Tuesday, June 30, 2009

man week (4): gay

I'm not gay. I checked when I was about 20*. All the stuff above the waist on the other person was fine but there was some extra equipment down there that seemed a little superfluous. I think the technical term may be "cock block".

Reflecting on this experience makes me wonder how difficult it must be for a closeted gay man trying to fit in. Going through the motions. Doing something that's not quite right.

For a few years I was a volunteer at the Ankali Project where I was often "token straight guy". One thing that I think separates gay men from straight men is that you have to choose who you are. Now I don't mean that people "choose" their sexuality because I don't think that's true. Rather being straight is the default option in our society. Coming out as gay requires that you set yourself apart. You have to make a choice about your identity and how you present that publically.

Beyond all that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy interior design stuff, I think that's a key lesson straight men can learn from our non-straight brethren. Understand that you own who you are and that default behaviours are not the only way of being a man.

*At the time I thought I might be uncomfortable with my sexuality. It was more a case of being uncomfortable with myself.

Man Tag

Monday, June 29, 2009

man week (3): bodies

It's still Man Week. I'm struggling a bit. I don't want to turn this blog into some pale imitation of All Men Are Liars. So each day will be a brief vignette. Make of them what you will.

I once considered becoming a masseur. So I spoke to this guy that was quite experienced in the industry and was connected to a yoga studio I was involved with. He was a big guy. Brick s***-house. Tats. Very macho. Ex-motor mechanic. He had been a petrolhead who loved to strip down & rebuild cars. He'd got bored with that game and decided to do something else with his hands. Massage, obviously. Another set of machines to fix. The switch from mechanic to masseur made complete sense to me.

He said it was a tough game for straight guy. Straight men don't necessarily want other straight men touching them. And if women interpreted any move as being sleazy your name would be mud. But many of his clients valued his strength. They weren't going to get some light backrub. Their muscles were going to be well and truly moved.

Man Tag

man week (2): being a dad

So Mark Pollard has written most excellently about being a Dad. And as it's Man Week it would be churlish not to write about my own experiences of impending fatherhood.

Basically it's all a bit scary. And oddly detached. The Mum, she's feeling it. That child is an overpowering biological reality for her. For the Dad, not so much. Not our insides being rearranged by a baby. Not our hormones driven from pillar to post by a new life.

For men it's all a little more... conceptual. They say the two events that propel you into adulthood are the death of a parent and the birth of a child. And they are right.

So that's it. You are a grown-up. Which frankly isn't so terrible. I've been a grown up for a long time. Not a particularly successful grown up but an adult nonetheless. And I'm ready to be old. Because the older you get, the less you have to worry about what other people think. I now have the freedom to be an embarrassing Dad. Uncool in every way.

My child has given me this wonderful gift: adulthood. A role of both short-term necessity and ultimate obsolescence. I need not be the oldest teenager in town. Call that music? Hah!

Thank you.

Man Tags
Come on lads. Blog it like you mean it.

do i think you're sexy?

Gav starts talking (un)sexy:
But let me tell you a little secret. This sort of social media (and almost every aspect of social media) is just not sexy. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour or even the spotlights of advertising; and there’s not the breathtaking scale of large format outdoor advertising.
Now let me share something with you here that I have mentioned before. There are two kinds of sexy in the world.

The first is simply being desirable. Being the bright, young, slinky, shiny thing. And here Gav is right. I don't think social software is that bright or shiny or slinky.

But the second kind of sexy is slightly different, less discussed but far more important. It's all about making others feel desirable. Healthy sexual relationships are built on mutual desire and it's terribly important for all of us to feel desired*. Some of the most charismatic people I have met make you feel like you are at the centre of their attention. Can this be faked & abused? Of course. But its power cannot be denied.

And this is where social software can be sexy. Because by listening to people, by making them feel wanted and important, we make others feel sexy. Of course we can finish this process by either discarding our conquests or trying to develop something deeper. The choice is open but it has consequences.

Given the choice between being desired and making others feel desirable, I would always go for the latter (but then with a face like mine I would say that).

