Lazy Luddite Log

2.8.20

Titans Of Titan - The Telemovies

What follows is fiction and much of it is a fiction within a fiction. It expands on what was originally described here...

Three Titans of Titan telemovies were made which blended live-action human actors, stop-motion robot models, different sets scaled for both humans and robots, and tilt-shift photography rather than standard stock footage. Much of the work was done using Swiss facilities and staff. These were the first Grand Fenwick Radio And Television productions aimed specifically at tween and teen audiences and were more popular than the toys they promoted. The first even got public screenings at the Grand Fenwick Theatre as Titans Of Titan The Movie.

That first movie drew the ire of Grand Fenwick’s sole morality campaigner, Marika Weisshauser, who objected to both its action violence and some very skimpy clothes that featured in its nightclub scene. Weisshauser had a lobbying method that was as unusual as it was effective. She would visit the bar frequented by Fenwickian parliamentarians and sing her favourite arias until they gave her what she wanted. The Duchess Gloriana XIII and her Ducal Minister for Trinkets ‘Professor’ Dom Woodlock quickly mollified Weisshauser (even if they wished they could immolate her). In the two Titans Of Titan sequels nobody was destroyed and everyone was modestly-dressed.



Only the first movie was released for home consumption. Some fans suspect that the other two have been erased but Grand Fenwick Radio And Television have never confirmed this. They could have been lost, along with many other records, in the Fenwick Fondue Incident of 1990. Scripts and still images did survive however, partly thanks to the Titans Of Titan role-play gamebook. Story descriptions of the three telemovies follow.
 More information on the alien robot characters can be seen here.

Titans of Titan (1986)


In the year 2000 a staffed expedition to the Saturnian moon of Titan discovers something startling inside its icy surface. Two very large and geometrically shaped objects are detected. Some speculate that they are two portions of a crashed spacecraft while others say that they may in fact be two separate crafts.

Excavation finds two much smaller objects closer to the surface. They seem to be large statues. The closest is successfully removed from the ice and transported to Earth for further study at the Alpine Institute of Human Advancement (establishing shots for this and other urban settings imply that they are set on Lake Geneva). Due to its long incarceration in ice the relic is named Kronos for the ancient Titan of longevity.

Next the survey crew work on freeing the other ‘statue’ from the ice and notice its vibrant red livery. This prompts the explorers to name it Prometheus for the ancient Titan who gifted humanity with fire. However the is disrupted by a sudden attack from a flying saucer. All the crew present are killed off-screen while automatic cameras film the attacker altering form into another ‘statue’ and proceeding to dig its way to one of the entombed structures. This robot is dubbed Charon and had been hibernating in the rings of Saturn but was awakened by a passive homing signal transmitted by Kronos.

The two huge ice-encased structures are the spaceships of the rival Kronotons and Probots. Charon makes his way into the Kronoton ship and starts the process of re-activating its crew. Soon he has revived the espionage specialists and also gets the teleportation chamber operating. A ship with the power to cross interstellar space also has the power to teleport crew members within interplanetary distances but takes time to recharge and has a limited capacity. The Kronotons who journalists will soon name Specteron, Waveform and Crookbook are sent to Earth to find their leader - none other than Kronos - while Charon continues to thaw others from hibernation.



Much closer to the surface Prometheus is revived by exposure to the atmosphere of Titan. He digs his way to the Probot spacecraft and in his turn starts reviving his followers. Soon the Probots that will be called Hornet and Ace Rider are revived and teleported to Earth on a mission to make contact with the locals and find a safe haven for the Probot crew.



In Europe, the Kronotons are teleported to a warehouse but cannot get a more accurate fix on Kronos, whose signal has ceased. They assume he still functions but that the signal has been blocked by humans who are hiding him. They study Earth media and decide to kidnap the European President and use him as leverage to free Kronos. Specteron thinks he can do this alone and so visits a Geneva television studio at which the statesman will be giving a speech. Specteron is like all Titans and can assume new camouflage (known as 'camo-modes') to fit the local environment. They can each adopt a fresh camo-mode a total of three times and Specteron takes on the form of TV cameras. However, the security service of the President is surprisingly effective and manages to get him away from the marauding alien robot, who then flees in panic.

Hornet and Ace Rider teleport onto a traffic island and quickly adopt the forms of a sports car and a street bike before speeding away. However they had startled several motorists and caused a minor crash. Both a roadside mechanic and a local traffic reporter attend the scene. Andrin and Talina get hot chocolates together at a late night cafe to compare notes on the odd things several witnesses told them. Hornet and Ace Rider park in a nearby drive-in and watch a movie in the hope of understanding Earth culture. They see an advertisement which declares that “Autobahn Nightclub is the centre of the universe” and assume it is a seat of government.

Waveform and his pet Crookbook have devised a new scheme to leverage human power structures. They have discerned that the European President’s daughter, Letizia, is an avid ‘clubber’ with a far smaller security compliment than her father. The two Kronotons assume the form of a speaker stack with DJ booth and a laptop at the Autobahn Nightclub and attempt a kidnapping. However, Hornet and Ace Rider had just parked outside and come to the rescue. The Kronotons, who can fly short distances and jam surveillance, escape. The Probots make contact with Earth authorities, aided by a grateful Letizia. A frustrated Talina, accompanied by Andrin, gets there too late to witness any of the action.


Back on Titan, Charon revives Astra who then takes over operations. She loves Kronos and so is far more motivated to succeed. With Cloudwrench and Stormburst she teleports to Earth with a new and more ruthless plan. The warrior trio arrive at a British air base and destroy it once they take on new military plane forms. They fly to and terrorize an Alpine sports stadium, while a soccer game is underway, and hold all humans present hostage.

Hornet and Ace Ride send a report to Prometheus who decides to bring reinforcements himself - taking Panega and Argus with him and leaving his lieutenant Epimethius in charge of more revivals. The three newly arrived Probots assume the forms of emergency service vehicles outside the stadium, enter to take on the Kronotons, and allow the humans to escape. Waveform, Crookbook and Specteron arrive, however, and outnumber the Probots. Hornet and Ace Rider try to get into the stadium but panicking crowds hamper them.



All this time Kronos has slowly been reviving and discovers he is in a secret military and scientific bunker. In his own panic to escape he uses his last camo-mode charge to assume the form of the first vehicle he encounters - an experimental tank. Had he held off even minutes longer he would have seen a hover jet and could have mimicked that, however he can still fly a short distance and follows the signals of his minions to the stadium. Around this time, Talina and Andrin also arrive, and narrowly escape their vehicles before they are destroyed by falling debris from a destroyed light tower.



Back on Titan the teleportation device is recharged and Epimetheus makes the rapid decision to bring all those currently revived with him to help on Earth. There are only two others and they set the teleport to automatic transmission, hoping it will successfully home in on the other Probots. They are separated, however. Epimethius appears on the roof of a truck stop, which collapses, and then assumes the form of a prime mover sans trailer. Phantom appears on a Formula One racing track and assumes the first form she sees. Tracker finds himself in forested hills and, coming to a road, models himself on an abandoned four-wheel drive he sees parked there.

All three Probots converge on the stadium but not before the Kronotons, now lead by Kronos, have destroyed Penega and Argus. Prometheus and Kronos are fighting hand-to-hand while Hornet and Ace Rider are in a pitched blaster fight with the rest of the Kronotons. The Probot reinforcements get into the action and, suddenly, human military forces arrive too. Astra and Specteron are both destroyed and at this, Kronos calls a retreat.

Talina, with help from Andrin, managed to get much of the action on tape. Later, the European President and his daughter present the Probots with medals for helping save the lives of so many sports lovers, and welcome them to Earth, offering to house them in a secret Alpine bunker.


The Progenitor Kiln (1987)

These are some key scenes from the second telemovie:

- Ace Rider and newly revived Dusty are racing each other along a lakeside beach. A drunk notices these cycles have no drivers and throws his booze away.


- Newly revived Atlas and Waves rescue a recreational fisher stuck in stormy conditions - he is Dr Ito from Japan who is a visiting fellow at the Alpine Institute of Human Advancement. The scientist is delighted to discover the helicopter and jet-ski are in fact the famed alien robots.

- 

Waveform and Crookbook destroy an old abandoned church overlooking the lake after finding evidence in it directing them to the ancient lost progenitor kiln that the Titans were aiming for when they got into a fight around Saturn.

- Ace Rider, Dusty, Waves, Atlas and Dr Ito meet at the burning structure and manage to salvage some evidence from its pagan era basement. Atlas informs Dr Ito that a progenitor kiln is a device that can both generate new Titans and imbue them with the fresh ability to assume camo-modes.

- 

In a flashback depicting the progenitor kilns, the dead characters Specteron, Astra, Panega and Argus are seen.

 It is shown that the installations can only be activated by two Titans working in tandem.

- In separate scenes both Prometheus and Kronos are shown giving orders to discover the progenitor kiln or prevent others from finding it.



- Newly revived Streetslick and Spanners assume camo-modes to compensate Talina and Andren for vehicles lost in the last movie and work with them as undercover operatives.



