Sunday, September 16, 2012

the end may be just another beginning, but it is an end nonetheless...

i like drama. i like to put on a show. our lives are so pregnant with opportunities for joy and action squandered out of poor timing, misspent chances and down-right lack of vision that if i can bring everyone together with a word, who am i not to? we all want to feel that we're part of something bigger than we are, but which we still own a part of. with this is mind, i was was still overwealmed by the response i got when i posted the following on Facebook on Friday morning:

"Peter Raven just bought a house."

over the next few hours my phone beeped almost constantly. i'm amazed the battery didn't go flat. 2 days later, the counter has stopped at 49 likes, 34 comments. that doesn't count the phone calls and SMS's that have come through since, either. now, i have a rule that i don't allow my Facebook Friends list to rise above 200. my theory is that i'm unlikely to actually care about any more than that, so each time i get up there i cull a few of the people i no longer talk to. this means that at least a quarter of the people on my friends list have commented on that, even if just to post the word "Congratulations!" - an overwhealming outcry of wellwishing. the sheer volume of it all became quite confusing after a while. why? why the sudden outpouring of emotion?

it's taken the last couple of days for it all to sink in. no, i'm no excited... not in the way that most people think about it, anyway. after 2 years, i've reached the point i was aiming for (overshot the mark, as it happens), gone forth and found somewhere that suits, negotiated and agreed to buy it. it's... the next step, and far from the last, in a journey i started when i got back to Australia from Europe nearly 3 years ago now. i planned it, took some detours on the way, and now after accumulating the resources i needed i've finally picked up the enormous hammer i built for myself and used it to make one of my problems go away. i'll admit it's fun though - the amount of cash i've put together is fairly staggering... from my perspective anyway, and getting to finally use it is immensely satisfying. the budget i'm working with just for improvements and fitout is enough to make me shudder. i could travel around the world for 4 or 5 months with that portion alone. the deposit i'm laying down would keep my feet from touching the ground for easily a year.

i think this is a crucial element of why everyone's so excited - i've been extremely fortunate that i've been able to do this. i have an above-average income and i've been living rent-free with my Parentals for the last two years which has saved me thousands. it's been becoming increasingly hard for people to actually buy a house without pushing themselves into a massive hole of debt, especially single people. i know a lot of people who are paying off mortgages at the moment and more who are working up the funds to be able to, but i also know plenty who just can't, and will be stuck renting for the foreseeable future.

then of course there's the social pressure in our society that to be a proper and valuable member of society you need to get a job buy a house and have a bunch of kids. ignoring that i'll never actually achieve all three of those standards, achieving this is something that brings hope to everyone you - the thought that if one of your peers can achieve what you want to do, so can you.

lastly, and the easiest thing to forget, is that i've been talking about this for years now. i've celebrated my milestones on the path in little ways, kept myself going with the constant mantra of "no, i'm saving to buy a house". now i've done it, of course those near to me are going to celebrate it with me. its been such an fundamental part of my life for so long that's taken so much of my dedication, and my desire to move on to the next phase has been so strong that it's natural that they'll cheer me along. that's what friends do, and that's one of the reasons why mine are awesome. we support each other and through communal effort we ease the burden for everyone.

so here we are - one long wait is finally over. the situation has been carefully structured and balanced. i've bought a place that's on the cheaper end of the spectrum that i can afford easily - to the point where my repayments will be only barely more than the potential rental income. i need to live in the place for at least a year to qualify for the $7000 First Homeowners' Grant, but after that i should be in a position where i can rent it out for roughly what the repayments will cost, which effectively means that i can ignore it and let it pay for itself. once that happens... i'm free. free to travel the world, work as a professional diver, or simply wander, with only the obligations i choose.

and for once, just for a moment i'm allowing myself to feel like it might just be all downhill from here...

Friday, July 27, 2012

i am a tourist...

i was lying in bed just now, about to switch my laptop off and check in for my nightly trip to la la land when i noticed on Spotify that MCG has been listening to Death Cab For Cutie again - a song i didn't instantly recognise, which made me curious so i clicked on it and let it play for a moment, streaming off that vast treasurehouse of knowledge that is the internet and washing over me like, waves in the way that Death Cab tends to, sweeping me out of my sleepy reverie and dumping my mind back in a place i've not been for some time.

sitting on a creaky wooden chair with an oversized mug of coffee at a table draped in a dirty cloth listening to the Transatlanticism album writing thousands of words that i'm about to cast dejectedly into the aether.

on the right hand side of a bus as it rolls its way out of Austria and into Italy while i sift through the dim recollections of the pub i was in three days ago and ignore the snoring tourists behind me.

sitting in a darkened cafe late at night with my 3rd mug of dirty flat white with canalphones blocking out the hum of the hipsters while 30 Seconds To Mars get existential in my ears and i try to put my thoughts into words and the words into order.

it is the nature of life that it exists only in flux. there is no such thing as a static existence and all good things must end eventually to make way for something else, but i can't help but feel like i managed to trade blue skies for pain, hot ashes for dreams, hot air for cool breeze. when i visualise my life of late in my minds' eye it resolves into an image of me trudging through mile after mile of wasteland, flat and featureless out to the sides with amazing scenes behind me and a haze of dim, ever-receding potential ahead of me. it's melodramatic and bullshit and this i know - i'm surrounded by people who are falling other each other to be near me but if i stop focussing they become ghosts in my foreground.

i wonder sometimes whether i'm trying to force myself into a mould that just doesn't fit. the permanent job, buying a house and settling into this fucking shithole of a town, trying to find peace in possessions and stability... and all i want to do is book a flight and jet off to Seattle, or Tokyo, or Helsinki. i search my unreliable memory, trying to rememeber the last time i felt as peaceful as when i'd just got back to Canberra after spending a year in the world, and i can't find it. i don't know if it's this city that i react so poorly to, or if i'm just trying to shoehorn a size 12 Life into a size 10 Compromise.

the last couple of months have been ok - the challenges of a new job and a happening social life have kept me distracted and inoculated, but i can feel myself slipping into a sullen malaise again where i can't help but flick this lighter on and off again, dreaming of watching it all burn so that i have the excuse to walk away and fuck off into the distance again. i find myself wringing the throttle of my bike like the neck of a wounded pheasant, pouring self-directed rage and impotent frustration through rubber tyres and into the pavement while i try to reconcile what i want to be doing with what i've somehow decided i will do instead.

so if distractions are becoming less and less effective, and i've failed to find an answer in 6 months, does that mean it's time to look somewhere else, from a different angle?

or maybe just broaden the scope...

Monday, June 11, 2012

calm blue ocean...

i've been listening to a lot of Instrumental Post-Rock of late; sleepmakeswaves and God Is An Astronaut mostly. on one hand it's hauntingly beautiful, on the other it's a multi-layered Wall of Noise, drifting keyboard progressions leading into complementary guitar rhythms, Pink Floyd Meddle-era bass intro folding smoothly and seamlessly into a growing string riff via a crunch-guitar transition stolen from The Butterfly Effect. head-filling but not head-drilling, it's a soundscape that sits nicely in the realm where it takes you away but doesn't overwhelm. unconstrained, but naturally restrained. it's fucking genius.

it also matches the mood i've been in lately. over the last few months i've noticed that i've been calming down a lot. not so much more focused, but more relaxed about the world and my place in it, watching as the seeds i've planted over the last few months have sprouted and grown. in an odd sort of way it's very much as if, having lined up my trajectory and performed the pre-flight checks the only thing remaining has been to throw myself off the platform and fall on target and the trick to hurting yourself as little as possible in these situations is, as always, to Accept The Fall. i can never stress this enough - most people, when falling, never get past the flailing "Denial" phase of the whole thing. you can't "Plead" with it and getting "Angry" about it will not help you. waving your arms around is a recipe for a broken wrist. please go straight to "Acceptance", do not collect $200. the outcome of this scenario is inevitable - you will hit the ground and it will hurt, so do what you can to make sure that you land in such a way as to spread the force over as much of yourself as possible and that your impact point is something other than your hand or head. this goes for life as well - sometimes things just get fucked up and there's nothing you can do about it. Accept The Fall and focus on what you can do to effect positive change to the situation.

and so it has been - after floundering around looking for a path, i backed the fuck off, accepted my situation for what it was and moved forward. in a lot of ways it was a lot like Giving Up all over again - giving up on the things that i simply couldn't have, giving up on what wasn't achievable, picked from the remaining options a path with the best available outcomes and then went out looking for ways to colour it Awesome.

and so it has been and so it has continued.

i'm currently on the way home again, Thailand, and then Singapore falling behind at the end of a trail of jet exhaust. it's been, for the most part, a pleasant and entertaining trip. overly-tiring, and the weather caused a few issues in the second half of the proceedings, but that's not why i'm looking forward to getting home. for once, what's going on at home is more interesting than what i can be doing in other parts of the world. two years i've been sitting around getting the deposit for my home loan together and it's sitting in my savings account right now, earning roughly $10 in interest each and every day. it will have accumulated around $210 while i've been on this trip, and it's burning a hole in my pocket. i'm sick of waiting - i want to get this mission underway. before i can get properly cracking, i also have a new job to start. for Job #18 i had a couple of different offers to juggle - both with pro's and con's. it was a hard decision - join a hungry little start-up and build a new division of the company for them from the ground up with serious rewards for achievement, or hook in with a more established firm, build and head up their brand-new Perth Office. after much deliberation and soul-searching i accepted the latter - the rewards were less, but so were the risks. it was a strategic decision because i think it'll put me in a better position a year or so from now, with the added bonus that the first thing i need to do on my first day on the job is to fly to Melbourne and meet the new boss, so around 33 hours after getting back to Perth from my holiday, i'll be heading out again with a freshly packed bag.

as much as i'd like to be chilling out at home for the next few days, i'm pretty stoked about this little turn of events. i've been meaning to get over to Melbourne for about a year now and i keep not making it. i was supposed to go in January but i wasn't in the mood so i went to Vanuatu instead. i was arranging to head across over Easter, but Canberra sung to me and i answered with peace in my head and joy in my heart. now i get to go for free without expending any leave - net-worth to me: ~$1000. boojah.

it's odd, really. it's been years since Real Life was particularly interesting to me. it's been like a more epic version of "Live for the weekend" - i've been living for the next trip, the next adventure, counting the dead time in between as "Preparation", or "Resource Acquisition". now Real Life has become so interesting that all i could think about for the last few days of this trip was getting back to it. like i said: odd. i am, however, calm about the whole thing. i can see my path laid out ahead of me and i know what i need to achieve to get where i'm going.

usually the calmest i get is when i'm on the back of my motorcycle at 100kph+, or neutrally buoyant down around 12m under the surface of the ocean. there's nothing i've found that's quite like the razor-sharp sense of purpose i feel from going really fast, or the cool serenity of cruising through an underwater garden and then, later, bobbing around on the surface like a cork, BCD inflated with my fins waving in the air waiting for the boat to arrive and pick me up. it's lovely - like a post-coital cigarette (cigarettes being a pleasure that i have not enjoyed in 4 months now as it happens).

this isn't that, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's overall a pleasant place to be. i just need to get Melbourne out of the way (and the requisite running around that being there will entail - obligations and visitations to discharge) and then... then i get to start a whole new adventure. we'll just have to see how this Real Life thing pans out...

