organisations, companies, venues and other things
Arcadia was a BBS in the 1980s. But not just any BBS—while other BBSes at the time were running at 2400bps, or maybe a whoppin' 9600bps (today's modems run at about 56,000bps), Arcadia ran at 300bps. Why? Well, while most BBSes by then focused on online games and file transfers, Arcadia was still designed for what BBSes started for: message boards! The closest thing to message boards these days is Internet newsgroups, but unlike newsgroups, you can address message board messages to a particular individual.
But the speed and focus on message boards wasn't the only thing special. For one thing, the system ran on a very primitive computer called a Microbee. Its inhabitants became very excited when we upgraded to 32 kilobytes of RAM—remember, this was the mid 1980s; by the mid 1990s, 32 megabytes of RAM seemed too little to work with. It meant that we could make the interface a little more complicated, and sillier. Silliness was one of the system's biggest assets, and so was the fact that users could reprogram the way the system worked while they were dialled in. This was a geek's dream.
The most important thing about Arcadia, however, were its users: the Arcadians. Aged from 13 to 30, these dozen or so people formed a bond formed on the BBS, silliness, sci-fi, pizza, empty Coke bottles, and most importantly: your quirk is okay. Many of us were disabled, usually blind—this made no social impact whatsoever, and it gave the electronics and programmer geeks amongst us early practice at working with accessability issues. When one or two of us came out as gay or bi, no problem—we're all a little bit different, after all! We were all social outcasts at school or at work, with few social skills, so between us we developed our own social norms. They were based on intelligence, fun, and respect for one another, things that my values are still strongly based upon today.
All good things come to an end, and the system is no longer online. The closest thing that currently exists is http://www.arcadia.au.com/—note how the .com and .au in the URL is reversed, in true loopy Arcadian style. It isn't a very exciting web page, though, and doesn't remotely capture the energy of Arcadia BBS. But the Arcadians still gather from time to time, and when they do, the energy is recreated. Except I don't think any of us would still get on the bus with panty liners on our heads.
Today, people use the Internet to exchange programs and e-mail. In the 1980s, however, most people didn't have access to the Internet, so they used BBSes instead.
BBSes were stand-alone computers that people dialled into, like many people still do with their ISPs. In those days, however, modems were often a twentieth of the speed of today's modems, and often even slower. BBSes usually only had one or two lines, too, so you'd often get a busy signal when you tried to dial into them in the evening. But that didn't matter, because there were hundreds of BBSes in many major cities, so if one was engaged, you could just use another.
But if you did that, you'd get a completely different system. Each system had its own registration procedure and rules about the information they kept. Some message boards were shared amongst many BBSes, but each BBS had its own message boards as well. As a result, each BBS became a bit of a community, kind of how modern chat rooms or LiveJournal communities have become communities. The only difference, really, is that back then all the members of the community were usually from the same area, because to access systems in different areas, they'd have to make long-distance modem calls.
E-mail and message boards did span the globe, though. Basically, one BBS would regularly dial into another BBS to exchange e-mail, and the second BBS would exchange e-mail with a third. Eventually the e-mail would make it to a BBS owned by some BBS fanatic who was prepared to have his or her system regularly make overseas modem calls to exchange all the e-mail in their region. A typical turnaround time for e-mail between, say, Sydney and San Francisco was five or six days. But this was still much faster than the postal system, and it didn't cost the end users anything.
BBSes still exist today, but the only ones that have any real popularity are the ones that can now be accessed via the Internet. An example is Active BBS, which has been operating for over ten years now. (It started out by replacing Arcadia BBS on its telephone number, much to the displeasure of most Arcadians.) You can access Active BBS by clicking here, although you really should install a decent Telnet client before doing so. The one that comes with Windows sux.
The company I worked for when I had my best job ever, from mid-2000 to early-2001, was the Berkeley Consultants Group. It was basically about a dozen Berkeley Uni students who'd formed a software consultant company on Nob Hill.
Fed up with working for Corporate America, I was interested in being an independent contractor, and I saw BCG as an opportunity where I could practice dealing with clients on a contract basis, but still have the security of a full-time salary. The working conditions were fantastic—I could show up at 11:00am if I wanted to (although I was normally there much earlier), my desk was by a bay window which I kept open for sun and atmosphere, and it was wonderful to work in a neighbourhood with some character.