- All five newly revived Democrons are in work vehicle cameo-modes at a seeming construction site, but they are really excavating for the lost progenitor kiln. Streetslick, Talina, Spanners and Andren discover this.
 Groundhog, Dirtdigger, Flatchat, Forks and Doze attack the interlopers.

- Hornet, Phantom and Tracker are all transported to the firefight by Epimethius using his new trailer. They convert it into the Probot defensive stockade at some distance from the excavation the Democrons shelter in.



- Prometheus and Kronos arrive and have a deliberate collision in camo-modes and follow it with fighting as robots.



- Atlas has a dog-fight with Charon who had lead Cloudwrench and Stormburst into battle over the impromptu battleground. The three Kronotons threaten to overwhelm the large Probot.


- The Democrons combine into the gestalt Demolizor and clash with an exoskeleton-augmented Epimetheus, who eventually gets the upper hand, and shatters their unity.

- Members of both factions attempt to take control of the progenitor kiln - Waveform and Crookbook for the Kronotons and Hornet and Ace Rider for the Probots. In struggling to do this both Hornet and Crookbook accidentally activate the device.

- However at that same moment human military jet fighters blast the progenitor kiln in a desperate effort to end the urban conflict. The explosion sends a peculiar burst of energy across the city.

- The Kronotons retreat and the Probots are left to help tidy the damaged site. Dr Ito asks if there is any way to restore the progenitor kiln but the Probots think this is a very long shot.

Portal To Andromeda (1988)


These are some key scenes from the third telemovie:

- Dr Ito has been studying Titan technology and developed his own radical new machine - a wormhole generator located in a secluded Alpine ravine. Prometheus says that the Probots could use it to return home to the Andromeda Galaxy. He even suggests negotiating with Kronos so that the Kronotons can also go home and let humans live in peace once more.

- The energy wave from the activated then destroyed projenitor kiln resulted in the random metamorphosis of some local works of artifice into Titans - some animatronic Mesozoic reptiles in the Alpine Museum and some arthropod sculptures in the nearby lakeside plaza. These have been living secretly for some time but then the two groups clash one night and suddenly all the world is aware of them.

- Atlas, Streetslick, Spanners, Dusty and Waves intervene and manage to end the clash. The arthropods escape into the sewers. The reptiles however stand firm and the Probots manage to convince them they can be friends. The new allies are named Mesobots.

- The arthropods exit at a rubbish tip but are confronted there by the Democrons. The new Titans are so awed by the combined form of Demolizor that they offer to ally with them and so become the Invertocrons.

- Both Mesobots and Invertocrons have issues integrating into the factions. They also express a desire to live in a world that belongs to them rather than one that is dominated by organics.

- In a surprise to all, Prometheus and Kronos come to an agreement to work together on perfecting the wormhole generator.

- The new Titans known as Grindstone, Whirlpool, Wingspan, Locus, Scorpio and Slator all volunteer to test the wormhole generator.

- The volunteers are gated away from Earth and the final scene shows they are indeed on another planet orbiting a distant star. However it is a barren world rather than the technological marvel they were expecting. The two trios glare at one another across a small space and wonder how well they can get along.

- The end credits inform viewers to "prepare yourself for the coming Cold-Blooded Clash"...

The only thing that ever came of this promise was new packaging for the few Titans Of Titan toys sold in stores in 1989.

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13.7.20

Titans Of Titan - The Toyline

Everything that follows in this long-intended entry is fictional. Some of it is a fiction within a fiction. It is arguably descriptive crossover fan-fiction and a new level of eccentricity for me...

One of the most popular trends of the 1980s was toys that converted from one form to another. The biggest brands were Transformers and GoBots but there were many others and those brands tended to have local variations and overlapping product lines. One of the most unusual and overlooked was Titans Of Titan from the alpine Duchy of Grand Fenwick (known as 'Titanoj de Titano' in Esperanto which had been adopted as an official language of the micro-state alongside English at the start of that decade).

The prime movers behind this toy line were the recently crowned Duchess Gloriana XIII and the Ducal Minister for Trinkets ‘Professor’ Dom Woodlock. Both harboured a love of international pop-culture that they decided to explore under the guise of developing “a new enterprise that will bring fortune and renown to the duchy and act as a testing ground for integrating existing Fenwickian industry into future-focused multi-media and the service sector”. Such terminology wowed the locals and obscured the fact that the duchess and the professor were having a wonderful time playing with toys (as well as producing some telemovies and a role-play game).

Most of the toys in the Titans Of Titan line were licensed from various manufacturers in Japan. As such many Titans Of Titan are simply differently decorated Transformers or Gobots. However the Duchess and the Processor were keen on local value-adding and so many items were also re-tooled and some were original Fenwickian designs. Modifications were done by hand at the ducal trinket works in possibly the only instance worldwide of formal large scale ‘kit-bashing’.

Gloriana and Woodlock clashed on some creative matters including seemingly trivial things like colour. The toy that became Ace Rider was delayed for release onto toy shelves because Gloriana wanted to make its torso pink but Woodlock wished to keep its original Japanese red. Eventually they ‘compromised’ on a violet chest but by then packaging and artwork for the line had been finalized and Ace Rider was relegated to mail-order status advertized by stickers hastily attached to the boxes of other Titans Of Titan toys. Ironically this made the toy more interesting, it sold out, and more were prepared for sale on-shelves the following year.

Relatively few Titans Of Titan sold internationally because they were competing with very similar products and were somewhat late to the converting robot party. The worldwide craze had begun in 1984 while Titans Of Titan debuted in 1986. Gloriana and Woodlock had anticipated this and so never produced too many of the toys. For them it had always been an exercize in fun. The toys were only sold in numbers within Grand Fenwick from just seven outlets as follows: The Fenwick Capital Toy Shop, Fenwick Department Store, Onador Games And Hobby Shop, Onador Emporium, The Nether Rhimney General Store, and the factory-direct showroom at the Mount Fenwick Trinket Works.

The toys were also given as gifts to the children of diplomats who visited the micro-state or its few international consulates. In the decades since then Titans Of Titan have become a much desired rarity among adult collectors of retro memorabilia. They are so rare however that a hobby of replicating Titans Of Titan by modifying more common toys has developed.

One Titans Of Titan toy became a source of controversy because its name - Specteron - was seemingly pilfered by another state-subsidized toy maker in the faraway Himalayan micro-state of Shangri-La. That Specteron was a very different toy however, converting into binoculars, and legal advice to the Duchess suggested it was best to let the matter pass. The Professor, however, made a scene at an International conference of tinkers with his counterpart from Shangri-La which resulted in some small media coverage of the ‘amusing snippets to start your day’ kind. This news drew the attention of an international toy company which noticed that those toy binoculars were one of its designs that it had never licensed to others. This time legal action did result to the financial detriment of Shangri-La (and an incidental cooling of relations between the two micro-nations that lasts till this day).

The Toys



Sixteen Titans Of Titan models were released in 1986 (divided into the rival factions of Probots and Kronotons). All sixteen were re-stocked in 1987 alongside another ten designs. In 1988 two of the original designs were re-stocked alongside the ten from 1987 and another six new models (see here and here). Finally in 1989 only those last six were re-stocked under the new banner of Cold-Blooded Clash (Titans Of Titan) but by then Fenwickian kids had lost interest and those six are the only Titans Of Titan that can be readily found second-hand. Many of them however are rather dirty and rusty as they became a popular porch and garden ornament among Fenwickian grandparents who purchased them at clearance prices.



Human companions of the Probots appeared in the telemovies and two were depicted as toys. They were auburn-tressed Talina Werner, an FM radio reporter, and Andrin Gupta, a roadside assist mechanic and child of Punjabi migrants. Keen collectors noticed that likenesses of these characters were made as 5.5-to-6cm tall figurines for the authorized Grand Fenwick large-scale model railway set of the time. They should have been packed with the Titans Of Titan which assumed the form of vehicles for those two humans. Only one other Titans Of Titan toy accessory was made - A sturdy card-paper and cellophane Progenitor Kiln play-set was included within the Titans Of Titan Role Play Game boxed set and doubled as a games-master screen.

Very few children of Fenwick collected the entire line. Parents considered such collections an extravagance so enthusiastic children had to collaborate with friends to make sure they got distinct designs as gifts so that an entire collection could be amassed by the kids of one neighbourhood or village. The fact that the thirty two robot characters depicted by the toys were masculine and feminine helped make the Titans Of Titan a unisex brand which assisted in the practice of sharing among siblings and friends. They were also popularized locally by the three telemovies and a role-play game.

Stay tuned for coming descriptions of Titans Of Titan supporting media...

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6.7.20

Citizen

Following my withdrawal from party politics I felt rather lacking as a citizen. Involvement in campaigning had defined me for much of my younger life and I suddenly felt negligent. More recently however I have been overcoming that feeling.

What were the alternatives for me? Party politics had set other aspects of my life back a lot and I needed a rest. I have since gotten a more balanced life but to help maintain that I give political parties a miss. None of them entirely fit me anyway. I'm too much the classical liberal for the Greens, too much the social-democrat for the Reason Party, and not quite pragmatic enough for Labor. But there are plenty of alternatives to parties.

