Friday, October 31, 2008

Walking among shadows

So often it seems as if we know other people only as shadows.

Some people, like the most casual of acquaintances, we may know as sketches, outlines.

But then there are a whole lot of people who we encounter through life who are more than just sketches but less than three-dimensional, almost a little less than flesh-and-blood to us. People who are like shadows, having shape and definition, but so leaving so much unknown between the edges of the outline. We sense there is more - we know there is - but how do we move beyond this?

Does it take a crisis for a shadow to take on dimension? Or is colour and depth added over cups of coffee, short conversations around the water cooler, bumping into each other at a party where you only have each other for security and company?

I suppose it begs the question: who are you a shadow to?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fear - and what keeps you there

How do you face your fears? Come to think of it, how do you even know when to be afraid of something? And what keeps you afraid?

How do you break yourself out of those fears? It's amazing what we fear, and sometimes so seemingly irrational. (However I think I could understand why you'd be hesitant about someone attacking you with clippers when you're only two.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Breathing again

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being ‘caught up’, of sensing that your nostrils are above water, that catastrophe has been averted.

It’s been so good to finish today’s business with a whole lot of lagging phone calls caught up on, emails sent, discussions covered off. A great feeling!

How do you deal with a backlog of “nag-bits” (can I coin that word?)? Are you a plodder (which is what I’m slowly heading towards)? Or do you just like to bite off big chunks at once (yes, I still do that too)?

Perhaps you don’t get behind (sorry, can’t identify with that). If that’s you – what’s your method? And how do you cope when it all comes flooding in at once and there just aren’t enough hours in a day?

What words would you use to describe yourself when you’re feeling ‘under the pump’? And what words would you use to describe that feeling of crossing off the last item on a very long ‘to-do’ list?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Celebration - don't do it alone!

Our Fijian-Indian neighbours invited us this evening to celebrate Dipawali with them (Festival of Lights).

Lovely food, lots of lights, enjoyable company.

There is almost nothing in life that we celebrate alone; celebration is something we do with company.

And they are great company - lots of fun to be with. It was a pleasure to share the evening with them.

Who do you enjoy celebrating with?

Monday, October 27, 2008

From a tree to a chair

This has been my latest project in the shed - the process of transforming a chunk of tree into a stool.

I've done a few of these stools, and there's something really cool about taking a piece of timber you've harvested yourself and turning it into piece of useful furniture - it's a bit like eating fish you've caught yourself.

Every time I use our wooden stool at home, I remember the fun I had making it and feel some sense of pride. Sure, it's a very utilitarian piece of furniture but the simple fact remains: when I first met it, it was still sticking in the ground looking every bit like a tree stump.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Haste and the unappreciation of what is

This is not artsy; it's called haste.

This is what happens when you zoom through life, snapping randomly as you go.

This is where a moment of beauty deserves to be lingered on, but is barely sipped - all in the name of expediency.

This is where any beauty captured is serendipity.

So much beauty a blur - for the sake of a few minutes' gain.

How much beauty is lost (and much sensitivity to beauty lost?) through the urgency of haste?

Is vulgarity, exploitation, monstrosity the greatest enemy of beauty? Or does beauty's perennial enemy reside in our restlessness?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When the best-laid concrete of mice and men ...

Planning ahead is a good thing to do.

Understanding the materials you're working with helps that.

Planning with some understanding of how those materials will behave in a certain context is also a pretty smart way to operate.

Friday afternoon is never a good time to brainstorm for contingencies.

Western Sydney gets hot - darned hot.

Expansion gaps are not just a good way to save some concrete.

Pay attention, my son, and learn.

Friday, October 24, 2008


It's the end of a long and productive and tiring week.

I've enjoyed a lovely meal and a couple of glasses of red.

Bed is sounding very appealing, and I'll bet the pillow will feel soft tonight.

Fascinating how the state of the human body / mind affects our perception of sleep.

'Night all.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Play imitating life

Every morning Caelan and I go through the same ritual.

