Saturday, September 10, 2005


I did a spot of Googling this afternoon, researching a carefully considered, nuanced piece on "PM's Blitz on Terror", as yesterday's Hun called it. I got a bit thrown by the editorial Melbourne's most respected tabloid produced on the same subject today:

... The most effective way of legislating [the proposals] is to include a sunset clause. Mr Howard has not put forward a sunset clause, but some sort of time limit is supported by Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty.

Whatever is decided upon is likely to be divisive, particularly when some civil libertarians have compared such an Australia to the police state of Nazi Germany.

Such a comparison is as offensive as a statement by a Muslim leader that Australians should be free to voice support for insurgents in Iraq. Could this be said to endanger the lives of Australian troops in Iraq or is that in itself a dangerous attack on freedom of speech?

The question is how far we should go, and part of the answer is, not into a future where such laws are no longer necessary.

Personally, I'd rather not have the PM's proposals at all; but if they are necessary, I'd rather look forward to a future where they are no longer necessary than to one where they are not no longer necessary. Maybe that's just me.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Just when You Thought that Idiotic Concept was Finally Played Out ...

... some fool comes up with another "meme". This one's inspired by a post at Troppo Armadillo, which reminded me of a story about Voltaire, which I found somewhere in my copy of Ambrose Bierce's The Devils Dictionary.

It seems that Voltaire and a few friends were staying overnight at a country inn one night, during a long coach trip. To while away the time they decided to tell each other stories; it was agreed that each of them would tell a story about a robber.

When Voltaire's turn came, he said "Once, there was a fermier-generale of the taxes."

His audience pressed him to continue.

"That, my friends," he said, "is the story."

Which leads to the simple idea that I'm hoping to send running like wildfire through the blogosphere. Take a word like "robber", "murderer" and produce a Voltairean short story on the topic. No need to tell anyone what the word is; let your readers figure it out for themselves. They enjoy being treated as intelligent people from time to time; it makes them feel respected.

I think I've told you enough to convey the general idea. Here's my story:

Once, there was a Defence Minister with a defective mobile phone.

To save time, I think I'll just tag everybody and have done with it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bullshit Theory Update

Thanks to Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo, for alerting me to the existence of The James McConvill Blog:

This blog is not for the faint-hearted or narrow-minded. It is about fostering the transcendence of social and academic thought rather than settling for what is safe and secure. Some people will be offended. I'm fine with that. The trade-off is that many more people will be enlightened, reinvigorated... and hopefully even inspired. I hope you enjoy the ride.

James' views on the state of academia are at least interesting and entertaining. Here, he lets us know where we can find real legal academics, as distinct from the jaded tarts hanging around Law Faculties waiting for a philosophical sugar-daddy to come along and whisk them away to a life of fame and fortune, or the outright bullshitters who infest all part of the academy. Real legal academics are people like James, oddly enough; they've had op-eds published in the major dailies.

That last one particularly got my attention, because it seemed a good test case for the application of my own researches into Bullshit Theory, which, as James says:

... has emerged as part of mainstream philosophy and should be taken seriously. Just recently, Princeton University philosopher Harry Frankfurt released a small book titled, On Bullshit (2005, Princeton University Press), which has sold truckloads of copies worldwide.

My own work in this area, as you know, focuses on developing a reliable statistical metric of bullshit. It's still very much a work in progress. After reading James' post on academics, I've found myself torn between two alternatives. The first is to put in some more work on the basic model of an ideal piece of bullshit which is needed to establish a sound footing for statistical Bullshit Theory. The other is to continue work on the three days and several weeks novel I began writing around 12:05 Saturday. Decisions, decisions.

And a little disappointment too; because with the BS-95 scrapped, thanks to Zeppo Bakunin's precise and very correct formulation of the null hypothesis, I don't have the means to do the statistical testing which would show which of the following statements fits James piece on academic bullshitters:

H0: the amount of bullshit in this article is consistent with its having been assembled completely at random;

H1: there is not enough bullshit in this article to be consistent with random chance (and it might therefore be a worthwhile read);

H2: there is too much bullshit in this article to be consistent with random chance (which, incidentally, doesn't make it any less a worthwhile read);

My guess is that it's H0, based purely on this little purler where, as commenter Steve notes, McConvill neatly hoists himself on the Cretan paradox:

Due to the way in which many universities have traditionally operated, bullshit is rife. A number of academics do not operate in the “reality-based community” ...

Reinvigorated, hopefully even inspired? Actually, I think I might be.

A Portrait of the Artist with Egg on his Dial

72, Episode 1 (an incomplete post from Saturday, September 3)

The events in this post took place between twelve midnight, Friday September the second and twelve midnight Saturday the third.