For a while I considered active membership of pressure groups. But which issues matter to me the most? Which ones will allow me to have a political impact while escaping the frustrations of meetings and approval processes? What I did was simply become an active yet independent citizen. The benefit of this is that I can decide to do something and then simply do it. I may invest less time now than I once did but my time is far more effectively spent.

Some of this personal campaigning has included publishing letters on welfare issues, letterboxing pamphlets on queer rights, starting a petition on public transport improvements, making a parliamentary submission regarding religious discrimination, promoting an environmental rally and most recently donating to an Aboriginal legal service.

The Internet makes it a cinch to be involved in numerous campaigns. However there is one aspect of online political activity I have been limiting - debate among friends and acquaintances on Facebook. I have never adapted to what feels like a semi-automated game of slogan swapping. Others have taken to it and for some it is the only kind of discourse they have ever known. I feel more effective in the naturally flowing discussion that can occur on professional media comments sections.

There is only one problem with this - some seem to think that ones activity on something like FB is all one does and can be critical of seeming silence. Imagine if I had taken that attitude in the 90s and 00s while others seemed apolitical? I never did because of the futility and rudeness of such a stance. A lack of political activity tends to go hand-in-hand with a lack of power and if it looks like someone is apolitical then it is worth handling them with care.

The notion that 'the personal is political' has I think contributed to judgemental attitudes. While it is accurate in some contexts it can obscure others. Consider these three:

The personal is still personal - Each of us has a unique personality and faces a distinct set of life circumstances. If you try and understand that by fitting it into a purely ideological framework than you will very likely overlook something important in understanding others.

The political is still political - Politics is both a very complex subject and a challenging undertaking. A comprehensive understanding of it can only come from long study and experience. A crash course by political Internet memes cannot substitute for that.

The political is sometimes personal - What can look like a political quarrel could be a personality clash that has been rationalized in ideological terms. Take away the topic of an argument and it could well have been another thing that triggered animosity between belligerents.


This could be worth sharing with friends but one can never be sure how it will be received. I think it is better for me to focus on political activity that looks outward to our wider polity and there will always be plenty to do.

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8.6.20

We As You

Some university choristers recently attributed the problems facing our scene to Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU). The last time I mentioned that stupid policy was during its advent in 2006. VSU would have made it more difficult for student governing associations and councils to fund essential student services. However clubs and societies were always something students chose to participate in over-and-above general campus life and the fortunes of particular groups had always fluctuated.

If VSU had an impact then it was a delayed one. I got involved in choraldom from 2006 and the large and vibrant group I discovered stayed that way for another five to ten years. Once it did start shrinking it also became more sedate. Those two things could well be linked and yet I have known groups that were small yet vibrant. Something more than funding had changed. The new members themselves seemed different.

Returning members were always told to be inviting to ‘freshers’ during orientation. I did my bit and usually fared well in starting conversations. But then there was a meet-and-greet in which my efforts were met with brusque responses and averted gazes. This was nothing new to me as a nerd who knows nerds. But three such encounters in a row was unusual and I withdrew to skulk in a corner with friends.

A growing age gap might have been a factor and yet younger choristers than me also remarked on how our newest members behaved differently. The new batch attended rehearsal but never went to ‘pub’ or ‘coffee’. This reminded me of the oldest of mature-aged members who were just in it for the music. And yet they tended to be chatty. 



The reticent youngsters had come to us that way rather than be made that way by uni. The explanations then go beyond any policy specific to university. I think we were seeing generational change shaped by society-wide factors. More hectic family lives, more protective parents, more isolated households and more engrossing technology could all contribute.

Involvement in clubs has apparently been waning for decades (see the book Bowling Alone) but I think the post-war growth in pop-culture fandoms may have slowed that somewhat. It was also slower to impact uni life. But once the change came it definitely made me more inclined to follow the natural process of membership churn and move onto becoming a lone audience member at concerts.

Does this matter? I have the experiences and friendships I got from my involvement so I’m fine. But is it a pity that others will lack similar experiences? That depends - possibly as they are shaped by a changing environment they will value and find different kinds of experience to be satisfying.

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20.5.20

Architectural

For me architecture is an occasional spectator sport. I sometimes play at drawing floorpans for imaginary fortresses or spaceships but I cannot fathom the mathematics involved. I am however wowed by some of its better achievements. And sometimes I’m even just curious about what is just around that corner in a sit-com apartment set.

Recently I have been drawn into online tours of unusual houses both big and small. At one end of the scale is the tiny houses movement and they are cute. Eventually however there is only so many ways you can do a shipping crate-sized layout and so I veered into tours of mansions. That soon took me back to an old love - the works of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).



Wright was always twenty five to fifty years ahead of his time. His 30s stuff for instance looks totally at home in the 60s and that has always been an era that draws my attention. I love his low-slung structures incorporated into the landscape. I likewise love his use of natural light and the clever segmentation of nominally open-plan spaces. The house Falling Water is amazing but so too are the Johnson Wax Building and the Marin County Civic Centre. They look like places it both be around and in whether alone or in company.

More recently I have been impressed by the works of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (1950-2016). Her structures curve and twist into the sky like so much living metal or futuristic ceramic. Apparently two designs of hers will be completed here in Melbourne - the Mandarin Oriental skyscraper to overlook Southern Cross Station and the Mayfair residential tower on St Kilda Road. Once they are done I will have to take a look.

Most recently I came across the words 'Futuro' and 'Venturo'. These terms denote the designs of Finnish architect Matti Suuronen (1933-2013) for modular holiday homes that could be transported between locales. The Futuro was inspired by flying saucers while the Venturo was more box-like but with curved corners and a space-age look. They are mere curios now and scenes of a semi-abandoned resort village of them in Taiwan are both exciting and pathetic.



All these inspire retro-futurist daydreams. What if we worked in something by Hadid then shopped or lived in something by Wright and finally went holidaying in something by Suuronen? But who are ‘we’ exactly? Well the whole community hopefully. Many architects are interested in how they can alter our way-of-life for the better. But it was a philosopher and mathematician who made me aware of that.

At uni I did some extra-curricular reading of In Praise Of Idleness And Other Essays by Bertrand Russell. In one essay he proposed designs in which several homes were arrayed around shared courtyard gardens and common areas. Russell hoped such plans would serve the human needs of both privacy and community spirit. Even today I think few of us have a chance to get that balance right.



I could do with a better balance. It could take the form of living in the wing of a rambling villa or of occupying a tiny home in a cluster of such structures. And yet I’m someone who has possibly come closer to this than many. Living in suburban share households within walking distance of other such households has been pretty cool. It also brings me to one more comment - loops.



The best party houses are ones that allow a person to circulate from room-to-room via loops. Many house plans allow movement from hall to living room to kitchen and back to hall. Such loops allow for more mixing. You can get to those you wish to converse with or get away from others more quickly. A fun exercise is to design a floor plan with as many loops as you can. If anyone is reading this then have a go.

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22.4.20

2011-2015

Back in 2010 I wrote an ‘autoblography’ in four installments, each covering five years of adult life from eighteen to thirty eight. That done I moved onto other things. 2015 passed me by and now in 2020 I reckon it would be worth giving my latest decade similar coverage. So here is what I recall was significant for me from 2011 to 2015.

I consider July 2012 to be the best month of my life. I had recently finished a stint in data-entry for the latest Australian Census. This surprisingly fun role had left me with plenty of back-pay and I was living a life of leisure. I did some interstate travel. I participated in my favourite intervarsity choral festival of MIV. I hosted a cracking fortieth birthday party. And my love life was coming along rather well. I call it the best month of my life and I even suspected as much back then. It is good to be aware of such happy times while they are happening. But I need to backtrack a bit.

I started a new and recurring interstate fling part-way into 2011 that lasted till late 2013. I also entered into a non-exclusive yet committed relationship from 2012 which overlapped with that fling. I fondly recall a relevant moment from MIV. I was lunching with both those concerned but then excused myself to visit the loo. They took the chance to confirm that everything was fine between them. Consent was assured in a warm yet matter-of-fact way. I recommend excusing yourself as something to do during gatherings. You never know if your friends need to ‘talk behind your back’ and it may well be for your benefit – they could for instance be organizing a surprise party for you!

Since 2012 my relationship with Belinda continued in the form of regular dating and communication. We became companions rather than partners (terms I use to distinguish between the meeting and the merging of lives). Our relationship is non-exclusive partly because she had even older commitments that have since been confirmed by cultural marriage. I may have other interactions if the opportunity arises (keeping in mind that I’m rather reserved and somewhat fussy). And I can be considered polyamorous simply because I have the ability to share.

Moving in a choral scene had definitely given me much but I think I made a contribution too. Till the end of 2012 I was MonUCS social-secretary. I enjoyed this so much more than any sort of party-political role. My task was to facilitate fun for others, something I do in my personal life anyway. I organized pretty much everything I had intended, from a hedge maze visit to a trivia night, and retired from the committee after two years. But I stuck with MonUCS and averaged singing in two concerts in every three. By then I felt I knew who my personal friends were and we did more stuff among ourselves. I even started a role-play game with mostly choral friends in late 2013.

