They Might Be Giants at the Croxton Bandroom

TMBG – and crosstown trips

On Saturday night at the Croxton Bandroom we saw They Might Be Giants playing a 1990s vs 2000s concert. The night before they’d done a 1980s vs 2010s concert.

It was great stuff, very enjoyable.

Now that I’ve heard Instanbul, Doctor Worm and Birdhouse In Your Soul live, I can die a happy man. And there were lots of other great songs – here’s a full set list. I particularly loved Man It’s So Loud In Here.


Obligatory transport content

The last time I went to an inner-north pub gig, we took public transport. This time we drove.

This was partly driving practice for my son on L plates, and partly because an earlier destination that afternoon would have involved bustitution.

Croxton Bandroom, Thornbury

Heading home from Croxton back to Bentleigh in the car took about 40 minutes, with little traffic apart from on some sections of Hoddle Street.

Google Maps tells me that by train it would have taken 56 minutes (including a 13 minute interchange at Flinders Street, which isn’t terrible, but isn’t terrific either) plus a short walk at each end.

A couple of observations on that:

  • Google Maps’ estimate for the car journey, leaving at 11:40pm, is 24 to 55 minutes. I’m not sure 24 would ever be achievable, but it’s not hard to see how it could be a very long trip if there was an event at the MCG/sports precinct.
  • Even at times of relatively light traffic, train can be reasonably competitive with driving in Melbourne, particularly on trips with no freeways – but it’s really pot luck on wait times, especially for trips involving interchange between lines.
  • Quick interchange helps make public transport trips quicker. Changing trains could take up to 30 minutes in the evening, or even 60 minutes after 1am on weekends. Higher frequencies make for quick interchanges, and mean PT is viable for far more combinations of trip start and end points – not just the places that a single route serves.

Trains every 20 minutes in daytime, and every 30 minutes after 7:30pm is completely inadequate for a city of Melbourne’s size. Fixing it would not be expensive because the infrastructure and the fleet is readily available.

Sydney is now at 71% of stations with a train at least every 15 minutes until 11pm. It’s time Melbourne caught up.

Don't be a jerk

Don’t be a jerk

I was looking through some old photos, and found these from November 1996.

I’ve scanned them from the negatives.

As you can see, they provide some good advice…

Don't be a jerk, Barbara Kruger - Melbourne, November 1996

Don't be a jerk, Barbara Kruger - Melbourne, November 1996

(Click on either photo to view it larger in Flickr)

Things to note here:

  • “Don’t be a jerk” is a work by Barbara Kruger, originally from 1984
  • Some of the well-known CBD skyscrapers are visible in the background, but more were to come over the following 22 years!
  • This is snapped from Flinders Street Station looking east across Swanston Street. The old Gas And Fuel building is being demolished to make way for Federation Square
  • In the first photo you can also just see the entrance to the old Princes Bridge station (look for The Met logo), which was also mostly demolished – apart from platform 14. Back then it also had platforms 15 and 16, used by terminating trains from Clifton Hill.
  • Z-class tram in The Met colours – this was before privatisation. Note the “Do not enter” signage on the rear door; these trams ran with seated conductors near the front, and later as driver-only. This particular tram, number 150, came into service in 1980, and is still in service, making it 38 years old.
  • No tram superstop. Just a “Safety zone”
  • I’m not sure what time of day this was. It looks pretty dark and rainy for November, but that’s what the scribbled note on the photo says!

Where are you really from?

I found SBS’s “Where Are You Really From” to be compelling viewing.

If you don’t look ethnic, you won’t know the experience of people asking where you’re from — and not taking “Sydney” for an answer.

They don’t want to know where you’re from. They want to know where your family originated.

The whole series had some powerful stories, but it was the first episode that particularly struck a chord, as host Michael Hing visited the Chinese community in Bendigo.

Not that I have any connections to Bendigo. But as with the people interviewed, I get my half-Chinese looks from family who came to Australia before Federation — farther back than many white Australians.

I grew up somewhat isolated from any cousins or uncles/aunts or grandparents, and in those circumstances you can easily assume that your family’s background story is unique. It’s not. Suddenly seeing a group of people who have shared many of the same experiences was not just eye-opening, it was quite emotional.

My jaw dropped when I realised just how common it was for Chinese immigrants in the 1800s to have their names messed up by officials.

My grandfather’s name ended up back to front. This happened all the time. (Rather than try and fight it, he just went along with it. Only one of my uncles bothered to change it back.)

Walking across country to either avoid Chinese-specific taxes, or just because you’d landed at the wrong place and didn’t have any money, was also apparently commonplace, and something that some of my ancestors experienced.

We ended up watching the episode again in a family group, with some verbal dissection afterwards.

While the first episode really struck a chord, the others were worth watching too – in fact watching the second, I felt the situation reversed somewhat, with my usual assumptions about Sikhs in turbans flipped as soon as you heard their Australian accents.

Whatever your family background, this is well worth a look.

A Most Deliberate Swindle book cover

How the 20th century was almost dominated by electric vehicles, rather than petrol

It’s amazing to think that had circumstances been different, the western world might have developed its road transport around electric engines rather than fossil fuels.

That’s one of the key points made by “A Most Deliberate Swindle“, by Mick Hamer – the tale of the London Electrobus company, which pioneered the use of electric buses in London in the early 1900s. I was sent a preview copy — it’s being released later this week.

