Faster. Better. More, more, more.

For those of you who don’t know, I work in IT. I’m a technical writer, but I’ve also worked on an IT helpdesk in the past and I’ve done some BA (business analysis) work.

I kind of fell into IT in a fit of career opportunism that, now that I think about it, characterises a lot of my professional choices. But I did go on to study IT and just over ten years ago I completed my Grad Dip in Information Technology (and did really well, too).

My point is, I not only work in IT, I’m qualified in it. So you could be forgiven for assuming I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, through-and-through IT gal. But you’d be wrong – because I’m a fraud. And I’m not saying that in some kind of impostor syndrome self-outing; I really am a fraud.

Let me explain. When I was a teenager, I defined myself in opposition to my older brother. It kind of went like this: he did science subjects, I did arts subjects. He liked heavy metal, I liked the new romantics. He was into computers and I was absolutely, definitely not into computers.

My brother and my dad, who also loved computers, spent many hours together discussing and doing stuff with them. I had no idea what, but it seemed to make them very happy. And regularly, it seemed to me at least once a year, they would be very excited because it was time to upgrade. I would sit back and observe with a quizzical expression as they enthusiastically took the computer apart and rebuilt it with newer, faster internal ‘bits’.

The 286 became a 386, and then a 486. It made no sense to me at all.

The computer, they would explain, would now start up a full three minutes quicker. They thought this was amazing, while I thought someone was having a colossal laugh at their expense.

Faster! Better! More, more, more!!” I would tease them.

286 model 0 computer

Meanwhile, when I was thirteen, I declared loudly and proudly that, “I will never use a computer!”

(Those are the exact words I used. I’d love to say that this was a one-off moment uncharacteristically lacking in foresight, but in the same year I also declared I would “never shave my legs!” …so yeah, nah.)

The reason I thought I’d never use a computer was because I was going to be a writer. And writers used typewriters; everyone knew that.

I had a kick-arse typewriter. Every press of a key produced a very satisfying ‘clack’ noise. It was solid and it was loud: clack clack clack! The more clacks, the more words you were writing – the better you felt about yourself. A computer keyboard’s muted tap tap couldn’t possibly compare.

1964 Brother typewriter

Needless to say, eventually the typewriter was put out to pasture and by the mid-90s I had my own laptop, the size of a small briefcase. There was no ‘computers are king’ epiphany or anything, it just sort of happened.

Fast forward twenty years and I find myself not only working in IT but feeling quite at home among IT people. Even though I feel like a bit of a visitor in their world, I overwhelmingly feel that IT people are ‘my peeps’, perhaps because the original IT people I hung out with – my brother and my dad – were, literally, my family.

But I still find myself scratching my head when people get excited about new technology releases. I still can’t understand why anyone would line up to get the latest iWhatever. When I finally bought a smartphone a few years ago, I chose the model that was ‘three models old’ because it would do for my needs and was cheaper. And the iPad I bought back in August 2010? Yeah, I still have it.

This is partly because I have an instinctive anti-authoritarian bent that makes me want to give the finger to big companies who try to force me to upgrade by making their two year old products obsolete. I get Moore’s Law, but I also kind of resent what it means in practice, i.e. that technology is new for a millisecond and then you blink and it’s out of date.

But I also hang on to old devices because the prospect of upgrading just doesn’t excite me. Faster, better, more more more still seems ridiculous to me. Whereas if I was a true IT convert, you’d think I’d be evangelical by now.

This is why I know I’m a fraud. I just don’t have an IT person’s responses to technology. I even seem to miss the obvious cues when things start to fall apart.

I was genuinely stunned when my Mac died quite suddenly in April last year. Then my brother asked me how old it was and…okay it was from 2007. So yes, at that point, it made a lot more sense.

(A close friend told me recently that a woman on the Apple helpline recently told her daughter, “I see you have a vintage computer.” It was from 2008.)

Clearly I’m not going to change any time soon. My IT instincts are not getting any sharper through some kind of professional osmosis. And I think the Universe has realised this and is taking matters into its own hands.

I say this because my phone has spent the better part of the last year begging me to update its operating system and I have spent the same amount of time resisting. About a month ago things finally came to a head when my phone’s camera stopped working.

