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On Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran

When I first heard the news that Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran had received the death penalty, my initial reaction was indifference. My stance was that as much as I disagree with capital punishment, they had the misfortune to be caught for criminal activity in a country where it is practised, and that’s just too bad; there are plenty of other issues I would rather to direct my energies toward.

But then I found out I had a friend who knew Andrew directly (school friends, I think). He and his friends made impassioned pleas for people to look beneath the façade, to see the story of repentance and redemption. These guys, by their own admission, weren’t exactly always model citizens, and but for some “second chance” opportunities that they were lucky enough to have received ended up on the right path instead of the wrong one. For example:


Practically everyone who was in favour of the execution seemed to think that Chan and Sukumaran deserved what they got for doing what they did – that is, trafficking drugs. Most cite supporting arguments like how drugs continue to ruin many peoples’ lives, etc.

The problem I have with this view view is that it supposes that drug users are victims and in no way complicit for their role in the drug trade. Everybody knows that the drug trade, like every other business, works by supply and demand. Only, in this case, demand is generally attributed to addiction.

Now addiction’s supposed to be this physiological condition where people get hooked onto substances, after which they no can no longer help themselves and basically become victims. However, recent science is starting to uncover something interesting about addiction:

If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens.

Excerpt from the Huffington Post: “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think”

The article goes on to provide a thorough argument for the theory that addiction is a symptom of a lack of human connection. That is, addiction doesn’t exist when people have good social relationships. So bringing this back to Chan and Sukumaran: how hard is it to believe that they “got caught up in the wrong crowd” and did what they did because of a lack of positive social connections?

When they were jailed, they found themselves in an environment where they were able to form positive relationships with jailers and fellow inmates. Everything you read about their decade in prison points to the fact that they were thoroughly rehabilitated, and made positive contributions in their new environment.

All of which brings me to the conclusion that addicts and criminals are not so different from each other. Yet society is quick to assign blame to one and portray the other as the victim, when in reality they are both victims of (social) circumstances.

On reflection, this missive was needed much, much earlier, but as with most complex issues, it has taken a long time for me to process and come to an understanding that I felt comfortable sharing (not to mention the usual laborious process of converting my thoughts into a coherent piece of prose). So although it’s too late for Andrew and Myu, I hope that those among you who felt they deserved to die read this and consider how blessed we are to be friends. Maybe you saved me from a similar fate in the past, or will do so sometime in the future… and I you.

Beneath the Surface

I generally consider myself to be a financially responsible, frugal person. That is, I don’t set budgets or track my spending; rather I simply try my best to spend money wisely by taking advantage of discounts and special offers (OzBargain is my most visited website second probably only to Google or Facebook).

That is especially the case when I make a big-ticket purchase, such as a new gadget. But today, something happened that actually made me feel a little bit sick. Make no mistake, I made an epic purchase, but I’m left wondering whether I’ve made a Faustian deal in order to score my “bargain”.

There is no short version, just the long one…

Last week Sydney was hit by a freak storm, which caused chaos and devastation throughout the state. In an attempt to avoid having to battle the elements, I asked, and was granted, leave to work from home. In hindsight, this turned out to be a rather bad decision since a fallen tree took out the power lines and left us without electricity for 6 hours, and me completely unable to do any work. “I need a laptop,” I thought to myself.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

If only there were such a thing as a tablet that was also a laptop…

The following week, there was a post on OzBargain about a sale on Microsoft Surface tablets. I’d already been um-ing and ah-ing about whether to finally admit defeat and declare “pure iPad” a failed experiment. Then I read a leaked memo saying that Microsoft would be bumping up the prices of Surface by around 20% in response to the declining Australian Dollar. I was also lamenting having not salary sacrificed a laptop in the previous FBT year.

Anyway, each and every sentence in that last paragraph could have been a separate blog post. Suffice to say, I talked myself into getting one, but at that point “insane mode” kicked in – this is where I attempt to find every possible discount and benefit available.

Here is a brief summary of my process (excluding options that were considered but rejected):

  • Regular price: $1,549 (increasing to $1,849 on May 4th) – Surface Pro 3, i5/256
  • Accessories: $149 – type cover, $229 – dock
  • Bundle price from CompNow – $1,628
  • Price match at JB Hifi ($1,629.40 due to some technicality with their discounting system)
  • Paid using JB Hifi gift cards, purchased using discounted Wish gift cards from Entertainment Book
  • Salary sacrifice

In theory my out of pocket is around $750, minus whatever I can get selling the iPad. I should be jubilant, but then there was the collateral damage to consider:

Piles and piles of receipts and used gift card carriers

It’s even worse than it looks, ‘coz I haven’t spread them all out properly.

Big W and Woolies had run out of $100 denominations in JB Hifi gift cards, so I purchased thirty-one $50 gift cards. This is in spite of the 10-card transaction limit, and the fact that each card had to be activated online, so I was probably hogging a self-checkout terminal to myself for a good 10-15 minutes.

Then there’s the waste. Oh the waste. The small tree’s worth of receipts and carriers (the cardboard bit attached to each gift card) from my little endeavour was unfathomable. Having only just this morning read an article about this woman in New York who lives a zero-waste lifestyle, I saw the folly of my ways. I’ve done all sorts of things in the past to get discounts, but my mind boggled when confronted with solid physical evidence of these schemes.

