Saturday, March 20, 2010

as long as it's free for me?

i've been on the simplesavings mailing list for some time, which mails out a (savings) hint of the week. while i generally skim over most of the suggestions,  a recent one caught my attention because it highlights the truism that nothing's ever really free - it always comes at somebody's expense. sometimes that expense is something we're willing to accept eg. a store/company giving away free samples of their products. sometimes that expense is something we don't (care to) recognise as costing somebody something, eg. winning a lottery, whereby the only way somebody can gain is by other entrants losing. and so similarly for one anonymous person's view on hosting party plans:

It's a sad fact that I've been making my friends spend money, all for my personal gain. For years I invited my friends and family to my party plan nights. There were always great incentives - free products, special hostess gifts and discounts - the rewards were wonderful. It took a while for me to realise though, that my rewards were costing my friends and family money. Essentially, I brought them to my home with the very aim of spending money. Most likely it was on products they didn't need or hadn't thought about before, yet they left sometimes spending hundreds of dollars. Some only bought one low-cost item, probably more out of courtesy, not because they truly needed it.

When I thought about it, it's the same as taking my friends into one shop and expecting them to buy as much stuff as possible there, regardless of whether they needed it or not. How could I do that to my friends and family?

I have changed my ways now and don't host party plan nights any more. If I need something, I shop around for the cheapest price. I'm spending only what I have to (not more because I was offered incentives), I have more money left in my bank and best of all, my friends aren't forced into spending money on things they don't want.
i'm not trying to suggest that party plan or similar things are intrinsically bad, but the motivation that drives one to host such parties is certainly something worth careful thought.

Friday, March 19, 2010


'welcome' is a movie on the line up of the french film festival 2010, the brisbane leg of which is on now until the end of the month. i got to see a free preview of this movie last sunday at the palace centro cinemas on james st.

i found it to be a pleasantly surprising story. while not a movie i would unreservedly recommend or rave about, nor necessarily choose to watch myself if given a choice of where to sacrifice my movie-going dollar, it nevertheless served to raise pertinent questions of prejudice and social concern, as well as touching on the themes of love and commitment.

[warning: possible spoilers ahead]

the main characters in this tale are:
  • simon, swimming coach and former champion swimmer, who is finalising his divorce from
  • marion, simon's ex-wife, social activist
  • bilal, a 17-year old refugee from iraq who ends up in the french town (calais) where simon and marion live, and trying to make his way to england to be reunited with his girl.
in calais there are laws in place to prevent local townsfolk from giving assistance to the refugees. there are some people, including simon's neighbour, who (despite his 'welcome' door mat?) are decidedly unwelcoming of these outsiders. there are others who do show some welcome, like marion and her new man bruno, who try to give help within the confines of the law - they run a mobile food van/soup kitchen type setup for the refugees, but are careful to refrain from conversation with the refugees / standing on the other side of the serving table. marion also disapproves of the practices of a local shop which denies entry to any refugee, and of simon's indifference to their plight. and then there is a welcome from those who decide to help beyond what's allowed by law, regardless of the trouble this brings from unsympathetic residents and the authorities.

without giving too much more away, i thought that the story was believable and touching without being overly emotional. it raises questions without offering solid answers. the story ends badly for one of the characters, and suggests hope for others. it's difficult for me to recommend that one should watch this, but i think if one does watch it, one would benefit from the experience, and perhaps be prompted to consider how welcoming they are in their social contexts.

jury duty - the choosing (of jurors)

Empanelling is the way jurors are chosen to serve on a particular trial.

The selection of jurors is a multi-step random process. It is impossible to tell which jury you will be on...

The empanelling process is as follows:
  1. Cards showing the name, town/suburb and occupation of each juror are placed in a rotating box to mix them.
  2. The judge’s associate will remove the cards one by one and call the juror’s number and name.
  3. If you are called, walk to the bailiff to swear an oath or to affirm to fulfil your duty as a juror
  4. If you wish to affirm, or have a specific religious oath, alert the bailiff before entering the court.
  5. At any time before the bailiff begins to recite the oath or affirmation, the prosecutor may call out "stand by", or the defence counsel may call out "challenge".
  6. If this happens, you must return to the back of the court and another name will be called.
  7. If you are not "stood by" or "challenged" you will be sworn in as a juror and directed to your place in the jury box.
This procedure will be repeated with the names of those remaining until a complete jury is formed.

If you are “stood by” or “challenged” it is no reflection on your character or ability.

If you are not chosen to serve on a jury during your first empanelling process, you may need to go through the process again if another jury is required.
i heard that there are books written on the science of jury selection, though this may be more pertinent in an american context (see for example jury research and scientific jury selection). in any case i was rather unexpected to hear my name called out first, and so, not having the benefit of observing other people go through the process before me, walked to the front of the court thinking "i can't remember what i'm supposed to do/say!"

as i walked, i kept waiting to hear the call of "stand by" or "challenge", but this never came. then it was time to swear my oath, and got the response wrong... i was supposed to answer "so help me God", but forgot and answered "i do", cos all i could remember was that the statement/question started with "do you...", even though there was a "... so help you God?" at the end.

and so juror #1 was chosen. as the rest of the jury formed, the defence used up their quota of challenges, while the prosecution used none - i wondered if this was a sign of their confidence (or significant lack of) in their case that they felt it really didn't matter who/what sort of people were on the jury. a number of men were challenged, and the final jury gender ratio stood at 8-4 in favour of women. two reserves were also selected, i suppose because this was expected to be a longer trial - if anything happens to prevent one of the original 12 from being able to complete the trial, a reserve would stand in their place.