My response: You mean I can’t take photos of my dog anymore? Oh no – this has to be fixed!

Did I update my iOS? No, I did not. What I did was make plans to buy a new phone. Just like a non-IT person would.

But then a few weeks ago, as if the Universe had issued some kind of “iPhone heal thyself” edict out of exasperation, my phone came to life in the middle of the night and initiated the iOS update by itself. I woke up at 2am and seeing light emitting from my phone, picked it up and in my slumber had the wherewithal to click “Continue ” (as requested by said phone). I had no idea what was going to continue but it felt like the right thing to do, notwithstanding, or maybe because, I was half asleep.

Glowing Apple logo on Apple iPhone

When I woke up the next day, my phone was working as if it was brand new. No more problems with the camera.

Does this midnight miracle make any sense to me? No it does not. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

Just so long as I can take photos of my dog again.

Gus the cairn terrier, standing by his bed

 

Put to shame, and other postscripts

It’s amazing what can come up in conversation. When I visited good friends in Athens a month ago, we were talking about what we take with us when we travel. Do we travel light? Or do we take an outfit for every possible contingency? Naturally, I brought up my packing list, the one I’d so lavishly praised in a blog post just before I left for Greece. I praised its virtues exuberantly.

My friend said that he, too, had developed a packing list that the whole family uses when travelling, and brought it out for me to see.

What can I say? It was a long, comprehensive, laminated list that could be used multiple times: things that weren’t relevant could be crossed out; things to be packed could be ticked off. There were even blank lines for miscellaneous things only relevant to each specific trip to be added. Then you can wipe the whole lot clean and start again.

I was floored. “Oh my God” I stammered. “I’m so impressed. That is so impressive…”

I had been put to shame.

Later, over dinner, the conversation turned to food and I mentioned my favourite meal was a traditional Greek casserole of green beans and potatoes (known as φασολάκια με πατάτες – fasolakia me patates). My friends’ teenage daughters can’t stand this dish, I was told.

I turned to one daughter and said, “Aaah, that’s because you haven’t tried my fasolakia me patates!”

“Yeah”, she replied, “That’s what you said about your list, too.”

Gotta admit, she had a point.


When I wrote about the difficulties in conversing with my friends and family in Greece, little did I realise I had a secret weapon in my possession that would help me out.

This is the first time I’ve travelled to Greece with a smartphone, you see – not because I haven’t been to Greece in a long time (I was just there in 2013), but because I was a late adopter as far as smartphones are concerned.

In any case, I very quickly realised that, thanks to my iPhone, I could reach into my pocket and pull out my own instant translation service. Google Translate became my new best friend.

iPhone screen shot from Google Translate

Not only was it useful when I desperately needed help expressing myself, I also used it when reading about the political situation in Greece – in fact, I’m still using it for this purpose. I am able to copy words straight from news websites or from Twitter and paste them into Google Translate. Within seconds out spits a translation.

It has been incredibly helpful. I’m now pretty fluent in the language of the current political landscape in Greece. Unsurprisingly, given the timing of my visit to Greece, the first word I looked up was διαπραγματεύσης – diapragmatevsis. It was in every news report on TV and all the articles I read online.

It means ‘negotiation’.


Another word I learnt when in Greece was δημοψήφισμα – demopsifisma: ‘referendum’. In the last post I wrote, I said I was hoping for Greeks to vote ΟΧΙ – ‘NO’ – in the Greek referendum of 5 July 2015. Author Christos Tsiolkas recently wrote an article about the aftermath of the referendum for The Monthly (Greek Tragedy). In it he writes about experiencing “political hope” and “political optimism” in the immediate wake of the referendum. These were feelings that swept up an entire nation (or at least the 61.3 per cent that voted ‘NO’). Feelings that I experienced, too, when I was in Greece in the week preceding the referendum, as well as immediately after.

The tragedy of what followed and what continues to be played out is that the Greek prime minister’s tactic of using the referendum result as a means of strengthening his negotiation position spectacularly backfired. Greece’s people may have rejected austerity but Greece’s lenders had not.

Meanwhile, the flower of political optimism and hope that had begun to grow in the hearts of the Greek people was not only weeded out; the garden it grew in was completely concreted over.

