One speed: slow?

Another gap in posts for this blog; sorry. (Not that there’s anyone reading this to say sorry to, but as they say: meh.) It’s not that I haven’t been writing lately, I have, but in places that the web doesn’t reach; I’ve been enjoying that.

But it’s four-thirty on a Thursday afternoon and I’m at work. Thus, I have a) no inclination to do any work; b) a whole host of other things that I would rather be doing; and c) some stupid compulsion to remain here until five o’clock. The latter is probably due to the boss still being here.

Oh, no he’s not, he’s just left. See ya.

(This post was going to be about singlespeed bicycles, esperanto, and how good it is to not write on the web, but that can all wait. Apologies for the remaining pointlessness.)

I Don’t Go In Cars

I’m writing a more in-depth article on this topic at the moment, and I’ll post it soon, but for now I just want to mention a couple of things.

The team that I am part of at IBM looks after servers that are spread over two different data-centres, one just across the road from us, and one about ten kilometers away. Sometimes, we have to actually go into these places (to do what, I’m not sure, I’m still learning Korn shell scripting), and I know that one of these days they’re going to ask me to drive with them up to the far-away data-centre. I will, of course, refuse.

I do not go in cars. It’s pretty simple, really. But what a headache it can cause some people: they just don’t get it, ‘why would anyone be so stubborn about something like this?’ they ask. And I don’t really have a ready answer. I don’t really want to try and nut it out now…

Cars make cities horrible places to live. I look around — no, I don’t even have to look, the noise is there, at all times, invading everything — and see roads, and cars, and driveways, and hectare upon hectare of urban space that is designed with one thing in mind: the motorcar. But I believe in beauty. I will not take part in something so vast and utterly, destructively, completely ugly!

Sticking everyone in their own little transport box is wrong. It has lead, more than anything much else, to selfishness and greed, because it takes away an immediacy of inter-dependence between people. We still need each other, but we don’t know it, and we don’t know each other. What a total disaster! How has it come about that people walk down the street that they live in, and avoid eye contact with their neighbour?! It has come about because people drive cars.

There lots more that I could say on this subject, and I’m sure I will by and by, but I want to go for a walk. It’s a lovely sunny day here, the first day of Spring, and I’m going to get away from the silly computer.

Lines through the greensward

I’ve been walking lately. To university, to the co-op, and home again: along Sullivan’s Creek I go, sort of following the bike path and generally veering off and strolling quietly through grassy, damp, tree-lined avenues. It’s nice, as nice as anything really, these quiet moments of stillness amongst the green, and I notice the small things: bark on the trees, the slope of the ground and suchlike.

This being Canberra, there are trees in lines. The lines don’t always line up, but they’re there and usually in pairs: an avenue of oaks, or poplars, or whatever it might be. Very impressive, these tree-lined walks, very imposing at times or at least strongly suggestive of the fact that they were intentional. It’s a shame I don’t like them.

Which is my point this evening: I don’t like trees all in a line like that. I try to, honestly, I do try to. I want to enjoy the order and symmetry, the purposeful majesty that those early Canberra planners liked to sprinkle around our city, but I just find it rotten when it comes down to it. I don’t like walking through them.

When it comes down to it, I say, and down is what I mean: down to a personal, human, small, easy level, one which a human on foot can comprehend. Great sweeping monuments to human ingenuity are not made for humans! The small things are, and a small, winding path through the trees makes me smile.

God smiles on those strolling through the woods.

To Coledale

Kingston railway station waiting room. Feeling slightly queezy from the bus, but excited also to be off with a bag, book and journal. Not that there’s much beauty in the modern transport world; the telly is on behind me, playing the most banal, hideous, daytime television — but what else is to be expected? They cater to that most vile denominator, the General Public (not that such a thing exists, surely?).

I slept well last night, once I’d read a bit more. It was warm and soft in my little red-robed corner; I didn’t want to get up. I never want to get up on the morning I’m going anywhere.

I had to buy some things — whiskey specifically, but I’d thought to think of more once I got to the shops. So I rode over to Dickson at half nine (I was leaving at half ten), and blowing into my hands went into the grog shop. The grumpy, cold wog behind the counter waved his hand in the general direction of the small bottles, with Eye of the Tiger playing the in the background, and I bought a flask of scotch. My hands were numb from the cold.

