Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Full Contact Origami

When I was a secretary at ADI, spending my days:

a) writing up tutorials for my Uni course,
b) having countless running email conversations with workmates and Kristen in Canberra, and
c) not really doing anything

I had a vast word file of all the jokes I had ever received. I am sure I have it SOMEWHERE in my box of important papers, but this one, recently sent to me again, was one of my all time favourites.

I use the phrase ‘full contact origami’ all the time, usually during my ‘torment a barfly’ routine during which I tell sozzled Lotharios that I am a retired World Bootscooting champion who is looking to move into acting in karaoke video clips and was born on Ayers rock because my mum wanted me to channel Azaria Chamberlain’s spirit.

Blessed are the jokers, because they will get mates rates at the bar in heaven.

The following was published in The New York Times. This is a NYU college admissions application essay question, and an actual answer written by an applicant:

Question 3A
In order for the admissions staff of our college to get to know you, the applicant, better, we ask that you answer the following question:

Are there any significant experiences you have had, or accomplishments you have realised, that have helped to define you as a person?


I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees. I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe incline with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I'm bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge. I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie.

Critics world-wide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don't perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a travelling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat 400.

My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me. I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair.

While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me. I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven.

I breed prize-winning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis. But I have not yet gone to college.

He was accepted.

Friday, October 14, 2005


The smell of Australian summer is toasted grass and sand pounded by the sun so it is only moments from turning to glass. A proper white sand and Indian Ocean beach at midday is a coruscant mirror of blue and white, shards of it splintering off to impale your eyes and flay the soles off your feet. The heat slams you down whilst it compels you to levitate in your haste to make the shade.

In the bush the heat crawls into your ears with the low hum of the land choking and the insects and animals panting and it pushes out your energy until you can feel your strength running in silver, salty floods down your skin.

I walked to the lunch bar today and while yesterday I was able to cope without sunglasses, today I needed their blessed shade. As I passed over freshly mown cooch grass my nostrils flared and I could smell that unique smell of singed grass being baked into a slice of grey-brown summer lawn, leaven with the fried sandy soil of the Perth coastal plain.

It is hot over here, it is still only spring and my soul is gorged with the anticipation of summer.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Good News Greenie

Last night I went to see one of Australia’s favourite popular scientific writers give a talk at UWA. Tim Flannery is an interesting character and if you want to get a bit of a background, here are some good links – Tim’s statement on Perth’s possibility of surviving the global warming and what his critics think of him.

Flannery did indeed change Australia’s way of thinking about its impact on the environment with The Future Eaters, and he is a constant voice in the media reminding us that we can have both positive and negative impacts on the environment.

His talk was fascinating, very Bill Bryson in that he gave you the figures, then broke them down into manageable sound bytes of data that were compared to quantities we understand from daily life.

Regarding global warming for example he told us that the last significant rise in global temperature was a rise of 7 degrees over 7,000 years about 15,000 years ago. It is predicted that the global temperature will rise 3.4 degrees over the next 100 years. This is a temperature rise over 30 times faster than last time. The chilling (no pun intended) point is that the environment survived the 7,000 year of temperature change because they had time to adapt – this time the environment will not be so lucky.

Whether you think Tim Flannery is a tree-hugging broad brush alarmist or a committed climate prophet crying in the wilderness, his bad news is accompanied by good news and this good news is about clever ideas. With his warnings and exhortations come the practical steps an individual, good citizen can take to become a green energy consumer.

These solutions make sense no matter what your ideology, capitalists reinvest in a clever industry, economists save money, greenies practise what they preach and the hip become the first in their street to have the newest technology running their house and driving their car. Saving the earth means everyone wins.

First principles understanding of the science behind global warming is not for all of us, but a universal acceptance of the figures on rainfall, temperature and weather patterns is not too far in the future. Flannery wryly remarked that since George W Bush admitted at the G8 summit that climate change was a significant issue, there should be no more debate. Don't let a Bush endorsement dissuade you however, it is only a matter of time before Green is Good, the question is, will you be in the vanguard or just one of the camp followers?

Talking to a Perth audience at UWA on Monday, Flannery outlined advantages that were relevant to both Australia and Western Australia, citing our wealth in natural gas, wind and solar power, as well as the accompanying technology and research. Flannery believes that these resources position us as the Lucky Country all over again, the country with the greatest green resources, the chance to become world leaders in intellectual property and the country just down the global street from the biggest potential marketplace for cheap, green energy in the world – China.

During the question and answer session one member of the audience mused that doing something instead of nothing was the best way forward. If we act now and the alarms are genuine, then we are already in possession of the solutions. If the alarms are false this time, then our actions now could ensure we do not reach the danger threshold in the future. It may sound like bad news now, but it means only innovation and opportunities, markets and revenue in the future.

A canny greenie helps create demand for green energy by installing solar panels for electricity and water, consuming green energy elsewhere and investing in a hybrid car. They support councils that have green initiatives, start an energy audit at work and when their green energy consumption saves them money and reduces their pollution footprint, they broadcast their good news to those around them. They vote for politicians that acknowledge the need for green energy and write to those who don't.

If popular science writers and God-bothering Presidents are in accord, who are we to stop the Green Good News?