Review: Stories from the 428

Earlier this weekend (Sat. 5pm in fact), I went to see Stories From The 428 at Sidetrack Theatre in Marrickville. It’s part of the Sydney Fringe Festival, and it’s got two shows left tomorrow. So if you are reading this now, I suggest you book tickets now, because in short, it’s really good.

Stories From The 428 is a collection of anecdotes and stories collected from the passengers of Sydney Buses route 428 (Canterbury <-> City). It’s presented in a way so that your attention span will not be tested (i.e. short and sweet). As someone who has never caught the 428, it’s an engrossing look into the diverse group of people who fill the seats and aisle. Whether it’s the two old folks, the city worker, the tertiary student or the socialist (oh yes, the socialist!), each have a unique and somewhat relatable story to tell.

I would have thought the monotony of the ordinary bus trip to work or uni would be rather boring. Instead the team of writers and the cast inject plentiful amounts of humour and life into each story. The intimacy of the venue also adds to the experience; it’s just like listening to the passenger next to you. If you have a spare 90 minutes tomorrow, go see this, you’ll smile once you leave.

Stories From The 428 Twitter

PS: I’m volunteering at the Sydney Fringe, selling tickets at the Greek Theatre tomorrow afternoon, next Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. If you like, come along, say hi and enjoy a show. Details at the Fringe website.

Election Night

On 21 August, Australia went to the polls to decide who would govern for the next three years. There was no clear result, only the outcome of a hung parliament.

During election night, you will have no doubt seen the television coverage at some point from the National Tally Room in Canberra. I went to visit the tally room that night, and I was met with this:

The Queue

Yes, there was a queue outside in the cold. Dad and I waited for an hour snaking around the courtyard before we got to the front entrance. Only  a limited number of people are allowed in at one time. Luckily the ABC had a TV outside so it wasn’t all that boring. One unique feature of Australian federal elections is the atmosphere of the coverage, the excitement associated with the result if you will. (This YouTube clip of 2007 election coverage will demonstrate this point, as well as Kerry O’Brien’s famous gaffe). During the last few minutes of waiting, I noticed this placard on the fence:

Media Placard

Yes, that’s the Chaser’s Craig Reucassel with Senator Conroy in the top left corner. The AEC took the opportunity to tell everyone how good they were at administering elections and the media are an important part of the process.

(If you don’t know the rest of the media personalities on that poster, they are clockwise: David Koch, Tom Gleisner and Santo Cilauro, Kerry O’Brien, Ray Martin and Laurie Oakes, Mark Riley, and Alan Jones)

Media Tally board

Once inside at about 8pm, the tally board of all 150 House of Representatives seats spans an entire side of the hall. The numbers are manually updated throughout the night by AEC workers. On the other side are the TV media sets. Ten, Seven, Sky, Nine and ABC were there with almost every news personality sitting behind a desk. Politicians were moving between sets to do numerous interviews. Between the public area and the TV sets were representatives from political parties and other media interpreting the results.

A few electorates

Probably the other highlight of the night (besides the hung result) was the surprise visit by Greens leader Bob Brown. I was standing behind the Channel Nine interview of Warren Truss (yes, that’s the one highlighted by the Chaser) when Brown walks in to cheers and the large media pack. With me being me, I got nowhere near, but I did catch these shots:

Warren Truss with Allison Langdon Bob Brown adressing media

If I ever visit the tally room again, I’d better bring a larger camera. Dad and I left at about 11pm, and the next day I drove a long way.

Film Review: Tomorrow, When the War Began

Notes: This is quick and short review. My election night post is coming soon.

Tomorrow, When the War Began is the film adaptation of the first of the Tomorrow series of young adult novels by John Marsden. It follows the life of seven, later eight teenagers during the school holidays. What starts out as the perfect camping trip turns into a fight for their survival.

Upon the first viewing of the film, you get the impression that it would deviate greatly from the books. But as it progresses, director Stuart Beattie deals with the core subject of survival very well, emphasising the situations that Ellie and her friends have to deal with. Explosions and action scenes are not in short supply, so those that enjoy blowing things up won’t be disappointed.

Character development is another focus in this film. We do see the relationships between Ellie and Lee, Homer and Fi, and Kevin and Corrie presented with subtlety, and sprinkled throughout. As Ellie is the narrator, it’s also good to see the characters from her perspective. There are a few ‘cheesy’ bits in this film, although I think it won’t matter to most people.