It’s an interesting story, and is really both a book about Edwardian-era fraud, and transport. I confess the latter is of more interest to me, so I have to admit I skimmed a little bit over the background story of the some personalities involved: a mix of gentlemen who spotted what was essentially a worthwhile venture, a viable electric battery bus, and used it to fleece shareholders out of their money.

As it turns out, a major contributor to the buses being reliable enough for service was the batteries, and part of the story relates to how the Electrobus company’s management fooled the American inventors into handing over the technology.

And yes, for a time, the electric bus service was successful and popular with passengers, thanks in part to a smoother quieter ride, which also made them popular with local residents.

The idea unravelled thanks to the scammers being more interested in making money by cheating people than selling electric vehicles and running electric buses.

The real sting in the tale is towards the end of the book, when author Hamer points out that 20th century motor vehicles ended up being mostly petrol powered because the technology happened to be ready for prime time, cheap enough and reliable enough, at just the right juncture. It gained momentum, and like VHS winning over the technically superior Beta, became dominant.

So but for chance, it could have been electric vehicles instead that dominated during the 20th century, certainly for buses, but also for other service vehicles and even private cars.

London as a city in many ways holds enormous influence, particularly around the Commonwealth, but also farther afield. If electric vehicles had taken off in Britain in the 1900s, then right across the world, issues such as city air quality and lead poisoning from cars might be much less of a problem than they were and are — particularly now, when more electricity generation is being moved to clean sources of power.

Today, Tesla and others are pushing electric cars, and while they won’t solve traffic congestion, they are certainly advancing the technology. In the last year or two, numerous countries have announced the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars.

And yes, there’s a push for electric buses too — they’re being promoted by local companies and campaigns — here in Melbourne, PT Not Traffic have a campaign for electric buses on inner-city routes.

There’s plenty of detail in the book, and one thing that struck me was the names of the companies (both real and fraudulent), which back in those days certainly told you what the company did (or at least claimed to do). These days they’re a lot more abstract than some of those in the book: “The London Electrobus Company”, “The Electric Tramways Construction and Maintenance Company”, or the “Gould Storage Battery Company Limited”.

It’s a good read, and worth a look. It’s due out this Thursday 28th September.

Ten years twittering

Ten years ago today:

Yep, ten years ago today I joined Twitter.

As you can see, my second Tweet was just as compelling:

This was all pre-smartphone (at least for me) though some the Nokia phones I had until 2011 could do Twitter.

At the time, I don’t think Twitter could do pictures. And links took up a lot of space from the 140 character limit unless you used a 3rd-party URL shortener — many of these have since gone bust or dumped those early links, so many old Twitter links are now dead.

Here’s what my Twitter timeline looked about a year later, in late 2008. Looks like I was still sometimes posting in “Daniel is” IRC-style. (This is via the Web Archive, so the timestamps are all wrong.)

My Twitter page in November 2008 (courtesy of the Web Archive)

Critical mass

Social media networks tend to reach a critical mass of users that encourages more people to get on board and post.

What’s fascinating to see is Twitter has become ubiquitous in areas such as breaking news. Journalists in particular love it – I assume as a trend it spread from the USA. Looking at Australian journalist profiles, there seems to have been a rush onto Twitter in about 2009-10.

These days, most Australian TV news services show their reporters’ Twitter handles on-screen. (In fact ABC TV news usually shows journos’ Twitter handles, but not the reporter’s name!)

No doubt thanks to PTUA work, I’ve got about 5800 followers. This is nowhere near as many as a lot of other people have, but apparently it is in the 99th percentile of active Twitter accounts.

Then again, on a system where apparently 391 million accounts have no followers at all, perhaps it reflects how many fake or robot accounts there are on the system. That’s okay, TwitterAudit reckons most of mine are real!

How to use social media is up to you

I’m personally not keen on the lengthy threads some people post on Twitter – they can get initial attention, but long-term are very difficult to find later — which can be frustrating as often they are full of excellent insights into the issue at hand. My view is post it on a blog somewhere, and link to that.

But ultimately, how you use social media is up to you. And who you follow will obviously influence what you see.

The major social networking systems each have their place, and I use them in different ways:

I use Twitter for following news, and “public” stuff.

I use Facebook purely for friends and family (though I also have a public Facebook page – you can follow it for blog updates).

I glance at LinkedIn sometimes, but restrict it to people I know via work and PTUA interactions.

Google Plus? I barely ever look at it.

I suspect more people use Facebook everyday than Twitter, but I probably like Twitter more. It seems more open than Facebook’s and the others, which try to keep you on their site/app.

10 years on Twitter

One side-effect of Twitter is that I’m probably blogging less. Often I’ll fire off thoughts as one-liners rather than develop them more fully into blog posts. Kind of a shame, but it also reflects that I’m far busier now than I have been in the past.

Something I do like is a lot of prominent people are on Twitter, and many of them will respond to questions from randoms like me. (In turn, I try to respond to others, but sometimes there just isn’t the time.)

And if you’re wondering, apparently this is my most re-tweeted ever — a comment on US conservatives’ reactions to the US Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is legal. Apparently it was pushed along by being included in a Buzzfield article.

As a time-waster, social media is probably unparalleled. But it’s fun, and informative.

So I’ll keep on using Twitter, and if you’re on there too, feel free to follow me!