Tue 21

That’s 2004, then

Max Christmas is a deeply sacred holiday in Australia, because its arrival signals that it’s time to put aside daily trivialities and focus on what Aussies really care about: sun, sport, and lying around not doing much. I am partaking in this by making a pilgrimage to Perth, and since Western Australia doesn’t have electricity, this will be my last blog of the year.

Thanks to everyone who’s visited my site in 2004—this blogging thing has been very cool. I wasn’t sure what the hell I was doing in the beginning, or whether posting regular updates to my site would quickly get boring. I don’t know about you, but I’m still having fun, so I’ll be back in 2005.

P.S. Okay, okay, Western Australia has electricity.

Thu 16

My Favorite Hooker

Max I was reading my local community magazine and came to the classified column “Adult Services.” There weren’t many to choose from, so apparently (a) I live in a morally upright suburb, and (b) it’s a sellers’ market. Still, I decided to critique their marketing efforts: If I was buying, which hooker would I hire?

Sexy, friendly, mid-30s, blonde

I like that she’s “friendly.” The last thing I’d want when I’ve hired a prostitute is for her to be rude or standoffish. Although maybe I’m reading that wrong; maybe you get her around to your house but when you try to get frisky, she says, “I’m sorry… I just don’t want to ruin the friendship.” I’m also a little wary about that “mid-30s”: is that her age or birthdate?

Try a sensual male body rub by attractive young guy.

Hmm, I need to be a lot more than “curious” about bisexuality before the idea of a sensual body rub from an attractive young guy sounds appealing. I think I’d have to have some pretty firm opinions.

Affectionate mid 30’s Blonde. Prefers men 50’s+

So if I open the door, Vanessa’s face will fall with disappointment. That’s no good. I have to say, though, I’m surprised that someone so picky about who she sleeps with has chosen this career path. I feel bad for Vanessa; I imagine life is quite the challenge.


All good words. But to me the ad suggests a lack of imagination; like whoever wrote it doesn’t really know what she should be doing. She comes over, you get naked, then she just starts awkwardly poking your chest.

Uni Student. Visit You. $250/hour.

That sounds like a lot of money just for a visit. I hope that includes some sex. But why is Angel telling me she’s a student? Will she need to get some studying done while she’s over? Is she prone to holding forth on socialism? It’s almost as if she’s suggesting that Uni Students who have sex are rare and exotic. She’s obviously not staying at my old dorm.

Faith Paradise
Cheeky Private Blonde 23 Credit Cards.

We have a winner! First, I am a sucker for wacky names, and “Faith Paradise” is even better than “Juliette Private”. She’s cheeky (that’s a plus), private (won’t tell everyone the next day), and, apparently, has 23 credit cards! So if the sex didn’t go well, we could chat about consumerism. Perfect!

Fri 10

Max interviews Ellis

Max A while ago, someone called Ellis started writing to me. The first e-mail was in August, in response to this blog about people who start posts with “Um…” It read, in full:

Do you have any pets?

Soon Ellis was sending me e-mails after almost every blog. Sometimes they were comments on what I’d written, like this response to my hope to be hired as Syrup screenwriter:

You would probably be good at a screen play, I have heard that blogger typically are better at that genre.

Sometimes I had to think really hard before I got the connection, like this response to my blog about the Internet Writers Workshop:

The meaning of life is in essence, sex. The whole point of our species is to reporduce and evolve, these are done through sex.

Sometimes they were questions:

What about you, what do you search for (outside of your web site?)

Sometimes they were bizarre:

I am making my graduation suit compleatly out of duct tape, I will send pictures when I make it.

And frequently they were about animals:

Mr. Max, do you have any pets?

I have two cats and a kitten, they are all cute, the cats are fat but the kitten is fluffy and thin.

The other day I thought: I have to find out who this guy is. So I e-mailed Ellis and asked if I could interview him. He agreed, and I sent him three initial questions:

From: Max
To: Ellis

  1. So who ARE you?
  2. How did you find my site?
  3. I get quite a few people who write to me about one blog in particular, but you write to me about practically all of them. How come? Do you write to other bloggers or am I special?

