August 2003


Sometimes dreams make sense. This one from yesterday morning didn't, but at least I can remember it.

I was flying over the western coast of Africa. I guess I was in an aircraft but I didn't notice at the time. I could see almost directly below me, so the supposed aircraft wasn't very substantial. I could make out the shape of the coast and see how it matched the African coast-line from my memory of a world map. I could also see individual trees.

The astute among you would realise by now that my dream had a vast error in scale. If I was close enough to make out individual trees, then I could not possibly have been high enough in the air to recognise coast shapes that would appear on a world map. Did that bother me in the dream? Yes. It did bother me. It was the fundamental problem in the dream - not the lack of security of my aircraft (if any), not the reason why I was flying over western Africa, but that the scales were all wrong.

By the end of that scene of the dream I had concluded that I must have been wrong about my previous estimates of the size of the world. Everything was a lot smaller than I had realised.

The next scene had me driving through a cave of twisting tunnels. There was sufficient flat floor of the cave for driving a small vehicle through, although I can't remember much about the vehicle. I had a companion with me but I don't know who he was. We took it in turns to drive, but I can't remember stopping to change drivers.

In the final scene of the dream I was in Singapore on a train. The air was warm but I was comfortable. I don't know where I was going. I think my companion was the same guy who was driving through the caves with me. He seemed to be a local. At some time the train became a tram driving through a shopping area. I've no idea if Singapore has any trams. I've never been there.

In the cave and train/tram scenes, traveling was the only thing happening. No questions of purpose or destination worried me. There was no feeling of pursuit or important quest.

Looking back on the dream now it seems a bit like a game-world. The scale distortion and the top-down view in the first scene match that idea. Driving a vehicle through cave tunnels also sounds a bit like a game. If it was a game then I stopped playing when it looked like it was going to take me shopping. How stereotypically male of me. ;)

Perhaps the dream describes my life at the moment - comfortable observer, not frightened, noticing the absurdities of life and trying to make sense of them, not driven by any burning ambition or purpose, and happy to let others drive for a while.


When the red warrior rises triumphant in the east,
then shall the stream of inspiration dry.
The soft warriors wail and gnash their teeth,
crying 'From whence cometh our sustenance?
By whose hand was this famine wrought?'
- Feargal the Elder, 1602

I knew of the prophecy. I witnessed the rise of the red warrior last night, as bright as I'd ever seen him. Today I expected the fulfillment of the prophecy, and I wasn't disappointed. A work colleague of mine went to the canteen to collect a caterer's-size tin of drinking chocolate only to find that there were none. Somewhat distressed, he questioned the canteen staff only to find that drinking chocolate will no longer be provided.

The hand of management has reached in and found its pocket to be too long. No longer shall we drink the chocolate of geek inspiration - the nectar of the odds. Alas, we are undone, for we have fallen short of the glory of timely delivery of product. Thus are we rewarded for our infidelity.


It seems I am not the only one who has a cat with peculiar bed time rituals. See Neil Gaiman's nasal-nuzzler.


Surely, snorilly the old feline snoozes
all day on the bed. I hope no one confuses
this lumpy plump pet for a pillow.

Drippingly, trippingly the old feline ambles
in darkness and rain, then he comes in and scrambles
back onto the bed - on my pillow.

Wearily, blearily I pull back the cover
at night as I head to my bed - and discover
a puss to be pushed from my pillow.

Yowlingly, frrowlingly the old feline voices
his umbrage at finding his regular choices
for sleep are now minus one pillow.

Purrily, furrily the old cat positions
himself on my chest and with no inhibitions
treats me as his personal pillow.

Lost Day

Where did today go? I focused on one project at work from arrival to departure. Lunch was something my mouth did while I worked. Sips of coffee kept the fluid levels up as I concentrated. Phone calls and visitors tried to distract me, but I dispatched them quickly enough that I didn't lose my thread.

How can this be? How can the ever-distractible Virge be so single-minded?

It was part of an interesting development project. It required my mathematical brain. It had some very short-term goals. All the required parts were under my control.

