United Airlines’ use of language demonstrates what a deadshit company it is

Everyone is horrified by how United Airlines has treated a paying passenger it decided to kick off a plane after he had boarded. One minor but chilling aspect of the horror? How United’s own comments abuse what language actually means to try and justify its shitty behaviour.

The two standout examples of United spin:

  • The tweet from United suggests that it had to “re-accommodate” customers. That is not what the phrase means.
  • The letter sent to staff talks about how United “denied boarding” for the passenger. As the video makes clear, he had already boarded and been assigned a seat, before some late-running crew were given priority. To suggest this equals “denying boarding” is Orwellian in its warping of reality.

No, this doesn’t suck as much as an already crappy US airline deciding to use government-funded forces to make a passenger bleed as it drags him off the plane because it’s too cheap to organise proper staff rosters. But it underscores why no sane person would ever fly with United again. Your ticket literally isn’t worth the paper it’s (possibly) printed on.

Update: the sequel apology was equally crap, including the phrase “No-one should ever be mistreated this way.” Mistreated in any other way would be OK then, right?

Update: I ended up writing a longer version of this for Lifehacker.

Cootamundra West Railway Station: how did that happen?

Another addition to the list of regional towns in NSW that once had more than one station: Cootamundra. With two hours to kill between trains in Cootamundra yesterday, I decided to check out Cootamundra West.

Cootamundra West was the first station on the branch line from Cootamundra to Lake Cargelligo, which opened in stages from 1893 to 1917. While the line had been built as far as Temora in 1893, Cootamundra West itself didn’t open until 22 March 1911, according to NSWrail.net. Given that Cootamundra’s main station is just 20 minutes walk away, it’s not entirely surprising that building a second station in town wasn’t the top priority.

The initial station must have been little more than a halt. The current building was announced in 1916 and opened in 1918. Here’s the announcement of the plans:

The double-story building (apparently now used by local community groups) is very substantial, and there’s still a signalling cabin on the platform as well.

At the time the station was constructed, trains from the branch line were not going to intersect with the main line at all. If you wanted to travel to Temora or Lake Cargelligo, Cootamundra West would be your only choice. The daily mail train usually only went as far as Temora, while services for West Wyalong and Griffith would use the line from Cootamundra West to Stockinbingal. Lake Cargelligo services always seem to have been less frequent.

The original services carried both freight and passengers in what must have been very basic trains. In 1938, diesel began replacing steam on the line and passenger-only services began. However, even before that station usage appears to have been dropping.

On 25 May 1930, the refreshment rooms were closed, with contemporary newspaper reports noting that the Temora mail train would now stop at Cootamundra West if required, but would otherwise continue on to Cootamundra’s main station.

1938 also saw a widely reported accident for the station’s gatekeeper, Mrs Williams:

One imagines Mrs Williams lived in the house that’s still adjacent to the level crossing (on the left in this picture):

In 1949, there was a proposal to convert the station building into accommodation for railway workers (reportedly, eight railway families were forced to live in tents because of a lack of housing in Cootamundra). While that didn’t happen, this suggests that even at that point the station itself was not being heavily used.

The Secretary for Railways apparently was concerned about the viability of these services by 1950, threatening to withdraw modern trains from country services if patrongage didn’t increase. Those threats don’t seem to have inspired more custom. In 1951, in a further mark of how usage of the line had deteroriated, some diesel passenger services were indeed removed, with those services reverting to steam.

In 1952, the assistant stationmaster at Cootamundra West retired after 42 years working for the railways. It’s tempting to assume that the role wasn’t replaced.

While this was once a busy double-tracked junction, it’s now just a single line. The rails for the second line have long since been removed, but some sleepers remain.

Passenger services on the line were withdrawn in 1983, and these days the main use for the line is for freight which is routed through Stockinbingal to the cross-country line to Parkes and beyond, thus keeping the main southern and western lines less congested. At Cootamundra West, congestion isn’t going to be a problem.

