopia that was 2016, and it’s now under six months to go until 2018. If you conceived a child today, it wouldn’t be born until March 2018. The end of March 2018. That’s where we are now. Or will be in 9 months time, you get my point.

Phew. A breather.

How the hell is it July already?

Oh that’s right, I’ve decided I didn’t really need free time after all, and am now completely occppied in entirely planned and unplanned ways. I opened a book yesterday for the first time in about 4 months because I finally found myself with a half hour of time I hadn’t allocated out or somehow spent on productive and unproductive activities that choose to occupy my brain. While that moment felt good, it was also tinged with “but I should be doing x, y or d instead…”

Let me tell you now, doing an MBA while working full time on an intensive project and also trying to keep a long distance relationship going is a… challenging idea. Any one of the above by itself would’ve been enough to keep the ordinary person occupied, which is what I had last year, but I’ve somehow stumbled into all three at the same time and it’s been an adventure in time management. I had the value of being bored and pursuing interests in new areas gets sacrificed, and at times I’m quite willing to skip out on social events entirely just to give myself a couple of hours to catch up on everything that’s been going on.

When it comes to events of the year, it has been relentless, and with each day that passes I’m more convinced that I need to be more politically engaged. Some of that comes from the frustration of seeing the government navel gazing; some of that comes from the sheer absurdity that is the USA right now. I know a large driving factor is seeing my local representative completely failing to represent me as he happens to be an arch conservative that carries the flag for everything that is wrong with the conservative side of politics in this country (like, every single bone-headed policy. He cheers for Trump completely unnecessarily!). And then I remember everything I’ve already got on my plate, and I wonder what I could realistically do without sacrificing something.

That kind of feeling and motivation seems to tie in with an increased self-awareness and maturity that I didn’t consciously come to, but rather has welled up with time and experience – it is something along the age lines that really starts to become obvious. Where the twenties were about my personal growth and – frankly – somewhat selfish in many measures, it appears the thirty mark being passed does make a difference in how the world feels like it’s impacting my life. A sense of agency appears – that I can, and should, need to do something to make a change, make the place a better one.

And now I suspect I’m rambling. It’s useful to use this platform to explore thoughts and process, but I do occasionally need an editor to go “right mate, wrap it up, you’re wandering in a way that someone outside your head can’t follow.” And so I will.

Though! One more thing before I go, a media endorsement: go watch The Expanse. That’s some damn good scifi, and I’ve been only to happy to escape to that universe for 40 minutes or so at a time.

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That Special Someone

There’s an instinct that seems to drive people to want to be with a specific other person; “pair bonding” as the scientific term might go. It’s a natural instinct that you can explain away as pure biology, but of course humans have coopted this notion into something else entirely and put our own complicated spin on things.

Finding “that special someone” is therefore a fairly uniquely human thing to do – the idea that there’s one person that’s specifically right for you, someone that meets the criteria of an ideal partner – sufficiently similar, yet sufficiently different to keep things interesting; sufficiently near, speaking the same or a similar language, of the same age… on a rational level, that’s a fools game.

And yet…

And yet we still play it, because we’re fools blinded by emotion and this idea of an ideal romantic love which would be sufficient to surmount these challenges. We pay token attention to the probabilities and realities in an effort to satisfy a different drive, a desire for mental and emotional fulfilment, beyond the purely physical.

But… it requires patience, and persistence. It requires keeping at it, trying again and again, until you do find the one that sticks for whatever reason, because that person will be worthwhile. That person will match you mentally, challenge you to do better, to be bettter; that person will love you back and adore you, that person will have something in them that you recognise at a deeper level, and you will trust them, and want to make them happy, and they will make you happy, and you will share a lifetime of stories, and you’ll dream of the rest of your lives together when you’ve only just met, because something in this person will sing to you on a level that you don’t even realise but is within you, like a tuning fork suddenly in resonance with another, and you’ll want that person there all the time.

Some may compromise sooner, accept shortcomings and think rationally that someone happens to tick enough boxes to make it a good deal. No doubt I’ve also contemplated that for myself, more than a couple of times, more recently than I’d care to admit. The bonding instinct doesn’t necessarily require a specific person, even when the emotional side does.

And sometimes, persisting, you get lucky… :)

Happy Valentines Day, friends, lovers, countrymen.