30 December 2010

Music: my top 14 albums of 2010 (Part 1)

A quick survey reveals 14 albums that I bought in 2010 that were released this year. So here is my quick review with scores out of 14 and my favourite tracks. The first seven in no particular order (genres from iTunes):

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs. Rock. This album has 16 tracks and all but a few are memorable. Some are almost "anthemic". I wasn't sure I'd like it and was surprised to be familiar with so many of the tracks, not knowing they were from this album. There are 16 tracks for those more interested in quality. On some tracks you can almost hear Bruce Springsteen. The Suburbs and Ready to Start are great tracks but I prefer the drama of Rococo and the classic rock sound of City With No Children. 13/14


Hot Chip: One Life Stand. Alternative & punk. This is a brilliant album. I bought it for the track One Life Stand, but there are many great tracks. It makes even a non-dancer like me want to move. Other fave tracks include I Feel Better & Take It In. 13/14


Vampire Weekend: Contra. Alternative & punk. Cousins was played too much and is now annoying. I like some of the vocals. Well produced. Fave track probably Horchata. 9/14.

Bag Raiders (self titled). Electronica. Shooting Stars was probably one of my fave songs for 2009 (a pre-released single), so I eagerly awaited this album. It is still a stand out that I've not tired of hearing. I used to imagine Marieke Josephine Hardy dancing around the Triple J studios when they played it on the old breakfast show. There is a sameness to a few of the tracks. Way Back Home was a great pick as the second single release. It is a wonderful track and I love the length at 9:15. 11/14.

Yeasayer: Odd Blood. Pop. Another really good album with several stunning tracks. I liked the video for Ambling Alp but I think my fave track is now Madder Red by a long way. There is a good deal of variety on the album, but I doubt that the quality is so inconsistent to deserve the harsh review it got on Pitchfork. 12/14

Two Door Cinema Club: Tourist History. Alternative & punk. I love this album. I saw them live at Sydney Uni's Manning Bar earlier this year and they played amazingly well. They are so young and so talented. They have so much energy that it is impossible not to get carried away. I bought the album for I Can Talk, but there are so many great tracks like Do You Want It All that it is hard to pick a fave. For a while now it has probably been This Is The Life. I love the way they change pace within tracks. Exciting energetic music. 13/14

Angus & Julia Stone: down the way. Pop. Another group that I saw live - at the Enmore Theatre and another album I eagerly anticipated. They are really impressive live: much more so than I expected and they put on a fantastic show that surprised and delighted. There are wonderful ballads and some beautiful folk tunes. Julia's voice  and stage manner remind me of Martha Wainright. A lot. They both enjoy their music so much that they seem to disappear into it. I also hear influences like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Aimee Mann. Walk It Off is very evocative and beautifully produced. I think And The Boys is still my fave track though. 13/14



29 December 2010

Edges of Darkness


Original image on Flickr.

The other night I took a DVD of the 2010 film Edge of Darkness out to watch with Mum after visiting Dad in hospital. She thinks I am a lousy picker, so I defended and justified my choice by referring to the mid-80s TV series of the same name that has recently been rebroadcast in Australia by the ABC. 

I've probably watched the TV series three times, including its first broadcast in Australia. It is superb TV. A work of art that mixes great writing with haunting imagery, brilliant acting, a wonderful cast, darkly atmospheric music and a complex and thrilling plot line that reflected its time (Thatcher's England) but still retains contemporary relevance. The dialogue in the film was simply stunning, especially that which Joe Don Baker delivered as the CIA's eccentric Darius Jedberg. I am sure that I looked forward to each episode as much in late 2010 as I did when they were initially screened in the mid/late 1980s.

One of the great things about the series was that hardly anyone, even the almost saintly Ronnie Craven (played by Bob Peck), was all good or all bad. The superb cast assembled for the series really helped with that impression. Each episode something about the plot surprised me or made me question who was really "right". You were never spoon fed, nor given much assistance or any reminders about all of the seemingly insignificant but nonetheless important clues that were dropped everywhere. 

Bob Peck thoroughly deserved his 1986 BAFTA best actor award for the series. His character was a magnetic but flawed hero and he had such an intoxicating voice. I was sad to read that he died of cancer at only 53 in 1999.

The TV series pulled two big strings for me.

