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modernthings.org @pfctdayelise

January 26

Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day. My impression is in recent years it's been about equally split between "Invasion" (commemorating) and "Survival" (celebrating), whereas this year seemed firmly on the side of "Invasion". It makes sense to me that this comes first, because there is no other day to commemorate the losses that dozens of nations experienced when white people arrived. The losses that white people deliberately inflicted. There were fewer calls for "Change the date", because that implies one still wants a day to celebrate. We have so much more acknowledging to do.

Listening to 3CR I heard a recording of the Dawn Service held this morning, I think for the second year. This seems a very smart and just ritual for Aboriginal people to have, adopting maybe the most sacred non-religious ritual in white Australian culture.

I was born in Yorta Yorta country, but grew up in a few places, including Yuin country. Now I'm making my life in the Kulin nation. To look at the map (https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia) and really reckon with hundreds of distinct societies is an overwhelming thing.

With the impact of the bushfires, I've been wondering if white people have been making the connection to land that I guess is part of the way Aboriginal people relate to land. That it is part of us, we are part of it, and we have a duty to care for it. Maybe for a minute but I'm not sure it lasts.

As it happens I am reading Stan Grant's "Talking to my country", an excellent book to be reading at this time. I picked it up from the library in curiosity after hearing him speak in the Adam Goodes doco last year. He wrote this book after that all went down in 2015.

There are so many ways that white Australia fails its first peoples. From deaths in custody and racist policing, laws that were called to be abolished decades ago but remain on the books. To shamefully ignoring the Uluru Statement from the Heart and continuing to have no acknowledgement of indigeneous people in our constitution.

One of the rallying calls from this year was "Pay the rent". Midnight Oil sang Beds are Burning in 1987 and we've made so little progress since then, the tune hasn't aged at all.

Some groups I learned about:

Living with climate dread (Unearthed: Last days of the Anthropocene)

The soundtrack for climate dread is surely Radiohead's Amnesiac. "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case"...

There was a moment before New Years Eve where I felt surrounded by fire. Most of the Great Dividing Range and Adelaide were burning. I felt keenly aware of the leafy Dandenongs and Black Saturday areas, twelve years regrown and ready to burn again. A fire broke out in an outer suburb of Melbourne and it seemed there was nowhere safe. I felt a sensation that I had previously only felt while swimming in the ocean: the enormity of nature, of the planet, and what a conceit, what a joke it was to think of taming it. I could learn to adopt the rhythms of the sea and I could get along okay, make my way, but if I tried to fight the waves directly I would tire myself for naught and be tossed aside without consequence. This is the sensation of witnessing the summer of #AustraliaBurns.

Everyone is unsettled. It is too large to comprehend, too big to hold in mind. I spent a week with my family in the country. "There must be a lot of arsonists", my aunt offered on Christmas Day, apropos of nothing. I thought this was a pre-emptive clap against mentioning climate change, but now I think it is more a plea for a human sized problem. If it is arsonists, we will be able to do something.

Post-Christmas lunch we were sitting on the lawn, deck chairs in a circle looking over the potato crop in the front paddock. My uncle raised the topic of how awful the bushfires were and said something about the causes. It seemed to hang in the air, but maybe that was only in my mind. I considered, and decided that I would be the fly in the ointment who brought up climate change. My cousins' seven kids played on the lawn while we chatted. Imagine never hearing the adults speak of climate change except to hear it pooh-poohed. Let them know there are other ways of living, they need not be alone.

My uncle exploded, as I and undoubtedly all my grown cousins expected. How could one degree of warming cause this? he demanded. I struggled to piece together my understanding of statistics and systemic environmental effects while he composed himself and declared it not worth debating as we wouldn't change each other's minds. I agreed and felt guilty for being such an impolite guest. Climate change will happen but I still want my family to tolerate my company some years more. Yet maybe I need to be prepared to have a hundred times more impolite conversations, if we will ever make any collective progress. This part's not clear to me yet.

I reactivated my lapsed library membership and tracked down a copy of Meanjin's Spring 2019 issue, published mid September, which has an essay called "Unearthed: Last days of the Anthropocene" by James Bradley. It talks about how a certain scale of climate effects are already locked in, yet we still largely talk as if this is up for debate, and we might pull the global action equivalent of an all-nighter and magically ace the test. Nope. this exam has progressive grading and we've already failed the past couple of decades. We're now in the position of continuing our denial and flaming out spectacularly, or making a last ditch effort and maybe, *maybe* having a shot of squeaking through on a passing grade.

