A voice crying in the wilderness

Small Mercies

One thing I am really liking about getting back into blogging again is that because of my habit of typing everything into a word processor rather than directly into the blog feed, I like to take a couple of days out from posting so I can reread and review the article a couple of times first. Sometimes I need to revisit my writing as I wish to inspire and motivate people rather than having them immediately click on the “I’m offended!” button. I’d much prefer they go “Oh, I never thought of it that way” or “I’m glad to see this topic from someone’s point of view” than shout “Hate speech!” and block me.

Sometimes, however, it makes me realise that perhaps I have wandered off the point and turned the article into something else; that I need to stop, go back and rewrite the whole thing again or put that article aside and write about something else.

My evening walks are useful for this – if I’ve spent a chunk of the afternoon writing and editing, I’ll go for a walk and as I’m doing my mental ‘filing and sorting’ for the day, I might realise that there is something more important that I need to write about and I can come back to that first article later with a fresh point of view.

Social media has made us prone to the attitude of “reactions now, consequences later” – we don’t think of how many people will take the post the wrong way and see something that isn’t there. Of course, you will always have those who are looking for something to be offended by and will deliberately and intentionally read something out of context so they can bolster their already flawed perspective. But if you can do something to crack through that imperfect shield of theirs, you’ve made a start.

Remember the old (new) proverb – you can lead a man to knowledge but you can’t make him think.

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV

I’ve been spending a lot of time this year thinking about the past – visiting places where I used to live, replaying video games that I played during those times and generally spending a lot of time reminiscing.

Yet when I do go to these places, they are not the same as they used to be. I walk the streets that I walked 30 years ago and though the location is still the same, the feeling is not. The houses have changed, the trees have been removed, the people moved on and changed. I replay some of my favourite games of my youth and they don’t seem as fun, so amazing or innovative anymore.

It took me a while to realise what had happened – so much of what I missed was to do with freedom and innocence; we could face the day with energy and enthusiasm, all time to play and no responsibility. We didn’t have to face the drudgery of a day job, didn’t know about or fully understand the corruption of the world around us. We hadn’t yet discovered for ourselves alcohol, cigarettes, cigars and bidis. We still had an ozone layer. Recycling was something that happened to hippies. Farmers understood the seasons rather than relying on technology to tell them what to plant.

We had hair and it was still its original colour.

Then Something Happened. We grew up. We became Adults. We became responsible. We worked 9 to 5 jobs, met nice girls, got married, bought nice houses, started (hopefully) nice families. Somewhere along the way, we exchanged innocence for seriousness, playfulness for diligence. We could still have fun but as the years passed, we were allowed less as fun somehow became undignified and inappropriate.

One day we came to a point in our lives where we started questioning everything around us – Is this making me happy? What happened to the joy I experienced as a child? Why does nothing bring me satisfaction anymore? We realise that everything that the world tells us will make us happy does not. Instead, it brings us more stress, more frustration and more grief. If we aren’t happy, it is something wrong with us, not the ideals that are dictated to us by the media, The Corporations. Here, take this medication – it might make you feel better now though it will probably eventually kill you…

We started looking back at what we used to love and found that didn’t make us happy anymore, either.

It is said that the memory is a great liar – we think back to the times we thought were joyful and see that they are empty. We look back with fondness at what were difficult times and see the lessons learned, the experience gained and the character developed. If we knew then what we know now, how different would our lives have become.

Truly, if we are to be real people, we should remember the lessons of the past but live for today for tomorrow is not promised. How many people have you known to plan for the future, to work hard and save much with the plan to retire early and in comfort only to die unexpectedly of a heart attack or be hit by a bus? Those who invested in property, those who worked endlessly and sacrificed much with the expectation of retiring at 60 to travel the world but were taken out by cancer aged 47? Instead, live modestly, simply and carefully – reject the false icons that clamour for our attention. Close your ears to those that tell you material wealth is the true indicator of your character. One of the many reasons I prefer to live here in North Mordor is to remind myself to remain humble and not envy the surrounding posh suburbs with their cashed up bogans, their trash with cash. It keeps me Real.

