Bespoke, Organic, Artisan Hipster Ingenuity

Recently at a market in Sydney I came across a stand for Joco. I had never heard of the company before but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I saw what they were selling.

Quite simply, they seem to have invented the flask. Yes, the flask…

We seem to live in an age of needless, overblown reinvention by hipsters. Like the time when Uber essentially claimed to have invented the bus, we’re witnessing the bizarre promotion of pretentious products, all of which are sold under the exaggerated (and often inappropriately used) labels of ‘bespoke’, ‘artisan’ and ‘organic’.

How such products survive without any kind of unique value proposition is beyond me, particularly when they’re sold at ludicrous prices. Frankly, I believe that it all comes down to rampant consumerism and personal obsession with status.

Choose Your Own Adventure with Café Signage

One of the most confusing things that patrons tend to encounter in any new café is whether they should wait at the door for someone to seat them, proceed to the counter or find a table by themselves. Clear signage at the entrance is key to avoiding such doubt.

Every now and then I encounter a situation where conflicting information is displayed. Take the example below; each image shows a different sign in the same café.

The particularly hilarious thing about this example is that the signs are in separate rooms, facing different entrances. Not only are patrons likely to be confused—especially if they spot both instructions—it’s also possible that staff will be uncertain as to which people have already been greeted and served. It’s a mess.

I continue to be flabbergasted at the total lack of common sense in the most banal of social circumstances.

How (Not) to Enter Clubs in New South Wales

For many years, I have been perplexed by the archaic sign-in system at Returned and Services League (RSL) clubs in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). Governed by the Registered Clubs Act 1976, which is based on even older tripe, there is a strict procedure for entry, which stipulates that all visitors must declare themselves as members, temporary members or guests. There are even further definitions, such as ‘honorary member’, ‘life member’, ‘full member’, ‘ordinary member’ and ‘provisional member’. Anyway, the idea is just to pay to become a member and do the fancy swipey-thing with your membership card to earn discounts and win meat trays.

In addition to the categorisation of all visitors, there are also restrictions on who is permitted to enter as a certain type of member, based on the location of their residence. This is explained on page 18 of the legislation:

(3B) A person whose ordinary place of residence is in New South Wales and is within a radius of 5 kilometres from the premises of a registered club (in this subsection referred to as the host club) is not eligible for admission as a temporary member of the host club unless the person is:

(a) a member of another registered club within similar objects to those of the host club, or

(b) a member of another registered club who is attending the host club as provided by subsection (10).

Got that?

Whilst it isn’t really ever difficult to enter RSLs, the fact that one has to show a driver’s licence or sign up for membership when entering isn’t exactly the most welcoming way of saying ‘hello’. Particularly for those who are visiting the state or country in general, this would give quite an odd impression. I can’t help but roll my eyes whenever I visit an RSL club with friends or relatives who are members. These days, more ‘modern’ venues have ditched the sign-in book for a licence scanner. The entrance ceremony is largely the same, with a somewhat lofty ‘G’day mate’ from an all-powerful guardian in black (called ‘Cheryl’ or ‘Shane’), followed with the slap-down of the licence on the scanning pane. Upon completion of the super-advanced card analysis, a receipt is spat out of the machine. Quite often, ‘Martin John William Feld’ is replaced with something like ‘Martn Jonn Wiliam Field’, alongside a barely legible, completely pixellated scan of my signature. The receipt must be carried throughout the club in case anyone asks to CHECK YOUR PAPERS. (This never happens unless you act like a fool.)

Beyond the bizarre sign-in procedure, all visitors are greeted by ridiculous signs that specify the required dress code. Many of the requirements fall under basic decency and common sense, however there are always a few fun inconsistencies to be spotted. Let’s go on this little journey together; take this sign, for example…

Of course, there’s the simple logic that if a sign is up somewhere to say that you shouldn’t be doing something, then that thing has probably occurred in that place before. According to this sign, torn clothing and leotards must have been worn in the past. It almost sounds like a post-apocalyptic remake of Flashdance.

Let’s move on to some of the linguistic errors. Regarding spelling, two possessive apostrophes are missing where it says ‘MENS SINGLETS’ and ‘MENS HEADWEAR’. Furthermore, three sentences are missing full stops and a number of common nouns are regarded as being so important that they have been transformed into proper nouns, such as ‘Club’, ‘Dress Rules’, ‘Dress’ and ‘Behaviour’.

My favourite linguistic error is the interesting use of a comma in the penultimate sentence: ‘OBSCENE OR OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE, OR CLOTHING WILL NOT BE TOLERATED’. The comma before the second use of the word ‘or’ splits the sentence in such a way that the sign actually suggests that if one does not agree to use obscene or offensive language, their clothing must be removed before entering the club. (It doesn’t say anywhere that total nudity is prohibited.)

