Thursday, November 18, 2010

I give in: revised, with added boringness

Without these small things, I will die of loneliness. I don't know whether it felt worse to write into what was almost a vacuum or to feel like day after day I had no one at all to talk to.

I used to. I used to have people I spent time with, albeit virtually, day after day. But in one way or another, I proved not good enough for any of them. The same is true in "real" life.

It is particularly hard when you feel you are making someone happy, when you can see you are, and they decide that something abstract is more important. I have never done that to anyone because for all my failings, I live in the real and take it as it is.

I probably shouldn't. If I lied and cheated, I'd probably find the contentment that trying to face it honestly has mostly robbed me of.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maybe I should do the lotto

I wish I could be looking forward to moving into my new flat, but all I think about is money and how to get it. I have no work and no prospects of work. One client promised me "lots of work". Last month she gave me 1K worth, this month less. My other client has dried up and won't say anything about upcoming work. Her offsider was pissed off with me because one of her books got a bad review on Amazon (which is nothing to do with me, but the review said it was badly edited: they meant badly developed because it was the content they didn't like, and I have nothing to do with that).

And that's it, my clientele. Others have come and gone, but it's incredibly hard to get work here. I've tried. I've emailed every prospect I could think of. Nearly all did not reply. I was offered an interview for a job when I was in the UK, but they simply couldn't agree a time to ring me. They fucked me around for three weeks and finally just didn't bother contacting me to let me know they wouldn't do it. I applied for a job with Wiley, the job I used to do, and they didn't even bother replying to tell me to fuck off. So that's where I'm at. I'm not even worth telling to fuck off by employers. Of course, I did have a job, but I got sacked because some horrid bitch didn't like something funny I wrote about her on my blog.

There's no work in this town for me. I can't retrain because I need to pay the rent now and can't be unemployed or at least doing something to try to make money. That something has been poker. I've had a shocking time. I went okay last month and the start of this one but I've lost 350 bucks in two days. That's pretty bad. I can see from my records that I've been very unlucky, cannot win an allin and so on, but I have to ask whether I'm good enough to rely on it, and the answer's looking like no.

I hurt my neck grinding poker last month, just a couple of hours of sitting awkwardly but it hasn't cleared up, and I've been suffering from headaches, which is very unlike me. I almost miss being a manic depressive, because at least I would have some juicy mania to look forward to, but I don't get depressed any more. I just have a weary resignation to a shitty life that although it has some bright spots is proving tough right now, and doesn't show much sign of getting better.

I mean, things can change. Maybe there will be a job. Surely poker will turn round because swings happen, I know that, and I can't be too disheartened by it. I can tighten up my play a bit and things will be okay. I'd just like a break. Maybe I should do the lotto...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The fine life

Life has its ups and downs for all of us, so I thought I might celebrate some of the things that make it that little bit finer. They're in no particular order.

Rekorderlig cider

When we were kids in rural Cornwall, our drink of choice was cider, although that lasted only until we were 16 and started going to the pub. You could buy a litre and a half of cider cheap though, so we did, and would go to the towans or some other hiding place to drink it. Cider was never fashionable, always a favourite of kids and deros, but of course even though I stopped drinking it, it kept a corner of my heart, aided by the fact that my granddad also drank it sometimes. He would tell my sister J that he was going out for a cider when he went to the pub in the evening. She wanted nothing more than to go with him and clip out for a slider.

So I was not surprised when I went to the UK this year to find J a devotee of cider, but more surprised to see that it is now quite fashionable (and has become so in Australia, if the springing up of prestige brands in the bottlo is anything to go by). Slave to the trend that I am, I joined J in a pint or two of Bulmers and liked it. It's perfect for summer, after all, light and refreshing. One afternoon, waiting for B in a pub in Brighton, I tried a bottle of Rekorderlig. OMG. Somehow those Swedes captured the soul of an apple and bottled it. I was hooked, and drank it wherever I could find it. Which was not in many places, so I despaired of finding it here in Brisbane. Curiously though, the bottlo I go to for beer carries it. Maybe Australia is finally catching up with the rest of the world for good things. You can even buy Quorn now. Who knows, maybe someone will even learn how to make coffee.


Tim tam straws

It's no lie to say that Australia would prop up any league table for sweet goods, worse even than the States at biscuits, far behind the UK in bread, way off the pace in pastries, yet there is one world-class treat. The Tim tam is a chocolate biscuit, very much like a softer, slightly sweeter Penguin, much beloved by expat Aussies. The key to its genius is that it cannot be dunked but it can be used as a straw, each for the same reason. Because the chocolate covering is quite thick, it won't melt easily when dipped in coffee, so dunking is out; but if you bite off a corner and then the diagonally opposite corner, dip it in and suck hard, the whole of the inside will melt. You can then pop it in your mouth and the outside chocolate will finally melt. It's amazing.

