Down to Earth - Blackpack

Back in 1996, I tried my hand at designing and making tents and packs and things. I had access to an industrial sewing machine then, and with a little help from my dad, I managed to make 3 packs, and a few accessories. I designed a hell of a lot more though, some day I'd love to make this tent for example.. I just need to meet the right people with the right motivation.

I made this pack for my Dad 14 years ago! 12 ounce canvas, YKK spiral zips, 1 inch webbing, internal frame.. all double stitched, seam sealed, and designed for simplicity, to last, and be easily repaired.

The over sized shoulder straps and lumber pad where requested by my Dad.. the ultra delux padded version :) He's taken it all sorts of places over the years.

I hadn't seen this pack for some time. Seeing it today was like opening an old diary. Discovering old ideas that were new and not on the market at the time. Made me want to start making more, and use all those ideas I've drawn since, that are still yet to go to market mind you.

I like the modest tones and simplicity compared to the glow in the dark, lunar landing gear in the shops today. I'd refine this design a little, but over all I think its a good solid bag, that functions well.

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Worker's Union 2.0 - Why todays union sux, and why tomorrow's union rocks

Over the past 10 years, here in Australia, our Government has been doing everything it can to weaken unions. They started with the students, then the maritime, now the builders and teachers, as well as the final blow to the students. It seems that no matter what this government does, the uproar and strikes last for a few days, then everyone votes the Govs back in. They're in their third term now (or is it a forth!). This time they have control of the senate, which means they can now do pretty much as they please, and we'll just have to ride it out and hope the elections boot them out next time. Lets hope also, that the replacements have room left or know how to set things right...

We did see a fairly large demonstration recently, when they introduced their Industrial Relations Reform package. The unions called a rally, made a few speeches, paid big dollars for a sky channel to broadcast the rally, pumped out the shallow propaganda, and came up with a few interesting bumper stickers. But while I don't agree with the Government's position what so ever, I'm not in the least bit impressed with the Union response either.

I happened to be sitting next to a union rep at a conference dinner a few months back. I tried to ignore his looking through his nose at me and strike up a conversation. I asked, given the Government's control of the senate and as a result the Australian Workplace Agreements were quite likely to get a run for a while, and that if that happened the Union would be in a bit of a pickle, what was their strategy post IR reform? I added that it was all well and good to fight now, good on you/us, but when it happens - then what? He didn't even look at me - that rude little man, he looked the other way, seemingly interested in someone else at that dinner, played with his food a bit, clearly he was used to much better meals, shrugged and said, "we fight" then excused himself from our conversation and left to join the person he was more interested in.

Now that man was not just they guy that sends you spam email, and and all together uninteresting papers in the mail, he was a rep asked to present at a conference. I would have thought he knew quite a bit about what one of Australia's largest unions had in mind. I get the sneaky suspicion that Australia's largest union has not a clue. Like most institutions being threatened by this brave new world, they're deciding to dig in and do things the the way they always have. Strikes, rallies, and bumper stickers.

Its an unfortunate time for workers and their unions. We're all in the middle of a very confusing media and communications change, with an overly complex way of life, and a local economy being reformed by global trends. I almost regret being born. But I want to make a suggestion to unions, on how they may change what they do just a tad, and become the most important thing to me in my life!

I want my union to simplify my life. Take all the things that make my life unecessarily hard, and make them easy. Dragging me into a strike is not simplifying things for me. Asking me to understand the inaccessible politics of Federal and State politics in Australia is not simplifying my life either. Expecting me to put a sticker on my car that will get me into road rage fueled car park punch up with my boss will not simplify my life either. Here's what would simplify my life:

I would pay $200 a month to my union if it could offer me:
  • A 1.5 gig 2 way Internet connection with unlimited downloads and uploads
  • A managed super annuation plan that included disability and temporarily out of work cover
  • Heath care cover, including dental and travel insurance
  • Insurance for personal possessions in the home, and comprehensive motor vehicle
  • A tax accountant to do my returns once a year
  • A credit union account
  • Subsidised child care and a fund for family education
  • An agent to keep on the lookout for a better job for me, and keep me posted in my email once a month
  • And perhaps a welfare fund that offered a small amount of money to members who find themselves in need of some weekly financial assistance
  • And keep taking the fights to the Government while they're at it
Now, I don't see why the biggest unions in Australia couldn't use their collective bargaining power to get all that for me down to around $200 a month. Having it all in one place, and at a reduced expense to my money and time would certainly improve the conditions of my miscellaneous life. I'm not so interested in my largely part time, contracted work conditions any more. If my manager's an arse hole there's not a lot I can do about it really. I just want out in the smoothest possible way. I don't want to get into an unfair dismissal fight and shorten my life through stress. I just want the rest of my life to be simplified so I'm less stressed at work, and more capable of looking for new work if the manager gives me the shits.