On my last day in Athens I visited the Acropolis, which I hadn’t been to in over twenty years. It was a glorious day and the marble of the Parthenon and the other buildings glimmered in the sun. The Greek flag fluttered against the backdrop of the city and the blue sky.

Greek flag - fluttering in wind

Over more than two millennia, the Acropolis has withstood countless attacks by Greece’s enemies, including being bombed in World War II. It’s still there though, and, while it is obviously damaged and worn, it’s still breathtaking in its magnificence.

I’ve written before about the lessons of history regarding the strength of the Greek people, and when I look at my photos of the day I reflect on this again.

I think of the Acropolis and its buildings as symbols of the resilience of the Greek people, who may be down now, who may be worn and damaged, but who will never be out.

Parthenon of Athens

When in Greece – part 2: In the midst of a crisis

In January 2013 I visited Greece and was shocked to find how badly things had deteriorated because of the financial crisis.

The first thing that relatives asked me when I arrived in Greece four weeks ago was, “What do you think of our situation now? How do you find us?”

While they all told me that things were much, much worse, to my eyes things seemed to be about the same. I know unemployment has gone up, amenities seemed even more worn out and damaged than before, and there were slightly more shops closed in the heart of Athens. But otherwise life seemed to be going on much as it had before.

The main change I saw in Greece, or in Greeks, rather, was that many people seemed to be suffering from crisis fatigue. Whereas the crisis seemed to be on everyone’s lips in 2013, this time round I found that only about half the people I talked to spent their time obsessing about the financial crisis, while the rest had switched off. They avoided news and current affairs shows, newspapers and online news outlets – because they found the news too depressing and too distressing. For many, it was just too hard to continue with the crisis at the centre of their lives; they had become worn down to the point of emotional and mental exhaustion by it. So they were opting out.

Even as negotiations began in earnest ahead of Greece’s 30 June deadline for its first payment back to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), many people refused to keep abreast of what was going on. The rest, meanwhile, continued to obsessively scan the television for the latest reports.

Talking to people it seemed to me that they had gone through several of the stages of grief in relation to what had been happening to their country, Greece, including shock, anger, resentment, grief and, for many, acceptance.

The media reported that €3billion was withdrawn from banks by Greeks in the week ending Friday 19 June, with €1billion withdrawn on that particular Friday. But I saw no bank queues that week.

In fact, I only saw bank queues from Saturday 27 June onwards, once the Greek prime minister had called a referendum for 5 July on the question of whether the people accepted the bailout terms put in an ultimatum to the Greek government by the so-called Troika – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF.

Even still, while the media showed photos of the same long queues over and over, I only ever saw relatively short queues of between five and ten people. People who seemed calm and good natured, not panicked or desperate, as portrayed in the traditional media.

While much has been written about the limit of sixty euro a day that can be withdrawn by locals from ATMs, on social media OXI campaigners have pointed out that the capital controls don’t affect the thirty five per cent of the population living in poverty because they don’t even have the luxury of a bank account.

I can’t help think that if money is running out in banks, maybe it’s because the people who withdrew the billions of euros before the referendum was announced are hoarding it.

A lot has been written about the politics implicit in the referendum and the economic consequences of voting no or yes. In Greece, the traditional media is aggressively supporting the NAI or ‘yes’ campaign, while the OXI or ‘no’ campaign is running hot on social media.

People I know have expressed a variety of opinions. Some say that either way they’ll be hungry in the next few years, so they might as well vote ‘no’ and get the Troika off their backs. Others say they know that more pain awaits if they accept the bailout terms offered, but they fear Greece leaving the Eurozone and a return to the drachma. They say it’s better the devil you know, than uncertainty.

As a very wise woman once explained to me, people are only motivated by two emotions: fear and love. All other emotions can be traced back to these two.

I have no doubt that everyone voting in the referendum will think they are doing the right thing for their country and their future. I also have no doubt that for many the motivating emotions will be fear of what will come next mixed with love of their country.

I personally hope that Greeks vote a big fat ‘OXI’ – ‘no’. But it’s easy for me to have an opinion because I’m an outsider. I’m all care and no responsibility.

