Friday, August 24, 2012

Of Mice and Men and Yves St Laurent Paris Premieres Roses

"I remember about the rabbits, George."
"The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you can ever remember is them rabbits."  - from Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men"
The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn't sleep
Oh, you know it sure is hard to leave here Carey
But it's really not my home
My fingernails are filthy, I got beach tar on my feet
And I miss my clean white linen and my fancy French cologne  - Joni Mitchell "Carey"
I never thought I'd meet John Steinbeck's Lennie Small "Of Mice and Men" anywhere, let alone in Bloomingdale's New York. But there he was, standing near the Yves St Laurent perfume counter, looking lost.

He didn't LOOK like Steinbeck's Lennie as portrayed in any of the various film and stage versions I've seen. He didn't look like the Lennie of my imagination when I first read "Of Mice and Men" at the precocious age of nine.

"Nine?" you look surprised, unconvinced even. But then remember, I was brought up in Australia in the nineteen fifties and was exposed to Literature with a capital "L" - and not to American Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse comics. The only mouse I knew of as a kid was the mouse that  Steinbeck's  Lennie Small petted to death. Things could only look up. And they did. From the dead Steinbeck mouse and life in a household where consumerism was banned, to shopping for Yves St Laurent Paris Premieres Roses in Bloomingdale's New York.

Of course the Yves St Laurent Paris Premieres Roses wasn't for me. I don't wear perfume. Some of the lessons of my childhood have stuck. "It is for a friend," I apologised silently to my father who has  long ago "gone to god" as my mother would have put it, though of course, he didn't believe in her - god that is - my mother he accepted as real.

There I was in Bloomies. And there HE was - Lennie Small. I recognized him instantly, even though he was black, gay, and gainfully employed and not poor white and hetro. I'd just paid for the perfume and stood back from the counter, waiting for one of shop assistants who we now call "associates", to gift-wrap my purchase.

"Hello," smiled Lennie. "What are you doing today?" "It's OK," I told him. "I have already bought some perfume." He was so innocent looking. So engaging. The Bloomingdale's staff employed to hang out in the perfume sections usually annoy the hell out of me. But this Lennie guy was just too sweet. I smiled back.

"Are you getting it gift-wrapped?" he asked and I told him yes, that is what I  am waiting around for. "I want to wrap it! I want to wrap it!  I love wrapping things. Can I PLEASE wrap it?" I heard the words but in my head they translated to, "I want to tend those rabbits George, please can I tend them rabbits?" What else could I do? I found the associate,  who was holding the wrapping paper and ribbons in one hand, and the box with the perfume in the other. "Can this man please wrap it for me?" I asked. She scowled. "Why? What's the matter with him?"

Sensing he might lose the opportunity, Lennie-like he whined, "But I want to wrap it. I like wrapping things". Did he call her George? Where was I? Centuries slipped back and I was nine again. George just HAD to buy that farm so that Lennie could tend them rabbits.

"Please," I begged. "Let him wrap it."  The associate relented with a sigh and handed him the paper, ribbons, scissors and box.

My god. What had I let myself in for? He took forever. He measured the box against the paper. "She cut it too big," he said. He measured the scarlet and white ribbons. He centered the box. With perfect precision he folded the paper.

He TENDED that present. The ends of the paper wrapping were perfect equilateral triangles. Oops, one end was shorter. He started again.  Un-Kate-like I waited patiently. I was nine years old again and this was Lennie Small.

An hour later it was all done. I thanked him and left, giving a nod to my childhood self of a hundred years ago.

I'd done the right thing. Them rabbits were well and truly tended.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Don't You Just Hate It When ...

Hi Kathleen,
I'm very sorry to see how upsetting this is to you. - Email from a Princeton "Researcher"

Don't know much about geography
Don't know much trigonometry
Don't know much about algebra
Don't know what a slide rule is for -   Sam Cooke, "Wonderful World"
Graduation - When Degrees Meant Something
Women of this world - don't you just hate it when certain men - especially the younger ones who were raised post political-incorrectness - tell you that you are "upset" when you complain about some service, or lack thereof.

When you are in the right, and are pointing out an error in their customer service, be it commercial, governmental or horror of horrors, educational.

What's "upset" got to do with it? It immediately implies that you are somehow not emotionally capable of dealing the blows that some inept service unprovider has dealt.

It takes focus from THE PROBLEM to one's own private mental state. Quelle nerve!!!

Some of you might know that I have, for the past 14 years, run a website for Australian expatriates. It's a relatively low hitting-site - Australia has a population of around 22 million, and even with the Australian Diaspora of 5%,  the Aussie expat community is small. Still Australians Abroad has a loyal following, and is important to those of us who go there for information or a vent.

Recently I noticed what seemed to be a DDoS attack. A websiteDistributed Denial of Service attack is when is an attempt to makewebsite unavailable to its intended users. This is usually done bymaking multiple hits or site requests so that the site is unable to cope with the traffic.