Driving an Audi, BMW or Mercedes does not mark you as successful, it marks you as a fool who doesn’t know how to spend their money wisely.

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
– Isaiah 43:18-19 ESV

Is it possible to love the concept more than the subject itself?

I find myself settling into a Madness about China and, subsequently, Japan again. What I think I understand however is that it isn’t living in Japan that appeals, but its “Japan-yness”. Because of having such a large number of people living in a comparatively small nation – Australia has 7.7 million square kilometers with a population of 24 million people compared to 129 million people living in 378,000 square kilometers in Japan, thus a population density of 3 people per square kilometer versus 340 – there is a greater focus on group harmony or community harmony. No one wants to upset one another, everyone has a great respect for each other’s space and peace.

On rereading “Persimmon wind” by Dave Lowry, I learned of two concepts. The first, “Wa” () refers to “harmony” – maintaining the peace in the group by putting aside their own individual desires for the benefit of the many. This is a concept that very much goes against First World Western perspective – we are a society that is very focused on the needs and wants of the individual. We might have a rowdy party without considering how much this might disturb our neighbours, or talk loudly into our phone whilst on the train or in a restaurant.

The second concept is “Ma” (), or “negative space” – it is often translated as “interval”, “gap” or “pause”. Its the things left out that convey more meaning that the things put in.

Put another way, the Western perspective is to fill every available space, every available moment with substance and noise – even to the point where we lose ourselves and become buried under endless nonsense.

The concept of “Ma” is that we keep things simple and empty – instead of filling a wall with dozens of posters and pictures, we might have only one or two images on the wall that we would be able to focus on and absorb all the details. Compare Bach’s “Air” to a Yngwie J. Malmsteen million-notes-per-second guitar solo. Peak hour traffic versus a quiet drive along the coast or walk in the mountains.

We fill our lives with so much stuff and nonsense that we leave no room for ourselves. Sometimes we become so filled with everyone else’s ideas and concepts that we no longer know who or what we are.

We don’t take the time to stop and appreciate what we have. We don’t take time to just stop and breath.

Despite my crazed passions of the last year, I have no real desire to live in Japan for an extended period, nor have I any great desire to learn the written language even though I have managed to (largely) get my head around the spoken language. Truly, it is to the point that I struggle to learn any other language – someone speaking to me in French or Indonesian would have me automatically replying in Japanese despite my best efforts.

This isn’t to say that I haven’t wanted to move there – during my illness and extended recovery last year, depression led me to want to leave my marriage, move to Japan and take up permanent residence, change my name to Akira Kobayashi and go native. I wanted to renounce my previous life and start afresh in a new land.

Perhaps one day I will – I’m toying with the idea of retiring to Japan; that is, at least, when I am in a position that I no longer need to earn a living or march to the beat of another’s drum. I can go out to teach, or stay home and drink beer, people watch and smoke my pipe, whenever and however I feel.

So why do I keep becoming obsessed about Japan? I’ve done my share of hard work and long hours, enough that I wouldn’t want to go back to living that way again. I’ve lived in small apartments, but even the smallest here is nothing compared with how small they are there. I’ve done my share of long commutes, typically covering 500km a week. And after 25 years of anime and manga fandom, I’m quite over the insatiable appetite and shallowness of popular culture.

What is it that calls to me from there? I’m attempting to find out some more at the Perth Japan Festival coming up in three weeks. I’m endeavoring to distill the essence of Japan in an attempt to apply it to my life here, within the confines of a self absorbed, self centered and selectively tolerant Western society. Around the world, major cities will often have their “Chinatown” and “Little Japan” areas where entire suburbs and communities are given over to a single culture, but Perth is small enough and isolated enough that we have, at best, Generic Asian Fusion Town – Northbridge – where every non-Anglo-Saxon culture rubs shoulders on a daily basis. Consider the number of Japanese restaurants and eateries operated by Korean and Chinese with how few are operated by actual Japanese.