I’ve this digital camera of A.’s with me, and it’s giving me some things to think about as I potter around: I want to take photos for my blog (or whatever this website is), and for Wikipedia, and (as usual) for my archiving habit — keeping a record and all that. So I might just go and take a photo of the railway station.

Well gosh, I’ve actually overcome my usual public photography reticence, and wandered about taking photos. Of the station enterance, the platform the train, and a couple for me of the shunting yards and building to the ___(east?) of here. Now boarding the 12:05 Xplorer service to Sydney.

On board. As everyone files on board, dragging suitcases and feeling self conscious (or is that just me, with my notebook?), and they settle down for the beginning — not settling in for the journey, just the period of waiting which precedes it — they crackle chip packets, crack the seals on drink bottles, and flick through the information leaflet from their seat pocket. The smokers dump their gear and quickly, without first visiting their seats or meeting their neighbour, jump back onto the platform for a last puff, an occasional whiff coming back through the doors to where I’m sitting near the rear of the car. The clouds are coming over outside, it’s forecast to rain, but that means nothing to us, enclosed and protected in this air conditioned space, with our minds stretching out already, along the track to the places we’re yet to be, leaving Here and seeing Now as just an interim before Then, which is when we’ll get There.

For a hundred and eighty years trains have rolled on steel, taking people far, fast and in comfort. It’s not at all fashionable nowadays to decry this motion, and anyway it’s just a small insignificant part of the speed and distance that are normal now. I feel echos of those first terrified, excited passengers on those old English railways, going for the first time faster than a galloping horse.

But now: how things change! This is the slow option for me today, and I choose it because of that fact, and for the many tassles of history and tradition (and comfort) that hang from the permanent way. Where my ancestors sew heartless, vile destruction of the countryside by the new tracks, I see these thin ribbons of steel and contrast only with that ubiquitous devilry the highway. How very much more soulful is the highway!?

The rain came in before we got to Golbourn, but my usual pleasure at being in a warm train chortling through wet farmland was somewhat marled by the odd girl sitting next to me and her DVD which she insisted on playing without headphones. That and her “you have been called” ringtone — frightful. But I was happy enough, staring out at the sidings, old loading docks and worn down fences. The rain made a peculiar soft, grey light, gentle at first but something in it struck me as somehow alien, although I can’t say what.

After Sydney. Kept my wits about me I did, after the excitement of big Sydney and a beer with D., enough to realise an hour into the journey south that I was on the wrong train. I changed at some cold, empty station, I’ve no idea which. I got more and more tired, it grew dark and I’d run out of water…

Would be nice to never have to go anywhere, but then what would I write about? Glad I haven’t worn a suit. These trains wobble. Coalcliff now, cold and concrete and green steel out there. Oh for wood in my life again!

…and I returned to reading Swann’s Way, content but not really knowing at which station to get off.

The Speed Of Response

The speed at which one is required to respond in various forms of a) long-distance communication, and b) woodworking.

I have been thinking about the various forms of long-distance communication that are in common use, such as email, telephone, and snail mail, and in particular the length of time each gives one to respond to what the other person says. With traditional postal correspondence one has ample response time — months if so wished — and this I think gives letters a distinctly ‘thought about’ tone. The same is true, to a lesser extent, with email: although it is easy to quickly rap out a reply to someone and send it without really thinking, there is still the opportunity for leisurely consideration of what you want to say, over perhaps a couple of days. This is not true with the telephone — it is at the extreme end of this ‘speed of response’ continuum and necessitates a faster and less considered reply than even a face to face conversation. Silence just doesn’t work on the ‘phone, and can’t play the important role of reflection and consideration that it does in all other forms of long-distance communication — including postal and electronic mail.

There is a parallel between this increasing response time in communication and the time that one has when working with wood to respond to the tools, materials and workshop environment. Take the saw as an example: a portable circular saw can give you very little time indeed to change your grip, stance or in some other way avoid being hurt — its a bit like a ‘phone; a table saw is more forgiving because the table, blade, fence(s) and work-piece are all (hopefully) fixed in their positions or trajectories and are therefore more predictable, but there is still the opportunity for rashness and accidents — similar to email one might say; the handsaw is the slowest of the saws and as such gives the user much more time to respond to the work-piece moving, or an unseen knot that puts the saw off a bit, or any of a thousand other things that necessitate a response to the timber or tools — I would liken using a handsaw to sitting down and spending an hour or so writing a letter, knowing that far from being a ‘waste’ of time it is just more time spent being close to a dear friend.