Monday, May 28, 2012

moving forward on greased wheels...

i wish i understood better, could keep track of events and my actions in reaction, how exactly i came to be here, in this place, at this time. i can recount the words spoken into what ears, the acts of kindness and malice, but... were i to try to do it all over i couldn't guarantee that things would have worked out a well as they have and of this i am certain: my existence has been charmed in recent history. 5 months ago i'd been back in Perth for a matter of days, gutted and raw from the couple of days i'd just spent in Brisbane, only to walk blindly into the blow that tore my throat out and brought me entirely to my knees.

in a word, i was fucked. in an acronym, i was FUBAR. in a string of metaphor, i was shattered, fried, burned ashes crackling as they cooled in a hearth wrought from iron cast from the meteorite of my downfall.

but, as it has the habit to, life went on. there were times when it nearly didn't, but as with all things these times passed. days became weeks, became months, and gradually i got better and as i did i found my eyes opening by degrees and the world became less clouded with impossibility and more and more full of potential.

i understand that this must be somewhat shocking - this flood of positivity and good humor and the general lack of angst, cynicism and hatred. don't misunderstand me - it's still with me. it's just that gradually but perceptibly things have started to Work. where earlier in the year everything i tried seemed to fail and lead me further and further from anything that resembled a win, suddenly little things started to go my way. i successfully quit smoking after a decade and two previous, unsuccessful attempts. my savings grew as i worked extra hours to distract myself from the general lack of entertainment in my life, inching towards the goal for the deposit for my house until, after 19 months of careful saving, i finally reached it. i started getting out more; i organised a regular meetup on Sunday afternoons at one of my preferred cafes that's become the highlight of my week. the people i invited were a hodge-podge of folk i knew from various different circles and i took great joy in the weeks that followed the first event watching them all find each other on facebook and become proper friends separate to their connection through me.

and now i'm sitting on a flight to Singapore with an old friend i recently reunited with, kindled a friendship with and decided to take a punt and join on a trip to Thailand. we'd run into each other at a party back around the end of February and started hanging out when, one evening in March, she turned to me and asked:

"Do you want to go to Hawaii?" yes! wait, why Hawaii? "Because I want a warm getaway in the middle of winter and I've never been." that sounds cool - i kinda wanted to go... but how about Phuket or something? it's cheaper...

and so, after some research and bouncing between locations as far ranging as New Caledonia, the Philippines and Hong Kong, we booked ourselves some flights and off we went.

spontaneous madness - just the way i like it.

meanwhile, the people i've been working with for the last 6 months have put up with my mood swings and edginess while i rid myself of my nicotine dependence. i nearly took a permanent job with them despite the junior nature of the role but the money wasn't there... so they kept me around until my holiday and gave me the time to find a new gig. they consistently treated me better than i deserved and it's been a long time since i've experienced that sort of kindness in the workplace.

the new mob i've signed up with look interesting; they're flying me over to Melbourne on my first day for a couple of days of meet-and-greet. seeing as i've consistently failed to get to Melbourne in the last 2 years this fits with my plans nicely... not to mention saving $600+ from my Travel Budget.

this isn't to say that there haven't been casualties. i'm no longer on speaking terms with LFV - after finding myself demolished and suicidal after every contact with her i told her in no uncertain terms to go about her life leave me the fuck out of it. it was far from the optimal solution, but i've been happier for it and that's what's really mattered. she can look after herself - she's good at being happy. i had to make the choie to look after me and i've had far less practice.

i've also not had a lot of contact with the Sunshine, although that's changing. when i left Brisbane i told her that i'd be out of communication for the foreseeable future, and apart from the occasional ping back and forth we've not really spoken a great deal until recently. we're still not talking in any great depth or frequency, but the tone has at least been warm.

there are people i've found i have less and less time for, people i don't bother to try calling any more, people i've been quietly avoiding. the usual Brownian Motion of an extended social circle and for everyone i've lost i've gained someone else who's enriched my life in far more interesting ways.

i still haven't picked up my guitar, but i HAVE learned to control a Power Slide on my bike and i'm gradually getting the numbers together to go for my Dive Master qualification.

so, for now, it seems that things are moving along on oiled wheels. being in a state of existence that i understand is referred to generally as "happy" is a foreign country for me, full of interesting people and exotic delights. it's been so long that i've felt that i was firing on all cylinders, in full control of my faculties and possessed of an unassailable confidence that the sensation when it struck me was dizzying. the perception of achievement and actually getting things one is something i've felt i was missing for far too long. now i'm on holidays again, heading out of the country with a solid job to come back to and plans afoot for my return... i finally feel like things are actually working out and that i have all i could ask for. now i just need to see how much further i can extend my reach, and how much more my hands can grasp...

Monday, April 9, 2012

some things i learned this weekend...

just being in a different place can give you a different perspective on things. your location forces you to look at your life from a different angle, even if that just means fitting more of it into your field of view. sometimes it's just a matter of talking to different people. folks who live in Canberra have a subtly different way of thinking to people who live in Perth, to people who live in Melbourne, to people who live in Los Angeles. people who've BEEN to all these places have a different perspective still; all men may be created equal, but that doesn't mean that they're equivalent, after all. then there are the flashes of inspiration that come seemingly from nowhere. last Wednesday i was on the way to Canberra, sitting in Sydney Airport waiting for my connection, having an email conversation with Dr K and something in the phrasing of what she said said brought me to a realisation that bore no relevance whatsoever to the conversation. it was the first thing i learned this weekend.

1) Friends vs Family

for years it's bugged me, that quiet, niggling thought, a reaction i have that just doesn't make sense, the reasons behind which you can't fathom, that makes no sense but is, regardless, true. reading through an email where i was discussing Work/Life Balance, it struck me like a hollow-point bullet; entering quietly through my eyes and ballooning inside my head:

i have Friends in Perth, but my Family is in Canberra.

this statement requires some explanation because i'm using words emotively rather than factually and to properly understand it you have to understand a critical part of my thought process. it's all about Choice.

since about a year after moving to Canberra i've thought of it as Home. it took a while before it took the mantle away from Perth, which is where i grew up and to this day i've spent more of my life, but by that time i'd built a comprehensive life there - work, love, friends, a feeling of sanctuary. it's been a long time now since i really felt comfortable in the town i grew up in. too many bad memories, too many reminders of old failures. whenever i went back i wanted to get out again, and it helps that Canberra's always been good to me - every time i've come back it's given me what i needed. the sensation of reassurance this understanding provides is perplexing, yet palpable - knowing that when things go bad you can always Go Home.

the most important thing though, i think, is that it's the town i chose. you don't tend to have a choice about where you grow up; what city, what house, the people you hang out with at school. you might feel comfort in the old family home, but i've always found that the place i think back to is the place i lived when i moved away from my Parental Units. the same goes for the car i inherited from my Old Man - that was just a car. it's the one i went out, found and bought for myself that i think back to fondly.

so it goes for the Town i Chose.

this extends to biology as well. you hear phrases again and again about how blood is thicker than water, that it's always family who'll stand by you and so on... but then, i look at my Great Aunt who tried to screw her siblings out of thousands of dollars of their inheritance, i think of the friend who was interfered with as a child by her grandfather. hell how about, Joseph Fucking Fritzl? (if you don't know who that is/was, look him up because i don't care to go into it) Cane was Abel's brother, but that didn't prevent the Bible's first murder, so how much of a difference does it make, really? don't misunderstand me: i love my brother, for example, but that's because i like who he is, and i really do question how much the bond we've developed over the history we've shared has to do with our genetic similarity. isn't it more important that people stand by you because they choose to, love you because they want to, rather than because they feel obligated to?

this isn't to say that i don't have close and valuable friendships in Perth, or that i don't care about my Parentals and so on, but the distinction explains too well why i've felt and reacted the way i have all these years.

this explains perfectly why i feel such an emotional connection with Canberra that i just don't do with Perth. i used to go back to Perth to see people and always be relieved to get back Home afterwards. it explains a lot about why, when coming back into the country after living in the UK, it never even occurred to me that i'd go anywhere other then Canberra, why it's where i head whenever i need to rebalance myself and get back on track.