Also in 2013 I started working as a sometime invigilator and then note-taker and integration aid at tertiary institutions. If the Australian Census had been my best employer, this would over time become the role that suited me best. It was in education but had the freedom and variety that teaching had lacked. It was casual but I was soon getting more and more shifts. It was of definite value to those I served but it could at times be edifying for me too.

Alongside work I made occasional contributions to civic life. One involved getting choral friends Jess and Paul along to a meet-the-candidates event. Another was to be an interviewee for an oral history project in 2014.

I have had a look over my photos from the time and they remind me of assorted things worth remembering. Holidaying with London visitors Steve & Nieves was always a good way to see old friends like Sean, Jen, Paul & Helen all at once (rare in our ever-more distinct adult lives). There were some fine costumes on show at Halloween parties held at Greta Street. Other events with Korner friends included seeing the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary special at the Jam Factory, witnessing a roller-derby game complete with ska band, and dog-sitting for the Bowies. And I had the regular company of Belinda on dates involving everything from Mongolian barbeque to boating at Fairfield Park.

A few things changed in 2015. One was that my long-time share arrangement ended and I moved a mile into a neigbouring suburb. It was surprising what this small shift did to my preferred public transport routes and shopping destinations. Some old routines changed as it took more effort to attend MonUCS and less to attend half of Craft nights (since I now lived in one of the two houses that hosted it). Dad visited on one occasion seemingly to check that my new abode was okay. There was an unusual sense of purpose to his visit. Soon I think I discovered why.

In July a close friend of Dad pressured him into calling Lukas and I to tell us he had lung cancer. We went into a frenzy of calm yet grave activity. He was taking what medical help he could. Some of that time he spent at home with help from others. Some of it he spent in hospital and the last few weeks in a hospice receiving palliative care. It was September and he enjoyed having the door of his room left ajar to better smell the springtime garden he could otherwise only see. We made sure his friends knew and got a chance to visit or call. We did what we could. Dad died at the age of 76. He had been smoking for over five decades and I think he got away with more than many smokers do. Only six months before he had been camping with amateur prospector friends. Only three months before he had been living independently and taking walks at his local beach. And even in his last week he managed to enjoy small things like dark chocolate. That is the sort of talk that informed his eulogy.

Organizing the funeral that October was a lot of work, especially in a small family. Our parents had been divorced for decades and Mum could do barely more than ask how things were and confirm the odd fact for us to pass onto the civil celebrant. Dad's own relatives were far away in Germany. Still I think Lukas and I did well – friends of Dad even commented that they now had a model of simplicity for their own funerals. But it made me feel older somehow. Surely it was the sadness and stress of it all and yet, I almost feel as if the death of a parent triggered aging itself in me.

Well, that was a lot of ground to cover and a huge contrast from start to finish. I will give it a rest now and return to this topic in six months to cover 2016-2020 at the tenth anniversary of my ‘autoblography’.

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30.3.20

CoronaPost

This is my Coronavirus entry to discuss aspects of the pandemic facing Humanity. There may be other such posts but we shall see. I’m of the opinion that there is an excess of information currently online. Even discussion of confused government directives tends to magnify the confusion. It is also worth asking why those messages are sometimes confusing. My answer is that this is a perplexing time for everyone. Even the experts that governments are thankfully heeding are a somewhat divided cohort on the specifics because this is something very new for us.

And yet it is something very old too. We have never had control over this world and even now the best we can do is manage risk rather than eliminate it. However the post-war long peace has given us a semblance of control. We now lament its shortcomings but I think it worth pausing to reflect on how effective it has been for successive generations. In historical terms most of us were born in a golden era. But how quickly we forget all that.

Looking back over the last several weeks it seems that the problem was looming in the mid-distance. We would give it a sidelong glance and then get back to our everyday lives. I happily sat in a Chinese restaurant with an old friend discussing the issue in a rather detached fashion. We scoffed at those who were allegedly scared to do the same but now nobody can dine in any restaurant at all – by law we can only get take-away. At a similar time I sat with a close companion in a public bath as I agonized over the feasibility of my travel plans in the face of problems mostly brewing overseas.

Yes I had plans to once more travel. On my itinerary were Rome, Florence, Venice, Montreux, Strasbourg, Aachen and Berlin. I decided to ‘postpone’ those plans while I still technically had the freedom to keep them. My motivation was a fear of the fuss and bother surrounding the creeping pandemic rather than the virus itself. Now I can scarcely imagine getting stuck in what they are bravely facing in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere (especially given my vulnerability as an older male with a respiratory condition). Once my plane tickets are re-funded I intend to donate some of that to emergency services working in Italy.

Back home life still has a semblance of normality. I can go out for utilitarian purposes – exercize or necessary errands. There is still public transport but I‘m keeping away from it and confining my life to a walking distance. Within my self-set limits are essential shops and some natural open spaces. I am focusing my patronage on one each of key shops like grocer and pharmacist. It is okay but I worry that coming wintry conditions will make things more restrictive.

I have defined my own ‘village’ but key friends are beyond its confines. I envy those in larger share households right now. Naturally we are still permitted to live with whomever we happen to live with. Remote communication helps but only so much. I have talked in the past of the difference between loneliness and solitude and now suspect I will discover whether I truly have a capacity for turning the negatives of the former into the positives of the latter.

There are problems beyond my own circumstances. Last year my mother moved into aged care and now thinks she depends on family bringing her assorted requests. We can technically still visit if we meet some criteria (such as a temperature check) but how wise is it to do so? The aged have the greatest vulnerability to this and fever is only the most likely indication of an infection. It may be better for Mum to cultivate the old wartime spirit she admires and recognize that her needs are met at her nursing home. So far she seems to be managing okay with phone calls and the company of those carers she has grown fond of. I think she also finds that a day punctuated by naps, meals and telemovies can go by quickly.

I'm finding that to be so. I have creative projects to slowly work on. I’m enjoying reading on a blanket on the lawn while the weather is still clement. I‘m cooking and washing dishes more. It could be time for me to finally sort the paperwork and memorabilia of my father – Dad died back in 2015 and I never announced it here. I might even enjoy the nostalgia. And then there is the plethora of distracting content one finds online. And yes I do want to address some aspects of online Coronavirus discussion.

We quickly started seeing criticisms of classical liberalism due to the Coronavirus. Yes free enterprise alone cannot manage this emergency. But all models will find this challenging. The solidarity so important to socialism depends on large face-to-face collectives (such as in a factory co-dependent on a neighbourhood) and these are ill-fitted to slowing a pandemic. The links of family and community celebrated by traditional conservatism likewise will be tested by this calamity (yet possibly fare better). And any model perpetually in disaster mode is itself a bit of a disaster.

Better is something that can adjust to both good and bad times. All models are abstractions and what we have in practice is a blend of many forms. Our governments are rapidly changing how they do things but that is an indication of the flexibility of a democratic state and a mixed economy. A free society can be orderly. Right now I’m in a mood to match the non-partisan manner seen from our political leaders at all levels of government.

It will still take a lot of luck for our good sense and our will to succeed. I worry that we are asking humans to do something that contradicts our nature as pack animals. But then what of the hermits of old? These characters voluntarily entered into isolation and it was philosophy or theology that drove them. I have a hunch we will see a growth in personal contemplation in coming weeks.

I could make other predictions. Some are things I hope for. One is more generous and less punitive welfare provision. Another is more job-sharing along with working from home. And another is better public etiquette (smart-phone addiction is the bane of safe distancing right now). But there are other things I’m critical of that will suddenly have renewed attraction. Urban sprawl and car dependence suddenly look pretty cool for a society scared of itself.

Is it right to cast my gaze so widely? Maybe it makes more sense just to look to the small everyday things of life. Right now I have most of what I need and some of what I want and I can adjust to that. Hopefully my next post here will focus on other topics because all sorts of things still exist as truth or memory. There is room for all that other stuff.

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29.2.20

Concord Of Sweet Sounds

I usually discuss music itself but here I want to look back over my experience of attitudes to music. Each of us has distinct musical tastes and yet one thing we all share is that we are all into some kind of music. Well most of us anyway. Shakespeare stated that "the man that have no music in himself, nor is moved by concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, statagems and spoils". Well, I'm keen on music both sweet and savoury but I get his sentiment. Music seems like something fundamentally human. And yet I have met the odd person who seems to lack that. Or if they are at all into music it is for its non-musical aspects - consider the comedy of Weird Al Yankovic. But that is rare and for most of us it is differences over which music we are into that can be striking.

I have long been puzzled by musical snobbery or even narrow tastes. However I have been guilty of these in the past. A big one for me was the dismissal of electronic music. In feeling that way I was following my nerdy university peers. Eventually I realized that was a flimsy position to hold while also loving electro-magnetic amplification. The old acoustic purists of folk and jazz had firmer ground to stand on. And yet even they would listen to recordings of acoustic music. I think our underlying problem with electronic music back then was its new and growing application as dance music and its 'mind-numbing' repetitiveness. However since then I have enjoyed the same mesmerizing repetition from a band jamming for a writhing throng. Iteration can serve its purpose very well.

