August 16, 2009
Check out this video and other fabulous examples of the EOS 5D MkII...
July 22, 2009
Let's start with the nitty gritty. For christmas we bought an LG washer-dryer unit, a fancy one that saves on space, saves on water and was being sold at a great price because the economic downturn had hit hard on luxury items such as Lexus 4WDs, Time Share packages on the Gold Coast and washing machines. One of the selling points is a ten year warranty on the motor, and a 2 year extended warranty on the rest.
Now we know why the warranty is so long, because you use up most of your warranty waiting for the repairs to happen.
The day before my wife is heading off for a 6 week film job the machine start spewing smoke into the room. Time to call LG and get it fixed, hopefully in the next day so she can do a load of laundry.
What should have been a quick call to start the process turned into a nightmare. The pleasant and helpful girl on the phone got almost everything right. She somehow managed to completely bugger up the name of the store where we bought the machine. It's difficult to fathom how she got it so wrong, it's not like she misspelled a part of the name but instead fed my words into a random word generator. The trouble is that LG decided the unit was bought second hand, as they had never heard of the retailer listed.
Of course they hadn't heard of it, the one they listed was completely fabricated!
It took a week to sort that one out. Mainly because the next level manager at the call centre failed to reply to calls. It had to go one more level up. So that's not just a week of waiting, that's a week of calling and being promised someone will call back today, tomorrow, etc. You know the drill.
So we now get booked in for a call-out. Not from LG though. That's important, LG don't service their own machine, it's outsourced to the nearest contractor. There are implications on this, as from here on the status of the repair is no longer tracked by LG. I was told that my guy would arrive between 9am and 5pm, which means any regular wage-earner has to take a day of annual leave to attend the call out. Hmmm, that makes it an expensive repair already and so far a week has already elapsed.
The dirty clothes are stacking up.
He arrived at 6pm. On a scale of 1 to 10 the efficiency of the call centre and the timing of the repair technician is rating a 2. It doesn't take long to ascertain the drum is buggered and it needs to go back to the workshop for repairs. But he doesn't do that, they have to book it in for a pick-up. Oh. So that's another day of annual leave that the poor suckers who buy this machine are expected to give up. This repair is getting very expensive indeed.
And here's the kicker. They wont do the pickup until *after* the new parts have arrived.
Two weeks go by, and no action. I finally call the LG centre again to ask what's going on. I give my reference number, get asked a bunch of random questions that lead me to believe they haven't actually typed in the reference number at all, and then get transfered to another second level operator. And that hold music is circling inside my head like a scythe wielding banshee, slashing at my sanity. How I hate that frigging tune, that 30 seconds of pseudo music that has come to symbolize the trauma of LG and their repair protocols.
I get a cheerful person on the line who just says "Hello how can I help you?" Oh no, do I have to repeat this entire conversation all over again? Does anybody actually use that reference number? Or is it just another product of their random word and number machine that spits out useless and non-related data to re-enter into their customer information systems?
And here's the fun part. LG don't know who is repairing my machine. They have no record of that.
In a few days time I'll be marking the fourth week without the washing machine. No minor inconvenience when you live without a car in a suburban neighbourhood where laundromats went out with the vinyl record. Our hideously expensive christmas present still sits in the laundry, quiet and useless.
I'm hoping this thing gets repaired before the extended warranty runs out. And if any of the boffins at LG are listening, please stop selling top-end white goods if you don't intend to deliver on the quality of the product or service them effectively.
LG Steam Washer / Dryer WD1248RD
July 06, 2009
This week's comments at Canberra's National Press Club was a rally call to champion the worthy content of newspapers, to stake a claim to the relevance of the daily papers and outline the future for News Ltd to make them more appealing to their customers.
In his own words, "As some of you may know we are completely reinventing our features coverage with new national sections in-paper and online. One of them is travel. Up till now travel journalism has been junket journalism. The airline with the best trip, the resort with the best room, gets the cover. It’s voyeurism but it’s not value. Instead of the same old destination stories we intend to give readers information that helps them research their next holiday and the tools to book and pay for it. Just by reading the newspaper or visiting the site."