Go forth and make the world a sexier place.

*Coincidentally I was going to do a session about this at BarCamp Sydney 5 but I had to have a little nap instead. The doctor has told me that I can't have too much excitement.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

man week (1): having a dad

I have just been informed that its Man Week by both Gav Heaton & Mark Pollard. Obviously my testosterone-fuelled machismo has conditioned a Pavlovian response to the term "man" with the linked term "Matt Moore" in their minds (in a purely heterosexual way of course). So this week I will blogging about being a man.

Let's cut to the chase. I'm not actually that comfortable with some aspects of being a man in either English or Australian culture. The blokey, beery, laddish stereotype that some men espouse ain't me. I tried it when I was younger but I was a total failure at being a lad. "Cor, er, look at the, er, tits on that. Anyone read the Times Literary Supplement this week?"

I don't like sport. My Mum is more of a sports fan than I am. Please don't make me watch the footie*. Please don't ask me what team I support. Because then I'll have to break your clumsy yet charming attempts at male-bonding & socialising by telling you the truth.

A big reason behind this is probably my Dad. If you're going to write about being a man, you have to write a little about fathers.
Papa was a rolling stone. Wherever he laid his hat was his home. And when he died, all he left us was alone.
My Dad isn't a rolling stone. He's a very gentle man with a very warped sense of humour (something inherited by both my brother & I) who takes his responsibilities seriously. He is happy with his homebrew, his cycling, my Mum & writing puppet shows for the local church. Despite a spell being a stoker in the navy, he's not especially macho. Nor is he especially interested in sport.

According to all those dramas about men in traumatic relationships with their fathers, where that which needs to be said remains unsaid, I should have terrible difficulty relating to him. But I'm not sure I do. We are different people but we share so much. I have grown to appreciate everything he's done. I think this is true of many father/son relationships (another, fictional Gavin & his Dad come to mind). Many of us do want our Dads to be proud of us. And I hope that many of them are.

A brief intermission from Tricky:
...strong enough to take a life.
Are you strong enough to take care of one?
Now that's something I could sign up to. More on this tomorrow...

*I don't mind being at a footie match but that's mostly because I want to watch the crowd and sense the collective waves of emotion that roil around the stadium. It's like being in a psychic washing machine.

Man Tag

I would like to invite the following to discourse on manliness on their blogs.
There will be 3 more invites per day this week. Gird your blogging loins gentlemen.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Pots are formed from clay,
but the empty space between it
is the essence of the pot. - Lao Tse
Listening is only partially about what is said. What is unsaid is often more important. This is one important reason why machines struggle to interpret human speech. They can only work with what is there.

The concept of "negative space" is used in painting to describe the spaces between objects. It's important. The objects and the space in which they sit are closely related. You might call "negative space" by another name: "context".
I had the same experience again in a very different context this morning in a hospice sitting with a friend who is dying and talking to her son. Bizarrely about sport: the England game last night, the Lions Tour, 2020 world series and Andy Murray. Although our topic was carefully chosen to keep us away from the theme of impending death I couldn't help noticing how aligned the themes we spoke of were with the figure in the bed alongside us - metaphors about mental strength, injury, weakness letting go. - Further & Faster
And then I stumbled over the concept of "Ma". Gap. Pause. Lacuna. Space. Betweenness. Our interactions and our lives are full of Ma*. Are you listening hard enough to the spaces?

*As I write there's some dub reggae on the radio - a music built on the use of space (to build intensity, a dub producer subtracts rather than adds sounds).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

i'm not a racist but...

Whenever some starts a sentence with "I'm not a racist but...", you know this conversation is not going to go somewhere pleasant.

So are Australians racist?

Well of course we are. Human beings are probably hard-wired to be prejudiced to those outside their social group. I am a racist. I try not to be. I do not think that prejudices based on race are good thing or to be cultivated but nevertheless I probably exhibit them to a degree.

So are Australians (and esp. white Australians) more racist than other countries?

That's a little harder to decide. Thankfully Andrew Leigh* & co at ANU have done some experiments on this involving CV applications, return to sender letters and reaction times (full report here).

