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‘Australian Financial Review’ of 28 July 2017.

Why is it that large projects continue to be undertaken and to repeat the same mistakes of all those which went before them, that is the question? Flyvbjerg explains the recurrent attraction of mega-projects along four intersecting and interacting vectors: they are technological challenges, they are politically attractive, they create a constituency of profiteers, and they are aesthetic.

Mega-projects by definition have not been done before and so engineers, designers, builders, technologists, find them stimulating, ready and willing to give it a try. Look at the sails of the Sydney Opera House, and remember they were made and fitted by hand, long before lasers.

Megaprojectsf cover.jpg

The political attraction is in the grand project that will define an administration, or even an era. Think of the those pyramids in Ghiza.

The profiteers are the facilitators, the bankers, consultants, fixers, the lobbyists, financiers, and all those others in the middle, who do not build anything but without whom nothing can be built. Then there are the builders themselves, the construction firms and their employees, and their insurers and suppliers. ‘Profiteers’ is my word, not his.

Finally, there is the aesthetic dimensions anticipated in the completed project by designers, artists, and users.

Despite all of this impetus many, many mega-project go awry. Before getting to that, a few definitions. A mega-project is big, over a one billion USA dollars. For examples, in addition to those passed by above, consider the Canadian Firearms Registry, the Big Dig in Boston, Channel Tunnel, Viaduc de Millau, Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, North Sea Protection Works in the Netherlands, and that black airport in Montreal, Mirabel.

The most common failure of such projects is cost overruns, some of which are truly astonishing, like the Sydney Opera House that came in — sit down, Mortimer— 1,400% over budget in real terms.

The second most common failure is missing the target completion deadline and running on and on, and here I think of another example close to home, though it may not have hit the billion dollar price tag, the OPAL public transport card system, a three-year project that took fifteen years before the first tap. (OPAL users will get it.)

The third most common failure is to return the benefits asserted for the project. Investors lose a lot of other people's money in mega-projects, even in the private sector, e.g., the Chunnel. Every rider on EuroStar is still being subsided by the financiers who invested the pension funds they manage into that hole under the water while paying each other six-figure bonuses for their wit.

With these failures, other matters recede, but there are also failures regarding the environmental impact of mega-projects. Is it any wonder that the public is cynical about the projections and promises made?

The failures are so numerous and catastrophic that one wonders why we keep doing it. It certainly undermines confidence in the financial projections, the pace of construction, that management of labour, the environmental impact assessments, projected use and earnings, the alleged rate of return on investment, not solving the problem the project was supposed to solve, and more. The litany of such failures makes fascinating, if morbid reading.

Yet this reader wondered if that was the whole story. Impressive though the data in Flyvbjerg’s study is, much has been omitted. For a start the study concerns only failures, and not successes, and there is a long list of mega-projects on Wikipedia that seem to be successes, again including some close to home like the desalination plants in New South Wales and Victoria which proceeded so smoothly no journalist could make up a story about either of them. The unerring eye of hindsight on display in this account is like Barbara Tuchman’s successful but superficial ‘The March of Folly’ (1984).

What foresight distinguishes successful mega-projects from unsuccessful ones? No enlightenment comes from this account.

Flyvbjerg also omits one crucial constituency in his rather jaded four part explanation: The public. When commenting on the political attraction of mega-projects and the interest of the profiteers, Flyvbjerg’s explanation is cynical self-interest. That is why I used the work 'profiteers.' Hmm. Doubtless a factor, but generative or decisive?

What is the political benefit from the colossal failure? If failure is so likely, why take the risk? Maybe that caution explains the long delays with the Opal Card.

Those who stand to profit may also have more complex motivations about the challenges and competitive opportunities. Ready as I am to disparage others, preferably those about whom I know nothing, I reserve judgement on this.

There is a missing player in the epic of mega-projects and that is the general public. The mega-project can create, stimulate, and capture the public imagination which the media then reflects and amplifies. It would be a brave political leader, pension fund manager, or designer, to reject the public pressure that can be conjured for such projects. Another local example was the millennial Orange Grove project in Sydney that had a considerable popular following. A state government minister who rejected that development because of skepticism about the projections would have be crucified by the same journalists who lit the fires when the project fell.

The public is missing in another respect, as an opponent of some mega-projects. Surely one reason for the costs of the Big Dig in Boston was sustained and calculated strategic and tactical opposition of several publics. The bill for the litigation must have been enormous. Indeed public opposition has stymied many mega-projects, e.g., a third Sydney airport.

Bridge miss.jpg Bridge-building Italian style.