Today I read the speech again with a little distance, and it doesn't offend me quite as much as it did the first time I read it. Why? Because when I first read it my colleagues at the ASTW were up to their armpits in debate about the future of Australian travel journalism, and had been under attack from a spurious complaint that any sponsored travel editorial is tainted. In that light, Hartigan's comments look like a red rag to a bull.
Take these comments on their own, you could interpret that Hartigan is admitting his own failures rather than slapping *all* travel journos in the face.
It was his editors at ESCAPE who were running stories about which business class seats were the best, having sampled a handful in the period of a few weeks on special famils. It was his editors who sourced editorial content specifically for a particular airline to showcase their destinations. It was his editors who run the endless stream of facile Fiji resorts without balancing the presentations with other Pacific or Asian destinations where travellers can get better value for money and immerse themselves in some genuine culture.
This is my view of where News Ltd has floundered. They kicked out a couple of great travel editors a few years ago and shoved some square pegs in round holes. Sydney got a news desk man and Melbourne got, well, Melbourne got totally screwed. There's no other way to put it. (I'm told he's a nice guy, but he was a rubbish editor in every possible way) We learned a few weeks back that things were changing, that a new editorial regime would replace the current ESCAPE format. And guess what, they put a decent editor in charge of the show.
I'm going to watch this space with a cautious eye, but it almost looks as though Hartigan is doing exactly what he's saying.
The new emphasis for travel to be informative and a resource for the reader is not novel. Take a look at Vacations & Travel, a national magazine that manages to publish a sensational edition every quarter. Presented in the best of glossy paper the content is attractive, relevant and is accompanied by a cascade of options for the traveller who wants to look deeper into the destination. It's the best shopping guide for Australian travellers in the market. It's not a Lonely Planet, it wont tell you what to do when you get there. Instead it tells you about a bunch of great experiences, why you might want to go there and who in Australia can help make it happen.
Is there a relationship between the advertisers and the editorial - yes. That's the nature of advertising, you have to sell space in the mag to pay for content. The price at the newspaper stand along doesn't cover it. This applies to any travel publication - a good editor sets up a forward plan for content and the advertisers can fight over the slots. Sometimes editorial is commissioned to support advertising too - to highlight a destination that isn't otherwise getting a run.
If you look carefully at Hartigan's speech you find the smoking gun. "Give them something they can’t get anywhere else."
Fair call. I think just about every travel writer in the ASTW would like to do that. We'd much rather be wandering off the trail and reporting on travel that goes beyond the cliche and covered. If that really is the mandate that Hartigan has given to his new look ESCAPE team then we're in for some interesting years and perhaps a revival of the very things that stir our passion for travel.
This blog diverted from it's original theme, about journalism rather than travel journalism.
Hartigan has pointed on many occasions that he feels journalism is in a healthy state today, compared to decades past. Lots of competition, lots of passionate journos and lots of open debate about issues - and he has a point, the media world is far more dynamic even without some of the familiar mastheads. The trouble is that the agenda being set by editors are usually the wrong issues - the people of Australia are too often being led down the path of the sensational instead of the informative.
Just take a look at what the Herald-Sun in Melbourne puts on the front page on any given day, and compare that to the real stories of the day and ask yourself if the debate is taking place on a level playing field?
I think John Hartigan is less concerned about the influence of Rupert Murdoch than I am. Personally I am less concerned with Rupert in particular than I am with concentrated ownership of the media. It concerns me that any one man would have such a potent influence on the selection of so many editors - and hence the debates take place on the wrong issues.
That's where my views most likely differ from Hartigans.
June 30, 2009
The art of travel is being squeezed into a lowest common denominator scenario, a race to the bottom.
Two events recently brought the mood of gloom to a head. First a posting on a blog that rather naively claims that Australian travel journalists are the worst in the world because they accept free trips (link here) (yes, does rather sound like someone *didn't* get a free trip and now they've hit the bitch button). Second was the promotion of Travel + Leisure Magazine as "the travel magazine you can truly rely on because their world-class editors, writers and photographers pay their own way wherever they go."
