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Back home

Posted March 10 into House keeping by John Birmingham

I've been back in the country for a couple of weeks and working on a long post – "What I did on my holidays". Turns out mostly what I did was avoid catching the coronavirus. I was actually in Milan about a week before everything blew up. The city was crowded, busy, pumping. Even though the weather was cold, grey and drizzly. It's odd to imagine the streets empty and most of the businesses shuttered just a short time later.

And now of course the whole country is in lockdown. I imagine it won't be long before the rest of Europe is the same. And here too.

I've been pondering my current audiobook series – the Zero Day books – and wondering whether I should ramp up the background plague. Probably. On the other hand I'm also going to talk to Jason Lambright about doing a quick pandemic series. Something based on the reality of COVID 19, but fictional.

In the meantime I'm waiting for the hammer to fall. I have jujitsu tonight, and I don't think it'll be long before the health authorities shut us down. Gyms too. And bars, and restaurants, and public gatherings and the rest of it. A lot of businesses are going to go under in the next 3 to 6 months, and they're going to take a lot of people with them.

I think the virus will spread just as widely here as everywhere else, but it probably at a slower rate. Australia has an incredibly powerful Quarantine Act which hands a lot of the decision-making in these sorts of crises to medical professionals. Politicians get cut out of the loop. The Chief Medical Officers of the states and territories and the Commonwealth are teleconferencing a couple of times a week. Possibly every day. Managing the medical issues. It's up to the government to look after the economy.

(Spoiler: The economy is probably doomed.)

But the power given to the medicos means that all things being equal, the rate of infection will be slower here than it is in many other places, meaning that the health system can hopefully absorb the ever increasing number of patients.

For now, I'm just trying to get in as many gym visits as I can. I, er, put on a little bit of pastry and pasta weight while I was away.

11 Responses to ‘Back home’

Barnesm mumbles...

Posted March 11
I have heard during a pandemic that one of the first things we run out of is books, so I urge everyone to go out and stock up on books perhaps an uncompleted trilogy about the end of the world might be a good idea.

At the media press-conferences, I wish they would just let the Medico's speak rather than having politicians mugs popping up and trying to parse the advice of the Chief Health Officers.

Though it has been worth it to see the expression on the medicos faces at the pressers when Donald Trump says something and they realise they will need to speak up afterwards and explain how wrong what he just said was.

Naut asserts...

Posted March 11
And books can double as toilet paper if things get really desperate.

insomniac puts forth...

Posted March 11
How about a Kindle?

Bondiboy66 asserts...

Posted March 12
Not sure I want to wipe my arse with a kindle....

Speaking of uncompleted series...one about a girl and a bloke travelling through time....or a superpowered anti hero fighting demons...perhaps an epic space opera with splodeyness etc.? No pressure of course!

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Dave W puts forth...

Posted March 11
I think this mob here in Oz have an ideological blind spot on the main issue - both in terms of how to avoid and how to mitigate- of a recession. They will do anything to avoid doing what Labor did in 2008, giving cash money directly to people through the welfare and tax systems. So they will call it economic stimulus and hand it to businesses.

I reckon that this will result in businesses banking it, handing it to shareholders and/or ensuring that their senior managers continue to be well remunerated. I strongly doubt that it will result in the maintenance of many jobs- which is the purpose of a stimulus package. Recessions hurt ordinary people- those who earn wages and salaries. Many of the people who lose their jobs in a recession will never be able to return to their preferred industry.

I also strongly doubt that the a lot of people in the current Government realise that some victims of a recession will never work again.

This might be slightly off topic, but I've wanted to get this off my chest for the past week or so.

John Birmingham asserts...

Posted March 11
I think its a pretty good call. The millions of people forced into casual and gig work with no sick pay or leave benefits the last ten years has created a massive vulnerability in both economic and epidemiological terms. They can't afford to stop working for weeks at a time and their inability to take time off creates a huge population of potential carriers.

