Saturday, February 22, 2020

Pyrmont Bay

OK this is getting mildly ridiculous.  I travelled today to the fourth light rail station to grace Pyrmont a suburb so small you can walk across it in ten minutes.  I know this because I walked across it in ten minutes.  We slid out of the station serving the Star Casino and approximately fifteen seconds later pulled up at Pyrmont Bay.  The light rail runs more or less underground at this point.  I say more or less because while there is certain evidence of tunnels quite a bit of the journey seems to be through the basements of the buildings above us.

An escalator took me up to ground level at Pyrmont Bay and I stepped out into the rain.  To the left was The Star which I could probably have reached in the same amount of time if I had walked.  On my right was that vibrant hub of social intercourse and good natured enjoyment that goes by the name of the Pyrmont Bridge Hotel.  Directly opposite was the eponymous Pyrmont Bridge.  Also directly opposite was the water that Pyrmont Bridge permits you to traverse without getting your feet wet. 

Down at the water's edge is the National Maritime Museum.  The museum actually extends comfortably into the water as the biggest exhibits are ships tied up on the floaty stuff adjacent to the buildings themselves.  The main building has the word Mu-Sea-Um plastered across it in huge letters.  This is either a cute piece of word play or an indication of the current state of education in Australia.  Spelling difficulties notwithstanding the museum is quite impressive from the outside (I didn't go in) and I wandered around various ships that the museum had considered worthy of preserving for future generations.  Among them is an old Oberon class submarine which might find itself pressed back into service unless we can get our new submarine procurement moving at a somewhat less glacial rate.

There was also a wall celebrating Australia's history of immigration and noting us as a welcoming nation to newcomers.  Pretty much every nation that was built by immigration likes to retcon its history to show that they were always enamoured of the idea.  Generally speaking the attitude towards immigration hovers somewhere between disinterest and not sufficiently violently opposed to actually drown the newcomers down there at the dock.  Historical bodies with an eye for the tourist dollar then reinterpret this as a welcoming attitude towards migrants.  My own presence in this country is an indication that nobody drowned my father down at the dock, possibly because he came by air.  It's difficult to drown somebody on an airport runway.

Thus fully steeped in my nation's maritime heritage and with a new appreciation of our endless love for migrants I stepped away from the waterside and back into Pyrmont.  I didn't really have a destination in mind but set out towards what looked like a small park but turned out to be the garden around an apartment block.  Despite its population density Pyrmont doesn't have too much in the way of towering skyscrapers, rather there is just a vast amount of what I presume would be called medium density housing (or a country estate if you lived in Hong Kong).  I'm actually quite liking Pyrmont, its crowded and busy without giving the impression of being wildly overcrowded.  Possibly because I'm always here on weekends I turn up when most of the locals are visiting relatives elsewhere.

As with my journey to The Star it didn't take me long before I started bumping into things I encountered on previous stops in Pyrmont.  This time I actually managed to get almost as far as the fish market (as I said, a ten minute walk) but turned around just before I ran out of Pyrmont.  Fortunately this is the last station in Pyrmont because I'm pretty sure that if I spent much more time here the locals would start suspecting I was stalking them.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Birthday Greetings #79

Happy birthday to Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor.  He was the last male member of the House of Luxembourg.  He started off his career as Elector of Brandenburg and made his way to the imperial title via the Kingdom of Hungary.  His father and the king of Hungary had been great friends and a marriage was arranged between Sigismund and Mary, the king of Hungary's eldest daughter and heir.  When Mary's father died she became queen of Hungary and Sigismund was made co-ruler.  Mary died a few years later leaving Sigismund alone on the throne.  Along the way he dodged a bullet when he didn't become King of Poland.

His tenure as King of Hungary certainly had its ups and downs.  While he had the backing of a powerful group of nobles certain power brokers in the south of the country disputed his control and Sigismund needed to sell Brandenburg to his cousin to raise the cash to keep a hold of his new kingdom.  He was imprisoned by various members of the nobility at various times but other members of the nobility generally managed to get him out again.  Given the somewhat fluid nature of Hungarian loyalty Sigismund turned to foreigners to advise him which alienated the Hungarian nobles even more.

Eventually Sigismund came up with a way of getting most of the Hungarian nobility killed.  He led them in a Crusade against the Ottoman Turks.  The Crusade was very popular in Hungary and thousands flocked to his banner.  Then he fought the Battle of Nicopolis which was a catastrophic defeat with spectacular Hungarian casualties after which the Crusade (and Sigismund) became significantly less popular in Hungary.

