In a world that moves too fast, and in which myriad exhausting decisions must be made at every turn, the small ceremony is, it seems, making a comeback. A new generation is discovering how soothing it is to blow imaginary dust from a beloved record – and a dozen other everyday sacraments besides. Observer ‘LPs are the antidote to a frenetic digital world’

I have given up smoking, well at least that is the excuse I give for my new found addiction, buying vinyl records. I feel that the use of the word ‘addiction’ might be hyperbole, but there is something about vinyl that feels like it is a want, rather than something of a need, especially when I often own copies of many of the albums on CD or am able to stream them. However, there is something about vinyl that has really captured my me.

I remember reading Doug Belshaw’s post a few years ago involving a letter to his future self.

You’re 23 years old now and this is you in 10 years time writing to yourself. I want to give you some advice and general pointers. Having already been you, I know it’s likely that you’ll read this and then forget about it, but I’m going to do it anyway. For better or worse, I’m still as stubborn as you are now.

Source: A letter from the future by Doug Belshaw

It is something that has haunted me since, what would I say to my past self that would make a difference today. I think I would probably say would be “don’t give up on your music.”

Saying I “gave up on music” seems strange, it is not that I completely stopped listening to or playing music, rather I feel at some stage in life I stopped engaging with music in a certain way. (Maybe Daniel Levitin might say this is normal, I really should read This is Your Brain on Music.) I have always listened to new and old music alike, but not in the same manner. I also sold a lot of my music equipment – MicroKorg, Roland MC303, audio mixer and reference monitors. In part, I think it reflected a change in life. On the one hand, Aphex Twin’s Drukqs is not really something I would be inclined to play with sleeping children around, while tinkering with music seemed like an indulgence. In addition to this, concerts and late nights no longer seemed like a priority.

I started buying back my my music equipment. This has included a Arturia MiniFreak, Roland MC101, Roland JX-08, a new mixer and monitors. I also started going to concerts again. With my effort to collect my crumbs, I started being more deliberate with my music listening, intentionally listening to albums and making notes of what I listened to. I also started purchasing some music via Bandcamp. However, I had not really returned to purchasing physical music. A part of this related to the fact that I simply do not get out my DVDs and CDs anymore, I was even challenged about whether I needed them anymore, whether they still ‘sparked joy‘. I do not think that this is anything new, as captured in a post from Rolling Stone from 2018:

As streaming gives the music industry its biggest profits in a decade, the CD business continues to plunge. CD sales have fallen 80 percent in the past decade, from roughly 450 million to 89 million. Since Tesla began manufacturing cars without CD players, other companies like Ford and Toyota have recently followed. Downloads – once seen as the CD’s replacement – have plummeted 58 percent since peaking in 2012, their profits now even smaller than physical sales. Artists have taken note; Bruce Springsteen released his latest box set, The Album Collection Vol. 2, 1987-1996, exclusively on vinyl, with no CD option, unlike 2014’s Vol. 1. “It’s a streaming world and a vinyl world with a quickly diminishing CD,” says Daniel Glass, president of Glassnote Records, indie-label home of Mumford & Sons and Phoenix.

Source: The End of Owning Music: How CDs and Downloads Died by Steve Knopper

One impetus to start listening to vinyl came when my dad gave me his record collection. I had always enjoyed trolling through his collection of crates when growing up, finding what felt like the weird and wonderful, whether it be David Bowie, Frank Zappa or early Cure. However, I soon realised that I wanted more than somebody else’s collection, I wanted my own music in the collection.

Over the years I have incidentally purchased some vinyl records, such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows and The King of Limbs, as well as Go-Go Sapien’s Love in Other Dimensions. I had some friends who bought vinyl. However, I never really appreciated them. I think I was caught up in the debate about audio quality, rather than how I actually listened to music. I spent years listening on poor headphones, it seemed a moot point to be arguing about the difference between streaming and vinyl records.

Another other inspiration of sorts has been Jim Groom’s VinylCasts, where he would play vinyl on internet radio. I think this may have planted the seed for vinyl being about more than just audio quality. Associated with this, Damian Cowell spoke a lot about searching for records and his love of listening as a part of his podcast for his album, Only the Shit You Love. Also, Austin Kleon often talks about playing particular records in his studio.

One of the things that is often said about records is how good the artwork is and how this is often lost in a world of streaming.

Album artwork today has a comparatively minimal role. It no longer serves as the focal point of an artist’s release, instead, it is one part in a much broader visual whole. Creating consistency between an artist’s social media posts, press photos, tour posters and any other visual elements serves the same purpose that album artwork once did: to build a world around an artist and contextualise their music for the listener. However, I can’t help lamenting what we might have lost. If less people are looking at album artworks, less resources will be allocated to them, and less people will put effort into them.

Source: The Lost Art of Album Artwork by Max Bloom

This is something that Damian Cowell discussed in regards to Roger Dean’s design for Osibisa.

Osibisa is the self-titled debut album by British afro rock band Osibisa
This is the cover art for the album Osibisa by the artist Osibisa.

Covers are often references as being the stimulus for purchasing a record. (This is something that my dad said that did.) For me though, this side of things is an added bonus. Of course covers look better blown up, but it is not what draws me to an album. (Although, I did spot Methyl Ethel’s Triage while flicking because it is such a unique cover.) Other than a handful of occasions (The Fauves Driveway Heart Attack and High Pass Filter’s Nice Coordinated Outfit), I have not bought a record without having already listened to it a number of times first.

When I buy a record, I do not necessarily want surprises. Even though I can connect my headphones to my turntable, I usually listen while doing things, therefore it is a very public medium. I am more inclined to listen to a range of music online, but when it has reached vinyl, it feels like a statement of intent. On the Take 5 podcast, Ed Droste discussed how it usually takes five listens to form a judgment on an album. My purchases can therefore be understood as a confirmation of my judgment. (Ironically, Droste felt that growing up with vinyl and being unable to skip helped with that judgement process.)

A strange thing I like about listening to vinyl is that it forces you to listen to a whole album. I like this constraint. There is no skipping and no pauses. If I have to stop an album for some reason, then it means I need to start that side all over again. In a world where being interrupted has become standard, missing a part of an album makes this more concrete. (I have actually taken the album approach to long drives. Instead of worrying about playlists and/or individual tracks, I have started queuing albums, one after another.)