Criteria for judging music are subjective. I object to cultural relativism in relation to human rights but for something like music it makes more sense. We could say that complexity makes music more challenging to play and more rewarding to consume but that is just a definition we set for ourselves. And many of us apply such criteria selectively so that our emotional preferences are favoured. Thus we re-cast our favourite music as the ‘best’ music.

By the time I got involved with choristers I was thoroughly into popular music. I was therefore a bit wary of musical snobbery among these classical and theatrical enthusiasts. And yet what I discovered was more acceptance of music in its variety than among Korner friends. I was so relieved by an opera student among them putting on Shaggy while dancing about cooking a dinner!

If anything, I find that the more musically versed a person is the more accepting they will be of all kinds of music. Possibly a part of this is that they have a greater curiosity for music. This contrasted with the lack of curiosity I observed among others in my younger days. It was a common thing for someone to have an album, possibly a movie soundtrack, in a genre such as blues. It would be much played and yet was token because they never bothered exploring the genre beyond that.

This has changed more recently with friends getting the memo (aka meme) that diversity is important. Lists of artists of different backgrounds that one should patronize have circulated. I never had to try because diverse genres result in a diversity of artists. Variety is the spice of life and I hope those lists promote enjoyment rather than just a sense of worthiness.

Another recent trend is the tendency to critically scrutinize lyrical content for its lack of ethics. I’m wary of this because I think we are foolish to conflate depiction with endorsement but, even if there was something to this, I find the standard is applied selectively. The songs of daggy old popular artists in particular come under fire, while the intentionally offensive and gross content of some alternative acts somehow gets a free pass. Once more the issue is subjectivity – we like whatever we happen to like and rationalize it as something more than that.

If I need to improve my own listening habits it is to try new music more. However there is so much music in every decade that I can discover new music in both the past and present. And if anything that stance is more common now than it once was. I get the feeling that the youth of today are more into the music of circa 1970 than the youth of then were into the music of circa 1920. Music of any era or origin can be worthwhile. Even if it cannot promote 'concord' or hamper 'strategems' I still think it enhances our lives and our ability to cope with its challenges.

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29.1.20

The Environmental Front

I have rarely written on environmental topics. In this post I admit to a lack interest despite recognizing its vital importance. My explanation was that ecology and climatology are too technical for me. But another motive is that the issue seems intrinsically non-controversial to me. There are many issues I can see are legitimately contentious and I find those the most worthy of contemplation and debate. In contrast environmental degradation due to over-development should be universally acknowledged. The only debate we need is over how exactly we respond to a challenge of our own making.

In my youth this was to some extent the case. The biggest political impediment to recognizing human impact on the planet late last century was simply apathy. As a result we had some big wins such as the global banning of chlorofluorocarbons. Now in these more partisan and emotive times we face an active and thoroughly ideological refusal to accept the scientific evidence that we are warming the planet beyond its capacity to support us in the life to which we are accustomed.

Luckily a growing number are pushing back to that push-back. More and more are acting conscientiously as citizens and consumers. Both are vital. However there is some confusion over that. I have noticed a tendency to say that our small acts to change consumption patterns are useless and only political change matters. This is foolish. The tendency of those who argue this is to characterize political activism as collective (and therefore effective) and consumer action as the fumbling of isolated individuals (and therefore futile). I object to this because both political and economic activity can be individual or collective in nature. There is a spectrum of actions and all of them can be useful to varying degrees. And anyway the distinction between politics and economics is something of an abstraction.

The irony in all this is that those who say 'only politics matters' also regard the biggest environmental culprits as private industry (who pay off crony politicians). If that is so then the most direct way to impact producers is by reducing consumption. They depend on us to buy from them and in a lot of cases we can simply refuse. And that is happening. The fossil fuels industry worldwide is losing its share to alternatives. Some of that is due to the positive actions of governments but it is also because of consumers changing how they consume. Ultimately a mix of actions is what is needed - the more the better. It would be a shame if too many of us fell for the 'only politics matters' line and then decided we can keep on consuming as long as we share a few narky political memes among our like-minded friends.

In the rest of this post I will share a few suggestions for actions we can take and try to sequence them in a continuum from economic to political. It will vary between both deliberate actions and inaction (since for the environment we need to do less in our lives). These work for me:

* Sometimes personal life circumstances result in less environmental impact by happenstance. I have never had kids nor operated a car. I have lived with others and therefore shared energy bills and white goods. Having only a bedroom in which to keep things has limited how much stuff I can own. Low income and a wariness of credit has resulted in me using everything from clothes to devices till they are falling apart. And moving in particular sub-cultures has given me a preference for directing my discretionary spending into experiences rather than objects. I had to do much of this but it has become my personal preference. It can be for others too.

* Some experiences incorporate things however and can be very damaging to the environment. Consider international flights. The energy levels needed to keep a huge hunk of metal flying are obscene and seem to give credence to the old technophobic saying that 'if God had intended us to fly he would have given us wings'. The only way to combat this under present technological conditions is to fly less. I have rarely gone overseas and wish to a few more times while I'm still hale. The next best thing then is for me to pay for carbon offsets. If I can afford the thousands it takes to go overseas then I can also afford the hundreds to compensate for the carbon emissions of all that fuel.

* If I intend to boycott a product then I make sure to tell its producers. Otherwise how can they know? I suggest sending a short message to them to say why one has ceased buying whatever it is they produce. This turns an economic act into a political one. This can also extend to acts like asking your favourite cafes to stop stocking newspapers from the climate-change denying News Corp. The way papers like The Australian have been minimizing the links between climate change and our devastating longer bushfire season is appalling.

* Yes governments and parliaments have a key part to play too. There are lots of ways to influence them. Lobbying can take many forms and be done between elections - consider emails, phone calls, meetings. And during elections it makes sense to play some role beyond just voting. Volunteering for avowedly environmental parties is incredibly useful. However I also suspect that helping parties that are becoming more environmental is also worthwhile. Australian policy lags behind that of most other developed nations and it is hardly a coincidence environmentalism is regarded as the preserve of just a few minor parties here. Turning it into a consensus transcending ideological divides will move us away from an American and towards more of a European vibe in environmental policy.

* Finally there is non-violent direct action. Marches and gatherings can attract attention from media and public. The larger and more diverse the movement the better. One fantastic thing with the recent school student protests is that they also drew more adults into the mix. Lots of those adolescents took parents with them. It grounds the movement in the 'family' demographic that is so important to governments. Another cool thing is that the sooner in life one becomes political the sooner one can mature politically. A problem over the last decade has been that members of all age-groups have been politicized online in a rather callow way. Many have stalled at the politics of simplistic and divisive messaging. Such communication is inherently populist yet even the most vocal critics of populism have helped to normalize it and thus give populists a boost. One solution to this is face-to-face political activity which makes harbouring caricatures of others more difficult to do.

My focus on the need for large and truly diverse movement that can persuade as well as pressure may annoy some. They may think it wishy-washy. But there is nothing wishy-washy in recognizing that politics is a numbers game. On the environmental front this is more so than for pretty much any other issue. I will end this post with an invitation to an action at Monash University (Clayton Campus) on Sunday 16 February in which a 'human sign' will be formed by those gathered to call on our reasonably proactive Victorian state government to offer greater climate leadership. This stunt deserves more than just the usual suspects.

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30.12.19

Tidying Transformers

Recently Lukas decided to reduce the size of his Transformers collection (which has mostly sat in boxes this century). This resulted in a show-and-tell session among a few friends keen on second-hand Transformers. The focus was on the original era of Transformers now known as Generation One (1984-1990) and this got me thinking all things ‘G1’.

One of the key things I have been pondering is the lack of consistency between the toy line and its accompanying cartoon. The cartoon existed to promote the toys so you would expect a close correspondence between them. However there were many discrepancies between them and herein I present my wish-list for reconciling them with a focus on the years 1984 to 1987. What follows is only for Transformers fans.

Reflector

This is an odd Decepticon that transforms from three robots into one camera. Is Reflector an it or a they? Does Reflector say ‘we’ and if so is it the royal we? In the cartoon it seemed to be one entity. The toy robots however had three separate names. None of this matters much to me but what does matter is inconsistent appearance in the cartoon and on toy shelves.

The cartoon character was there to bolster Decepticon ranks in the short first season of 1984 and was an occasional background character in the longer second season of 1985. It was never seen (except possibly via animation error) later than that however the toy only became available via mail order in 1986! My wish is that it had been available (on shelves even) in 1984-1985. I also have a particular fate in mind for the cartoon character.

In Transformers The Movie (which acts as a pilot for the third season in 1986) we should have seen a battle-damaged Reflector jettisoned by the fleeing Decepticons into deep space and then re-formatted by Unicron into the Sweeps. Three practically identical robots with barely any personality become exactly the same thing but with more useful alt-modes. This makes more sense (particularly in terms of reconciling toy shelves with cartoon seasons) than what did happen.