So, if there's still a tough talking union rep left in this country, who is still genuinely less concerned with their own political aspirations, and more with a worker's life conditions, then give me a call, I have more thoughts on Union 2.0 that I think you could use.

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Free Wireless/Wireless Cooperatives

Picture by Azugaldia
Not a new idea, but one I'm trying to lobby for in the Blue Mountains.

Given that the Blue Mountains are so poorly serviced by broadband and mobile providers, I think free WiFi has a potential for becoming a popular idea, but requires a significant amount of awareness building.

I've started an eGroup for local Mountains people interested in the idea, and am keeping bookmarks on all the free WiFi setups in other cities around the world. Its growing!

Basically I see it not as a centralised service provided over a large area, but as hundreds, perhaps thousands of access points where normal broadband accounts are offered up for free public use via wireless modems. Cafes, churches, community halls, schools, council, libraries, pubs, (Blackheath's Ivonhoe is already offering free WiFi!) many others could be encouraged to offer free WiFi access to those who have a mobile device (such as laptop or PDA) with WiFi capabilities.

Basically it would mean people would be able to use the Internet (including VOIP) to a limited degree wherever there was a 'hotspot'. Young kids might start carrying and using PDAs (much better devices than the popular and over priced mobile phones) and conceivably be having free telephone calls with each other through out the mountains region. Instant messaging at the very least! Tourists and business people could enjoy free access in the cafes and public spaces, encouraging flow on business, and generally promoting the Blue Mountains as a progressive, ICT savvy area.

Most easily, each hotspot would require a standard line account to be set up. Preferably the fastest, fattest bandwidth possible. That line is plugged into a wireless modem and offered up for others to access as an open wireless signal. Immediate neighbours and local businesses would contribute to the monthly bill, and the access is kept open for others to use, therefore attracting people and potential business to within 30 meters of their area. Access to the service could start with a connection splash page, promoting who's wireless it is and advertising their other products. Obviously cafes and main street businesses stand to gain from this, and community groups could offer it as an added service with very little extra burden on their current resources.

Admittedly, the likelihood of large scale take up of the services would be small, as most people in the mountains would not own a laptop or PDA. But the open use of these devices in public spaces would help to raise awareness of the possibilities, creating an incentive to laptop and PDA companies to sponsor free WiFi initiatives.

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A climbing gym in Katoomba

Katoomba is the CBD of the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains is the centre for climbing in NSW Australia.

Why then, does Katoomba not have a climbing gym?
Yep I heard the chorus, "why would you have a gym when there's so much rock?"
I'd have a gym for newbies to try out climbing safely, easily, after hours, and cheaply, before hitting the real rock.
I'd have a gym for climbers to train, socialise, have events (bring back Escalade!), climb when its wet or dark, and for education.
I'd have a gym for school group sports activities.
I'd have a gym for corporate challenges.
I'd have a gym to trade climbing gear, second hand camping gear, resole boots, mend and modify gear, a cafe, film screenings, boldering, tourists, parties, murals, cliff care HQ, lobby group meetings, information.. you get the idea?

Why hasn't it worked before?
There is one remaining gym in the Blue Mountains (not counting all the woodies in most garages around the place), its located in Leura and is a couple of squash courts in size. But few climbers that I know actually go there much. I suspect its too small, and doesn't successfully attract or generate that community feel.

I think a gym has to large and impressive so as to satisfy the expectations of schoolies and newbies. It also has to be large enough so that the newbies aren't crowding out the climbers. It has to be large enough to support large groups, including spectators. It has to generate and sustain a healthy community if it is to survive up in the mountains. It has to have diverse interests.

A model that clearly works
Hobart's The Climbing Edge, in Bathurst St has developed into an inspirational gym, offering space for kids parties, school groups, climbers and comps and spectators all at the same time! It also has a well stocked second hand camping gear shop and a strong sense of community backing it up. But that's Tasmania - things like that just seem to work down there.. maybe I'm expecting too much for something like that here in the Mountains...