FormerlyKnownAsSimon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted March 16
i have a mate in the music industry - doing BOH work. Pretty much that whole area is screwed. He said gigs were put on for free during the whole bushfire crisis to help raise money and it was all done with no complaints (because they are human) but he is waiting to see what happens to that industry after this (he suspects SFA). He said he still has his van and can adapt to short term jobs if he is able but there are a lot of people that are going to have to queue up at centrelink.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon mutters...

Posted March 11
i need to panic buy a haircut - in serious need of one and i want to get in before they all shut down too. While i'm there i'll get a couple. : )

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insomniac puts forth...

Posted March 11
So you've been to Korea and now you've been to Italy. Is there a pattern emerging? Are you the superspreader?

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Quokka has opinions thus...

Posted March 18
We've both had colds this week. The nasty type with aches, fevers, chills, which actually had me reaching for the panadol. We never get sick - my GP of 30 years used to roll his eyes when I rocked in for a maintenance check & say 'Get the hell out of my clinic and let me treat the sick people'. We did the sea & tree change a few years ago so my new GP probably thought the same thing when we walked in today, and all he could detect was lungs at 98% oxygenation and two mildly inflamed sore throats. The thing is, the man of the house works in health and they refused to test him unless he had the symptoms that the really sick people are getting, or unless we'd had contact with some from OS who is CV-19+. I know that the government are short on testing kits but they announced that they are expecting 97,000 this week. So my bugbear is this. I am horribly healthy. The virus is unpredictable but I have no risk factors and it's reasonable to assume that forty years worth of yoga and lentil dahl have put me in the category that may well only show mild symptoms of the kind you'd expect from seasonal flu. I have a health science degree and I had to do a unit on understanding data. Maths has never been my strong point but I know enough to understand that if you are only testing the sector of the community who fall into the high risk category - and have been in touch with someone from overseas - then this is what you call 'skewing' the results. It smacks of manipulating the data. One of my besties lives in Singapore - she says she can't exit the building without someone taking her temperature. She's back in the country and is stunned at how slack the response is, here. The thing is, if we'd been tested today, we'd have a result soon and we'd know if we had a negative result, to continue to be cautious. If we had a positive result we'd know to stay TF at home until given the all clear - and then we'd be out contributing to the economy again. Because I don't know - and won't know - I'm looking at the next six months of practicing caution and not doing stuff and not spending, and this won't be good for the local economy. It just seems like a no-brainer to test widely, as Singapore does. I've heard that only 1% of their tests return a CV-19+. But what that means is that the people have certainty and they have confidence in the government. My GP wouldn't meet my eyes today when he explained the government had set strict guidelines for who could be tested. He said that if it was up to him, he'd offer us both the test so that we had peace of mind. Probably we do have the bog standard bugs that circulate at this time of year, but if we can't test at the same level as Singapore, then the response isn't good enough.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted March 18
It probably won't help, but there is a shocking cold going around. Everyone in our house but me has had it.

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I have forgotten how money works

Posted January 30 by John Birmingham

I landed in Rome a day and a half ago and have been reacquainting myself with the city. Some things have changed. The Romans now obey the traffic signals, which is great. And some things haven’t. They still refuse to queue in an orderly fashion for anything.

One thing that’s changed about me; I’ve forgotten how to use cash. There’s no real contactless payment infrastructure here. Credit cards and eftpos, yes. But no PayPass as we’d recognise it.

Cash still rules. When I was last here it was Lire, which was awesome because you could feel like a millionaire for very little actual money. Now it’s the Euro, which is fine, because it makes everything seem cheap. (And of course somethings like pasta and wine are cheap). But I’ve found myself frequently standing with mouth agape and drool dropping slowly from my lower lip as I try to remember how the whole paper money thing works. Turns out it’s a minor life skill and it can quickly decay.

I’m very slow at counting notes. Even slower at recognising denominations. More than once I’ve just pushed a bunch of paper at the cashier with my apologies. The Romans, thankfully, are always happy to divest you of the appropriate amount.

I think.

8 Responses to ‘I have forgotten how money works’

NBlob puts forth...

Posted January 30
Heading to Japan Saturday, very much a cash economy. I’m pretty reasonable at mental arithmetic but $1 AUD = 74 Yen is doing my head in.

Bangar is gonna tell you...