Soundwave And His Cassettes

Soundwave is a useful Decepticon in the first three seasons of the cartoon and likewise was in the catalogues of 1984 to 1986. This is a wonderful toy and its ability to hold micro-cassette sized minions is the original and still one of the best Transformers ‘play patterns’. However I would have done a few things differently with those cassettes.

Buzzsaw always seemed superfluous to me as the rarely seen other condor of the cartoon. But it was cool for the Soundwave toy to come complete with a cassette. I would rather have seen Soundwave packaged with the non-character drone known as the Autoscout which was only seen in one cartoon episode. Much more recently a ‘third party’ company (in other words a company that pilfers the intellectual property of Hasbro and Takara to make toys for adult collectors) has made the Autoscout and that shows it can be done. I think of this accessory as like Roller is to Optimus Prime.

The other change I would like to have seen was for the other four original cassettes to continue shipping to shops from 1984 to 1986. Later Decepticon Cassettes seem silly or would be better in another faction.

Blaster And His Cassettes

I have mixed feelings about the Autobot counterpart to Soundwave. Blaster is a cool character and yet in some ways detracted from the Autobot Jazz. It is a cool toy and yet way too big – this is one instance in which I think a re-deco of Soundwave may have been better than that hulking boom box.

Blaster lacked minions in 1985 but then got some in 1986 (persisting on toy shelves till 1988 even in his absence). He seemed to do okay by himself and it then made the debut scene of those minions in the movie an exciting one. However I would have replaced Ramhorn with an Autobot incarnation of Ratbat. Something as lumpy and brutish as a rhino seems silly as a cassette (I would say the same thing for later dino-cassettes). And why is it that bats must always be evil? Giving Blaster a winged messenger ('Scatbat') makes him a better match for Soundwave.

Perceptor

This Autobot microscope is cool and I’m happy with his consistent appearance as both character and toy in 1985 and 1986. Only qualm? Why do so many Autobots have to combine the colours red and blue? This toy looked awesome in its original Micro-Change colours.

Decepticon Planes – Autobot Cars – Autobot Mini-Vehicles

I bunch these together as I wish to have seen them following the same basic pattern of appearance and availability. They appear in 1984 and continue into 1985 consistently across both cartoons and catalogues. However in 1986 the Autobot Cars diverge from the pattern maintained by the other two groups.

The norm for most of these is that they appear in cartoon and are available on shelves for two years each (whether 84-85 or 85-86 or 86-87). The exceptions I accept are that a few key characters from 1984 persist into 1986 (Starscream as a ghost and Jazz and Bumblebee as true survivors). However I wish the following had been so:

* In Transformers The Movie I think that Unicron should have re-formatted Thundercracker into Scourge and Skywarp into Cyclonus.

* The ‘coneheads’ should never be seen getting devoured by Unicron. We know they live into the third season so replace them in that scene with generic purple tetra-jets.

* The Autobot Cars of 1985 should have been continued into 1986. Those characters could have been seen helping tidy Autobot City in the movie following the big battle there. Later they could have been in third season background scenes. And those toys could still be sold (whether on shelves on via mail order) in 1986 along with Jazz. However...

* Smokescreen always seemed such a superfluous character and toy to me and there always were too many Autobot Cars. Erase him. And...

* Red Alert is an interesting character but a ridiculous toy – who can accept the existence of a fire department affording an expensive sports car? On the other hand Skids is a distinctive toy mould but a cartoon non-entity. My solution - give the character and markings of Red Alert to the Skids toy and animation model ('Skid Alert').

* Arcee was never made as a toy in the G1 days. However if she had been I suspect she would have been an Autobot Car (with a design somewhat between those of Hot Rod and Blurr). It then follows that in the fourth season she should have become a Targetmaster rather than a Headmaster. The Daniel Witwicky exo-suit could totally be converted into a sweet ray gun.

* We see Cliffjumper survive the movie so surely they could have put his toy on shelves in 1986 alongside Bumblebee. And we never see his re-deco Hubcap in the cartoon so why produce this toy?

* In 1986 both Outback and Pipes get a bit of screen time and dialogue. But I would have liked to see Swerve and Tailgate get more of that (and possibly take some screen time away from Wheelie).

* I would have liked to see those 1986 Autobot Mini-Vehicles sold in 1987 and to see them on shelves rather than the crappy Throttlebots...

* And yet I have always been a bit ambivalent about the Autobot Mini-Vehicles. They are cute and were something a kid could buy with pocket money. But they were simplistic in design and small in scale compared to other toys. They also detracted from the roles of other characters – particular offenders were Cosmos, Powerglide and Warpath. Were they all needed?

Shockwave

Shockwave was never on shelves in Australia as far as I recall. At a similar time however we could get the grey ‘Shackwave’ toy from Tandy Electronics. Most of the 1984-85 Transformers had been designed by Takara in Japan and licensed to Hasbro in the US and beyond to become Transformers. Shockwave however came from a South Korean company called ToyCo who licensed the design to different users in different parts of the world.

Catalogues told us that Shockwave was only on shelves (in the US) in 1985. He was an important recurring cartoon character however in 1984 and 1985. He was last seen in the 1986 movie and presumed dead. I would propose changes to this. Either have the toy on shelves in 1984-85 or 1985-86. And give him a small but key role in the third season as the only Decepticon suspicious of the Quintessons in the Five Faces Of Darkness story (since he is far smarter and more conscientious than Blitzwing).

Megatron to Galvatron

Megatron is featured in the 1984-1985 catalogues and seasons and that works fine. Then he is re-formatted by Unicron into the clunky and mad Galvatron for 1986-1987 – once more this is fine. I prefer the colouration of the toy over the animation model - it has better continuity with Megatron and contrasts better with his lieutenants. I would have liked to see the toy share shelves with Powermaster Oprimus Prime and possibly even be re-tooled to fit a Nebulan figure (say as a power pack fitting his cannon connector).

Optimus Prime

Optimus Prime is featured in the 1984-1985 catalogues and seasons and that works fine. Then his character is resurrected in 1987 but the new Powermaster toy of Optimum Prime only hits shelves in 1988. I would like to have seen these reconciled. The latter toy has its pros and cons – I like that it brings Prime to the same size as Galvatron but will forever lament its introduction of faux-parts to Transformers.

Dinobots - Constructicons – Insecticons

These three groups all have similar profiles in toy and cartoon continuity but I wish to see them be more consistent. All three sets of toys were on shelves in 1985-1986. The corresponding characters however debut with much fanfare part way into the 1984 season and continue to be prominent in 1985. They become background characters in 1986 (with the exception of Grimlock who becomes a key participant in Autobot adventures). However there is the problem of what happens to the Insecticons in the movie.

The Insecticons are shown to be jettisoned and reformatted (like Thundercracker and Skywarp). I think they should have stayed with the Decepticons and participated in the leadership ‘debate’ (stating that they would support whoever could promise them the most energon).

There is also the matter of the Deluxe Insecticon toys. These came from the Japanese company Takatoku Toys and have a very different look and feel from the standard Insecticons. They were never cartoon characters and that makes sense to me. Also I cannot recall seeing them in Australian shops. I suspect these toys would look okay in a later Beast Wars display.

I think the Dinobot and Consctructicon toys could have been a tad bigger. And finally surely Hook should have been the Constructicon leader since he becomes head-and-shoulders of gestalt Devastator.

Jetfire or Skyfire

Jetfire also came from Takatoku toys and the same exact design was a prominent part of the popular Macross or Robotech franchise as a mech. Some distance between these two uses of the same product design was needed and so the corresponding Transformers cartoon character was given a distinct animation model and the name 'Skyfire'. He debuted (also with much fanfare) partway into the 1984 season but his prominence quickly waned into 1985. This may be partly due to the complex ownership issues and partly to make way for another large flying Autobot. However the Jetfire toy was on shelves in 1985-1986.

I would have liked to see Skyfire one more time in the 1986 movie. I imagine a scene at the start of the battle for Autobot City in which Ultra Magnus commands Skyfire to ‘get the humans far away from here’. He transforms and we then see Carly, Chip and Sparkplug all rush up his ramp before he takes off over the horizon.

Deluxe Autobot Vehicles

Whirl and Roadbuster also came from Takatoku and like Jetfire were unusually complex for the time. They were in catalogues for 1985-1886 but never made into cartoon characters. This is likely due to the problems (similar to that of Skyfire) of clashing with a Japanese cartoon (Special Armoured Battalion Dorvack) in which they were mechs. Then there is also the fact that there were plenty of Autobots anyway. They could have been intriguing background characters in ancient history flashbacks or scenes on distant worlds I guess.

Jumpstarters & Battlechargers

The two Autobot Jumpstarters were Takara products so were free of legal issues. However they were never made into cartoon characters. I wonder whether the gimmick of these toys – automatic quick transformation – was rendered useless in a cartoon that made that ability the norm. Mind you the later two Decepticon Battlechargers had that same gimmick and yet were made into cartoon characters. Once more is it that there were too many Autobots?

I think Topspin and Twintwist could have been given interesting guest roles in space-faring adventures – do that and fewer cartoon-only characters like Devcon from 1985 would have needed creating. Or I can see them having filled the roles that were given to Powerglide and Warpath.