finally, once the jury was formed and the prosecution listed the names of the accused and the prosecution witnesses, the judge asked if any member of the jury had problems with being able to serve (eg because we know the accused or a witness). one lady asked to be excused, stating that she had strong views about drug trafficking, and was subsequently replaced by a new juror (not one of the existing reserves).

next up: more about the trial itself.

tweet no more

some thoughts on twitter from joel spolsky (from
Although I appreciate that many people find Twitter to be valuable, I find it a truly awful way to exchange thoughts and ideas. It creates a mentally stunted world in which the most complicated thought you can think is one sentence long. It’s a cacophony of people shouting their thoughts into the abyss without listening to what anyone else is saying. Logging on gives you a page full of little hand grenades: impossible-to-understand, context-free sentences that take five minutes of research to unravel and which then turn out to be stupid, irrelevant, or pertaining to the television series Battlestar Galactica. I would write an essay describing why Twitter gives me a headache and makes me fear for the future of humanity, but it doesn’t deserve more than 140 characters of explanation, and I’ve already spent 820.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

jury duty - the waiting

having received my summons, i checked the daily law list the day before the start of my jury duty period, and found out i wasn't required on day 1! what an anti-climax. i was notified that i needed to make myself available for a 2 week period, and imagined that i would have to go through a process for many a day whereby i would check to see if i needed to turn up, and when i did turn up would go through some period of waiting and if not selected for a jury repeat the whole thing the next day. this didn't quite turn out to be the case... i was required on day 2 and at 8:45am no less. some days i could still be thinking about getting out of bed at that time of day! this is a live blog of sorts of that day, as recorded on my PDA:

Bus trip went 7:38-8:30; it was supposed to arrive in the city at 8:16 but took longer to get on the busway. Glad I took an earlier bus. The walk from home to bus stop took >10mins, walk from stop to courts 5 mins.

Not much signage at the courts, walked in abt 8:35 to see queue for security screening. Guessed this was line for jurors based on notices (summons) others were holding. After screen, faced lifts - no idea where to go. Hoped someone else did. First stop happened to be floor 3, doors opened and saw sign for "jurors assembly area" - guess this is the right place!

Bailiff calling out instructions for registering and lodgement of paperwork, then the start of waiting. As the bailiff advised, nothing moves quickly in the law courts!

09:05 sheriff making introductory announcements.

09:25 deputy sheriff's turn. 10 min informational DVD. Recognise narrator's voice as that of Bruce Paige! NB. video is very old. 80s? stream of jurors wanting to speak to deputy - most applying for excusal?

09:45 waiting... DS says not offering comfort break cos half the room will disappear, asks us to wait around and he'll address us again in 2 mins. I need to go...!

09:53 deputy sheriff confirming jurors' availability for a 10 day trial (will go past originally advised 2 week period). I originally answered "unsure" on the computer during registration, but decided to say yes when asked again.

09:58 waiting again.

10:05 deputy sheriff confirming jurors' availability for a 7 day trial - surprising number of people opt out.

10:08 waiting again.

10:12 first lot of jurors being called and taken away for a trial. 5 more trials to go for today. Girl sitting beside me moves away - maybe I smell!

10:19 back to waiting after a comfort break (gents was closod for cleaning! Thankfully the cleaner finished fairly quickly) now showing channel 9 on the TV.

10:36 trial 2 jurors being called. At least 28 jurors required each time for empanelling process - 12 per jury plus 8 each for challenges and stand bys.

10:38 waiting, TV. Starting to feel hungry. Court sessions usually run 10-1, 2:30-4:30.

10:45 some jurors (presumably from 1st lot who were not empanelled) return to waiting area.

10:50 trial 3 jurors

and it was at this point that my number was called. some 30-odd jurors were then led to a court room where the trial was just getting under way. the defendant pled not guilty, and the empanelling began...

about jury duty

i recently finished my first ever stint of jury duty, and wanted to blog some thoughts and observations. so i'm going to start another mini-series on jury duty knowing full well that my previous one has stalled something serious...

anyway, a bit of background to begin with, taken from the queensland courts website:
Juries are an integral part of our legal system and are used in most criminal cases and some civil cases in both the Supreme and District Courts in Queensland.

Jurors are ordinary citizens aged between 18 and 70 years who:
  • come from all walks of life.
  • may not have any legal knowledge.
They do not have to decide on questions of law, or what sentence a guilty person should receive.

Juries listen to the evidence in court cases and decide whether or not the defendant is guilty or not guilty (or, in civil cases, who is at fault).

A jury is usually made up of 12 men and women selected at random.

The process for jury selection is as follows:
you do receive some (but not much) renumeration while serving jury duty, as well as reimbursements for public transport costs and a lunch allowance if lunch is not otherwise provided.

this was actually my second notification in the space of about six months. the first time i managed to be excused due to work commitments, but this time round i didn't have a valid reason and figured i'd go and fulfil my civic duty. as i subsequently discovered, there's more than one way to be excused if you really want no part of this process. but more on that later.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Lego - The Force Unleashed

wow, two star wars related finds in one day. the force must be strong within me ;) this is a lego stop motion video of a lightsaber duel. doesn't quite fit in my current template which i can't be fussed playing with, so click through to watch it on youtube itself.

stormtroopers 365

this is pretty clever... saw a link to What Stormtroopers do on Their Day Off on a friend's facebook message, and chuckled at the amusing photos. can't figure out what my favourite is, but here's an example of one of the shots, titled 'Are you sure it's a good idea?':

am currently working my way through the entire flickr photostream, which is still a work in progress (one photo a day for a year, started april 2009)

even if you are not a star wars fan, or don't know what a stormtrooper is, you'll probably enjoy at least some of these shots :)

ps. you need to see them with original titles/captions for full effect.