Outside the Reality Distortion Field

My friends know that I’m a big Apple fan, and a ‘technology’ person. I was, in the past, the go-to person for questions about computers, gadgets and the like. People today still ask me about technology, and developments in Apple products. I feel very honoured that I’m a reliable source of information for them.

Much has been written about Apple’s ‘reality distortion field’ (Google the term for many words about it) and how it forms your view of Apple and its products. The late Steve Jobs was a master of convincing you that Apple’s product was the best, the easiest to use and the quickest to enjoy, despite it not necessarily being the most advanced technically, or the most economic option for your situation.

I believe, when talking about Apple and its products, that reliable opinions are not affected by the ‘field’. This brings me to a point which I’m always concious about when I’m talking about Apple stuff.

I once applied to work at an Apple Store. At the time, I thought the environment was ‘cool’ and ‘hip’, perfect for a uni student who wanted to earn several dollars. I was quite disappointed that I didn’t advance past the group interview stage. That disappointment didn’t last for long. Soon after Apple released something (I can’t remember what), friends were asking me whether to get said gadget or not.

That’s when I realised, had I got a job with Apple, I would have simply towed the company line. I would have simply recalled the things they tell me to tell customers if they asked. There would not be an objective viewpoint any more.

The word ‘independence’ comes to mind when I think about this. When it comes to technology opinions, a lot of people take sides and are very loyal to their brand. It’s all “This one’s good, the rest are bad.” Maybe we all need to get out of the reality distortion field once in a while.

Especially those hardcore Apple fans.

An anecdote about working hard

Two days ago, I went for a little drive up the F3 freeway (a portion, not all of it) and back again. Whenever I want to test a car out, or try something new, I always drive the same route up and back. The distance is about 30km each way.

On the way back, I stopped at a nice pie shop (Pie in the Sky) on the side of the highway. As I was about to get out of my car (an Audi A1), a gentleman in an Audi R8 parks up in front of me. Being somewhat of a car enthusiast, I complemented him on his car.

Me: Nice car.
R8: Thank you. Nice car too.
Me: Thank you!
R8: You know, one day your car could become like mine.
Me: That’s the dream, one day…

You will notice that my car is the blue one behind.

I thought it was cool how Audi’s entry level car and its top-of-the-line were next to each other; a way of showing its wide reach and appeal.

For me though, it is a story which will encourage me to work hard towards what I want to achieve. I can’t wait until the day I have a spare ~$400,000 to splash on a fast car!

Review: Strange Interlude

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote a review for a theatre play. I feel I should in this instance because I’ve finally seen something early enough (last night’s performance was a preview) in its run to be able to at least encourage someone to go see it.

Strange Interlude had been written about no less than three times in the Fairfax press. Which was surprising because they wrote a rather harsh review about Belvoir’s previous play, Every Breath. Well, they convinced me to go see this play, and I’m happy to report back to you!

This was the first time I had seen something at Belvoir St. So it was interesting to see whether the crowd was similar to that at Sydney Theatre Company plays (I’m a subscriber to STC). To my surprise, there was a larger contingent of younger people. I think it is great that main stage theatre in Sydney is no longer the domain of older patrons.

Now about the actual play.

Strange Interlude is originally written by Eugene O’Neill, Pulitzer Prize winner and one of America’s well known playwrights. Director Simon Stone has rewritten this with a contemporary twist. No, it’s not a rewrite of the five-hour original, but a compact piece that still gets across the main issues. I really loved how he has kept the original setting and has added references to modern conveniences to make the play remain relevant.

The story goes like this. 20 year old Nina Leeds (played by Emily Barclay, who was recently in This Is Our Youth) has just lost her husband to the war. We follow her life over the next 25 years as she attempts to get her life back on track. Through a series of affairs, another marriage and a pregnancy, we see the small events in life shown against a web of secrets.

The set was minimal, yet functional: a seamless white backdrop (photographer’s heaven) that allowed a lot of imagination. Also fascinating was the rolling shower and the toy train track (which was somewhat distracting).