Bradley says "I don't know how to think about this, or what to do...for the most part we manage to distract ourselves with the business of today and tomorrow and the day after that, carefully avoiding discussion of what happens in a decade or two. ...We cannot talk about the problem because we are caught between our desire to act and our awareness that we are part of the problem." I found this essay a memorable distillation of the feeling of one's mind going blank with terror, dread and inevitability, trying to comprehend what climate change means and will mean.

It also offers some markers of hope, but they are less well fleshed out. Maybe because so much needs to change, it's not clear exactly in which direction, or how it will start.

I ate a beautifully ripe cherry this afternoon. Plump and rich. What a luxury. Is this something I'll recount one day as a tale of the olden times? I'm going to get a mortgage, but who can say if the banks will outlast it. Bradley mentions "the dual necessity of pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will". We currently practice the doublethink of knowing what is coming and doing nothing about it. somehow, we have to come to another kind of doublethink, knowing what is coming, and acting anyway.

I don't know what that looks like, but I'm going to keep alert for signs.

As Ask Polly advises, "Are you an asshole if you don’t choose despair every single day when you wake up, simply because other people are suffering somewhere? I think not...[L]ook for joy everywhere you can, every day, from the first hour you're awake until the moment you fall asleep. Stop torturing yourself and make joy the first priority of every single day."

What is a splashback? Buying in to Nightingale Housing

After attending an info session about Nightingale Housing I found myself searching for accounts of other buyers, trying to figure out if the whole thing was an elaborate scam or legit. But the buyers were silent, or private (I do miss the era of blogging) and all I could find were borderline puff pieces about how revolutionary and stunningly architectural it all was. So here is my account.

In June this year a friend mentioned Nightingale Housing to me. They happened to have the last info session for one of their new buildings, Parklife, that week, so I went along with a friend (my trusty real estate encourager). A few weeks later the deadline for the ballot closed. And a couple of weeks after that I got a phone call offering me my second choice in the ballot. So for me it all happened in about two months, although some people have followed NH for years and ballotted multiple buildings without any luck.

The promise, or premise, of NH is "triple bottom-line" housing: financially, socially and environmentally sustainable. Broadly speaking, this means:

  • Mid-rise inner city apartment buildings with architect design, centred in Brunswick
  • Energy efficient building design (Minimum 7.5 star NatHERS thermal rating)
  • Owner-occupier expectations

In practice:

  • Purchase via a ballot process
  • 20 year resale restriction (or covenant)
  • No car parking (sites are close to several PT options and provide ample bike parking)
  • No ensuite bathrooms
  • Communal laundry (no individual laundries)
  • Communal rooftop spaces - garden, meals, play
  • Above-average allocations for social housing, and priority ballot for "key workers" (teachers, nurses, etc)

I haven't mentioned here that they are "affordable", because I don't know enough to really evaluate that. There are certainly cheaper options on the market in a similar area, that are similarly specced in terms of size, and they generally come with a carspace. But that is housing stock from pre-NatHERS-requirements, so they probably have thermal ratings of like...1? Where 0 is a tent, and 10 is you literally never need a heater or fan to be comfortable all year round. The NatHERS website says, "Heating and cooling is responsible for the majority of the average Australian household’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions." According to this site (https://restwell.com.au/energy_rating.shtml), "Houses built in 1990 averaged about 1 star on the NatHERS scale. Before the introduction of national energy efficiency regulations for houses in 2003, less than one per cent of Australian houses achieved 5 stars." The minimum for new developments is now generally 6 stars.

I am not sure the NatHERS rating has really caught on as a data point to evaluate in buying a place, but for me I think this is incredibly valuable. My NH building is targeting 9 stars, which is... swoons I extremely love that I won't have an aircon. They are miserable things.

Back to affordability. I guess the test would be, if a commercial non-NH builder built the same thing, how much would they sell it for? And that's a thing I just don't know how to evaluate. And also, surely affordability is about a comparison to average incomes, rather than cost of goods? Dunno. I'm in a privileged position, having saved a decent deposit thanks to a generous salary working in software.

