Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

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Archive for September, 2008

Australia, Day One

Posted by hyperpat on September 24, 2008

My Australia trip is finally a reality. After our lovely fourteen hour flight from San Francisco (preceded by four hours of getting there plus check-in and security/customs), we landed at Sydney at 6:35 AM. We now proceeded to spend two and a half hours getting our luggage, changing currency, and taking our shuttle bus to the hotel. We dropped our bags in the room, and went for a little hike in the rain to the local train station, where we boarded one of their electric powered trains and headed for Cronulla, another hour trip.

On the train platform at Cronulla

On the train platform at Cronulla

By the time we got there, we were already an hour and half late for our appointment with the principal of the elementary school that I attended in 1954-1955. I then proceeded to compound our problem by turning the wrong way out of the train station, eventually getting us to the Cronulla Public School, which unfortunately was not the right one. A very nice lady there got us straightened around, and after a two-mile hike (still in the rain), we finally arrived at the South Cronulla Public School, only two and half hours late.

South Cronulla Public School main building

Given how late we were, I fully expected the principal of the school to only give us a few minutes of his time. Instead, we got a shock. Not only did he take time from his schedule (very busy, as it was the opening day of the school term) to sit and talk with us, he dug up all the old records of the school (which stretch back to its founding in 1947, and even some records going back to 1943 when the school catered to infants only) and let us peruse them to our hearts content.

In the school staff room going over records

I couldn’t find any record of my own time there (the records were very sketchy for the first/second grades), but I did find the entries pertaining to my older brother Mike, which showed at one point that he had an injury that I’d was not previously aware of (a “poisoned foot”) that took him out of school for a couple of weeks, and a class photo of him for 1955 that I didn’t have in my current photo collection.

Mike's 1955 Class Photo

Mike is fourth from right in the back row. As far as I was concerned, this already made the trip a success. But the principal wasn’t done with us yet. Just after the kid’s lunch hour, he assembled all of them, put us in front of this crowd of bright, clean, and well-behaved students, and let them fire questions at me about what it had been like there fifty years ago. Then he had the students present us with some nice souvenirs of the school, and led us off to another conference, this time with just four of the upper grade students for some more in-depth questions. And then, as if he hadn’t done enough, he went and bought us lunch.

Myself with school principal and students

Myself with school principal and students

Now I don’t know how an American elementary school would react to having an alumni from fifty years back show up, but I must give a strong two thumbs-up to this man. He absolutely went far out of his way to make us feel welcome, and was genuinely interested in what I could tell him about my experiences in that school from so long ago. From what I saw of the students in this school, he also runs a pretty taut ship – I doubt if I could go to any public school in America and find such a bunch of decorous, disciplined, and bright kids. And this same feeling also applies to the teachers we met, as they were definitely set on working together to get the job done, and obviously were dedicated to seeing that the kids were getting the best education they could provide.

After we left the school, we took a short stroll through Shelly Beach Park. Back when I went to school there, this park and the beach were visible from the school grounds. Now there are too many buildings in the way. But it’s still a truly great park and beach.

Shelly Beach looking south

Shelly Beach looking south

Shelly Beach Bath

Shelly Beach Bath

Shelly Beach looking northeast

Shelly Beach looking northeast

This will have to do for now, as after finally getting back to hotel at about 6PM that night, we found we really were exhausted, with no energy left to do much else that day, and with the prospect of an early rise on the morrow for the first of our planned sight-seeing tours.

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Fortress America

Posted by hyperpat on September 18, 2008

Over the last couple of days, we have managed to accidentally trip our home security alarm three times. While this is no disaster (and the offending family culprit has had a couple of lessons in just how to operate this thing), it got me to thinking about why we need to have this thing in the first place.

Back when I was a child, we lived in a couple of different houses in England, both of which most people would consider pretty high-end houses, large enough to require gardeners and maids. Did we have security alarms on these houses? Did we even lock the doors at night? Nope. And the same was true in our house in Australia, and later still our houses in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Illinois. Did we ever get burglarized? Nope. But thirty some-odd years later, when we first moved into our newly purchased home in San Jose, we got hit in the first week! And this house was locked up tight. And although we’ve now moved to a new house in a very nice neighborhood, we feel it’s necessary to make sure every door is locked, every window has a locking bar, and we had this lovely security system installed. Nor do we normally go out for a nice stroll around the neighborhood at night. What has changed in the course of the last forty years to make this necessary? Has crime really become so rampant and all-pervasive that we have to turn our homes into fortresses?

According to the latest statistics, property crimes such as burglary aren’t any more common today than back in the fifties. But what has changed is our awareness of it. The nightly news almost always reports some robbery somewhere in the area, and kidnappings and muggings are also pretty prominent. Thanks to great advances in technology, all this information about the nasty underside of city living comes into our living room nightly in living color, often with phone camera shots of the acts in progress. And of course the news media play these incidents for all they’re worth, because that’s what sells newspapers and drives viewership numbers. We’re being trained just like Pavlov’s dogs to expect crime to occur. And this induced fear extends to other areas: few parents today will even let their children go out trick-or-treating without being right behind them, and many have started to track their children via mobile phone and/or RFID tag chips all day, every day.

Now as my own experience indicates, crime does happen. But when I really think about it, the incidence rate (once in 60 years) doesn’t really justify the fear and all the precautions (and the precautions themselves don’t necessarily stop the crime from happening). The scenario that Heinlein painted in I Will Fear No Evil of lawlessness so out of hand that you needed to hire security guards and drive around in the equivalent of an armored tank has not happened (yet) in this land of the free. And I sincerely hope it never will. But I do wish the news media would tone down the crime reporting a bit, and offer us more stories about people doing nice and helpful things for their community.

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