Is my phone eavesdropping, or what?

I don’t need to tell you my story about youtube ads that seem to be chosen based on the content of a conversation I’m having IRL because you have your own story about that.

Lets go deeper and crazier. Have you got at story where you were thinking about something and then saw social media react? Here’s mine: I was thinking about someone I used to know (and aren’t to troubled that they left my life), then about someone I met through said person, and then thought “I wonder what they’re up to”. The next time I logged on to facebook, the first friend request was for that person (the other suggestions don’t change too much.

The quartz article Your Phone is not Recording You- The Truth Might Be Even Creepier  argues that the big companies have a kind of model of you on their servers that predicts your thoughts so accurately that it gives the impression it’s actually listening. Which is a pretty good model. Tristan Harris calls it a voodoo doll, in the source video.

I’m sure that it’s possible that Facebook isn’t upfront about whether their software records, but it’s irrelevant for my case, I didn’t say anything. It could be a coincidence too, but there’s no post in that, so lets keep moving.

There’s a great quote from a poker player who was getting nailed by the AI Liberatus:

It felt like I was playing against someone who was cheating, like it could see my cards. I’m not accusing it of cheating, it was just that good.

I’m not suggesting that there is some mysterious breakthrough in which all AI programs are connected and consciously reading our minds, the poker AI is specifically for playing poker. This is an emergent phenomena though, showing that he thoughts we considered internal and private are exposed through our actions and decipherable by programs.



Buy it, Use it, Break it, Fix it

The Ethics of Repairing Vs Replacing

You probably have a story like this: I call up to get a price for the replacement piece of glass for the surface of an electric cook-top. $250. The person on the other end of the phone says, you can get a whole new cook-top for $300.

cook-top = phone = washingmachine = whatever

How do you look at this? A whole new cook-top for $50, bargain. I get a shiny new thing. An update. An up grade. Its simple. A no-brainer.

I’d hate to try and unpack the alternative. Lets unpack the alternative: Get someone else to repair it for more than the cost of a new one. Ok, no one’s going to do that. How ’bout buy the part and save $50. Save the embedded energy & pollution (from manufacture), environmental damage of landfill, transport of materials. Loose the time it takes to repair. Risk the cost of destroying the unit doing an inexperienced repair.

If you ignore the externalised cost on the planet, it definitely seems easier to replace rather than repair. You can only do that if you’ve convinced yourself that your life is to busy and important to waste the little bit of time that it’s going to take you to do some googling, introduce your self to your neighbour and borrow a screwdriver. It’s easier to pay- rent or rates- for some one to come and pick up your junk and drive it around the corner and dump it on a frog than to face the fear of learning a new skill and potentially failing at your first attempt.

But that was the old you. The new you will have a crack at anything, especially with these handy hits.

Tips for repairing

  • Have a look. Don’t know how to fix it? Then where did you get stuck? What did you try? What isn’t it doing? Make sure you have question to ask.
  • Ask someone else. Next door neighbour, Facebook, people on the street. Ask them to explain the process they went through to fault find (look, listen, smell, what happened when it stopped?).
  • A power supply is the unit that takes the power from the wall and converts it into the correct voltage for use in the appliance. Are there lights on? where are the lights?
  • Electricity can kill you. So unplug your appliance before you go poking around. Appliances with capacitors (the things that look like batteries on the circuit boards) like TVs can retain a charge for a while, so let them discharge for an hour an don’t go plugging anything in while the case is off and be wary of kids touching. Can’t see or hear electricity!
  • Repair manuals exist for most things. You might have to buy it… digitally. Sell it when you’re done. There may be a number list of faults called error codes. The appliance may be trying to communicate one of these numbers to you via a blinking light or something more puzzling.
  • Take photos if you’re scared you won’t be able to put it back together.
  • Google it, youtube it. Stop watching netflix for 5 minutes and read up on it.

“Hey, want to have a few bevies?”
“No I want you to help me fix my fucking old computer and end this planned obsolescence nightmare.”


Shirts got a hole in it? Patch it up with contrasting material and thread to announce to the world that you used to think that new adidas shirts were fancy, but now, whatever you already have and have fixed, is fancier. But what about the economy? Never mind that. We can talk about the economy when we’re on a rocket hurtling away from this fucked up planet. Scratch that, you can talk about the economy, on the rocket with your selfish buddies while I’m down here helping old mate figure out how to print through linux.