I enjoyed this film, and I would be excited if the second book is to be made.

I give this four stars. What about you?

A response to ACA’s Tim Tam story

Last Tuesday, Channel Nine’s current affairs show ‘A Current Affair’ aired a story about the Tim Tam.

It said that Australian shops were selling cheaper and poorer quality Tim Tams manufactured in Indonesia. The story went on to say that the practice of parallel importing was the main cause of this problem.

Link to the ACA story.

Those who know me will know that I have the opinion that the current affair shows (Today Tonight, and ACA) run stories whose purpose is to stir up some old controversy. Also worth noting is that both shows have had legal troubles in the last few years. (ACA’s most recent problem was covered by Media Watch last week)

Parallel imports aren’t new in Australia. In 2006, the ACCC handed down a notice to Aldi supermarkets to stop importing cheaper Nescafé instant coffee and selling it alongside the local product, Blend 43. The ACA story also mentions of Chupa Chups produced in Vietnam and sold in Australia. Lots of companies like to differentiate their product offerings in each region for profit or market reasons. Now, this was the only part of the story that was worthy of broadcast.

The other elements of the story are worth chastising. First, ACA attempts to demonstrate the inferiority of the Indonesian Tim Tam by weighing the biscuit in a ‘lab’. The ‘lab’ is a dimly lit studio with a fire extinguisher, and shows a ‘scientist’ with a what looks like a pair of black swimming goggles on her head and a set of kitchen scales. It raises the question, “Does ACA have to go to great lengths to get people to believe their reporting?” On the same note, the reporter doesn’t really ‘report’. Instead he confronts certain parties with allegations of unethical activities and biases the story to reveal only the negative effects of parallel importing.

Apparently ACA have the view that most of their audience aren’t particularly smart. Therefore they say that the only way to tell the difference between Australian and Indonesian Tim Tams is to open the packet itself, thus discouraging people to buy Tim Tams. If you had a look at the packaging, you’d be suspicious of the origin of the Tim Tam would you? ACA even had a shot of the two packets together!

Also, let’s face it. Have you noticed that tourists/visitors to Australia always carry a few packets of Tim Tams back home? I would think that most people believe the saying, “the original is the best”.

Again on Facebook: The Friends List

This is another post about what I think about Facebook. Previously: this post of general thoughts.

I noticed that my intended use of the Friends List had changed this year. Now, on the surface, the List is exactly as it says it is; a list of friends made on Facebook. But you may or may not know about the extra functionality of creating groups of friends, that also extend to Chat (function of hiding from these groups of people).

In other words, the core purpose is to list out your friends, or more accurately, your personal connections (you will see why later).

But this isn’t the point. I want to focus on who makes up your Friends List, not how many.

Now, Facebook has default groups of friends by network. If you think about it, you make friends at high school (one network), at university (another network), and at each workplace you work at (yet more networks). It is fair to say, that the social nature of each environment is different. Hence (if you have one), the criteria of whether someone is your ‘friend’ or not differs between networks.

Using my criteria as an example, someone who graduated with me from high school (i.e. same Year 12 group) will have more chance of being my ‘friend’, than someone who I met once at uni. My previous criteria was that only people I associated with regularly were ‘friends’.

Obviously, the more social experiences one has, the more friends there should be. But from the example above, be aware of who you friend and what you share with them. I have found that there are people who you would want to ‘friend’ due to the value of a personal connection with them. But be aware, there are some statements that shouldn’t be made public, because there are people who do not deserve to know/care.

We can also extend this thinking to family members on your Friend List. There has been lots of debate about whether one should friend their parents/relatives. A general rule is if the relative lives overseas or is of similar age, then it is acceptable for them to be added. But for those that are older, some caution must be taken.

The lesson to take away from this, is to be careful who you ‘friend’ on Facebook. Unless you want to become a news story.

Sydney Universities Dates: Semester 2 2010

I assume everyone is having a restful uni break. So, here are the dates for Semester 2.

Hope you find this useful!