I have visited the Hyogo Prefectural Government Culture Centre in City Beach though I have yet to sign up for their study groups – I work alternate weekends at The Day Job but it is a better arrangement than it used to be. Aside from formal lessons, there is a comprehensive library for everyone to read (though you have to be a paid up member to borrow items) and casual chat sessions where one can just drop in and pass the time of day over a coffee, each helping another to practice a less familiar language – open to members and non-members alike.

Though it occurs to me why I might desire to learn about Japan from someone who has chosen to leave there.

Perhaps it would give me a better perspective and appreciation of “here”?

I had written a reply to a post on CityCost that was almost longer than the original article – I thought it broad enough to warranty reposting since it makes sense even without the context of the original post.

Decluttering and minimalist living will always be an ongoing project.

Ever since I adopted a similar philosophy myself, it has become a continuous battle – brought on in part by living in such a materialist society where having more junk and clutter is seen as success, in part by family who persist in giving gifts of random “things” because they find it difficult to accept that you no longer desire stuff, and by others decluttering themselves and wanting to rehome things they want rid of.

Being a Natural Born Hoarder myself, I know the pain of putting things into the recycling only to find that you need that item a week later.

Some items you can work with a virtual sense – I buy almost all my music in digital format now, either kept on my computer or media center, or uploaded to The Cloud to stream on the go. My wife and I have acquired electronic versions of books that we don’t read often but didn’t want to get rid of – at one point we had a collection that shamed the local library. As much as possible, we also acquire digital versions of movies and games. All of this makes for more space and less dusting.

In terms of offloading things you no longer want or need, we often donate to local charity shops or advertise in our church community; for every item that you don’t want there will always be someone who needs it desperately but can’t afford to buy it. Nothing that is reusable need ever end up in landfill.

Visiting Bali has been on my mind once again.

A crazy week at The Day Job due to a draining roster and staff illness, absence or suspension left me feeling very sore and burned out by Sunday night. Even as I was getting ready for work on Sunday morning, I glanced in the mirror and noticed for the first time how sick I looked – my face pinched and drawn and my skin tone looked almost blue. I would have happily taken the day off if we had a full compliment of staff, and I was confident that I had achieved all of my targets. Fortunately it was the last shift of a long roster and so was only five hours.

I had been using my massage chair quite a lot during the week because of a sore lower back, to the point where I was starting to feel quite bruised. I earnestly wished I was back over in Bali again where we were getting complimentary massages at the hotel’s day spa and on just about every street was another day spa offering full body massages for under $AUD10.

Even now, on my second RDO of the new week, I sit in my studio with the gas heater humming away and listening to the rain. As I write, it is 9 degrees Celcius outside. I always thought of myself as a Winter person but since visiting Bali last year, I don’t enjoy Winter any more other than the rainfall watering the garden and filling the dams.

But why do I think so much of Bali? Nekohime-sama and I visited a year ago next Sunday, staying for a week at a new (less than 12 months old) 5 star hotel. The heat and humidity were quite a shock to the system after leaving a Wintery Perth at 4am, though I had mostly adapted to it after a day. Most of the places we visited were within walking distance, though walking was always a challenge on most streets as the pavements were quite uneven, often under maintenance and frequently blocked by parked vehicles. Searching for somewhere to have lunch on the first day left me rather sunburned as I didn’t wear a hat, the maps we were given suggesting that the best eateries were only minutes from the hotel. We spent quite a lot of time at the pool, though I am not much of a swimmer – the pool was located at the centre of the hotel so by mid-afternoon, much of it was in shade and the sea breeze made it feel comparatively chilly. The poolside bar provided drinks to wherever we were seated and, if required, the kitchen would also deliver food poolside as well though they didn’t encourage it.