2) i'm Unlikely To Be Moving Back Any Time Soon (not for another 18 months, anyway)

for the first 48 hours after i got back Home on Wednesday afternoon the phrase (or variants thereof) i heard the most was "So when are you coming back?", and the answer i found myself parroting was along the lines of i'm not sure, but it's unlikely to be soon.

unfortunately, while there are a number of good reasons to uplift and move back, none of them are adequately compelling to counteract the reasons i left. it's true that i took a Leap of Faith in LFV, but that wasn't the only reason i picked up and moved to Perth nearly two years ago, and while LFV has been removed from the picture those reasons haven't gone away.

for starters, the social background radiation in Canberra was beginning to fall below acceptably comfortable levels. i need a decent amount of social activity to avoid getting bored and i'm never happy when i'm bored. my old crew had been quietly partnering off settling down and spawning descendants for a few years before i got back from London, but it was especially pronounced when i hit the ground again. it's not just kids that had people dropping off the social scene. back in the day when we used to go to the pub every Thursday, Friday, Saturday... Tuesday (and likely meeting up for a BBQ and more beers on a Sunday as well) we were all in our early-mid 20's. we had junior roles in our careers, working regulation hours where overtime was something to be remarked upon. we had the manic energy of being young, dumb, and full of enthusiasm for staying out late and drinking too much. spin forward to the present and we're in our early 30's. not only are we older and don't have the energy we used to, but none of us can quite bounce back from the hangovers like once we could, so we don't go out on the piss anywhere near as often as once we did. add to that the career progression that has us in more senior roles, sometimes middle-management and where once we'd work the basic 7.5 hours a day, many of us are working extra jobs, or regularly pulling 9-10 hour days, often running around after kids as well. the facts of life are that other things take priority.

take Phrancq and El Hools - they're out the door by 7AM. El Hools drops Phrancq off in Woden, then their son in the Deep South, before heading back to Civic to work her 8 hour day. When she's done she does it all in reverse. they generally don't get back home until just before 7PM, at which point they need to feed everyone, put Master Bruce to bed and sneak an hour of cleaning, TV or, just maybe, Quiet Time in before they pass out in preparation for doing it all again. they really don't have the time (or on the rare occasion they do, the energy) to come out to the pub on a Saturday, let alone a Thursday, and i really don't blame them. they explained this to me as a reason why they weren't going to join in the choir of people singing for my return. how could they ask me to come back when they might have the conjunction of time and energy to hang out (maybe) once every couple of weeks?

i don't know that i can properly express the admiration i feel towards them for looking at it from that perspective.

it's not all doom and gloom - Dr K was having the same problem as me when i came through town for a visit around this time last year, and seems to have succeeded in rebuilding her social life where i failed, but then this was made a whole lot easier by being happily married. i know from experience how much of your life is happily subsumed by having someone special in your life, and it really makes up the difference between feeling lonely when you don't get out more than a couple of times a week, and a couple of times a month.

Perth is just that more active. being 4 times the population helps a lot. the weather, too. as much as i hate the heat and incessant, oppressive sunshine, it's a lot easier to be social when the entire town doesn't go into Winter hibernation for 4-6 months of the year. the settling-down trend seems to be coming later, or at least striking differently, there, as well. possibly it's just that there are more people who are single floating around. either way, i have more opportunities to get out and be around people where i am than where i was.

the last piece of this particular puzzle is that leaving now doesn't fit with my ethos of Going Places For A Reason. if i left Perth now it would be because it pisses me off, but it's not so abominable that i'm going to go through the effort of packing and moving again just because. it's odd, really. packing and moving there seemed like no effort whatsoever when the motivation was right. perhaps it was the thought of what i was going to have when i got there that made every box i loaded into my car lighter, every hour of driving pass so easily, the goodbyes taste less of sadness. the idea of doing it again in the other direction just doesn't seem worth it. i don't have that beacon on the horizon beckoning me on.

it also helps that where i'm working is really quite a good place to be. the specifics of my role aren't the most exciting, but the conditions are good, the location is convenient and my boss is stellar. i'm currently contracted until the end of April there and while they haven't specifically agreed to the salary i've told them it will take to keep me, they've also not declined it. i made the decision a while ago that if they give me the cash i can get elsewhere i'll take the Perm and stick around for a while. if, on the other hand, the stars fail to align i'll throw my fate to the four winds, apply for jobs in four different cities and go to whichever offers me one first. that at least gives me an excuse to move on. the job i do is important to me; it needs to be something i enjoy and it's been a while since i've been as content in a workplace as i am at this one. leaving it without a good reason would be a crying shame, if for no other reason than that it may be a long time before i find somewhere else as good and having been as miserable as i have in some previous jobs, a place that's survivable is more valuable than water in a desert.

so i'll see what happens in the next couple of weeks and reassess from there.

3) So It Looks Like I'll Be Buying A House In Perth

signing up for a Perm with the mob i'm currently working for effectively signs me up to stay where i am for the foreseeable future... which for me means the next year. it may be considered sad, but for me the idea of "short-to-medium term" means 3-6 months. "long term" means this time next year. the future is too cloudy beyond that for me to predict. it's an artifact of the agile lifestyle i've led for the last four years now that i value having the ability to grasp opportunities out of the air and run with them too much to let myself get into a position where i'm too tied down to react. there's one and only one exception i can think of to this rule and whoever she is, she'll have to be fucking amazing.

that said, for the last two years i've been saving cash, slowly, but surely, with the aim towards buying a house. this may sound like a contradiction of what i just said a couple of centimetres above, but the distinction is an important part of the strategic plan i've been weaving since coming back from London.

i love Traveling and i love being able to do Cool Shit. these things are important to me - they mean that i have stories to tell from where i've been while i plan where i'm going next. it makes me feel like i'm actually doing something that i value with my life. the problem with that lifestyle is that i still need to have somewhere i can recover and and rebuild in between missions. four years ago i wouldn't have an issue with that being somewhere i rented, but one of the plans i had with LFV was that we'd get a place together when we could and start building a life. that meant that i needed to start saving in a serious way so that we'd have the cash to do so. spin forward a year or so and we'd gone our separate ways, but that didn't make the cash sitting in my Long Term Savings Account any less substantial and after the effort and sacrifice i'd gone through to put it together, i wasn't going to waste the opportunity it presented. i still have the chance to set up the base of operations i'd dreamed about when coming back from London, or at very least an investment into a potential property empire. housing is expensive to buy in Australia, but not as much as it is to rent, making a property you can rent out to be a very valuable commodity indeed.

so i've kept putting cash aside, spending a little bit here and there in ways that amuse me (flights, books, petrol and booze, for the most part) and after two years i'm sneezing-distance from having enough to start thinking about going shopping. you need a 20% deposit in this country to avoid paying a slew of penalty fees and insurances and i'm so close i can smell it. this is a good thing because i really do need to move out of my Parentals' house.

i moved back in with the folks when i moved back to Perth. this made sense - things were still uncertain, and the situation wasn't yet right to get a place with LFV, and anything i spent on rent was money not saved towards buying a house. my Old Man has been badgering me ever since i first move out of home at the wise and cynical age of 18 to move back in and save my money, and finally the situation was appropriate to do so. that was nearly two years ago and it's getting about time to move on. they need the rear end of their house back and i need some space of my own to do what i want to do and start playing with projects that need more room than i have available at the moment. i could have kicked this off six months ago and i'd still be OK financially, but the more of a deposit i have available the lower my repayments will be, so the more i'll be able to pay down the mortgage and the easier it'll be for me to get out and still do Cool Shit. all this planning, all this preparation, all of this in accordance with the strategy i laid out years ago. the tactics have changed a few times and the colour is a different shade but the basic shape and structure remain the same. being agile means being able to respond to changes in the situation so you can still get a result that works for you, even if it's not exactly what you originally wanted... most likely because you don't really want it any more.

so if i the circumstances of my life have put me in Perth at the time when i have the facility to buy myself a place of my own, then in Perth it shall be. i only need to stay in it for a year, remember. while the First Home-Owner's Grant the Australian Government so generously provides to help people buy their first place requires you to stay in it for the first 12 months after that there's nothing to stop me from leaving, renting it out and (if i'm lucky and i've paid the mortgage down sufficiently in that time) be making enough rental income to cover the majority of the mortgage repayments.

or so the theory goes.

one more year in Perth - enough time to find somewhere to which i have a good reason to go... and you never know what might happen in a year. i may have even found a good reason to stay.

4) If A Change Is As Good As A Holiday, Then The Reverse Is Also True

as recently as three weeks ago i was a miserable bastard. after the failure of one job and two relationships i'd invested a lot of my hopes and energy into, i was a wreck and the road to recovery was months-long. i'm not sure whether it was booking in my holiday that improved my mood so dramatically, of it it just happened to coincide. if nothing else, one thing that's certain is that the Me that i finally found that i could like after years of self-loathing, the one with the easy smile and the quick joke, the plans and the ideas, the care and the attention, the inspiration and the motivation, the clever analysis and the insightful remark, was back. he woke up again somewhere between meeting the Wifey at the airport and sitting around drinking tea with Shadow, dusted himself off, took the helm and without blinking we were flying again.

there are times when you need to reassess your life, work out what it is you're doing wrong and fix it, and then there are those where you need to wake the fuck up and get back on track. i can't claim absolute certainty at this stage, but my instincts tell me that i'm finally on the right track... at least for now (and right now is what's most important for the time being. i'll worry about tomorrow more when i'm sure i can survive today). i'm always tracking the horizon for the next opportunity, and i don't set anything in stone until i absolutely have to. this might sound like i lack conviction or that i can never make up my mind, but it works for me. if there's nothing else i need to remember, it's that while what's Right for the person sitting opposite me can be as different as we ourselves, the reflection they cast back at me can be as important as the air we breathe, and the best people in your life love you enough to look beyond their own prejudice and preference to What's Best for You when you ask their advice.

and so i can once again finally look to the horizon and move forward, sure of my footing and the path ahead... and if it can survive the return to Real Life and the month that lies between where i am now and the next Cool Thing i have planned then i may finally have recovered from 2011 and all that occurred therein. you just need to remember sometimes that if your Family will always stand by you, then the ones who always stand by you must be your Family.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

wipe the slate clean?

i was chatting with ML earlier this evening when a thought rose out of the murky morass of the back of my mind, took on form and solidified into a shape that i could inspect from all angles - a singular, made thing, wrought in whole-cloth from the ethereal fabric from which thoughts are born. this happens some times to us all - ideas that you know have been floating around in the back of your mind for weeks, months; concepts unconceived, craving creation and calling to come clear of cloudy concealment. you know it's been there, it's influenced all the thoughts around it, but like undetectable dark-matter it hides in plain sight, appearing when ready as if they've sprung fully formed from your mind.

why NOT move to another city, delete all the numbers from my phone, close my Facebook account and start a new one. discard all the trappings of the life i've built over the last decade or more and start completely anew.