Around the same time I was on exchange in England working as an intelligence analyst in a UK agency. It was an odd time and computers were not as dominant as they are today. In fact you hardly saw them. It was all a bit more like Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. I can still remember writing out (by hand) a report on the arms trade and some conflict that I was not able to present in person because after I had written it I had to classify it at a level that was I was not cleared to read (because I was not a UK national). So the intelligence characters and references and the obsession with nuclear energy and weapons in the series were of particular interest to me and I reckon they got it all pretty right for a TV drama.

The other string came in the form of an item of Darius Jedberg's clothing. In the mid-1980s I developed an obsession with the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. As a sport it was really still in its infancy and hardly anyone in England would have known about it. In two scenes, however, Jedberg is clearly shown wearing a prized finisher's t-shirt. Who knows where that idea came from? I can remember phoning friends as soon as I saw it in sheer excitement. It says a heap about his character and at that stage a lot of those competing in that crazy event were people like Jedberg. I don't think Joe Don Baker ever completed Ironman Hawaii, but I guess he may have. (I began racing Ironman triathlon in Australia in 1985, but didn't qualify to race in Hawaii until 1988 and didn't race there until 1989.)

So, to get back to the 2010 film now. The film had none of the above. Even though it runs for over two hours, they left so much out that even Ray Winstone could not save it. Amazingly, it has the same director as the series, Martin Campbell. 2/10.



27 December 2010

FasterChef - Xmas Fairy Bread

OK, so this is my attempt at spreading (pardon the pun) Xmas cheer this year. No boring newsletter about what I did, but a useful visual feats for your eyes and stomachs. Everyone loves a cooking show on the TV these days, in fact on most stations that is all there is to watch, so I've decided to clutter up YouTube with even more mindless rubbish about food preparation. And it comes with bonus hygiene tips!
So, here we go, mind the step . . .

Boxing Day

For Boxing Day, Mum, Mez and I went down to see my sister-in-law and her kids for Christmas. Uncle Phil was working again - saving lives and rescuing drunks with the Ambulance service.

Here my amazing Lego assembly super powers came in handy. I had to build Mum's gift to my nephew - a full on Star Wars jet fighter. Although my six year old nephew knows more about Star Wars than George Lucas, even he doubted our ability to ever finish it. This toy is so complex that I hear nobody has successfully assembled it in under three months and I did it in under one evening and with only two glasses of Piper-Heidsieck.

This minor miracle was performed despite my sister's cruel, faithless and constant taunts that Uncle Phil (her can-do husband) was needed during the scary bits. I am awesome. I will no longer fear bringing home a box from Ikea.

Excitement came in the form of the storm that blue up quickly. My sister-in-law and sister were preparing foods, I was building a jet fighter and the kids are only six and four, so it was left to my mother to rescue everything left on the tabel outside after the giant umbrella tipped over in the gale force winds. Erecting the umbrella was another "where is Uncle Phil when you need him because Uncle Mal is hopeless" moment, but saving the rear wall of the house from the destruction it was about to bring was left to my dear old mother. She is nearly as awesome as me.

Sometimes even my nephew lost faith in my Lego assembly super powers, but their new young kitten Jeffrey (pictured above with the box) didn't. He was quite helpful inside the box when we both tried to find a small grey slopey bit with a round thingy on it. He is probably four months old now and simply adorable. He races around like a crazy cut snake and is always playing games with himself or anyone else who wants to offer some naked skin to his gaming tools (sharp teeth and claws).

As I mentioned in the previous post, this was a daunting time for all of us so soon after the los of my brother, but it was great to see the kids happy and playing. They miss their father, but they are doing really well.

Post for #blog12daysxmas : Christmas Day

I'm late with this, but I will catch up. Despite all of the food, presents and heaps of Moët, this is a difficult Christmas for my family. It is the first without my brother Murray who died in a car accident earlier this year. That has been really hard on my mother but if that wasn't enough to deal with my father collapsed the night before Christmas Eve and we spent 24 December in a hospital emergency ward waiting to see what caused it all. The fall damaged a knee and he hit his head and he already had some broken ribs and a shoulder injury from his last fall, so he is still in a lot of pain. Nobody really seems to be able to identify the cause apart from old age and his body just wearing out. It is very sad, but I guess this sort of thing eventually comes to most of us.