In this short newspaper reprint Flyvbjerg omits that recurrent five-ring circus of the Olympics which illustrate the popularity of mega-projects regardless of the cost over-runs. Olympic bids are wildly popular and hosting the Olympics is even more popular to all, but the die-hard spoilsports like me. One of the masterminds of the Sydney Olympics once privately said it was worth the money for the lift it gave to public awareness and pride.

Nor does this analysis include defence projects or military planning where there are many failures to be sure, but there have also been some spectacular success in projects the complexity of which dwarf even the largest mega-projects. Note that NASA did put astronauts on the moon and bring them back. These examples suggests plans and forecasts can work. Why sometimes and not others?

Defence projects are legendary for cost over-runs and that is as true in Australia as anywhere else. Those Collins Class submarines are an object lesson, and I hope PhD students are examining the details. In order to mobilise the public support to spend money on competitive submarines, the government had to insure that the boats were built in Australia and that the work was spread around the country, so that there was an informal coalition of parliamentarians and community groups who supported the project because of the money to be spent in their electorates. None of that is cost efficient in the short term, and probably not in the longer term. But it is political necessity. Ditto the financing has to be distributed to create support.

Collins_Sydney-hero.jpg A Collins class submarine in Sydney Harbour

At a formal dinner once I sat next to a Royal Australian Navy officer who was in submarines, and inevitably I asked him about the Collins submarines. He had a lot to say about how excellent they were, but when I asked him about the cost over-runs and missed completion dates, he said that it always happens. [Pause.]

If so, then why were not such costs and delays built into the original planning, just as the builder who did our kitchen had an allowance for extras in money and time to cover the unforeseen? If foreseen, then why not integrate an allowance for the unexpected into the process? That was my question. His line by the way was the official navy line at the time as subsequent research showed. ‘No big deal, it always happens.’ If so….!

Much of the four sublimes, as Flyvbjerg calls them, are generated, empowered, and enabled by the public appetite for such projects, and according to the fount, Wikipedia, many are in fact successful. That term ‘sublimes’ grates on this reader. It seems forced and uninformative.

No doubt in the full text of the studies Flyvbjerg has done of the massive data set he has complied with care and wit such niggles are resolved.

Bent Flyvbjerg.jpg Bent Flyvbjerg

While this article was in a newspaper this week, I read virtually the same text in 2014. Slow news takes on a new meaning.

For years Bent Flyvbjerg’s book ‘Rationality and Power‘ (1999) held pride of place on the syllabus. The abstract title came down the the ground with a thump in the study of the building of a bus terminal in Aalburg, Denmark.* What a story! What a story-teller! Altogether it was what social science should be but seldom is, wise, contextualized, plain spoken, dispassionate, located within major intellectual currents, and modest. This study also shows the public enthusiasm for such projects and the distortion of the original project necessary to achieve a coalition to realise it. By the time all of the interests which wanted a piece of the project got it, it was distorted beyond recognition.

That was democracy at work, not dastardly financiers, unscrupulous politicians, air headed aesthetes, or pastry faced tech heads.

*Many travelling students sent me pictures of the bus terminal at the heart of this study, for which much thanks.

It was a day like any other. The dog demanded a walk and food, and more of each. Coffee was worshipped.

Then I went to unload the dryer from last night’s washing. No sun for several days had led to a laundry crisis.

As I unloaded the dryer I came across two pairs of Lightfoot work socks as pictured.

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Puzzling, but as this load of washing included the cleaning rags that Paola uses, I connected the socks to the rags and the rags to her. Elementary. Somehow her socks had got mixed up with the rags. Perhaps they fell out of a bag she brought, and she did not notice when scooping the lot up. Who knows.

Mystery solved, I made a mental note to return the socks to her and to ask how they came to be there.

Ah huh. I left the socks among the cleaning materials and thought nothing more about the matter until her next scheduled appearance. Dutifully, she appeared and then said, ‘What are these socks doing here!’

She disclaimed the socks in no uncertain terms. ‘Not mine.’ I explained how I had come across them. ‘Not mine.’ she reiterated. “It is a good brand,’ I said. ‘Not mine,’ she repeated, slowly so I would get it.

I now have two additional pairs of socks. Not the sort I would have chosen for myself, but sturdy and comfortable.

Is this the washing machine compensating me for all the odd socks lost in the wash these many years?

I clocked up one hundred, that is, 1 0 0, visits to the Newtown Gym on my last annual membership. That has been a goal for years, but in the last five years I have only managed ninety plus visits on a membership. The Newtown Gym is upstairs over Civic Video and the ANZ Bank on King Street next to the old Post Office.

Newtown_Post_Office.jpg

My annual membership pays for itself after fifty visits. Were I to pay the per visit fee on each session, at fifty the cost would equal an annual membership. Get it? In that sense all trips to the Gym after fifty are free. During the working years fifty was the goal.