The Battlechargers simply appear in the 1986 season as if they had always been there. I imagine a cute origin story for Runamuck and Runabout in saying that they were initially the ‘Watchdog’ cars seen in The Ultimate Doom story.

The Jumpstarts and Battlechargers only appeared on shelves in 1985 and 1986 respectively. It would have been cool if each group was in stores for two years rather than one.

Autobot & Decepticon Triple-Changers

In 1985 there were just two Decepticon Triple-Changers. That got me thinking they could be the arch-rivals of the Autobot Jumpstarters of that same year. But in 1986 another Decepticon and three new Autobot Triple-Changers were added. One of them is among the worst Transformers designs ever – Broadside – who is crappy in all three modes. I would be happy if this one had never existed and it would be tempting to have re-assigned optionally-winged Autobot Car Tracks to the Triple-Changers.

These toys never made it beyond the 1986 line. I would have liked to see the newer ones or even all of them persist into 1987. They are fiddly and flawed toys but pretty cool as characters. Of those characters I would have liked to see Blitzwing have a bit more screen time in 1986 and for Sandstorm to have always been a normal Autobot rather than the only decently-drawn refugee from Paradron. I however cannot cope with all the Decepticons fitting inside Astrotrain in the movie – surely there was some extra spaceship they could have commandeered!

Omega Supreme

The huge toy of this character was licensed from a company called Toybox. Both toy and character were in currency during 1985-1986. It is an impressive if very clunky play-set but I sometimes wonder at another role for its character. In some episodes set on Cybertron we see a number of ‘Guardian Robots’ using a very similar design to Omega Supreme. Since then the toy has been redecorated to represent these ancient non-aligned drones. I wonder if this toy (in whatever colouration) could have wholly and solely represented a neutral character. Imagine your biggest toy as something that can potentially endanger both sides of the conflict you are playing out. Or what if it is an objective both sides seek to control? I have always liked the notion of more than three sides. Also this could allow for a character like Skyfire to more effectively fulfill the role given him as large flying Autobot.

Ultra Magnus

This toy was a Takara original and similar in many ways to what became Optimus Prime. However his introduction was held off in both cartoon and stores till 1986 and then persisted into 1987. I wonder if it would have been cool to see this loyal deputy share some of the action with similar yet rival character Shockwave (possibly in an Americanized version of the Scramble City cartoon special). One thing I would have liked to see Magnus do more of in the cartoon is transport smaller Autobots in car mode.

Scramble City Combiners

This is a Japanese term which denotes all the combiners introduced with a shared gimmick that the gestalt limbs can take on the role of any limb of any of the super-robots. It is a more versatile and fun method than that of the Constructicons. However like them I also wish these toys were somewhat bigger – the combiners should have stood as tall as the ‘city commanders’ Ultra-Magnus and Galvatron.

Four groups – Aerialbots, Stunticons, Protectobots, Combaticons – debuted late in the 1985 cartoon season. Another two groups - Technobots and Terrorcons – debuted late in the 1986 season. In all cases these characters arrived sooner than corresponding toys into shops. The original four groups were in the 1986-1987 catalogues. The next two were on shelves in 1987-1988. All or most groups were seen in the short 1987 cartoon season. This is all fine but the one change I would have liked to see is for all six groups to get specific origin episodes. Most do but some are just there.

Metroplex & Trypticon

Large citadel robots were toys and characters starting in 1986. Most are never as impressive in scale as one would imagine but they do have a lot of play value. The two I name were designed to scale with the limb-sized vehicles of Scramble City so I suppose these too could have been up-sized somewhat.

There is an alternative to these that I think would have been cool. Rather than larger Transformers that try to be play-sets how about some truly larger play-sets of key settings? Parts of them could still ‘transform’ but be free of the need to be a robot. Each product could then be packaged with a Transformer as an extra attraction. All we ever got along these lines was mail order cardboard dioramas.

Rodimus Prime

Rodimus Prime is the more mature form of Hot Rod. However this maturity is dependent on him possessing the Autobot Matrix of Leadership – take it away and he is once more Hot Rod. This trans-generational character was in both the 1986-1987 seasons. Likewise both the Rodimus Prime toy and the Autobot Car or Targetmaster toy of Hot Rod co-existed on shelves in 1986-1987.

I wonder whether the Rodimus Prime incarnation could have been a cartoon-only character and whether we needed the toy at all. It existed in a very crowded space filled by greater truck robots like Optimus Prime in 1984-85, Ultra Magnus in 1986-87, and Powermaster Optimus Prime in 1988-89. However I do enjoy the adventures of this stressed and sardonic character that had leadership thrust on him and never entirely adjusts to it.

Skylynx

This twin-modular beast and transporter was licensed from ToyBox and serves a similar role among the Autobots to Omega Supreme. Both toy and character were extant in 1986-1987. I’m fine with this and think of Skylynx as cool and quirky. One qualm – he is yet another red-white-blue Autobot – how about something different. Orange was a traditional colour of Autobot ships so that combined with white and black would have been striking.

Predacons

The Predacons are another striking set of Transformers that were in catalogues and cartoon in 1986-1987. They were fun but did they have to be so big? These beasts surely should be smaller than Dinobots. The gestalt of Predaking would have been fine with a similar stature to the other combiners.

Wreck-Gar & Gnaw

1986-1987 was the time for both these toys and characters. Wreck-Gar was an Autobot but from the very independent and isolated clan of Junkions. Gnaw was the name given to a toy depicting the cartoon Sharkticons. It was listed as a Decepticon but in the cartoon the Sharkticons were non-aligned slaves to the alien Quintessons. I would have liked to see more toys acknowledged as non-aligned or independent of sides. And I would also like to have seen these toys be smaller and less expensive.

Nebulans – Pretenders – Micromasters - Action-Masters

From 1987 onward I become far less invested in the later gimmick-laden and clunky Transformers. However some concepts are still fun (and recent re-imaginings of some in Generations have tended to make them better). Trends worth mentioning are...

* In 1987 the Nebulans were depicted in the cartoon as human-like aliens who choose to bionically bond with Transformers partners. They don suits that allow them to become the guns or heads and (in 1988) the engines of particular Autobots and Decepticons. Hence we got Targetmaster, Headmaster and Powermaster toys. These have pros and cons. For instance the Headmasters (and only the Headmasters) have room for Nebulan drivers to fit – a nifty touch. However if you lose that Nebulan then your robot is rendered headless!

* In 1988 the Pretenders were introduced and these are small Transformers encased in large non-transforming action figure shells that looked like something from Masters Of The Universe or Centurions. It would have been cool however if the basic concept of shells with innards had taken another path. The Trans-Organics of cartoon episode Dweller In The Depths deserved toys. Separate parts depicting both organic and mechanical components that can be mixed-and-matched and that indulged in the ‘gross and gruesome’ toy trend of the late-80s could have been fun.

* In 1989 Micromasters hit shelves and were pretty much the Micro-Machines of the Transformers franchise. They were surprisingly good toys for the size and came with cool transports and play-sets. At that scale you could collect a whole world of action for a lot less cost and display space. I feel you would have to regard theirs as a separate story unless you wanted to display them with citadel robots to accentuate the scale of those much larger toys.

* In 1990 the original Transformers line came to a close with Action Masters. These were small non-transforming action figures of Transformers characters that nonetheless came packaged with pets or vehicles that did transform. They felt like Transformers imitating G I Joe or Mask. What I would have liked is if cartoon characters that had never transformed had been given action figures. It would be awesome even now to have some toy depictions of Lithons and Quintessons and so forth.

* * * * *

There was a lot of fiddly 'fact' checking in all that. Websites I consulted in writing this are the ever-informative and entertaining TF Wiki (particularly for cartoon characters) and Botch The Crab for scanned catalogues.

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29.11.19

Gaming Anecdotes

I have written much on the topic of my most recent and longest role-play game. But tonight I will be describing a number of other disparate role-playing experiences and I will start at the very beginning...

Maze Games

I refer here to the Fighting Fantasy brand of solo adventure gamebooks. The first I ever got was The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain in late primary school (via one of those 'book club' order forms school encouraged our parents to patronize) and it served as a sort of appetizer for true role-playing. Character was only a by-product of ones imagination as one read ones chosen adventure outcomes but it did generate that sense of immersion that role-playing is renowned for. I remember that spending too long in bed reading that dungeon crawl would give me a mild sense of claustrophobia. Such power was enticing.

Fighting Fantasy also prompted me to make my own 'maze games'. I would draw a basic map of some setting filled with rival combatants and develop a very basic dice-rolling game mechanic for them similar to that in Fighting Fantasy. Recently Lukas and I came across one we had co-designed called Labyrinth. I cannot tell exactly how it is all supposed to work and may need to reconstruct its basic rules.

You Appear On A Road

It was in intermediate secondary school that I first encountered Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. I had seen the rule books in a Dandenong department store and been intrigued but school provided me with my chance to play. An entry in the Daily News sheet announced a D&D game was starting at lunchtimes in a particular classroom. I went along with a few friends to discover that two senior students were in charge (with the imprimatur of a teacher) and would be running some games for us. We were walked through the rolling up of characters and I have always found this activity alone to be fun. Following that we were thrown into an adventure together. I think the first was the classic module The Village Of Hommlet.