ML seemed a little shocked at the idea:

"Sounds rather nihilistic. And you're not even German."
erm... we HAVE met, right?
"Starting a new FB account just seems rather extreme. What's wrong with just trimming the dead weight?"
i'm moving in the direction of being in the mood for extreme

the thing is that i went through and trimmed the "dead weight" a few weeks ago. removed the people i never speak to, or who never speak to me, or who i added because they asked me, all glassy eyed and desperate for connection in a hostel somewhere and who'd never notice their friends list drop from 483 to 482. i cut LFV because while i'm glad she's happy in her life, i don't want to have to see it, and because i don't didn't want to be broadcasting my general anguish knowing that she'd be watching. i cut out the people who i think i'll be better off without, and those who'll be better off without me. the thing is that when something weighs nothing, how can it be "dead" weight? what burden do you bear in having an extra dozen, score, century of friends?  it turns out that it weighs more than you realise.

to properly explain that, i need to explain a little of my life in the last month or so. back when i was at university, if i was looking for someone to hang out with i'd paint a map in my head of the Greater Perth Area and scan through it, marking the location of the people i knew, working out who was geographically convenient for whatever it was that i wanted to do. then i'd go through my phone to see if there was anyone else i hadn't already thought of who might go for a midnight drive. then i'd make some calls. now i lie in bed with Facebook, Gtalk and sometimes Skype open and see who's online. if they're online, i figure, they're home, and relying on people happening to be online adds a element of serendipity that pleases me greatly. oftentimes i don't get any bite, but every once in a while the stars will align and i'll wind up having a really pleasant evening, often bearing no resemblance to my design. how is this relevant? well, the more people you have linked across our various social media sites, the more chances that someone'll pop up online and be there to answer your hail. 200 people makes for 200 chances, which any serial roulette player will tell you beats 100.

to see how this can be a problem, you need to think of your social connections as possessions, and remember your Fight Club; because the things you own end up owning you. when you already have 100 people you can call on, why would you go out and meet anyone else? i've had a very similar mentality to that since i moved back to this gods-forsaken sandpit; i figured that i had enough friends to be going on with and precious enough time for those i had. when LFV and i went our separate ways and i suddenly got a whole lot more time on my hands i realised that if i were to say fuck off, i've got enough friends i'd have been lying. sure, i know a lot of people, but only a limited number of these are what you'd call "socially available". let's face it - i'm closer to 40 now than i am to 20, and when you find yourself at this age still living the life of an upwardly-mobile bachelor you begin to notice that an awful lot of your friends are getting married and having kids (in no particular order these days) and that suddenly the list of people who are up and want to go grab a coffee at 11PM, or head to the pub on a thursday night, or sit around gass-bagging for an evening is getting shorter and shorter... but they're your friends, right? you don't stop liking them because their priorities have changed, so you call them up every once in a while, they come up in your browsings for companionship, and you take it with grace when they turn you down for the 8th time in a row because... hey - it's no slight against you that they're busy, right?

it takes a special change of outlook to realise that you need to get out and meet some new people. it's not any reflection on the friends you've had for years, but they're moving in their direction and you in yours and you have needs they can't fulfil any more. with this in mind, a few weeks ago i got back onto (where i met such infamous souls as Adnan, The Canadian, Stiltwalking Jacq and Nick The Playwright back in my London days) and had a look at what people where doing in Perth. next thing i know, i'm hanging out with a bunch of Ducati riders, wasting large amounts of fuel, riding around the place for no better reason than that it gives us all an excuse to get out of the house and hang out with some different people. they're completely unconnected with my existing circles of friends (although for how long that lasts is another question) and while on the surface of things we have nothing more in common than motorcycle ownership, they're a pleasant crew. so if i can forsake my Perth crew and start building a new one, why not go to the extreme and take the Scorched Earth approach?

first things first, you'd need to honestly and fully cut all ties with your past life. a name change would help. a different country would be even better. moving to a different city, where you knew no one or next to no one, would be the least you'd have to do. the phone number you've had for 13 years? change it. email addresses need to go. no forwarding addresses for your snail-mail - people will try to find you and you can't just make it hard for them. you have to make it impossible. then, when you get to where you're going, you need to start anew. it takes years to build a proper social network from scratch. i know. i've done it from a single link. the thing is that the first one is the hardest.

then there's the betrayal. what i'm proposing here involves writing off everyone you've ever cared about, or (and this is arguably more important) has cared about you. imagine if someone you knew just disappeared off the face of the planet without a word, their phone number suddenly silent, their email addresses bouncing back,  Return To Sender on all post and no one you know the wiser? is social suicide any less selfish than the mortal version? and do you want that on your conscience?

the thing is that i'm tempted. we all have our Weapons Of Last Resort, and i can't help but think that if the reasonable and rational approaches haven't worked and i've tried everything else i could think of, that if not now then when? with the mood i've been in for the last few months, i've felt very much like i wanted to watch it all burn down around me then sit an enjoy the quiet stillness of the falling ashes. the feeling of wanting everyone else around to share and understand the fury and misery that you've tasted in every thought through every waking moment. the apex of the mentality that says "if i ain't happy, ain't nobody happy". when you can't help that every time something good happens to someone you know that it's somehow intended as a personal insult.

because maybe, just maybe, when you can see yourself turning into so much of a cunt that it's time to withdraw gracefully and silently, just to spare them from it and use the time you've sentenced yourself to as an opportunity to sort your shit out and get your head on straight so that by the time you do meet new people to hang out with you'll be ready to be civil.

for now it's just a thought that i'll be turning over in my hands for the next little while before i throw it at the wall and see whether it sticks...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

holding patterns...

motivation is such a tenuous, yet powerful thing. of late i've had little of it, and none of it's come from me. i've got out of bed in the morning, gone to work. on the weekends i've managed to shake myself into motion because i know that beyond the veil of my bedroom door there is coffee. i get up for the coffee - a ritual habit that gives me some structure to the days that are actually my own. pull on some clothes, stagger into the kitchen, fill the kettle with 500ml of water and set it to boil while i add two dessert spoons of instant brown grit into one of my tall, elegant white mugs and add two tablets of artificial sweetener. the water's generally boiled by the time i've put the makings away. pour. add milk. take it out the front and look at it steam while i have a cigarette i don't really taste and read the morning's news on my phone. it's not much, but it makes me get up, move, survey the day before me, the world around me and their combined potential for myriad wonders.

it's easier during the week. from 8:30AM until 5:00PM my time is not my own and for the time being i'm happy enough for it to be that way. 5 days a week i don't have to think about what's to come next, and i'm usually so exhausted by the end of the day that it doesn't bother me that i don't really do much with myself in the evenings. talk to people online, read the news, watch whatever tv show i've been downloading of late, play a video game, read my book, sleep. wash, rinse, repeat. same shit, different day. it's easier than facing the grim reality of being completely and totally fucking clueless. tonight i spend half an hour playing with a toy aeroplane, transforming it into a robot and back again, just because it took my mind off how much precious time i've been wasting going nowhere.

for the last couple of years, now, i've been waiting for whatever's to happen next. 2 years ago yesterday i landed in Canberra with a couple of bags, a hard drive full of photos and a head full of memories with people to see and a life to rebuild, and proceeded to get on with the business of doing those things that people do - work the week, save a bit of cash each fortnight, go for drinks on Friday, then through random circumstance i met the Green Faerie and suddenly had something to Work Towards.
for three months i was in Canberra and she was in Perth, but that was ok because i knew exactly when and how i'd be fixing this problem. the rest was just patience and logistics, and these are things i've had a lot of practice at.

so the day came and so did i, across the continent to the Old Country and the reunion was sweetness and light but the warm, happy glow of Arriving faded over time, as it inevitably does, and once again i settled in to Wait. Wait for her to get things sorted so that she could move on with her life. Wait for me to get the finances together so that i could have the cash to help us start building a life. Waiting for this, Waiting for that. we'd agreed that plan towards buying a property each with the general view towards renting out one and living in the other, which meant that i needed to rebuild the slush fund i spent through in Europe and to achieve this i needed to earn it, save it, then earn some more. and Wait. so i put my other plans aside for the time being so that i could focus on this goal for the time being which wasn't a horrible thing - i had a girl to love and share my time with and beyond that i'd lost track of what other aspirations i might have had along the way. my 5 Year Plan finally came to fruition 6 months before the delivery date - i finally got the Team Leader job i'd been working towards for years, and after a brief celebration i looked forward looking for the next set of goalposts and saw... nothing, so i Waited, figuring that something would show up soon enough.

spin forwards a year and the Faerie and i went our separate ways amicably after agreeing that some differences of opinion are just too profound to ignore or gloss over, and i found myself still sitting in the wilderness with a blank horizon in front of me. having a high-pressure job meant that my career was happily looking after itself, and having the Faerie around meant that i could keep myself busy helping her to achieve her goals while i waited for the time to come to kick off the next stage of mine. now i didn't even have that to occupy myself with - just time on my hands and a lack of motivation. i'd started learning guitar before i left Canberra and continued when i got here, but it's sat in its case for over a year now untouched. i'd started learning German at about the same time, but apart from a few choice words i've not progressed at all. i've really done nothing that i'd consider of any value in all that time - flying around and around in circles looking for a place to land. i'd had a good enough time of it all - i went to the US for Shadow and The Boss's reWedding. i went to Cairns with Matthias (see Berlin: Don't Mention The War) and dived on the Great Barrier Reef. i flung my poi around at the Southbound Festival surrounded by half-naked women dressed as faeries... but i don't feel like i've progressed at all. all i really have to show for it is an amusing photo collection and a Big Fucking Stack of Cash.

a couple of amusing statistics, because numbers amuse me sometimes - if i were to convert it all into Australian Dollar coins and stack them all one atop the other the pile would be roughly as tall as the third highest skyscraper in Perth and weigh 5 and a half times more than me which, if dropped into a swimming pool, would displace 63 litres of water.

it's a fair whack of cash.

and as you'd expect, the having of it provides me with absolutely no joy whatsoever. the important thing is that it's a moderately large hammer with which i can make certain problems go away. if i want to take a week off work and head back to Cairns, for example, i can. my car needs new tyres? sorted. i want to take a friend out to dinner and they don't have any cash until payday? not even a concern.