12:05:01 (ka-chunk) ... 12:05:02 (ka-chunk) ... 12:05:03 (ka-chunk) ... 12:05:04 (ka-chunk)

I've been partying for the past five hours; a last chance to enjoy some pleasant company before I embark on three days of concentrated neurotic anxiety. I'm in the middle of something resembling a conversation, when I'm rudely interrupted by Zeppo Bakunin. "Oy," he says, "You're supposed to be at work writing now."

Well, that was the plan and he's going to be a complete bastard about it and make me stick to it. "Don't come back until you've written at least three hundred words, he orders." I head off to clock in on the shop floor of my soul and start fabricating the conscience of my race. (Apologies to anyone who might have seen the previous sentence in an e-mail or something).

2:15:01 (ka-chunk) ... 2:15:02 (ka-chunk) ... 2:15:03 (ka-chunk) ... 2:15:04 (ka-chunk)

Save the first three pages of the work in progress to disk, shut down the computer, go to bed. Sleep immediately.

11:35:01 (ka-chunk) ... 11:35:02 (ka-chunk) ... 11:35:03 (ka-chunk) ... 11:35:04 (ka-chunk)

Wake. Go immediately to the kitchen, put the kettle on and coffee makings into a cup. Turn on the PC. Go outside for the first cigarette of the day, the first walk up and down the back yard of the day. Follow that with the second cigarette of the day and the second walk up and down the back yard. Wonder where all the brilliant ideas I had last week flew off to and whether I'll be able to track them down again. Or find replacements for them. Make the coffee, say good morning to Zeppo Bakunin who is also now awake.

Open the document file with last night's work in it. Decide that alcohol is not a creativity enhancing drug. Rewrite time. Did we really listen to Dark Side of the Moon last night? And without getting stoned first? God help me, we did. At least it wasn't Thick as a Brick.

3:31:01 (ka-chunk) ... 3:31:02 (ka-chunk) ... 3:31:03 (ka-chunk) ... 3:31:04 (ka-chunk)

Check the stats on the growing document; it really is possible to write 500 words an hour. So, if we assume that rate is sustained for sixteen hours a day over three days there should be 24,000 words at the end of it. Decide to hell with it; get the scenes written, worry about tying them into the plot later. It works well enough for certain other writers, I can make it work for me. Ignore the minor quibble that those guys are TV writers.

4:47:01 (ka-chunk) ... 4:47:02 (ka-chunk) ... 4:47:03 (ka-chunk) ... 4:47:04 (ka-chunk)

Check the survival guide, to see where I'm at; it's almost reassuring:

1st Day: For most, the first day is the toughest. Veterans are almost unanimous in their belief that if one even gets out of the starting gate on the first day they’re doing well. There may be a lot of “window staring”, pacing, wishing to be anywhere else. It may bebest to just keep in mind no one knows anything the first day.

I'm doing OK then; I'm out of the starting gate with a whole five pages written. Get on with it. Pacing the back yard is OK; I'm expected to be doing that. Think about whether or not to follow last night's friendly suggestion from Catherine that I blog the experience.

Go on-line long enough to collect e-mail, find one cryptic comment on the blog re the current enterprise. What the hell, I'll blog it. A bit. But first I've got more pages to write.

8:15:01 (ka-chunk) ... 8:15:02 (ka-chunk) ... 8:15:03 (ka-chunk) ... 8:15:04 (ka-chunk)

Eleven pages. Not good enough, when you consider that one of those is the title page. Too many little square bracketed pointers to missing plot and outright ellipses. I really was mad to get myself into this. Madder still to take time out for that shower, write this post. Time for another coffee.


And that's as far as I got with the "live blogging of the event as it happened". Sometime around midnight Saturday, I went to bed and didn't sleep for a couple of hours. I'm pretty sure I got up and went back to the PC and cranked out some more, um, prose.

2nd Day: By sunrise on the second day, one should be well on their way, the real world is far off, one is immersed wholly in the concept that is unfolding before them. This is also the day that the outline may be discarded, not consciously, but by some other malevolent unleashed force that, in effect, takes over the driving. It is generally agreed one should be halfway by 6 o’clock this evening.

I have a vague memory that it was Sunday morning when I was wandering around the back yard at 4:00 am, listening to a blackbird, perched on the highest part of the house, proclaiming to the world that this was his TV antenna. In the distance another bird warbled back to let him know that he didn't want the TV antenna, he had a perfectly good one of his own and if you come over here mate, I'll give you a good kicking. I considered a spot of self-plagiarism, decided against it. Just as I had earlier decided, a little reluctantly, against making one of my minor characters a publishing company executive whose last job was quality assurance manager in a major department store.