My brother in law Phil is a wonderful man and also an underpaid slave of the NSW Ambulance service. He was the local acting station manager on the day Dad collapsed (and also Christmas Day!) and arrived with the ambulance on Christmas Eve to look after him and take him to hospital. He even called in again to check on him later at the end of his shift. That is him in the image above, putting up the Christmas tree at my parents' home. I provided invaluable deconstructive criticism and reintegrated shaming (from a safe distance).

So on Christmas Day Mum, my sister Mez and I we went back to the hospital to check on Dad and give him some Christmas cheer. He'd been moved to a ward, but they were still doing tests. He reads a lot so I gave him Howard Jacobson's Man Booker Prize winning The Finkler Question.

Christmas lunch was just Mum, Mez, me and three dogs. We did fish this year, tonnes of fish: Atlantic salmon, prawns, lobster, scallops and Balmain bugs. WE didn't get to the bugs and took them and what was left of the prawns to a bigger family dinner later on with all the cousins, aunts and uncles.

It was a long day that many of us were dreading, but in the end it was saved by many caring family members, some amazing dogs and a couple of bottles of Moët.

Posts for #blog12daysxmas

I'm trying to keep up with the #blog12daysxmas guys over at my Posterous blog this time. I'll set up auto-posting so they should all link in here too.

22 December 2010

How to fly in the USA

In response to this article from The Huffington Post, I'm sharing my observations for boarding domestic flights in the USA:
  1. There is no need to check any baggage. Just bring it all with you as you board. Try not to leave anything you own at home.
  2. NEVER use the overhead locker nearest your own seat.
  3. What you cannot squeeze into an overhead locker can be left in the seat next to you (whether occupied or not), under all of the seats in front of you on either side (keeping the one directly in front free for stretching out your legs), or given to an air steward (or one of the pilots if you cannot find a steward).
  4. Nobody behind you will mind if you take as long as you need to store all of your personal possessions before moving towards your own seat.
  5. Sit wherever you feel most comfortable. The chances are that nobody else really needs that seat anyway.
  6. If moved to a seat you don't like, it is time to speak to the stewards or pilots again. There are many valid reasons you can use for getting a better seat: you are too fat; you are too tall; your back hurts; you need to supervise your children; you need to get away from your children; you need to sit closer to all or some of your luggage; you will be sick without a window view; you told the girl on the phone that you wanted an exit row; you are a frequent flyer; you are incontinent and your fast food will eventually disagree with your bowell; etc. Tears are good too.
  7. Make sure you buy enough hot fast food to last you for at least several months, even if it is only a 30 minute flight. If you do manage to eat it and have to dispose of the rubbish, or if you lose interest in it, see #3., above.
  8. Bring all of your small children with you. After all, the flight will be full of people with nothing else to do than look after them for you. Children should not be forced to leave any of their toys at home.
  9. You can just ignore all of the warnings to switch off mobile devices until an air steward threatens you with physical violence. Then you need to take their name and their photo.
  10. As soon as possible, recline your seat fully and leave it that way for the entire flight. If anyone wants to know why, say it is broken. You may as well relax.
  11. On landing, should your flight actually manage to take off, it is OK to jump straight up and then rush to wherever you stored your heaviest possessions. No need to wait for lights to go off or announcements to be made. That would be foolish. There is a prize for the first person to stand up in the aisle. And there is a bonus for the first person off the plane.
Happy flying.

15 December 2010

FasterChef - Xmas Fairy Bread

OK, so this is my attempt at spreading (pardon the pun) Xmas cheer this year. No boring newsletter about what I did, but a useful visual feats for your eyes and stomachs. Everyone loves a cooking show on the TV these days, in fact on most stations that is all there is to watch, so I've decided to clutter up YouTube with even more mindless rubbish about food preparation. And it comes with bonus hygiene tips!
So, here we go, mind the step . . .

10 December 2010

It Gets Better

I was reminded of the very worthwhile It Gets Better project and cause by a retweet that @mstephens7 did earlier today on Twitter. There was a fair bit of publicity around World Aids Day, but it is a project that deserves ongoing support and attention. It seems to be pretty much US-focussed, but I believe there is probably still a significant challenge in Australia for many LGBT youth, especially in remote and isolated areas where they may well feel like they are from another planet.