Ellis replied:

From: Ellis
To: Max

  1. I am an American eighth grader currently living in San Francisco, California. Most of my time is spent singing, I have been in three San Francisco Operas four local operas. I take private voice lessons and sing in a choir listed as being better than SF boys chorus. My spare time is spent either reading (but mostly) playing on the computer and learning how to program. That pretty much who I am, not anything REALLY interesting.
  2. I found nationstates through my brother (secllia) and followed the links from nationstates to your site ( and then explored the site until I found the news letter and subscribed.
  3. Why do I write so many of them? Well, when ever something catches my eye I write back, usually about a random statement taken out of context that relates to what I am currently thinking and I write back about it (I don’t know how I connected to the time I told you I was making my graduation suit out of duct tape, but I wrote that because I just made a duct tape wallet). And yes you are special (in more ways than one :-) I don’t do this to other bloggers I read.

I wrote back:

From: Max
To: Ellis

Wow, I’ve never even seen an opera, and here you are singing in them. Not only that, but you make duct tape wallets. That’s plenty interesting. I have three more questions:

  1. Do you have a web site? I think you should. Your kind of random comment is perfect for a blog. And then *I* could leave comments for *you*.
  2. If you sing in a boys’ choir, does that mean that when your voice breaks they kick you out and your career is over? Or will you one day be playing the leading role and releasing a range of CDs?
  3. What are the advantages of the duct tape wallet? Why not, say, leather?

Ellis snapped back:

From: Ellis
To: Max

  1. I unfortunately don’t have a web site because my parent won’t let me, but I have found some places to set up on the sly. I would definitely like to get messages from you, you might be a little more interesting in private.
  2. When my voice changes I get to go to the older group till I am 18, then its life on the streets. I plan to go to school of the arts in my area so that by the time I am 18 I will be able to go to a good music collage. And yes, someday soon I will be recording.
  3. Duct tape over leather, one, duct tape is cheaper, I needed to carry around ID and money and starbucks cards. Two, upgradeable, just recently I needed a sperate clear slip for my ID, so I just duct taped on a piece of clear plastic, you try doing that with a leather wallet and still have it look cool and leathery! Third, no animals were hurt to produce it.

Damn, how awesome is Ellis? If he gets that web site up, I am definitely linking to it. And remember: you heard about him here first.

Sun 21

Looking for something?

Max Any time I need cheering up, I check out my web stats to see what people were searching for when they visited my site. Most search terms are sensible enough, like “jennifer government”, but then there’s a long list of ones that… aren’t so much. These are funny for two reasons: first, that—quite by accident—these words do actually appear on one of my web pages, and secondly, imagining the look of disappointment on these people’s faces when they end up here instead of a page of, for example, “naked people telling the news”.

Here are my favorite search terms from the past few months:

  • heroic things drew barrymore has done
  • pictures of women smashing up things wearing high heels
  • jennifer lopez has tattoos where
  • what is the government of italy called
  • her sexy long legs are perfect for head locks
  • help avoiding assholes
  • a newspaper article on koalas only saying care for our koalas
  • results of a study about where pop stars go or hang out
  • deleted scenes from ninja turtles the movie
  • sneeze or sneezed or sneezes or sneezing bless you
  • the main reason why the government has a website
  • lyrics german ooh la la ooh la la
  • still looking for that marvel comic book with all the marvel women in bathing suits

There’s an especially long list of search terms involving Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, just because I wrote that one bit about them. Most of these are as distasteful as you’d imagine, but others are… well, take a look:

  • girls that look exactly like mary-kate and ashley
  • what kind of jeans do mary-kate and ashley olsen like?
  • which one is mary kate

Then there are two that are distasteful, but too bizarre to pass up:

  • mary kate and ashley olsen naked pics without bras
  • mary-kate and ashley jennifer government sex

There are plenty of people looking for naked pictures of Mary-Kate and Ashley, but this first guy went to the special effort of specifying that they be naked without bras. Clever. Then someone was apparently interested in whether the Olsen twins had ever engaged in hanky-panky with a character I made up. You know that line between fantasy and reality? Right, exactly: you do. This guy doesn’t.