For the first few months that I was there, I still lived in Sacramento, and travelled to BCG daily using Amtrak. Even though this meant I was on a train for a total of four hours each day, I really miss those times, because I did a lot of work on the train. The train was quiet, had ever-changing views of fields, marshes and the Bay, and the only interruptions I got from my work was the conductor asking for tickets. Best of all, it meant I only had to be in the office for four or five hours per day.
Sadly, despite not actually being a dot com, BCG was a dot com crash victim early in 2001. The reasoning was simple: most of our clients were dot coms, so when they went under, so did we.
The BOTS Project
The BOTS Project was my major group assignment during my final semester of uni in 1997, when I was a Computer Science student at the University of Western Sydney. We had that whole year to complete a real-life software project from inception to implementation, and our project, the BOTS project, was creating software to simulate intelligent robots working in a factory environment. We used genetic programming algorithms to do this, and worked in Allegro Common LISP and Delphi. It was fun stuff!
But to me, it was more than just a group project; it was the most productive and most programming team I've ever worked with. The six of us were such different people, but we managed to work together and make something we were all proud of. There was certifiedwaif, the Goth, even though I called him a Goth-wannabe at the time. The was the Platypus, who loved animals—he "really" loved animals, to the point that it caused the group to have a lot of interesting debates about consent. There was Steve, who I thought of as rather a westie at the time, even though he lived right up in the Blue Mountains. There was MickSA, a.k.a. Captain Health for his dietary habits (a can of Coke and a frosted finger bun for breakfast), who I thought of as the only Australian specimen of white trash. And then there was Colin—the most remarkable thing about him, I thought, was that I couldn't see anything remarkable about him; he was just a nice guy.
Despite their quirks, and despite all of mine, we managed to get along quite well, and we've kept in touch ever since. We have LAN parties, play Robo Rally together, and talk about geek stuff. They're the only group of heterosexual men that I've ever really liked hanging out with.
Buena Vista Park is at the top of the hill that I loved on when I lived in the Castro. It was a very, very steep hill, but it was worth the climb because it was beautiful. It had fantastic views of the city, the Castro, districts west of the city and right out to the ocean, as shown in the photo below. People would meditate, let their dogs run loose, play in the tennis courts, or just wander around like me.
In November 2001, as a final service to the community, I planted a tree in the park. I look forward to returning over the decades and watching that tree grow.
I've heard many, many attempts to describe Burning Man to people who have never been there before, and I don't think any of them really give the whole picture. You just have to go. Yes, you. Go to the web site right now, subscribe to the mailing list, buy a ticket (they're totally worth the cost!), prepare for the trip, travel to Nevada, USA towards the end of August, and participate. Trust me, it will be one of the most memorable and inspiring events of your life, and you'll probably want to go back every year. I do!
2002 will be the first year in five that I haven't been. (I'll be living in Europe at the time.) I plan to make it the last year that I don't go, too, because I love the event so much. Going to Burning Man for the first time is one of the most amazing things I've ever done. Like I said, it's impossible to truly describe Burning Man to anybody who has never been, but this passage, written by Mark Morford, a first-time goer who I've never met, is one of the best efforts I've seen:
Too many options. Too many visions and ethereal moments and luminous images, experiences and connections and fragile sensory remnants to choose from, dust stories and art stories and friendship stories and party stories, beauty and artifice and light and stars and sensuality and dust and music and drugs and camping and travel and detachment and a general sense of otherworldliness.
The kind of transcendence you can only find, apparently, by trucking your butt way, way out into the desert and camping under the scorching sun for four days with approximately 22,000 like-minded neo-pagan alt-everything open-hearted nutcases in Black Rock City, Nevada, at Burning Man 2001.
It's the feeling of being outside yourself, of knowing and not knowing, a delicious falling away of everything you consider normal and acceptable and safe and replacing it with blazing heat and fierce dust storms and raging fires and dancing and glitter and endless naked skin and a concept of art and interactivity and community and collective energy you have probably never experienced in your lifetime, and may never experience again. Is that an exaggeration?
