Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Friends

I’ve got the theme song going through my head right now. And now you do too. Ha! Ear worm.

friends logoMy lovely wife and I went to a wedding on the weekend. As I get older and more introverted, I find myself dreading weddings. You know the deal: turn up, hang about near the church making small talk, sit through a ceremony, hang around for ages until the reception and hope to God that you’ve been placed on a table with either someone you know or someone interesting.

This wedding was an absolute delight. The bride and bride were lovely, the rain miraculously held off for the outdoor ceremony. And we were there with a bunch of people who were incredibly easy and fun to chat with. These were friends of Shereen’s, through our daughter’s last school, so she doesn’t see them as often as she used to, and I rarely see them at all. But the conversation was easy and stimulating. We laughed a lot and chatted over a number of different topics.

Which is lovely, but not my point (when is my opening ramble ever on topic?).

Shereen met these people because her daughter went to the same school as their kids.

Now, there’s a bit of a cultural crossover here, in that they lived in a similar area and sent their kids to the same school, so they would have some common interests and values. And of course, Shereen isn’t friends with all of the parents at the school, so that limits it even further. But I found it interesting that they became and remained friends through that limited commonality.

And that probably says more about me than anything else.

I don’t make friends easily. I have lots of people that I like and hang out with. Lots of people that I call friends, and if you want to go by Facebook, hundreds of friends that I don’t even hang out with. But the people that really matter to me – those that are an extension of my family in a lot of ways – are few.

I have those that I met through family as a child. A few from high school. A few more from my first university degree. Some from my second stint at Latrobe. A small select group that I met through other friends. A tiny smidge of people that I am friends with because of my jobs. Oh, and some Pratchett people.

That’s actually not a bad number, once I go through it in my head.

I think I have eight people who would help me bury a body. One of those is my wife, and she’s only up for it under certain circumstances. One isn’t as good a friend but would just be up for burying a body. That leaves six friends in the body burying category. Of those, two wouldn’t judge and the other six might need a bit more explanation.

friends2

I’m not counting family here, because being family means being willing to drive out into the forest and bury a body. You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your psychopathic relatives.

Why are we friends? What happened that meant that we got to a point where I could show up in the middle of the night with a canvas wrap and a shovel? It’s not just because they like Red Dwarf and Star Trek. It can’t be just that we’ve spent x amount of time stuck in the same place together. I’m pretty sure it’s not just teachers and computer programmers.

I think that there are certain shared experiences that just cement a friendship.

chuckyBurning a Chucky doll is one of those. I have an event on Facebook at the moment for a reunion of The Five. 20 years ago, we sacrificed a Chucky to relieve exam stress and to save one of the Five from nightmares. This is a post in its own right. I can’t believe I haven’t done that one yet. Stay tuned. Anyway, we were all close friends before that point, but even if we hadn’t been, I’m pretty sure we would have cemented the friendship with that experience.

My friend Melanie is such a good friend because we were born within months of each other and then spent the next 20 years with our parents getting together regularly. Somewhere along the line we found a friendship that I didn’t maintain with the other two in our little ’74 babies club. We played tennis at New Years and Easter for decades. Her sister almost drowned me in their pool.

I think the intensity of university was the catalyst for a lot of friendships. You’re over 18, living out of home, pressured by the new life and all of the work you have to do. You have no idea what you want to do once you’re done, or you know exactly what you want to do and you’re not sure you’re going to manage it with the marks you’re getting. You’re trying all the new things and all of these people are trying them with you.

And 20 years later, most of them are still around and close friends and checking the Crimestoppers website for new information and hopefully not looking too hard at the reward section.

Who would help you bury a body? Hold on to them. It’s not as common a friendship trait as you might think.

Technology and Distractability

I’m writing this at parent teacher interviews. As an IT teacher, I’m not in as high demand as the English and homeroom teachers. Most of the students in my class are there because they want to be. So I have time.

I can mark work, prepare lessons and write articles.

When I do manage to talk to a parent, sometimes they’ll find out that I had a lot to do with implementing the iPad program at the school and invariably I’ll get the comment: “How do I stop him from wasting time on the iPad?”

There are a few options here, depending on how diplomatic I’m feeling. For the most part, these work both in the classroom and at home.

1. Not at all diplomatic: You’re the parent. You rule the roost. Put some rules in place that mean that he doesn’t do things he’s not meant to do.