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The routine is to rise at 7:00 a.m. and we walk the dog around the Camperdown Park while drinking the coffee we get from Russell at the Varga Bar on the way to the Park.

varga bar.jpg The blurs are us moving along!

Katie continues on home to the white orb - Majic’s bowl - to satisfy the inner puppy, while I peel off for the Newtown Gym two - four times a week. Après le Gym I return home for ablutions and eats. Doing it this way integrates the Gym into the day and gets it done. What doing it this way requires, is a conscious decision to dress for the Gym when we leave home. Morning appointments, mean I cannot go everyday. Phew!

Dr King.jpg The mural is visible from the weight room and the Upper Torso Trainers.

Dressing for the Gym? In addition to the sweat pants and shirt, which sometimes do get sweaty, it means taking along a water bottle and some amusement, either a book (or Kindle) and the iPhone.

I do some stretches in the continuing effort to reduce infernal leg cramps to which I am liable and shift some medals to see if they are still heavy. They are.

I avoid Saturday mornings, leaving these to the taxlings who crowd the Newtown Gym. Sunday mornings are very quiet as they recover from Saturday night. It is the noise as much as the crowd on Saturday morning. The classes are conducted to noise, er, music, that is ear-splitting. Are all gym class instructors in the pay of hearing-aid manufacturers? They are certainly going to make themselves deaf, if no one else. The blast from this noise blankets the exercise bicycles in an auditory miasma that I avoid. Some of it even seeps into the weight room.

Being at the clichéd edge, I use a gym app to keep on track and keep motivated.

Gym book-0.jpeg The day book. I used to get through four or five of these a year, now it is one or two.

Gym book-1.jpeg The gym app

This gym app has proven more reliable and durable than the Jaw Bone Up I had or the Garmin I now wear as a watch.

In between bursts of high intensity training on the bicycles (upright and low by turns) or the Upper Torso Trainers, I listen to podcasts. The best companion is ‘In Our Time’ from BBC4 hosted by Lord Bragg. He is a consummate seminar leader, and each week he leads three experts through forty-five minute discussion on this or that pitched at a general audience. This is intellectual candy of a high order. The topics are many and varied from archeology, physics, life sciences, history, literature, and more. He does one a week for about thirty times in a year. A considerable backlog of podcasts is now available on the BBC4 web site and I have been selectively going through them.

Somehow he manages to get the experts to slow down, spell it out, cut the armour-plated qualifications, eliminate the incomprehensible technical details upon which their careers were made, and talk on a level that an interested auditor can follow, whether the subject is imaginary numbers, Etruscan pottery, the human gut, Byron’s ‘Childe Harold's Pilgramage,’ stellar spectroscopy, or water molecules.

In Our Time.jpg

When his Lordship is not available, I turn to the daily ‘Writer’s Almanac’ with Garrison Keillor. More than once I have followed up one of Keillor’ s passing references, this podcast is short, to read John Hassler’s wonderful novels or to be stimulated anew by Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

writers almanac.jpg

And there is always ‘Lake Wobegon Days’ out there on the edge of the Prairies.

For those who must know everything, on days when I do not go to the Newtown Gym, I lift some hand weights on the balcony of the Ack-comedy and do some leg stretches there, watching the world go by, or watching the traffic jam back-up on Erskineville Road. There are some days when I do neither the Gym nor balcony routine.

Close readers, are there any other kind, will notice that is ‘annual membership’ and not a year of which I write. The membership is suspended when I travel. Last year that probably amounted to five weeks. Ergo the one hundred visits occurred over a period of fifty-seven weeks, not fifty-two. Surely that makes someone feel better.

Varidesk has landed. Varidesk is in use! Varidesk?

In 1979 I read Scott Berg’s biography of 'Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius' (1978). On Perkins’s genius more at the end along with some other explanations of abbreviations and unusual terms used below.

berg cover.jpg

Perkins worked standing up.

perkins.jpg Max Perkins

When he joined Scribner’s one of the conditions he stipulated in his contract (I am trusting my memory on this, so check away) was that a standing desk be built into his office by the company. He may have used one earlier either as a journalist or accountant; this I cannot remember.

The standing desk was common in the 19th Century. Scrooge did not provide a chair for Bob Cratchit.

crachit desk.gif

Aware of standing desks, over the years I have seen a few. When personal computers were mounted on stands, as they were in the 1990s in the DOS days, I arranged the first one I got so that I stood at it for a few days but the stand just did not accommodate that and I gave up; the mature thing to do in that case. Of late I have tried standing at my desk and tilting the iMac screen up, and that works but my arms just are not long enough to do more than poke the keyboard or jiggle the mouse, which is enough when watching the TF2 News but nothing else.