so i have to ask - what the fuck is the point of having it if i have no fucking clue what the hell do do with it? the Responsible Adult i'm supposed to be by now says i should stick with the plan and Buy A House - that HAS been the goal all this time... but bearing in mind how trapped and tied down i've been feeling for so long now, do i really want to shackle myself to this place for another however many years? i've been feeling the wanderlust building for a while now there is a serious temptation to go and chase the Sunshine. of course, that raises yet more questions. it seems that for the last few years i've followed, rather than led. i followed the Faerie across the country, then followed Matthias to go diving after following Shadow to America, so i wonder whether i really want to hand the steering over to someone else again but... i also don't have a fucking clue what the hell i want to do with myself and i have to admit that this has led me to some extraordinarily interesting places over the last couple of years. if i'd not wound up in Australia's Sandpit pursuing a girl with big brown eyes i'd not have reconnected with Matti again, and i'd not have wound up in Cairns, let alone been invited back.

i wonder if i'm looking at this wrong - am i really relinquishing control, or am i diverting in order to fly alongside a while? and do i really give a fuck, as long as it keeps my life Interesting? because i have to admit that Give A Fuck is a resource that i have in incredibly short supply. for better or worse, i've still not done anything i couldn't walk away from and i can't contemplate doing any different now. i seem allergic to permanence, addicted to transience. i think i'm just about ready to accept that as being part of who i am, rather than something i need to fix.  now i just need to find the motivation to actually do something rather than just Waiting for it to happen...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

you have to look after you (because no one'll do it for you)...

the rain's hitting my face through the open visor of my helmet as i ride off down Wanneroo Road, heading for home. i'm 20k over the limit. 30. the bike's barely awake under me, engine loping along as i cruise through suburbia. i've just done my Good Deed for the Day - gone to help someone who needed it. i don't owe him anything, but it was the Right Thing To Do. i should feel good right now... that self-satisfied feeling of knowing you did the Right Thing for the Right Reasons, but i don't. i'm not sure if i feel anything at all. i know, academically, that the air is fresh and clean, but it doesn't buoy my soul like i know it should. i know, logically, that i'm passing the cars around me, but i'm not noticing them. if i check my memory i know that i indicated, changed lanes and overtook, but it doesn't feel like me that did it all. there's music in my ears - i know this to be true. i can hear every word Scroobius Pip says, but i'm not comprehending. i'm insulated, floating in a silent ocean of mental fatigue over a featureless bottom of anger and i'm not sure if i can feel anything at all. just the pinpricks of the rain hitting my face, evaporating almost before they've landed.

i hit Ocean Reef Road and catch a lucky green on the Freeway onramp and hang off for a fast-left and fire through it and let the bike wake up a bit, hitting a dollar-fifty before i've even thought about it before dropping back to a gentle dollar-twenty cruise for the 30km run to the city. meanwhile, i'm sixteen days ago and 3472km away, standing on a beach near Cape Tribulation with a pretty girl under my arm. then i didn't have a care in the world. now i just don't care.

the job i took back in February, i still have. it's been touch and go a lot of the time but every time i've felt like i was ready to pull the pin, toss the grenade and walk away from the impending explosion i've held fire for one reason or another. i've been holding off, for the most part, because i want to have a job with some longevity on my CV. a career of short roles is starting to look bad, despite the solid and steady progression. it helps that my staff have been, for the most part, brilliant. a pleasure to work with. a reason to get up and go to work in the morning. unfortunately the joy ends there and i'm getting sick of being the umbrella that holds off the shitstorm of abuse from above. i can keep it up for a while yet, but how much longer remains to be seen.

i'm 2 weeks ago, enjoying One More Day in the warmth of the Sunshine before heading to Cairns Airport and saying goodbye.
i'm 4 weeks ago, spending my evenings talking online with someone i met only briefly, but who wants to know me better. 
i'm 17 months ago, arriving in Perth after 3 days of driving with Shadow across the country to be greeted with tears and kisses.
i'm 2 years ago standing outside Canberra Airport, feeling like i'm Home for the first time in forever.

chasing a feeling, more than a place. a need to feel something beyond numb and angry, weary and betrayed. to feel like i'm in control again, however transitory and self-delusional it might be. soon i'll make my move - when the stars align and the way forward is clear. in the meantime i'll be making my plans and watching the signs, waiting until the time's right to set myself Free again...

Monday, February 14, 2011

16 jobs in 9 years...

i'm what you might refer to as a "Career Contractor". i started my first one about an hour after completing my final tutorial for uni in October 2002 and I've been going on like that ever since. one month here, a fortnight there, 6 months somewhere else. the longest i've stayed in any one place, employment-wise, was just under 3 and a half years when i worked for a Large Federal Department. that was 4 separate contracts and three distinct job titles. the shortest was 6 days, working for Gatehouse Bank in London. i worked for Celine (part of the Louis Vuitton Fashion Group at the time) for just a touch longer. i've had a couple of Permanent jobs over the years, but they've never lasted and for one reason or another i've always wound up back in the contracting space.

for those who don't follow the varieties of employment arrangements, a "contract" differs from a "permanent" job more or less as follows:

- you're generally employed to provide a specific service, generally for a specific time frame. the idea is that you can bring someone in to fill a gap, say, cover for someone going on Long Service or Maternity Leave. they sit in the seat while they're needed then they're gone when they're not.
- you don't receive paid holidays, sick leave or anything else. if you're crook and can't come in, you don't get paid.
- you generally get paid more. a contractor needs to cover their own superannuation/pension out of the fee they receive, as well as cover themselves for any leave they want to take. the value of this comes to around 11% above the standard permanent salary, although individual contract rates can differ from this vastly. when pricing myself, i always bear that in mind and make sure that my requested rate takes this into account (i usually ask for 20% more than the perm expectation so that they can bargain me down a little without cutting into my income)
- at the end of your term there's absolutely no guarantee that you'll be extended in the role. your employer can opt to let the contract end, at which point you're back on the meat market.

so there's risk and reward. if you want to work extra hours, come in when you're sick and not take holidays you can earn a tidy packet as a contractor. if you're happy to bounce between jobs and be constantly updating your resume then life can be good and interesting, and if you like having a variety of work to do in different places then it can be really rewarding. i'm fairly good at saving some money for a rainy day, which means that i've been able to take holidays when i want. when i can manage it, i avoid taking sick days and if i can leave my holidays for the "between gigs" times then i'm able to put a fair amount of cash aside quite quickly when i've had to. you can cut and run pretty easily when a job turns out to be crap, and when things time out well sometimes you can find something to fill in a couple of months while you're waiting for something else - a better job that won't be starting for a while, or say, a move across the country. it also means that i've been able to keep my skills updated regularly and keep my resume full of buzzwords that keep new employers happy, so you could say that it's worked out quite nicely. it's a mercenary life - fighting with pimps to make sure you get the money you're worth and they don't screw you on their cut (pimps take a cut of your hourly rate, and if they can up their cut by dropping yours they will), making sure you've always got enough cash coming through in case you go through a dry spell between jobs, or so you can afford to take a holiday every once in a while so that you don't burn out. each contract that comes through has to offer just a little bit more than the last - you're often asked what you were paid in the last job when people judge your "worth". you could have all the skills on the chart, but if you were getting paid half the rate they expect in the last job then you'll be undervalued and there'll be a doubt that you're good enough for the better roles. you're CONSTANTLY chasing an extra couple of dollars at renewals. it may not be about the money, but if you have the same skills as someone who earned $60/hour in their last job and you were earning $40, they're far more likely to get through than you are.

that said, after eight and a half years of this, i'm getting pretty tired. i can write up selection criteria while configuring a new Windows server. my resume gets updated at least every six months, and that means i need to update and every time as well. i keep a folder in my email full of email conversations with various recruitment agents in the towns i want to work (i still get emails from pimps in Melbourne after i briefly looked at working there, not to mention the ones in Canberra who haven't worked out that i live in Perth now. when i went to London i left my phone with my mother for her to look after and she'd get a couple of calls a month from people in various parts of Australia seeing if i was available). networking is a huge part of the game. the problem is that it's tiring. it's semi-constant effort. even when you're in a job you're still keeping in touch with your contacts, seeing what's out there, lining up the next gig. then, each time you leave a job, there are the goodbyes, farewell drinks, collecting email addresses from people who you'll probably never see again, a weekend or maybe a week's break before you're finding your way to a new office, trying to remember the names of your new colleagues and working out who to avoid, who's arse to kiss and who'll be signing your timesheet.

i just got job #16 after three, hour-and-a-half-plus interviews. i was on the market for just over 2 weeks and in that time i interviewed for three jobs, discussed half a dozen more and was offered two (i'd like to thank the Western Australian Skills Shortage). it's another perm. as i mentioned earlier, i've never had a lot of luck with perms. the first one i had was for a Large American-Based Multinational IT Integrator and the corporate culture was horrible. i nearly left on the first day and i only hung around for 5 months because it took 3 months to get the clearance required for my next job (the Large Federal Department). the next perm was almost as disastrous and i left after 9 months with my confidence shot to hell. i moved from there to another perm with a company which folded just in time for me to head off to London. now i'm leaving at the end of a 6 month contract with another Large American-Based Multinational IT Integrator that's left me demotivated and frustrated and walking into a small company that's only been around for 4 years. why these guys?

well, for a start it's because it's a Team Lead job. i've been chasing TL work for the last year or so now. not exclusively by any means - i'm certainly not desirable enough that i've been able to pick and choose to that extent, but nonetheless it's been on my radar. secondly, i'm getting sick of working for big, faceless IT departments. the jobs i've enjoyed the most have been for the small mobs - the ones where i can remember the names of everyone in the department at the very least. it means that i'm less likely to get pigeonholed in one particular aspect of the role, and i get more of a challenge. lastly, the guy who owns the company is the guy who spent the best part of 5 hours interviewing me and... i like the guy. i like his way of doing business, and i like the direction he intends for his baby. i'll be Employee #10, but this means i'm getting in early in the company's life so there's the potential for me to move smoothly up the hierarchy as the company grows if i can perform. it's SO much easier to gain seniority if you're managing all the new hires than starting at the bottom of a large company and working your way up. this isn't the 50's anymore. you don't start as a clerk in your 20's and work your way up to middle management in the same company before you retire at 65. it's a whole new corporate world these days. there's a joke that goes around IT departments:

How do you get a promotion in IT?
You quit and find another job.

It's sad, but true. with the Baby Boomers hogging all the management jobs and living an extra 20 years than their parents we Gen-X/Y's can't afford to sit around waiting. you look for a hole in another organisation and compete to fill it. OR, of course, you find a small company and try to get in early, and somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy. i like that idea and this has the potential to be a serious career move which is extraordinarily attractive at the moment.

oh, and it helps that he offered me enough cash that i won't be taking too much of a pay cut from what i've been on for the last six months because at the end of the day, career or no, i'm still a fucking mercenary.