Burning Man was, for me, four straight nights of going to bed at sunrise, getting roughly 3 hours of sleep per, and having everything I own completely and irrevocably covered in gritty chalk-gray playa dust. It was extraordinary. It was insane. It was strange, magical, surreal, dusty, hot, fleshy, pagan, funny, unpretentious, open, communal, dirty, simple, inspiring, funky, forward, and unbelievably beautiful. It was close to what I expected, but bigger and more dazzling and more variegated and more fun. [My own summary after my first night: "A cross between the Down To Earth Confest and... Vegas! -Mik.]
I still haven't removed my silver fingernail and toe polish. Or the glitter. Or the mental images. And I'm sure I never will.
I have seen roughly 200 topless women covered in body paint and glitter and dust, riding wildly decorated bicycles around the scorching desert playa en masse, singing and whistling and laughing and wearing hats and flowers and pasties and huge grins and calling themselves Critical Tits, and no one batted an eye.
I have seen Mad Max-ish art cars that shoot colossal tongues of flame 300 feet into the ink-black night sky and you can feel the heat and hear the thunder and taste the smoke from a quarter mile away.
I have seen enormous human mazes stuck randomly in the middle of the desert, interactive art installations where you touch the "strings" of a light-harp and a hidden organ plays a droning tone, 40-foot high sculptures made of wire mesh and animal bones called the Tree of Life, ethereal laser shows shooting emerald beams against the Nevada mountainside, a pair of 30-foot high glowing red dice just sitting there, surrounded by a vast nothingness, as if flung by God at the craps table of Earth.
I have seen dozens of artistically mutated desert vehicles built like giant cockroaches and snails and fish and birds, butterflies and human heads and flying saucers and dystopian nightmares of mangled chainsaws and gears and steel. Semitrucks re-imagined as floating luminescent party wagons, motorized couches on wheels, bizarrely ornamented school buses covered in lights and tinsel and sculptures and messages, blaring electronica and spoken-word poetry and strange vocal music, cruising slowly across the desert at night with small crowds of dancers following, like a hallucination.
I have seen men dangling in cylindrical cages being zapped by wicked electrical lightning volts from a Tesla-like coil, called Dr. Megavolt. I have seen voice-controlled spinning lights and whirling geometric shapes and enormous working see-saws one-hundred-feet long [some ten metres, and riders ended up half that high in the air, too! -Mik.], domed hula-hoop rooms and black-light emporiums and surrealist wedding chapels made of found plastic and resin and light, a life-size wire-steel buffalo and huge laser pyramids and enormous surrealist humanoid figures with single spotlights for eyes, made of wood and cloth, facing each other and pointing long thin fingers menacingly, strangely, beautifully.
I have experienced immersive aural experiences where you're encircled by dozens of small powerful speakers out in the middle of nowhere, stuck like matchsticks in the cracked desert crust, and you lie down and close your eyes and suddenly feel like the ocean waves are crashing at your feet or that you're surrounded by jungle birds or bizarre sound pulses or are being frantically orbited by roaring race cars.
I have seen more exposed genitalia of both genders than at your average porn convention but with zero pretentiousness and even less paranoia or gawking or fear. I have seen naked tai chi and naked yoga and naked dancing and naked bike riding and naked meditation circles and naked painting and naked reading and naked laughing and naked walking around, hanging out, doing nothing in particular.
By the second day I was wearing nothing but a sarong and dust-goggles and silver nail polish and red body glitter and SPF 30 and nothing else, and I was probably overdressed.
I have seen far too many visions and experienced far too many sensory inputs and mental spankings and heartfelt funky communal connections to be able to capture them all in words—and that, I have realized, is much of the point of Burning Man.
It not only defies you to capture its essence, it doesn't care one way or the other, because it's all about being in the moment and letting go and drilling down into what you think you know and realizing you've probably been wrong all along because look over there, isn't that a giant dusty red sailboat on wheels decorated like a giant serpent carrying writhing neo-pagan dancers and a single musician playing an electric cello backed by the beat of tribal drums? Why, yes it is.
