Monday, 11 March 2013

Time to give NBN a good plug

imageBrunswick was one of the first suburbs in Australia to get the National Broadband Network. And I guess that also means we are the first to realise its limits.

One of the issues with NBN is that it is dependent on electricity supply. In the copper network, if the power went in a home, it was still possible to made a call. That’s important, as it may be an emergency situation like a fire outbreak. So NBN have tried to cover this by installing a backup power supply with the modem. Even if the power goes, there should be enough in the battery to keep you connected. All well and good.

However, rather than having a plug that can be inserted into the power unit, the power from the modem is hard-wired. As we discovered four days ago, this means that, when the backup unit goes, you have no connection.

A little ironic, eh?

We’ve certainly had time to appreciate the irony, but will not miss it when as hoped the crew arrive tomorrow to fix or replace the box.

So why did they decided to hard-wire it? It seems bad engineering to add another link in the chain that can break. If it was a plug, we could simply take it out and add it directly to the mains outlet – thus ensuring consistent access, as intended.

Someone at NBN didn’t trust us to use this wisely. What could go wrong? Maybe we’d decide it wasn’t necessary and re-locate it elsewhere in the house – or sell it in a garage sale.

So this is what it’s like in a technocracy. One hard head at the table says we need to be able to make calls if the power goes. Another says we need to hard-wire it to prevent illegitimate use. But then we are left with a far worse problem when we aren’t able to make the simple work-around ourselves.

Let us help you make it work, eh?

Monday, 12 December 2011

Office at #19


I'm fortunate to live in the People's Republic of Brunswick, a suburb in Melbourne inner north,  blessed by numerous public transport routes. My work is a mixture of writing and projects. My home office is the most productive place for writing,  but I am often called out for meetings in the city. I enjoy my time no the #19 North Coburg tram on its 30 minute dead straight trajectory into the city,  arriving like an arrive impaled on the flank of Flinders Street station. There's always an interesting array of faces and sometimes a curious conversation that tells me much more about the world than browsing twitter.

But particularly the #19 is a wonderful place to write.  Why is this? It's a combination of two factors. First is the natural rhythm of movement, which provides a phenomenological balance for the inner distractions of body and mind. And second, it's a moment of liberation from Windows. I prefer to write my first drafts on crude devices, like this Android Asus Transformer,  where it's harder to switch between functions. Ironically, in moving crowded noisy and unstable space like #19, I can really concentrate. I have to go back to Windows eventually, to do the fact-checking and hard word-smithing. But the #19 is most conducive for the first undercoat.

This blog is an occasional space to share what I've learnt about writing on a tram. It has mild aspirations to utopianism in fostering a space where thoughts can emerge in the open space of the public, rather than the idea factories of corporate media. There’s an even milder aspiration to utopianism in leaning how to work the Android platform. Certainly, the Google Corporation is the end beneficiary of this work, but relatively speaking this is a much more open alternative to Apple, with this tyrannous licensing practices.

I think this is my stop.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Does Brunswick need fast broadband?

BNB thumb

The Federal government has identified my corner of ‘deep’ Brunswick as the only urban region they are going to test out their new hyperfast broadband network. As evidenced by the shop owners that The Age (3/3/10) interviewed, there is relatively little interest here in faster Internet. 

Brunswick is becoming characterised by a lo-fi culture. In cafes, you don’t hear an out-of-tune FM station or someone’s iPod shuffle. Most have turntables playing samba-funk from Brazil and other places.

We don’t want Brunswick to become home to ‘smart’ businesses that conduct virtual wizardry in sealed air-conditioned cubicles. Brunswick stands out as an island of real in a sea of spectacle.

Yes to 33 1/3 rpm, no to fast broadband!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Getting off the bus


'I highly recommend you get on the bus'. There’s something disturbing about the message on the bright yellow bus that travels up and down my street. It bears no relation to what's contained within.

The happy faces that decorate its exterior invite you into a magical mystery ride, but what you find on board is more like a prison. The merry image that wraps the bus is printed on a perforated mesh that tries to be opaque from the outside but transparent from within. The reality inside is otherwise. From the darkened spaces within, peering through the mesh, the world outside seems murky and distant.

We are finding ourselves increasingly victim to these incursions into our private space. Signage used to be limited to opaque surfaces, like billboards. Now, thanks to new printing technologies, it is possible to turn entire buses, trams and trucks into moving ads.

The advertising frontier continues to expand. Now animated screens promoting wares have become normal on the boundary hoarding of football grounds. Previously, the only moving elements on the ground were the balls and the players. Now the ground itself moves. The vertiginous effect makes the actual game well nigh unwatchable.

Advertising has always had its critics. In Australian Ugliness, Robin Boyd bemoaned the mess of signage that blights the 1960s suburban strip. But while perhaps ugly to look at, advertising was limited to what was out there— it didn’t affect our very ability to see the world outside.