Here is a list of my vinyl purchases so far:

  • Methyl Ethel – Oh Inhuman Spectacle
  • Methyl Ethel – Triage
  • Methyl Ethel – Are you Haunted?
  • The Panics – Cruel Guards
  • Sarah Blasko – Depth of Field
  • Massive Attack – Blue Lines
  • Portishead – Dummy
  • Portishead – Portishead
  • Jeff Buckley – Grace
  • The Avalanches’ – We Will Always Love You
  • DIANA – Familiar Touch
  • Joseph Shabason – Anne EP
  • Beach House – Teen Dream
  • Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
  • The Fauves – Driveway Heart Attack
  • Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine – Only the Shit You Love
  • Client Liaison – Divine Intervention
  • Montaigne – Complex
  • Washington – Batflowers
  • Kimbra – A Reckoning
  • Kate Bush – Hounds of Love
  • Depeche Mode – Violator
  • Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK
  • High Pass Filter – Nice Coordinated Outfit
  • Tortoise – Standards
  • Autechre – Tri Repetae
  • Boards of Canada – Geogaddi
  • Lorde – Pure Heroine
  • Lorde – Melodrama
  • Taylor Swift – 1989
  • Tame Impala – The Slow Rush

I must admit, I have not started buying vinyl that maybe scratched to have on the shelf. I know some buy some albums just to have them in their collection, whether they are playable or not. I am also circumspect about buying expensive second hand records or expensive records in general. For example, I saw a used copy of The Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotion for near on $100. Although I love the album, I feel there needs to be a limit. (I am not buying four versions of the same record for four album covers.) I have bought many of my records when on sale and would rather have three different albums than one really expensive one. (If Jamie Lidell is right in his desire to purchase and play an original Can record, then I might be wrong about listening to original recordings. However, for now I will live with that.) I also prefer albums that a single records. I accept that some albums are actually quite long, but there are others that end up with on a couple of tracks on each side, which just seems frustrating. Oh, then there are albums like Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi which is three records.


As always, comments welcome. Oh, and I only used giving up smoking as a reference. I find it interesting the idea that if I had given up smoking that it would be somehow justified.


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Kind of poetic, isn’t it? The act of speaking to an art-AI feels like a communication word-game — like playing Charades or Taboo, where you have to trigger your collaborator to produce the right result by talking around a subject. Except in this case, the goal is to find the correct incantation that awakens the spirits residing within yonder eldritch cauldron of vectors, and summons them to do your bidding. Clive Thompson “The Psychological Weirdness of Prompt Engineering”

I must admit, I have been somewhat circumspect to what impact applications like ChatGPT would have on my work and life. I am not going to deny the potential, but there are too many stories that make me wonder, such as John Johnston’s chat with Bing. Really, I have had enough trouble handing over some of my work to colleagues, I therefore cannot see my work disappearing anytime soon, even if I were to somehow hand it over to a chatbox.

However, one area that I have found it interesting to explore is the ability to learn with the support of a chatbot. This is a use that I have seen come up in my feed. For example, Ben Collins talks about using AI tools to create formulas:

The AI tools can create formulas for you too.

ChatGPT and Bard generally give correct answers for simple formulas but it’s hit-and-miss with more complex formula asks.

Again, it pays to be as specific as possible with your prompt.

Source: What AI Can Do For You As A Google Sheets User. Is The Hype Justified? by Ben Collins

While Doug Belshaw has reflected on using AI tools to improve code:

I’ll not go into too much detail, but I wanted to replicate the style of my main archives page which is generated using the Simple Yearly Archive plugin. I duplicated archive.php in my themes folder, renamed it category.php and then tinkered around with it. ChatGPT was excellent at giving me the code I needed to do the things I wanted, including for the category RSS feed.

Source: Tinkering with WordPress category archive pages by Doug Belshaw

Through my work Microsoft account, I discovered I have access to Bing’s Co-Pilot chatbot based on OpenAI’s GPT-4. I have therefore been tinkering with this a bit. In particular, I have been using this when I have a question about creating a formula or script. For example, today I asked for a PowerShell script to change the naming format of a group of files. I began by asking:

How do I use PowerShell to swap around parts of multiple file names each split with an “”? For example, the current format is 12343_FirstName_Surname.pdf but I want it to be 12343_Surname_FirstName.pdf

Bing came back with a formula that spoke about moving around the different parts split into an array and move the elements around, however it did not account for the ‘.pdf’ ending. So I asked the following:

Using PowerShell, How do I split a file name into an array using _, but exclude the ending .pdf

It then added the missing lines associated with removing the .pdf ending at the start of the process and then adding it back at the end.

See the final script below.

# Set the current directory
$directory = "xxx"

# Get all files in the directory
$files = Get-ChildItem -Path $directory

# Loop through each file
foreach ($file in $files) {

    # Remove the .pdf extension from the file name
    $fileNameWithoutExtension = $file.Name.Substring(0, $file.Name.Length - 4)

    # Split the file name into an array using the underscore as a delimiter
    $fileParts = $fileNameWithoutExtension.Split("_")

    # Swap the first and last elements of the array
    $fileParts[0], $fileParts[1], $fileParts[2] = $fileParts[2], $fileParts[0], $fileParts[1]

    # Join the array back into a string using the underscore as a delimiter
    $newFileName = $fileParts -join "_"

    # Add the file extension to the new file name
    $newFileName = "$newFileName.pdf"

    # Rename the file with the new file name
    Rename-Item -Path $file.FullName -NewName $newFileName
}

What I have found is that although I often get an answer, it is not always the final answer or correct for that matter. This was the case when after I recently exported all my links from Diigo and asked Bing for a Google Sheets formula to check which URLs sent back a 404 and which didn’t. Co-Pilot gave me back the following formula:

=IF(HTTPResponse(A1)=404,"404 Error","No Error")

I tried this in Google Sheets only to get the error:

Unknown function: ‘HTTPResponse’.

I then asked Bing, “What is the HTTPResponse function in Google Sheets?” To which Bing responded that there was no function ‘HTTPResponse’ built-in, but that I could use UrlFetchApp.fetch in Google Apps Script to create a custom function. It then also provided links to a number of sources which I followed, finding Adham El Banhawy’s guide the most helpful. Ironically, I then got an error in trying to run the custom script, which I raised in Co-Pilot, and was given a fix.

function getStatusCode(url) {
  if (url === undefined || url === null) {
    return null;
  }

  var url_trimmed = url.trim();
  // Check if script cache has a cached status code for the given url
  var cache = CacheService.getScriptCache();
  var result = cache.get(url_trimmed);

  // If value is not in cache/or cache is expired fetch a new request to the url
  if (!result) {

    var options = {
      'muteHttpExceptions': true,
      'followRedirects': false
    };
    var response = UrlFetchApp.fetch(url_trimmed, options);
    var responseCode = response.getResponseCode();

    // Store the response code for the url in script cache for subsequent retrievals
    cache.put(url_trimmed, responseCode, 21600); // cache maximum storage duration is 6 hours
    result = responseCode;
  }

  return result;
}

In each of my experiences of CoPilot, I have had to make adjustments to the code provided. A part of this is actually learning what is happening. However, this may well be the questions that I asked:

  • talk to it as if it were a person
  • set the stage and provide context
  • have the AI assume an identity or profession
  • iterate with multiple attempts
  • keep it on track
  • specify output format
  • explicit constraints on responses
Source: How to write better ChatGPT prompts for the best generative AI results – David Gewirtz, ZDNet, Oct 12, 2023 Commentary by Stephen Downes

Or it may well be the trial and error nature of coding. The thought that I am left with is a comment a few months back that questioned if we have to learn what prompts to use with AI tools, how intelligent are they? I With this in mind, for me I feel that AI tools are useful as an aide, but I am circumspect about using them as the answer. I guess time will tell.

As always, comments and webmentions welcome.


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When the political debates of our age are past, there will always be our country. Our challenge – all of us – is to live here and call it home; our nation this thing of the soul. Stan Grant ‘Australia Day’

With Australia Day, Stan Grant continues on from his previous book Speaking to my Country, collecting a range of pieces and ideas tied together, addressing land, family, race, history and nation to answer the question: who are we? The book is a mixture of personal memoir and philosophical exploration.