From time to time I have read about standing desks as an antidote for we screen lumps who sit in front of a computer for hours and hours a day. I recognise myself in that characterisation. I have tried other remedies for the sedentary day. For years I put the landline telephone on a book shelf some feet from my chair so I had to get up to use it and stand while doing so. Good as far as it went. Now I have no landline and the iPhone never goes cold. I dare not put it somewhere because there it would remain until it rang. That is, I would forget it when it out of sight and go out without it. How then to ferret out crossword puzzle answers or reply when High Command calls?

Once I had classes to go to several times a week and (too) many committee meetings to attend. These got me up, and I always stood in classes for an hour or three at a time. The committee meetings were often in the quadrangle, a short hike away. The best part of these meetings was the walk there, but walking back was not so good since I often replayed the nonsense in my mind as I did so. I heard some of the most astoundingly bad arguments in some of the meetings. Really, the excuses students made for late work were better. But I digress…and find it quite enjoyable. I also had to go to the library a lot more than I do now though I still go.

These days there are no classes and committees and few library visits to stir me. I had thought to trek each day to a nearby delicatessen for lunch but that did not take. I had thought to go to one of the innumerable nearby coffees shops for an afternoon brew everyday, but… well, I don’t very often. When I have a visitor the yes but that is once a week at most. Sedentary. That is the word.

The health Nazis have again been extolling standing desks I noticed. A few journalist have tried one out and squeezed a feature piece out of it in one of the local rags. None of these accounts cover more than a week of using one and so hardly convincing, albeit a week is an eternity in a journalist’s attention span.

Most of the examples of standing desks are just that. A special purpose desk at which one stands, at which one can only stand. There is no sit option. It is all or nothing. Toss out my desk (and it is a special one, not from IKEA) and get a standing desk. If it does not work out, recover the desk. Huh? How would any of that work. Not well is the short answer. Yes, I know I could also pitch out my desk chair and get a stool to perch on, but perching is not sitting.

(Aside, RyanAir tried to get approval in the United Kingdom for flying passengers standing up and strapped to seat backs. That failed but I am sure it will come again, like Mitt Romney [just wait and see, remember cockroaches can survive for months on their backs]. If you think I am clever enough to have made that up, well thank you for the flattery, but if you look hard enough on the web confirmation will be found.)

Then along came Varidesk. [Sound of trumpets!]

One of the periodic surveys of the ills of sitting and the virtues of standing came along. There among the treadmill desks where the user powers the cell phone charger pacing along while typing away up top included the Varidesk. It combines a standing option with a sitting option. That got my attention.

(Best leave the treadmill desk in silence.)

treadmill.jpg

I had a look at the web site, more than once, and now that clever user specific software is putting Varidesk advertisements all over the Safari screen, and Facebook, too. That advertising annoyed me but I am big enough to cope with annoyance, hardened by the experience of all those committees mentioned above. I measured. I posted questions on the Varidesk website which were quickly and effectively answered. I pondered some more. I discussed it with the Great One. I went around in Libra circles. That was in 2014. I delayed over Christmas and New Year.

Then I resolved that in 2015 I would get one and use it. My thinking being that the flexibility it offered of converting from standing to sitting and back meant I did not have to stand all day everyday. If I used it standing an hour a day, and yes I will time it for external discipline, I would be doing myself some good.

Come the new year I found a few reasons to put it off, but then in a mad moment I placed the order on the website, and bang! A New Years’ resolution fulfilled! Within a couple of hours a notice hit the email inbox to say it was on the way from a warehouse in Brisbane. I ordered a big one to accommodate the two monitors I use, figuring that half measures would be an excuse not to stand at all I closed that option. What I ordered was a brute of 48 inches in length and 50+ pounds in weight. (Unimetricians will have to convert that for themselves; I cannot be bothered now because I am in the narrative flow.) Then I got an email from the courier company saying it was en route. All good. Two monitors? One for the chapter text and the other for the references in EndNote (or sometime as a cricket match).

Here is the master plan. I ordered it to be delivered to the private office I use around the corner on the grounds that the courier would carry the brute up the one flight of 15 stairs plus the five at the front door. That was not something I wanted to do. It is easier to get things delivered to home since there is more often someone there at the times couriers arrive (often 7 am). When I ordered it for the office I filled out the box for special instructions, asking for a call ahead because if I am not in the office I am usually only a few minutes away [home, gym, park, coffee shop], but experience told me no one pays any attention to those boxes, which are there to comply with ISO9000 certification, not to be used. Still do what you can do.

Then, one day upon arrival at the office I found the courier’s card. I had missed him by 15 minutes. Blast it! I had assumed that the road trip from Brisbane would take another day and had made no special effort to be at the office early on that day.