2. Slightly more diplomatic: Have a conversation with your wayward child. What are they using the iPad for? How important are the various different activities? How much time does he realistically need to properly stay in touch with friends and have some leisure time? And then come up with a mutually negotiated timetable for class use versus leisure use. And of course, if the timetable isn’t upheld, you stop being diplomatic and go back to step 1.

all the wonderful things an iPad can do.

3. Very diplomatic: If the work your son is required to do on his iPad isn’t challenging enough or hasn’t been explained properly, then a confused student is a student who ends up on social media. Tablets are incredibly powerful machines. With the proper motivation, students could be inspired to create a movie, make an interactive app or design a scavenger hunt. With no motivation, they can Google the answer, copy and paste work into a Keynote and hand in a Pages document called Blank 43 (which is probably very accurate).

The reality is somewhere between all of that. You are the parents, and you do have the ability to place restrictions on your child’s use of technology at home. The teachers at school are in a similar situation. Any restrictions placed on a student should be made in conjunction with the student, to limit the amount of resentment and rebellion involved.

Your job as parents is to be aware of what your child is meant to be doing and what they’re actually doing and modify the ratio between the two so that the work gets done.

Our job as teachers is to make sure that the work that they do on their tablet is valuable and stimulating and not just busy work that we don’t want to mark as much as they don’t want to do it.

Sorry, did that answer the question?

Cyber Safety discussion

Extras CoverEverybody wants to be famous. We are rapidly moving towards a world run by a reputation economy. Don’t believe me? Read Scott Westerfeld’s Extras. It’s not that far from today’s reality. Basically, the more friends you have and the more Likes you get on a status update or a photo, the more important you are and the “richer” you become.

And we could argue the merits of this for ages and not get anywhere. The world of social media is a world that considers privacy an outmoded concept. The Internet knows where you are and what you are doing at all times, and the majority of teens have no problem with that.

Your digital footprintI’m not judging. I have a very large online footprint, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Blogger, WordPress, Instagram, Google+ and LinkedIn. I even have a MySpace page (although I haven’t opened it in ten years). Being online isn’t evil. Promoting yourself isn’t wrong.

The conversation that has to be had between parents and students is the quality of your online reputation. Ask your child (and for good measure, ask yourself) how they think they are seen on Social Media. What are the words people would use to describe them? What sort of pictures and status updates are they posting and how does that make them look to the outside world?

Over the past few years, St James has made it a priority to talk to our students about the importance of knowing who you are sharing your information with. It is a fact of life that many of the “friends” our boys have on various Social Media sites are people they have never met, and in some cases, people they don’t even know. Logically, if you have 1500 friends on Facebook, some of them will be strangers. Again, try not to judge. The concept of “Friend” on social media is different to the traditional meaning of the word. A more accurate term would be “Contact”. These are people who share their interests, even if they haven’t met IRL (In Real Life). Unfortunately, Facebook’s insistence in using the term “Friend” gives users of the site an artificial sense of familiarity with these strangers they have invited into their lives.

Again, this is where it is time to talk to your child. Ask him how many contacts he has on various Social Media sites. How many of these people does he know IRL? What information about him can they find out from looking at his profile information, pictures and posts? And what are the possible dangers involved in giving strangers access to this information?

Talk to him about Privacy settings. Most of the boys I have talked to over the past few years have an excellent grasp of privacy settings and actually do care about keeping private information from strangers. The problem is, they don’t consider their 1500 friends “strangers”, even if they have no idea who some of them really are.

brave new world coverOnce more, and as I will do at the end of each of these articles, I must stress that a knee-jerk “the Internet is evil and I must protect my child from it!” reaction to Social Media could do more damage to your son or daughter than simply talking to them about issues and trying to understand this Brave New World. A few simple safety precautions and conversations will do far more for your child’s safety.

A pirate’s life for me!

Australians everywhere cursed the day that Foxtel bought the rights to Grand Designs UK. Well, I say Grand Designs UK. I mean Game of Thrones. We cursed, and yet, around the water cooler on the day after each episode was released in the States, there was in-depth discussion on the plot of the episode.

Piracy takes a huge toll on the entertainment industry. It is romanticised or belittled by the various “pirates”:

“I’m striking a blow for Australian viewers! If they were faster getting it to us, we wouldn’t have to download it!”

“It’s exactly like watching it on TV, just at a different time.”