The book begins with a reflection upon the act of looking on at Australia from a distance. Grant explores the different between the head and the heart, that is Australia as a great place versus the feeling of rejections when it comes to reconciliation. He highlights this conflicting sentiment with different perspective on the idea of Australians being ‘young and free’:

Australians all, let us rejoice for we are young and free.

My people die young in this country. We die ten years younger than average Australians and we are far from free. We are fewer than three per cent of the Australian population and yet we are twenty-five per cent, a quarter, of those Australians locked up in our prisons – and if you are a juvenile, it is worse, it is fifty per cent. An Indigenous child is more likely to be locked up in prison than they are to finish high school.

Grant talks about living space between the dance and the destruction:

Between the dance and the destruction is the Australian dream. It is here I find myself. I live between the dance and the destruction. I live between the ship and the shore. It is here that the dream remains unrealised. In this troubled space we all live our lives.

Part 1: Home

In the section on ‘home’, Grant explores the strangeness associated with the place where we live. He discusses how we try to tame the country with roads and towns, marking the ground and drawing borders to give a sense of certainty. Such acts involve living with absence and loss, “the stranger in ourselves.”

This doesn’t mean we all become Indigenous or that we become more homogeneous but we can dwell in this ‘uncanny’. We can as psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva says discover our ‘incoherences and abysses’ to come to terms with the ‘stranger in ourselves’.

The stranger in ourselves.

That’s what I was coming to terms with at Lake Mungo; it is what has drawn me to the work of Jonathan Jones: not my Aboriginal ancestry or my European heritage, something else, something more elusive that can’t easily be measured in DNA. It is that part of me where black and white meet and how what has happened here between us, has happened on this land. This is our home: unsettled and uncanny.

What interests Grant is the possibility of the space between. Michel de Certeau suggests that we use stories to fill the void. Some examples of literary stories include Thomas Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The story of Australia speaks to us from the dry shores of Lake Mungo. Forty thousand years ago, the waters were full, sustaining a thriving community. Here a man was laid to rest with full ceremony, his body smeared in ochre. In all of humanity this was rare, among the earliest examples of such ritual. The mourners sang a song in language now lost.

As modern Australia celebrated its birth at Federation in 1901, the historical inspiration for Jimmie Blacksmith, the real Jimmy Governor, sat in a Darlinghurst jail cell, alternating between singing songs in his traditional Wiradjuri language and reading the Bible – the synthesis of the old and new worlds that collided here so violently, given form in a man soon for the gallows. It is a synthesis Keneally saw as contradiction; and yet it is the essence of being Australian.

Joan Lindsay wrote the book of the missing girls of Hanging Rock, and director Peter Weir fixed it in our imaginations. The land itself, a potent character in an ethereal tale of place and being.

These are Australian stories, ancient and modern, and all efforts at recognition – a need to be seen. It is indeed a fleeting project, an attempt to capture a people – a people always changing – in a time and place. A drawing on a cave wall preserved for antiquity, to tell future people: ‘This was us.’

It is so human, and it is essential.

Part 2: Family

In the section on ‘family’, Grant explores the complicated nature of ancestory. He wonders who to embrace and deny in his past. Is it Frank Foster? Is it Otho Gherardini?

We are all of us a part of each other. We step into many rivers and are inevitably changed: a process of becoming. A Chinese friend once said to me that we are the last stop on our ancestors’ journey. What does that make me? I have been a nobleman in old Florence; part of the Norman conquest of England; an Irish baron and then a cast-out peasant farmer. I have been a Catholic rebel, striking back at the harsh hand of Protestant England. I have been a Wiradjuri warrior defending an invasion by strangers with muskets. Yet I would be today unrecognisable to my forebears; someone who doesn’t speak their languages or practise their ceremonies. I am a pinwheel of colours spinning into one; a kaleidoscope of history that came to rest on the shores of Botany Bay.

For Grant there are problems with describing Aboriginal culture as somehow ageless. This is particularly captured in the work of Australian anthropologist, W.E.H. Stanner, and the idea of a people caught between the ‘dreaming and the market’.

Stanner’s essay [Durmugam: A Nangiomeri] has helped set Indigenous people in the Australian imagination: a people for whom change spells doom. It has all the hallmarks of the ‘noble savage’, the European ideal of a people unsullied by ‘progress’. Stanner – for all his good intentions and empathy – robbed Aboriginal people of a future. His idea of people caught between the dreaming and the market exerted a powerful hold on policy makers as they sought to find the balance between economy and identity; between what is ‘mainstream’ and what is ‘Indigenous’. It has helped shape ideas of identity, some Indigenous people embracing the idea of timelessness and rejecting of what is seen as modernity.

Grant warns that identity risks being “a cage in search of a bird”

To borrow from Franz Kafka, identity can be a cage in search of a bird. I was born into that ‘half-caste’ community that emerged from the Australian frontier; a hybrid society formed out of the clash of old and new

In the end, what it means to be Aboriginal is varying and always in a state of flux. With this in mind, regarding those who have ‘made it’ as being somehow less legimate is not true. Being indigenous is a birth right, not something that can be means tested.

Part 3: Race

In the section on ‘race’, Grant explores the ways in which race is constructed. He begins by recounting his first memory of being labelled as ‘black’ while at school.

Black. It wasn’t just a colour and it certainly wasn’t just a word. No, not a word: it was a world, a world unto its own, a world apart. It was a world to which one was banished. Black was a judgment.

Only to then be denied.

You’re not black, you have lovely olive skin.’

There it was. In one day, Owen and I had been called black and then told we were not black. Black was in the eye of the beholder, it was nothing we could own. Tim had spoken the innocence of childhood, but knew more than he realised

Grant explains how race is a learnt behaviour. The challenge faced is balancing between the ‘better angels of our nature’ and the reality of indigenous lives today.

Doesn’t my life tell me that race is not a prison? Unlike Baldwin, I look for the spaces in between, those questions that defy easy answers. My instinct is to soften the blow. Even knowing what I know I struggle to accept that my country should be condemned by the worst of its history. Are we – black people – still in Baldwin’s words ‘worthless’? Is this my country? Today, at this time, is this who we are? I think of my fellow Australians of goodwill – those who have loved and cried with us – and I say surely this, the better angels of our nature, is the true measure of us.

But then I think again how 97 per cent of kids locked up in the Northern Territory are black kids. I think of their parents too likely to have been behind bars. I think of their grandparents likely gone too soon, dead before their time. In this country Indigenous people die ten years younger than other Australians. I think of how suicide remains the single biggest cause of death for Indigenous people under the age of thirty-five. I think of Aboriginal women, forty-five times more likely to suffer domestic violence than their white sisters. An Aboriginal woman is more than ten times more likely to be killed from violent assault.

I think of lives chained to generations of misery.

The problem is that indigenous people are rendered invisible by the white gaze.

I am born of deep traditions. My footprints trace the first steps on this land. I am born too of the white imagination – this imagination that said we did not exist. The imagination that said this was an empty land – terra nullius. It is not just a legal doctrine, it is a state of mind. We were rendered invisible, our rights extinguished. If we existed at all, we were just as likely dismissed as the fly-blown savages unfit to be counted among the civilised races of the earth.