Moving on, let’s address some of the other inconsistencies on this sign. The specific reference to men’s wearing of singlets and headwear suggests that women are in fact permitted to wear singlets and headwear, which makes no sense at all. The mention of no offensive shirts (rather than no offensive clothing in general) suggests that one may wear offensive pants.

The small white amendment over the baseball cap circle—in case you can’t read it— states that ‘HATS ARE PERMITTED IN THE CLUB, THEY MUST BE REMOVED IN THE BISTRO AREA’. It is unclear as to whether a hat (in the eyes of the club) only refers to baseball caps or actually refers generally to all headwear, in which case this would cancel out the later restriction of men’s headwear. What is a bistro ‘area’ anyway? Does this include some mysterious no man’s land that extends beyond the specified border of the bistro itself? Is there a customs check or airlock of some kind?

I’m also puzzled as to what would happen if someone were to enter the club at say, 7:25 pm, with the last restriction stating that overalls are not permitted in the club after 7:30 pm. Must a person who was permitted to enter with said overalls prior to 7:30 pm then leave the premises very shortly afterwards, or are they permitted to remain in the club, provided that they refuse to use offensive language and then remove their clothes, as stipulated in the sign’s aforementioned penultimate sentence?

Last of all, I do wonder at what time the restriction on overalls is lifted. One could assume that it resets at opening time the next day, however I am disturbed by their failure to address this point, given the specific nature of their other demands.

If you’ve made it this far, then surely you agree that all of this is a tad ridiculous. I’m being quite pedantic here but NSW has insisted on establishing the confusing RSL equivalent of Checkpoint Charlie at all entrances. No other type of venue on the planet offers paying visitors such a bizarre welcome and recipe for entry. Do they even want our money?

I hope that the NSW will improve its club sign-in procedures and dress code explanations in the future, so as not to treat visitors like a pack of dullards and criminals who may or may not be permitted to enter naked.

The New York Times: ‘As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants’

Facebook is now beyond a joke. Following its enormous Cambridge Analytica scandal (and numerous other major missteps), The New York Times has uncovered yet more privacy breaches by the company. More specifically, Facebook shared users’ personal data with other major business partners and tech firms, all of which were exempted from its normal privacy restrictions.

The publication shares how it discovered all of this:

The New York Times interviewed more than 60 people, including former employees of Facebook and its partners, former government officials and privacy advocates.

The Times also reviewed more than 270 pages of Facebook’s internal documents and performed technical tests and analysis to monitor what information was being passed between Facebook and partner devices and websites.

Some of the companies that are mentioned in this article claim that they were unaware that they were given access to such personal data, whilst those that admit they were aware claim the data was used ‘appropriately’. Regardless, Facebook should never have done this.

I deleted my Facebook account some time ago and my life is much richer for it.

Read the article here. It’s long but stick with it; if you finish it and still think that it’s worth keeping your account, then I’m not sure what it would take to convince you.

Australia’s So-called ‘Assistance and Access’ Act

Very recently, the Australian Government passed what it called the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act. This overly complex and euphemistic title represents a piece of legislation that poses a significant threat to Australian data security and the economy.

Governments around the world insist that encryption hinders their efforts in dealing criminals and terrorist plots, due to the encryption of instant messaging apps. The creation of backdoors in apps and operating systems not only destroys innocent users’ privacy, it also threatens the integrity of systems upon which even government tools are built. Back in August, The Conversation explained:

the bill allows the Director-General of Security or the chief officer of an interception agency to compel a provider to do an unlimited range of acts or things. That could mean anything from removing security measures to deleting messages or collecting extra data. Providers will also be required to conceal any action taken covertly by law enforcement.

There are huge concerns about what this means for the security of businesses and how international companies interact with and work in Australia. One example that popped up in my Twitter feed was a blog post on the issue from Canadian company AgileBits Inc. I’m a huge fan and regular user of its app, 1Password, which provides a secure vault for passwords, logins, card information and various membership details and notes. How is this kept secure? You create a complex master password that protects all of your other information and encryption does the rest.

AgileBits Inc’s blog post dealt with its concerns about doing business with and hiring people from Australia. I doubt that the Australian Government really considered this and how Australia will be able to interact with the app economy in the future. Here’s an excerpt:

We do not, at this point, know whether it will be necessary or useful to place extra monitoring on people working for 1Password who may be subject to Australian laws. Our existing security and privacy design and internal controls may well be sufficient without adding additional controls on our people in Australia. Nor do we yet know to what extent we should consider Australian nationality in hiring decisions. It may be a long time before any such internal policies and practices go into place, if they ever do, but these are discussions we have been forced to have.