As I write this, the polling booths have closed and soon we will know the result. Either way, in the tradition of Greeks who pass on “good” wishes, I wish Greece and Greeks, Καλἠ μαχἠ και καλἠ συνἐχια – a good fight and a good continuation.

When in Greece – part 1: “Good” to be here

When I was learning Greek as a child, I was taught that there were three words that one could use as a greeting, or parting wish, at different times of the day: Καλημἐρα – kalimera – good morning, Καλησπἐρα – kalispera – good evening, and Καληνὐχτα – kalinichta – good night. That was it. Those three things.

As the years have passed, however, more “good” greetings and “good” wishes have been added to the Greek lexicon.

Now you have to understand that in Greek, notwithstanding a few variations, the standard seasons greetings all begin with “good”, for example, Καλὀ Πἀσχα – Kalo Pascha – Good Easter, Καλἀ Χριστοὐγεννα – Kala Christougenna – Good Christmas, Καλἠ Πρωτοχρονιἀ – Kali Protohronia – Good New Year.

But alongside these and the standard greetings I learnt as a child, there has been a steady increase in other wishes, so that you now regularly also hear:

– Καλὀ πρωϊ – kalo proee – good morning (this is different to the good morning above which is a greeting, whereas Kalo proee is said when you’re heading off and the morning is still ahead of you)

– Καλὀ μεσημἐρι – kalo mesimeri – good lunchtime (which is the period from about 2pm-5pm and takes in the siesta)

– Καλὀ απὀγεμα – kalo apogema – good afternoon (the period between about 5-9pm; different to Kalispera in the same way Kalimera and Kalo proee differ)

– Καλὀ βρἀδυ – kalo vradi – literally “good night time” but used in the sense of good evening (the period between 9 and whenever you go to bed)

– Καλὀ Σαββατοκὐριακο – kalo sabbatokiriako – good weekend

– Καλἠ εβδομἀδα – kali evdomada – good week

– Καλὀ μἠνα – kalo mina – good month

– Καλἠ χρονιἀ – kali chronia – good year

– Καλἐς γιορτἐς – kalles yiortes – literally “good holidays” used in the American sense of “seasons greetings” for either Easter or Christmas

– Καλἐς διακοπἐς – good diakopes – good holidays, in the Australian sense of good vacation

Then about seven or eight years ago I became aware of even more “good” wishes that had been added:

– Καλὀ ξημἐρωμα – good ximeroma – good day break (said the night before, either instead of or with Kalo Vradi and/or Kalinichta)

– Καλἠ ξεκοὐραση – kali xekourasi – good rest (usually said before the siesta)

Don’t you think that’s a lot of wishes? I mean, in comparison to what we say in English? And yet, on this trip I heard a new “good” wish which seems to have emerged between now and my last trip to Greece in January 2013.

People now say, Καλἠ συνἐχια – kali sinehia – good continuation.

You hear it everywhere: you’re at a shop, the teller puts through your things and wishes you a good continuation – i.e. of your shopping. Or you wish them a good continuation – of their working day. You’re travelling on a long haul coach or train, the conductor checks your ticket and then wishes you a good continuation – of your travels. Basically whenever you’re in the middle of something, any person you interact with can wish you a good continuation – of whatever it is you’re doing.

I often joke with a Greek-Australian friend who lives in Greece about all the “good” wishes that people pass on in Greece. Where will it end? we wonder. What will they come up with next?

My friend called me when I was at the first “OXI” rally about a week ago (that is, a rally supporting a ‘no’ vote in the Greek referendum held on 5 July). I told her that one of the speakers at the rally had just announced the long list of artists who would be performing at the rally concert. At the end she signed off by saying, Καλἠ συναυλἰα, καλὀ ΟΧΙ και καλἠ συνἐχια – Kali sinavlia, kalo OHI kai kali sinehia – Good concert, good ‘NO’ and good continuation.

“Did she really say “Good ‘NO’?” she asked incredulously, and we both laughed.

The next night I told the same story to another Greek-Australian friend who has lived in Greece since his teens. He also saw the funny side. As I ended the call I wished him, Καλἠ τηλεὀρασι – Kali tileorasi – good television!

I truly am amazed – sometimes hilariously so – at the way the Greek people are constantly finding new ways to wish each other well.