My first reaction to that little jibe was "bollocks, ya tossers". Some of the other ASTW members were a little more wounded by this, and the reaction was potent. This seemingly innocuous piece of self-congratulatory skyting really dug at a decade of hard knocks for the professionals in the business. Having had their incomes slashed, their content shoe-horned into increasingly smaller slots, their access to sponsored travel stripped away year after year the real travel journalists (freelancers who are committed to travel and make a living selling their work) are now being slapped in the face with a wet haddock.
The suggestion is that you can't trust other travel writers because they accept sponsorship. Which is like saying a review of a sports car is tainted because the writer didn't buy the car, or similar for movie critics, culinary writers, wine editors, etc. In essence, if you didn't have industry sponsorship of critics and writers you wouldn't have much media left at all.
It especially irks the real travel journos because they live or die on the quality of their work. If you don't sell the story to an editor you don't get paid. Travel + Leisure are a little bit different of course. It's not clear how their travel gets paid for - are they earning such a substantial salary from the magazine that the cost of the travel is fully compensated, or is the magazine directly picking up the tab by way of an allowance. Either way, the point is the employer is ensuring the costs are covered, not the writer.
It means the travel is not paid for by a hotel chain with a vested interest in the outcome. That is true. Compare that to a freelance journo who accepts a limited number of famils each year and writes up the ones that are sellable were worthy of coverage. If the hotels were rubbish and the destination a bore then the writer isnt going to waste time writing them up, they go write something that's actually worth *reading*.
As one of my editors put it, why fill a travel section with stories of where NOT to travel. That's not what their audience wants.
Travel writers are people who chose a lifestyle based on sharing what is wonderful and inspiring others to broaden their horizons. Life is too short and the world too fascinating to waste too much time talking about what sucks in travel.
And here's the rub - the off-handed remarks by bloggers and well-paid staff journalists strike an off note because they call into question the motives of the freelance journalists. They drop words like freeloaders and have a laugh about snouts in the trough. One particular editor has earned himself a reputation for denigrating the very writers he buys content from - again a case of sour grapes having failed as a freelancer himself.
Such casual character assassination of freelance writers is particularly nasty because the real motives of the writers are nearly always far more noble. These are people who gave up other career opportunities and better paying jobs in order to do something worthwhile. They are humanitarians, they fund raise for charities, they actually give a damn about the inequality they see overseas and in Australia. They are the ones who have opened their minds to a bigger world and have made a decision to share that world as best they can.
Instead of being respected for giving up the security of a staff job to invest their lives in the real world, they are simply labelled as freeloaders and told their stories are lies - all because someone else picked up the bill for a hotel and an airline ticket.
Let's not forget why travel is important. It broadens our appreciation for life, makes us aware that there is more to life than the narrow confines of a job, a house in the suburbs and two cars in the driveway. Without travel the scope of our appreciation for humanity is restricted to what we already know.
And for the most part we know very very little. The more you travel the more you realise how little we know. It's humbling, expanding and inspiring.
June 26, 2009
The literary canons under which Roman authors published were rigidly imposed, demanding exact use of rhythm and meter when delivering their message. If you can imagine trying to write an service manual for a German car using only Haiku and half the alphabet, then you're half way there. Not only was there a requirement for words to flow with song, but the Latin language itself was poorly equipped for words to convey sentiment of romance and love.
Poetic figures such as Catullus and Ovid managed to express themselves however, and perhaps their classic works were forged in part from those very constraints that countered free expression.
If so then the internet is heralding a very dire future for us all.
May 25, 2009
A good discussion has popped up between some members of the ASTW regarding the recent announcement by News Ltd that they'll be looking for their contributors to provide more than just words and pictures from now one, they want moving pictures to embellish their growing online presence. This has raised a few hackles and stirred up some old wounds.
I joined in with my two cents worth, because I think this time the publishers have got it wrong and will fail to achieve the stated aim. Experienced journalists need not fear that their bread and butter will be swallowed up by a younger generation who are video blog savvy - the real danger is that the big brands in media will fail to see the folly of their ways before they go broke. Falling advertising revenue and competition from the internet is not what is killing the traditional media, it's the knuckle headed management of these companies that is still searching for that elusive free lunch.