At The Shitface

My Year Without Alcohol

I heard that one of the 5 precepts of Buddhism is to refrain from intoxicants. I’m not Buddhist, but I find their mindfulness techniques useful and wondered if following this last precept for a while might lend me some clarity and help me to, either, do the things I have been intending to do, or be at peace with the fact I’ll never do them. I should mention that I often feel uncomfortable when I find myself getting drunk with friends and I feel like there is a bit of a pattern developing, where we aren’t really doing anything, aside from drinking and it’s happening regularly. I knew that I was about to be spending time with a new group of people who definitely drink more habitually than my current circle already do so abstinence was seeming like polite option. The last straw was finishing a 1L bottle of gin (Hi Sal!) between two people and a hangover I felt was going to require a year to recover from.

I was scared about telling people about my new commitment because I had expectations about how they would react. In every case the expectation was worse than reality. Most people didn’t really care and often would regularly forget if I did tell them. People would  ask why I wasn’t drinking and I eventually learnt to have a clear answer ready. Heavy drinkers seem to have more respect if the answer is something like “I drank too much”. If I feel like the person I was talking to wasn’t trying to be too blokey, I would talk about clarity. Some people assume that you’re an alcoholic. I felt the inclination to clarify that I’m not drinking at all, but then you realise that we’re all just tangled up in a big web of assumptions and that squirming around isn’t gonna help.

The first thing that I noticed was that often when I am in a drinking situation, there are new people to meet. Sometimes meeting someone new is easy, I accidentally get started in a conversation and one thing leads to another. Other times I become aware that I haven’t introduced myself to someone, and the longer nothing is said, the more impossible it feels. This happened when I was drinking and it a happened when I wasn’t drinking. The only difference was that once I stopped drinking it became clear to me that I just have to choose if I am going to be social or not. Comfortably social or awkwardly not social, but also awkwardly social or comfortably not social. I read a book about small talk, which I believe has had a lot more of a bearing on my ability to, er, have small talk than getting drunk did. I learned that the perceived positive effects of alcohol are derived from the marketing of specific drinks, rather than personal experience (1). So the same goes for participating and dancing. Sober, I was more likely to recognise a crappy party vibe and change it or leave. Similarly I was able to quickly recognise when the music was right and it was time to channel shapes from another dimension.

There were times that I had flagged for myself that I needed to have an important conversation with a friend, family or associate, only to notice that the person had had a few drinks before encountering them. I would decide that the conversation could wait until next time. For some people though, the same scenario would repeat again, and I became aware that I was loosing confidence in being able to count on them for a straight conversation, whilst being denied the ability to talk about something I thought was important. Is this what I have done to others for 18 years? Sorry.

I learned, in November, that non alcoholic beer exists. It’s nice to be able to separate the craving for a tasty cold drink on a hot day or after work from the side effects of diminished brain functionality. You could literally drink and drive. Actually, thinking about diminished cognitive ability is not something that I could really do while I was a proponent of it. It’s one of those things that you can be told about, but you don’t learn it… Especially while you’re actively reducing your capacity to learn.

I noticed that I loose a lot of time to drinking and recovering. through out this year I have been ticking off a lot more things from my to-do list. I never put ‘get drunk’ on my lists, it just seems to be the default thing if you don’t plan anything. I see the merit in planning group games, music and activities so that people don’t have idle hands.

I saved a lot of money. It’s amazing to grab a $50 note on your way out to meet people at a pub and then find the same $50 note in your pants when you’re taking them off.

A few people have asked if I am going to start drinking again; I don’t have a pact that I won’t, but I have definitely changed my ideas about how frequently I want it to happen. I feel confident about all this too which is weird since I haven’t been taking my courage medication…


Van roof waterproof

Tips for waterproofing your van in short form:

  • Try and do it under cover, if not, not in the heat of summer
  • Take the time to figure out exactly how much sealer to apply before squeezing down your extrusion, because its hard to clean up.
  • Consider the windows and door too

The first down pour reviled a drip coming from the center hatch in the caravan’s roof. I know the tricky thing about leaks is that they don’t always start where they end. The water can travel internally for a long time before turning up in your house. Add to that my fear of being stuck in a small leaky box while the world out side is getting drenched, being forced to watch the particle board that makes up my furniture, dissolve like weet-bix. I looked up on the roof of the van and it told a history of someone madly sikaflexing, gutter sealing and wet-edging up the whole roof in between downpours. The interior roof looks fine, so their messy system worked.