While reading about the risks of buying an apartment off the plan and how to evaluate real estate options, one comment that stuck with me was along the lines of: The real benefit of having a mortgage is the enforced saving. At the end of 20-30 years, you'll have an investment, and along the way you'll have had your own stable home. So if you are not buying a place as an investment, it doesn't greatly matter if what you're buying is the absolute best deal.

The owner-occupier expectations are significant, IMO. Firstly, buildings targeting investors don't care if the apartments are actually shittily designed, small bedrooms, poorly lit, poky, cheap fittings and fixtures. Secondly, there is something to be said for having stable neighbours in sustaining community. As a hither-to lifelong renter, I don't want to say that renters cannot be kind neighbours, but they obviously have less at stake. The closer living of apartments means that 'What we owe to each other' consideration is more important. Given I still live in a sharehouse, it won't be a surprise that a sense of community in housing is a plus for me.

Some of these restrictions, I think it remains to be seen how they play out in practice... and how enforceable they might be or not be.

My building, "Parklife", is one of 6 buildings in a single development called Nightingale Village. These buildings are over 3 adjacent streets, and have a common underground carpark for carshare cars (no resident cars!). So this development is definitely more ambitious than the previous NH developments, only 2 of which are complete so far (the Commons and N1), although another 2 are close (N2 and N3). I naively thought that after balloting the Village they would slow down to get the bulk of these completed, but no... a month or two ago they announced a new development called Nightingale Anstey. They could rename this block surrounded by the train line, Albion St, Sydney Rd and Hope St a little mini suburb 'Nightingale'.

I'm kind of glad I didn't find out about NH until Parklife was balloting, because I don't know how I would have felt if I had gotten into one of the other buildings and then Parklife had been released. Truly a massive selling point for me is the promise of a park to the north of the building. This is being built by the local council during 2020. (NV is due to complete mid 2021.) NGL, the vision of an apartment facing north and overlooking a park is the actual dream and what really converted me from considering this an intriguing idea, to my future home. Every day I ride through Temple Park on my way to work, it is a lovely modest park, lushly green, with a warehouse conversion set of apartments to the south. I never really tried to buy one of them, but it has long been a fantasy. The other aspect of the fantasy is having a lazy greyhound to sleep in the sun with me <3

For me the other factor in coming around to being a mortgage-haver (which I am not yet - I have paid 5% deposit with my contract of sale, and the balance is due, ie my home loan has to be arranged, once it is complete and the bank can value it) is coming to grips with the amount of debt I would need to have to get something that I really think I could be comfortable in for 20+ years. For me that is a 2BR. It gives me the flexibility of having a housemate, or a spare room for friends and family to visit. I feel conscious of how often I am camped in other people's spare rooms and I have not had yet the capacity to return the favour. Initially I definitely plan to have a housemate but having the option to go solo is comforting.

I guess I don't know yet if they live up to the hype. Is the design actually that liveable, soundproof and efficient? I guess check back in 2-4 years and we'll see :)

PS. A splashback is the area behind the sink/stovetop in a kitchen. One of those terms that you literally never hear as a renter but is somehow critically important as an owner :)

Book reviews

I recently went to Canberra for four days for a family visit, so it precipitated a lot of reading!

Content note: rape, institutional abuse

"The Natural way of things" by Charlotte Wood

This work of horror fiction is set in the now, described as The Handmaid's Tale meets Wake in Fright, which is apt. But scarily, the book is tamer than our own recent history. Wood has described how she was partly inspired by listening to the Radio National story "Exposed to Moral Danger", which describes the Hay Institution for Girls which was a prison for "uncontrollable" girls in NSW in the 1960s and 70s. Girls wound up there after being hard to manage at another institute. They were sedated as they were sent to Hay, and on arrival had their hair cut off. The whole thing was run in a militaristic fashion, girls were not allowed to talk to each other or even look at anything other than the floor. They were made to do pointless hard labour and solitary confinement was not uncommon, not to mention physical or sexual abuse from the guards. One of the girls was sent there after she told the child welfare department her stepfather was abusing her. As Wood comments in an interview, often these were girls who were being punished for speaking up about how they had been abused, only to be abused further.