Posted February 1
Easy cheat old school paper table, new school a note on your phone. Whatever works for you $A1 to 100 with local equivalence or local $ to $A. Yes you can use apps but this is available straight away without the net

NBlob mumbles...

Posted February 11
Arigato Bangar san. I’ve returned with both knees pointing the correct direction but calves which have applied For asylum. Quite an experience to be effectively illiterate in Europe even without local language you can work things out, in Japan, with 2 or even 3 alphabets, depending on how one counts, I had a hell of a time. This bus is going to squiggle house thing an 2 stripes with a dot, but not angry face rhomboid and tree, or is that just an add for disgusting peach cola?

Bangar is gonna tell you...

Posted February 14
I've always thought Japan would be ... interesting to visit.

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jl asserts...

Posted January 31
I remember Italy and the Lira. All those zeroes...

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insomniac asserts...

Posted January 31
I wish we'd used more cash while in LA in November because the dodgy way you have to pay with a card in restaurants has lead to our cards being used elsewhere in attempted transactions. Luckily the bank's defence systems held up but you still have the inconvenience of cancelling old/getting new cards.

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she_jedi asserts...

Posted January 31
Egypt is great for the many zeroes thing. When my tour group visited the pyramids and we were given the option to climb inside the Great Pyramid for 300 Egyptian pounds I was taken aback, and then did the conversion and realised it was about $25 Australian. Needless to say I paid happily. It absolutely murdered my thigh muscles but was a once in a lifetime experience.

It was a shock when we got to Jordan later in the trip and discovered that 1 Jordanian dollar was 2 Aussie dollars though!

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Dirk ducks in to say...

Posted February 5
Well JB, we made them Euro's color-coded, especially for you :D darkgreen is 5, red is 10, blue is 20, and orange is 50. The rest we don't use that much, but if you were to come by a stack of purple ones, you know where I live ... :D

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Deadline Psyche

Posted January 24 into Writing by John Birmingham

I’ve been on deadline for a couple of weeks now, hammering away at the keys, croaking into the dictation rig, all aimed at finishing THE SHATTERED SKIES, the second book in the Cruel Stars series, before I get on a flight to Rome on Monday.

No way am I finishing that book.

But that’s okay. I knew there was no chance I would ever finish it in time, because...

NARRATOR VOICE: The deadline was coming from inside his head!

Cue Wilhelm Scream.

The deadline wasn’t set by my publishers. I did it to myself to avoid coming back from Europe in mid Feb with a truly impossible job to do. So for the last three weeks I’ve been cranking on 4000 words a day, or trying to, simply to get into a position where I could finish the manuscript at a more leisurely 2000 words a day when I get home.

Mission accomplished. I should have about 75-80K words in the bank by Monday.

One thing I am gonna try while I'm away is writing a couple of pars, here and there, that aren't driving the plot - they're just nice writing. I had a look through my story plan, plucked out a couple of scenes that are mostly descriptive, and opened some documents in Bear, the rather nifty little writing app I have on my iPhone for stuff like this. Maybe I'll never open those documents again. But hopefully I will as an alternative to, say, mindlessly browsing a Twitter feed if I find myself with ten minutes to wait for a train, or an hour or two on that train.

Example. I have to describe a ring world called Cupertino.

It's a megastructure, a Culture Orbital, as designed by Apple, or what Apple becomes given 700 years. At the moment I have no idea what it's like other than it's very big and very nice. Rather than breaking flow on the action driven plot to spend an hour or so describing this thing, I'm just going to play with the idea like a prose poem over the next three weeks and see what I have at the end of it.

The idea is I can then just cut and paste the words into the manuscript when the time comes.

9 Responses to ‘Deadline Psyche’

Barnesm would have you know...

Posted January 24
That sounds like a delightful idea.
I admit my first thought was "why is the orbital named after a San Francisco fish stew?", and realised that's Cioppino. Duck Duck Go pointed out that Cupertino is a neighborhood in California.

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Dave W is gonna tell you...