I’m not here to argue the rights and wrongs of video and music piracy. At the moment, piracy – downloading TV shows, movies, music and games without paying for them – is illegal and therefore I want you to start a dialogue with your sons, my piratical students.

On every second USB that is left in a computer room, there can be found albums of music, seasons of television and entire new release movies. So it’s a problem, and the solution is:

“Talk to your child about it!”

Some conversation starters:

Who is hurt by the theft of music, movies and TV shows?

Consider the artists, producers, designers, actors, marketing people and the product itself. If nobody buys a TV show, then the TV show is cancelled.

What are the dangers to your household?

Because of the popularity of file sharing and lack of policing, it is a haven for viruses and explicit content. Unscrupulous people will distribute viruses named after the latest episode of a popular TV show, but with a different extension. Peer-to-peer (P2P) networks are used for distribution of illegal pornography and there is no guarantee that the video you want is the video you’ll get. Not to mention the more mundane problems of horrible quality videos and TV dubbed into Scandinavian with German subtitles.

Secondly, do you know what your monthly download limit is? If you have a limit, you may be eligible for extra charges if you go over that limit. Otherwise, your speed will be severely limited and slow Internet is an excellent way to test family relationships.

What are the possible consequences of illegally downloading?

Usually, if you are caught downloading, you’ll receive a notice from your ISP saying that a certain company has noticed you illegally distributing content and asking the ISP to make you stop. The ISP will usually give you a warning, but after that, you could lose your Internet account and be blacklisted.

It is important to realise that because you are downloading from the Internet, you are not just dealing with Australian law, and you could be prosecuted by agencies outside of Australia. It’s rare for an Australian to be prosecuted, unless they are deliberately making money from distribution, but not unheard of, and fines can extend into hundreds of thousands of dollars for serious offences.

What are the legal alternatives?

Almost every TV station has their own TV streaming app or website to allow you to watch TV and movies in your own time. ABC’s IView is an excellent example. It’s free to download and often has content available before it is shown on regular TV.

Apple TVs, Chromecasts and other set top boxes provide cheap and varied entertainment. There are also movie streaming companies like Quickflix, and Telstra and Optus both have their own movie streaming services.

Please, take the time to talk to your children about the possible dangers and moral issues involved in illegally downloading content from the Internet. And don’t tell me what happens at the start of Season 5 Game of Thrones!

Sports Day – free story!

NB: So months ago I found a competition to write characters from Romeo and Juliet into a new setting. I whipped it up  quickly and sent it to a few people to have a look at it. It wasn’t due until April so I let it slide. And then in a panic I checked the due date and realised it was due the week before.

So you get it for free. Enjoy.

Sports Day picSports Day

There are four houses at Verona College, but only two that ever get talked about; Montague House and their traditional rivals in Capulet. When the house naming system was introduced, the head of English had a field day.

One year, Montague would win the swimming sports and Capulet would take the cup at the Athletics carnival. The next, Capulet would hold all of the records for swimming and Montague would dominate on the track. Teachers as well as students were assigned to a house, and the narrow margin between Montague and Capulet in the sporting arena had on more than one occasion led to fist fights in the staff room. And yelling matches in the car park. And parental feuds on Facebook.

It was this powder keg of enmity, leading back generations, which would lead to the tragic story of the relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

But this isn’t their story.

***

“Get a move on Greg. We’ll be late,” Sam said, shoving his friend who was dawdling in the direction of the starting line.

“If we get there too early, we’ll be the late Greg and Sam,” grumbled the other boy, tucking his red singlet back into his shorts.

“I can take a couple of Montague freaks.”

“You’ll be freaking out, and running away, more like it,” Greg said, nodding at the lithe young men in blue tops, stretching by the side of the track. Sam scowled.

“I’d stand up to those guys.”

“You’d have to. They’re about a head taller than you. Maybe try taking on one of the girls instead.”

“Gawd, I wouldn’t mind, I tell you,” Sam said, tilting his head towards a couple of Montague House girls, laughing and chatting on the grass. They were full of life, long legs tanned and house shirts knotted at their breast bone.

“Uh uh. Don’t even think about it,” Greg warned. “If you ever wanted to die early, making a move on a Montague girl would be a good way to do it.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, and kicked at a chip packet on the grass. “It might be worth it, to kick some Montague skulls.”