However, the black gaze can also be just as restrictive. One of the problems is that there is often a difference between language and understanding. Extending from this, language is often contested and tells you where you are, as much as it tells you who you are. Interestingly, Grant reflects on the fact that English is his first language:

Yet English is my first language – in truth my only language. To learn Wiradjuri is like learning Chinese, or French or Italian; I can speak the words but never truly hold the thoughts. That may be my loss, but in English I find the words to describe myself.

Race is a lie that we give power to. It exists in the eye of the beholder

Race exists in the eye of the beholder; just like magic what we believe we see. Black can be whatever we want it to be, Jews have been ‘black’; Irish, Greeks, Italians have been ‘black’. Funny thing, the more familiar we become – the closer we get to white – the less black we are.

DIscussing Barbara and Karen Field’s book Racecraft, Grant eplains how race is often used as a way of deflecting our attention away from racism.

Race matters, even if the evidence tells us it should not. Shifting our language is not some ‘Kumbaya’, all-hold-hands fantasy; it is urgent: race exacts a terrible human toll. Barbara and Karen Fields, remind us that ‘race is the principle unit and core concept of racism’.

Part 4: History

In the section on ‘history’, Grant explores the relationship between history, memory and forgiveness. When considering history of ideas, he pushes back on the abandonment of ‘dead white men’. For Grant, if we want to understand the world we are in then we need to engage with the figures that laid the platform for liberalism, democracy, human rights, globalisation, patriarchy, white privilege, and structural inequality. With this said, it needs to be appreciated that liberalism has sown the seeds of both destruction and liberation.

It is inarguable that the revolutions – technological, industrial, philosophical – begun in eighteenth-century Europe have transformed our world. Democracy, capitalism, freedom of expression, universal rights, individualism, rule of law, separation of church and state, accelerated change in a way never before seen in human history. We are today more literate, more materially wealthy, and healthier than ever before. We are more connected to each other, borders have come down and trade moves more freely. Peoples have thrown off the yoke of imperialism and have looked to bodies forged out of Enlightenment principles of liberalism, like the United Nations, to enshrine the rights of previously colonised or indigenous peoples. As I will write later, liberalism has sown the seeds of both destruction and liberation.

Turning back to history, Grant explains that memory is not history.

As David Rieff said, ‘The takeover of history by memory is also the takeover of history by politics.’

Memory can provide belonging or poison the soul.

Memory is a chain linking us to a past from which we forge our identity. At its best it has given me a place to belong and a pride in my heritage and my family’s resilience. But there is a downside. Bitter memory can poison the soul; at its worst it can feel more like a noose, strangling us, choking us off from the world.

Associated with memory is the Importance of forgiveness. As Desmond Tutu stated in reference to Apartheid, “without forgiveness, there is no future.” The opposite of this is resentment. This is epitomised by the life and work of Jean Amery, where resentment turns inward until vengeance destroys us. Amery is Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Ressentiment Man’, a prisoner of his past, defined by historical grievance and driven by hatred and desire for revenge.

Where Hegel saw history as progress, the quest for recognition and freedom, ‘Ressentiment Man’ is caught in a time warp, returning always to the source of injustice that he cannot fix and does not want to fix. History, for him, is a festering wound, to be picked at over and over, never allowed to heal. His suffering is his strength; his weakness the greatest weapon he has over his oppressor. Nietzsche saw this as the morality of the slave, an inversion of power where the downtrodden emerge triumphant. But to Nietzsche ‘Ressentiment Man’ is a loathsome character.

His soul squints; his mind loves hidden crannies, tortuous paths and backdoors, everything secret appeals to him as his world, his safety, his balm; he is past master in silence, in not forgetting.

Grant explains that forgiving and forgetting is not amnesia, rather it is a choice to ‘acknowledge, commemorate and put aside’. In the end, forgiveness for the past offers a greater opportunity for justice and peace.

Philosopher Paul Ricoeur says forgiveness has a ‘poetic power’, it shatters ‘the law of the irreversibility of time by changing the past, not as a record of all that has happened but in terms of its meaning for us today’.

Part 5: Nation

In the section on ‘Nation’, Grant explores the way in which nations are constructed. He explains that a nation is an ever evolving story. For Australia, this story has been that of ‘terra nullius’.

That’s what a nation is: a story. Stories are how we explain ourselves to each other. It is a story that we imbibe, and a story we so rarely question. What is our story? It is terra nullius. Historian Stuart Macintyre calls it a story of ‘a sleeping land finally brought to life’.

However, there is always other elements in the margins, which sit outside the dominant narrative. For Australia, one such element is the plethora of Aboriginal names used when naming the land, names which offer a constant reminder that Australia was not ’empty’.

Where I grew up there was Narrandera, Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra, Gundagai; it was as if the settlers were reminding themselves whose land this was even as the local people were being forced off.

A sleeping land, brought to life – empty land – the legal fiction struck down by the High Court in the Mabo decision, but so deeply lodged in the Australian consciousness that for much of this nation’s history it rendered Indigenous people invisible.

The challenge indigenous people face when it comes to Australia and nationhood is, “how to live as people with rights and dignity in a country that has historically denied those rights.”

We cannot separate the land from murder. But when we put down our books we return to our daily lives of family, work, school and sport, and push aside those dark thoughts. It is a privilege that other Australians enjoy. I wonder what it must be like to know contentment. It eludes me. Modern Australia was not built for Aboriginal people, my black ancestors were expected not even to survive.

Grant states that a referendum around constitutional recognition serves as both an opportunity and a threat. An opportunity to say, “we are now one people”, recognition of the First Peoples of the land, to have a voice on matters that impact them, and to complete what was started in 1967. However, it is also a threat to the dominant narrative about who we as ‘one people’ are. Because of this, such changes will always depend upon conservative support.

One of the challenges with change is that the expectations around recognition are not reciprocal, rather it often asks more of indigenous people.

Recognition has always appeared to me to ask more of black people than white, Aboriginal people feel strongly the expectations that they will forgive their fellow.

Philosophically, liberalism is tougher for people of colour.

Liberalism asks easier questions of white people; it poses tougher questions of someone like me. I have to work harder to embrace it; I have to push the limits of liberalism until it bends to include me.

Quoting from a lecture by Peter Yu in 2018, Grant explains how politically substance has been traded for symbolism.

Reconciliation, Yu said, with a commitment to a full political settlement ‘no longer exists’, it has ‘lost its moral and political gravitas’. As a nation, we have traded substance for symbolism. This was a devastating appraisal of the abject failure of Australia to heal its deepest wound, while Indigenous people continued to fill our prisons and cemeteries.

The question Grant is left wondering is whether liberalism a big enough idea to liberate Aboriginal people?

In his 2014 Quarterly Essay ‘A Rightful Place’, Pearson challenged Australia as to whether its ‘system of democracy enables an extreme minority to participate in a fair way.’ Pearson wrote:

The scale and moral urgency of the Indigenous predicament far exceeds the power of Indigenous participation in the country’s democratic process.

Pearson had belled the cat. Here was the fundamental question of Australia, it is the question that turns over and over in my mind – it is the question that has hovered over my every thought in this book – is liberalism a big enough idea to liberate me from the chokehold of race, identity and history? If liberalism works for others, can it work for me?