Orange East Fork: The most basic railway station in NSW

Declining railway usage means that very few towns in NSW outside Sydney now have more than one operating railway station. This wasn’t always the case: Tamworth, Grafton, Coffs Harbour and Casino all once had multiple stations (Tamworth/West Tamworth, Grafton/South Grafton, Coffs Harbour/North Coffs Harbour and Casino/South Casino respectively).

Until recently, the only current example that readily sprung into my mind was Maitland, which has four: Maitland, High Street, Victoria Street and East Maitland. You might sensibly argue, though, that the Hunter Line which serves these stations is really part of the Sydney metropolitan network.

However, there is still one prominent regional town which has two stations: Orange. The main station is a heritage-listed Victorian building constructed in 1877 when the newly-extended Main Western Railway reached the city. Eventually that line was extended all the way to Bourke, though passenger services are now restricted to a single daily service between Sydney and Dubbo.

In 1885 construction began on the Broken Hill line, which branched from Orange. To enable that, a triangular junction was created south of the existing station. That meant that while trains heading west to Parkes and Broken Hill pass through Orange, they don’t actually go through Orange station.

In 2017 there are only two passenger trains which use the Broken Hill line. The first is the once-a-week Outback Xplorer (introduced in 1996), which runs from Sydney to Broken Hill on Mondays and then returns on Tuesdays. These days, the Outback Xplorer does stop at Orange station proper, reversing out of the platform and then passing through the junction on the westbound journey, and reversing into the platform on the return.

The second is the rather more glamorous (and expensive) Indian Pacific, which currently runs once a week between Sydney and Perth. While you wouldn’t know it from looking at the official web site, you can book to join or leave the Indian Pacific in Orange. However, the Indian Pacific doesn’t reverse in and out of Orange Station. Instead, any intending passengers use Orange East Fork, an utterly bare-bones single platform located on the south-eastern side of the junction.

I think this can fairly lay claim to being the most basic operating station in NSW. It’s not unusual for stations to be reduced in size to reduce maintenance costs (Sawtell on the North Coast Line being one obvious example). Some of the Hunter Line stations are literally only wide enough for a single pair of doors. I visited and videoed one of them, Mindaribba, back in 2014:

While Mindaribba is smaller than Orange East Fork, it does have a loudspeaker for announcements, a help point and (these days) an Opal card reader. Orange East Fork boasts no such luxuries. There’s a basic shelter, and a lamp, and that is it.

It may not have always been like this, however. According to NSWrail.net, the station in its current form opened on 1 May 1970, which makes sense, since the Indian Pacific begun running in February of that year.

However, Orange East Fork was a stopping point long before the Indian Pacific launched. Below, for instance, is part of the timetable for the Sydney-Broken Hill train back in 1927, when the service was first introduced, complete with a stop at Orange East Fork:

Even in 1927, locals were already campaigning for the Broken Hill service to stop at Orange station, a complaint which appears to have recurred over the years.

I haven’t yet been able to discover whether Orange East Fork once had a more prominent platform. Prior to 1970, it may well have been nothing more than a platform-free halt where passengers could board or disembark if required, something that modern safety practices frown upon but which was much more common in earlier eras.

However, the area was quite busy. A rail depot was constructed near the junction in the 1930s, at a cost of £42,970. In the 1940s, Orange East Fork was big enough to have a station master and an assistant, but as the main focus was freight, this wouldn’t necessarily mean the provision of a platform. In 1952, it was the site of a particularly grim incident:

Further digging reveals that as late as 2002, the Outback Xplorer train was still using Orange East Fork, rather than Orange, as its local stop. A local campaign to have the train stop at Orange was rejected, with the argument that it would add 30 minutes to the journey time. That same argument had been used back in 1927, but clearly at some point between 2002 and now, the approach changed, and Orange East Fork became even less prominent.

With only the Indian Pacific now using it (Google Maps even lists the location as Indian Pacific-Orange), I can’t imagine Orange East Fork sees much action. The Indian Pacific no longer offers economy seating, so it wouldn’t be a practical budget alternative for anyone looking to travel by train to (for instance) Broken Hill on a day other than a Monday. So only the very occasional wealthy tourist is likely to take advantage.