But how much does it say about the spirit of a people that has been going through so much hardship in the last five to eight years that they continue to find the positivity required to give these upbeat good wishes to each other?

It’s like people know that together they can give each other strength to carry on, in spite of what life is throwing at them. Every “good” wish implies that the person saying it to you cares for your wellbeing. They want life to be good for you. So they keep coming up with new and innovative ways of giving each other that strength and support.

The truth is, notwithstanding all my laughter, I actually find something profoundly beautiful and admirable in that.

Travel habits – part 2: Little miracles

I’d like to let you in on a secret: a little miracle is about to occur in humble suburban Melbourne this evening. Yes, for the first time EVER, I will be packing my suitcase a full 24 hours ahead of my trip.

I’ll just pause here to let you recover because I realise I’ve probably thrown you into shock.

What’s that? You’re not in shock?

Aaah that will be because you’re not aware of my “only ever pack on the day of the flight” motto which has countless times served to trip me up because the packing took longer than expected and caused me to run late.

Hence the decision to pack early. Normally early is a concept that makes no sense to me, but in this case I think it’s warranted.

Now, earlier today I was telling my osteopath Nigel about this, and he wondered whether or not it was a good idea to pack early as there is, he suggested, something to be said for packing under pressure. And I agree to an extent because I know from experience that packing at the last minute definitely gets you to focus.

On the other hand, my packing methodology is so foolproof that I don’t need that last minute pressure to focus the mind. You see, as you might have expected given my love of lists, I have created a packing list. In fact, that doesn’t do it justice. It’s more accurate to call it The Greatest Packing List of All Time.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

*bows with flourish of arms*

What’s so special about it, you ask? I’ll tell you. It’s detailed. It doesn’t say “toiletries” for example, it says:

“shower stuff
body stuff (deodorant, moisturiser)
make up
hair stuff
eye stuff
teeth stuff
face & body SPF stuff”

And so on. We are talking about an appropriately detailed yet suitably generic uber-list.

Everything you could possibly need is on the list. You don’t need to pack everything on the list, mind you, but as long as you go through it and use it as a checklist you’ll pack everything you need.

That’s actually the reason I came up with the idea of the uber-list. Before the list I’d arrive overseas to discover I’d forgotten something critical (my phone charger one time, pyjamas another). After this happened one too many times I came up with the idea of the list. Needless to say, since the emergence of The Greatest Packing List of All Time, I’ve never forgotten to pack anything.

So, with the mother of all packing lists in hand, tonight I’ll be conjuring a little miracle by packing a day early. Because I’ve decided: old travel habits don’t have to die hard.

packing list sitting in empty suitcase

Travel habits – part 1: Express yourself

It’s about to happen again. Tomorrow I fly out to Greece to visit family and friends. I last saw everyone in early 2013 and a lot has happened in everyone’s respective lives since then so there will be a lot to talk about. Which is why it’s going to happen again.

I speak Greek fluently, or I like to think I do. Whenever I go to Greece, however, I become painfully aware of how poorly I speak the language. Don’t get me wrong, I can order a meal in a restaurant like a native, give instructions to the taxi-driver like a local, and enjoy all the small talk in the world.

My limitations become glaring, however, in two circumstances. Firstly, when I attempt to watch the news broadcasts. There’ll be a report on the economy, for example, and after a detailed three minute report, this is what I’ll have gleaned: “Something about money and the euro and the economy and that man disagrees with that other man but that woman had something to say about it.”

Yep. That’ll be everything I understand.

The second, and most painful for me, is when conversation with family and friends turns to anything other than the most superficial of topics. I’m the kind of person who loves a good d&m (that’s “deep and meaningful” for the uninitiated). I love to get into the heart of matters and don’t shy away from difficult topics. But when I try to do this with family and friends in Greece, I’m hamstrung by my poor vocabulary and hit-and-miss application of grammar and syntax.

For someone who makes a living stringing sentences together and helping other people express themselves, I can’t tell you how incredibly frustrating it is not to be able to express myself properly in these discussions.

Sometimes I’m sure they all think I’m an idiot as I stumble along in broken Greek, struggling to find the right word, knowing it won’t actually come because I don’t know it to begin with.