“Here’s your chance,” Greg said, eyes widening. A couple of the Montague boys had peeled off from their group and were sauntering casually into a position where they’d cross paths with their Capulet rivals.

“Shit,” Sam said. “OK. I’ve got your back. Have a go.” Greg looked back at his friend.

“You’ve got my back? You’ll be off like a bikini at a nudist beach.”

“No, seriously. Don’t worry.”

“I am bloody worried, seriously.”

“Fine then, but if they start something, we’ll finish it,” Sam said. Greg nodded, and as they approached the other boys, both of them Year 10 students, Greg hawked up a massive lump of phlegm and spat it neatly at the ground near the Montague boys’ feet.

“Oy, watch it,” one said. Sam recognised him as Ben Abraham. A good runner, but a complete asshole. “Did you tools just spit at me?”

“God no,” Greg said, not wanting anyone to say he made the first move. “I just spat. Lucky I missed you, really.”

“Do you wanna go?” Abraham said, taking a step towards Greg, his mate moving in behind him. Sam joined his friend and found himself looking up at two quite burly opponents. He sneered.

“I reckon we could take you,” he said, fighting the urge to stand on tiptoes. Greg nudged him, his head nodding to the side. Sam glanced over and saw Tybalt, the Capulet house captain, watching the proceedings with a dangerous gaze. “Yeah, you’re looking to lose a couple of those shiny white teeth.” Sam was ready to give Abraham a shove when the PA blared.

“All Year Ten students involved in the fifteen hundred metres need to get to the starting line now. That includes the four idiots about to do something stupid by the side of the track.” Mr. Graham, the woodwork teacher, was beckoning to them, a warning glare daring them to continue with their altercation. With a shove, Ben pushed Sam back and trotted off to the starting line. Sam followed, his ears burning and his hands shaking from the close call.

The four boys took their positions, joined by two each from Escalus and Mantua houses. Mr. Graham eyeballed Sam and Ben, shook his head and then raised the starting pistol.

“On your marks, get set…”

KRAK!

Sam was first out of the blocks, being lighter than the other runners. He felt that he had a good lead and concentrated on pushing his feet hard into the track and finding the rhythm that he could keep up for one and a half laps of the oval. His breath was all that he could hear. The first corner approached and he drew across to the inner lane.

Ben Abraham put on a brief burst of speed to come level with Sam and then stepped directly in front of him, shoving him at the same time so that the Capulet lost his balance and slammed into the ground, failing to get his hands out in front of him and halting his momentum using his face as a brake.

“Shit. Sorry,” Ben said, grinning, before a snarling Greg dived headlong into his knees and tackled him to the ground. Ben’s teammate ducked in and hurled Greg off, kneeing him in the guts, but by then Sam was up again and had kicked a slowly rising Abraham directly in the ass, sending him back to the ground.

And then it was on. Spectators from both houses ran onto the truck, swinging punches and yelling insults. Benvolio, the Montague house captain, dived in, a panicked look on his face.

“Stop it! Get off!” he yelled, dragging Sam off Abraham and throwing him to the ground. “Let go of him you idiot!” A Montague shoved him and he backhanded the boy on reflex, turning to see Tybalt grinning at him.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size,” the Capulet captain said.

“What? I’m trying to stop the fight, not make it worse!” Benvolio said.

“Bullshit. You just slapped that kid in the face. Bloody Capulets. Come on you fairy.”

Teachers ran in from all directions. Mr Fitch, the coordinator for Capulet, dived into the fray, pulling blue shirts from red, until Miss Lockheart, his Montague counterpart, saw him drop a Year Nine boy with an unfortunate shove and she tapped him on the shoulder and punched him square on the nose.

A massive feedback whine caused everyone to pause and look up. The principal stood on the podium, his face red and his knuckles white around the microphone.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

***

Sam and Greg walked shamefacedly from the principal’s office, joining a long list of students with detentions or suspensions over the sports incident. As they left, the house heads Fitch and Lockheart replaced them in the office, looking just as shamefaced. Of course, the boys couldn’t see much of Fitch’s face, covered as it was by a bandage protecting his nose. As they walked off, they could hear the Prince yelling.

“Three times! Three bloody fights started by your Capulets, Jackie! And three from you and yours! Try and convince me now why I shouldn’t have both of your jobs!”

Sam looked over at his companion.

“We got off easy, I reckon, Gregory my friend.”

“Too right, Samson, too bloody right.”

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