You know I don't disagree with your sentiments Paul, but I do think that there's a big difference between photos and video when it comes to the devaluation of our craft. Market forces have made the most of the digital revolution in still photography, and that's the reality for guys like us trying to sell images. I don't think it's as simple as just pointing the finger at editors and publishers, there is a broader context than that - If not for the current quality of compact and DLSR equipment then those magazines you refer to would not have the material they need.
But digital video is a different situation entirely. There simply isn't the same depth of quality material available out there, so publishers will have to spend money if they want publishable videos. And in all likelihood they wont or cant spend that money, and their aspirations for content will remain largely unfulfilled. As Julie suggested the skills and equipment needed to generate a presentable video are far greater than a good shot. A 30 second TV commercial in Australia requires a dozen people or more to produce, and costs more than any of us make in a whole year.
What this move does signal is an opportunity for those who have the right talent and are inspired to chase it. Graham is looking at getting some training so he can join the party. Good for you Graham, I hope it works out for you. Personally I'd love to shoot more motion video but I have my hands full processing the stills and writing notes while I travel. I have a backlog of both at present, so how on earth would I find time to start editing videos as well?
But some ASTW members will no doubt be better able to meet that challenge. My guess it wont be many however. Video is fundamentally a different challenge than stills. Writers are predisposed to making the leap to photography, by virtue of passion and knowledge of the subject - the digital revolution simply made that step more manageable for many by reducing the logistical burden of film and equipment. Video is far more demanding because it requires significant resources to edit what you shoot, and it benefits dramatically from planning and advance research of the material. Cheaper and more compact HD cameras is not going to result in competitive content flooding the online travel sections, it results in teenagers posting mindless video-blogs on Facebook.
So I think we need not worry too much about being pushed out of the market due to lack of video to upload with our stories.
And a word of caution for the publishers out there. If you think you can access quality video content at bottom of the bucket prices then you may have a serious flaw in your business model. But some of these publishers are the same people who still haven't recognised that reducing your budget for content invariably reduces the appeal of your travel section to advertisers.
They're still looking for that free lunch.
May 14, 2009
I love it, I really do.
The comic relief began today with reports of former president Clinton giving some advice to Cheney - "It's over." While Cheney is firing shots in all directions in a desperate bid to distract the world from his failures, Clinton also suggested that Dicky could use a little target practice.
> Clinton has a laugh
It seems the rest of Dirty Dick's military prowess has been exposed, and Cheney's accuracy with the facts is no better than his accuracy in that ill fated hunting trip of 2006 when he fired birdshot into a Texas attorney isntead the quail. Maureen Dowd at the New York Times has a delicious summary of how Cheney is setting himself up as a lightening rod - the more noise he makes the more obvious that something went hideously wrong in American politics during the past ten years, or longer.
"Cheney has replaced Sarah Palin as Rogue Diva. Just as Jeb Bush and other Republicans are trying to get kinder and gentler, Cheney has popped out of his dungeon, scary organ music blaring, to carry on his nasty campaign of fear and loathing.
The man who never talked is now the man who won’t shut up. The man who wouldn’t list his office in the federal jobs directory, who had the vice president’s residence blocked on Google Earth, who went to the Supreme Court to keep from revealing which energy executives helped him write the nation’s energy policy, is now endlessly yelping about how President Obama is holding back documents that should be made public."
> Dicky gets done by the NY Times
There were a few old chestnuts waiting to be roasted from the sordid past of Doomsday Dick today however. Paul Begala wrote a succinct assassination of the Cheney failures in which he points out that Cool Hand Cheney deferred his draft five times during the Vietnam War. Dick the Dodger had other priorities at the time it seems. The full story is enlightening, describing the collective failures of Cheney and friends to act on intelligence before 9/11, plus the red-herrings introduced by their torture policy after 9/11.
> A short history of Cheney-isms
Deadly Dick was the main feature but the supporting cast was worthy of mention. His daughter weighed in with her own insightful contributions into whether Cheney's support for torture should be scrutinized by the new administration - "When did it become so fashionable for us to side, really, with the terrorists?"