I definitely remember Sunday breakfast; I decided to take Zeppo Bakunin's advice and cook myself a nice high protein breakfast, using the two eggs left over from Friday. I cracked them into a bowl, mixed them with a fork, added some grated cheese and some left-over marinated mushrooms from Friday's antipasto selection. The whole lot went into the microwave for two minutes; I stirred it and returned it to the microwave for another two minutes.

While it was cooking, I made the mistake of watching it; the egg mixture formed a large bubble that swelled out of the bowl like some malevolent protoplasmic blob from the planet Zangara in some 1950's science fiction B-Movie. When I took it out of the microwave it didn't look like anything fit for human consumption. It looked more like it should be slithering over someone's face, ravenously devouring flesh and bone to get to its favourite sweetmeat - the human brain. I looked in the cupboard for some HP Sauce, the only substance in the known universe capable of killing malevolent protoplasmic blobs from the planet Zangara, but all we had left was that last centimeter that sulks in the bottom of the bottle and refuses to come out because its been completely abandoned and nobody loves it any more. Somehow, I managed to eat the eggs before they ate me.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't anywhere near halfway there by six o'clock; it didn't help that the various plot lines were writhing around like noodly appendages. But I did have that really seedy, smutty scene in the run-down hotel written and the manuscript was growing. I'd given up on characterisation; if Dumas could get along without it, so could I.

Zeppo Bakunin was pleased to learn that as yet there were no daleks in the novel. However, when I started to think about it, the idea of including a couple of gay daleks had certain possibilities. Of course gay cybermen would probably flounce a lot better. But the smutty bit I already had was looking good enough and I could also wring a running gag out of it with a little more work.

Sometime Sunday night, I printed out the House of Representatives passage for Zeppo Bakunin to take a look at; in his opinion it read well (that was reassuring) and was frighteningly realistic (that wasn't; it was intended to be satirical. If Question Time really is as ridiculous as I represented it, the country is in deep shit). Encouraged by this qualified praise, I went on, confident that the conscience of the race
was shaping up nicely. (Once again, apologies to e-mail correspondents). Some time between 10:30 and midnight, I decided that sleep was definitely a necessity. I turned off the PC, went to bed and didn't sleep for a couple of hours. With a notebook beside the bed, just in case.

At two, I was at the PC again, sketching out connecting passages in the present tense, pulling the plot highlights together. I went back to bed, left the alarm set for six o'clock.

Somewhere between five thirty and six o'clock I found myself wandering around a dingy room, fascinated by the three panel mirror on one wall. The mirror's frame was ornamented with carved grotesques; demon's heads and such. I was particularly taken with the figure of the hooded assassin at the bottom right hand corner of the right hand frame. He was clad all in grey, his face completely hidden by a grey hood and a curved dagger hung, hilt down, in a scabbard at his left shoulder. Then he reached for the dagger with his right hand, and started moving toward me. The other figures ornamenting the mirror frame were starting to move too.

I backed away, a little nervous, but aware that I was in no serious danger; this was merely an animation in a computer game. As I backed away, the monitor screen appeared in front of me; that would keep them back. They marched confidently up to screen and pressed themselves against it; their plasticine bodies merged with the screen and they forced their way through it. No problem; all I needed was another screen. I backed away again; now I was in trouble - my way was blocked by the giant rubber band behind me. I conjured up another screen; once again, they pressed their bodies against it and oozed through the glass. Three screens later, things were looking grim and I was relieved when the game show host came to congratulate me on getting through the first round and qualifying for round two, Honest Piano. That's when things started to get really weird.

I woke up, just as I was telling one of my rivals in the game show what I thought of him (this was after I'd told him what he could do with the pencil I'd just broken in half and handed back to him) and realised I was talking in my sleep. Back to the PC, for the serious part of the third day's work.

The 3rd Day Attack of Doubts (Feelings of Pitiable Failure)

It is important to know these feelings will come. The deadline approaches. You’re well behind your intended schedule. Of course, you did screw up. Those “couple a’ drinks” last night with friends. And there didn’t seem to be any harm in taking a break to watch Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, on the 9:00 movie (here you may achieve at least a sense of irony, aneffective literary device you may want to incorporate into your present 3-Day opus). And then, there’s the walk in the park, the phone call to a lover, and the list goes on and on ... the hill of sand proved too much. Well, despair is for artists and poets—you’re a writer.