Isn't that a [25 metre] high golden lion being slowly pulled across the playa by 400 participants all sweating and cheering and yelling and laughing? Isn't that a two-story flower stuck in the ground, indicating the presence of a makeshift dance club? Isn't that a full-size horse skeleton half-sunk in the dust as if stranded by nomads, out in the middle of the desert, context-free? Yes.
I wore a headlamp at night and you could float a small aircraft carrier on all the water I drank during the week, because after all it is the desert and it was 100 degrees during the day and dehydration is common, and I camped with 15 wonderful and welcoming people who made all the difference in the world, as wonderful and welcoming people always do. You know who you are.
Like everyone else I used a bike as primary transport because that's really the only way to see everything, even though I didn't, because there was just so much, endless displays of creativity and inventiveness, everywhere you turned someone imagining something unique and colorful and anti-establishment and random, yet somehow perfect, simple and amazing and generous and rarely stupid or insulting or thuggish, things you'd never imagine yourself but which you take one look at and say yes, yes of course, that's exactly as it should be.
There was no violence. There was no drunken grunting frat-boy moronism. There was no caste system or hipster scene or dress code or clique mentality. There was no road rage or fighting or guns. There was no sneering or degradation. There was no meanness.
Nearly everyone decorated their tents somehow, even just a little, or put on some sort of show, or held a twisted contest or offered to paint your body or give you a pinwheel or spray you down in red beet juice or serve you a free drink or a free kiss or a free shot of vodka or a free anything, maybe just a free conversation, because at Burning Man there is no commerce, no commercialism whatsoever. [Well, they sell coffee and ice, but that's it, and profits go to a nearby secondary school. -Mik.]
Just a loose barter economy, many thousands of people co-mingling in stress-free ways you never really imagined, with a pure and completely open sort of laid-back, effortless, neighborly energy you never thought possible and by the way it's not all potheads and Deadheads and Phish-heads and nouveau hippie New Age goofballs chanting about pot and patchouli and the Mother Goddess because then it would be annoying and reductive and wrong.
I'm still re-orienting. Still processing. I stayed an extra night and abused my column deadlines and lengthened my recovery time because I wanted to watch the Mausoleum burn Sunday night, because it was by far the most intensely felt structure, the most beautifully wrought artistic work on the playa, created as it was as a memorial to anyone who succumbed to suicide, and also to children who had died of disease. Just doesn't get much more intense than that.
And thousands of BM campers participated in its beauty by inscribing their own highly personal messages of love and sadness and forgiveness on small blocks of wood, which could be placed anywhere in the shrine, or by way of thousands of messages written directly on the inside of its bizarrely, intricately jigsawed walls. The building's torching was the denouement, the quiet and more emotionally wrought apogee to contrast the previous night's celebratory burning of the man. And it burned hot and lucid and exquisite, like poetry.
As one camper who rode up to the event with me commented when I told her it was my first time, she exclaimed to me how excited she was for me, for what I was about to see and feel and experience, and shaking her head in awe, struggling to find the right words, she finally said, "There is nothing else like this happening in our lifetime, anywhere on Earth."
Which may very well be an exaggeration. But somehow I don't think it is.
Cold Stone Creamery
A chain of ice cream parlours in the USA. They have good ice cream and good toppings, and they mush them together on a cold stone, hence the name. It's a favourite hangout for House Dreamland's inhabitants.
The Crepe Vine
A crepe place on Church Street just SoMa in San Francisco, not quite in the Castro but definitely not the Mission either. I don't really like crepes that much but they make good carrot juice.
Down To Earth Confest
A gathering on the banks of the Murray River, on the New South Wales/Victorian border, of ferals and hippies and other cool alterno types. It's one of those "do absolutely anything that you like but respect your neighbours and the environment" sorts of societies that has outdoor meetings and displays and stalls by day and camp fires and community gatherings and bush raves by night.
Apart from the culture, I'm attracted by the exchange of ideas about alternative living and particularly about alternative energy. I haven't been in years, but hopefully next year I'll be able to go back again.
See http://www.dte.org.au/ConFest/ for info about Confest and http://www.dte.org.au/ for info about its organisers, Down To Earth.