The more that I hear about the issue, the clearer it is to me that the Australian Government does not understand the implications of its decisions, despite arguments from major tech companies, app developers and other specialists in the field. We truly live in an era of dismissal (and even hatred) of experts.

Read the full blog post by AgileBits Inc here.

A Testament to Human Laziness

Throughout history, humankind has done some pretty remarkable things. Amongst many examples, you may consider the following:

  • the printing press;
  • modern medicine;
  • the computer processor; and
  • landing people on the Moon.

Amazing, right? These were huge milestones. No other animal on the planet has managed to achieve any of these. Yet with all of this power and all of this potential for further greatness, we are presented with situations such as this…

Whilst at a robotics competition on the weekend (as a spectator), I spotted these two bins. They stood in the doorway to a room full of super-intelligent competitors; one was overflowing whilst the other (emptier) one was right next to it. As you can see, it was only slightly obscured around the corner.

What caused this? Dimwittedness? Poor eyesight? Suboptimal arm reach? I think not. It all comes down to laziness. On and off during the day, I watched numerous people—young and old—approach the overflowing bin with a look of hesitation and disgust. Most decided to carefully balance their filth on top of the pile rather than look around the corner. Some even performed the classic crushing ritual. Others let their rubbish drop onto the floor. The picture above was taken towards the end of the day, when the emptier bin was slightly closer to being full. Yes, I could have acted but then I would not have been able to report my observations to you.

In an age when everyone is losing their minds at the prospect of a new age of tech disruption and artificial intelligence, built on the brilliance of automated Gen Y and Z start-ups whose founders are innovative, digital natives raised on nothing but kale-and-ginger-based vegan snacks, I think that we should adopt a much more realistic outlook. Humans are lazy and nothing is going to change that.

Perhaps the dawn of our new age of artificial intelligence will lead to solutions for this… consider a new robot assistant that could manage such refuse (or at least point humans to the nearest empty bin).

Others Palin Comparison

Last night, I had the great pleasure of seeing one of my childhood idols, Michael Palin, live on stage at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. My sister Jodie (also a fan) joined me for the show.

Palin was in town mainly to promote his latest project, Erebus, a book about the titular ship’s role in one of the British Empire’s most successful exploratory voyages. For the first half of the show, he brought the real, historical characters of Erebus to life with the perfect balance of wit and analysis. I had never heard of the ship’s voyage to Antarctica, which saw the discovery that it was, in fact, a continent. He then elaborated about the tragedy that befell the ship and its crew during its attempt to navigate the North-West Passage. The tale was incredibly fascinating and Palin’s passion for history, geography and real human stories was evident. He was incredibly thorough.

The second half of Palin’s show was more reflective and autobiographical, covering his time on programmes The Complete and Utter History of Britain and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, films like A Fish Called Wanda and his various documentary projects and series, including a recent trip to North Korea.

The humorous highlight of the evening was something that I never thought that I would witness in person: a live rendition of The Lumberjack Song. Ending the show, Palin performed the entire piece, with the audience joining in as his Mountie chorus. He even sang part of the song in German separately, as he recounted the time that he and the Pythons had to translate and learn many of their sketches for shows in the country. It was brilliant.

Having seen Cleese and Idle on stage in Sydney back in 2016, the chance to watch Palin on stage this time was a fantastic second Monty Python fix for me. As someone who grew up with their comedy—fortunately introduced by older family members—it was deeply satisfying and nostalgic. Many people my age whom I’ve met, if they’re at all aware of Monty Python, are often dismissive of their style and deliberate absurdity. They simply don’t get it. I have long considered Monty Python to have been an indispensable part of my development and life education. Like the somewhat different shows Seinfeld and The Simpsons, Monty Python’s productions taught me from a young age that nothing is off limits. Things that are taken for granted or never questioned in daily life, such as social customs, history or religion (especially) can be put under the microscope and mocked freely.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Monty Python was the catalyst for my atheist awakening in primary school. It took things that I thought about religion from an early age and gave me the vocabulary to express myself effectively. Palin explained during his show that much of the group’s comedy came from their university education and love for history and literature. For viewers, Monty Python was as much a lesson in language as it was silly sketch comedy.

Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin used their combined talent and knowledge to give us a new way to look and laugh at the world. Certainly much of the satirical content that they produced back then would be deemed unacceptable if it were written today. This is fascinating to consider. We accept quite readily that humanity is on a path of linear progress. Is that the case with our sense of humour?

I’m not sure that we’ll ever see another comedy troupe like Monty Python again—certainly not with the same level of universal popularity and influence, given our fragmented media landscape. Opportunities such as Palin’s live show, however, let us relive that excellence.