Have a look at this graph. Itshows the rate of hits before the attack, with the sharp drop indicating when the attack ceased.

This slice cover just a few hours. The "attacks" went on for days, having the effect of putting my site over quota and therefore unavailable for two hour every day.

Anyway, enough of this techie stuff! The reason I went into it is that after much researching and posting to Google website forums, I  discoverered the offenders who were not out to be malicious but were merely inept "researchers" affiliated with Princeton University and operating out of a group called

They said so very sorry we didn't mean it the dog ate my homework blah blah. I was not amused, and now having a name to put to the source of my outrage, emailed back, "Dear Mr Wzyz, ...", explaining that these tens of thousands of automated hits were unsolicited and unwelcome.

And then it came. A return email with,

Hi Kathleen,
I'm very sorry to see how upsetting this is to you ..."

Kathleen already yet! How sweet. How sharing. How it's so nice to get to know you. How pathetically familiar!

He's still emailing me. He wants ME to try to work out how it happened  on his end. The research was meant to involve one to three hits (which the guys at name a "probe" because it sounds spacey and more important) every 5 minutes. Now you and me might think that means one hit to my site from every five minutes. But NoSireeBob.

What we are doing is to perform an active probe from each PL node to every 5 minutes. The burst of traffic is probably because we conduct our measurement on around 150 PL nodes.

In human-speak, that means 150 times 3 every 5 minutes. N'est ce pas?

Anyway, or anyways as they say in the States, it was enough to annoy me,. Though that was a minor annoyance compared to the inept and so non-PC responses I'm getting from Mr. Wzyz. If the unsolicited website probes were not enough, now I have to deal with his emails!

What a week. I'd barely put the mouse down when the phone rang. It was Chase fraud alert asking me did I really make thousands of dollars in purchases from Victoria's Secret and Tiffany's.

At least one place has its act together. Of course I hadn't purchased anything from those places. Tiffany's! I haven't had breakfast there for yonks. And as for Victoria's Secret. ASIF!

A mid-western gentleman once told me that Victoria's Secret is where mid-western women go to buy stuff when they want their men to give them money.

What a hoot!

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Talking to Strangers

Oh I can't control myself
Oh I can't control myself
Oh I can't control myself
Don't leave me hanging on the telephone - Blondie, "Hanging on the Telephone"

Cool Girl with Umbrella, New York 1996
A hundred years ago when I first came to live in New York it was a very quiet place. You could walk down almost any street and the only sounds of people talking were made by tourists or lunatics, in most cases by the latter.

You could go for a stroll and actually be annoyed by the rumblings of delivery vans, the sirens from ambulances, police cars, fire engines, the New York car horns and the sound of air conditioners emitting whatever air conditioners emit.

Those days have long gone. New York noise has doubled in intensity. Now New Yorkers have had the finial inhibition lifted. They can talk anytime, anywhere, without being hampered by a need for the physical presence of another human.

The cell phone has brought equality to the streets of New York. You can no longer tell the loonies from the so-called normal New Yorkers.

I hadn't thought too much about the increase in New York noise. In fact I hadn't thought about it at all, until the other day when I was walking in Manhattan with one of my noisier New York friends - yes New Yorkers actually do differ in the noise level they emit - when she yelled, "Jesus! New York is so f-cking noisy nowadays!"

To be fair, she HAD to yell or I wouldn't have heard her. "It think it's the cell phones," I replied, but of course she didn't hear me. New Yorkers only listen to themselves.

Some New Yorkers still don't have cell phones, and are forced to talk to whoever is close by. Click on the play button below and you'll hear a typical New York conversation between two complete strangers.

Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough off the mark and missed recording the first bit. The woman, who is doing most of the talking had been sitting in, well overflowing really, her wheelchair, berating everyone who walked by for being New Yorkers and not talking to her. It's a short clip, and well worth the click!

Larry David Talks on Pretend Cell Phone
People talking on cell phones somehow block out all other sounds and enter a bubble of their own making. They'll talk about the most intimate things regardless of who might be listening.

I used to think they were just pretending to call and my reason for thinking that there was no one on the other end of the line was that people on cell phones in New York never pause. It's one non-stop stream of audible consciousness.

If I was pretending I'd have enough sense to pause now and then and "answer with an "Oh really" or two. Of course I was quite wrong in my reasoning. New Yorkers are talkers and not listeners. The cell phone is perfect for them. There are no talker-listener pairs. Just two talkers. And hence the huge increase in noise level.

For every New Yorker on a cell phone there are two simultaneous conversations. I've never been much good at maths but something tells me that this is - to use a favorite word of modern Americans - HUGE! And thinking of "HUGE" it occurs to me that the new use of this word makes maths irrelevant. Numbers are either huge or not huge. I think I'm on to something huge here.

But that's another story.