I couldn’t bring myself to add another layer of goop to the patchwork, so I said “Right. I’m resealing the whole van. Then I’ll paint a waterproof membrane over the whole lot and sleep with a smile through the rain.

Long story short: after a month of stripping, sealing and painting (in the peak of summer with 47 degree Celsius days), I discovered a crack in the skylight, the source of the drip.

On the plus side, my van is sealed up tighter than a fishes a-hole and has an extra insulated roof! Here’s how I did it.

This is what it looked like to start with. There is one aluminium extrusion on each side of the van that runs from the front bottom corner, up the front edge across the roof and down the back edge.

I scraped all the layers of sealer off with a paint scraper. Then unscrewed and lifted the rails and wire-brushed the soft sealer back to bare metal.

Someone had gone nuts with this weird beige stuff that didn’t seem to be mixed properly and had a lot of bubbles. The wire brush just melted and spread it, so I just did my best to get rid of the bubbles.

The cracked vent needed to be replaced, it was cracked at every screw hole and missing a handle. The new one is aluminium.

There were a lot of opinions about what to seal a caravan with. The camps seem to be: something that will never come off, or something that can come off when it inevitably has to come off (they remain soft in the center – mastics).

There is a product called caravan sealer which I found out later is 50% cheaper than Butyl-Mastic – what I used. I unloaded at least 6 tubes.

Don’t go to fucking Bunnings if you can help it. When they say “lowest prices are just the beginning” what they mean is that they will have low prices until there aren’t any more other hardware stores around. Then they jack the prices up and lay off half the staff.

My idea was to paint the van sealer from one raised edge of the aluminum to the other. There is a rubber strip that covers the screws – purely cosmetic- I was surprised to be able to select my 40yo caravan model from a drop-down box and have it arrive at my doorstep for about $2 per meter.

Theoretically I shouldn’t have had to put the membrane on top after resealing, but I like the idea of redundancy… and insulation, let me tell you about insulation:
On those hot days if you touched the metal roof vents from inside, you would have burned your hand off. After the white rubber paint, they were merely warm to touch- a huge difference that you could feel inside the van. Highly recommended.



Un-dumb Wicking beds

That’s a bit harsh. There is a fundamental difference to the following design though, that I haven’t seen documented on the whole of the internet, so here it is.

A wicking bed is a large scale self-watering pot. There is a reservoir of water you can access underneath, and as the soil drys out, the water is wicked up from the below,  prolonging the time between required watering and the inevitable death of your plants.

When there is a rain event, the bed harvests it’s own water which it will then make use of over a long period of time.

The soil is not going to dry out as long as there is some water in the reservoir.

The water is being delivered efficiently to the roots of the plant, where it is needed. It is being insulated by the soil… and er… mulch (pretend there is mulch on top of the soil in that diagram).

You aren’t as dependent on irrigation, which is less efficient, and easy to brake.

The fundamental difference

Traditionally, people have used a layer of gravel and drainage pipes to hold the soil above the water. The downside to this is that the gravel displaces the water. It’s a technique for building drainage into beds. Alternatively you can use something that takes up less space- that’s all. The water will last longer. You don’t need to get gravel, move gravel, etc.

Credit to Lachie from Tree Frog Permaculture for this pearl of wisdom (that man has whole a van full of pearls!).

No gravel technique

Bath tubs are good, long lasting, water proof vessels which are easy to come by. I can pick up light weight steel tubs for $20 (or less for several) at the local tip shop. They are often pre-plumbed for drainage too.

I build a frame out of recycled hardwood, which is also easy to come by at the moment the timber for this bed was picked up from a building site for free on the way to the job, advertised on Gumtree (Craig’s list, whatever). I won’t go into details about how I built the frame as carpentry is not my expertise. But simply: hold the tub up to a comfortable working height and give yourself room for the plumbing (or dig out a trench).

10cm pvc drain pipe is used to support the weld mesh. Pvc pipe is also easy to come by as a recycled building product and I haven’t had to buy any yet. It is strong and doesn’t displace much water. The weld mesh is cut and bent up to fit the contours of the tub and stop the soil from entering the water.

Geo-fabric is used to line the weld mesh. The edges are tucked under the weld mesh like a bed sheet, so that the fabric is touching the bottom of the bath – in contact with the water even when there is only a little. some extra pieces are draped over in the middle to help with even moistening of the fabric.