So I did take the pledge and I'll consider uploading a dull video of my rather ordinary story. Will you take the pledge?

Oh, the retweet from Michael was a tweet by @JustinLibrarian who was telling us how Portland Public Library is doing something about this in their library:

So, I'll discuss the possibilities for us to do something in the UTS Library with our Equity and Diversity unit.

09 December 2010

PDC 2010: Participation Frameworks in Service Design & Delivery

Industry Day Panel discussion (notes)

Panel: Faruk Avdi (FA), Peter Wright (PW), Anelie Ekelin (AE) & Jeremy Walker (JW)

Wordle: Participation Frameworks in Service Design & Delivery
(full transcript available here) And to entice you to view the full transcript, here are my selected highlights from Faruk's short presentation:

  • Customers or end-users are the people I have been working for. The “user” is an esoteric concept and my desire to get to know who they are has always been tempered by less esoteric, practical constraints.
  • I believe clearly defined roles in projects involving design are important, along with hierarchies for decision making – such is our cultural custom. But I’m also fond of a rhizomatic notion of design in this context – where the end product – be it a service or otherwise – is actually the fruit of the entire ever emergent ‘organism’ of a project over time. UCD + Agile development helps with this enormously.
  • . . . one cannot design something new for customers other than by, in some way, getting into their skin and seeing the world from their perspective. (I really liked that remark. MMB)
  • It isn’t just about users: The people who should be involved in service design are the owners and sponsors of a project, design, technical, delivery and support specialists, end-users, key stakeholders (eg. representative organisations of end users) and other specialists in terms of skill or interest as may be required. But above all the imagination of the overarching designer of the service.
  • . . . design must embody the contexts and work that people seek or wish to do, and extend them as appropriate to organizational needs.
  • . . . we very deliberately sought to provide a service that people could walk up to and start using, without any prior technical knowledge, . . .
  • I am an acute idealist and pain-in-the-arse evangelist when it comes to UCD. In my mind, UCD broadly embodies humanitarian values. When it comes to joint negotiation of project goals, my main experience on this front is with sponsoring individuals and influentially significant stakeholders at the early stages of a project.
  • User participation in design is but one of many considerations that must be dealt with along the way.
  • End products and services must be a result of entire organic process involving users and designers.
  • User-participation is but one of many considerations along the way to service design.

JW (first part is his journey):

  • He went from not listening to people to frustration to development of sharper tools - via working with colleagues & customers -> (BA) concepts to detail -> went to Live|work and worked on prototype development, but still missed experience prototyping - proposition development to experience prototyping (he talked about Google Maps vice UK Ordnance Survey mapping - an old and established business model became invalid because for most people GMaps is OK & free - this seems to be something like what is happening to some libraries).
  • You can only really learn how a service works by giving it to people and let them use it. Design to Beta.
  • It isn’t about wowing a VP, it is about instigating change.
  • Let the design team and customer evolve the brief for implementation.


  • She is interested in the co-creation of e-services (if there is a distinction).
  • Anelie said she went from being a practitioner to an “academic fortress” (i.e a university – now I know how she feels)!
  • She is driven to bringing all forces together democratically and flexibly.
  • Sustainability comes through a local perspective, need and within one’s given capacity.


  • Products differ from services (as far as design is concerned).
  • User experience is key to unlocking the complexity of a user’s end-to-end experience.
  • A key participation driver is ethics and this is also a need in health services.
  • There are also important financial drivers.
  • Bring users and staff together leads to shared learning and co-design improvements. Then this can be followed up with shared evaluation.
  • Journeys can be mapped through touch-points revealing rich stories.
  • Challenges: keeping people engaged; crucial to have insiders; people in the middle; campaigning that change is worthwhile; participant requests cannot always be met; & design expertise needs are v.diverse.



  • The role of service design in large urban environments (vice small communities)?
  • You should not hand-over all responsibilities to specialists (this creates silos).


  • Simple UK services that hand over public data to the public have allowed for sharing of information. (E.g.s include transport updates, location of potholes, etc.)


  • An accountability framework = ownership by another person (this is important).

PW (I think):

  • Should politicians or systems always be responsible - or people? (Drs, nurses, etc have motivation, but they too are victims of the system)


  • Desiging to, with and for people is important.