Granted, this feeling will likely vanish the moment I unbox the device and marvel in its awesomeness, but for one brief enlightened moment, I knew the true cost of my thrifty ways and caught a glimpse into the dark heart of our capitalist system.

Ex-zzyss-tential crisis

Gees… I would never, ever have imagined when I came up with it back in the late 90’s that “zzyss” would be anything but entirely unique to me. For the record, it was the name of an evil wizard in an epic fantasy saga called “Quentin the Legend” that I never ended up writing, and isn’t supposed to be pronounceable (but if you insist, I’ve always said it in my head as sorta rhyming with “hiss” with a bit of an actual hiss to it). I was more interested in the palindromic shape formed by making the S’s into backwards Z’s – I even made a cool animated GIF for it – I probably even have a copy of it somewhere, but here’s a quick mockup of what it essentially looked like:

The letters of "zzyss" styled using geometrically arranged triangles

But it just goes to show how difficult it is to find something that is truly your own online now, because I’m starting to come across more and more competition for it. I never thought to acquire the domain name back in the day but I notice from the Wayback machine that has been occupied since at least 2001. I’ve seen a Spanish(?) shoe store (Zapatos y sandalias) and various Chinese websites where the letters are rough abbreviations of the pinyin (e.g. 中原书社/Zhōngyuán shūshè – “Central Bookstore” and 诸子喻山水/Zhū zǐ yù shānshuǐ – “Scholar Yu’s landscape”). I have no idea what other uses that simple five-letter combination has been called into service for but boy they’ve sure gotten around!

Anyway, that’s all. I’m only posting this ‘coz I was annoyed that some Chinese dude’s gone and reserved my name on Origin. But man, if I ever find out that anybody else is using “cyberseraphic”, there will be a reckoning. I’m very proud of that little neologism, which I created out of a great admiration for a Neal Stephenson book title, Cryptonomicon. More on that another day.

Short story: Irrevers-able

I discovered time travel back on the 29th of December, 2013. You might wonder at my using such an archaic date nomenclature if I had access to all of eternity, but the nature of the thing is not as you might think. I am not a traveller in time; I am a scientist, and I should not be using language so imprecisely. However, I do travel, and it is not going back in time to kill your grandfather and all that nonsense. This is impossible, and I can prove it. It is a very different kind of travel, for very different reasons.

What I discovered was a kind of particle. Not a particle of matter, but a particle of time. Billions upon billions of these particles surround us at any moment, swarming through us – not really affecting us, but at the same time changing us completely. We age because the particles lap at our bodily matter like waves on a rock. But the particles care not that they are propelling us all forward. They are simply fleeing from the singularity, and hence we have only ever known time as marching inexorably onward.

Going back in time is possible in as far as you can unwind all of history, playing 7 billion movies in reverse. You must calculate and undo each and every reaction between matter and these particles, in the correct order, for each and every quark on the planet (and possibly those beyond), in order to turn back the clock. Of course, it is far from necessary to perform this feat on such a grand scale; one might only have need of it on a smaller scale. It can be done, and I will achieve it.

The first part is easy: the reaction with the particles is reversible; one merely needs to direct them in the right way. The other part not so much: performing the calculations to achieve a complete and correct reversal requires an immense amount of computing power, which itself requires the energy of many suns. But this is no more than an inconvenience. I have a ship, and all I have done is set it on autopilot towards the nearest star, and locked myself inside a chamber that prevents the particles from decaying my body, effectively putting me into a complete stasis only to wake once I have achieved my destination, ready to feed.

I travel from star to star, devouring each one to progress my calculations one atom at a time. And the atoms number as many as the stars.

So I will destroy this universe.

Just to get you back.


I originally posted this on Quora, but it just disappeared into the great nebula of excellent creative writing already on the site.

Meet Elan Wong

Like father, like son - Elan and Caesar

Elan on the left, and an old Polaroid of me (Caesar) when I was a baby on the right.

Jenny and I are absolutely pleased as punch to announce that not only are we with child, we had the baby on Sunday morning, 29th December 2013. Sorry for keeping him a secret from you, internet; we’ve been disappointed in the past and so wanted to keep something so very precious to us private.

I’ve put together a brief FAQ for what I imagine are the most pressing questions right now:

What are the gory details?
Elan was born on the morning of 29th December 2013, weighing 3.86 kg (8.52 lbs). He’s a big baby – his head circumference was 37cm which supposedly puts him in the ~95th percentile. Winning!

How do you pronounce Elan?
EE-lun (IPA: /’i:.lən/) – essentially “Ian” but with an “L” shoved in, not the regular English word.

Where did you get the name from?
Elan, from Rich Burlew's webcomic 'The Order of the Stick'

You named your son after a stick figure?
Yep. It’s from a brilliant, if slightly nerdy, web comic. Check it out: No particular reason; I like it because it’s relatively unique without being too “out there”.

Does he have a Chinese name?
My parents have helped us to choose 黃栢延 – we haven’t settled on the romanisation yet, but it’ll probably be “Wong Pak Yin”. I’ll have to figure out what it is in Korean too… will update this post when I figure that out.

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