Wed 10

A perfect plan

Max Max basks in the cool satisfaction of having pushed himself to his limit for no good reason I know you’re dying to know whether I made it around that 10km/6mi course without medical assistance, so: yes! This pic is of me just after the race, and if you’re wondering about that smile on my face, it’s due to the endorphins—I declined to test the benefits of Vaseline. My time was 1 hour 1 minute and 19 seconds, which I was very happy with; so happy, in fact, that as soon as I’d attained it, I tried to faint. But a table was kind enough to catch me and then I realized it would be a good idea to drink some water.

I’m kind of addicted to running now, but a little worried about whether it’ll get in the way of my writing. For the last few years I’ve had a routine of falling out of bed and into my chair in the study, where I start typing more or less whatever’s in my head. This has worked better than you might expect, so I’m leery of postponing that crucial time when I start thinking about stories. But a run first thing in the morning helps me, too.

Today I decided to try something new. I got up, turned on my computer, and read over the last page or so of Company, which is what I’m currently working on. Once the scene was fresh in my mind, I laced up my shoes and headed out the door. I live on top of a hill, and have been advised that if I run down hills my knees will explode on my 40th birthday, so I did a fast walk for six or seven minutes, mulling over the novel. It was all working nicely: I was having some good thoughts, and still getting my exercise.

Then I reached the bottom of the hill and started to run. I took two steps and looked down. I wasn’t wearing my sneakers. I was wearing my casual shoes.

Sun 07

Ask Max

Max I’m doing an online interview this Saturday/Sunday, so if you want to ask/demand/accuse me of something without waiting 20 weeks for a response via e-mail, now’s your chance. It’s run by the NationStates moderators, but open to anyone who can figure out IRC. If that’s you, I’ll be in the #nationstates channel on this weekend; for the time where you live, here’s the World Clock. And if you’re wondering what it’ll be like, the answer is this.

Speaking of interviews, there’s a new one with me up at I did this about 6 months ago, but the guy only recently gotten around to posting it, so my answers are new and surprising even to me.

Mon 18

Retrospective #3: Canadian election testicles

Max First, thanks to those people who wrote to me about testicles. I have been running for two months now without noticing any gonad-related issues, but now I know I’m the exception. James advises me:

tape up your testicles with sticky tape, that way they wont bounce around and you will run faster

Because of reduced air resistance, I’m assuming.

Drew has an even more alarming tip:


If you’ve just taken up running, and you’re in training for the Nike 10 km event, then get to know and love the above product.

Six weeks ago I started running, spurred on by Nike’s promise to turn me from latte-sucking desk-bound loser to uber sporting champion (and all round winner).

Five weeks ago I was ready to chuck it all in, courtesy of a nasty spot of chafing and a very tender left testicle.

Four-and-a-half weeks ago I discovered Vaseline, and within five days everything was back under control.

Now I’m wondering why I don’t have sore testicles. (Also, how I’m going to be able to look any male runner in the eye ever again.) Maybe it’s because my shorts have this odd interior netting. I hope that’s it. I hope I don’t just have freakish nuts.

In other news, the conservative government retained power in Australia, just like Freddy said it would. With no thanks to Freddy, though. I met him for dinner the night of the election and said, “So, did I convince you to change your vote?”

“I thought about it,” he said. “But then I forgot to vote.”

Since voting is compulsory in Australia, this means I’ll soon be visiting Freddy in prison. (Just kidding. It’s a $20 fine.) Speaking of which, though, a reader called KingJahnx pointed out a benefit of compulsory voting I’d never considered before:

at least you don’t have people constantly bugging you untill you register to vote like in the states

Good point. I’m getting sick of being encouraged to vote, and I’m not even eligible.

Several irate Canadians wrote to me to complain about me blaming their nation for poor sales of Syrup. Here’s one from Cass:

Dear sir: I, as a Canadian, bought Syrup, and loved it. Your ingratiude made me cry. I hope you are happy.

Well, not any more. I was doing fine before I read that. Other readers opined that my low sales were a result not of Canadian indifference but poor distribution. Tyler said:

I have not once, through my many months of searching, have ever found Syrup on the shelves of a local bookstore.