The Climbing Edge's bread and butter are its school groups, but it is the community that feel ownership of it that sustain its amazing set up and standard.
The Blue Mountains Model
A not for proffit cooperative. Somehow bring together all the likely stake holders - local climbers, tour companies, cliff care, gear shops, associations, guides, schools, tourism, magazines, sporting brands, cooporate sponsors, local news paper and climbers from around NSW and sell the idea of a large scale climbing gym in Katoomba.

We have excellent skate parks, excellent tourist facilities, huge climbing history, few sporting parks and complexes... why not a climbing and related activities centre?

Likely problems
  • Raising the capital
  • Finding a suitable venue at a reasonable price (two options: Carington warehouses in Park St, or Savoy Theatre in Katoomba St)
  • Successfully getting stake holders to cooperate
  • Raising enough money to employ at least 1 full time, and 4 casual staff... possibly staff take on multiple roles such as retail assist in second hand gear shop, cafe, and climbing...
  • Insurance, though I'm told it is much better than it used to be.
  • -
  • -

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what video game charater am I

What Video Game Character Are You? I am Pacman.I am Pacman.

I am an aggressive sort of personality, out to get what I can, when I can. I prefer to avoid confrontation, but sometimes when it's called for, I can be a powerful character. I tend to be afflicted with munchies constantly. What Video Game Character Are You?


What Video Game Character Are You? I am a Thrust-ship.I am a Thrust-ship.

I am small and tricky - where you think I am, I probably am not. I can work very fast, but I tend to go about things in a round about way, which often leaves me effectively standing still. I hate rocks. Bloody rocks. What Video Game Character Are You?

from: http://quiz.ravenblack.net/videogame.pl


Marks in constant recording

Alex Hayes pulls a phone out of his pocket Recently a few friends came up to the mountains for the TALO swap/meet 05. We talked about a variety of things to do with teaching and learning online. The nature of the conference was open source - meaning that there was no agenda, key note speakers, or otherwise structured communications. We just got together and started yaking! It was great. Some really good ideas and thoughts were flowing freely. We talked over a Mexican lunch, we talked while walking the National Pass Trail, we talked over drinks at the Carrington, we talked and talked.

Recording such conversation is almost impossible. Remembering all the great ideas is just as impossible. But I remember one idea Alex Hayes (pictured), Sean FitzGerald and I had that could solve this problem - the marking in constant record.

Take your average mp3 recorder. Mic yourself up and hit record. On a 512meg card you should expect a few hours of recording, enough to get the majority of a night conversation. But going back over that massive flog of raw recording to edit it down to digestible content is a job I wouldn't wish on anyone. On top of that, once the 512 card is full, you have to find another card to get the breakfast conversations. Its just too much. What we really need is a recorder that does constantly record, but when you have that moment in conversation where you realise, "hey, that's a great idea!" you reach down to the mic cable and press a button that marks near to the end of the sample you want to keep. The recorder stores your out point mark and adds an inpoint mark automatically - say 5 minutes before the out. When the cards nears full, the recorder deletes everything but the marked recordings, freeing up some card to continue recording. Back in the editing misery, at least you know that the majority of what you have is what you though was good at the time. You might miss a few things with that auto 5 minute in point mark, but I'd say on the whole you'd get most of it. 5 minutes should be enough I'd imagine, for someone recording to realise what was being said was worth keeping. If that person was to mark an out point within 5 minutes of the last, then the reorder would know that more than 5 minutes was needed, it would just keep the in point at the original mark point.

This could work for video as well of course.

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Blue Mountains rail line

traveling from Lithgow to Sydney by public transport is a joke. It can take nearly twice the time on the train as it does to drive, and cost almost the same! While millions of dollars are being spent upgrading the Western Highway to accommodate the road traffic, not enough is spent on the rail to make it even close to viable for commuters.

There are 2 tracks running the Blue Mountains line. Coal, freight and passenger trains share the lines. My idea is to have the coal, freight and express passenger trains running one line and all station shuttle trains running the other. This could dramatically improve the travel times for longer journey commuters, and possible allow for more frequent trains running all stations between the express stops.

For example; If I lived in Leura and commuted to the University of Western Sydney everyday, I could catch the Lawson to Mount Victoria shuttle or drive to Katoomba, and catch the express to Kingswood stopping only at Lawson and Springwood before arriving at Kingswood. (Note that Penrith is no longer a major stop on account of the obviously higher passenger numbers at Kingswood). Quite likely then, my journey from Leura to Kingswood would be as fast if not faster by train.

Because the one rail is used for the less frequent express trains, more trains could run the other line. Ideally there would be one train per shuttle section, moving back and forth all stations between the respective express stops.
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