Posted January 24
I used to do this kind of thing when I was working on my M.A., busy with work, on a real deadline for an essay. For the side points on the essay I'd use a bit of micro-spare time and pencil down whatever it was. I found it useful, even if I didn't use it, for getting those side points out of my head. Damn things could take up too much space in there.

she_jedi reckons...

Posted January 24
I'm intrigued by your strategy around side points. The number of times I've gone down a side point rabbit hole in an essay for uni and then had to backtrack out of it... I will try this on the next one and see if it helps keep this stuff out of my head :)

Dave W mumbles...

Posted January 24
Gulp- Results may vary!

she_jedi would have you know...

Posted January 24
I certainly won't hold you responsible for my application of your technique and the results that follow!

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Matthew F. swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 24
I'd be interested in a little review of Bear if you have a few minutes and a mind to do it. I took a quick look at it but it's hard to get a sense of what it's like to use. There's a subscription mentioned - did you get that or is it available as a one-and-done purchase?

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 24
I bought it outright, but I’ll check the sub model and write a quickie review. I do like it as a note taker.

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Vovchara mumbles...

Posted January 26
I have rather of topic question.
Why the hell are you traveling to Europe in February? Saying as someone who just spend freezing up my arse outside.

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted January 27
I like winter food.

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Tradies and deadlines

Posted January 22 by John Birmingham

I've written before about the inevitability of losing fitness when on deadline. It seems unavoidable. Extra hours at the desk. Fewer hours at gym. More snack food.

I'm on a self imposed deadline at the moment. One I'll miss, for sure. I set myself the goal of finishing a first draft of the sequel to The Cruel Stars by next Monday, because on Monday night Jane and I catch a flight to Rome.

I'm okay with missing it. I gave myself a ridiculous deadline to make sure I didn't come home in three weeks to an even more ridiculous deadline. I'll be about 75-80% done with THE SHATTERED SKIES when I down tools on Monday and will polish it off in about a fortnight when I get back.

I'm been smashing out four thousand and five thousand word days the past couple of weeks (the benefits of a tightly plotted narrative outline) but hit a wall today.

Why? There was a tradie in the house. Usually it's electricians or plumbers. They can sniff a deadline a mile away. Today's was a glazier to fix a broken window. He was good guy. Punctual. Efficient. Did the job well. But there is something about having a worker in the house that does my head in. I just can't concentrate.

It was exacerbated by having to deal with some malware that'd snuck onto Thomas's new MacBook Air. A factory reset seemed the easiest way to nuke that gremlin, since the Air is only a couple of weeks old.

Between them they pulled me back from 4-5K all the way down 1800 words.

About to try grind out another thousand before I crash.

6 Responses to ‘Tradies and deadlines’

she_jedi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 23
Is it the presence of another person in the house that throws out your routine, rather than a tradie or a stranger specifically? If the kids or Jane are on holidays and mooching around the house does this mess up your deadlines as well, or are you used to them and filter them out?


The killer for me on deadlines (which are all uni assignments at the moment), are my Feline Overlords detecting that a) I appear to be busy and b) appear to be busy doing things that do not involve giving them food or cuddles, and this must be STOPPED so that c) food and cuddles can be distributed accordingly.

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jason puts forth...

Posted January 23
The real question here is how did you get an actual Tradie to your house. I thought these were myths. If you say they were on time and reasonably priced i will call you out as a bald faced liar.

insomniac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 23
No doubt there's a lot of "Don't you know who I am" going on, and perhaps "If you don't do as I say, I'm going to kill you...(whispers) in my next book".

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Barnesm mumbles...

Posted January 24
I admit I am distracted by wanting to watch them work if it's okay with them. Watching someone who is competent and experienced at a task is very satisfying to my mood.

Dave W mutters...

Posted January 24
And even more satisfying is the beer you get to have for a job vicariously well done.

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Rob puts forth...

Posted January 27
Malware on an Apple product? my oh my , how the world has changed....

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Jason Lambright's 1917 review

Posted January 20 into Movies by John Birmingham

I won't get to see this one big screen because of my deadline, but I had been looking forward to Jason's take. His review, like the film, does not disappoint.