People frequently tell us that they go to Bali for the shopping – there wasn’t a great deal that we saw that appealed to us, though we did buy a few articles at various small shops and market stalls such as Seminyak Square and The Flea Markets. I came away with a couple of shirts and Nekohime purchased some loose cotton pants. A visit to Mata Hari in Kuta also provided a few t-shirts and a cardigan. However, after we returned home and washed some of our new acquisitions, several of them had to be thrown out as they either came apart or shrank in the wash, much to our disappointment.

I think the best memories of our visit, aside from the trip to the Safari Park, was dining out at a different restaurant almost every lunch and dinner. Breakfast was included in our hotel package and we were each given vouchers for one lunchtime meal and one dinner. I think only one restaurant left us feeling disappointed, but we didn’t know at the time that traditional Indonesian food was served at room temperature. Though we finished our meal, we were left feeling unwell for much of the evening. Most of the meals were very cheap by Perth standards – dinner for two with a beer each usually came to no more than $AUD25 – about half what we would pay for in Perth – some only coming to $AUD18. The only surprise was at a rooftop bar at the beach where we had been recommended to go by family as they had visited there only a couple of weeks before – the bill, including a couple of cocktails, came to just shy of $100 – I had brought only just enough money with me to cover it. However, the staff having learned that it was my birthday gave me a slice of cake (with “Happy birthday” written on the place in chocolate sauce), a handshake from each of the waitstaff whilst the band played “Happy birthday to you” and two vouchers for free cocktails which we used the following evening.

I think the greatest appeal of Bali was having a week away from the pressures of everyday society where all the housekeeping and cooking was taken care of by someone else, drinks (at least, beers) were cheap and plentiful, a taxi ride cost pocket change and the biggest decision we had to make each day was where to eat or which path we would walk down to find our way back to the hotel. Sitting outside on the gotel balcony on a balmy evening sipping a triple shot gin and tonic (I drank most of a litre of duty free gin during the week’s stay as I didn’t want to bring home a partially opened bottle in my luggage), it was during that quiet, fuzzy headed time that I thought that I could handle living like that every day. Maybe we could move to Bali and live like kings?

I had hoped on my days off that I could take some time to sit out on a banana lounge in the back garden and get some sun whilst reading and sipping a Bintang beer or so. This was not to happen, though – in the last 36 hours we have had in excess of 30mm of rain and the temperature has barely reached 11 degrees. Though I can’t afford to travel to Bali any time soon, I had at least hoped to travel there in my mind.

Cross posted from Chrome

The High Voltage SID Collection has been around for some time, collecting every known example of Commodore 64 music and audio regardless of how obscure or uncooperative the original file might be.

A new Facepalm Headesk page, the High Voltage Graphics Collection, has been created to collect some of the more unique and outstanding examples of Commodore 64 graphics – clever coding and design has gone far beyond the hardware limitations of the original system permitting new psuedo-graphics modes such as switching between low resolution colour bitmaps and high resolution on alternate frames, using software manipulation of the colour palette to alter the colour map each display line, theoretically permitting up to four unique colours for every 8 by 1 group of pixels and changing the bitmap pointers on the fly to allow high scrolling bitmaps far beyond what the machine should be able to display.

Technical jiggery-pokery and programming tricks aside, art should always be about the design, passion and creative skills of the artist.

A sore point for many artists and admirers in recent years has been the tendency to rely on the software of more modern systems to create the initial design and that convert the completed image to the C64 afterwards – it is no longer about the artists ability to create fine art in a restricted environment, but more about the technical wizardry that permits the artwork to be adapted. When someone has spent days, weeks and months creating an image pixel by pixel only to be beaten in a competition by someone who has submitted an image that is clearly a photograph or scanned image transferred from another system, one can forgive them for questioning why they continue in their field.