Taking the hint Sigismund left Hungary alone for a while and focussed on gaining the Bohemian and German crowns once his childless half brother Wenceslaus (not the one who looked out on the Feast of Stephen) dropped off the twig.  Unfortunately Wenceslaus lost the German title when a random German nobleman named Rupert managed to depose him.  Sigismund returned to Hungary where he was imprisoned once and deposed twice.  Despite this he managed to assist an uprising against his half brother, tossed him in prison and ruled Bohemia for nineteen months instead.  Eventually he let Wenceslaus go and managed to reestablish himself in Hungary.

When the aforementioned Rudolf died he managed to persuade a minority of the electors to pick him as the new King of the Romans.  The majority picked that cousin that Sigismund had flogged Brandenburg to some twenty two years earlier.  His name was Jobst which I think we can all agree is no name for a Holy Roman Emperor.  Fate agreed and Jobst dropped dead leaving Sigismund with the job.

After that there was a war in Poland, Sigismund wasn't directly involved but he managed to make quite a bit of money out of it.  Then there was a bit of a war against the Venetians in Italy and finally a Council in Constance to see if they could cut the three popes currently burdening Catholic Christianity down to a more manageable one.  This was more or less successful but had fatal consequences for a random Czech preacher named Jan Hus.  Hus believed that the Church should be a little more Christian and was burnt at the stake as a consequence.  This probably didn't bother Sigismund too much until his half brother died and he inherited Bohemia.  Seventeen years later the Czech nobility decided to accept him as their "ruler" and he discovered he had an outright revolt by the followers of the teachings on one Jan Hus.  All in all it probably would have been better if Sigismund had honoured the safe conduct he had given Hus when he appeared at the Council of Constance.

The last few years of his life were pretty much a replay of everything that had gone before.  Wars with the Turks (unsuccessful), surly Hungarians and a whole clutch of titles granting little real power.  Adding to the latter was that of Holy Roman Emperor itself bestowed by the pope while Sigismund was in Italy.  After that he died and the House of Luxembourg died with him.  His heir to the Kingdom of Hungary was a chap named Albert of the House of Habsburg.  The Hungarians may not have known it yet but the writing was on the wall.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Let Me Ask You a Question

I'm sitting at my desk following the live broadcast of parliamentary question time with a continual buzzing in my ears.  This might come as a slight surprise to my employers who think I'm working (its lunchtime ok and the surprise would be very slight).  You might think that the buzzing is the sound of my brain overheating as it tries to translate the fatuous, disingenuous, semi coherent trash emanating from Canberra into something vaguely resembling English (and statements emanating from Canberra only vaguely resemble English) but you would be wrong.  With this explanation debunked you might move on to the very plausible suggestion that one of the many gods I've annoyed over the years has decided to visit me with a plague of wasps (worst house warming present ever) or that the chip my tech support installed in my skull had started to malfunction.  Both these options seem likely but you forget that the gods I annoy tend to favour pigeons as their weapon of vengeance (don't laugh, its not the soft option) and that everything my tech support implants in me works perfectly apart from the time I accidentally sneezed out an alien parasite.  Granted washing it down the sink while I was visiting Wuhan probably wasn't the best idea.

The buzzing actually isn't just in my ears, its in the ears of all of my colleagues as well courtesy of a mini massager that one of them brought to the office after I whimpered about pain in my neck.  Now I'm sitting at my desk buzzing like a hive of bees on steroids while my neck and shoulder recoil at the unexpected assault and wonder what the hell they did to offend me.  Meanwhile my colleagues are staring at me with ill restrained fury and making comments ranging from the passive aggressive,

"I see acceptable noise levels have been altered."

to non passive aggressive,

"Shut that damned thing up before I beat you to death with it."

It is this sort of vibrant personal interplay that makes coming to work such a delight.  At least it is for me.  I've noticed a disturbing tendency among my colleagues to favour working from home but I'm sure that's purely a coincidence.

The buzzing in my ears was a perfect counterpoint to the buzzing in my brain as I attempted to translate what was being said in parliament not necessarily into English but into any form of communication that could be comprehended by an intelligent human being anywhere on the planet.  I'm not entirely sure I succeeded but a very loose translation would work as follows.

Question time is divided into questions asked by the opposition of the government which tend to follow the theme of "Would the minister care to explain exactly how much he sucks" and questions by members of the government of the government which follow the pattern of "Would the ineffable collection of genius who graciously condescended to guide hapless Australia through its travails with a sure and steady hand take a moment out from contemplating the infinite and bringing order to the universe to reassure us lesser mortals of their continued and infallible brilliance?"