Take three deep breaths. Don’t punish yourself. You can do that on Tuesday. Get back to work. Take phone off hook. Pull drapes. If you feel lonely—an outcast—you are. It’s OK, you’re trying. That manuscript is now your only friend, the only thing that matters. Come to think of it, the only thing that has ever mattered. Finish it. Let it, at least, have a life.

I sat down in front of the PC at about 6 am and then it happened; somehow, the word processor, destroyed the files with those key passages. The seedy, smutty scene in the run-down hotel - gone. The resident's tale (a fine passage, written in the pre-traditionalist style often misdescribed as post-modern) - gone. And much else besides. The conscience of the race was still missing a lot of necessary components and the injection moulder had just blown a gasket (final apology to e-mail correspondents).

Sometime between this despairing moment and eight o'clock, I had the good sense to shut down the PC and call it quits. I wrote a note to Zeppo Bakunin, telling him that there was absolutely no need for him to wake me up, went to bed and didn't sleep. Which brings us up to date with my last post.

Since Monday, I've had an interesting time downloading various programs off the web, looking for a tool that would allow me to retrieve the lost files. The best of them is Linux Disk Editor (lde). Last night, I gave up on the idea, and decided I would just have to rewrite from scratch.

This morning, I got up at six (must reset the alarm clock to a time more befitting a burden on society) and, finally more or less calm, I sat down at the computer. Looking in my home directory on the reserve drive (/home/gummo) I found a directory "gummo" that I'd never seen before. I took a look inside, and found that /home/gummo/gummo is a copy of /home/gummo. And in the directory /home/gummo/gummo/3daynovel were the files missing from /home/gummo/3daynovel that I'd thought lost for ever. All the evidence is that they were copied there on Sunday. So the dog didn't eat my homework after all; it just buried it in the back yard.

So I've assembled what's written, printed up a declaration that the writing was done in three days (as required under the rules of the competition) and it's going in the mail this afternoon. At least I'll get the certificate or whatever it is that the organisers send you saying that you did actually do it. As for actually winning, well there's more chance that Mad Bugger Kev will finally get a winning tip on race five at the Dapto Dogs from the radio inside his head.

heartfelt thanks to everyone who came along on Friday night; particularly for the food that I somehow forgot to put out on the table. It provided most of my sustenance over the following three days.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Desperate Hours

Here's a consoling thought; at least I got the basic concept right when I decided to run a second hard drive on the PC as an internal back-up. Making the backup drive bootable? Pure bloody genius. The only flaw in this little piece of DIY brilliancy is when it came to the crunch, at six o'clock this morning, was this; that script I'd written to copy files from one hard drive to another each time the machine shut down wasn't working anywhere as well as I thought it was. Small, but rather devastating mistake involving a couple of missing asterisks. It's the old nail, horseshoe ... kingdom story. I've fixed the script, and now I do have back up, but that's very much a case of stable door, horse, bolted.

Here's another consoling thought; the data in the three files that had simply vanished from the hard drive when I tried to open them this morning is still on the other hard drive. That's why it's sitting idle right now; one way or another I'm getting that data off there, even if it means going over the entire partition sector by bloody sector. I'll lift it off in chunks of hexadecimal if that's what it takes. It's safe, as long as the drive isn't being written to, which is why I've switched to working from the reserve drive, with the other mounted strictly read only.

But that's pretty much the lot when it comes to consoling thoughts, right now. There's no way I'll finish the three day writing binge with anything like a completed work, not when most of the good stuff has, for all intents and purposes, simply vanished. That became pretty clear at around eight this morning. So did a pressing need for sleep; I'd taken on yesterday's portion of the writing frenzy with the motto, "Make friends with your insomnia" but this morning insomnia was no longer my friend; just a bloody unwelcome house guest who wouldn't take my repeated hits to bloody well clear off.

I futzed around with fsck a little, and decided I had two options; reconstruct most of what was aready written and then grind on to the finish - all in sixteen hours, or get some sleep and a clear head to deal with the technical issues. I took the sleep and the clear head. And the half a temazepam that Zeppo Bakunin kindly provided so that I could calm down enough to sleep; I was on the verge of one of those messy "blokes don't cry, they just get on with life" fits.

Realistically, What are my chances of getting the data back and getting a more or less finished work of 90 to 100 pages by midnight tonight? About as good as a three-legged greyhound's chances of winning at the Sandown dogs. So that's that.

Tonight, I'm going to take myself out into the back yard, turn to the South Celestial Pole and have a quiet word with the ex-God; we parted ways several years ago, after a barney over which of us actually existed. I've more or less put up with the little episodes of peevish attention seeking beehavour over the past few years but this time it's gone over the line. Time to get an intervention order.