B's smiles

B has two smiles and I get to see both of them a lot. Smile A is an oddity, because the corners of her mouth don't turn up, and she looks like she might burst into tears. She looks like she is thinking, I can't believe you just said that (and you can imagine, with me as a bf, that is precisely what she is thinking). It makes you want to hug her. Smile B is a full-on grin. B has a wicked sense of humour, often very sharp and quick to see an opening to deflate my bubble. She gets in a jab, and then unleashes smile B. It's a real day-brightener. It's by no means the only good thing about her, and she's not the grinning monkey sort (which would unnerve me because no one has that much to smile about that doing it all the time can be genuine) but it makes you feel good about being with someone if you feel you are bringing them smiles.


I've played more than three thousand $11 sitngoes and I've won 500 or so of them, but I still get a small thrill when I take one down. Even though I know my aim is to make good decisions and make money, I still enjoy being king of the heap.

There are other great things in poker. I make a good call with bad cards, and knock some guy out, and he berates me in chat, telling me I'm a fish, a donk, an idiot. Yes, I say, I'm just mashing the buttons at random. He has no idea why what I did was good. Poker players have a model of the game, and when things happen that are counter to the model, they are shocked and hurt. Sometimes you have to make a loose call because the odds demand it, but for a guy who thinks you should only call with a good hand, that's all wrong. It's even funnier when I shove a rubbish hand and get called by a good one, and then suck out. 32, they cry. WTF you donk! But I knew my shove (putting all my chips in) was good. They'll probably never know why but I took the trouble to learn (it's precisely because they only call with good hands that I shove bad ones, with the times I get away with it compensating for the few that I get called and am beat).

Being next to a loved one

I'm a simple person. I like simple things: plain food, beer, cakes and football. I like to express my feelings, and if possible, I do it physically. I never leave people I care about in any doubt about it, because I am myself so fearful that I'm not cared for. I kiss the people I love often, hug them and get close to them. There's nothing better. If you are lying holding someone you love, the world recedes, until all you have is you and them, as though your two auras are all there are. I suppose in a way it's an expression of narcissism: if you are holding someone, you have someone who wants you to be close to them, who validates you, gives your person meaning.

Tescos chocolate limes

To my dentist's despair, I have a massive sweet tooth. It developed out of all proportion when I gave up smoking, and went way beyond sanity when my marriage went bad and I was smoking a lot of weed. I would munch lollies nonstop. It had almost got to the point where I would smoke a bowl just to have the excuse to eat sweets.

Even though I've given up the weed, I still comfort eat some. Certainly not as much as I used to, but more than a man of my age ought to, I suppose. Having fixed my depressive cycle helps, because I don't need the lift of sugar so much. My favourite sweets when I was a child were Parkinson's chocolate limes--boiled lime-flavoured sweets with a chocolate centre. I don't know what became of Parkinson's but I've never been able to find them, and other chocolate limes don't come close. Except Tescos' version. I brought a couple of packets home from the UK but sadly the ants got into one of them and they became inedible. Ants are one of the menaces of Brisbane life: little ants swarm everywhere, and that's bad enough, but there are also bull ants. They are big, angry ants whose bite is incredibly painful. It's not the initial bite but the continuing hour-long pain that the acid they inject brings, usually to your toe when you've stepped on one.


Dusk is very short here in Brisbane. The evenings do not draw in so much as fall on top of you. But for an hour or so, the light fades, and the sky purples. In the dusk, bats fly over the city, heading out from Indooroopilly island and other roosts. They are big black creatures, scary for children I suppose, but they eat only fruit and pollen and the odd insect and are vital to the city's flora. Brisbane is a lowslung city, much of it semirural or at least greener than a similarly sized English city--more so on the northside than the south, which is more heavily built up. I've always lived on the southside, but B lives in the far north (too far north if you ask me!), so I see a lot of the north too.

I'm shortly going to be moving into a unit in Holland Park (which is very different from the London suburb of the same name). It's a fairly typical southside suburb, with street after street of mostly wooden houses, relatively little greenery and not much character. It's close to the Mrs Zen's home though, so easy to take the kids to school. I have never really lived on my own, so I suppose I'm quite nervous about it (leaving aside some stress over how I can pay the rent, given that I don't precisely have a job, or much work at all). I'm very excited about having my children live with me every other week though. I finally get to be a dad again.

That above all is what makes life fine. Being a dad has been the best thing in my life. I'm rubbish at it, but I don't dwell on my shortcomings. You can't, really. You just have to do what you can. Ultimately, all of life is a bit like that. You can't control everything, can't fix most of what's wrong, but you can just be in it, enjoying what's fine as best you can.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Scenes from suburban Brisbane

I am watching the bats move across Samford Road in a low pink sunset. It's not hard to imagine them flying through the dry scrub and gum forest that preceded the whites. I am eating a mint.

Three days ago, I watched a lizard scuttle through the back yard. It seemed purposeful but no one imagines a lizard has a mind. Who knows what gods a reptile would create if it did.

We are covered with sweat as the night closes in. I love being with her but there's always something that speaks softly: you cannot be wanted, and it's confirmed day to day by the small and not so small acts of spurning that are striped through my days.

Yesterday, I had a long talk with someone who I haven't spoken to for two decades. I try to tell myself he's just bored and I am still nothing to anyone. Sometimes I wish I had the confidence that I am real that others take for granted. I ate a couple of biscuits because sugar works.