We get out into the kitchen, where he proceeds to give me breakfast bowls for himself and Elisha, then bowls for mummy and daddy, and lastly mugs for 'daddy coffee' and 'mummy coffee'.

We then raid the fridge, and I get his breakfast ready. Following this, I prime the espresso machine and make the 'daddy and mummy coffee'. Morning after morning, as sunrise follows sunrise, he sits at his place at the table eating his three Weetbix, and watching the thick, creamy dark lines of coffee running through the machine, and dribbling into the beaker below.

The last few nights at bathtime he has taken to making his own 'coffee'. He has discovered that the turtle he plays with has a small hole in the middle of its back, and that if you turn it upside down and pour water into the shell it will run through into the cup below just like daddy's coffee machine.

And so we have our two-year-old making espressos at bathtime. As parents we continue to marvel at the way a young mind watches and assimilates patterns, and then finds creative expression for them in play. Playful but oh so imaginative!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Back in the halls of learning ... selling

Sometimes the place is the same, but your being there isn't.

It was strange today to be back on the campus of the uni where I spent so much time with my then girlfriend and fiancée (now wife), and finished the last part of my degree.

Last time I was here, it was as a student. Now, a number of years later, I was lugging around company literature and suddenly a lot more attendant to the landscape than ever before.

Memories were stirred walking past the lecture theatres and the library and the lawn outside the library, shaded by London plane trees (Cara's favourite place on campus).

There was still learning to be done - about the landscapes - but this time I was here on business. There were still the students dawdling, running, chatting, sipping coffee. There was still the carpark full of 'P' plates.

Very little about the place has changed. But I have. And yet it was an appropriate place to be - it was in part the education I was given that has prompted me to change and grow.

How could I ever return to the halls of learning - whether to attend lectures or to sell - and not have been changed through what was given me here and in other places?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If you can't cut it online ...

Some of you will have had the pleasure of using White Pages Online.

I don't know what you think of the attempts of Sensis to digitise their data and put it online, but my experiences with it haven't produced much joy.

Have you noticed that the latest ads for White Pages feature the old White Pages in paperback? Why not the online version?

No matter how well they streamline their web service, will they ever really replace the experience of thumbing through big chunks of cheap newsprint quality paper with microscopic print?

Amazon have tried to address this phenomenon of people loving paper with their Kindle.

But it's just not the same as the feel of paper, is it? No machine will ever replace curling up in bed with a hot Milo and two volumes of the White Pages.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Start 'em young?

Kids are like little sponges - quick learners with the ability to recognise patterns. They also love bells and flashing lights.

At 8 months' of age, Elisha is already taken with technology. Sure, he loves a wrestle with his brother, and chewing on things, but as you can see, when the little screen glows, he tunes in.

Who knows what the future will open to them in terms of technology? One thing we do know is that their world will be significantly impacted by it.

How do we introduce them to the technologies that will mould their world without leading them into an excessive dependence or reclusivity that sees them retract from the normal stuff kids have always done?

What criteria do you / would you use for working through how and when you share new technologies with your kids? And how do you help them to integrate their grip on technology with their tree-climbing and wrestling and scribbling - or do they seem to sort out that 'balance' for themselves?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Home sweet home

Yes, it's an old tree stump (Corymbia gummifera, the Red Bloodwood, if I remember correctly).

But if you've got the eyes to see, it's so much more. Here is a microcosm, a world within a world, with its own interlinking networks of bacteria and algae and insects and arachnids and even mammals and reptiles.

When we actually dare to watch closely, it's amazing what we find. The wisdom writer urged the sluggard to 'Go to the ants - observe their ways, and be wise.'

Part of learning to smell the roses (and part of learning to be wise), is to remember the ways of your childhood: to stop sometimes and get down on your knees, scratch around and look more closely.

What appears simple (or defunct) on the surface has a life all its own on closer inspection - and often far more complex and interlinked than we were willing to admit.