End result: a very productive day. I should do this sort of thing more often.


I was just reading a New Scientist article noting the similarities between controlling disease epidemics, mapping web interconnections, and hunting down heretics during the inquisition. It is interesting to see the techniques that the church discovered for controlling the spread of heresy. They started with a heavy-handed approach of killing everyone in towns suspected of harboring dissenters. It didn't take long to work out that this approach was very inefficient. By the end of the 13th century they had refined their techniques to focus on certain highly connected and influential individuals.

Reading the article reminded me of the recent actions of the RIAA. I find it amusing that the RIAA is trying those same techniques that failed for the church. They want to stamp out file sharing so they impose heavy-handed legal penalties on file sharers. What they have failed to account for is that there are too many highly connected and influential individuals to be stamped out. The technology to create file sharing programs is readily accessible to any student. The thirst for shared files is like the thirst for knowledge that plagued the church and undermined its dogmatism.

What can the RIAA learn from history? Could it be that their dogma is wrong? Could it be that their old music distribution model just doesn't work and the centralised church of commercial recording no longer holds a monopoly on music marketing. If history teaches us anything, it tells us that they will keep fighting zealously long after it's obvious that they have lost the fight.

Instant Update

What am I reading? Deadhouse Gates by Stephen Erikson

What am I listening to? Norah Jones - Come Away With Me.


This afternoon I soaked up a creative writing workshop run by Brian Caswell. He is an exuberant character with a dry wit (and a healthy contempt for "Home and Away"). His presentation was engaging, particularly for the attendees like myself who became characters in his example stories. For half the session I was a two-timing boyfriend that caused a stand-up argument between two friends.

I found I could relate to Brian's approach to writing. He maintains that structure helps creativity. Completely free creativity produces a lot of ideas that sound great but leave you stumped for where to go after the first chapter or two. He only works on plot once he knows how his book will end.

A quick summary of his writing process is:

  • What if X happened? - create a problem that affects a character's life in such a way that their future must be fundamentally changed.
  • How would my character feel? - feelings and emotions come first.
  • What would my character do first based on how he/she feels?
  • Jump to the end and work out how you want it to finish - how do you want the reader to feel at the end?
  • Develop the plot with the end in mind.

Brian presented a brainstorming game preferably played with two people. The game used pace to avoid the intrusion of conscious thought processes.

  • First the players take it in turns to point to an object in the room and name what it is.
  • Then the players take it in turns to point to an object in the room and name it something completely wrong.
  • Finally the players take it in turns to point to an object in the room and name it somthing that doesn't exist.
Done fast enough, the game overrides your brain's natural inhibition and allows access to your wealth of subconscious ideas.

Brian maps out his stories into scenes as though writing for film. For each scene he lists the action (characters and setting) and the purpose (what it should make the reader believe).
Some of his writing tips:

  • Stories are not about events. Stories are about people.
  • Characters are only revealed under pressure.
  • In any scene, get in late and get out early.
  • Don't describe a scene before a character is in it.
  • The author provides 50% of the story. The reader provides the rest.
  • The reader should be asking questions and predicting answers. The reader should be thinking ahead.
  • In conversation, only 10% of communication is carried by words. Dialog should reflect this.
  • Well written dialog doesn't even need "he/she said".
  • Never give an objective description. Always use a character's point of view.
  • Never describe anything the character doesn't notice. What a character notices depends on how he/she feels.
  • Everyone interprets the world as if they were the the centre of it. Every character should do this and react accordingly.

Poetic Politics

It's not often that you see poetic justice meted out in the public arena. It appeals to my cruel sense of humour that there is an Australian politician who faces a 3 year jail term for fraudulently registering a political party and dishonestly obtaining almost $500,000 in electoral reimbursements. During her short political career Pauline Hanson was campaigning for tougher legal penalties and referring to Australian prisons as "4 star hotels". Now that she faces jail, it seems the penalties are too harsh.