One of the problems with liberalism is that, as “a philosophy of progress, it doesn’t cope well with the past.” Borrowing from Tommie Shelby, Grant suggests that a move would be a focus on ‘thin blackness’, where the emphasis is on justice, rather than identity politics.

African-American, Tommie Shelby, says we can pursue justice without reverting to the divisive politics of identity. He walks a delicate line between what he calls ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ blackness. As the labels imply, thick blackness emphasises racial solidarity; thin blackness puts the emphasis on justice.

For Grant, recognising the inherent rights of First Peoples is actually a means of setting everyone free.

Coming back to the idea of ‘Australia Day’, Grant explains that more than a day or a date, it needs to address who we are as a nation, even with all its tensions. Regarding the idea that a nation is a story, Grant chooses to believe a story of hope over indifference.

The story of this country asks us to choose: what do we believe? Must I be cursed like Sisyphus, forever doomed to roll the boulder of our history to the top of the mountain only to return again to the bottom? A nation is a narrative, it is a story, it is what we imagine, it is what we choose. For me, I choose the historian, Inga Clendinnen, and the ‘springtime of trust’ over the anthropologist, Bill Stanner and his ‘history of indifference’. Is this naive? No, it is hope. This is the hope of the storytellers who have shaped my life.


I spent a long time with Australia Day. I listened to Grant’s reading of it twice and spent a lot of time reflecting upon it. I had also read parts of it previously in The Australian Dream. Although it is structured around five key themes, the book is very much a wrestle. In some ways it feels this way as Grant tries hard to find space in the in-between. However, it also feels like a book very much written for readers. To borrow a quote from Richard Flanagan in conversation with Claire Nichols:

Books are created by readers, not writers. So the more space you leave for the reader to create the story, the more chance you have of writing something that might have meaning for readers.

Source: Richard Flanagan on the atomic bomb, HG Wells and a kiss by The Book Show

With Grant, this space often comes in the form of ideas that are seemingly complete and incomplete at the same time. Ideas that often lead you as a reader to dive down rabbit holes.

One such rabbit hole that I was left thinking about was Grant’s discussion of stories and notions of truth. In Truth and Truthfulness, Bernard Williams discusses the relative way in which we choose truths to form narrative:

There is no way in which the king’s death could have happened “for” the Anglo-Saxon chronicler and not happened “for” us, or the Germans have invaded Belgium in 1914 “for” some cultures and not for others. The same holds for many small-scale explanations: if the king was murdered, someone killed him, period. What is relative is the interest that selectively forms a narrative and puts some part of the past into shape.

Source: Truth and Truthfulness by Bernard Williams

Published in 2019, I cannot help but think about this in regards to the failure of the referendum and what it means for the story of our nation.

I think that Australia Day is one of those books that I will continue to come back to in the way I think about things and what it means to be an Australian.


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Fiction puts you in shoes that are not comfortable. Christos Tsiolkas

The In-Between by Christos Tsiolkas captures the relationship between two middle age men, Perry and Ivan. Both are seeking love again, but also carry with them their own histories of regret that forever haunts them. Structurally, the novel is divided into a number of days spread over a several years. Through these glimpses into the everyday, we are given an insight into the challenges of balancing life in-between the past and the present.


I remember watching Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, one of the many films that makes up the Marvel universe. At the start of the film, there is a bus scene where the hero is confronted by a group of thugs. One of the things that always seems odd in this supposed ordinary situation is who are the other people in these scenes? For example, what is on the laptop sliced in half by a sword? Did it have a PhD on it in draft format? Was it backed up in the cloud? None of this is ever addressed. Ordinary people do not matter when there are superheroes around. Whereas for Christos Tsoilkas, these other people standing on the edge of the stage are often placed front and centre and given prime place with the narrative. Whether it is an old couple on a train returning from remembering a relative’s passing or a palliative nurse looking out her window after a long shift in which her patient passed away, these moments not only add perspective, but remind us that there are people who exist both in and beyond the book. This is something Michael Williams touches on in his review for the The Saturday Paper:

There’s a trick Christos Tsiolkas does in his eighth novel, The In-Between. At several points in the action, as the central drama plays out in the foreground, the focus drifts away. Tsiolkas brings our attention instead to a passing youth on the street or the gaze of another commuter.

Despite these glances away, The In-Between is an intensely interior book with Tsiolkas’s trademark unflinching intimacy and access to the thoughts, fears, rages and lusts of his characters. It makes these other moments all the more acute when they occur. They offer us an external view of proceedings, giving us the distance to see our protagonists afresh

Source: Christos Tsiolkas – The In-Between by Michael Williams

What I like about Tsiolkas’ writing is his ability to capture the seemingly everyday. In The In-Between, he manages to make reference to everything from responses to Brittany Higgins rape allegation, changes to places like Preston and Frankston, Classic FM playing Talking Heads and Split Enz, the turn away from news and talk back, or capturing a situation on a smartphone. These various choices feel less like polemical statements, than being moments for the reader to ponder. As Tsiolkas stated in an interview with Raphael Epstein:

What I want from fiction is that it sets up questions.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

Sean O’Beirne picks up on this in his review for The Monthly, when he talks about the unstable nature of our senses and perceptions.

Though of course plenty of writers can supply the smaller details, what makes Tsiolkas exceptional is his ability to show how excessive and unstable our senses are, how we never just enjoy our perceptions in some benign way, but find them turning continuously into greed, and then shame, and then greed again.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’s ‘The In-Between’ (Review) by Sean O’Beirne

Although the two central characters, Perry and Ivan, are in-between in so many ways, whether it be language, place, class or age, I feel that when it comes down to it, the book highlights how we are all in-between in some respect. For example, relationships are in-between, whether it be as a friend, a parent, a sibling. We are always in-between regarding the public and private. Conversations exist in-between. Knowing someone through social media, by ghosting them, exists in-between. As an extension of all this, I feel that the author too exists in this in-between, not dead, but not defined. Caught between characters, perspectives and points of view.


In a conversation with Tsiolkas, Rafael Epstein talks about how The In-Between allows readers to walking inside someone else’s shoes and see people more clearly. I am not sure if I all of the sudden know what other people think or feel after reading it, rather for me the novel provides a deeper appreciation of the other. For example, after rain, the grass often looks greener, while the smell of eucalyptus often perfumes the air. I felt the same after reading The In-Between, my world was not magically transformed, rather I was made more conscious of the world around. In response to Epstein’s comment, Tsiolkas suggests that,

Fiction puts you in shoes that are not comfortable.

Source: Christos Tsiolkas’ new novel The In-Between – ABC Listen by ABC Radio Melbourne

I like this point. When you have uncomfortable shoes, how become aware of every step.


I saw The In-Between come up in my new releases in my local library app and decided to unwittingly dive in. I was not disappointed. I think this is one of those books that will linger with me for a long time.


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Ultimately, the essence of being a Stolen person is that you’re always trying to find out who the hell you are. Jack Charles ‘Born-again Blakfella’

I was recently speaking to someone about the referendum whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. They complained that indigenous people have had the same opportunities as the rest of us, including the right to vote, therefore they did not know why they needed a special ‘voice’. I must admit, although I disagree with their point of view, I was somewhat lost for the words to say in response and decided to just leave the conversation at that.