And that doesn't just apply to tree stumps.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Caelan has for a long time loved the sight of big machines - excavators, bulldozers, quarry trucks. Planes or helicopters are always welcome too.

Today we went out to Holworthy to visit some friends. On the way over we saw a few planes (which generated fever-pitch excitement in the car), and then when we got there we were greeted by a couple of excavators. "Diggers, diggers!" cried Caelan. Sheer delight.

He is so much the stereotype of a boy. Dolls and ponies have little interest for him; it's the big machines he loves. What is it about the way blokes (even little blokes) are wired?

Tire-kicking seems to be in the blood even without any of our programming. It's pretty amazing to watch it unfold in a young boy.

Friday, October 17, 2008


As I mentioned in yesterday's post, we've been trying to live more responsibly.

The excess we still live with is amazing. As we look around the house and ask, "What can we get rid of?" there is no shortage of things to choose from.

It's all a matter of perspective. If we compared it with the average Australian home, what we own is probably very modest. Mind you, you don't need to have much stuff to make a place take on a cluttered feel, and we do struggle with that.

If you really put your mind to it, there's a lot of stuff you can do without.

Where do you draw the line? Is it to do with aesthetics and clutter? Do you draw the line at lack of use? Sentimentality? Stuff that's too old? A relative state of brokenness?

What makes you decide to downsize?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Recycling ideas, materials and junk

Sometimes priorities take a while to settle in. And sometimes they shift around and find their own seasons.

At present, we're seeking to live more responsibly on the planet. We're seeking to steward well our financial resources through careful budgeting, we're trying to cut down on our utilities and car usage, we're eating pretty healthy, and we're doing more subsistence-style gardening.

A few things collided together last weekend to form the basis of another way of reducing our footprint. One was a whole lot of excess recycled timber sitting in the shed that I was recently given (most of it Aussie hardwood, with some nice screws in it), and then there was the excess of lawn clippings and vege scraps, and the huge amount of paper waste that comes through our mailbox.

The trend towards gardening has been pushing me to consider buying a compost bin. But a decent rotating bin isn't cheap.

Finally, the cogs turned over in my head, and I gave myself an afternoon project. The idea of a rotating bin wasn't original; it just needed a little tweaking so it could use up some odds-and-ends.

The bin was easy to construct, and I lined it with some excess flywire we had lying around - I'm all too mindful that most compost ends up becoming loaded down with moisture and not enough air, and this leads to anaerobic decomposition, which is not what you really want. So I've made this one with plenty of aeration.

So now we have a rotating compost bin, I have less junk in the shed, we have a place (besides landfill) to get rid of all our paper and clipping and fruit scraps - and we have compost for the garden.

Everyone wins.

(Many thanks to Scott from Shellharbour for some inspiration - a top bloke with some great ideas!)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A little boost for the business

Our meetings with the internationals continued today.

We worked for the day up in a lovely old place in Leura. It was a nice setting, the place was clean and fresh, the food (from morning tea to dinner) was excellent, and the service just right.

It was an environment very conducive to good work - and we covered off a lot of stuff.

There's no question a new, spacious environment can lead to better economy for a business than simply trying to keep things as cheap as possible by having major meetings in a cramped office.

I think our management understands this well, and everything about the 'externals' were geared to help us be productive today - we only get about 3 days a year with these guys, and so it has to work.

Can you think of a time when you shifted everyone out of the everyday workplace, and got a good result out of the move?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What good company brings to a good company

I had the pleasure today of meeting two of the international heads of our business who've come out for this week from Belgium. We will spend the next few days in meetings with them.

As we drove around Sydney today and got know each other a little, it was obvious that these are quality people: there is a measure of integrity, a lot of honesty and plain-talking, very little pretence.

Certainly, the quality of the people who guide our work at a global level makes a great deal of difference to the pleasure of the work, and the integrity with which we are able to operate in Australia.

