Grand Designs

Grand Designs is my favourite TV show at the moment. It really is a great concept. Made in the United Kingdom and intelligently hosted by Kevin McCloud, it follows domestic building projects from start to finish.

There are a wide variety of circumstances that add to the interest and individuality of each unique project. Some people use professional architects, project managers, builders, etc. Others use one or two, while some go at the project alone – bravely or perhaps foolishly. It is often surprising to see the results from some really determined people.

For Australians it offers some architectural work not commonly seen here in Australia. For starters we lack old stone castles, and you won’t find too many buildings over 200 years old ripe for renovation. Then there are the obvious climatic differences. This brings a whole range of differing factors that shape the design and construction of the buildings. Their ground is a lot different to ours. They experience a lot more mud than we’ll ever see. The heat and light in Australia are harsher and this means we design to accommodate those conditions. You don’t see too many verandas in UK building design. But those UK cousins of ours soldier on, building their castles in the snow and mud and cold. You really have to admire their tenacity. How many aussie tradies do you know that knock off and go surfing if the conditions are right? And good luck to them.

Kevin McCloud brings intelligent commentary to the process. He plays the devils advocate baiting the starry-eyed visionaries with possibilities of things that could go wrong. His background in architecture and design ensures his input comes from a solid knowledge base and understanding.

It is a real pity Australian TV production companies don’t take careful note of the popularity of this show amongst Australian viewers. Everyone I talk to watches it and loves it as much as I do. I thought my background in industrial design made me specifically attuned to this show, but it seems to reach beyond that. I suppose we all dream of beautiful homes to own and live in, and we’d all like to shape that nest to fit our own unique sensibilities.

I cringe at the aussie shows like Location Location and Backyard Blitz. When Better Homes and Gardens comes on I can’t change channels quick enough. The loud discordant theme music is enough to make me shudder and this is quickly followed by the shouting bullying monologue of the presenters.

Even the introductory theme music of Grand Designs is beautiful and of real quality. Well done Kevin McCloud and Grand Designs and the ABC for airing it in Australia. On Facebook I’ve joined the groups Kevin McCloud Makes Architecture Sexy and The Kevin McCloud Appreciation Society. Cool!!


Big Brother

I have recently read a couple of interesting articles about privacy on the internet. Two of these were marking the 10th anniversary of Google. ‘Big friendly giant…or big brother?’ by David smith was published in the Age’s Good Weekend magazine on 13th September 2008. Here is his blog about the article. It was reported that Google “harvest more of our secrets than any totalitarian government”, and that “they have amassed more information about people in 10 years than all of the governments of the world put together.” Scary thoughts. But Larry Page and Sergey Brin who founded Google in September of 1998 instill this daily reminder into their employees – ‘Don’t be evil’. Their mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

I then read the article ‘Facebook and the social dynamics of privacy’ by James Grimmelmann. The Grimmelmann article reports that “A 2006 survey of Facebook users found that 77% of them have never read its privacy policy.” And that “later regret about initial openness is an especially serious problem for the most active social network site users: young people.

I think that the difference between using Facebook and using Google is that in general people don’t realise that Google are farming your personal details, whereas with Facebook personal information is voluntarily and knowingly provided by the users.

I am an avid user of Google’s tools and use Gmail, Google Reader, Google Maps and Street View, YouTube, Google Books and Google Docs as well as being my first port of call for any web search. And I love Facebook. What a clever interface designed by the young Mark Zuckerberg. It pulls in many of the tools used by web-users and offers them up on the same website. Users can communicate with their friends via chat, email, posts, and share images, videos, games, and links. Users can join groups where their interests lie. It really is an amazing and addictive piece of software. But it is public and therein lays the problems. Where is the protection from predators, or future employers, or friends who are no longer friends, or identity frauds? Many people seem to be unaware of the dangers and often believe that there is ‘safety in numbers’. But in this era “connectedness is social currency”, so what can we do? Be aware I suppose. Read the small print. Be mindful of what you put on there. Self censor. Is it possible to do that and still have fun? “Our social lives are infinitely richer than any controlled vocabulary [labels to describe] can comprehend.”



Stingrays unplugged

It seemed strange sitting on the dais talking to the parents of the 17 and 18 year old football players at the Dandenong Stingrays Football Club. It brought back memories of our recent experiences there as parents of our son who played with them. He captained the Stingrays to a Grand Final in 2005 playing at the MCG on AFL Grand Final Day. To many of these people we would appear to be the success story they are hoping their sons will follow, and yet it has never felt like that to us. It has always been a roller-coaster teetering between success and failure. Our son’s football career still hangs in the balance.

The purpose of the session was to provide information to the parents as AFL Draft Day approaches. We are the parents of a son who is now a current AFL player for Port Adelaide Football Club. There were two AFL player managers, and an AFL recruiter also sitting as part of the panel. Darren posed questions and we answered for an attentive audience of parents from two of the TAC Cup clubs.

We did not have to try to be positive because it really is a fantastic privilege to be involved at this level of football. Whatever has happened for our son has been a real bonus and offered life-enriching experiences. It’s been a great ride so far and we have met some wonderful people and done some great things: not least of all is watch some great football.

This session was unplugged! No videos, no PowerPoint presentations, no ustreaming to the WWW. And it wasn’t that these people don’t use these tools. This is AFL football! Everything gets recorded, edited, replayed, seen everywhere. Everyone’s comments are analysed and rehashed over and over. The relevance to other people outside of this group is also something that would rate highly. But it was really nice to not have these distractions. It was a conversation between people in real time and real space. It was a delight.



Walking on the moon

Ron Howard knows how to capture the great stories and preserve the knowledge for future generations. I watched In the Shadow of the Moon which is a documentary about the moon landings. Between 1968 and 1972 nine American spacecraft voyaged to the moon. Twelve men walked on the surface and only 24 astronauts have ever seen the earth in its entirety; as a blue and white jewel suspended in the blackness of the universe.


The integrity of this documentary was apparent in its use of actual footage of the Apollo missions and the commentaries in the words of the astronauts. It makes for compelling viewing in its simplicity. It needs no special effects to give it significance. There is no hype.


I remember clearly seeing the TV coverage of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. I was at primary school and remember watching it at school on TV. It filled me with awe and wonder and an interest in space flight and our universe that has never left me. Ron Howard obviously felt that same sense of awe. It is important to record the moments as they occur and then preserve them for the future. It is also a real gift to see and hear the astronauts recall these events, especially now looking back. And it’s imperative to get the dialogue from those interviews recorded before those courageous men get too old. When asked about the popular notion that the moon landings were staged, most replied with amusement pointing out the obvious problems with this thinking.

Eugene Cernan: “Truth needs no defense. Nobody can take the footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me.


Now just 40 years on and everything we do in our whole world is recorded and edited. It is great to see the creative and thought-provoking work being done by many people. I only hope that the stories of real importance and significance aren’t lost amidst the barrage of superficial nonsense that is out there – much of it being constantly peddled by the paid media on TV.