The same could be thought of someone spending ages developing a music player and editor that permits a composer and arranger to painstakingly recreate a complex and detailed melody utilising all the unique characteristics of the Commodore unique sound system only to be outclassed by someone who has simply sampled and looped an existing song.

So have a view of the art on display and support the artist, even if you don’t always like their work or understand what they have endeavoured to achieve.

Cross posted from The Discerning Omnivore

The Nostalgia Box Museum
Shop 3, 16 Aberdeen Street
Telephone 08 9227 7377
Email info@thenostalgiabox.com.au
Website http://thenostalgiabox.com.au

For those of us who grew up in the Seventies and Early Eighties, the video games of the day hold a special place in our hearts. When Nekohime and I learned that a video game museum had opened up in Northbridge showcasing a range of first to sixth generation game consoles, we had to go along. So as an anniversary treat, we took ourselves off to the city to investigate and partake of a night on the town.

The Nostalgia Box is located next to the Central Institute of TAFE on Aberdeen Street, accessible between stops 6 and 7 on the Blue CAT line. Entry is $14 per adult or $10 per child although family and student discounts are available. The venue can be hired for special events and parties as well.

As you enter, the main museum is to your left with two long hallways lined with both consoles and packages sorted by age on display, with cards to explain some of the history behind the unit. Not all the information is absolute, some based on popular myth, but not all inaccuracies are widely known or understood.

Once you have meandered your way through the displays, an open area behind the main reception area has a number of classic consoles set up for play with the games of the day listed on a board. Older consoles don’t always work well with modern flat panel televisions, often highlighting the design limitations of the area – others whilst hooked up to older CRT televisions demonstrate that even the most carefully preserved console will still eventually expire. Some of the gaming museums in the UK have taken their original consoles off display and replaced them with emulated games hosted on a Raspberry Pi – though the games play well and display fine on a modern monitor, it feels like some of the rationale behind the museum has been lost.

On a Saturday afternoon, the the museum wasn’t packed but enough people were present that few of the demonstration consoles were accessible – a number of children and their parents made it clear that they had no intention of moving. The first system we tried was a ColecoVision running Donkey Kong. Nekohime recognised the game though she wasn’t familiar with the console. The console itself was quite advanced for its day and home computers with similar specifications continued to be made up until the Early Nineties. An upgrade cartridge known as Adam allowed owners to add Atari VCS (aka Atari 2600) compatibility to their system and expand their games library – Atari tried to sue Coleco Industries over this but lost their case since the VCS was largely assembled from off the shelf parts.

Whilst she courted Mario and his dungarees across the scaffolding in an attempt to bop Donky Kong with a hammer, in investigated a few more systems – a Vectrex, which I had not seen since primary school and was startled by the clarity and smoothness of its vector graphics, an original Telstar pong clone (with which I soundly defeated Nekohime 2 – 15 and then 0 – 15 but I’m not permitted to show that photo) and a number of third, fourth and fifth generation systems including the Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo 64 and an Atari Lynx amongst many, many more.

If you or a member of your family have an interest in classic gaming, The Nostalia Box is well worth a visit. Classic consoles can also be purchased here, though they don’t buy or trade in consoles, games or accessories themselves. However, outside of eBay and Gumtree, systems and accessories can be purchased from stores at Malaga Markets and Wanneroo Markets as well as trading fairs as hosted by Collector Zone Toy and Hobby Fair.

Nekohime and Erky at the beginning of our generation

Nekohime and Erky at the beginning of our generation

No Commodore Amiga on display but they did have the Amiga CD32, the A1200's evil twin

No Commodore Amiga on display but they did have the Amiga CD32, the A1200’s evil twin

It appears they have raided my home

It appears they have raided my home

Donkey Kong on the ColecoVision

Donkey Kong on the ColecoVision

2 to 15 - The other photo I'm not permitted to show

2 to 15 – The other photo I’m not permitted to show

I don’t think I fully understood the metaphor associated with that gaming quote until now.