It seems a solid combination that surely has to translate over into so many other enterprises: a great technology to work with, a strong background in research, and people with backbone and principles.

It adds a lot to the pleasure of working. It would be a much harder job to do willingly if we were dealing with shysters and con-artists.

Integrity doesn't just exist in a great product; it has to sit in what and who surrounds it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Keeping the door open

How do you form new relationships with people, especially in business?

It can be really awkward.

I heard today about one man's unique way to 'get in' with new clients - he would send the potential client a single shoe in the mail, and then follow it up with a call saying he 'just trying to get a foot in the door'.

Clever. And weird. I kinda like it - was half tempted to stop in at Vinnie's today and stock up on shoes.

When you're trying to break the ice with new clients etc. what do you find effective to arrest their attention?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The feeling of colour

"It's amazing what colour makes us feel."

The new ad from Nippon Paint opens with this line.

Think about your favourite room in the house. What does the colour of that room add to the experience of being in it?

What made you decide to paint the room that colour? Was it to keep it themed with the rest of the house? Or did you decide this room needed something special to lift it?

What does the colour make you feel?

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Yes, they bring definition to things.

They are also painful when they are the edge of your lawn, the grass is kikuyu, and the time is spring.

Why should't the grass be allowed to snake its way over the concrete, slowly smothering the entire footpath?

Okay, yes, you're right - of course it can.

But not in my front yard - at least, not any more.

So maybe I'm the one who has the problem with edges! They're nice in principle.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sometimes you have to draw a line

So thought British MP, Samuel Plimsoll.

It was the mid-1800's, and the overloading of British ships was leading to many lives being lost (and to overloaded vessels being known as 'coffin ships').

While the concept of a safe loading weight for seafaring vessels had been realised as early as 2500BC by the Cretans, it was Plimsoll who successfully pushed for the painting of a line around the side of a vessel, demarcating the lowest level that it should sit in the water.

It took six years of encouragement from his wife, and much determination in the British parliament before his bill was finally passed in 1876. He had seen what he regarded as a callous disregard for human life merely for the sake of profit, and so he became the 'friend of sailors' as he campaigned for the adoption of the mark first proposed by shipowner James Hall.

We find this description of him in Vanity Fair in 1873:

"He is not a clever man, he is a poor speaker and a feeble writer, but he has a big good heart, and with the untutored utterings of that he has stirred even the most indifferent. He has taken up a cause, not a popular cause nor a powerful one -- only the cause of the British sailor who is sent to sea in rotten vessels in order that ship-owners may thrive. He has written a book about it -- a book jumbled together in the fashion of an insane farrago, written without method and without art, but powerful and eloquent beyond any work that has appeared for years because it is the simple honest cry of a simple honest man. Also a man who is bold enough to tell what he believes to be the truth, and it is still pleasing to many people in these Islands to find that in any accessible form."

I have a great deal of interest in designers and thinkers. But someone like Samuel Plimsoll, who was essentially plugging someone else's idea, is worthy of more than just interest.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Black ball trundles; time stands still

What's unusual about this photo?

That's right - absolutely nothing.

Here we have the game of bowls being undertaken by the anticipated demographic in the stereotypical garb.

What is it about bowls? While other sports evolve, get with the titanium and the Gore-Tex and the kevlar, bowls never seems to change. It always seems to be about brimmed white hats, button-up cardies, players over seventy, and pairs of old Bonds Y-fronts (for polishing).

This photo could have been taken thirty years ago, and it would all look the same. But if it was cycling or archery or tennis or even golf, we'd pick it straight off. Mind you, I don't know what ground-breaking developments have laid hold of croquet or jousting or bocce recently, but my suspicion is that bowls is not on its own.

Yet bowls is our focus for this special 'sports blog' focus - so enough about horses and mallets.

Will bowls always be like this? Will those little ubiquitous lawns and annexes always exist as havens of those heated, time-frozen battles (fought for honour and glory and a glass of Tooheys Old after the game)?