While Jesse wrote:

I’ve tried in vain to find Syrup, I’ve checked three major cities in Ontario to no avail.

And, neatly summarizing, Nick said:

I do nt think you should blam e Canada but you should blame your publisher. I spent 18 months searching in bookstores and on for a copy of Syrup bit could not find an availble one. It was not until I was on vacation in Chicago that I found a copy. Do not blame my country for lousy sales, blame your crappy publisher.

I should perhaps observe at this point that I had a different publisher for Syrup than I did for Jennifer Government. It could, perhaps, be argued that my first publisher finds it difficult to even glance at a copy of Syrup without becoming filled with pangs of regret over having cut me from their list. So maybe that explains it.

But this doesn’t totally let you off the hook, Canada. You can still go up to the counter of your local bookstore and get them to order in a copy of Syrup. Pretty much any bookstore will happily order in a book for you at no additional cost, and it’s a good way to support books that aren’t making it onto the shelves on their own. (See, I mention this not for my own benefit, but for all the struggling writers out there. Well, not entirely for my own benefit.)

Wed 13

My legs are steel springs

Max I have started running. When I tell people this—people who know me, or went to high school with me, or have ever seen me run—the color drains from their face and they make little cawing noises in the back of their throat. I’ve never been one for running; in fact, I’ve never been a big supporter of exercise in general. Not as a participation sport, anyway. But when I had Snow I had to walk her, and that didn’t seem to wear her out so I started running with her (if her tongue was hanging out by the time we got home, I got a point; otherwise she did), then Snow went back to her owner but for some reason I am still running.

There’s a nice track along a river near my house, so almost every morning I go out and run along that. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Guys who run past me are just showing off
  • Guys who run past me and say, “Morning mate, how are you going?”, like one bloke did this morning, are really showing off. (In response, I managed to insert, “Hi,” into an explosive exhalation.)
  • Girls are bouncy
  • I don’t care how well-ventilated they are, I’m not wearing those tiny running shorts that are slit all the way up your hips.

Now I have done the unthinkable and entered a 10km (6.25mi) fun run. It’s on the 24th of this month (and sponsored by Nike, which is apt), and my goals are:

  1. To complete the course without stopping
  2. Or dying
  3. And before everyone else has packed up and gone home.

My Dad was a mad keen runner (some would say obsessive), so I feel incredibly stupid for only taking this up after he’s gone. I want to ask him a heap of questions. And I would have loved to have gone running with him. But I have his running watch, and I’ll be wearing it on the 24th, and in a way that’s almost the same.

Sun 12

Max against the e-mail

Max I started answering my e-mail again today. As regular readers of this site already know, I am a long way behind on this. I have a page that lets you know exactly how long, and this has been standing firm at 12 weeks. Which is heinous enough, right? Except when life got a little crazy a couple of months ago, I stopped replying to e-mail and stopped updating this page, too.

So when I sucked it up and came back to my Inbox today, I knew it would be bad. But when I saw exactly how bad, I was dumbfounded. I am now 23 weeks behind.

This makes me feel very ashamed. What kind of person takes five months to respond to an e-mail?

So to everyone who wrote to me, I’m really sorry. I’m getting back into my e-mail now. And if you’ve been waiting for an answer since early April, you’ll be hearing from me any day now.

Tue 10

Things I learned from my friend’s dog

Max The SniffernatorMy friend Fleur has gone on a 5-week jaunt through Asia and I’m looking after her two-year-old dog, Snow. I’ve never had a dog before, so the experience is teaching me a lot.

So far I’ve learned that:

  • There’s a sleepy dog smell.
  • You don’t have to be very big to snore like a foghorn.
  • Snow has no setting between OFF and MAXIMUM POWER.
  • Due to some kind of biological quirk, the phrase “Come here” cannot be detected by Snow’s ears, but she can hear the opening of a door from the other end of the house through solid brick walls.
  • If you step backwards (at any time), you will stand on Snow.