Its only now that I have started to turn away from worldly viewpoints that things are starting to become clearer to me. From birth, or even before then, we are conditioned to be achievers – to be more successful than the previous generation.

To me, success equates to contentment, satisfaction and free time. To the world view, success represents material wealth, expensive possessions, the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. But this view is hollow and empty. You will never reach a point where you are satisfied. There will always be new items, newer gadgets demanding your attention.

It is like a sugary dessert – it satisfies for a moment but has no substance. Before long, you will be demanding more. It is addictive and you will find yourself craving constantly.

It is okay to have it as an occasional treat, but not all the time. To restrain ourselves is perceived as needless strictness, self denial, aestheticism. We have confused success with excess – that we can permit ourselves to indulge whenever we wish; cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Sugar is a poison, material wealth very much so. Overconsumption will make you sick and will eventually kill you, An excessive and indulgent lifestyle equally so.

I am thankful that my eyes have been opened to a more organic, substantial and moderate lifestyle. It isn’t a case of self inflicted poverty, rather a positive step away from the madness that is the material world. Breaking free of that feels like a huge burden has been lifted from me, of expectation, of false achievement, of shallow mindedness.

If there is such a thing as enlightenment, it is shedding worldly values and possessions. Money will not buy your way into Heaven but it will surely drag you all the way to Hell.

Is there a point where, as a Christian, you can say “I care only this much”? You draw a line in the sand that you do not cross lest you go mad watching people around you willingly, gleefully hurl themselves into destruction.

Though I often recite the mantra “Be in the world, but not of the world” and endeavour to live a life that reflects God’s glory, I often find myself wondering that because I am such a twisted, broken wretch, how can anything I do glorify God? Who can look to me and see Jesus at work? I am as flawed as those around me that I despair for.

Through God’s grace, I have been taught how to stand back from the material world and find now that I generally don’t covet Earthly treasures – I have all that I need, to do what I need to do. Any time I get distracted by new gadgets, I qualify it by asking “How will this enhance my creativity? How will it make me more productive?” If I can’t answer that, I don’t need it – unless my current product need replacing.

Accordingly, working in retail and being impelled to upsell customers to the latest, greatest and most expensive products certainly goes against the grain of what I believe to be a righteous way to live. Worse is when customers get upset and angry over either minor flaws or temporary inconveniences – if you fridge breaks down, it is an urgent matter. You need to keep your food cold and fresh. However, if your dish washer fails, you shouldn’t despair just because you have to wash dishes by hand for a few days. And with the privilege of buying premium products comes the responsibility of performing basic maintenance to keep everything in good working order.

The only person harder to buy than the one who has everything is the person who wants nothing.

In many ways, one of my goals in life is not to have the best of everything, but to be satisfied with what I have. Whilst the pursuit of material wealth is endless and full of disappointments, what do you do when you have all that you need?

Having just replaced my washing machine – not because the old one was faulty but because we wanted a larger, gentler and more economical model – I experienced a bout of empty joy. Yes, the new machine can wash larger loads, will use less energy and water, but I feel that I have spent unnecessary money on a product that otherwise did not need replacing.

Conversely, when we replaced Nekohime-sama’s car, that was necessary as the old unit was becoming unsafe to drive. I don’t take joy in the new vehicle, but rather there is a sense of relief that there is one less thing to be concerned about.

My day job is working in retail, supplying goods and services to customers. The store carries both good and not so good products. I endeavour to direct people to the products that I believe are better but there is also pressure to promote more premium brands whether they are worth their money or not – I acknowledge that get more satisfaction from selling a mid-range product that I trust than a big name that I don’t, regardless of how much margin it provides.

These days I find that I view the world with a sense of detachment – if a product works, I like to leave it alone and only replace it when it breaks – I don’t like to pursue the latest and greatest. I don’t mind spending a little extra if I think the quality justifies it whereas cheap products often don’t last and need to be replaced sooner – there is a cost to the cheapness.

If only we could have more people look beyond the dollar value.