Monday, April 26, 2010

by request:: An Informal Review of the HTC Desire (Part 2)...

i've had a couple more days to play with my new toy, and after several nights of disinterest and distraction-fuelled demotivation i'm left with little excuse not to sit down and talk about it, so here we go again...

the thing that sits in my hand...
hardware + software = product: of course they have to work together. look at Motorola in recent years - have you ever been walking down the street and seen a mind-blowingly beautiful girl walking arm in arm with a bloke who looks like a Neanderthal who was dropped on his head one time too many as a child and thought to yourself

"no, seriously, how the hell did that happen?"

that was the Motorola RAZR. brilliant piece of hardware. it was no thicker than my Nokia at the time, but was still a dual-screen clamshell. the keypad was responsive and elegant, the screen bright and easy to read. the software, on the other hand, felt like it had been thrown together as an afterthought. it was unintuitive, slow and bordering on sadistic. it was a Rocky & Bullwinkle phone - designed and built by separate teams who were patently unaware of each others existence and thereby never compared notes.

i'm pleased to announce that in the last week the hardware on the Desire has felt, in a word: solid. it has a heft to it that means it doesn't feel like it's going to fall to pieces in your hand, the rubberised back-plate has a soft, tactile texture that doesn't seem like it's going to squirm out of your hand like a wet fish, whereas the textured aluminium frame around the screen complements it nicely. the glass screen has, thus far, managed to resist scratches, although i need to wipe it down with a microfibre cloth every once in a while to remove the residue from my greasy fingers. this is to be expected - you're designed to touch the thing and you can't spell "wog" without "greasy" - it comes with my genetic heritage.

it's worth noting that the camera is fairly decent. i've seen the shots that the iPhone takes and it makes me wonder why people bother. the 5MP shooter on the back of the Desire is well and truly good enough for Government work. the tiny CCD's in these things will never be as good as their full-sized counterparts in DSLR's, but then that's not what you expected, is it? it's a happy-snap camera and should be treated as such, but having the facility to take a quick shot of someone to add to their entry in your phone book is cute...

i'm liking having the small row of actual buttons along the bottom of the face, if only because it gives me access to the functions they provide at any time without taking up valuable screen real-estate. the screen is Beautiful to look at - photos are clear and crisp, although you do get banding in graduated colours. oh well, i'll survive. the thing is that it's 3.7" diagonal leaves very little space, and fingers are only so small and real estate gets eaten up QUICKLY. i was perplexed for quite some time about the point of the little optical track-ball (of which i liked the addition. the less moving parts the better) until i needed to quickly go back in a text message i was writing. it gives you access to granular cursor movement which is near-on impossible with my finger. in general, it's a well put together little gadget, and the design decisions HTC have made have mostly been for the win.

there are a couple of niggling flaws that have irritated me and made me wonder why, when they've come THIS close to awesome, why HTC didn't put in just a little bit more effort. for starters, i now have Yet Another USB Cable to lug around. i'm not sure at this point in time whether this is another standard, of if HTC have just decided to fuck me for no good reason, but in a world where i have enough Mini-USB cables to just leave one everywhere i go on a regular basis why i now need one with a slightly different end. at least they provided it with a mains-to-USB converter, but still. then you plug it into the phone and notice that there's a 2mm gap between the moulding of the cable and the phone. it looks like it's not plugged in properly, but no - the light's on and a forceful push doesn't yield any further movement, so it MUST be right.

while we're talking about power, the battery life is also a bit of a bone of contention which no one's managed to come up with a decent answer to as yet. there isn't a smartphone on the market that i'm aware of that doesn't need to be charged more often than i need to eat. it DOES nicely get through the day tho - if i take it off the charge first thing Monday morning i reckon i could get to half-way through Wednesday before it ran out of juice, which isn't bad in the overall scheme of things, but still. i do miss the days of my old Nokia 3210 which would last a week between charges with moderate use. perhaps i should invest in a small solar charger...

the back plate has received its fair share of scorn on the intertubes - i didn't mind overly much, but then i'm used to having to take the back of my phone to mess with batteries and the like. what bugs me is that if this same company built an almost-identical phone where you could change the Micro SD card on the fly, why the fuck do i have to take the battery out to do it on this one? i understand that i will Rarely If Ever change said card, but... my Blackberry could do it. the Nexus One can do it. how hard can it be, people?

apart from that, i'm pretty happy with it. i've been carrying it around in the pocket of my hoodie a lot of the time and it seems to have suffered not a jot from the occasional knock and bump against things. that said, i'm also yet to drop it so i'll just have to wait and see what the results of THAT little misadventure are when it happens.

ok, so it's pretty and all, but what's it like to USE? 
well built hardware, intelligently thought out software, strong integration, these things are wonderful and all, but if it doesn't fit into daily life then all you've got is a very expensive toy which you pretend to use and inevitably sits on the shelf or in a drawer somewhere being of less use to you than tits on a bull.

for starters, it's quick and easy to check. i've spent a fair bit of time fiddling and customising and so on, but it's the work of something like 3 seconds to pull it out of my pocket, unlock the screen, glance across the icons to see if i've received any messages, flick over to my calendar, flick it back to the main screen, lock it and return it to my pocket. i consider this to be fairly reasonable, especially since in that time i've managed to visually confirm the following:

the time
missed calls
SMS/MMS messages
my next calendar appointment/reminder
received Gtalk messages

that's a fair bit of information available at a glance.

when i walk in the house, or into the office, or arrive at various friends' places, the wifi automatically connects and synchronises to the various online resources i use. i have, at time of writing, not shelled out or a 3G data plan, and while i'm in no rush to do so i expect it's not far around the corner just for the sheer convenience (and because i can claim it off my tax - this is something of a motivator).

i've found that i pull it out in those brief tens of seconds where i'm waiting for something. i've installed a couple of newsfeeds (Slashdot and Engadget being primary) which update themselves and then sit quietly in the background, so instead of staring out into the distance when i'm waiting for the kettle to boil i can quickly flick through a couple or articles. i use a portal-app which connects to Skype, so i can now use my phone as a Skype Handset. if i want to have a video call i just chat while i power up my laptop, log into Skype-proper hang up and redial. it's just another way that i manage to make myself more connectible to people who it'd be FAR too expensive to call over the cellular network.

i have NOT, however, installed any games. there's one game that came pre-installed and which i can't seem to remove and about half of the people i've handed the phone to so they can have a look at the latest hotness (it'll be yesterday's news in another week or so - such is the nature of technology - but for the time being few people in Australia have had a real chance to play with Android so there's a lot of curiosity) will find it inside of a couple of minutes and have a play. frankly, if i wanted to play games on the go i'd give Nintendo money for a DS. i come under the category (more or less) of a "hardcore" gamer, rather than a "casual" gamer. i want immersion (and preferably explosions and gunfire or at least limbs flying off and blood splattering the landscape), so little games that fill in 5 minutes at a time are of little interest to me. there are things to read, information to assimilate, news to be updated on. i like to be connected and informed - this is what is important to me and so i have configured my phone to provide this in a dense, easily accessible format.

one other UI element that bears mentioning is the integration that Google have provided within Android. when i first started setting the phone up i imported my old contacts into the phone's database, connected the mail client to gmail and logged into Facebook through the provided application. Android is smart enough to realise that you may well have a lot of the same people across these various contact lists, and so it gives you the option to link them together into one meta-record. THIS, is too fucking cool for words, since now all i have to do is look someone up in the contacts list and get access to their phone number, any address they've emailed me from, ever (and that includes the online records in my gmail - i type in Julia and i get not just my friend here in Canberra, but a recruitment agent in London i've not had any contact with in over a year. this is seriously fucking awesome), as well as giving me their latest Facebook status, right there in their contact listing. if i want to know more i can click on that and it brings up Facebook so that i can comment on it, or see what else is going on. it's stuff like this that gives me a big, geeky hard-on, and it gets even better when i show that to iPhone users who proceed to lose their fucking minds with jealousy and say things like "Holy Shit... I can't do that!" 

so has the Desire fit nicely into my life? yes, yes it has. for me it's an Enabler. for example, now when i make a batch of pikelets i can quickly and easily take a photo and share the moment with my girlfriend (who lives on the other side of the country) cheaply, and easily, without finding my camera, taking the shot, having to down-res it so that it won't take 5 minutes to send and receive... hey, look at me in a silly pose! i'll send her a copy! click, send. done. being 3700km away from each other for several months is painful, but now we send photos of ourselves back and forth on our smartphones and it doesn't seem so far.

so has the Desire made my life easier? yes, yes it has. has it done this any better than alternative products in the marketplace? possibly, possibly not - not having an arsenal of different phones that i've been able to test has made that particular question difficult to assess, but i'll say this much: i couldn't have done it as well or as easily, or wrapped it around my finger so nicely if i'd bought a fucking iPhone...

on why i hate Apple...
half my life ago when i was a young lad, my first ever job with at the Apple Centre in Perth, Western Australia. those were the days when every Apple product was a beige desktop with the rainbow Apple logo, laptops and portable devices were a matte black, Microsoft was The Enemy and Bill Gates was the Great Satan. it was one plucky little fruit company (another in a long line of technology startups that started in a couple of uni students' garages) against the Evil Empire. i was decidedly uncool amongst my friends because i Had A Mac, so while they were playing the Tie Fighter: Defender of the Empire and Mechwarrior i was playing Ambrosia shareware games and drooling over whatever Bungie were bringing out next. i loved my Mac - we'd never had an IBM-PC in the house and i had no idea what the fuck to do with DOS. working in the Apple Centre was a dream-come-true, and not just because they let me buy stuff at cost+5%. i'm sure i must have spent as much as i earned on kit and it's only because my folks subsidised my technology purchases (on the proviso that dad got all the good kit and i got the leftovers at least 50% of the time) that i had any cash left over at all.