Right up front I’d like to say that I’m not a big war movie guy. But if I do go to one, it needs to be historically and physically accurate. Historical accuracy is obvious- uniforms, gear, and scenery needs to be right. But what do I mean by physical accuracy? Allow me to explain. I don’t want to see people acting like clowns when they are supposed to be shot. By the same token, I do not want to see them take round after round and keep functioning.

It doesn’t work that way.

You can read the whole piece at his blog.

11 Responses to ‘Jason Lambright's 1917 review’

she_jedi mutters...

Posted January 20
That was a top notch review Mr Lambright, you've persuaded me to go see this!

jl ducks in to say...

Posted January 20
No spoilers, but when you do go see it, look at the barbed wire obstacles. Then imagine attacking, rifle in hand, as bullets and shrapnel snap, flutter and whistle by. It is very easy to imagine how an entire generation was lost in those horrid muddy pits.

she_jedi mutters...

Posted January 21
I will, thanks Jason!

she_jedi mutters...

Posted February 3
I finally saw 1917 yesterday; an incredible movie. I was quietly horrified by the barbed wire obstacles, I was watching for them like you advised. When the credits rolled the movie buddy I was with just sat quietly and absorbed everything we'd seen, and we agreed on a quiet 'wow'. Afterwards we went to dinner and raved about it, but it was a truly stunning piece of film, from two people who are not usually big fans of war movies. What I found ironic in hindsight was that navigating the barbed wire was the least eventful part of the movie, but completely chilling to watch.

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Vovchara asserts...

Posted January 23
Mr. Lambright, you are talking my language. Ok, grammatically improved version :)
As I get older, I get increasingly more irritated with Hollywood, where "Rule of Cool" rules supreme, completely overlooking the fact, that Realism is a lot cooler.
Although to be absolutely honest, I would prefer a movie about WW 1.1 or WW 2.1, with a realistic extrapolation of alternate history.

she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted January 23
Gee if only we had a thoroughly plotted and complete source material to draw upon for a project of this nature....

jason mumbles...

Posted January 23
Mr Lambright might just have what you are looking for in terms oF WW1.1

she_jedi is gonna tell you...

Posted January 23
Oh yes, I beta read that one, so good!

Vovchara reckons...

Posted January 23
Now you are just being mean. Where is it?

she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted January 24
I think it's still a work in progress, Mr Lambright hasn't mentioned a release date yet :(

jl reckons...

Posted January 24
You are right, she_jedi.

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I’m suing Samsung

Posted January 20 into Science and Tech by John Birmingham

I totally invented their projected keyboard on a cafe table in Weapons of Choice.

The New York Post reporters:

In the realm of traditional technology, CES 2020 continues to deliver gadgets both revolutionary and bizarre.

Samsung unveiled a new, experimental smartphone feature that can create an AI-powered “invisible keyboard” on the surface of any desk or tabletop.

The South Korean tech giant’s “SelfieType” keyboard app uses a phone’s front-facing selfie camera to track the movements of a user’s fingers as they tap out words and sentences on any flat surface. An artificial-intelligence engine analyzes the movements and converts them into text on a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

How much do you think I can get?

7 Responses to ‘I’m suing Samsung’

jason is gonna tell you...

Posted January 20
The real money will be when someone invents a working time machine and you can claim royalties on that, once you fight of the Estate of H.G. Wells of course.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted January 20
I reckon a reconditioned S5 with a side helping of 10 year old viruses . . . : )

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insomniac asserts...

Posted January 20
I wonder if it would be enough to fuck their patent application. It is possible to submit prior art to the patent office as a third party. It would be interesting, especially as Samsung would have to address it and that response would be published.

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted January 20
Good luck, I'm unfamiliar with the ins and outs of commercial law, is it still settled in a trial by combat?

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Matthew F. ducks in to say...

Posted January 20
Weren't ThinkGeek selling those in, like, the 90s?

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jl reckons...

Posted January 20
This is super cool.

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Rob puts forth...

Posted January 27
hrmmm can't copyright an idea, you can patent an idea/invention , but its got to be working to get approved.

But hey, Disney made Mickey Mouse exist as property forever, so lets ask Scotty from Marketing about it and get things changed for you.

Its only fair.



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