So when it comes to wrongly addressed letters, Australians are not that racist. The reaction times stuff is a little ambiguous but (and this is the part of the research that caught the news headlines) if you want to get an entry-level job in data entry, sales or waiting and you are Chinese or Middle-Eastern then you may need to change your name** if you want to get more call backs. There's so much in this study that I could write about I'll let you read it instead.

In international comparisons, Australians appear to exhibit "CV Prejudice" at similar levels to Swedes (in their attitudes to Arabs & Africans) and Americans (in their attitudes to African-Americans). N.B. This is just one behavioural test. It's not like there's an international racism index - altho that may be something to consider...

This once again reminds of my great good fortune in matters of birth. Ain't nothing like being a white, middle-class male to put a smile on your face!

*Prof Leigh's work has kept on appearing on my radar over the last few years. I'd definitely subscribe to his blog.

**There's some interesting additional stuff in there about what qualifies as a good CV when applying for jobs in different categories too.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

statswatch: no recession?

The Australian Jan-Mar GDP figures came out last week and they were positive. Just. So we are not in recession - officially. There was talk of the role that consumer spending & exports played in keeping the economy buoyant.

What got less attention was what was going on with imports.

As this handy little graph from the ABS indicates, much of the good news in the Q1 data came from imports decreasing drastically. In other words, Australians were buying less from overseas - probably because the AU$ hasn't been doing so crash hot.

The AU$ has been doing considerably better since. Which is great if you want to go on a holiday abroad - but less good if you are an exporter. In fact the trade figures for April came out the next day - and weren't so promising: imports are continuing to go down but exports are decreasing faster.

Last month's employment figures were actually good - more people in jobs. Yay! Let's hope that the numbers for May on Thursday keep the good news coming.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

dr cool hits delete

I'm a fair man.

Actually that's not true. I'm a viciously unfair man.

So when Adam "Dr Cool" Ferrier posted his Facebook quiz, I could not resist. Adam's research is probably sound and his writing is not stupid (but it does tend towards the schoolmasterish - "I've outlined the 4Ps of Marketing as applied to this instance..."). I asked him what the foundations (who, when, where) for his cool research were. And he didn't fess up. So I asked him again. I asked him so many times that he deleted one of the comments. As you can see, oh hang on, you can't because it's deleted. So I guess we'll never know.

Incidentally, putting your research out as a quiz on Facebook is a darned-sight more effective than publishing it in an academic journal. But if you claim that your results are based in research and then complain when people take you seriously and ask for the evidence underlying your research - well that is a bit disingenuous. And frankly: uncool.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

paying more

I'm a big fan if Atul Gawande's writing on medicine (yet another good tip from Patrick Lambe). AG's latest article in the New Yorker is strongly recommended. He visited McAllen, Texas which has the dubious distinction of spending more per person on healthcare than anywhere else in the US (apart from Florida). Is it because healthcare there is better? Apparently not.
And yet there’s no evidence that the treatments and technologies available at McAllen are better than those found elsewhere in the country... Nor does the care given in McAllen stand out for its quality.

So why is it so expensive to keep people healthy in McAllen?
He knew of doctors who owned strip malls, orange groves, apartment complexes—or imaging centers, surgery centers, or another part of the hospital they directed patients to. They had “entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. They were innovative and aggressive in finding ways to increase revenues from patient care. “There’s no lack of work ethic,” he said. But he had often seen financial considerations drive the decisions doctors made for patients—the tests they ordered, the doctors and hospitals they recommended—and it bothered him. Several doctors who were unhappy about the direction medicine had taken in McAllen told me the same thing. “It’s a machine, my friend,” one surgeon explained.
In McAllen, there is s tendency for doctors to focus on making money. They are being entrepreneurial, obeying market forces. All the stuff we've been told is good. And is it good?