Fill the bed with water up to 2cm below the mesh and cut the riser pipe to the level of the water. This will stop the bed from becoming water logged. You will always  be able to gauge the level of water in the reservoir by looking down this pipe.

That’s it. Fill your bed with some good soil… keep enriching it with some nice home made compost (you are turning your food scraps into compost, right?)… and don’t forget to mulch it!

Here’s another design using the same principle. In this case, builders plastic forms the water proof seal and a plastic pallet is supporting the soil.

Tiny house, large caravan

Lynda has joined Stardust Circus, so I am happily taking on the project of renovating a caravan for us to live in.

I started looking online first to get a feel for what is available. There are some really cute vans from around the 60’s, but they tend to be around the 14 foot length. I looked inside some 16 – 18 foot vans and decided that even they were a bit on the small side for 2 people to be living in full time. After seeing a 22 foot van with a bathroom installed in place of one of the bunks, we decided on that size.

Watching the online ads, started to give me a good feel for the price range:

  • < $4000 would get a renovated shell and floor, with no interior- someones project they had given up on. This is a pretty good option in retrospect because caravans in their original condition tend to have crappy insulation. Trying to go energy independent with bad insulation will be expensive and stupid!
  • approx. $8000 a van in reasonable condition with well worn interior, likely water damage.
  • > $12000 a nicely renovated van (not that common though)

I set up saved searches on all the van sales sites which allowed it and used 3rd party website monitors to watch the local dealers. This helped me find a van with a surprisingly good original interior, at a good price ($7500) which included checks and registration.
The van had surprisingly little water damage for its age.

When I went to pick it up I was advised that I couldn’t pull it with my car, since I don’t have a break controller. The dealer delivered it for me. Towing and breaking remains one of the tasks for the future.

After the first rainy day test, it seems that there was a minor drip coming from the vent in the roof. I figured my first job was to re-seal the roof. A job, I was to learn, that should not be started before going overseas for a month.

Next: Waterproofing the roof


Stakeholder distributed marketing

For an event, instead of paying staff & performers a base rate plus a percentage of profit; instead of asking everyone to promote the event in their social circles and hoping it translates to ticket sales- staff are given tickets and taught how to sell them directly. The number of tickets is proportional to their fee plus extra for the work selling them.

This article relates to financing and promoting an event, other creative concerns won’t be discussed.

For The Imaginary Cabaret of the Past we invited all our favourite performer friends to come and perform. We told them that we hoped they would get paid but that it would depend on ticket sales. We made posters and put them in all the places that we thought people should normally put posters… well not all the places, I put a few of mine up and I hope the promotions people put theirs up.

We needed to rent toilets, so we asked an investor for some money. The investor was also nice enough to sell the tickets for us, so they provided the door staff etc.

I think the event went well, I didn’t see the final figures though, since the investor took over that. I got paid what I asked, but I think it was a push and I know others didn’t.

Weaknesses of this process (that specifically relate to the strengths of what I am going to write afterwards)

  • Peoples promotion efforts were not measurable or encouraged so we don’t know how hard they tried to reach their social circle
  • Peoples promotion efforts are not supported,     so they might have tried to reach their social circle, but been lousy with it.
  • Investors, sales staff and promotion staff draw from the pool profit to be shared
  • Organisers energy is diluted between a lot of different people performing different roles, along with the event’s vision.
  • There     is uncertainty about sales, meaning we spend time stressing and preparing for the worst outcome (in addition to aiming for the best outcome)


Consider another event, The Imaginary Cabaret of the Future: We contacted the same performer friends and asked how much they wanted to be paid to be part of the new show. We also asked a security guard, lighting & sound technician, graphic designer, printer, film maker, venue and portable toilet company (and let’s call them stakeholders).

We added up all our expenses and then divided the total by the capacity of the venue to come up with the ticket price. Then we divided each of the stakeholder quotes we received by the price of a ticket, to see what the equivalent amount of tickets would be.

We then went back to the stakeholders and said (for example):

Hey, we need your help with promoting the show, so would you be happy if we gave you 15 tickets, which you can sell for $15 each? Instead of giving you $225 after the show only if it sells out?

We will give you heaps of photos and text for you to post on your social medias in the lead up, and we will also give you posters for you to stick on your mum’s fridge or whatever. And have a look at what the tickets look like… Nice huh?