An affectionate name for Hope and Sinboy's place in Sunnyvale, so named because the future Dreamland crew already feel so at home there that it's practically a test site.
Harbin Hot Springs
A retreat in the northern half of the Napa Valley in California. Apart from pools of natural hot spring water and associated luxuries like saunas and cold plunges, it features walking trails, camp sites, meditation spaces, a picturesque setting in the mountains and lots of beautiful naked people. A couple of hours from San Francisco, it's a place that I go to to relax. The drive down beautiful Ca-29 afterwards is just as relaxing.
House Dreamland is home to me and my family, Hope, Sinboy and Rose. Our household was started in northern Summer of 2003, and is located in San Francisco. The name comes from the fact that a household like this is something all four of us have dreamed about for years, and the fact that we we all like the B-52s song Dreamland.
House Dreamland is a poly geek house, known for hosting cool parties. It has or will have 802.11, X10, beautiful landscaping and of course a hot tub. We're happy living in San Francisco, but we have plans to eventually move to Sydney or Melbourne, probably in mid-2005.
Forget all your instant messengers and chat rooms and crap, this is what real internet relay chat is. I started back in the days of numbered channels, was a full-blown IRC addict through 1992 and 1993, and have hardly touched the stuff since 1994. Those were the days before AOL and all the other institutions that put clueless dickheads on the internet, when all 'Net users practised netiquette or at least knew what it was, and most netizens were uni students like me.
But even before IRC I was a regular chat user—I participated in chat sessions using dial-up BBSes from the mid 1980s, when all my nerdy friends envied me for having a 2400bps modem (that would be 2.4kbps, or about a twenty-fifth of the speed of any modem you could buy today). So before you tell me that I should get an ICQ account and "discover" online chat, I suggest you check your history books.
A pub with a microbrewery in Berkeley that also makes woodfire pizza. I like to take people there because they cater for all food requirements, for example, they'll use soy cheese on pizza for vegans.
What Americans call a "V.W. bus", the rest of the world calls a Kombi Van. I grew up with one, and many years ago, I put its entire history on my web page. Here's what that page looked like in 1997:
MikZ's kombi, with BatLeese hanging out of the passenger side door.
Photo by me, January 1995, somewhere near Kiama, NSW.
In the last ten years I've been through a hell of a lot of changes, but I've always been driving my big orange 1975 VW Kombi van. I more or less inherited it from my father, who got it when it was less than a year old.
Recently the odometer clicked over 425,000km, and about half of those were done by me. It's no bloody wonder, either—I drive to see people all over Sydney, and I give people lifts home at the drop of a hat. Not that I'm complaining... I just enjoy driving! I've driven to Melbourne and Brisbane a few times each, and lots and lots of trips around New South Wales and the ACT.
It goes by a lot of names. The Arcadians always called it "the dak dak", but the term "pumpkin truck", invented by Skud, has caught on recently. Even the word "Kombi" itself isn't universal—Americans refer to "VW busses", and the modern veedub equivalent is the Transporter. Transporters are nothing like the good old air-cooled Kombis with the engines in the back, though!
Veedubs are loved and loathed by all sorts of people. Personally, I love them, for many reasons. It's great for driving long distances because the seats are higher, so you feel more like you're sitting in a comfortable chair than a car. Its height also means I can see over the tops of cars and get advance warning of dickheads who hog the right lane on the freeway.
Other features in my Kombi include the bar fridge in the back, the rear seat's ability to fold into a quite comfortable double bed, various lights that make it easy to read maps and find things that people drop on the floor, the CB radio which makes driving in convoys easy and fun, a nice set of air horns, a pair of driving lights, a mobile phone connection, a cigarette lighter socket at the end of a lead that's a few metres long, and a "bastard light" at the back. The official function of the bastard light is to facilitate safer reversing at night, but it's also proven to be a great deterrent for tailgaters!
However, the most famous feature is its party lights—twenty-six brightly coloured flashing lights, just the thing to keep a party going on the way home. It's used to be equipped with a PA speaker, but that sort of died. I'll get it working again eventually, though, because I had it rigged to make dog noises which confused canines that hung their heads out of car windows, and farm animal noises which confused drugfucked Darlinghurst party goers early on Sunday mornings.