DATES 2010

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

S2 Start Mid-semester break Study Vacation Examinations S1 2011 start
MQ 2 Aug 17 Sep to 4 Oct 17 Nov to 3 Dec 21 Feb
UNSW 19 Jul 4 Sep to 12 Sep 23 Oct to 28 Oct 29 Oct to 16 Nov 28 Feb
USYD 26 Jul 27 Sep to 1 Oct 1 Nov to 5 Nov 8 Nov to 20 Nov 28 Feb
UTS 2 Aug 27 Sep to 1 Oct 13 Nov to 3 Dec 28 Feb
UWS 26 Jul 20 Sep to 24 Sep 1 Nov to 5 Nov 8 Nov to 28 Nov 28 Feb
ANU 19 Jul 25 Sep to 10 Oct 30 Oct to 3 Nov 4 Nov to 20 Nov 21 Feb

Summer Term

Summer Start Summer End
MQ 3 Jan 11 Feb
UNSW * *
USYD 4 Jan 25 Feb
UTS 6 Dec 11 Feb
UWS 29 Nov/3 Jan# 11 Feb
ANU

# – Short session/Long session

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/2010_academic_year_dateline
ANU: http://info.anu.edu.au/ovc/Committees/110PP_Principal_Dates

I do and don’t like Facebook.

So, today I have completed the marketing exam. My mind is still quite focused on concepts (and my performance in the exam), so in the little ‘power-down’ period I have, I thought I might write a few thoughts on a service we all use so much that it is now ubiquitous: Facebook.

Facebook now has hundreds of millions of users around the world. It has been described as a ‘meta-layer’  (BOL podcast, within the last 2 weeks) of the internet. This is easily seen in Facebook Connect and Instant Personalisation functions. These extend your Facebook account identity to third-party websites, and personalise the content of said website according to what you have in your profile.

These functions are also common functions of social networks which include the Wall (public messages), groups/pages, events pages, photo/video sharing etc…

Now, don’t get me wrong. Facebook is fantastic at keeping in touch with people you haven’t spoken/seen in a long time. As people’s contact details change their Facebook presence is constant, regardless of whether they have updated it with their new address or not (in most cases). It makes easy to arrange events at a moment’s notice, share media, tell your friend that they’re cool, and so on. That’s why I like Facebook, now here’s why I don’t.

Facebook has moved into a position where it wants to be a central repository for your identity and content. Because all your information (including page, group data etc) is on the site and organised (in most cases) by you, this potentially makes it easy for them to share this information to advertisers and third-parties. Subsequently, marketers can segment down to your interests what you like, and serve up super-relevant ads. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) said at the recent D8 conference that the world will move towards applications designed around people and the nature of what people do, not software.

What is also noticeable, and mentioned by Zuckerberg, is that new Facebook features are almost always protested, because an engineer has found a new way to present information. Take a look at News/Live Feed. It was met with intense criticism initially, but now it is standard and quite useful.

Now here is what I prefer to do. I’m not a fan of signing up for services that duplicate functionality I already have. I share my photos on Flickr. I try to use email as much as possible (minimise Facebook messaging/wall posting). But note, this doesn’t mean I’ll stop using Facebook. (Actually, maybe this will)

“Why does KFC taste so good? Uh, It just does.”

No offence to those who work at KFC. It’s just my opinion. Also, thanks to Calum for inspiration.

Recently, I was waiting in the line of a KFC for a meal. The people in front of me were very frustrated, not only because of the long wait for food, but also because the lid of the large potato and gravy had some burnt on food on top.

Now, this was probably from an earlier accident where there was some spillage. But it is the reaction of the customer that is more important. He asked the staff member (a young-ish boy) to replace the potato and gravy, claiming that KFC weren’t allowed to sell spoilt food. The staff hesitated for a short while, and a small discussion ensued, and eventually the customer got new potato and gravy.

The moral of this story is that sometimes, these chain outlets hire incompetent people or do not train them enough. This is where most of the negative word-of-mouth feedback originates from.

Now, I’m not saying that every chain outlet is bad in this way. Take McDonalds for example. They train their staff so that they can handle almost all of the situations they are presented with over the course of their shift. The same service quality is present in any given restaurant anywhere in the world. (Yes, I am alluding to marketing theory, I’m typing this after my lecture.)

KFC have very inconsistent service across their stores. Their high-patronage outlets tend to have higher service quality than smaller stores. Also noticeable is that the store supervisor/manager has more presence in the shopfront. I interpret this as a stern reminder to the other staff to serve customers properly, instead of an attempt to lift standards of service.