And yet, somehow we manage to get through to each other. In fact, my mother told me the other day that my cousins are looking forward to seeing me and “discussing things” with me, so perhaps they’re getting something out of the conversation, no matter how limited I think my contribution is.

The positive for me is that for all my limitations when I speak Greek, I’m pretty good at the non-verbal stuff – and I don’t mean waving my arms about in typical Greek gestures (though I’m pretty good at that, too). I’m talking about one of the oldest ways of communicating love and affection between humans, which transcends all verbal boundaries. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt with all my visits to Greece it’s to never underestimate the power of a good hug.

It’s a numbers game

The other day I went shopping for four birthday cards. A card for each of two friends who are turning 45, another for a friend turning 50, and the last a card for my mum who is 75 today.

With a few notable exceptions, the numbers are tending to be on the big side for everyone in my circle of friends and loved ones.

Of course, ‘big’ is a relative term. I remember one day when I was twenty-two and working at VicRoads, my mum came in to pay her car registration. Later that day she asked me who the ‘young good-looking man’ was that had served her. I racked my brain. As far as I knew, there were no hot guys my age working at VicRoads at the time. I asked for more details.

“The Indian man, with the moustache” she volunteered.

“Mum! He’s not young! He’s forty-four!”

“From where I’m standing, that’s young!”

She would have been fifty-three at the time.

Forty-four seemed positively ancient to me back then. But that’s the thing about these numbers. They all seem ancient until it’s your turn.

I remember being eighteen and working with a woman who was twenty-one. That seemed lightyears from where I was. When she turned twenty-two it was as if she’d declared she’d officially finished with her youth and joined the world of the adults. She was no longer one of “us” – she was one of “them”.

I also remember having a romantic fling with a nineteen year old in Florence when I was twenty-one. I considered him a “younger man”.

Eighteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two – they all seem incredibly small numbers now. As does twenty-seven. Though when I turned twenty-seven, I felt incredibly old because it suddenly dawned on me that I was only three years from thirty.

The irony is, I’ve discovered, as you do with age, that I’m actually getting better and better as I get older. I am more and more my true self, comfortable with who I am, and much less inclined to care what anyone else thinks about that. They say the majority of people get happier as they get older for that exact reason: you care less about faking it for the sake of what others will think about you.

One of my friends has confided that she is not at all happy with turning forty-five. “I have a real problem with that number,” she told me recently.

On the other hand, I’m not only comfortable with forty-five, I’ve projected ahead and I’m comfortable with all the numbers in my future.

Okay, it is true that, when I really think about it, I still can’t believe I’m actually going to be fifty in five years’ time. But I don’t feel fifty! And I don’t think I look fifty – whatever that looks like.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with my mum when she turned sixty and I asked her what it felt like. She said, “Len, you know, sometimes I look in the mirror and I expect to see a twelve year old girl looking back at me. That’s how I feel on the inside!”

I always put that down to my mum being a very youthful person, full of energy and with a young-at-heart spirit. But as I’ve gotten older I can relate to her experience a lot more.

I’m stuck at nineteen. That’s how old I feel inside. And I know Mum and I aren’t alone in this phenomenon. A woman I worked with many years ago told me whenever people asked her how old she was she always answered “twenty-six” because that’s how old she felt. She was in her forties.

Funnily enough, just the other day my mum mentioned in passing that the time that her family lived in the heart of Thessaloniki held her happiest childhood memories. They lived there in 1952. When she was twelve.

Looking back to when I was nineteen, that year was hugely significant in my life. It was definitely the happiest year of my youth, if I had to pick one.

Mind you, I should’ve said ‘I used to be stuck at nineteen’, because as I’ve become happier and happier with my life these last few years, I feel less my nineteen year old self, and more like my very happy forty-something self. And loving it! – as Maxwell Smart used to say.

The other thing about turning fifty in five years’ time is that, the way I look at it, it’s kind of like the transition from being in primary school to being in high school. One minute, you’re top of the kids, the mature Grade 6-er. Next thing, you’re at the bottom of the ladder again. You’re the young newbie Year 7 kid, looking up at all the older kids who know so much more than you.

Fifty is like being the youngest of the oldies.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself; I’ve got lots of days between then and now. And I plan to savour every single one of them, including all my birthdays. If life is a numbers game, I’d like to play them all.