The response from those questioned is either;
"Look over there, a chicken!" to question type 1 or "I thank the honourable member for his keen and insightful question which just proves how deserving he is of his place on this side of the chamber and I would be delighted to eat up a few minutes of this purgatory by expounding in mind numbing detail on how great this government is," to question type 2.

Collectively this loose agglomeration of childish taunts, vapid insults to the intelligence, exercises in misdirection and desperate attempts to avoid answering are referred to as "holding parliament to account".  It is instructive to watch and seeing it always makes me realise that however much we pay these people it is worth it to ensure that they spend at least some of their time doing this and not wandering free in society.  I would be prepared to accept a doubling of all MPs pay if they simply spent their entire lives in question time.  And frankly if they did they would deserve the extra money.

Occasionally an insightful question is asked.  Even more occasionally a direct answer is given in response to it.  Generally when this happens there is a brief pause while everybody recovers from the shock and then business resumes as usual.  Finally in response to the universal prayers of those present question time ends and our elected representatives slope off to whatever it is they get up to when we're not watching.

At one point during the proceedings I accidentally ran the mini massager over my face and it wasn't until I'd been doing it for five minutes that I realised there was an external reason for why question time sounded like I was channeling an alien disco.  I can't say that the massager helped the aching muscles in my neck and shoulder but it certainly made question time more bearable.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Welcome Back

I stared at the unfamiliar face on my screen in some confusion.

"Who the hell are you and how did you manage to contact me?"

"I'm your Tasmanian correspondent you idiot," she snapped.

The note of irritation in her voice was familiar if nothing else.

"Oh yes, I didn't realise I still had one."

"I've been on holiday."

"Was that it?  I just assumed your appeal was unsuccessful."

"It was but I was sentenced to time served and a promise not to release the videos I have of the judge.  Thanks for the videos by the way."

"You're welcome, do you have any stories for me?"


"So why are you calling?"

"I'm calling to tell you to get that pack of east European sociopaths to stop messing about with my house.  I came back from a six day bushwalk to find my eldest daughters bedroom had been converted into a satellite tracking station and there was a clutch of huge green eggs incubating in the attic!  Oh yes and apparently I'm now sharing my house with three Moldavian sex workers."

"According to their visa documents they're au-pairs."

"Really, who on earth is going to get them to look after children.  I left my daughters alone with them for not more than six or seven hours and when I got back they could disassemble an AK-47 and make a vodka distillery out of used car parts."

"Useful life skills," I suggested.

"Yes but I wanted to teach them myself."

I apologised profusely and promised to speak with my tech support but pointed out that they were rather busy at the moment.

"They're working hard on this coronavirus outbreak.  It's nowhere near as virulent as they thought and they can't figure out what went wrong."

After a few choice words about my decision to get technical assistance from a bunch of over achieving plague rats my correspondent calmed down and offered to sell me a seahorse.  Yes, I did say seahorse.  Apparently in between walking over half of Tasmania my correspondent found time to grab her cousin and drop in on a seahorse farm.  Yes, I did say seahorse farm.  This is apparently where the discerning customer can purchase their free range seahorses and take part in seahorse breeding programmes. 

I'm not entirely sure when exactly someone decided that raising seahorses was a viable economic activity but it turns out to have been rather successful.  Particularly since they're selling the seahorses at $35 a pop.  A weedy dragon will set you back $1500.  They started off targeting the food market but now sell mainly to aquariums.

I'm not exactly sure how you breed seahorses but I suspect a lot of it has to do with simply grabbing a couple of each sex and leaving them alone in a tank with some Barry White playing through the speakers.  Seahorses are getting scarce but since most of them get eaten approximately three seconds after birth all you really need to be neck deep in seahorses is to provide a breeding venue that's a little less predator intensive.  My correspondent is now the proud owner of fifty seven seahorses and has made a deposit on a weedy dragon. 

The seahorses will make a nice entrĂ©e for dinner tonight.  Apparently the main course will be omelette.

Silly After Action Report

Major Yuri Kosteffectif stared with displeasure at the heavily bemedalled commando standing before him.
"I thought I told you to take that .50 cal up to the second floor."

"Give us a break Comrade Major, the damn thing weighs a ton."

"Oh stop whining," snapped Kosteffectif reaching for the weapon himself, "Jesus Christ!  What did they make it out of?  Uranium?  Oh ok, just stick it out the window and cover the road.  I'll get Somnolenski to take an lmg up there instead."