A brief history of the dak dak
1975: It would've rolled off a production line in Germany somewhere. All the other Kombis probably laughed at it since the steering wheel was on the other side. It didn't matter though, because it enjoyed a nice cruise to Australia.
1977: My dad bought it off some bloke in Seaforth NSW, a suburb on Sydney's Northern Beaches which was mainly inhabited by yuppie hippies. No, it wasn't painted with peace symbols and flowers, it was still its original yellow colour.
1981: We had it sprayed its present orange and cream colour. It will eventually need to be resprayed... I think I'll get it done in a dark metallic purple.
1985: Dad bought his Toyota Cressida. Over the next few years the Kombi was only used to take stuff to the tip, and for the occasional camping trip.
1988: A very bad year for the dak dak. Its respectable yellow and black HNM-919 number plate was replaced by one of those daggy NSW bicentennial number plates. The plate read AAS-766—could be worse I suppose. But something worse did happen! Dad started teaching me to drive in it! It was nearly a year before I could legally start learning to drive, but since we were doing it in some back streets in Homebush Bay, it didn't matter. Back then Homebush Bay was an industrial area which was totally dead on the weekends. Now it's the site of Sydney's Olympic Park.
1989: The dak dak was used to help me move house from Top Ryde to Baulkham Hills. The dog was really pissed off. In summer I got my P plates, which meant I was allowed to drive! Oh no!!
1990: My final year of high school. I didn't like high school much, so one day I went for a drive instead. Some friends and I got onto the F3 freeway and we hit 160km/h on the Mooney Mooney Bridge. The dak dak's speedometer only goes to 150, and we found out later that the oil cap wasn't even on! Not only that, but I was on my P's until December of that year, so really I was only allowed to drive 80! The best bit was when I decided to take a 15km/h exit with about 400m notice... yes, I made it, without even the slightest screech of rubber.
1991: One of the cylinders decided to escape from the engine block, so we needed a new engine. Sheesh, and I looked after it so well!
1992: I did an advanced driver training course. In my opinion, everyone should do such a course. By the end of the day I'd taken a third off my stopping distance, and learned a lot about cornering and driver awareness. It was also the scene of some spectacular stunts, like the Kombi driving on two wheels for a few metres...
1994: The odometer clocked for the third time, meaning the dak dak had gone 300,000km. Fittingly, there was a group of Arcadians in the back to help celebrate. Did I mention that the Arcadians sometimes referred to the dak dak as "Arcadian Bus Lines"?
1995: Over the six months leading up to the day I left for America for the first time, the dak dak travelled 16,000km. Over the six months that I was in America, it only travelled 160. Okay, so Dad drove it 99% less than I usually do, but I'm sure the dak dak appreciated the rest!
1996: Back in Australia, clocking up the kilometres again. I drove to Melbourne for the second time, this time with M in the summer, and again in the winter for Skud's 21st.
1997: Although my driving these days is a lot calmer than it was as an adolescent, mechanical problems do crop up from time to time. My savings over February were consumed by my mechanic's overpriced incompetence. Now I've found a new mechanic in Pendle Hill who I'm very happy with.
In the winter I drove to Brisbane again for the Queer Collaborations conference, and I've made several trips to Canberra. Oh yeah, and there was the drive to Down to Earth Confest by the banks of the Murray River in the summer, before my savings disappeared.
1998 and beyond: Realistically, I probably won't be taking the kombi with me to the USA when I move there. When I return, though, I'm hoping to make the Kombi a little more eco-friendly. I'm sure electric engines will have made some leaps and bounds by that time, but since I do a lot of out-of-town driving, that may not be suitable. Maybe hydrogen will be available easily enough by then. At the very least I'll convert to LP gas. It won't be easy, but it's something I believe in strongly enough to be patient for.
My parents have been looking after it since then. I will return to Australia later this year, and I definitely do want to keep it on the road. The eco-friendly idea is a real one, and part of an overall restoration. But I'm not sure how this will work in practice, with me living in California for the majority of at least the next few years. I'll have to see.