I went to the courier’s website and rescheduled for a day I was sure to could stay in office all day. Fine. Expectations built. Then the day before the appointed day I got an email telling me it would be delivered that day! Crikey! I re-arranged some tasks to be sure that I could sit there in expectation….until 6 pm before giving up and going home. Nothing. Now what? Though there was no card had I somehow missed it again? I checked the website again and found a plethora of largely incomprehensible tracking information that left me none the wiser about what, if anything, had happened that day.

The next day about mid-morning I got another email saying it would be delivered that day by 5 pm. That sound very definite and I took root in the office with the balcony doors on the street wide open. Every time I heard a diesel engine throb I bolted to the balcony to espy the delivery truck. A surprisingly large number of diesel trucks traverse Erskineville Road and the tailback of traffic puts them within my earshot. Up and down I went. Not sedentary that day, I can tell you! Whereas on most office days I get 5000 steps that day I got 8000. (Yes, I measure my sedentariness with a step counter. Ever since I did a term paper on the Cartesian method in graduate school I have been a busy little measurer.) Up and down and at 4 pm nothing. It was Friday and Monday would be the next time it might come. Up and down I went.

Then [just when all seemed lost] …I heard another diesel in idle, much horn honking and I looked onto the street and saw a five ton truck double parked, not quite blocking traffic but passing it was challenge for eye-hand coordination with inches to spare. The truck bore no logo. There was a driver in an orange visibility vest walking around the truck and along the street looking for numbers. No GPS? I yelled at him. I yelled again. He looked up and we communicated over the street noise as peak hour traffic increased. He was the Varidesk fairy come to deliver. He wanted to drop it at the door but I played hard to get and told him I could buzz him in but could not leave the room. A lie. I wanted him to lug the brute upstairs and when I saw it come out of the truck I knew I was right. Some drivers might have resisted but this one did not, and in time he came along, after shanghaiing a passer-by to help him carry it upstairs. I signed his chit, gave him a drink of cold water (it was a hot day), and $10 for his trouble. Off he went.

I surveyed the massive box.

package_1.jpg

If the Varidesk within is four feet, the box was five feet long. Maybe a little more. It was by now the witching hour and I did not want to start unpacking it, so I left it and when home to report. ‘Brute?’ The box says 38.5 kilograms. That is over the standard airline limit for a heavy bag of 70 lbs.

The next day, Saturday, I dragged the beast near the desk, unpacked, and arrayed it. I managed to lift it onto the desk by using steps and lifting one end at a time. The steps were a foot stool and then a chair. And a lot sooner than I expected I had it in place and the computer back at work. I shifted the computer gear onto the book shelf behind the desk and then slid it onto the Varidesk. I did not have to turn anything off.

Unpacking it was a task. It was well cushioned by many specially designed pieces of double ribbed cardboard. Once all the packing was removed, I eased it out. I have kept the packaging. When I asked on the website if there was someplace where I could see a Varidesk in action I was told to keep the packaging and send it back if I did not like it because there is no display model in Sydney, or anywhere else. That is the business plan. The testimonials I had read on the Varidesk website were good and more varied and substantial than the journalistic accounts but all them referred to a month’s use and no more. That seemed too short to convince me, a honeymoon not a marriage.

I got it in place. I have moved it up and I have moved it down. Several times.

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I typed this standing to this point and I have now shifted to sitting. When it is elevated there are several different locked levels and I am testing them to find the one that works best for me. I will also have to get used to carefully bending down to open desk drawers so as not to clonk my head on straightening up. The same drill that is needed with the rear hatch of the Mazda.

IMG_1111.JPG See!

I will use my red owl egg timer to track my use. Did I say that already?

Owl timer.jpg

There is also a companion app on the Varidesk website to time sitting and standing and I will explore that and report another time.

Bledders can expect further reports on Varidesk. Stay tuned.

The experience with the courier could have been worse. One courier company I have experienced drops the card without ringing the bell and dumps all deliveries at the nearest depot. Doing it this way means the courier moves faster and basically makes only one stop per depot zone. It thus offers a cheaper price for this lack of service. It also means I have to lug home the object of my desire from the depot, and sometimes that is quite a load. In this case impossible, doubly so because the local depot, a newsagent on King Street, is nearly inaccessible by car. It is no one’s job at the depot to help a punter get the goods into the car. That is very clear. To see the pile of boxes in the Aladdin’s cave at the depot is to understand, partly, why. There would be no end to it.

Explanatory Notes.

Perkins was the Scribner’s editor who discovered and brought to publication novels by William Faulkner, Scott Fitzgerald, and Tom Wolfe. Readers owe him lot. None of these three was easy to work with or to convince Scribners' board to accept. Faulkner’s little world of Yoknapatawpha County did not light up New York City’s masters of culture. Fitzgerald never hit a deadline no matter how many times it had been extended and advances ran through his fingers as though he were one the rich characters in his novels. Worst of all was Wolfe whose prose poured like Niagara Falls, 900,000 words at a time to be cut into a novel a quarter that size by Perkins.