Our Dungeon Master (DM) was a harsh one and we all too easily would die. But that was okay - we could always devise a new character and jump right back into the action. The DM was hardly the biggest fan of back-story - he would introduce a new player-character into the game simply by saying 'you appear on a road'. It was as if he was drawing attention to the virtual and ephemeral nature of our characters. It was hardly the most nurturing GMing but that just drove us to keep at it and soon a few of my friends (Steve and Guy) were running our own games at homes on weekends. And we made sure to give our characters back-story.

Anarchy

One day at school an emergency teacher never showed to our class. We had an entire period with nothing to do. Everyone just sort of sat in groups and did whatever. In my case a few friends turned to me and told me to somehow just run a role-play game. I declared we needed dice and somebody made some six-sided ones from eraser. I then started to describe for them a scenario in which they were themselves in school wasting time. It was more 'situation playing' than 'role-playing' with the game starting identically both in and out of story. The ensuing adventure involved a neutron bomb exploding over Melbourne and throwing the less effected outer suburbs into 'anarchy'. Ridiculous scenes included attacking a school librarian with a stapler, looting an Aussie Disposals for guns, and car-jacking an open-topped purple Volkswagen Beetle decorated with pink flames. Yes games can promote violence and crime but only within the game itself. Fun times.

Till All Are One

I got into both role-playing and Transformers as an adolescent so it is hardly surprising that I designed a role-play game inspired by that toy and cartoon franchise. It drew on its third season for setting and the toy packaging 'tech-specs' for character game mechanics. I cannot recall the content of any sessions I ran for friends but still have the hand-written notes - here is an illustration from its folder. I'm thinking of incorporating original aspects of that content into my concept of the Titans Of Titan fiction within a fiction (assuming I ever get to it).

In A Flashback You Cannot Die

Into our uni days I continued playing AD&D with Guy and Steve. We also played with Sean and between the four of us we took turns GMing over a few years. The Spelljammer box of rules (involving fantasy space ships) allowed us to shift the game between the campaign settings each of us preferred running games in. We were pretty much power-gamers back then and indulged in such excesses as hunting and killing inter-planar immortals. However we could also share the odd joke. For instance I once had a non-player character merchant justify his prices by saying they were determined by 'supply and demand'. Next thing I knew the characters played by Guy and Sean returned to the shop in disguise and declared that they were the personifications of Supply and Demand and that prices must fall.

Sean went overseas for several weeks and we wondered what to do with our continuing campaign. I offered to run one origin adventure each for the characters of Guy and Steve. Steve then declared gleefully that 'in a flashback you cannot die'. This made me decide to surprise him. In his origin game he played a rookie assassin given the job of finding and eliminating a maverick assassin new in town. This enemy of the guild of assassins possessed a magical dagger which allowed him to assume the form and conscious memory of anyone he slew with it. Steve discovered that his beloved character had been an imposter all along and had killed his namesake ages ago (while also losing the dire dagger). The look on his face! The guffaws that emerged from Guy! It is to date one of my best plot-twists as a GM.

Capricon to Unicon

I role-played on campus as well as off. At Monash I sampled games as diverse as Call Of Cthulhu, Paranoia and Champions thanks to the Monash Uni Role-Players (MURP). I mostly stuck to short games held at 'infernals' (internal tournaments) or conventions but the only such events I went to were those that MURP was involved in running - namely Capricon and then Unicon. I co-ran a more advanced form of Anarchy with Damian at one such con - it involved a group of stoned peace activists creeping into Pine Gap to discover that it was in fact a secret missile silo. At other times I played Kryten in a Red Dwarf game and Orko in a Masters Of The Universe game. I got an award for playing Horse in Monkey Magic - I managed to convince the GM that if I could be arse-slapped forward into my human form then I could also be arse-slapped back into my older dragon form and this helped us in our final fight. What silly fun that was.

Never Enacted Concepts

I have mostly stuck to running fantasy games in a variation of D&D. But sometimes I imagine other settings and scenarios that would be interesting. One is an urban fantasy tinged with horror drawing on Gnosticism for its secret reality and Jim Steinman songs for its retro-modern setting. Another is a science fiction game inspired by obscure TV show The Starlost in which a many-segmented inter-generational ship has forgotten its mission and each huge segment has regressed into a distinct and isolated culture. It is more likely however that my next game (short or long) will involve returning to The Lands - after all I have invested much into that fantasy setting.

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14.10.19

Individuality

I am here to defend individuality. This concept has drawn criticism from many directions. The ‘me generation’ accusation levelled at young baby-boomers five decades ago has since been transferred to successive generations. Both then and now I think the assessment has been a simplistic one. Many seemingly selfish behaviours are less a product of thinking 'me me me' and more to do with thinking only of 'me and mine'. It is a kind of clannishness that I feel is the origin of many problems today.

I cannot here survey evidence of whether we are more self-absorbed or standoffish now than we were in the past. It depends on exactly when and where one chooses to look. Anecdotally I have witnessed both more and less respect between strangers over my lifetime. On the one hand I feel that my generation as youths were less likely to thank a bus-driver than youths who have come since. On the other hand I get the impression that the parents of younger generations than mine are more likely to regard teachers as rivals than as colleagues. It seems we are more combative while acting on behalf of those close to us. Members of the caring professions or providers of essential services (like teachers and bus drivers) are strangers that we nonetheless must interact with for our own benefit. How we behave towards them betrays how we regard wider society beyond our own family and friends. And how much do we even feel a part of an interdependent society?

Scholars in the past warned of the ‘atomistic’ nature of modern society. Old ways of belonging had long been waning. Connections to a productive class or a religious and cultural community grew ever looser. And while we were emancipated from old forms of dominance we were also set adrift from structures that for many were supportive. It was predicted that a mass of isolated individuals was prone to reconstituting into rowdy mobs. At times this has happened and populist demagoguery is the intermittent result.

And yet populist demagogues have come and gone rather than come to stay and I wonder what alleviates atomism. An answer is that humans are very good at finding new ways of forming groups to provide them with a sense of purpose and belonging. Culture is important. Some have a tendency to dismiss forms of group identity that are merely cultural rather than having some natural basis. But it is natural for humans to form links grounded in shared concepts. And these groups have a right to exist even if one thinks them fanciful.

Particularly in the post-war era cultures have been supplemented by sub-cultures dedicated to sports, hobbies, collections, interests, art, music and entertainment. I think that such sub-cultures helped give society a more complex and sturdy structure in which individuals could connect while also expressing themselves. And it is interesting to note that such developments were curbed by those demagogues who survived into the post-war era. Stalin for instance warned that chess should only exist for the regime rather than for its own sake. Loyalty to a game or to ones fellow players detracted from loyalty to the party.

I start by saying that individuals are good and now I’m saying that groups are good. A problem with any such topic is that it uses abstractions. As an animal I am a distinct organism and yet as a pack animal I belong with others. Both are important and getting the balance right is vital. Expecting rugged individualism of everyone is a libertarian fantasy. But subsuming ones personal identity into that of ones peer group has all-too-often been a stifling reality. The kind of societal structures I hope for are ones in which we can both belong and feel free to move. And the kind of groups I think work best are ones in which individuals thrive.

I am recommending more than demographic diversity. Diversity of personality is important too. Till recently I assumed this was a given but something has changed - we have virtual online ‘communities’ which can select or de-select participants from across the global population and with that comes the risk of large monocultures of temperament. The danger is that everyone in a particular group can be defined by anger or fear or hatred. There is a plethora of new ‘spaces’ in which the atomized can form mobs. They never need meet one another face-to-face and so we have something new – a way for misanthropes who cannot even stand each other to form a simulation of society.

Am I exaggerating here? Possibly. However the extent to which such a trend has provided a resurgent form of populism with its own youth demographic is worrying. Much online communication is worthwhile and a welcome response to geographic limitations. But we need to spend more time away from our screens. We need both face-to-face and remote interactions.

It is also worth moving in more than one scene. That tends to happen because our family and friends and workmates are distinct sets. But we can do better than that. If society is at risk of becoming more clannish then we need to find ways of linking those clans back together into our societal fabric. And now I return to individuality because it is far simpler for an individual to belong to more than one group than for groups to overlap by themselves. Those who do this help to distinguish themselves as individuals while also providing avenues of cross-pollination between distinct groups. Such individuality is important to wider society and far from selfish.

And yet I still think that most of us are self-centred and I speculate on what I call a ‘culture of one’. We tend to think of culture as something produced by groups but I feel that all the personal habits and practices that distinguish individuals are a kind of culture. I pondered this a while ago in a cartoon I drew (see below). It suggests that an island with nobody on it has an environment (the foundation on which all other concepts depend). Then an island with one person also has an economy as that person must manage how they use the environment. Finally an island with two people has politics as they must decide between them how to interact and share the island. I ask the question of how culture fits into this progression and I think the answer is that it coexists alongside economics in the way an individual lives.

Or you could say that my 'culture of one' is just personality.

Desert Island Illustrations

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