Because Strange Interlude is set over a long period of time, it is up to the actors to ‘look the part’ to preserve the story, especially in the later scenes. Barclay’s portrayal of Nina remained true and real to Nina’s life. Mitchell Butel’s Charlie Marsden becomes more of a caricature towards the end, which helped keep the comic relief present.

I really enjoyed this play. Some people will never like the classics to be rewritten, but if it gets young people interested, then it is well worth it. You should go see this too, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Strange Interlude plays until 17 June. Tickets are $42 for students/concession, $62 for adults. There is a $29 student rush for the Tuesday evening and Saturday matinée. Details: http://www.belvoir.com.au/productions-1/strange-interlude

Birthday Statistics 2012

I turned 20 last week. Here are the statistics. This is becoming a (fun) habit now!

Birthday messages (change from last year)
Facebook messages – 37 (-27)
Texts – 2 (+1)
Phone calls – 1 (0)
Tweets – 0 (0)

Frequency of Facebook messages vs. Time (i.e. when was the message posted)

Gender split of Facebook messages
Male – 20
Female – 17

Gender split of all message senders
Male – 21
Female – 19

Facebook messages
Use of initials (HB or BH) – 10 (27%)
Average length (includes x’s, o’s; excludes smileys) – 3.75 (-0.96)
Repeat posters (those who posted last year and this year) – 10

Observations
Most obviously, there is a significant decrease in Facebook messages. I put this to two reasons. One, my birthday this year falls on a Saturday, and I think that many people have better things to do than sit around reading Facebook. Two, I am three years out of high school. The ‘novelty’ of knowing everyone has greatly diminished. There are new connections to be made at uni (compare your friend count at the end of high school and at the end of each year at uni)

I have omitted face to face greets because I was not at uni on Saturday. However I have kept a rough count of greets on the next weekday (Monday): 3 (2 male, 1 female).

This year I quantified the number of people who posted in both 2011 and 2012 (on Facebook). I briefly mentioned this point last year. I’d like to see the percentage trend next year.

Histogram
This year’s histogram looks more like a normal distribution, with the peak at 11am. There’s a clear spike at 6pm. And I did not expect there to be many early birds at 8am (I might be wrong, maybe it’s because I don’t think people my age get up that early on weekends; I know I don’t usually).

I have extended the histogram to 27 hours after midnight on my birthday. As you can see one post came at 3am the next morning. This post was made east of the International Date Line (where it would still have been my birthday).

Gender Split
The gender split is closer to half and half. I think next year there will be more females to males. How nice!

The graph below shows the split for Facebook messages only.

Conclusion
Thank you for your messages! A short message can say a lot.

See my previous birthday statistics posts:
2011
2010
2009

Sydney Universities Dates: Semester 1 2012

As usual, dates for Sydney universities. Enjoy!

DATES S1 2012

Notes: As reported by the university, therefore weekends may or may not be counted. If you have additional information, please email me.

S1 Start Mid-Semester Break Study Vacation Examinations Winter Break S2 start
MQ 27 Feb 6 Apr to 22 Apr 12 Jun to 29 Jun 30 Jun to 29 Jul 30 Jul
UNSW 27 Feb 6 Apr to 15 Apr 2 Jun to 7 Jun 8 Jun to 25 Jun 26 Jun to 15 Jul 16 Jul
USYD 5 Mar 6 Apr to 13 Apr 11 Jun to 17 Jun 18 Jun to 30 Jun 1 Jul to 29 Jul 30 Jul
UTS 27 Feb 23 Apr to 27 Apr 9 Jun to 29 Jun 30 Jun to 29 Jul 30 Jul
UWS 27 Feb 16 Apr to 20 Apr 4 Jun to 8 Jun 18 Jun to 27 Jun 28 Jun to 29 Jul 30 Jul
ANU 20 Feb 6 Apr to 22 Apr 2 Jun to 6 Jun 7 Jun to 23 Jun 24 Jun to 22 Jul 23 Jul

Sources:
MQ: http://www.mq.edu.au/calendar.html
UNSW: https://my.unsw.edu.au/student/resources/AcademicCalendar.html
USYD: http://sydney.edu.au/future_students/domestic_undergraduate/admissions/semester_dates/2012.php
UTS: http://www.handbook.uts.edu.au/dates_academic.html
UWS: http://www.uws.edu.au/currentstudents/current_students/managing_your_study/dates/2012_academic_year_dateline
ANU: http://about.anu.edu.au/principal-dates/semester-dates

Odd Travel Habits

It’s been a while, I know.