Something wicked is happening to way we experience space. The bright lights of spectacle leave fewer shadows where intimacy can grow. In the early 1980s, the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard predicted advent of the simulacrum, an apocalyptic moment when the image would encompass the entire world and our sense of reality would implode. But even Baudrillard could not have imagined the way intimacy has since been externalised through Big Brother, Facebook and full body advertising.

According to a recent Ipsos Mackay Advertising report, consumers feel overwhelmed by advertising and are calling for restrictions. Even so, it is hard to imagine a retreat of advertising. The brightly coloured trams and buses give colour and distraction to our streets. Some might think that it is a good thing to have darkened interiors—it’s easier to read electronic devices.

But there’s another, more political reason to resist this slide. Turning vehicles into opaque boxes requires extra energy in terms of air-conditioning and lighting. Not only is there extra energy required, it also puts an increasing distance between us and the world outside. As long as we cruise along in temperate illuminated boxes we are less exposed to the effects of carbon emissions we are contributing to.

How many of us now live our day next to an open window? It’s this space between inside and outside that is being eroded—the cool breeze that wafts through the window, the knock on the door, the glimpse of passengers lost in thought.

There is hope. Melbourne's public transport system has new owners. The inevitable changeover will entail a radical transformation of its livery as new owners re-brand our trams, trains and buses. Can we imagine that there might be a chance to abandon body-wrap advertising? A ban on advertising! Inconceivable.

But its continuous growth must eventually reach a limit. On a recent trip to Santiago I noticed the entire side of a twenty-storey apartment block had been covered by one mammoth advertisement. For the residents of Santiago, the air outside is bad enough without having to live in a permanent shadow. Would that be the point when we might say, enough?

But on the other side of Latin America, one city has radically reversed the trend. In 2006, São Paulo adopted the 'Clean City Law' which prohibited all outdoor advertising. Suddenly, the biggest city in the southern hemisphere removed more than 8,000 billboard sites, stripped the buses and discovered the reality behind the glossy image.


The law against outdoor advertising was enacted by a conservative mayor in order to combat the rampant expansion of illegal hoardings. As you might imagine, the legislation was denounced by the advertising industry. Some raise the spectre of old communist East Berlin as an example of how drab life can be without advertising in the streets. But the ‘clean city’ has proved a hit with Paulistas. The city’s retailers have adopted alternative strategies, including colour-coding that add to the environment, rather than distract from it. The vacuum has been quickly filled by a vibrant new street art. The distinctive ‘straight tag’ calligraphy of pichação (dirty scrawl) has recently been recognised in an exhibition at the Cartier Foundation in Paris. As local design writer Adelia Borges says, ‘For São Paulo it is a wonderful thing. The city can speak!’

Could Melbourne do it? Perhaps the comparison with São Paulo is uncomfortable. We're a safe, liveable city. But perhaps if we had less life printed on our surface, we might find more life on the streets.

I highly recommend we step off this bus.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Thermopylae on Sydney Road


As everyone knows, Brunswick is the sister city of Sparta. I happen to live in the Spartan centre of Brunswick, nestled between various Spartan homes who have found a new land in which to make dolmadis and amigtholata.

We have the Sparta Club, where the elders congregate under the portraits of Spartan heroes to play backgammon. And we have Sparta Place, which has recently become an epicentre for neo-Brunswick, the second wave of gentrifiers (I was in the first wave).

As the Spartans have risen in power locally, they have clearly found the ear of local government and now their great hero King Leonidas is going to be honoured with a bronze bust. According to a recent Age report, Neo-Brunswick is not amused:

I suggest that we try to restage the original battle between Spartans and Persians in Brunswick. We should pit the military discipline of Leonidas against the seductive Persian poetry of Rumi:


Rumi is the name of the restaurant in Lygon Street Brunswick that became the Mecca for neo-Brunswick, combining the Levantine heritage of the suburb with its new generation of connoisseurs.

Souvlaki versus Biranyi – history awakes in Brunswick!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The disappearing pharmacy of Santiago: A cautionary tale


In Santiago is a district called Lastarria, which is a vibrant neighbourhood of cafes, theatres and galleries. There used to be a local pharmacy which serviced the population for generations, providing advice on prescriptions and minor ailments. Then a large discount pharmacy chain opened a branch around the corner. The local customers went to the discount shop for cheaper products. But there were not enough customers to support such a big shop, so it eventually closed down. Now Lastarria has no pharmacies, big or small.

Could this happen in Brunswick?


Thanks to Paola for the photos.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Supermarket chemists expand

imageMy twitter has just been ‘followed’ by yousave chemists, which is another chain of supermarket chemists, this time emerging from New South Wales. yousave continue the Chemist Warehouse model of using cheap goods in bins and aisles to attract sales and customers to improve margins in dispensing prescriptions.

It’s a clear retail trend – not limited to Chemist Warehouse. We seem to love bins and shelves where we can grab a bargain. But do we always know what’s best for us? The professional ethos that previously governed chemists is being seriously challenged by aggressive consumerism.

How can we turn this around?