...Back to the book. As the cover documents, it has been nominated or won numerous awards, including the 2016 Stella Prize, since being published in 2015. It's in one sense easy to read, a compulsive page-turner - I really wanted to find out what was going on, what was going to happen (the foreboding atmosphere is intense). However it's not exactly an enjoyable read. Reading it is not the graphic self-inflicted misery of watching The Handmaid's Tale series, but the characters are just frustratingly weak. Not weakly written. It's hard not to judge them, especially in the ending. I think it is the case Wood is doing something other than what I wanted. Especially after learning about Hay and reflecting on the novel as a whole, I think I will read it again and see if that gives me a different experience.

"Your own kind of girl: A memoir" by Clare Bowditch


I know Clare Bowditch from her music. Others might know her from radio, or her business ventures, or her acting role on Offspring. This is her first book, a memoir covering her childhood to mid 20s. She covers how family tragedy shaped her childhood, her difficult relationship with her body, anxiety, and finding the confidence to start her music career. It's incredibly easy to read, and I look forward to listening to her albums again with a new eye.

"Salt: Selected stories and essays" by Bruce Pascoe

This is a collection of 35 short fiction and non-fiction pieces, mixed throughout under but grouped into 6 sections - Country, Lament, Sea Wolves, Embrasure, Tracks, Culturelines. Several of the essays are written around the time of Dark Emu, I think, and repeat the themes of that book (which I haven't read, eek, but it's definitely next on my list), such as the case that there is evidence that Aboriginal people farmed and used other technology, however this is inconvenient for the colonial/Christian conquering mindset and has been deliberately overlooked by Australian scholarship and history. The fiction is mostly centred on male characters, and all of the stories have a natural connection to the land or animals that is...grounding and intriguing, as a white city-dwelling reader. I would look up after finishing a story consider the world around me anew. A collection of short pieces is perfect for our recently weakened attention spans. I look forward to rereading this one, too.

Name v2 (Tableflip Quarterly)

I came up with this name ages ago and didn't have a particular project for it. I figured it would be vaguely satirical feminist goings-on. Since this won't be quarterly not purely focused on enraging things, it's a perfectly misleading name, why not.

Levels of feminism at a women in STEM event

Level 0. At least some of the speakers are women. Negative experiences are not acknowledged. Cheerleading efforts. 'Girl power'

Level 1. Speakers specifically discuss the experience of (some) women and suggest ways women can be more successful within the existing system. Negative experiences may be acknowledged briefly but not examined. 'Encourage and empower'

Level 2. Speakers acknowledge stereotypes and other 'passive' biases affect women. 'We all have unconscious bias'

Level 3. Speakers acknowledge 'active' bias such as sexism and harassment affect women. 'Change the system'

Level 4. Speakers acknowledge intersectional feminism and that there is no universal experience of women. 'Destroy the kyriarchy'

Meetup review - YOW! Night with Angie Jones

(I don't know if this is really a review. Maybe just a spotty recap. But it strikes me people rarely share their experience of meetups, when I think it would be super interesting and useful!)

I have been to a few YOW! events. Tbh I still don't know what their deal is. Are they a NFP? Or it's really a business based on running tech events? Or is there some other agenda? I'm used to the open source world where nearly everything is run by volunteers and on a shoestring budget. At any rate, I find their events vaguely corporate but well run and with a friendly vibe. I had a good chat with a few people before the event started. There was quite a decent gender mix. Not everyone was in QA/testing which is also cool! I think around 30-40 people came to this event.

Angie Jones is a developer advocate with Applitools, but it would be more appropriate to say she's a tester advocate. I've followed her on Twitter for a while now (@techgirl1908) and been really liking what she does, so I was rapt to see that she was doing this event so I could see her talk without attending a whole big conference!

She talked about visual testing, and demoed her company's product which uses AI to make smarter than pixel perfect image comparisons for regression testing a web or mobile application. It looks like it's very simple to integrate into a test suite. Screenshots get uploaded into their cloud platform, which has a very nice UI for comparing image changes, highlighting differences, marking a new image as the baseline (ie approving the change), and even annotating regions to ignore.

If I was working in a CD environment, with releases going to prod with no explicit human review, I would be drafting the email to my boss about how we need this tool instead of writing this post! It looks like a great way to pick up visual design bugs without the flakiness or overhead of managing your own pixel perfect image comparisons.