A health resort in Santa Cruz, California, just over the mountains from the South Bay. It has outdoor hot tubs, a cold plunge, a sauna, and massages. It's close by, beautiful and reasonably priced.
Lucky 13 is a pub in the Castro, at 2140 Market Street near Church Street. It's about a ten-minute stagger from the house on Castro Street that I lived in in 2001, and even closer to where my friend Christine was living at the time, so I often met her there for a few beers. Apart from the Bank Hotel in Newtown, where the Sydney Bisexual Network would often meet for social gatherings, Lucky 13 is the only pub in the world that I've patronised more than a handful of times. I hence bought the T-shirt.
gayglobal.com accurately states that the place has a "20-/30-something hip bohemian very mixed gay/lesbian/bisexual/straight crowd" and that they "play Grunge-Alternative music that appears to be loud but is in fact low enough for lots of conversation to take place". The music is the main thing I like about the place, actually, but I also like the friendly crowd and the Grunge/Goth decor and the variety of drinks and the tall, voluptuous barmaid who works there sometimes.
I reckon that the neighbourhood around Ninth Avenue and Irving Street in San Francisco has the City's best food, and Park Chow can provide a nice all-round sample. I am grateful to Rae for introducing me to it, and others have expressed their gratitude to me for showing it to them.
"What kind of food do they serve?" you may ask. The answer that Hope once gave someone sums it up the best: "Yes". They have a bit of everything, and everything is very good. Their menu changes seasonally, but I highly recommend the lasagna at any time of year, and you can't leave without trying their vanilla bean ice cream with chocolate fudge.
BTW, they are owned by the same mob that runs Chow on Church Street, but Park Chow is better.
Poly Pool Parties are pool parties mostly for members of the SF-Bay Poly internet mailing list. They happen every few months in the East Bay, have scores of cool attendees, and are clothing-optional.
QC is a national annual queer student conference that occurs in different Australian cities every year. I attended the Brisbane conference in 1994, the Perth conference in 1996 and the Brisbane conference in 1997. My University of Western Sydney because I had various GLBT-related positions at the time, either as sexuality officer (like a women's officer only for GLBT students) or as a representative of the campus queer group.
QC is a week-long forum where queer students talk radical queer theory by day and party by night. Every year that I went, I came back with all of my feelings and opinions of queer theory spinning around my head, and it took months for them to settle back into place. I also got to meet a lot of cool people through QC, and I still keep in touch with some of them.
QC is one of the things that makes university great, and why I never complained about paying my student union dues.
The Rabbit Warren
The Rabbit Warren is the home of the family known as the Rabbits and has become somewhat of a Poly/Pagan community centre in the East Bay. It's really just a suburban house in the Richmond Annex, but it features a library, a spa, and some nice views of the Bay. Rarely a month goes by where I don't visit the Rabbits at least once, and sometimes I'm there almost weekly.
The Rabbits are an interesting bunch, so I suggest you spend a couple of minutes browsing their web site, despite the clunky URL.
San Francisco is vibrant with sexuality—you can practically feel it when you walk down the street. I therefore don't understand why people are surprised when they find out parties like Sheets (not the real name) happen in the City. They happen all the time, actually, at dozens of different venues.
Sheets' venue is a big, beautiful house in the Mission District, with plush, comfortable, carpeted rooms on the ground and first floor, a huge dungeon on the lower-ground floor, fountains and a big hot tub in the back yard, and a couple of extravagant multi-headed showers. I don't consider it a swing club because it's not focused on heterosexual male sexuality, and it therefore attracts a completely different crowd. It's the diversity of the crowd that makes me go there a few times per year and meet such attractive and interesting people.
The Small World Brunch was a function held in San Francisco in January 2002. It was a gathering of scores of people from dozens of countries around the world, in the spirit of international friendship. Some money was raised and it went to local charaties, as a way for expats to give back to the local community.
Although the brunch didn't have participants from 100 countries as hoped, it was a successful event. It is hoped that more will be organised in the future.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras started as a 1978 gay
rights demonstration, and has evolved into a month-long festival
that climaxes with the world's largest GLBT parade.