DOS is Disc Operating System that spun the disc and blinked a green light long before Windows.

'Unimetricians' are those who know only the metric system. Me, I am bimetric and can do inches or centimetres, pounds or kilogram.

TF2 is the Télévision Francaise 2, or just France 2. I record the evening news from SBS and watch it as my French lesson three or four times a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. It runs on SBS without subtitles.

Thomas Wolfe was a big man, nearly as big as his books. He was 6’ 9” and wrote on a standing desk of his own, an ice box. I have seen pictures of his composing in long hand on the refrigerator top and flicking the pages into a crate. He would do this for 36 hours at a time and then fall to the kitchen floor and sleep on a pillow he left there for that purpose. This crate might run to several thousand pages which would go to Perkins for typing and editing! Out of this maelstrom came ‘Look Homeward, Angel,’ ‘Of Time and the River,’ ‘Web and the Rock,’ and ‘You can't go home again.’ Each runs to 500 pages after the Perkins fine tooth comb.

Avid bleaders know that I collected, sorted, described, and analyzed one year’s worth of junk mail in the letter box at the Ack-comedy in Newtown.

The totals were impressive and depressing, the more so when multiplied by the number of postal addresses in Newtown. Several tons of unread material each month.

Now that I knew the world, I set about changing it. (An echo of one of Karl Marx’s more declamatory remarks.)

Junk Mail slot.jpg

I had thought to stem the tide of junk mail in my own letterbox and then promote that method to others in the name of the Junk Mail Liberation Movement, of JuM_LiM, as I styled it. Some organization, effort, and persistence would pay off, I thought. Hope makes fools of us all. (Hark, that is Aristotle at a far remove.)

In the action phase, I started to keep a register of every item of junk mail in my letter box, sending it back to its origin with a letter, email, or note asking that no future items be delivered to my box number.... I did not expect it to be easy but I am made of stern stuff, after all I sat through StarTrek Into the Darkness. After that experience, anything seems easy.

I registered the first fifty items I received over a two-month period. A direct approach with a personal request, phrased ever so politely, would get attention, and lead to action. Well, that is what I thought. Hope, it deceives all.

Indeed I had feedback from one of the first I contacted that was contrite and apologetic. Ah ha, thought I, this is the right track. That was a King Street estate agent.

Not to be. Within a week I got another junk drop from that very same estate agent. There are many agents in the office and though one was contrite the others happy trespassed on my letter box to dump their junk.

In another case, since the junk drops were every two weeks, I sent three letters to one local restaurant asking to be excluded from the junk drops. To no avail. They just kept coming.

I sometimes used the Contact Us feature on web sites, or direct email. In other cases I found a postal address, either on the company web site or in the online telephone book, and sent a letter. Some web sites had no address, no email, and no Contact Us, but only a phone number and I drew the line there. No telephone calls. Nor would I go to the local restaurant (ever again) and demand exclusion. The exercise is not about confrontation, but rather to try to find a user-friendly way to diminish the tiresome tide of junk dumped in the letter box.

I also searched the web for ideas. Australia Post, amid denials that it ever delivers junk mail, suggests a No Junk Mail sticker. Tried that. For the Hair Splitters I added a No Unaddressed Advertising Material sticker. I also studied the Australian Catalogue Association web site. Its advice was focussed on addressed catalogues, as was the Australia Post web site. This advice is repeated on many other green web sites, as if it does any good, such is the paucity of creative thinking. Addressed catalogues are not the problem.

There are many web site offering a variety of No Junk Mail stickers but none that evaluate the effect of this stickers. I have it is only slightly greater than 0, but not much. Harvey Norman and Mitre Ten junk mail walkers respect my sign but not any others.

junk mailman.gif

The problem is individual flyers from all manner of small businesses. The problem is not catalogues from major retailers, at least not any more.

But I did notice when I looked further afield that in both Britain and the United States there are more resources to a householder in the resistance to junk mail. The letter box is, after all, private property, and throwing one’s trash into it is a trespass. That conclusion has been reached in some jurisdictions in Great Britain. The United States Postal Service has also been vigorous in preventing interference with the mails, e.g., letter boxes stuffed with junk so that the mail cannot be inserted. All of that is better than nothing, but it does not seem to have much effect in either country.

Indeed I have seen that the cataloguers from major retailers in Australia argue that their catalogues are read by recipients (usually based on survey of shareholders’ households, always inspect the data). Be that as it may, the major retailers in my case do respect the No Junk Mail stickers. It is the local, minor retailers who do not.