Audience member:

  • Community connections are very important and often result in the sharing of knowledge that may not otherwise be shared.
  • Primary empathy is a critical factor in creating services.
  • There are many side-benefits from collaboration in co-creation processes.


  • Wikimedicine - a good or bad place? (Drs have no time and some concerns about contributing, so nurses are mediating in a bit of a vacuum.)
This was a thought provoking panel session and the panelists offered a wide variety of views. I doubt my notes are very comprehensive as quite a bit of the discussion was very distracting from note taking. I'll happily correct or add clarification to anything I've written above.

08 December 2010

Even more from PDC 2010: Release early: Release often strategy

Diana Mounter & Dave Gravina, Digital Eskimo (DE)

Wordle: Release early: Release often

DE's Tools
: human-centred design, PD, agile & ethnographic research.

Amongst other tactics they:

  • ask questions & challenge assumptions!
  • Break-up problems into small chunks
  • encourage risk taking & celebrate mistakes

Immersion Phase

  • workshops include co-design for shared understanding, helps bring all perspectives together
  • synthesize outcomes to define scope
  • desk research (some is usually already done)
  • observe research & interviews
  • workshop ideas with communications teams
  • they gave out packs for people to record diaries in their homes (incl cameras, diaries)
  • co-design activities brought people together, so insights were gained & shared (I think this is extremely beneficial and therefore very important for libraries in educational institutions to recognise)

User Experience Strategy

  • working with community (not just a Council)
  • synthesising findings & keeping users at centre of process
  • develop personas (to represent different user perspectives)
  • iterative approach to features (tested & feedback built in)
  • branding was a challenge - simple terms are important (not jargon) – and this changed brand “personality”
  • testing the first release with small group of users also “seeds” the product & they were surveyed
  • ambassadors become champions (checking posts, etc.)
  • statistics were given about the difference a small change can make
  • iterated on design & site architecture also (addition of events & tags stretched design in a final stage)
  • agile & participatory approach worked very well with this process delivering transparency
  • they released often got feedback & improved services
  • the client was happy, good results came, and a new platform was born

Some debate followed about whether “agile” design is good method to use for conservative/cautious clients.

People like to trial and see how things go.

How to engage skeptics or the uninterested? People segment on values, so there is a range and some people are going to be desensitised to the green message. Feeling of being part of a social norm really helps - being part of something, a growing movement. Not just preaching to converted, but giving voice to those who want to get involved. In this project it was not about (do this ) “because” but about “how to” (do something), so when ready, people could consult.

DE are doing some great work around town and in the social innovation and web-design spaces. They were one of the sponsors for Industry Day and are a company to watch in Sydney for sure.

More notes from PDC 2010: Composing Collaborative Communities

Mark Elliot, Collabforge www.collabforge.com

Wordle: Composing Collaborative Communities

Collabforge work mainly for the government sector and they've made a lot of progress re gov2.0 and in stakeholder engagement
. In fact I think they've made more progress in that respect than any bureaucracy that I've ever experienced or could imagine. In only a brief presentation he illustrated his principles with just a few amazing examples of their work that almost blew my mind.

Collabforge has three design principles:

1. Lifecycle management

  • All communities have a lifecycle: establishment (creating initial conditions), maintenance (keeping people involved) and transition (they could be shut-down or ongoing).
  • E.g. Future Melbourne (a 10 yr planning process). It grew community around the development of a plan using a wiki-based platform and is possibly the world’s first collaborative city plan (all users/contributors have add, edit, delete rights!); it is open 24/7; it facilitates city planners working with public; and there has been no spam or off-topic offensive contribution (it worked much like Wikipedia) because it takes more energy to disrupt process.
  • Post-implementation review is online.
  • He said that life-cycle management was critical for a design process.

2. Community as investment

  • This relates directly to digital literacy.
  • There aim is to reduce the number of those who are disconnected and to reuse & recycling community members.
  • Apparently they moved from a blog to a wiki.
  • See wePlan Alpine

3. Community Management

  • This means working with community to get good outcomes.
  • They used Facebook for Vital Valued Victorians (c21k fans) for the CFA as it stuck with those concerned & seemed most effective.
  • It allowed for a personal level of engagement.
  • Also, for EPA Victoria they developed a web2.0 framework to assist in internal engagement of EPA staff in a 5 yr planning process.
Mark's was probably one of the most impressive short talks that I heard on Industry Day.