It's hard to imagine it being otherwise. What will become of bowls? Will it eventually die out, or will it continue to be a drawcard for the over-sixties? Why is it that bowls has so successfully maintained a presence in an advancing society with virtually nil [observable] adjustments to the median age of its members or to its technology? What's the attraction, the 'holding power' here?

For all the interest that Crackerjack stirred up, I suspect it'll be a long time before demographic realignment forces your local bowls club to install a 'swear jar'. It may well be that nuclear holocaust will rid of all but cockroaches, Tupperware, and the game of bowls.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Little gems

Don't you love the astute little gems that other people share with you occasionally?

I was with a client today who we have not (as a business) had contact with in a little while. As a result, this particular client and his company haven't done much work with us in recent times.

It wasn't for lack of conviction. He told me how convinced he was of the value of our technology - he had tested it and seen the outcomes with his own eyes.

But he expressed a sense of the business relationship drying up, of us needing to be 'reacquainted'.

He said to me, "It's like when a good friend moves interstate. With the best of intentions, you say you'll keep in touch. When they first move, you make an effort, and probably call them every month. But eventually it gets less and less until you finally only see each other at Christmas."

That nailed it. Such a perfect way of making the point. And it absolutely reinforced to me that no business can afford to lose contact with its clientele.

As my boss says, "The best source of new business is old business." Often for us, it's about renewing acquaintances - and then putting in the hard work to keep them from falling into a state of disrepair again!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thinking outside the cylinders

Rotary engine: mean anything to you?

A very smart, powerful design - and hopefully one we'll see more of in the future.

The ol' RX-7 was probably the car that put the rotary on the map for most people.

How does it work? A nice clear explanation with animations and exploded drawings here.

Making the most of a break

It's been a great day on the farm, doing all the things we can't do at home: climbing big stacks of compost with the kids, finding some wildlife walking across the front lawn (which was promptly moved away from pets and into a dam), chainsawing some timber for home, walking / driving in the bush, and catching up with people who matter to us (which is why I clean forgot to blog last night).

It seems to me that these are the breaks we always enjoy the most: not those where we just 'blob', but those where we are rejuvenated by appreciating the uniqueness of what's around us - all the things we can't do at home.

What are the things you enjoy doing most on holidays that you just don't have access to in your home environment (besides sleeping in - which doesn't happen if you have young children on holidays anyway)?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The best toys for your kids?

This was the perfect ending to an afternoon of fun in the park.

After eating ice cream, running along the waterfront, going wild on the play equipment, throwing rocks in the water and scaring the seagulls, this was the icing on the cake: sitting and playing in the mud.

The dirty little fingers tell it all: any toy would be given a run for its money by some humble mud, stones and sticks.

This is such a recurrent pattern with children. Retailers and merchandisers should be glad that most of us parents are too daft or too lazy to notice it. We will spend a fortune on toys while the kid would rather be jumping in puddles or making castles from mud.

We will give him toys that only have one dimension of use, and miss the myriad of possibilities he finds in a pile of sticks. We replace the tree in the yard with a plastic swingset, and forget that he has just lost a living classroom.

We miss so much; we need to learn to pay attention.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Long weekend traffic snarl: why we did it

Stuck in traffic.

This is not an ideal way to begin the long weekend.

Here we were, two small boys asleep in the car (for who knows how long?) and the traffic is crawling - not even registering on the speedo. We're on the F3 heading for the Coast.

The sign says 'Possible traffic delays'. As if. We probably knew it deep in our hearts before we even left home: 'Inevitable traffic delays. Pack a survival kit and a space blanket.'

I don't know why we're doing this. Everyone is doing this. And we knew they would. Yet we're back here again, getting ready to employ those skills I learned years ago about identifying bush foods and sleeping rough under a plastic sheet.

Eventually, the traffic begins to move. Relief - and the boys are still asleep.

Finally, we get close to our destination, and the boys are just stirring into life. Caelan is all sweetness and light (a little unusual following an afternoon nap).