the PowerMac 7500/100 i bought for $3000 had 16MB of RAM when i got it (i gradually upgraded it over the years with second-hand parts i traded customers for) and a 1GB Hard Drive. it lasted me for about 5 years of constant modding, upgrading and fiddling around before the motherboard finally gave up the ghost and it refused to boot and by this time i'd moved out of home and learned this little thing i call "fiscal reality" (which more or less comes down to the fact that you only earn so much and you can't keep begging your folks for cash so that you can have cool toys AND eat) so when i needed to replace it so that i'd have something to do my uni assignments on i bit the bullet and decided that it was time to learn how to do things in Windows so i got a friend to help me select parts and we built my first PC by hand. it was a learning experience, but a worthy one. there weren't a lot of Mac-specialist jobs going, i knew i'd be graduating in a year or two and i'd need to have some Windows skills or i'd have a hard time earning money. that, and i wanted to play games and up until that point games were something that happened to other people - people who had Windows PC's. Windows 2000 wasn't the prettiest User Experience on the planet, especially when Mac OS X first started showing off its glossy face to the world, but it certainly didn't lack options for fiddling and i learned fast

so the years passed and i became a Windows God while Gil Amelio got the boot as Apple CEO and Steve Jobs came back in from the cold (where he'd helped build a failed tech startup called NeXT and a wildly successful animation studio you may have heard of called Pixar) to be the "Interim" CEO and we started to see the various multi-coloured iMacs appearing in the world and i'd occasionally wander into an Apple Store somewhere and ponder whether i could afford to pick up one of these nifty lampshade iMacs or one of the new PowerBooks that were coming out in brushed aluminium (i couldn't).

then came the iPod, and it was awesome - all the portable MP3 players on the market had been gelded with minuscule amounts of storage, shite battery lives and zero audio quality. the only decent one i could find on the internet had small hard drive (a couple of gig from memory) and was made by a French company called Archos. i wanted one as desperately as a 13 year old boy who just hit puberty and has suddenly worked out the recreational use for breasts, but there were no Australian resellers and getting one in from the US was ridiculously expensive. then, suddenly, the iPod was EVERYWHERE. i was happy enough with my old Sony MP3 Discman so it was a while before i did some research and realised that the iPod was a fraud. sure, it was the greatest thing since the application of knives to bread except for one thing: it had one important flaw which was iTunes - the only way to get music on and off the thing, which meant that when i went over a friend's place i COULDN'T just give them a couple of songs by a new band to check out, and they couldn't return the favor. to make matters worse, when i installed iTunes to muck around with it i found to my digust that it had gone and rearranged and renamed all of my music and i couldn't find anything anymore. iTunes meant Control - and the entity in control was not me. this didn't seem to bother the average punter. they wanted their music on the go. they wanted it to be made easy for them, and Apple provided, not by making it easier for them to learn and become smarter, but by enabling them to be ignorant.

don't get me wrong - i'm an Egalitarian at heart. you shouldn't have to be a member of the technorati to be able to use a computer. it's just that i'm also a Darwinian with a firm belief that we should be striving to move forward as a species. giving the less educated/savvy/interested the tools to enable them to participate in the Great Technological Revolution of the Information Age is fantastic. REMOVING THE ABILITY OF TO STRIVE FOR MORE, on the other hand, is contrary to my guiding beliefs.

THEN, Apple released the iPhone, which took this philosophy of Control to all new heights. here was a device with so much potential, half of which Apple wouldn't let you access. take Bluetooth, for example. it's a short-range communication protocol allowing devices to connect wirelessly and (vaguely) securely. on my Desire i can use it to connect to my computer to transfer small files quickly and easily, or connect to my car's handsfree kit, or beam photos back and forth from my friend's phones. on the iPhone you can only collect to headsets. sometimes. when it feels like it. Apple say they're "ensuring a positive end-user experience". what they're doing is ensuring that you can only use the device the way THEY can you may. it's like you're renting the device from them, rather than buying it. imagine buying a car and being told you're only allowed to drive it between the hours of 1PM and 11PM, and do to otherwise would void your warranty? or if you pulled up to a petrol station and weren't allowed to put in petrol because you drive a Ford and the station will only sell fuel to BMW's? what the fuck?

then the iPad came out and any enthusiasm i may have had for those arseholes had finally evaporated into nothingness. it's a device that i've been waiting to be built for years - a small, light tablet that i can carry around and use as a portable life-extender. to be able to quickly whip it out at a cafe and read the news, or upload photos from my camera on the fly... but it doesn't even have a fucking card reader. what the fuck is the point? for the same price i can have a little ASUS EeePC that takes a minute or so to boot up, but on which i can do everything i need, AS WELL AS type at a rate of 1200 words and hour. it's a toy that the media can whip up a frenzy about, which could have been so useful, and has instead been limited to being a bright shiny toy that you don't even own properly because the only way to get your media onto it is over the internet or from fucking iTunes. it's the Christian-Communist mentality that says "do what we say the way we say it or we will cast you from the Garden". yes, i just called Apple Communists. get over it. prove i'm wrong. the point is that it COULD have been incredible. i look at it and can't help but wonder when the adult version is coming out. the version with all the features, the things they could have added at the cost of a couple of dollars extra, but they didn't include them. it's not because they had to cut costs, or because it was technically infeasible - they Specifically Decided Not To, because this they wanted to nerf their own product.

and the world praised them for it and flocked to hand over their money, because here's yet another unchallenging product from the company renouned for making shiny, pretty toys. they treat us like we're fucking children and in return we love them for it. gods-bless us.

at the end of the day what offends me most is that they are willfully limiting our ability to learn and grow. the whole "hacker" movement was driven by a curiosity to know what was going on behind the curtain, to reveal the Wizard and find out what the wheels and levers did, and then to recombine them to make them do something no one had ever thought to do before. it's Innovation, and Apple is intentionally stifling it, as if to say "how dare you look under the bonnet and see how we do what we do? how dare you have the conceit to second-guess us and think you might be able to do it better?" if Apple sold a car it would come with the bonnet sealed shut, and this offends me. it locks people into a single ecosystem that's even more closed than the Microsoft/Intel monopoly of the mid-90's and prevents people from having the opportunity to play and grow.

technology is and has always been a tool for us to improve our lives. we bend it to our will, not the other way around. it should be a framework that gives us options, rather than limiting is in how we are permitted to use it.

that's my underlying problem with the Fruit Company from Cupertino - they've gone from being the company that gave us a Second Way to manipulate information and become a Totalitarian state, determined to kill off outside innovation and keep the common people in a constant state of consumerism, baying for the next shiny bauble, rather than encouraging people to move forward and create. they are the embodiment of the divide between the creative and technical elite and the seething masses. it's a betrayal of the ideal that when the geek inenherited the earth we'd bring everyone with us rather than encouraging them to keep quiet... and i may be naive and i may be idealistic and i might be completely fucking wrong about the ability of my fellow man to cast off the shackles of ignorance and move forward into the light... but then if that's wrong i don't want to be right.

and that's why i hate Apple.

so where do we go from here? 
so i have this phone and it's buzzed a few times while i lie in bed listening to Incubus, writing this and... you know what? it makes and receives phone calls. it allows me to write and read SMS messages. and emails. and receive Skype calls, and share photos and read the news, find True or Magnetic North and even tell me what street i'm standing on. once was the time it would take me at least 5 different devices to do all that and now it's all wrapped into a nice, neat little package. that's pretty fucking cool. has it become integral to my continued existence as a human being?

we're not talking about a cure for cancer here, or a viable solution for world hunger, or a system of living that overthrows the corporate-masculine-oligarchy. it's a fucking phone. a mini computer that condescends to make calls. that said, it's a bloody awesome tool which i'm finding extremely entertaining and unbelievably useful. there's more mucking around to be had before i'll feel like i'm done. for example, i want to find a way to set it so that when it connects to particular wireless networks certain applications stop or start, so that when i get home it automatically logs me onto Skype and makes me available to receive calls, but disconnects at all other times. that would be useful, and the voice recognition protocols are pretty haphazard for anyone who doesn't have an american accent.

still at the end of the day i bought a Desire because i wanted one, and it's about as good as these devices are going to get for the next month or two so i'm pretty happy with that. if i had to make the choice again i would, which is about as high-praise as you can give to a piece of consumer tech, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

by request:: An Informal Review of the HTC Desire (Part 1)...

i can haz a present!
i stumbled into work yesterday morning to find a Tyvek envelope with FedEx written all over it. 2-4 days: my arse - i ordered this thing 8 days ago and it was shipped 2 days later. LIES, i tells you. i should have been more excited and tried to tear into it with my teeth but an all-nighter in the office on Saturday night meant that i'd had to sleep through Sunday and i was still paying for it on Monday morning so my customary beer-mug full of coffee had to come first.

Tyvek is a bizarre substance you don't see often in this country. it's aquaphobic like plastic, tears like rip-stop nylon and cuts like paper and like most of the freakishly awesome materials in this world it's trademarked by Dupont. one of my more colourful friends used to make it into origami wallets.

inside was another, padded envelope (overpackaging, much?), protecting a smallish white box with the requisite warranties and whatnot, cables and, presented neatly on top just begging me to grab it and arc it up was my brand new HTC Desire, fresh off the production line from their factory in Taiwan. in one of their many disjointed attacks on the telecommunications world, Google contracted HTC to build them a phone of their own. their Android OS was taking on an appearance in the marketplace of a scitzophrenic monster with more faces than a thai demon with 3 or 4 different revisions floating around on a dozen or so devices from something like 5 different manufacturers and they wanted to put out a device that Did It Right, and so the Google Nexus One was born. it was, for all extents and purposes, pretty fucking awesome. a clear, bright touchscreen with a decently-high resolution, 1GHz (not that the Hertz-rating means anything in consumer electronics anymore, not since the IBM PowerPC 601 chip first came out, or the AMD x2 Dual Core processors later) processor called "Snapdragon", half a gig of RAM and the usual Alphabetti-Spaghetti-Soup of communication-related acronyms - WiFi, GPRS, EDGE, WCDMA, GPS, BT, etc etc etc. HTC are pretty used to this by now - it was only a couple of years ago they started making phones with their own name on them - before that they built shit for other people to slap a badge on and call theirs.