The first time I came to Australia, it was a warm night. The woman who came to meet me hadn't dressed up, just a tshirt, but that was her way then: unaffected and real. I felt a stillness within me that I knew could sustain me. But everything dissolves into pain given time, and now I am sitting in a room in a house where I am not really welcome in a country I don't understand or want to, isolated, turning to ice, always bereft, wondering whether there is any good life for me.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Grand designs

So Hawking's new book is a bit of a disappointment. It boils down to the world is the way it is because it's the way it is; small things can't blow up but big things can and intelligence could spontaneously arise in the Game of Life so from little rules big things can grow.

A lot of what he says is reasonable, of course, and a lot is indisputable. But a signal problem I think he has is that while he does say that we do not have a description of reality, which we cannot achieve, but rather a model that we can investigate to see whether it coincides with reality, he then uses an interpretation of that model to be prescriptive about how the universe must be. What I mean is, we can model the behaviour of electrons using Feynman's sum over histories, and then look at the world to see whether it fits. The world does fit, but that doesn't confirm Feynman, because there are other models that also fit (also, we have to use renormalisation because in fact our mathematics doesn't work--Hawking seems entirely unconcerned that renormalisation only works for the electroweak force so we don't have a full theory of other forces).

So Hawking assumes Feynman's interpretation and draws a conclusion that pretty much wishes away all the questions he asks: why is there a universe? why is it like this? why is it so perfectly adjusted for us? He does this by suggesting that the strong anthropic principle holds but goes a bit further. It's fairly obvious that the universe has to be the way it is for us to be here to comment on it (the anthropic principle) but it has been assumed in the past that the laws of physics are the only ones possible. Hawking says no: there are many universes with different laws, and we happen to be in this one because no matter how probable other laws are, we can only be in universes with histories that lead to us.

This is supposed to disprove the existence of God. I know what you're thinking. God took a great deal of getting rid of if we needed a quadrillion universes to make him impossible. And that's a lot of universes to hang on the double slit experiment (versions of which are the basic experimental evidence for all this). I mean, it's not unreasonable to have your doubts that electrons really do take every conceivable path to their target. It involves some huge mathematical jiggery pokery to go from that to the observation that if you fire an electron from A to B, it ends up at B and not on Mars. The standard answer is that the straight line, and paths near it, is much more probable than going to Mars, which is fair enough, but we are yet to observe an electron straying. Not everyone agreed with Feynman: I think it was Bohm who argued that the electron takes a definite path and quantum theory simply describes our inability to measure precisely what it is. Not everyone believes an observer collapses the wavefunction. It's not at all impossible that the wavefunction describes a possibility but electrons do take only one path.

I'd certainly expect there to be in time an explanation of the nonlocal effects of quantum theory that didn't look so much like magic. Quantum entanglement is the kind of thing that is key for Hawking's thesis. In QE a pair of particles is formed that has opposite values of a certain parameter. One is positive, the other negative. They are separated and taken to different ends of the lab, so that they would need a measurable time to signal their state to each other. Then the polarity of one is changed, and the other instantly changes. Hawking will say that this is achieved by the necessity of the observer being in a universe in which the polarity of the second particle has changed. I am not sure that there's much mileage for science in saying no more than it's how it is because it has to be like that.

I didn't really understand his explanation of how the universe came into being. I have to confess, my eyes glaze over when I see the words "quantum fluctuation". I mean, I don't care that your maths say a universe can spontaneously arise out of nothing. It doesn't actually speak to the question why there is something rather than nothing. Hawking complains that if you say God did it, you simply shift the problem back to a First Cause. Well yes, but how is quantum did it any better?

I also have a lot of difficulty with inflation (not the thing with money although that also is a problem). A central problem for our cosmology is that the universe is too uniformly cool. By the second law of thermodynamics, heat transfers from the hotter to the cooler, but it needs time. The universe has not been around long enough for the even temperature we observe. So someone had the bright idea that in the universe's first second it exploded quicker than the speed of light for a short period, expanding enormously (I say enormously but it's all relative: I think it was something like the size of a grape after inflation). Okay, but what made it inflate? Time to get the hands waving because we have no idea. Some sort of repulsive force that only exists in very small, very hot balls of plasma. Which just happened to inflate the universe in precisely the way that leaves the universe we now observe.

Some of his other discussion is more successful. He clearly explains why we cannot have free will (which I've discussed before but I'm going to return to shortly because it's been on my mind). But he handwaves from that to a defence of strong AI, so that he claims that sufficiently complex computers will be self-aware. We don't know, and have no reason to believe, that's true. It might be, but it's a big claim that it is.

The thing is, there are facts, and there are opinions about the facts. Quantum theory is a good model because it explains how some of the facts work, but it's formal and interpreting it is to say the least difficult. It's also the case that the universe is consistent, so if you successfully explain some facts in your theory, you will tend to be explaining other similar facts. However, as Hawking to do him credit acknowledges, you are simply expressing a framework that fits, not saying what it is. The better our framework fits, the more we believe it is true, but the fact remains, it's just a framework.