In that debate I noticed that the industry association for producing the paper that the junk mail is on, also has lobbied against any legislation that would diminish the amount of junk mail in Australia. Think about that. It’s jobs...first to make the paper and then to dispose of it. Largely unproductive and more than a little destructive work, but work all the same. In the same vein I found a few angry diatribes from individuals who claim to derive a livelihood as a junk mail walker defending their right to dump trash in my letter box, and denouncing any complaint as a threat to their livelihood.

No doubt some hardworking Germans said the same about gas chambers.

What I was looking for was some way to report the offenders, if for no other purpose than social awareness. I found no recourse available in Sydney, in New South Wales, or in Australia.

In the end, a few weeks ago I gave up this round of my war on junk mail and scrapped the register I was keeping in a spreadsheet. This is a truce, not a peace. It is round two with the prospect of a round three reserved.


Glossary
A bleader is a reader of a blog.
The Ack-comedy is my private office in Newtown.

A blizzard of juvenile advertisements penetrates the blog every day, between 20 and 40 a day. It is an unwelcome task to delete them. So I have barred comments for the time being to avoid this trouble. Though I welcome comments, I do not welcome spam in any form. The ratio of spam to comment must be 1000 to 1, so I decided to stop comments.

There is a video on You Tube that summarizes the Best and Brightest Showcase for IVth Honours Research. The address is below. Cut-and-paste into the browser address line, and have a look.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPUE9FoIoDs

I also loaded it directly onto Facebook.

Hyperlinking does not work on this platform.

I groused about the junk mail filling up the letter box at Ack-comedy so much that I decided to do something about it. I put one sticker on the mail box banning junk mail and when that seemed to do no good, I added a second larger one that appealed to the Green conscience.

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The second sticker did not seem to have any effect either, though there is one honourable exception mentioned at the end.

In the absence of riding shot gun on the letter box, I decided to compile a year’s worth of junk mail from ANZAC day 2012 to ANZAC day 2013. Bear in mind that the building alone has 42 letter boxes so everything I received is a fraction of the total in this building let alone the surrounding streets. Since we live around the corner I dealt with a repeat of the same items at home where they went directly from the letter box to the council recycling bin, usually without going in the front door.


But to return to the description, here is what I found. The pile measures 10 centimeters in height.

IMG_0953.jpg


It contained 241 separate pieces and weighed 1.935 kilograms. A propos of the context, multiply that number of 241 by 42 and conclude that 10,122 items of junk mail were delivered to 1 Linthorpe Street or 84 kilograms of dead weight.

The items fell into a few categories. Real estate; restaurants, food, and drink; government and politics; and miscellaneous. To review each in turn, real estate contributed 52 pieces of which I could reuse 3 in my personal recycling effort, that is, print on the blank back side. They varied from handsome cards to 256-colour brochures and flyers. I responded to none of them. The effort and cost of design, printing, and distribution was wasted in its entirety as is the effort of recipients in disposing of it, the council in paying for it to be collected and trucked to a recycling centre....

The restaurants ran to 70 items. Many were from pizza places usually emphasizing delivery. None came from the restaurants we frequent on King Street, I am happy to say. I am unhappy to say that 24 pieces, more than a third of restaurant items and a tenth of the total of all items came from a single noodle bar on King Street. With dogged persistence these 24 items were each very plain and all identical. No colour, no flair, but repetition and more repetition. I have sworn never to eat there and to tell others not to do so either. It seems to be my only form of reciprocity. Yes, I thought about going it and asking to be excluded but apart from cementing my reputation as a nutter, I could not imagine that accomplishing anything.

I thought about inserting some photographs of offending items but decided against it as that would only give them more exposure.

Another stack was a newsprint item call the Inner City Weekender. Never having opened one, I have no idea of its contents, but I suspect much advertising for real estate and restaurants.

Then there is the government and politics pile, numbering 33. This pile included many notices about works on the roads and nearby rail line. Others were notices from the City Sydney Council about waste removal and recycling. Then there were others that were, let us say, community building notices, inevitably featuring local councilors or the Mayor. I will accept these as necessary. I was able to recycle 6 of the items for printing.

During this period there was one local election for the City of Sydney. A dozen or so items were letter drops by office-seekers, known as rent-seekers in economics.

Finally, we come to miscellaneous of 85 items. Most of these came from small businesses offering services from carpentry, to foot reflexology, house cleaning, dog walking, and the like. These are all very small businesses.

There was also a drop from a retirement home in distant Lane Cove, and however distant Lane Cove is in kilometers, in ambience it is an alien world compared to Newtown. There was also a drop from one giant corporation, Telecom. Yes, I know that in order to distance itself from its own incompetent past it changed its name to Telstra, to usher in a new era of incompetence. But under the make-up it is Telecom unalloyed.