I’ve also gained some insight into her thought processes. I’m pretty sure that her philosophy goes like this:

  • The purpose of life is to locate humans and stand as close to them as possible.
  • Disgusting = interesting.
    • Corollary A: The fouler it smells, the more it needs to be sniffed.
    • Corollary B: If it drips, if it stinks, if it does both at once, bring it in the house.
  • It is uncouth to push open a slightly ajar door in order to pass through it; rather, one should sit in front of it and whine.
  • When you gotta go, you gotta go.
  • The grass is always greener on the other side of a closed door.
  • The only thing more exciting than going on a walk is coming home from a walk, unless you’re already home, in which case the most exciting thing is going for a walk.
  • If you don’t know what it is, lick it.

Fri 30

Chuck & me

Max Click for larger versionSo this is about six months too late and I actually got scooped, by myself, on, but: I was on book tour in the US earlier this year, and this meant staying in a lot of fancy hotels. In Seattle it was the Alexis, which is apparently frequented by authors so, uh, frequently, that it has a special room for them: the “Author’s Suite.” This, I assumed, was a dingy sub-basement hole where people could yell down things like, “Max, don’t forget to do the washing,”* but no: it was swish as. The hotel asked (oh, how politely they asked) every visiting author to sign a copy of their novel, and the walls of the Author’s Suite were fairly groaning with these. I had lots of fun hunting down copies of some of my favorite books, and was especially happy to find a Fight Club. Chuck Palahniuk is one of my top two modern authors (the other is Neal Stephenson); I don’t see much resemblance between Chuck’s stuff and mine, but am very happy whenever someone else does. By the time I left, this is what the Author’s Suite copies of Fight Club and Jennifer Government looked like.

* (I actually wrote that and thought, “Crap, I have a load of washing in the machine.” I had to go and get it out before I could finish the blog. Yes, my life is that glamorous.)

Sat 03


Max I’m grateful and completely humbled by the response to my last post. The overwhelming kindness I’ve received from so many people has made an awful time much more bearable. I’m truly touched and amazed. Thank you.

Dad’s funeral is on Tuesday. It will be a simple, private service, as he wanted. Those who were close to him will help each other deal with the shock of his death, and, more importantly, celebrate his life. I’m thinking of telling a story about Dad’s running. He was a mad keen runner for the last 20 years of his life, even completing a bagful of marathons. But the memory that sticks in my mind is when he competed in a fun run around what I think was a national park. I was about ten, and course the most important thing in the world at that age is that your Dad is better than all the other Dads. So I loitered around the finish line with a certain trepidation. And then, bursting out of the trees—there he was! Pounding toward us, scattered applause breaking out, he crossed first… and kept running. He’d decided the course was too short, and he went around again.

To me, this was the most heroic thing that had happened in the world ever.

I was enormously lucky to have this man as my father, and on Tuesday I will give thanks for that.

Wed 30


Max Hamilton BarryThis is my Dad. He died yesterday. I can’t begin to describe what that means to me, so won’t try. But I want people to know about him; to know that he was a good person and good father.

Dad was the most practical person in the world. “When I go,” he said, “just put me in a cardboard box.” Today my brother and I had to choose him a casket. The funeral director handed us a page with a list. They started at twelve thousand dollars (metal, lots of gold) and worked their way down to four thousand (solid wood). “Then if you flip that page over,” she said, “you’ll see our particle board caskets.” They were one thousand dollars. I laughed. I knew what Dad would be saying.

Still, I can’t put him in particle board. He’s getting a solid wooden one.

I love you, Dad.

Thu 24

Of course she has

Max Maybe it’s just me, but I found the following little story in my local newspaper hilarious. If only I could write satire like this.

British pole dancer Donna Cleeve has been forced to quit her job because she’s allergic to the metal pole. The 20-year-old from Portsmouth developed a red rash after each show before she realised nickel used in the poles was to blame. “It’s hard to look sexy when your legs and body are inflamed. I tried to ignore it, but in the end it wasn’t worth the pain,” she told London’s Sun. She’s now given up her dancing and taken a job in sales.

Mon 21

Retrospective #2: Mary-Kate, Ashley, and a rabid reader

Max We return now to some stories we were following earlier. Again. Yes, see, from time to time I go back and write little follow-ups. It gives a sense of continuity and closure. It does too.