The good news: Mardi Gras has helped bring mainstream Australia
in touch with GLBT culture, and in my view played a big role in the
advancement of rights and respect for same-sex relationships in
this country. It brings dozens of cultural and community events to
Sydney, including theatre, film, the Mardi Gras fair, charity
events, and of course the parade. I last went in the parade in
1998, and at that time there were tens of thousands of participants
and some 800,000 spectators, despite the rain. It is Sydney's
largest annual event, and leads to road closure signs being placed
on freeways several kilometres outside of the City, proving that
hot pink actually does look good on highway yellow. It's also a big
tourist dollar earner, hence the regular open-armed endorsements by
State and Federal governemtns.
The bad news: The event's organisers, Sydney Gay and Lesbian
Mardi Gras Inc., have had a history of being conservative,
city-centric and biphobic. While the words "and bisexual"
were appearing in the names of events and GLBT organisations in
most of the rest of the world, SGLMG Inc. were creating bilaws to
make it more difficult for bisexuals to join the organisation. This
denied many bisexuals voting rights, a voice in the organisation of
the event, and the ability to buy tickets for the semiannual
30,000-people dance parties. Furthermore, throughout the late 1980s
and 90s, Mardi Gras headed more in the direction of promoting the
glitzy Gayandlesbian identity than being a positive force in the
push for same-sex relationships rights. Mainstream Australia, like
it or not, turns to Mardi Gras when they want the opinion of GLBT
Australia, and many people feel that Mardi Gras is out of touch
with that community.
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Inc. went bankrupt in 2002,
but they were quickly bailed out. This has cleared the way for
change; it remains to be seen what kind of changes actually take
Sydney Bisexual Network
SBN, as its name suggests, is a network of bisexuals in Sydney.
It started as a mutation of a group called "Love Is
Boundless", which was a queer Anarchist group. (The Anarchists
actually weren't in favour of the change in direction at all, but
being anarchists, they weren't prepared to vote on the matter. But
that was in 1992, before I even really knew what an Anarchist was.)
The group has gone through a few encarnations since then, and I was
actively involved with the group for its first five years.
The group spent many years trying to be a social group
and a support group and a political group. It
didn't succeed very well at doing all three, and because of fear of
losing numbers, people were resistant to allowing special interest
groups to sprout off. The group fell apart some time in 1998, but
by the turn of the century it had reformed, mostly a social
Despite its internal conflicts, SBN has achieved much over the
years. It kept the bisexual movement alive in Sydney's "Gay
and Lesbian" community, particularly in the early 1990s,
despite it rubbing against the grain of conservative, biphobic
groups like the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the organisers of
the Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi
Gras. Since its inception, the group has helped
put a bisexual entry in each of Mardi Gras' parades. There's also
little doubt that the group helped many people come to terms with
their sexuality, either by providing links to resources and
literature, or simply by being a group of like-minded people.
I gained a lot from being involved with SBN, or SBSN as it was
once called. I developed people and communication skills by
facilitating meetings and producing newsletters, and being involved
helped me build my confidence and self-respect, especially in the
early 90s. Most of my work as an activist has been through SBN, and
I like to think that that work has made a difference. The group has
certainly made a difference for me.
X10 is a protocol used for controlling lights and appliances in the home. You basically plug lights and appliances into these little units around the house, and you can control them with remote controls or your computer. The on/off/dim/whatever signals are sent by radio frequencey to a receiver unit, and it encodes them and sends them along house wiring to receiver units which control the lights or whatever.
When I'm in the U.S, I'm absolutely hooked on X10. I control all of my lights and fountains and my stereo and all that with a remote control keypad, and I had different coloured lights in my room so I can set the mood according to how I feel. You can get the stuff pretty cheaply through X10.com and SmartHome.com—the former has better specials and the latter has better regular prices. Yes, X10 are the people who make those annoying pop-under ads, but you can control how much spam they send you via e-mail.
Right now I'm not receiving any spam from them at all, because I've turned it off. I'm in Europe, and those two web sites only sell the 110V versions, which are only suitable for the U.S. and a handful of other countries. X10 for 240V is much more expensive, so I haven't splashed out on it yet. But I will—I've become so used to controlling all my lights this way in the U.S. that I'll have a hard time living without it when I'm elsewhere.