A quick look at Google is depressing. There are online ads, several, to recruit junk mail walkers all over Sydney. And an even more depressing is a news item that claimed junk mail did work. I suppose one hit in a thousand pays for it.

Technical matter for nerds.

The Ack-comedy is the private office I use in a nearby apartment building.

Junk mail is material in the letter box that is not addressed by name. See the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advertising_mail

I excluded post addressed to previous occupants, which I dutifully mark Unknown at this Address and Return to Sender and drop in the slot at the Newtown Post Office. [I have printed Avery labels to affix to such returned mail.] I also excluded mail addressed to me, though there is little of that these days.

I have excluded from this account the largest single item. The Inner West Courier which is dropped on the mail boxes porch, a pile of 30 or so wrapped in plastic. It remains there four or five days until the building attendant dumps them in the trash. Maybe I should borrow one such pile for a weigh in and count. Since it is never in my letter box I left it out for the moment.

Nor did I emphasize the mess these unwanted items lead to on the porch. Though there is a disposal basket left there for such detritus some dwellers cannot seem to hit it, so many items are on the floor, left there for others to pick up. Maybe I should photograph that, too.

One honourable exception: The Mitre 10 drops are occasionally to be seen hanging out of other boxes but not from mine after the second sticker. Clearly the dropper takes note of the signs and excludes some. Thank you Mitre 10. There may be others who also exercised a like discretion but I did not detect them. The Mitre 10 examples shows that the others could do so, as well. Thus they act knowingly and culpably.

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I recently published a piece titled 'Approaches to Learning and Teaching: Some Observations,' in Analytic Teaching and Philosophical Praxis, Volume 33 (2012), pp: 65-71.

atpheading.png

To have a look: select, copy, and past the link below into a browser, and click enter.

http://www.viterbo.edu/uploadedFiles/academics/letters/philosophy/atp/Jackson%20WIP.pdf

The tools for underlining and hyperlinking remain off-line.

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Those good old days! Before Dawkins. (Don't know what a Dawkins is? Hit google for "John Dawkins.")

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We are taking another winter vacation in Waikiki.

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Over the next weeks I will post my own exit poll on my four decades at the University of Sydney.

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"Are you a reader?"
Should one admit to being a reader? That is the question.

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I keep going on about the dangers of passion.

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I offered my arguments for plod over passion awhile back. Bleader, if you missed it do not pass Go until you have. It is on 12 August 2008. Click here http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/theoryandpractice/2008/08/professionalism_over_passion_a.html

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The attached file is the text of a talk I gave on teaching a time ago. It is based in part of research into learning in higher education, but of course reflects my own experience.
Click on it and have a look.

Download file


Click on the icon below to see a message of greetings to students enrolled in GOVT3993 in 2009.

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Plod makes the world go around, not the boring declaration of passion.

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That means goodbye.

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Culture good, but so is commerce.

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The cry of every commuter.

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Who does subtitles for a 175 minutes film and then throws them away?

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Utopian communities are efforts to put theory into practice.

6 comments | Read more...

Who can resist the obvious. We are all celebrities.

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I am desperately seeking Deutschlandspiel .

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I got this unbidden email a few days ago. At first I thought it had something to with this blog, though I found that unlikely.

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Utopia in theory and practice. It's all in the black.

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If the celebrities are leaders, who are their followers? And why?

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Journalists have long since given up reporting facts and letting viewers and readers draw their own conclusions.

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Download file

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In October and November, when my duties as Acting Director for the Institute for Teaching and Learning at an end, I took two weeks of annual leave, and another week to conference leave. For the first two weeks it was family affair in Waikiki. Ahh…
Then I went on to – wait for it – Ottawa for a conference. Quite a change in climate. Along the way I stopped to visit still other family in Hastings.

I am still learning about picture sizes, links, and the like. So this entry is pretty uneven.

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A record of my visit to Nagoya University and Tokyo in September 2006. Some business and some sight seeing. All in all we found Tokyo and Nagoya very accessible. Arigato!

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How can a university that thinks of itself primarily as a research university (in say selecting, tenuring, and promoting academic staff) ensure good quality teaching? Students and taxpayers think a university exists mainly to teach students, but few members of a research university think that. Indeed some think that teaching is at the expense of research. What can be done to keep a balance between the two?

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What’s the story on literal translations?

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Edwina asked about refereeing, Tash about popular press, and Lilian about links to classics.

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I travelled for three weeks, mainly to attend two conferences (in Utrecht and in Coventry) to represent the University. While travelling I alsol did some library research.

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Below is a link to my publication list. Gradually I am adding links to electronic sources.

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Thoughts on the canon of poltical theory and life.
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