Jack Charles’ autobiography Jack Charles: Born-again Blakfella helped clarify to me why the changes outlined in the the Uluru Statement from the Heart are so important to aid in the healing process.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation to the Australian people from First Nations Australians. It asks Australians to walk together to build a better future by establishing a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission for the purpose of treaty making and truth-telling.

Source: View The Statement – Uluru Statement from the Heart

A child of the stolen generation, Charles talks about being taken away from his mother at two months age (only because she left the hospital before they could take him away after being born). Instead he was brought up as the only indigenous child in Box Hill Boys Home. There he and the other boys were abused by the Salvation Army officers. The legacy of this experience led Charles to a life balanced between the world of theatre, and a life of drugs, crime and homelessness.

Published in 2019, a few years before his passing in 2022, this book is written with the hindsight of a long life. Although frustrated with politics, the prison system, at Australia’s ‘unique racism’ and the failure to bring about treaty, this is never offered as some sort of excuse to some of the choices made in Charles’ complicated life. Instead, this book can itself be considered as a form of healing.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anybody struggling with the trauma of past abuse is to talk about it. It’s difficult to open up, but I try to encourage folks to reflect on themselves during those moments of suffering – without a sense of blame and shame. What you were subjected to is a part of your lived experience and, as unfortunate as it is, it happened. Come what may, you have to relegate it to a section of the old grey matter up top. Leave it there, until you wanna talk about it in a group session or it comes up naturally in conversation.

I think that what makes this book so powerful is Charles’ (and Namila Benson) storytelling. I often found myself unsure whether to laughing or cry. Whether it be writing letters home for fellow inmates in prison.

It was always whitefellas getting me to write their letters. I don’t remember any blakfellas asking me to write for them. I’d make sure to use just the right language and phrases so these unsuspecting women back home would know they were number one. And the payment for my efforts? Tobacco and chocolate. This letter-writing business held me in good stead. I always rolled out of prison having gained a few pounds.

Collecting rent in the form of burglaries.

When I discovered my connection to this traditional land, I started thinking of my burgs as ‘collecting rent’; taking back just a small piece of what had been cruelly stolen from me and my people.

Performing naked at the Opera House in response to sexism.

The Opera House waited until the very last moment before finally calling me and agreeing to pay all the girls the correct fee. I told them, ‘I’m so pissed off with you, ya bastards. Y’know, making those girls wait so long.’ I paused but there was no response. Time to pull out the big guns. ‘Okay, I’ll stay, but I’m going to do Bennelong naked. Fuck yas.’ It seemed like a fair exchange for the stress we’d been put under. And so I did it. Wandered on stage and performed the show with me willy dangling on the Opera House stage.

And faking it as an ‘actor’.

They had to know full well that I, Jack Charles, was too far up meself to audition. It’s true. When it comes to acting roles, auditioning and getting knocked back just won’t do. I’m very lucky to be in the unique position where I’m not forced to audition in order to be seriously considered for roles. The great Australian actor Bill Hunter never auditioned either, so I take my lead from him. He told me once, ‘I get away with it so often, Jack. Thing is, I can’t act but everybody reckons I can.’ It was a relief to hear someone of his calibre say that, not to mention his advice that I should be more assertive. I responded, ‘Well, I’m in the same boat, Bill. So long as we know our lines and create the illusion of being someone else, then we’ll get across the line. You know, if it works for us, it’ll work for the audience.’

Maybe this book was not about me (clearly not, it was about Jack Charles), however I cannot help think about my own experiences and how I might have behaved differently. I was, in hindsight, lucky enough to teach at a Koori school. I remember being frustrated at times with how I was treated. For example, I would walk down the street and hear ‘pinky’ hollered at the top of one of my student’s lungs. In hindsight, I think this was actually there sign of respect. Often having been somewhat rejected by the mainstream school, I imagine there were many teachers they would not have given the time of day to, let alone called out to. Even with my academic awareness of ‘The Stolen Generation’, I feel that autobiographies like this and Archie Roach’s Tell Me Why help to appreciate the ongoing legacy of such a decision and who change is so important.


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Our history is an aggregate of last moments. Thomas Pynchon ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’

I am not sure if I bought Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or was gifted it, either way it has sat on my shelf for years. Haunting me, maybe even mocking me. I remember reading The Crying of Lot 49, but never got around to Gravity’s Rainbow. In my recent dive into the world of audiobooks, I found a reading of it by George Guidall via Open Culture. I thought this might be a compromise.

To be honest, although I knew Gravity’s Rainbow was ‘about a rocket’, I did not really know much beyond that. I wonder if this alongside the size of the book is what held me off. After finishing the novel, I kind of know why I did not know much. It is not a novel easily summarised. Take for example this collection of attempts:

Gravity’s Rainbow reads like a kaleidoscopic fusion of violent history, conflicting socio-political and economic interests, scientific and metaphysical notions, collective and individual fantasies and dreams, that merges fact and fiction, which are created and supervised by controlling systems of various origins, including film industry, where artificial prefigures the real, implementing psychological manipulation to constitute desired perceptions of reality and history.

Source: “Cinematic” Gravity’s Rainbow: Indiscernibility of the Actual and the Virtual by Lovorka Gruic Grmusa

To describe any novel is to do it a disservice, and in some cases, you shouldn’t even bother. Thus, having failed on numerous occasions to describe Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon’s colossal, parabolic wonderland of a novel, I’ve simply stopped trying. Not only because it is essentially unsummarizeable, but because now, 50 years after its release, it still evades our understanding. (The only 20th century novel less penetrable is perhaps Finnegans Wake, and at times, Pynchon gives Joyce a run for his money.) Now, when asked about the book, I simply tell people what they can expect: rocket physics, sex, coprophagia, pedophilia, giant octopuses/adenoids, riffs on thermodynamics, Pavlovian conditioning, speculative chemistry; secret cabals, Nazi-mysticism, drugs, sea shanties, an acid trip of a last chapter, and a whole lot else.

Source: Beyond the Rainbow by Jared Marcel Pollen

Can Gravity’s Rainbow be difficult and obscure? Sure. Does it contain an unusually large amount of sadomasochism, pedophilia, and coprophagy for a literary classic? Certainly. Does it have a grim view of Western history? How could it not? But Gravity’s Rainbow presents its dark materials with such an unremittingly innocent flamboyance, and wears its prodigious learning with such a democratic exuberance, that it continues to attract not only serious scholars and critics but also enthusiastic fans, a cohort of readers whose relatively small size is more than made up for by its intense devotion.

Source: History Is Hard to Decode: On 50 Years of Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” by M. Keith Booker

Each attempt captures a particular perspective, but never the whole. Interestingly, the rocket is often considered as something of a red-herring. Instead, it maybe better appreciated as a dive into the experience of being paranoid. This is framed around his ‘Proverbs for Paranoids’:

  1. You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.
  2. The innocence of the creature is in inverse proportion to the immorality of the Master.
  3. If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.
  4. You hide, They seek.
  5. Paranoids are not paranoids because they’re paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations.

When paranoia is our means of making sense it leaves one wondering whether sense matters. What is and is not fact. As reader we experience this sense of paranoia through the act of reading. As Craig Getting and Andrew Cunningham capture in their discussion:

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when his making something up and when his referencing something real. Similarly it’s hard to tell if an event is actually occurring or if somebody is hallucinating. Also Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a character died or not.