We will give you a few calls throughout the process to check it’s going alright, give you advice and put you in touch with the others to see how they are going and see if they have advise.

The only stake    holder who didn’t agree to these terms was the toilet people, but when we said that it was ok to give out the tickets to their family, friends and customer, they agreed.

The sound and lighting lady did not feel comfortable with the amount of tickets she had to sell, but ended up being happy to get an offsider and spit the work and spoils.

The benefits of this approach

  • Stakeholders are encouraged to promote the show to their social network and rewarded for actually closing the sale then and there.
  • No promotions team needs to be paid separately
  • Promotions team (stakeholders) have meaningful things to talk about with potential     customers which makes the sale easier (and less like a sales pitch)
  • Discourages stakeholders who aren’t committed to the success of the show.
  • The effect of someone who doesn’t put in effort promoting the show is isolated to themselves.
  • There is no external investor taking a big piece of the pie and pushing their agenda.
  • People who don’t-get-it or are uncomfortable about the success of the show, or are too     concerned with how other people are going to deal with the project     will betray their doubt before getting involved with the project.


Possible weaknesses of this approach

  • People may have no experience selling things.
  • People may be self-conscious about selling themselves.
  • There may be unforeseen costs.
  • Someone may be left behind due to bad sales technique or life event.
  • Someone might have to pull out.
  • Majority of stakeholders might decline.

How to maximise the opportunity for success of the Imaginary Cabaret of the Future

To circumvent any doubt the stakeholders have about this technique, the support strategy for stakeholders selling tickets needs to exist at the time that they are being pitched the idea. Then they can assess their odds of success themselves and hopefully be confident of success. The support strategy should involve a support person who monitors the progress of all stake holder’s sales comparatively.

People who are self-conscious could be encouraged to play down their involvement and sell the other performers.

Stakeholders should be given the opportunity to invest capital in the event, which they can make back through ticket sales. This provides a mechanism for keen sellers to address the unforeseen cost issue and tie investment to the success of the event.

A more traditional contract could dictate what happens if a performer has to pull out. Something like: give back your tickets and a percentage of the money you made (since they put some effort into selling the tickets).

If majority of stakeholders decline then it’s a fail for the event, but a useful exercise for the industry, hopefully the creators would report on their experiences and it would be a valuable lesson for anyone else to read.

Indonesian Crispy Corn Fritters


  • 2 1/2 cups of corn semi smashed
  • 3 large hot green chillies, seeded & chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1tsp asafoetida
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • some candle nuts or macadamia nuts (can be toasted)
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery leaves and stalks
  • Rice bran oil for shallow frying


  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl and mix
  2. Powder the nuts and add to bowl
  3. Add corn chilli and celery to bowl
  4. Add water and mix to a spoon-able batter (Not drippy or dry)
  5. Spoon out and flatten, fry for 3-4 min

You must watch the video. The written out recipe is for those who have seen it ten times and need quick access to the ingredients list.

5 tips for collaborating on a digital design

Ever wondered if people think you’re a pro or a noob? Have a gander at the following and then, you tell me. These tips are based on technology from 2015, so adjust figures yourself to show some some technical intuition!

Meaningful file names and email names

If the relationship between you and another person is only based on your involvement in ‘project x’, then ‘project x’ is not a meaning file name or subject line.

Don’t send an email (or ‘share’ a file) over 2mb

If it’s bigger than that (and it’s not a video), you’re doing it wrong. If it’s just going to be shown on screen 72dpi is fine (update: 144dpi).

Pay attention to detail

Have a second read through your communications, if you have accidentally used the wrong terminology for something it can cause a huge headache for someone else.

Harness the first impression

People get tired of things pretty quickly. Add to that the designer’s hunger for positive feedback and it becomes obvious that you should make the most of the moment of first delivery. If you miss the client’s first moment of amazement, you’ll get disheartened. Try and be there when you show the design for the first time, or be on the phone or something… just make sure it’s clear we’re all happy with that design, or make sure that if there’s a problem you can get the vibe of it.

Check that the file format you’re sending is ok

Should someone have to buy a dropbox account, download a 300mb file and buy a subscription to photoshop, download it and install it, just to see your design?
¡ou :ɹǝʍsuɐa
There you have it: 5 easy steps towards not being an annoying so-and-so, that I didn’t think I’d have to write down.