We roll in the driveway on the other end. The familiar cows are in the familiar paddock. The familiar dog barks, and Caelan (with much excitement) spots Opa's truck in the shed.

Now I know why we, like everyone else, did it.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A hive of activity for an evening of worship

The day is almost upon us; the hour is almost here.

In scarcely forty-four hours, Tony Archer's starting whistle will blow, and Manly and Melbourne will go head-to-head for glory in the 2008 NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium.

We might be still two days out, but this morning it was buzzing like a stirred-up hive at the stadium. Groundspeople, caterers, sound technicians, advertisers - everyone seemed to be swept up in the flurry of activity.

What happens here on Sunday evening will be about as near to worship as it gets for most Australians (possibly only to be topped by a visit to the Cascade Brewery).

Standing the middle of this bustle this morning, it was hard to believe: all this is for a crowd that will yell for eighty minutes at a bunch of blokes in studded boots chasing each other (and a ball) around a patch of turf. And most Sydneysiders call that 'transcendence'.

I think I'm slowly getting a sense of why they call it the 'hallowed turf' - because on Sunday evening, for 83,000 Australians, it will be holy ground. I doubt I'll be watching the game, but being here, even with the stadium empty, I can glimpse something of the magnitude.

And it makes me glad my acts of homage aren't spent on football; I think that will be vindicated by Monday morning. Centuries of humans revelling in 'sporting glory' still have not convinced me that this 'corporate worship' makes sense of life's big questions.

But I do imagine it will be roaring good fun.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

When Christmas comes ... late

Yes, it's October and Christmas has come late for our office.

This morning I walked in to find a decent stack of various Belgian beers (over fifty bottles) adorning our main meeting table. It was a [nice] surprise.

This is last year's Christmas present from our international supplier who is based in - wait for it - Belgium.

Each year they send us a gift (normally beer) at Christmastime, but strangely, last year's gift never showed up.

The boss was over at the warehouse yesterday doing a stocktake, when he noticed several containers of Belgian beer - our 2007 present. He was then told by the warehouse manager that these have been sitting here for 'quite a while'.

So they're a little dusty and cobwebbed, but welcome. Most of them are still within their drinkable life, though I'm sure sitting in a warehouse in western Sydney isn't the best thing for them.

Moments like these are unexpected and sweet. It was nice to be able to come home on a stinking hot day with a swag of Belgian beers for the fridge. I think the apparent randomness of it makes it the more delightful. Cheers!

When were you last surprised by an unexpected (but welcome) gift?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sobering moments

"It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart." Ecclesiastes

It's not every day that your work takes you to a cemetery. This morning I had to visit a client right near Rookwood Necropolis (for you students of Greek, 'city of the dead'), and getting there early, I decide to take a walk around the cemetery.

I find two things particularly sobering. The first is the Jewish graves. Most of them simple yet grand and dignified; many of them bearing the Star of David. As I consider all that has come to humanity through the Jews, I grieve for the suffering so many of them have seen (mindful also that many Palestinians have suffered at Jewish hands). They strike me as a people who know how to laugh, and how to mourn - and largely because they are so conscious of death.

After contemplating the rows of dark granite Jewish headstones, I take a wander over to the old 'Independent' section, where many graves from the 19th and early 20th centuries remain. Here, the brokenness of families grips me: little 'Rosebud' leaves her parents when she is only four months' old; another young couple loses three children under five in about as many years. It is heartbreaking.

One ancient tombstone rises tall from the soil, but all the details of the interred occupant have been erased by time and rain and sun and hail. Only the inscription on top of the stone remains clear: "God is Love" - and I guess that if the person who placed the stone here all these years ago could choose any words to remain, it would be these.

I am sobered by the experience. Time seems to slow down as I move among the headstones. Many have fallen into disrepair; many are forgotten - those who once tended them now themselves in need of tending. Life is short, our days like a breath. I lay it to my heart.