"He's already on the first floor and he won't go any further, says he's scared of heights."

"This is some crack commando force we've got here."

"To be fair we usually operate at sea level."

"Somnolenski gets seasick in the bath."

"Good thing he doesn't take many then."

As you can see my deployment in the latest scenario ran into some labour relations problems.  After CanCon I was looking for something reasonably simple.  David Wallace suggested we play something from the Deluxe redux pack he'd just acquired.  For those of you with short memories David Wallace was the guy who stomped me in about five minutes flat playing Jackpot Jones at CanCon.  As evidence that I don't learn from experience I agreed.  David produced Back to School - AD3 which pits a tough group of Soviet commandos against a pretty impressive pack of Germans attempting to serve them an eviction notice.  Dice gave me the defending Soviets.

I had eight elite squads, four 458s and four 628s plus a hero, a pair of decent leaders, three lmgs a demo charge and a .50 cal machine gun.  What could possibly go wrong?  Quite a lot actually.  David had a mixed bag of thirteen German squads ranging from awesome 838 elite squads to a couple of somewhat shabby 447s making up the numbers.  He also had a pair of demo charges, a pair of medium machine guns and a flame thrower.  This probably helps answer the "what could possibly go wrong" question asked earlier.

I set up at one end of the board, David's troops have to enter on the other and exit 7VP worth of troops through a reasonably narrow corridor to win.  Standing firm in their way are my gallant commandos.

I should have set up the .50 cal on the second floor of course.  This would have allowed me to take some decent shots at David's troops as they approached.  The reason I didn't?  Despite rereading countless times I have never been able to work out line of sight rules when elevation changes and blind hexes are involved so I simply avoid them.  If somebody else uses them I simply take their word for it when they say they have a line of sight.  I realise this doesn't make me look great but I take comfort from how much worse the people I've managed to defeat must feel at this point.  Instead I matched the .50 cal up with the hero and put him in the ground floor along with a 458 squad in the hopes that I might be able to get a fire lane down the road.  I put a squad with an lmg on the first floor directly above them.  I covered the centre with a few squads (one too many as it turned out) and had an outlying squad covering my right flank as below.

My set up.  Not exactly inspired
David took one look at my defence and loaded up on my right with a smaller force trotting down the left flank which he admitted to me afterwards was purely to stop my left hand defenders from moving back to cover the exit locations a role they played to perfection.  The first turn went quickly as I had nothing to stop David's troops from gobbling up territory.  By the second turn he had a powerful force hovering on my right flank and the execution could begin.  My .50 cal was out of position and my left flankers were staring myopically at his diversionary force.  The sole squad I had out on the right was broken in short order and I was in trouble pretty much from the start.

Yep, this is going well
For reasons I can't begin to explain I actually reinforced the left with another squad while my most forward unit was sitting in impotent isolation as the battle raged behind him.  I didn't leave it entirely like that of course.  I shifted my hero and his .50cal to the other end of the building and my squad/lmg combo on the first floor shuffled across as well.

It has to be said this wasn't a good day for super weapons.  David had a flamethrower but he boxcarred the first morale check the squad carrying it took and when he finally rallied the surviving half squad the first thing they did was break the flamethrower.  As for my hero with the .50 cal?  Well he moved into position and was promptly sniped to death without firing a shot.

Back in the real world David poured the firepower into my defenders on the right and still had enough troops left to send a squad and 8-0 forward to see if he could sneak them past.  I was so concerned by this that I sent a squad and 8-1 leader into close combat with them.  Stupid move.  Despite the leader and gaining ambush I couldn't kill him and one of my dwindling number of squads was tied up in CC.

Things started out bad and have got worse
Over on the left David's diversion was taking casualties but succeeding admirably in looking sufficiently dangerous so that I felt I had to leave troops there to counter them.  In the centre and on the right he simply shot my troops to pieces.  It took him a couple of turns but eventually he had broken sufficient of my force that he cheerfully fired into the melee to try and clear it out.  He succeeded in breaking his own squad (David did as much damage to his own troops over the course of the game as anything I managed to achieve) and I finally cleared out the CC.  Unfortunately by this stage I only had two squads left alive blocking the exit area a number David reduced to one in the next turn when he succeeded in breaking my recently successful close combat heroes.

Just to show off David didn't bother shooting at my remaining squad, rather he dropped not one but two demo charges into their hex which reduced them to the point whereby they could be buried in a matchbox.  I conceded at that point.  My defence had been poor and David had simply ripped it to pieces.  My only consolation was that it took somewhat longer than our previous game.  I like to consider that as a sign that I'm improving.  Many thanks to David for the game, one day I will manage to complete the full number of turns in a game we play.