I got back from the US a few weeks ago and on the plane ride back, I recalled that I had stuck to two of my odd travel habits. The first is to visit a typical supermarket (not a convenience store), and the second is to eat at a local McDonald’s.

I do this, because I like to see how ‘grocery shopping’ is done by the locals, and to see if there are any items worthy of stocking up. As for McDonald’s, I like to see how this (and other) multinational corporations change their offerings to suit the local market.

So in the States, I noticed that lots of groceries were cheaper than equivalents at home. Also when I was a bit younger, I used to enjoy Pop Tarts. Kellogg’s stopped selling them in Australia around 2005, and are now expensive sweets in import lolly shops. When I saw them on the supermarket shelves, I was all nostalgic, and then bought several boxes. As a bonus, they were quite cheap!

McDonald’s in the US aren’t too different from those in Australia, apart from some menu items. What is interesting is that meals in Australia have a greater focus on the sizes of drinks and fries. The McCafé concept isn’t as developed in the US as it is in Australia; the differences in café culture are evident (Although note McCafé started in Australia in the early 90s).

Sometimes the comparisons seem very odd to Australians, but nonetheless interesting to observe. For example, McDonald’s in Indonesia operate a home delivery service. McDonald’s in some Asian countries serve rice.

Is there something that you must do every time you are overseas?

Timelines

Perhaps the biggest piece of news to come out of f8, Facebook’s annual developer conference is the introduction of Timeline, a new design of the profile page. If you haven’t seen what it looks like, here is mine:

Facebook Timeline

Timeline is a new way of showing and sharing information to friends. The cover allows you to show a large picture that ‘represents you best’ in addition to your profile picture, and there are many new items that form the timeline, including new categories of post, and expanded outputs from applications via Open Graph. It expands the capabilities of what apps can do.

One thing that happens now as a result of Timeline, is that it is now easier to revisit older content of one’s Facebook profile. Facebook already begun to do this with the ‘On this day in 2010’ boxes in the sidebar. It has generated some interesting comments from my friends! There is a caveat to this though.

I’m sure many of you have heard of stories where employers check social media profiles of their staff regularly, exposing questionable actions to their colleagues. There are also stories of HR checking over potential employees, and that one post could mean not getting a job! While it could be said that this a danger of Timeline, it does make it easier to edit past content.

For past posts, Timeline only shows the most important posts. Obviously these are determined by an algorithm, possibly taking into account the number of responses to a post. But employers could learn quickly to find posts hidden from view, that could undermine a candidate’s standing.

I’m guessing that we could see soon the mass editing of past posts; akin to rewriting the past. You know what? It is just like the Ministry of Truth rewriting all the newspapers! (In case it wasn’t obvious, I am a huge fan of Nineteen Eighty-Four.) Timeline allows to backdate posts, allowing you to make you look like you did not have that drunken night out. I could remove all those embarrassing and meaningless status updates! The opportunities are limitless here. In fact, Timeline allows you to add posts right up to your birth date. Have the childhood you never had, at least online.

I wonder what you all think about Timeline and its potential. Would you rewrite your past? Or are you tired of Facebook constantly changing? For every person who likes Timeline, there will always be someone who loathes it.

Driving Stories

Last Wednesday was the first time I drove at 100 km/h legally (the speed limit for green P’s). Now I’ll admit that it’s not terribly exciting, but it did remind me of the first time I drove alone after I got my P’s.

It was in the afternoon, and I was on the train home from university. I needed to get some keys cut at the shopping village in the next suburb, and was deciding whether to get off the train early, or drive a short distance. In my head I squealed in excitement that I would be finally ‘free’ from the constraints of public transport.