It would seem the most active day for the station is when the once-a-year Elvis Express special service to Parkes for its renowned Elvis Festival passes through. In 2014, the mayor of Parkes Shire even boarded the service at the station.

Local paper the Central Western Daily tweeted me to say that this is a regular occurrence, though a cursory search suggests that the stop isn’t always part of the official Elvis Express timetable.

Online searches also suggest that the nearby depot, abandoned for railway use once all steam services were stopped, has been proposed as a hub for running heritage stream services, though nothing seems to have come of these ideas and a major fire at the depot earlier this year would seem to put a damper on any future plans. Under the circumstances, it seems unlikely Orange East Fork is ever going to get fancier.

Some random thoughts on George Michael

Wham!’s Make It Big was the first album I was properly obsessed with, from the minute I purchased it in my local Kmart (price: $11.84). I knew every word, every note, every beat, every song writing credit, every nuance. I timed exactly how long each song ran and designed an insert to go inside the tape cover.


I’m obsessed enough that not only do I own every Wham! album and every George Michael album on CD (and I wrote an extremely detailed guide to which Wham! tracks hadn’t yet made it to CD), I even have Andrew Ridgeley’s solo album on CD, and all the accompanying singles.

George’s career had so many stages: boyband pop prodigy, brooding solo star, fighting with his record company, unexpectedly outed, latter-day poster child for pop stardom on your own terms. You know what’s sad about that? You so rarely got the impression he was happy. Ever-introspective, every interview seemed to show him regretting what had happened previously. He bought so much pleasure to others, I hope he found some peace for himself.

Here’s a trailer for the high school cannibal bushranger video I was in

In 1986, history class 9H1 at Armidale High School had to make a video with a bushranger theme, so we chose Alexander Pearce, the Tasmanian cannibal. But why focus on cannibals when you can also stage a Dynasty-style fight between two whores called Linda Lovelips and Camel Tits? For the first time in 30 years, here’s the trailer for this epic video project, which we gave the ludicrous title of The Hunger Of The Desperate and graced with some terrible acting, editing and special effects. I might put the full version up at some stage . . .

What happened to my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel?

Anyone observing my Twitter feed recently will have noticed that I haven’t tweeted about the NaNoWriMo challenge, where you try and write an entire novel of 50,000 words or more, since the middle of the month, when I hit the halfway mark. So what’s happened?
The short version: I’m no longer trying to finish writing the novel this month, but unlike some of my previous abandoned attempts, I do intend to finish the novel.
The longer version: by the time I reached the halfway mark, it had became evident that there were two factors that meant that this wasn’t necessarily going to work as a #NaNoWriMo novel.
(1) I’m really happy with the voice and tone I’ve developed for the narrator, but it’s slow work to write. Reaching the 1700 words I need each day and maintaining that tone has been a challenge. Even though this year I knew most of my plot in advance, any advantage from that has been more than offset by the speed with which I can actually write it. It’s not a matter of writer’s block; it just takes much longer than my usual writing speed.
(2) It has become evident from what I’ve written that this is not a story that’s going to be contained within 50,000 words. Based on where it’s at right now, I suspect it will need to be 80,000 words at least. That’s actually a more typical length for a novel, but there’s no way I would be able to hit that target in November, especially at the speed I’ve actually been writing.
I’m a purist: I don’t think you’ve done NaNoWriMo properly unless you actually complete the whole draft. In my mind, you can’t just have 50,000 words of an incomplete work and say you’ve finished the challenge. So it simply doesn’t make sense for me to treat this book as a NaNoWriMo project. It’s now just a project I’m continuing to work on.
When I’ve succeeded at NaNoWriMo, I’ve usually posted the first chapter or the blurb online (see my efforts from 2015, 2011 and 2010). I can’t do that here now, but I will when, eventually, I finish it. Not going to set myself a deadline for that just yet.

What’s the maximum score you can get in Yahtzee?

In the real world, any score above 300 is a good result in Yahtzee. But what’s the absolute maximum you can score? By my calculation, it’s 1,575.