My web traffic soared on the back of my review of a Mary-Kate and Ashley novel, partly because quite a few people liked it but mostly because there are an awful lot of internet searches for “mary-kate and ashley”. In fact, that phrase quickly became the #3 search people used to get to my site, coming right after “jennifer government” and “max barry”. (Alas, “max berry” is #6.) For a few days Google actually listed my site in its first page of results for “mary-kate and ashley”, which, if I have this right, makes me one of the world’s foremost Mary-Kate and Ashley experts. This is awesome. Now if this novel-writing thing doesn’t work out, I have something to fall back on.

In response to my Everybody just left the room post, I received an emphatic e-mail from a guy named Jason:

just fuck off with your boring egotistical ramblings… if you cant reply to your email you can go fuck your self.. silly marketing c—t pretending to care…

fucking stick to the marketing, you do it better than writing books

you have the time to write bullshit about 9/11 but not answer your emails… wat the fuk?

There was more, but it became repetitive. I was surprised; I hadn’t realized that visiting my web site was compulsory. Also, while I am a long way behind on my e-mail, so is the Pope and people don’t write him hate mail. Or at least not just about that. And I was a little confused about the references to marketing. I do what marketing better than writing books? Was he talking about how I promote my novels, like on this web site? If so, wouldn’t it be self-defeating to stop writing in order to concentrate on promoting my writing?

I searched through my In Box in case there was a previous message from Jason and found two. One was from a week ago, in response to my True Love & Drool post (I’m better now, thanks), and it said:

i know your a good writer and all, i did read your book.. but having a pissy throat infection is not a good enough reason to not reply to my email. Maybe your too important and your time is too valuable to deal with “readers”… i maybe a low life, uneducated skum bag.. but at least im more enlightened and “educated” than the people who have marketing degree’s and PHD’s and all this truly meaningless “education”…

I was beginning to sense a theme. I opened up Jason’s original e-mail and was surprised to see it was a mere 4 weeks old. For most people, sure, that’s a long time to reply to an e-mail. But for me, that would be lightning-fast. That’s why the page with my e-mail address lets people know I’m running several months behind.

In light of that, I felt Jason was being a touch unreasonable. But I also felt guilty about my pile of unanswered e-mail, so I decided to reply to his original question. Here it is:

hey Max

Iv just started reading ur book, its great so far! Im just interested in what made you see the light? ie. realise that marketing is fundamentally evil… and turn towards a more satisfying and creative career?

thanks, Jason..

Well, Jason, there were a few reasons. But partly it was so I could reach out and touch people like you.

Thu 17

Max vs. Telstra

Max The other day I lost my internet connection. All the lights on my cable modem turned off except one, the Receive light, and it just blinked at me. I wasn’t worried because this has happened before and each time it turned out to be a general fault in my area: koalas chewing through the cables, for example. Well, actually I’m just guessing there. It could have been koalas. I never bothered to get into the specifics.

I called up Telstra, my ISP, and after wading through layers of “Press 2 if you want to express your frustration with automated telephony systems,” I got a recorded message saying there was a nationwide problem. I was invited to press 0 to speak to a human about it, and since I wanted to know when it would be fixed, I took them up on this.

Now, I knew this wouldn’t be easy as it sounded. Telstra has an excellent “Network Status” web page that displays problems with its service; if you visit this, you can see if there’s an area-wide outage at a glance. But if you can’t visit this page—if, for example, you’re suffering from the effects of an area-wide outage—you have to call them up, and they refuse to tell you anything until you have exhaustively checked your own computer. Their attitude seems to be that while they accept it’s possible that there are koalas chewing on their cables, it’s much more likely that koalas are chewing on your cables. Or have crawled inside your computer. Or, I suppose, the problem is the result of some more technical issue unrelated to koalas. Anyway, at first I used to have conversations like this:

Max: “My modem’s doing that blinking thing that means there’s a problem with your network, can you tell me when it’ll be fixed?”

Tech: “First I need to confirm everything’s working at your end. Can you tell me what error message you get when you try to connect?”

Max: “No, because I don’t use Telstra’s connection software. It kept crashing so I use the open source replacement. But that’s not the problem; the problem is the modem doesn’t seem to be getting a signal.”