The situation becomes even more amusing (in a twisted sort of way) when you understand the essence of the fraud and you see the letters from supporters calling her a freedom fighter and a political prisoner. Pauline and her small circle of advisors set up a political party where only a select group were voting members. They wanted to keep centralised political control rather than allow the general membership to have any weight in determining policy. The party needed a certain number of members before they could register so they included all the non-voting membership in their registration - in breach of the legal requirements for a political party.

Why is this funny? Because the minions are now hailing Hanson as their martyred heroine - the very person who was using them and disenfranchising them, and being charged for that duplicity.

"Free Pauline! We demand the right to be represented by a dictator."

Perhaps I can put a kinder spin on the situation. Let's suppose that the illegal party registration was done in complete ignorance (in Pauline's case this would be a fair assessment). Let's suppose that the inner circle of her party were all blissfully unaware of the documented conditions of registration. They were wanting to provide leadership to a nation - how could anybody possibly expect them to take the time to read the constitutional requirements?

"Free Pauline! We demand the right to be represented by an ignorant dictator."


Phillip Gwynne is an interesting character. He spoke at the author spotlight last night. Unlike Maureen McCarthy he seems to have achieved his success without needing a social connection in the industry. After growing up as an avid reader, becoming a professional footballer, going back to school and studying to be a marine biologist (and then being a "bad scientist" as he put it, since he didn't have a passion for science), travelling a lot, becoming a computer programmer and not being happy about his vocation, he did a short adult-education course on writing.

His fellow wannabe-writers responded well to his writing. The course teacher told him "you are a writer". He quit his job and started writing "Deadly Unna?" - a collage of his childhood experiences woven into a story for teenagers. He spent about 9 months writing about 100,000 words. He showed it to a friend who told him it was a mess. He got depressed for a couple of weeks before taking an axe to it and "cutting out the crap".

Without knowing much about getting published he sent the manuscript to lots of different publishers. About eight months later Penguin responded, offering a contract. (I think I would have given up hope by that stage.) Getting an agent was important at that point and he was fortunate that someone told him. Had he just signed the contract he would have given away the film rights.

The book was a success - over a hundred thousand sales now. Getting onto a lot of school reading lists made a big difference. After a couple of years of sales he had the opportunity to re-write it as a film script. He accepted. This is where he got a big surprise. Despite the patently anti-racist message in the book, a pressure group started up to try to ban the film, labelling it as racist. They did all the usual things that these groups do - take selected phrases from the book out of context and build a subtext around them, have letters and editorials published in newspapers using editors who never took the trouble to read the book. It got to the point where Gwynne started to question himself - was he really a racist?

Were all the school teachers who selected his book for classroom reading racist? No. The leader of the pressure group had his own agenda to push and was milking the situation for publicity. Wherever there are people who are concerned yet gullible, or even just unprepared to do their own research, there will also be people who take advantage of them.

Instant Update

What am I reading? I'm still reading Greg Bear's "Blood Music" but I took time off to read "A Cage of Butterflies" by Brian Caswell since I'm going to a creative writing workshop with Brian this Saturday.

What am I listening to? Assorted Leonard Cohen songs.

What am I writing? A little ambiguous spoof song. It was noted that EK was nearing 3000 members and that we should consider ways of celebrating. One proposal was to write an EK song in the library and record it in the auditorium. I like those sorts of challenges. I'm writing a song under the pseudonym "Eonard Koen". So far the biggest problem is maintaining the balance between imitating the style and adding enough cheese.


The word of the day is rollick.

Rollick (verb) display boisterous high spirits: to have fun, especially in a loud, rowdy way.
[Early 19th century. Origin uncertain: probably a blend of roll or romp and frolic.]

I've been listening to Henry Butler and Corey Harris rollicking through some Louisiana blues with such devil-may-care dexterity that it makes me feel all... well... rollicksome. The licks and flicks just flow out of Henry's hands in a cavorting gamboling romping frisky rollicky way. This sort of blues makes me feel very un-blue. It energises.

Anyone feel like a rollick?