Here’s the sequence of gameplay that generates that score. Remember that you score an additional 100 points for every Yahtzee (five numbers the same), and you can use that Yahtzee as a wild card for any other category (including ones where a Yahtzee wouldn’t technically be a result that fits, such as a straight).

Round Throw Score as Score Notes
1 5 x 6 Yahtzee 50 Any Yahtzee would do
2 5 x 1 1 105 100 bonus points for each additional Yahtzee
3 5 x 2 2 110
4 5 x 3 3 115
5 5 x 4 4 120
6 5 x 5 5 160 Includes 35 bonus points for >63 at top
7 5 x 6 6 130
8 5 x 6 3 of a kind 130 Maximum points with all sixes
9 5 x 6 4 of a kind 130 Maximum points with all sixes
10 5 x 6 Full house 125 Any Yahtzee would do
11 5 x 6 Small straight 130 Any Yahtzee would do
12 5 x 6 Large straight 140 Any Yahtzee would do
13 5 x 6 Chance 130 Maximum points with all sixes
Total 1,575
Average/round 121.2

What’s the probability of this happening? The chance of getting any one specific result in Yahtzee on a single throw is 1 in 7776. The chance of that happening 13 times in a row is 1 in 3.80042E+50, as Excel would put it. In other words, don’t hang round waiting.

The IKEA design that includes a nose ring

No, I’m not making that up. On Monday (5 September), the new IKEA SVÄRTAN range goes on sale in Australian stores. It’s a “limited edition” (an odd concept for IKEA, I know), produced as a collaboration between designer Martin Bergström and students from India’s National Institute of Fashion and Technology. While many Indian-themed collections focus on bright patterns and colours, this one has a darker and more windswept feel. Not necessarily going to match with all my more traditional IKEA stuff (I’m all about black, white and red in big blocks), but it looks quite impressive.


Anyway, many of the metal bowl-shaped items have a hole in them, because (per the press kit) in traditional Indian production methods, that hole would be used so the bowl could hang up to dry after painting. And so (also per the press kit) “Martin decided to put a replica of his nose ring into the hole and made it part of the design itself”. I can’t decide whether this is a genuine selling point or not.

These are the few words I said at my grandfather Fin’s funeral today

Truthfully, it’s hard to come up with something sensible to say about Fin. The first reason is that he was a man of few words. It seems wrong to offer hundreds of words in tribute to someone who thought just a few dozen words were more than enough for the remarkable occasion of his 100th birthday.

The second reason relates to that. Fin lived for over 100 years. He had a perspective that none of us are ever likely to match. How on earth are you supposed to sum up all that living, all that change, all those things that happened? It seems hard enough to live through it, let all alone try to capture it.

But somewhere in there is the clue. Fin made a success of his life because he always knew exactly who he was. In ten decades of living, he never let what other people thought get in the way of what he knew was the right thing to do at that moment. He had a certainty about his life that I can only envy.

And his life threw up a lot of challenges. Fin wasn’t even three months old when his father, George Kidman, passed away. George never saw his son; he was on the road for a droving job in Queensland when Fin was born in 1915.

I often think about that. However tough we might find Fin’s passing, we all had a good chunk of 100 years of him. He never even had 100 seconds with his own father.

Yet he had a loving family, always. From his mother, Isabella; to his aunts Kate and Sheila, absolute rocks of his young life; to his wives, his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren, his in-laws, everyone along every branch. And he inspired that same devotion in others.

We knew he was there, always, in this house in Darlington, watering his garden, a man of routine. What had to be done was done.

Fin embraced certainty. He was always certain himself. And sometimes certainty meant doing things that other people might judge too difficult, too uncertain.

He was the first member of his family to go to university, but also the first to decide that wasn’t the right path for him. He married and had a child, but when that marriage faltered, he didn’t let 1950s morality trap him.

Nor did he let that stop him expanding his family when he married again. When new branches were added, he accepted that, accepted them, and kept going. There was no question, he was certain: that was the right thing to do.

So what’s the right thing to do today? To acknowledge a man who has been a huge part of all our lives; to celebrate all that he brought to us; and to recognise that even if he is no longer with us, his memories will live on with us forever. Of that much, even I am absolutely certain.