Tech: “Uhh… okay. Can you check that the cable connecting your modem to your computer is plugged in?”

Max: “Well, I could, but whether it is or not, my modem’s still not getting a signal.”

Tech: “Can you check that cable?”

Max: “Hang on… I have to crawl under my desk… ow! What the… so that’s where my favorite pen got to. Okay, yes, the cable is plugged in.”

Tech: “Can you check the cable from the modem is plugged securely into the wall?”

Max: “Fffffff…fine. I just have to move some furniture… urrrrrrghhhh! Arrrrrgh! Okay. Yes it is.”

Tech: “Okay.” (keyboard sounds) “There’s an outage in your area. It should be fixed by two o’clock. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Then I got smart. This time, when Andrea the tech support person came on the line, I shamelessly lied. “I already checked my cables before I rang, and they’re all plugged in.”

Andrea: “Okay, good. (keyboard sounds) There’s no outage in your area. What I’ll do is book a technician to come out and look at your modem. Because you’re out of contract, you’ll be charged $66 plus $18 per 15 minutes. Is that all right?”

Max: “Uhhh… I thought there was a nation-wide problem. There was a recorded message just before I got you.”

Andrea: “No, I’m not aware of any nationwide problem.”

Max: “Well, that’s what the message said.”

Andrea: “I’m looking at the screen and there’s no outage. When your modem is blinking like that, it usually means there’s a problem with the actual modem. So the technician may need to sell you a new one.”

Max: “But every other time I’ve had this pattern of blinking lights, it’s been a fault with your network.”

Andrea: “It’s more likely to be your modem.”

Max: “The Power light on, the Receive light blinking, everything else off?”

Andrea: “That’s right.”

Max: “…”

Andrea: “Do you want me to book a technician?”

Max: “I think I’ll wait and see if it fixes itself.”

Andrea: “Okay. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Now, let’s pause to review the “facts” I received here. At first I thought there were only two:

  1. There is no outage
  2. My pattern of blinking lights suggests a fault with the modem

But later I realized Andrea had buried a third one in there as well, and it was waiting to bite me.

The next day my modem still wasn’t working, so I called up again. Tech support told me:

  1. There is an outage
  2. My pattern of blinking lights suggests a network fault
  3. It will be fixed by 1pm

This was a relief, because I didn’t want to shell out for a new modem. It was also reasonably satisfying to confirm my suspicion that Andrea had no frickin’ idea what she was talking about.

Sure enough, internet access was mine again after 1pm—but only for a few hours. Then the modem started doing that blinking thing again. I couldn’t bring myself to call Telstra again, so I decided to re-try an earlier strategy: going to bed and hoping everything fixed itself overnight. Alas, this proved unsuccessful. In the morning I sucked it up and called Telstra again. Now tech support told me:

  1. There was an outage in my area yesterday, but that was fixed
  2. That pattern of blinking lights could mean anything
  3. A technician needs to come out to my house to see what the problem is

Then commenced a heated five minute argument about why a technician needed to come to my house. This came to a halt when I finally articulated a key assumption: “… so I don’t see why I should have to pay for a technician to confirm there’s a problem with your network.”

“Oh,” the tech said. “You don’t pay for a technician unless the problem is with your computer — like if it’s got a virus and that’s why you can’t connect. Otherwise there’s no charge.”

Thus, Andrea’s third and final piece of misinformation:

  1. If a technician comes out to see me, I get charged for it

The soonest a technician could visit was the next day. “I can book him in for between 7am and noon,” tech support said.

“Okay, sure, any time in there is fine. Say, 9am?”

“No, I mean, that’s the booking time: between 7 and 12. We book in five-hour windows.”

Fortunately I don’t have a real job, so this didn’t require me arranging time off work. Instead I merely had to postpone showering in case that was when the guy knocked, and, of course, he finally dragged himself to my doorstop at 11:30am. He came upstairs, unplugged my modem, and plugged in an orange doohickey. It went KRRRRRSSSSSSSHHHHHH, like an old man blowing his nose. The technician repeated the process at the wall socket: same deal.