Another noticeable example is Bunnings Warehouse. They hire a wide range of people from school students, to older tradespeople. All too often I see the ‘lower rank’ employees wandering around the shelves, attempting to present themselves to assist customers. Most of them possess no knowledge of the hardware that they sell, which renders them useless. Instead, they should be restocking shelves and serving at the check out counters. One example of disappointing service was when a customer asked where the insulation batts were. The staff member said that they did not stock insulation batts, and fibbed an answer.

If you have ever been served poorly by these incompetent people, I encourage you to be proactive about it and make a complaint to the supervisor. That way, we will never them get away with it.

Next rant: International students.

Birthday Stats and Messages

Like I did last year, I’ve compiled a set of statistics about my birthday. So here goes:

Statistics

Birthday messages
Facebook messages – 65
Face to face greets – 4
Text messages – 4
Tweets – 1

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

(Time in 24 hour format i.e. 0 is 12am, 22 is 10pm)

Comparison of AEST and UTC:

AEST 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23
UTC 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Number of people who attempted to use my ‘initials’ signature – 11
Number of people who used it incorrectly – 3
Facebook email lag* – 11

Amount spent on scratchies – $10
Amount lost – $10

Cash received as gifts – $364.2

*Every time I get a wall post, an email is sent to me. This is the number of emails it did not send me.

Observations

Some observations about the graph I’d like to point out. (Yes! I get to nerd out now.)

I would have expected a normal distribution (bell-shaped curve) which meant that the majority of responses were in the middle of the day. But as the graph shows, it is quite evenly distributed.

The unusual concentration at 12am-2am is the result of people who (I think):

  • wanted to be the first to wish me Happy Birthday (at 12am)
  • were studying late (all-nighter)
  • (in one case) was overseas (from the raw data, one message was from a person in the UK, hence the local time would have been 5pm)(London is UTC+1)

My other prediction is that the ‘spike’ at 6pm is due to people coming home after a day at uni.

Now, about the initials. For those who don’t know, I write the same thing for each person’s birthday. I sign with my initials, BH. This statistic shows that the trend of signing with initials was popular with some of you. Also, three of you managed to use my initials instead of your own! Well done.

Next, Facebook email lag. This is an interesting one. It shows that Facebook’s email servers can’t keep up with the posts of my wall, hence, I wasn’t sent emails about wall posts for 11 people.

Messages

OK. That’s enough of the stats, now the personal messages. You know who you are.

To those who are overseas, I miss you too.

To those who signed with initials, Thank you. BH

I do miss French, as well as the free hugs.

Merci beaucoup.

Cale, FAIL! (Now that rhymes!)

To everyone else, Thank you, keep in touch, and see you soon.

Photography Roadmap 2010: Part 2

After writing out my Roadmap last week, I thought I’d explain further my wish to do more sports photography.

Sports photography isn’t something that I have a great amount of interest in, but I think it can teach amateur photographers like me a thing or two about shooting in ‘tight conditions’. As I said before, the recent Winter Olympics sparked my interest in this. Which just happens to go well with my wish to do some ski photography this year.

I’ve done very little sports photography before (exactly: 2 sessions in Europe and touch footy last year) with a mixed bag of results. Some shots were good, others not so.

Good Bad
Good Bad

Shooting a sports event requires a lot of precision and accuracy. The main challenges to overcome are fast moving subjects and the fact that you are usually far away from them (on the sideline). These challenges are partially solved with some good equipment (specifically long-range, fast lenses e.g. 200mm f/2.8)

Being quick and accurate leads to the styles of photography I’d like to specialise in, namely, live events and music.

Now, to the Winter Olympics influence. As I discovered in Europe, shooting in the snow produces a sharp subject almost every time, because cameras can not find a focus on white backgrounds. (Un)fortunately this is a little cheat one can use to create the illusion of stunning photographs. This in turn leads to a morale boost! It also has led to a desire to shoot in the snow more.

There’s probably a million other insignificant reasons why I’d want to do photography in the snow, but I’ll spare those for the time around the warm fire in the lodge.

So this is why I want to head down to the slopes this winter. To sum up, it is part of the learning experience in becoming a great photographer.