In a 2003 study, another Dartmouth team, led by the internist Elliott Fisher, examined the treatment received by a million elderly Americans diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, a hip fracture, or a heart attack. They found that patients in higher-spending regions received sixty per cent more care than elsewhere. They got more frequent tests and procedures, more visits with specialists, and more frequent admission to hospitals. Yet they did no better than other patients, whether this was measured in terms of survival, their ability to function, or satisfaction with the care they received. If anything, they seemed to do worse...

...To make matters worse, Fisher found that patients in high-cost areas were actually less likely to receive low-cost preventive services, such as flu and pneumonia vaccines, faced longer waits at doctor and emergency-room visits, and were less likely to have a primary-care physician. They got more of the stuff that cost more, but not more of what they needed.
Despite our tendency to see price or cost as a reliable surrogate for quality, it ain't necessarily so.

In the Anglophone world, we have spent the last 30 years valorising private enterprise, business, making money as the optimal way of doing things. The generic government plan to fix something involves introducing market forces. Fortunately their success rate so far has been patchy. If they succeed then we're screwed.

I suspect (& I'm hardly original in pointing this out) that in the future, there will be less money around. There'll be fewer natural resources, less farmable land and less cheap energy. We're going to have to ween ourselves off our obsession with growth - and going cold turkey is going to be very painful.

crown seal

Neck hugging
Bubble reining
Cloth catching

I make a glass bottle a monarch.
I seal royal lips.
No gossip in my court.
Vagabonds use me to adulterate
their cups of change
in exchange for cigarettes.

Don't throw me away.
Let me rest in the palm of your hand.
A cold pockmark on your skin.
In your dreams I cover you.
A cap armadillo.
Made to be twisted open.

Source: 96dpi

good readin'

The missus has a subscription to the London Review of Books that I frequently intercept before it reaches her. A recent pleasure has been the writing of John Lanchester - a novelist with a talent for writing about finance & economics. Apparently his dad worked in a bank. I am as thankful Lanchester senior's conservative choice of career as I am for that of his son's bohemian one as JL's article on the UK economy included the best explanation of a balance sheet that I have ever read.

Meanwhile a little googlesurfing led me to Helen DeWitt's blog that includes this wonderful offer:

Secondhand Sales

Readers sometimes want to buy copies of The Last Samurai for friends. It's tempting to buy the book "As New" for $1.70 + $3.99 postage rather than for $14.95 with free shipping in an order of $20 or more, especially if there are many, many friends. The author gets nothing on a secondhand sale -- but then, the author would get only $1.12 on the new book. To send the author $1.12 the reader would have to pay an extra $9.24. That's a pretty expensive goodwill gesture.

Goodwill doesn't have to cost that much. PayPal takes 30 cents + 3% on each transaction; if you send the author $1.50 by PayPal she will get $1.15. So only 35 cents of the goodwill gesture goes to a middleman. It would look like highway robbery if we hadn't seen the competition.

I'm not into fiction at the moment but for AU$2, I feel like I've played a small part in allowing Helen DeWitt to continuing writing - and being slightly crazy.

Monday, June 01, 2009

google wave cures cancer

Actually I made that up. Despite the predictions & prognostications, no one actually knows how well Google Wave will work. It sounds cool enough but we should remember that not everything in Google world is a lush fountain of awesomeness (Blogger is not quite up there with Wordpress, what the **** happened to Jaiku) but nevertheless, the dog is keen to see the rabbit.

The only issue with calling your product "Wave" is bad PR whenever there's a tsunami. "No, no, our product doesn't drown people. We're the good kind of wave..."

google vs bing: microsoft thinks i'm gay

Microsoft have brought out there own search engine competitor to Google. it's known as "Bing" (which makes me think of a dead crooner, not sure if that's the association that they're after). I put both these products through their paces by conducting a rigorous benchmarking process entering a stupid question. Google's results were quite funny. Bing's results were... gay. And I don't mean that in an offensive, equating-homosexuality-with-lameness fashion but literally.

Yikes, may be I am gay. May be Microsoft have tapped into the murkiest corners of my sexual orientation and revealed my true nature to me.

I am out of my closet and it's all thanks to you, Bing!!!

[Click on images to enlarge - please note the findings from Bing are not safe for work or a web demo for your kids]