I'm not personally familiar with Liz Cheney's qualifications or experience with international law, but there's a palpable air of desperation when a former Vice-President starts wheeling out the family to pitch hit on Fox News.
You get the feeling that something very important was missing in the interview, which is not uncommon for any news or current affair program aired by Fox. The missing ingredient was so obvious that Jesse "The Body" Ventura managed not only to spot it, but has the Bloggersphere in overdrive when he nailed it in a nutshell...
"You give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."
> Larry King and Jesse Ventura
Dicky Desperado is squealing like a pig for one reason - he knows he got it wrong. Nobody was meant to find out about the torture (enhanced interrogation techniques), the methods don't yield actionable intelligence and their use simply adds fuel to the outrage against American foreign policy - they are illegal, immoral and ineffective.
Cheney and his comedy routine would be funny if it weren't for the fact that the entire world has been impacted by the tragic policies of the previous White House administration - many of which bare his stamp in spirit and letter. The misguided patriotism of this man helped to turn a tragedy on 9/11 into a disaster for the entire world.
We are none of us safer.
April 29, 2009
But I travel not to add countries to my list, or to claim my ownership of lands far away. I travel to learn, to understand, to discover. This is why I often go back to places I have already been to. Each visit is an opportunity to gain a few more nuances, to uncover detail and meaning in things for which I previously had only the most basic of outlines.
Coming back to the Scandinavian Arctic in the spring was a fascinating experience for me. I have now seen Sami cultural centres from Finland, Sweden and Norway - and been bamboozled by at least five of their minority languages. I have seen some similarities, some differences, some treasures and some tragedies. I met a Sami man who sold his reindeer ten years ago and now cannot afford to buy a snow-mobile. He works as a fisherman in the north. He is further away from his tradition than he could ever imagine, and returns to inland towns for the purpose of reliving his injustices through alcohol. Many Sami people have carved a niche for themselves in tourism, art or herding reindeer. But many have not faired so well.
Of all the layers of meaning that have tried to fill my mind this trip, the shaman's drum is perhaps the most special for me. The keepers of wisdom in Sami cultures were called Najd, which today we can recognise as a shaman. The Najd had a drum, a skin taught over birch frame and detailed with symbols that relate to everyday life in the Arctic. Sun, Moon, Reindeer, and so on. The drum was a device, not the divine. It allowed the Najd to initiate communication with the spirits and interpret their messages. The Najd was not necessarily powerful, but respected for his ability to make clear, to elucidate, to understand the greater depth of meaning that surrounds the world. Najd were gifted to make sense of their place in the world, and that of their community.
And that's why I travel. To make sense of the world. It doesn't matter to me why my neighbour drives a better car than I do or whether I should have thought more carefully about which degree to study in University. The brownian motion of a single life is trivial in comparison to the gentle flow of a river from the mountain to the sea, or the annual snowfall that feeds the glaciers high above the mountain, or the varying length of the winter and summer cycles that determine the life span of those glaciers.
As I travel I continue to see bigger pictures,a glimpse of glaciers and sometimes there age as well. At times the scene is grim and depressing, in fact a lot of the time. But there are always threads of gold woven through the most decrepid of global realities. Often I am treated to the beautiful charms and character of people in other cultures. It could be the natural calmness of a single person, the communal cooperation of a village, or the comfortable tolerance of an entire nation.
Above all the travel proves to me that I am so very very small, and how pleasant it is to be so very very small. In recognising the greater forces that are present in my world, and within the world, it becomes easier to accept the world as it is. My path of learning is not about expanding my own psyche, it's discovering that my mind exists within a much greater psyche. Knowledge is not within the mind, it's within the world, scattered everywhere like the viens of gold that hide beneath the soil or a fluid body of water that waits patiently below a lake's frozen layer of ice.
As I fly out of the Arctic Circle I can see snow below me as far as the horizon. Soon that snow will melt and the earth below will turn green, the lakes will turn blue and the rivers will flood with the melt. In the days to come men and women will take their reindeers and head north. Some will find a quiet place in the mountains for the calves to be born. Others will herd by forest rivers where the Sami can catch fish while the reindeer graze on new growth. The Sami people have eight seasons, each named according to what they do with the reindeer.