now, however, they're getting agressive in the marketplace and went "we've got the designs, we've got the kit, why the hell now make own OWN version? so they did and called it the Desire. there were a few changes - the N1 has dual-microphones, one to listen to you and the other to listen to, and thereby cancel out, the rest of the world, as well as a series of electrode connectors on the base so that you can just drop it into a cradle for charging instead of always having to plug it into a cable. the Desire, on the other hand, has a little extra memory and no Google branding on it. oh, and that cradle sells for ~AUD$80 and can, therefore, go and fuck itself. the N1 was also, at time of ordering, AUD$100 more expensive, so guess which way i went on THAT decision? i like Google and their (increasingly rickety) "Don't Be Evil" motto, but not $100-much.

with due consideration of the specs out of the way and my massive mug of coffee cooling quietly across my desk, i plugged in my new toy to get some charge into the branded Lithium-Ion battery while i backed up the contacts and so on from the beat-up old Blackberry Pearl 8120 i've been cruising around with for the last year or so, got my SIM into it quicksmart and turned it on, watching with glee as the splash screen came up accompanied by a bright, loud, happy chirp and the notably paradoxic message "quietly brilliant".

this is how it begins...
gone are the days when you turn on your new phone and the most you have to do before you can actually make a fucking call is set the time. now it's a full-on customisation. a few things struck me straight away: one of the first questions it asked me was whether or not i wanted to connect to mobile internet. no rude assumptions here - not everyone has a data plan, you know, and PAYG 3G Data is ridiculously expensive in some places so let's be polite and ask. i like this, as i have no Data Plan. do i want to connect to a WiFi network? yes, yes i would thanks, and would you believe it - it connects to the office's Server Engineer Only (No noobs!) 802.11g network and associated ADSL line quicker than i can write out the actions. NICE!

a couple of screen taps and i'm staring at the big, fuck-off clock and the shiny, gay-as-a-summers-day background you'll see in any of the advertising material. i didn't even have to set the time. the network is synched with time-servers around the work and will be FAR more accurate than me so it just uses that. i don't have to tell it where i am, either. it's worked it out so there's no need to bother me. would i care to take a tutorial on how to use the onscreen keyboard? i think i'll be fine. my new phone is on, juiced and begging to be touched and stroked. it's a touchscreen - that's what it's fucking for. it's like a little kitten sitting in the palm of my hand with its chin raised and an expression that screams

"i'm EVER so cute so PLEASE pet me!"

so i do. and i feel dirty, but if indecently assaulting electronics is wrong then i don't want to be right...

it's a phone... but is it?
i feel a bit off calling these things "phones". in as much as a phone is a device with which you "call" other phones, enabling communication across great distances and perhaps even send and receive text messages, the Desire is indeed a phone. but then, my laptop does the same thing. is it a phone? if it looks like a duck walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck, right? now my old Nokia 5500 Sport (which to this day refuses to die and lurks in my "Handy Odds & Sods" drawer (what Michael McIntyre would call a "Man Drawer")) is a phone. it makes and receives calls and text messages, can even take photos and be convinced, with some coaxing and cajoling, to send pictures over the cellular network. it has a calculator and a calendar and a couple of games, but at the end of the day its primary purpose in this world is to enable me to communicate with people. the Desire and its ilk - dating back to the old Compaq iPaq's (yes, before HP ate them alive), phone-enabled Palm Pilots, Windows Mobiles and, of course, the iPhone - are not, by this definition, phones. what i'd just started covering in my grubby fingerprints is, in fact, a small computer which also condescends to make phone calls. let's face it - Moore's Law has been rolling uninhibited for nearly 40 years now, and so what i carry around in my pocket has enough processing power to happily negotiate Apollo 11's landing on the fucking moon. i say this with no ego or immodesty - electrickery has just evolved so far that the device i use to call my mum has 1152 times the RAM of the first computer my dad bought when i was six, and 728 times the onboard storage of the old single-sided floppy disks we booted it from. oh, and it costs less than a third what that old Apple Macintosh 512k did (if you disregard 24 years of inflation). gods-bless progress.

but i digress. see, i'm old enough that i remember when phones were these things with big-arse bases, actual bells that rang when a call was coming in (hence the whole idea of a telephone "ringing" they had Fucking Bells Which Fucking Rang) and you weren't to touch because even looking at the damn thing cost money. but then, i also remember when the Internet was brand new and the only good sites on the thing were porn, porn, the Gillian Andreson Testosterone Brigade, porn and a couple of Star Trek vs Star Wars fansites., when spam was a disgusting ham-analogue and you got your knowledge of the world around you from these wads of dead-tree we called "books". yes, i am a fucking dinosaur. when i got my first mobile phone i thought it was the most amazing thing ever, and would keep pulling it out of my pocket and looking at it in case the magic smoke escaped and it'd disappear up its own existence. now i'm looking at a block of aluminium, plastic and glass that is better connected to the world than the Alienware behemoth of a laptop i'm typing on. it's not the future, because i have it right here and now. it is, however, a sign of things to come, and an idea about how we're all going to become a whole lot more interconnected. it's not a phone, it's a "smartphone", which basically means what i've already described: it's a mini-computer that also makes calls. let's just leave it at that and not go into the marketing-speak of "superphones" lest we reach the point where the "uberphone" marshalls its forces and marches on the Rhineland on its way to invading all of Europe and the destruction of all lesser-phones.

but wait, someone's already doing that - they're called Apple.

ok, enough of the phosophising and reminiscing about simpler times, tell us about the fucking phone!
so what's the first thing a geek does when he gets his hands on a new piece of equipment? they start rummaging around in its guts and see what it'll do of course, so i got stuck in wrist-deep looking for its cervix to see if i could make it sing. i have to admit that i was, and in fact had been, underwhelmed by the configurable options. i'd read many a review before i spent my own money on this thing and all the professional reviews (you know - the ones who never have to pay for their own fucking toys) had ejaculated paragraphs about how the HTC Sense interface was customisable and so on. after digging around for a while i came to realise that what they meant was "you can move icons around and stuff". sure, the are 7 screens you can fill with app-launchers and widgets-various, but really all that comes down to is that you're playing jenga with icons until you come up with a combination you can navigate easily. of course, we're talking about people who've been conditioned by Apple's "Thou Shalt Not Touch" iPhone Walled Garden (which i'll discuss more later) that actually having some control over their own goddamn phone must have come as such a shock that they needed to take a little while to lie down and change their underwear. that said, the HTC Sense overlay on Android is pretty damn sweet. i've played around with the basic Android Home Screen and it's alright, but Sense takes a lot of the pain out of the configuration, and adds some of its own magic to the experience. there's a widget for just about anything you want to access quickly - i now have the the big-arse clock displaying along with the current weather, various buttons to turn on/off my wireless functions that drain a LOT of the power, my Google Calendar (synched seamlessly to and from my online account), basic controls for the music player (which keeps playing when i do something else, but pauses when a call comes in. take THAT iPhone 2G/3G bitches!), a Speed Dial launcher with my most-commonly called peeps on it, an overview of my gmail inbox (again, mirrored from my online account) and a screen dedicated to my SMS inbox. it's a work in progress - things will come and go and get rearranged until it's all where i want it.

one of the little features of the HTC Sense widgets is that the weather view changes with the forecast - when it's cloudy outside you get clouds float across the screen when you unlock it. if it's rainy you get raindrops as if it were a windscreen, complete with windscreen wipers that push them away. it's cute, and if i thought it drained too much of the battery i'd kill them in an instant, but i've only had it for 2 days so far and while i know it's probably going to be like the little nasal giggle you thought was adorable when you first got together with your partner and gets old after a year or so, i'll leave it on there until it does... or something better comes along. that's what the Market is for.

the Market - wherein our intrepid adventurer braves Secksi-Time apps, "clever" sound effects and micropayments in search of useful doohickeys that enrich the Android-phone-owning experience...
you've got to have an App Store these days. Apple did it when they brought out the iPhone and it worked pretty fucking well for them, so now where Apple goes the rest of the market follows like a floppy-eared puppy-dog, snuffling around in Steve Jobs' leavings, looking for any money he couldn't be bothered bending over to pick up as it flows like autumn-leaves from his overflowing pockets. that said, it was a ridiculously smart move. until they came up with it, any time you wanted to add functionality to your portable device, be it a Portable Media Player, PDA or phone, you needed to plug it into a computer, juggle the various synchronisation tools and file formats, run the installer and Plug & Pray, and that's after digging through hundreds of virus-ridden websites looking for the app that MIGHT do what you want it to do and MIGHT work on the specific model device you'd dropped your hard-earned on... i did with my old Palm Vx (and Palm III before that) for years, and various Nokia phones after that and i'm here to tell you that it was a fucking Nightmare, so Apple said "Hell - let's do away with the PC altogether? It's internet-connected, why not have everything go straight to the phone? Do not pass the Start Button, do not collect 200 viruses?" and lo, the people were amazed because when they were using their phone and realised that what was missing from their lives was an App that made fart-noises or mimicked drinking a beer when you tilted the handheld, they could indeed have it, and have it in the time it took to type "flatulence" into their onscreen keyboard.

the Android Market works under the same principle, just with a few less body-odor-related Apps and a slightly-lower quality control. Google famously do not censor the Market, but i'm pleased to say that the quality doesn't seem to have suffered too much. there's a robust peer-review function where users can comment and rate the apps, and this pushes shittier apps lower and lower and better apps higher and higher. there are also filters you can use to show only Paid or Free Apps. i, i will take this opportunity to admit, am something of a Freetard. it's not that i WON'T pay for things, it's just... i have to really want it, and there are enough apps around that do what i want that have been written for fun, practice, uni assignments, publicity or just good old-fashioned benevolence that i've not been stuck looking at the One True App that Jesus de Christo from Barcelona wants 5 Euros for the priviledge of using (until your new OS is incompatible or your switch platforms, or the Market-Gods choose to take the App away from you because they favor it no longer). it's a fairly painless experience to use and download from, and being a Google product it has a fantastic search-function.

don't ask me what the Fart Apps are like - i have am yet to become so tired of life that i've been driven to downloading any. i emit enough noxous odors as it is without electonic assistance, thanks for asking.

that will have to do for this evening. in our next thilling adventure i will explore such delights as Call Quality, Typing On Keys That Don't Bounce (aka - what it would be like to live on the Enterprise-D in Star Trek), Generally Living With The Thing And How It's Changed My Day-To-Day Habits and the hate-filled tirade that is Why I Now Fucking Hate Apple...