My hesitations would be around the price (lowest tier is $449/month and that's presumably US$, ouch), and divorcing the test contents from the test files and the repo for that matter. If there was a mass export of images that could be used to dump the current images back into the repo (say, in the event that Applitools stopped being used), that would make me feel more comfortable in adopting it. (That may exist, I haven't checked.)

Angie had such a refreshing style, chill yet confident and I would guess very true to herself. You love to see it!

Thanks to Angie and YOW! for a solid evening.

Thoughts on "Prognosis" by Sarah Vallance

Content notes: death, dementia, disability

(Spoilers ahead.) "Prognosis" is a memoir by Sarah Vallance, recounting her experience of suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI), her recovery and her life afterwards. It's a pretty incredible story of survival, but what stuck out to me was her attitude and almost preoccupation with euthanasia rather than living in a nursing home or similar care. It starts with her father, who died from cancer. In his final days he asks Sarah for help to die, which she doesn't give, and that haunts her as she sees his suffering. Later, a decade or more after her TBI when she has recovered to a pretty decent cognitive baseline, she starts experiencing "new" cognitive problems. She becomes "sick with fear" that she now has dementia: "I had already decided the only sensible thing would be to kill myself as soon as I learned I had a form of dementia." She then spends pretty much seven years in "anxiety and depression", waiting for the dementia/diagnosis which does not come. At least not to her; her mother is diagnosed with it. She eventually finds a new perspective on life with her psychiatrist and a new relationship (with a doctor who specialises in dementia, no less).

The view of "I would rather kill myself than be put in a nursing home" is not an uncommon one. It is little interrogated. It's not far from "I would rather be dead than disabled", which is often expressed even to the face of disabled people. Disabled lives are often not valued by non-disabled people, and it makes the relationship between disability and medically assisted death (MAD, a.k.a. euthanasia) very fraught. Too often decisions are made for disabled people, not by them, and it can be literally life threatening.

In the past year or two I have learned a fair bit about dementia, as a result of my own mother's diagnosis with FTD. The Wicking Centre's "Understanding Dementia" MOOC is an outstanding resource here. They do a great job at not objectifying patients but centring their experience.

I don't know if their course explicitly goes over this, but I think one thing I came away from it with was realising that the pain of caregivers (for example, seeing their parent or partner forget who they are) is not necessarily a reflection of the pain of the person with dementia.

Wendy Mitchell, in her book "Somebody I used to know" and her ongoing daily blog "Which me am I today?", talks about how with dementia she lives much more in the present. In "Prognosis", after Sarah's mother's diagnosis (her mother goes to live in a nursing home, which comes with no comment despite Sarah's feelings about that for herself), their relationship improves dramatically as her mother almost changes personality and becomes friendly rather than combative, as she has been Sarah's whole life. So I think the experience of having dementia is not necessarily one of constant pain.

At the same time, in the late stages of dementia, I know the person typically is in a lot of physical pain, unable to care for themselves or communicate, and not showing any signs of enjoying life. I guess there is no bright line about where MAD may be appropriate and that is what makes it so tricky. There was a recent Canadian case which is a major precedent, for MAD for a dementia patient.

I guess any time someone goes through a life-altering experience, there is a period of adjustment and perhaps mourning. It's notable to me that Sarah never seeks, for example, a support group for people with TBIs. (That's partly projection, because that's what I would do, and the memoir does reveal that Sarah has always been more of a loner.) People who go through these experiences are maybe often not keen to identify as people with disabilities. I think partly it throws up the assumptions and value-beliefs that people without disabilities have, and it's uncomfortable to recognise these.

Maybe the problem with the attitude "I would rather kill myself than be put in a nursing home" is that it underestimates the human capacity to adapt. It won't be life as you know it, but that doesn't mean it will be devoid of love and joy.

About the name (tritestuff)

When I've blogged in the past, I've tended to write myself into a corner by creating a self-expectation that my posts be novel, insightful, fully referenced and 'complete'.

So the name is not a self-deprecation, but a deliberate setting of low expectations to myself.

Names under consideration:

  • Hackneyed, Dull, Unreferenced & Incomplete (sounds like a cool gang)
  • Worn out, witless & wanting
  • Dull & trite