In response to a question : He had made some use of mapping technologies in the Parks plans too. This meant people could drop/sharing photos on points in parks using maps.

03 December 2010

Participatory service design

These are some notes from some sessions at Industry Day of the Participatory Design Conference, held for the first time ever in the Southern Hemisphere at UTS 28 November to 3 December 2010. From the conference website:

Participation is the complex, contested, changing, creative and celebratory core of participatory design. The theme calls us to explore the current and emerging equivalents to the pioneering Participatory Design focus on involving people in the introduction of technology into their work. This PDC will take up the challenge of extending the design approaches and understandings of participation that informed the first 20 years of Participatory Design towards those that were needed to enable the field to continue to generate major innovations in design in the future.

Shaping Practice - Mariesa Nicholas, Inspire Foundation (Industry Day keynote)

http://www.inspire.org.au/ A youth suicide prevention program.

Wordle: Participatory Service Design
They built their service by having youth design it themselves. Participation is used there to promote mental health & wellbeing. Involvement of youth is seen as critical to the success of the service.

How Inspire’s practice is shaped (principles):

1. Being flexible and responsive

· Completed a year long evaluation on impact, service development & health/well-being

· Diversity of youth reflected to increase engagement

· ROMP (reach out to an MP) uses social networks

· RO has youth reporters telling stories.

· Hard to reach groups are specifically targetted.

· Using social technology to take message to youth (they use Habbo http://www.habbo.com/?migrate_from=AU). Face-to-face workshops proved unpopular, but Habbo was! People waited up to an hour to get access to a 15 minute facilitated online discussion in Habbo.

2. Communicate openly & often

· Very important & often forgotten

· Youth are OK not to be involved in all decisions, but want to understand reasoning, and need to know their role (else they get frustrated and cynical). Also want to know who else is involved & they want updates. Process must be transparent.

· Empowerment is important for youth or they become cynical

· Must be clear and open! Tokenism is to be avoided at all costs

· Mistakes: roles were not clear/checked; participants not kept updated; mistakes not addressed publicly (this is seen as a good thing).

· Conversion of one-of participants to engaged participants is important & then they become involved longer term.

· Frank & personal communications are important to build trust & genuine relationships.

3. Building a foundation for sustainable participation

· This offers opportunities for professional development is important for young leaders

· Barriers were removed to (to becoming a Youth Ambassador) in order to increase diversity & improve participation but it didn’t translate to much long term participation . . .

· The emphasis on just letting users take the initiative (alone) was wrong. Inspire found they had to provide structure & direction

· Formal staff-led programs were important

· Being a youth ambassador (YA) was seen as a privilege (so opening it up to all took away status)

· There is potential for some YAs to become over-commitment/invested and this isn't healthy - staff needed to manage these challenges

4. Participation is properly resourced

· Not a hobby or something to do in your spare time

· It needs the resources it deserves

· Initially they underestimated what was needed including time

· Participation is difficult, does not come naturally, is costly and it is complex. But the benefits are potentially great.

· Staff training was very necessary & the appreciation of time to engage youth were underestimated.

· Effective participation isn’t spontaneous or a natural process (something that just happens of its own accord)

5. Fostering a culture that values participation

· This is the secret to their success

· Inclusiveness is an organisation value

· Everyone participates in this including the CEO and they enjoy that part of their work.

· Leading by example is very important and valued by colleagues

· They include a youth rep on interview panels - to identify people (staff) who relate to, and work well with youth. (Maybe we could at least try that too with students on panels for reference librarians?)

· They have surveyed stakeholders: and the YA program is central to meaningful participation

· Staff & youth seek opportunities and improve their work

Concluding remarks

The leading mental health service in Australia is ReachOut now.

Inspire now has program, research & policy and consulting arms.

Staff get an extra week annual leave called “reflection leave” - how can it be introduced into other not-for-profit organisations?

They are now also consulting to the NFP sector & Government

They have an “exit strategy” for young people post 25 & they’re developing an alumni program (as advocates) - “setting them free” is seen as critical.