Source: Ep 319 – Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon by Overdue Podcast

For me, Gravity’s Rainbow is a chaotic reflection of a chaotic world. To borrow from Peter Goldsworthy,

Cartoon pictures how else to describe a cartoon world.

Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy

Like Paul Auster with his New York Trilogy, Gravity’s Rainbow is about trying to find a language to describe the world. As with writers such as Samuel Beckett and Joseph Heller, absurdity is at the heart of this language.

Another thing to stand out in the world created by Pynchon was the primacy of the image. I often found myself remembering scenes, rather than any sort of ‘narrative’. Lovorka Gruic Grmusa explains this with reference to the place of cinematography:

Cinematography was the first medium which created the illusion of motion by manipulating and animating still images so that motion-picture photography is perceived as continuous movement, disseminating the creative capacities of the medium and generating immensely original and multifaceted realms that alter existing conceptions of reality. Pynchon unravels these permutations of image manipulation in Gravity’s Rainbow, exposing film as an apparatus and a thematic composition, but what is more, the novel’s cinematic ambience captures the shift in human consciousness at the close of World War II.

Source: “Cinematic” Gravity’s Rainbow: Indiscernibility of the Actual and the Virtual by Lovorka Gruic Grmusa

This discussion of cinematography is not just the way of seeing, but also the endless cultural references.

In the end, on finishing the novel I appreciated the Pulitzer Prize jury concern about the novel. I often found myself one minute loving Pynchon’s turn of phrase, while the next minute cringing at some piece of absurdity. In The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Martin Flanagan says,

A good book leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.

Source: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Martin Flanagan

With this in mind, I was left thinking that Gravity’s Rainbow was a great book as it left me thinking about my own thoughts and responses to so much. I can appreciate why people talk about rereading this on a regular basis. It therefore serves as a great source of meditation.


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You feel the loss forever. But you put it in a safe corner of yourself, and bit by bit some of your sorrow changes into joy. And that’s how you go on living. Sonya Hartnett ‘The Ghost’s Child’

Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child is a story of love, loss and memory, as well as being a celebration of life. It revolves around Matilda, an old lady of 75, and a young boy who has come to visit. There are two threads flowing throughout, firstly the conversation between the Matilda and the boy, as well as the reminiscence of a life lived that oozes with the magic of Feather, a bird man, and their fay.

I was intrigued to stumble upon a comment on Commonsense website questioning the novel’s place as a child’s novel:

Sometimes it can be difficult to fathom the decisions that publishers make — such as why this is being sold in the children’s section. This gorgeously ethereal, lyrical story will not be to the taste of many kids, imbued as it is with nostalgia and the complexities of adult love and regret. Allegorical, with touches of magic realism and mythological references in its central section, and much philosophizing about the nature of love, life, and happiness, it is the kind of little book that can make a big splash on adult bestseller lists.

This makes me wonder, what is the purpose and place of ‘children’s’ fiction? Yes, some of the topics maybe beyond some children, but I not all children are the same. In addition to appreciating those whose lives have already been lives, the novel also provides some comfort to being unique. I particularly liked how Victoria Flanagan captured it:

It is a story of loss, most certainly (of a child and also a marriage) but The Ghost’s Child is also a narrative of resilience and recovery. A coming-of-age tale that is both magical and moving – and which deserves to be considered an Australian classic. Hartnett has never been one to shy away from controversial subject matter. In fact, she has openly embraced it: Wilful Blue (1994) tackled youth suicide, while Sleeping Dogs (1995), which is probably the novel she is most famous for, revolves around brother/sister incest. Interestingly, Hartnett’s work has often been called “bleak” – but The Ghost’s Child is a tender meditation on the life choices and experiences that mould and influence the people we eventually become.

The case for The Ghost’s Child by Sonya Hartnett by Victoria Flanagan

In the end, rather than being a novel for children or for adults, it is a novel for everyone. This often happens with children’s films, why can it not be the same with novels?


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The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

I get a lot of requests for writing various queries, focusing on different information. Although I am always happy to help out, I am also interested in potential of creating spreadsheet templates that people can copy and use themselves. One template I developed recently was build around interpreting different data exports.

Often these export files have a lot of information, which people get lost in. Although they could just delete the columns that they do not want, the feedback is that that process is tedious. Therefore, I created a spreadsheet where users can import a CSV and then select the fields that they want to work with. I did this using a QUERY formula and a series of checkboxes associated with which columns to SELECT and which columns to ORDER BY.

="{QUERY(Sheet1!A1:CJ,"&char(34)&"SELECT "&JOIN(", ",QUERY(A3:D,"SELECT C WHERE D = TRUE"))&" ORDER BY "&JOIN(", ",IFNA(QUERY(A3:E,"SELECT C WHERE E = TRUE"),"Col1"))&char(34)&",1)}"

Users can then copy the query formula and run it in a separate tab.

The current workflow can be summarised as follows:

  1. Create a copy of the Google Sheet template.
  2. Import the data spreadsheet (File > Import > Upload > Browse > Open > Insert New Sheet(s) > Import data). This will bring the data into a new tab ‘Sheet1’
  3. In the SUMMARY tab, refresh the formula in cell A3, then use the checkboxes to select which fields to be displayed and the field(s) to order by.
  4. Copy the formula created in Cell B2 and paste it in Cell A1 in the data tab, adding ‘=’ at the start to activate it

Although this works fine, I was left wondering if it was possible to instead display the data dynamically, rather than copying and pasting the formula. I imagine that I would need some sort of ‘TO_FORMULA’ type of function, where the text is translated into a formula.

As always, thoughts and comments welcome.


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Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them, someone once said. In the same way, perhaps, experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them. Paul Auster ‘The New York Trilogy’

I remember going to Andy Warhol’s Time Capsule exhibition and seeing his film Kiss. It captured something in so much detail that I was left unsure exactly what to think about it. I had a similar experience reading Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy.

The ‘trilogy’ includes three separate novels – City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986) – that serve as something of a whole. However, as Robert Briggs discusses, the trilogy is not straight-forward.

Nevertheless, a few points of correspondence can be found between the three stories, which could define Auster’s collection as not so much a nonidentical or uncertain trilogy as rather a trilogy about the nonidentical and the uncertain. So, although there is little continuity between genre and character, there is a certain persistence of duplicitous identities.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

In a discussion on BBC World Service, Auster posits that ‘triptych’ might be a better word for the series, but does not have the same sound, therefore trilogy it is.

The novel has been described as ‘anti-detective’.

The re-working of the detective story as a search for the ultimate language shows that it is not the final and speculative textualization that is most appropriate for the postmodern world, but instead, the text that is written about the text. Stories about stories and books of questions, as opposed to books of answers, are the forms that best typify the difficult reality of our times. The New York Trilogy participates in the deconstruction of the legendary tower of the ancestral city and its language, as it describes the Babel-like shattering of the contemporary metropolis at the same time that it expresses the crisis surrounding linguistic representation. Its ideological structure of a wandering through and a detachment from pre-existing principles forces the postmodern subject to question the basis of all legendary archetypes.