When I got in Mum’s car, I was still shaking a little, so a few minutes went by whilst I calmed down. I turned the key, reversed out of the parking spot and set off.

Obviously the drive felt different because there was nobody sitting next to you watching out for things you were doing wrong. At least there wasn’t a testing officer making fail marks on the sore sheet. But I felt compelled to do everything right: indicate before turning, safe distance from others and checking mirrors.

Admittedly, some of those skills have deteriorated since!

I got the keys cut and drove home rather satisfied, knowing that I saved travel time by deciding to conquer the first-time anxiety.

Do you still remember the first time you drove alone?

Sydney Town

I get really excited when a film or TV show is set in Sydney. For me, it becomes a game of identifying the locations, and then going there. Why do I want to visit the places concerned? Because it is kind of cool to understand how they add to the plot. A location is not just a dot on a map; the culture and characteristics define it too.

One great example is the first film of the Matrix series. Martin Place was used because it could portray the idea of a ‘perfect’ city (Trust me, it was more like that back in 1999!). In case you have not seen the film, the Matrix is a simulated reality of a perfect city used to fool humans while machines harvest their body heat for energy. As a Sydneysider, walking the length of Martin Place sometimes makes me feel like I am living in the best city in the world.

Let me cite another example. The recent ABC TV series Rake, centres on barrister Cleaver Greene who lives in Kings Cross, and has a ‘seedy’ lifestyle. Greene’s flat above a café does exist (in a quiet side street near the Cross), and one scene is shot at the El Alamein fountain (which I did not know existed; shows you how much I go there!). I am yet to find where Greene’s ‘lawyers bar’ is though (I think it is somewhere along Elizabeth St).

Sometimes the wrong connotation can be given to a location. Take Julia Leigh’s film Sleeping Beauty (Go see it, a great film). Lucy, a university student takes a high-paying job being a fantasy for old men. Leigh probably wanted to use a ‘generic’ university location, but several scenes are shot at the University of Sydney. For those that are interested, they take place in and around the Carslaw building, and the lawns outside the New Law building. I could immediately identify the location (I go to USyd), but to a casual moviegoer, it would be aesthetically pleasing architecture at a university.

What is interesting is that recently the SMH wrote about a large brothel (Stiletto), about to open opposite the university’s campus. A coincidence, or art imitating life?

Sydney Universities Dates: Semester 2 2011

As usual, dates for Sydney universities. Enjoy!

DATES S2 2011

Notes: As reported by the university, therefore weekends may or may not be counted. If you have additional information, please email me.

S2 Start Mid-Semester Break Study Vacation Examinations Summer Break S1 ’12 start
MQ 1 Aug 16 Sep to 3 Oct 14 Nov to 2 Dec 3 Dec to 26 Feb 27 Feb
UNSW 18 Jul 3 Sep to 11 Sep 22 Oct to 27 Oct 28 Oct to 15 Nov 16 Nov to 26 Feb 27 Feb
USYD 25 Jul 26 Sep to 3 Oct 31 Oct to 4 Nov 7 Nov to 19 Nov 20 Nov to 4 Mar 5 Mar
UTS 1 Aug 26 Sep to 3 Oct 12 Nov to 2 Dec 3 Dec to 26 Feb 27 Feb
UWS 1 Aug 26 Sep to 3 Oct 7 Nov to 11 Nov 14 Nov to 26 Nov 27 Nov to 26 Feb 27 Feb
ANU 25 Jul 12 Sep to 23 Sep 5 Nov to 9 Nov 10 Nov to 26 Nov 27 Nov to 19 Feb 20 Feb

Sources:
MQ: http://www.mq.edu.au/calendar.html
UNSW: https://my.unsw.edu.au/student/resources/AcademicCalendar.html
USYD: http://www.usyd.edu.au/future_students/domestic_undergraduate/admissions/semester_dates/index.shtml
UTS: http://www.handbook.uts.edu.au/dates_academic.html
UWS: http://www.uws.edu.au/currentstudents/current_students/managing_your_study/dates/2011_academic_year_dateline
ANU: http://info.anu.edu.au/ovc/Committees/110PP_Principal_Dates