So far I have learned just one of their seasons. And that is why I travel. I see the similarities between the Sami seasons and the people of Kakadu. Learning about the Sami shaman I gain a deeper respect for the Indigenous elders, continents away in a world made very small through knowledge. As a writer I feel a kinship with the Najd and their ability to communicate truths in a world far broader than any one person. I hope to help others to see further, understand wider and care more deeply for the rest of the world that they have never experienced.
It's a mistake to think that travel is about travelling. Travel is about learning - about others and yourself as well. Because the more you learn about others the more you see we share great things, and the more you learn about yourself the more you realise you are part of great things.
What can I learn from paying $20 to visit a theme park? Not much if there are 100,000 other people being bused through the gate each day. That's not travel. What can you learn from parking a car at the side of the road in 6ft of snow and needing 12 Norweigians to pull you out? Everything. I learned what an idiot I can be, I learned that people walking home will stop to help even when it makes them late, I learned that a man driving a brand new Audi is keen to be helpful but has no practical knowledge on how to tow a car out of the snow, and I learned that a couple of locals in a mini-van can pull a tonne of rental car sideways across the road even though they can't speak a word of English.
Travel is about people. Travel is about learning. That is why I travel.
April 25, 2009
I want to let go, to slip into the river and let the water carry me, guide me, place me where i belong. I dont belong here, there is no home of my making just a series of other peoples homes, people who dont seem to know me. I want to drift on the river, let it wrap me up and nurture me, be a part of it as though my body were made of water.
This planet I am born into is absurd with meaningless lives. Excess, greed, possession - they cultivate starvation, poverty and death. They watch drama on tv but ignore tragedy in life, a planet rife with parasites walking on two legs, walking all over the have nots. Our civilization is barbaric to the core, glinting with a guilt edge shiny sharp and shameless.
I was born into a cyclone, a family of the familiar spinning like headless chickens with their minds grotesquely severed from their hearts. A home spun microcosm of the greater world, a prelude to the horror. Brutality in the home is renamed 'good business' when you walk out the door, it's a seedling of the modern jungle where corporations hold the big stick and the mindless majority dance to the tune. The pied piper jiggles and we the rats run, running until our race is over. We are the final subjects to be consumed by consumerism, devoured by a pestilence of our own making.
Put me in the cool water. Let me float away with all the other rats and dream of a world where the pain has stopped, where gardens are more valued than garbage, where the sky is a home, where people are rare. That's where I belong.
April 04, 2009
Up until the crash we assumed the question was how large a global population is environmentally sustainable? Now we have to ask if the earth's current population is economically sustainable. The consumer frenzy of developed nations has fed a trickle of opportunity to poorer countries who are now facing a dire cessation of demand. What will 1 billion people in India do to earn a living when there are no jobs exported to their shores?
Underpinning this current market debacle is the assumption that growth is good. More consumers, more production, more profits. It's a false economy because the true cost of the goods is rarely paid at the register. Credit spending is the economic equivalent of logging the rainforest. What is the cost to the next generation? Sustainable economics is the key to long term stability of a globalised world, and quite possibly is the flip side of the environmental coin. Unbridled greed for goods is not kind to the planet or its people.
February 17, 2009
At least that's what I first thought. However, my recollection of super-sized entrance gates at Disney Land tell me something different. Maybe the average Aussie is less inclined to be fit and fab, but they're neither likely to be blobs of flab.
There is another explanation. Maybe the new figures don't so much reveal that Aussies are much fatter than we used to be, perhaps there's been a dramatic increase in Anorexia and other eating disorders in America?
Think about it. Aussie girls aren't as obsessed with being match stick skinny, and tend to avoid the mega chubby syndrome that keeps Ford F-100 trucks in high demand. Big girls in big cars?
Of course Australians are working more hours a week than ever before. Less time for family, fitness and fun. If we all cut back to a 3 day working week just think how much healthier we'd all be.