Major Kosteffectif pushed a large piece of rubble of himself and looked around dazedly.  A commando he recognised as Somnolenski was vomiting in a corner but there was nobody else alive.

"Are you wounded Somnolenski?" he asked.

"No, I just came downstairs too quickly."

"Where's the lmg?"

"It jammed, I may have thrown up on it."

"Where's the rest of my command?"

"I'm it sir."

"This is going to take a bit of rewriting when they come to this volume of The Great Patriotic War."

"Not to worry sir, I have a cousin on the censorship board, he'll see us right."

"I knew I kept you around for some reason."

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Star

For a suburb that measures only a single square kilometre Pyrmont has an almost embarrassing number of light rail stations.  The third is called The Star after the casino of the same name which sits on top of it.  Casinos aren't really my favourite places but its hard to get too annoyed with this one since its presence is pretty much the only reason we have the light rail at all.  The original line ran from Central to the casino and was only extended as far as my home as a sort of afterthought.  It can't be said that the light rail station presents a particularly appealing first sight for would be gamblers.  The station is essentially in the basement of the casino and looks like it was built in the underground carpark of a not too successful supermarket.

There is a flight of steps that will lead you up to the casino itself or you can make your way across the gloom to where daylight coyly beckons you into the great outdoors.  I chose option B and found myself looking at a park that led down to the water.  This is the east side of Pyrmont which used to be docks and still is technically for ferries and the occasional pleasure craft.  The great thing about coming out on this side of the casino is that you can't see it.  Instead you see Pyrmont Bay and beyond that the vast new constructions of Barangaroo including a semi completed tower which will apparently house what will be The Star's competition in the casino stakes if it ever gets finished.

The Star sprawls over an entire block and when it was first completed the main entrance was on the other side of the building complex, presumably so that potential gamblers wouldn't get distracted by having to look at parks and harbour views.  Some time later they decided that was stupid and did a major facelift which reoriented the entrance towards the harbour with a frontage described as "iconic".  Iconic is a developers term that means "we spent far too much money on this to risk anyone calling it ugly".  It isn't actually ugly, I might have preferred that if it was ugly in an interesting way.  It's actually bland and mediocre but on a very large scale.

The whole point of a casino is to hoover the contents of its patrons wallets as comprehensively as possible but because "driving the entire population into poverty" doesn't look good on a development application the casino is actually part of a vast network of shops, nightclubs, restaurants and a theatre where I once went to see Legally Blonde with a friend of mine.  Perhaps unsurprisingly it also has more automatic teller machines than I've seen in the entire rest of the City of Sydney.  Thus it is an "entertainment complex".  Actually its more of an entertainment simple; shop, eat, drink, see a show and gamble away your house.

Striking out from the casino I decided to see what the fringes of Pyrmont had to offer.  The first thing they had to offer was the Darling Island Water Recycling Factory.  I walked around the immediately accessible part of this factory in about thirty seconds, presumably there's more underground.  I peered in through a window and saw words like "membrane" and "gas filter".  The factory taps Sydney's sewage system to provide waste water for all sorts of purposes that don't include drinking because apparently we still have a bit of an issue with that.  When you consider that the amount of water on the planet is and always has been finite and that we've been using it for a very long time the likelihood that we're all drinking recycled sewage is probably in the region of 100% but we still don't like having it pointed out to us.

The immediate enjoyment opportunities of the water recycling factory having been exhausted I set out to circumnavigate the casino.  I hadn't got very far when I got sidetracked by a narrow path that turned out to provide access to several large apartment blocks housing some of Pyrmont's burgeoning population.  The path was a little steep in places but was certainly easy to walk for anyone young, fit or not me.  This widened out into a narrow park gouged into, well it might have been a cliff, a quarry or a dissected hill.  Suffice to say there were flats all around except for one side where there was open space and a view down to the roofs of buildings I'd been walking past a couple of minutes ago.

I made my way to a road behind the park and got a reminder of exactly how small Pyrmont is when I came onto a bridge overlooking the self same tunnel that had been the subject of an adulatory council plaque that I mentioned in the last entry.  As I watched a light rail train trundled past and into the tunnel without a hideous, casualty filled impact.  I saluted the wisdom of my ancestors in digging a hole just there and wandered on.  Basically I wandered back to the casino not because I was interested but because it had air conditioning and, more importantly, down in its gloomy basement was the station that would allow me to leave.