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

For me, this is where a gun is oddly both just a gun as well as something more, and you are never really sure which it is. Auster has said that the genre serves as a means to an end in the same way as Beckett uses vaudeville in Waiting for Godot. Whereas detection fiction is usually about answering question, Auster flips this expectation by using it to ask questions. This approach creates a feeling of excess, where there is always too much happening. Our desire for sense and control is always challenged. Take this quote from the end of City of Glass:

For the most part his entries from this period consisted of marginal questions concerning the Stillman case. Quinn wondered, for example, why he had not bothered to look up the newspaper reports of Stillman’s arrest in 1969. He examined the problem of whether the moon landing of that same year had been connected in any way with what had happened. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that Stillman was dead. He tried to think about eggs and wrote out such phrases as “a good egg,” “egg on his face,” “to lay an egg,” “to be as like as two eggs.” He wondered what would have happened if he had followed the second Stillman instead of the first. He asked himself why Christopher, the patron saint of travel, had been decanonized by the Pope in 1969, just at the time of the trip to the moon. He thought through the question of why Don Quixote had not simply wanted to write books like the ones he loved— instead of living out their adventures. He wondered why he had the same initials as Don Quixote. He considered whether the girl who had moved into his apartment was the same girl he had seen in Grand Central Station reading his book. He wondered if Virginia Stillman had hired another detective after he failed to get in touch with her. He asked himself why he had taken Auster’s word for it that the check had bounced. He thought about Peter Stillman and wondered if he had ever slept in the room he was in now. He wondered if the case was really over or if he was not somehow still working on it. He wondered what the map would look like of all the steps he had taken in his life and what word it would spell.

All in all, it is a novel that attempts to find a means of coming to grips with the world.

One must understand how the universe functions before one confronts it with the force of creativity; this is the writer’s task. In citing Samuel Beckett, Auster defines his own ideological and literary bent, thereby depicting his profound critical acumen and his feeling for the mission of the artist: “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.”

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

Another interesting feature of the novel is the place of ‘New York’. This is as much as an internalised space. Clara Sarmento makes the comparison between New York and Walden’s forest.

The confining within the walls of New York is very similar to the solitude of the forest found in Henry Thoreau’s Walden, recollections of which dominate the Trilogy. In both these works, the authors achieve perfect isolation within the spaces delineated by the city or the forest that endows them with a transcending ability to observe and reflec

Source: Paul Auster’s “The New York Trilogy”: The Linguistic Construction of an Imaginary Universe by Clara Sarmento

In the end, the New York Trilogy feels like one of those conversations that you forget how or why it actually started once it has finished. Auster’s style has a music and rhythm to it in which you can easily become consumed. I like how Robert Briggs captures this in his reading of the novel:

Even though you might start off reading fiction, you can’t expect, in the end, not to find yourself writing the story of your life.

Source: Wrong Numbers: The Endless Fiction of Auster and Deleuze and Guattari and . . . by Robert Briggs

While Gary Matthew Varner argues that the book is ‘rhizomatic’ in that is ‘nullifies endings’:

What makes Auster’s Trilogy endless, and rhizomatic, is that it “nullif[ies] endings” (Deleuze and Guattari 25) … Readers may not want to begin reading Auster’s book at any point in any volume, but the Trilogy nevertheless nullifies its own “endings.”

Source: Paul Auster’s rhizomatic fictions by Gary Matthew Varner


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Highly productive individuals, teams, and organisations don’t get to that level merely by accident. It happens through hard work on process which, in turn, leads to consistently-great outcomes. Doug Belshaw ‘Trello Kanban’

This year I was seconded to help in the technical team. In some ways, I am doing much of the same work as before in responding to issues pushed to us, whether it be debugging problems and supporting schools. One change though has been a focus on the technical changes and enhancements. As a part of this, I was asked to complete Atlassian’s online courses associated with the use of Jira and the agile methodology.


In 2001, a group of developers published the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. The manifesto outlines four key values associated with the agile mindset:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Source: Manifesto for Agile Software Development

In unpacking these values, Atlassian provide six tips to build an agile mindset:

  1.  Show respect for all team members
  2.  Communicate openly and clearly
  3. Look for ways to innovate
  4. Actively improve your skills
  5. Your work doesn’t have to be perfect
  6. Have a plan, but always be ready to pivot

Although there are many agile frameworks, Atlassian focuses on two in particular: Kanban and Scrum.

The Kanban framework allows teams to visualise workflows associated with work and improvement. It focuses on columns of cards, which allows all involved to easily see the progression of various tasks. (For example, Doug Belshaw introduces Kanban with three columns: To do, Doing, and Done.) Associated with each card, there are details, checklists, attachments, labels, work in progress (WIP) and collaboration through comments. I have discussed the use of Kanban boards in the past in regards to Trello.

Scrum is about iterative delivery of batched improvements. Groups of issues are organised into sprints with a clear focus and a set number of WIP points. Unlike Kanban boards, sprints are time-based, with future work added to a backlog. In addition to the boards, there are certain structures and processes. This includes regular meetings focusing on what has been completed, what needs to be completed and any obstacles, a review of accomplishments, and a retrospective that focuses on what the learnings from the sprint. Associated with the boards and meetings, there are roles central to the cycle, including the product owner and the scrum master. The product owner is in charge of recording requirements and identifying priorities for the business, while the scrum master acts as a coach, responsible for the performance of the team.


Personally, I had dabbled with using Kanban in my work before. I had also explored the idea of agile management in education through Richard Olsen’s Modern Learning Canvas and Simon Breakspeare’s Teaching Sprints. However, I had never dived into the world of scrum and sprints as a part of my current work. One of the reasons has been that it has not been the methodology of the teams I have worked in.

One of the interesting challenges I find with any agile approach is how it works in practice. According to Atlassian, best practice is to make the habit front and centre. This involves using Confluence for documentation and communicating everything by using the @name from the various cards. This then allows the use of various reports to improve processes and outcomes. The problem with this is that it often places other things in the periphery. If all I did was project work, it would be perfect. However, I feel like I work in a dual operating system. I manage my time between the push for enhancements and improvements, and the pull associated with everyday support. The problem is that it feels that both sides are often oblivious of the other. In regards to agile, this often creates scope creep where things are often added that occur outside of project planning.

In addition to this, it would be nice if Jira (or Atlassian) was the only place where I worked. The project I am a part of has many different signals, including email, Google Drive, OneDrive, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat and Ivanti’s HEAT. There are often times when I am not sure where I am meant to look. For me, I think that the various cross-messaging is often akin to football and a team defense where everyone plays their role producing an outcome where the whole is greater the sum of the individuals. However, when there is not buy in across the board, then the system fails.

Another interesting consideration is the structures of something like scrum. In their introduction to the topic, Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson talk about the optimal size of teams:

So, how many team members should a scrum team have? The common rule of thumb is seven, plus or minus two. That is, from five to nine. Fewer team members and the team may not have enough variety of skills to do all of the work needed to complete user stories. More team members and the communication overhead starts to get excessive.

Source: Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction by Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson

I am in a team of four and this creates some confusion at times about who exactly is doing what roll.


In the end, my biggest takeaway was that agile was a mindset, a way of thinking about continual improvement and development. I was subsequently left wondering if the best methodology is one devised based on the requirements of the particular context. With this in mind, I found Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup interesting in that it offers mindsets as much as approaches.


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