“Hmm,” he said, “When I drove up, I noticed a Telstra van on the corner, digging up the road. I wonder if they’ve disconnected the amplifier.”

He wandered out the front door. I heard these blokes shouting to each other. “Oi! Did you cut any optical cables there?” “What?” “I said did you—” And so on. After a few minutes, the technician wandered back. “Yeah, they’re doing some work. They reckon they’ll be finished in about twelve hours.” With that he packed up his orange doohickey and left.

This strikes me as an interesting, even innovative, business process. A traditionalist like myself might come up with something like this:

  1. When a Telstra bloke unplugs part of the network, he records that fact in the system.
  2. If a customer calls up with connection problems, tech support checks whether any Telstra blokes have unplugged things in that area.

Telstra, however, prefers:

  1. Telstra blokes arbitrarily unplug sections of network; wander off for hours or days.
  2. When customers call up unable to connect, tech support makes them check if their computer cables are plugged in.
  3. Technician is booked for some vague time period in the future, during which customer is required to stay at home and avoid going to the bathroom.
  4. Technician drives to customer’s house, checks modem, wanders streets looking for any Telstra blokes who might have unplugged things.

That must be why they’re Australia’s largest telecommunications company and I’m a chump trying to make a living out of writing novels. That and their koala expertise.

Tue 08

True love & drool

Max I have a throat infection. This will come as no surprise to people who know me well; developing throat infections is something of a hobby of mine. In fact, given the amount of time I devote to it, it’s more like unpaid part-time work. According to my parents, it’s because I have no tonsils. The story goes like this: as a kid, I caught a cold or something and the late 1970s were a dangerous time for tonsils; you only needed to look at a doctor the wrong way and he’d be down your throat, grabbing for them. My parents were unconvinced that I needed a tonsillectomy (“ectomy” being Latin for “get those dangly things”), but they were hypnotized by the gentle swirls of the doctor’s lava lamp and into surgery I went.

In a twist worthy of Marvel Comics, I emerged with an incredible super power: the ability to transform any bodily affliction into a throat infection. It works like this:

  1. Get food poisoning
  2. Develop throat infection


  1. Stub toe
  2. Develop throat infection


  1. Develop throat infection
  2. Develop much worse throat infection

During times of sickness, I also gain super powers of drool production, which allow me to produce my own body volume in saliva. In fact, I’m pausing to spit even as I write this. Sorry, that’s probably a little more insight into the creative process than you really needed. But it really is amazing. If I could bottle this stuff and sell it as some kind of industrial lubricant, I’d be rich.

Right now I can’t speak without breaking into a fit of coughing (followed by spitting), so Jen is required to phrase all questions to me in a way that accepts a yes or no answer. She’s pretty good about this, except, I discovered, when it’s 4AM and she has to get up for work in three hours. I thought I was being terrific last night, keeping my coughing and spluttering down to an admirably low level, but somehow Jen failed to appreciate this. At one point she glared at me (I think—it was dark) and said, “Do you want me to go into the spare room?”

My answer was “no”—I mean, it wasn’t like she was disturbing me—but I had a feeling the real question was, “Do you want to go into the spare room before I brain you with a lamp?” Unable to articulate this, I just lay there quietly. Then, slowly but surely, my throat started to tickle. I fought against it, but finally it was too much and I had to grab for the pack of Butter Menthols on my bedside table. In the process I banged my lamp and knocked a book onto the floor, and in fact I was still looking for those bloody Butter Menthols when Jen sprang out of bed and announced she was relocating.

She didn’t hit me, either. I guess her question was for real after all. What a girl. I was filled with love and appreciation; also saliva. I had to spit.

Fri 14

Retrospective #1

Max Now we return to some stories we were following earlier. In response to My life as a sex god, several people wrote in to inform me that I am not attractive. Jennifer, for example, wondered if she’d missed something:

How can these fans tell youre pretty? It CERTAINLY isnt from the pics you post on your site.. have you actually looked at those?

While Jonnie was more emphatic:

I really don’t think that you’re that good looking. Maybe no one has told you this, but your HEAD is WAY TOO BIG for your body!

What!? I thought everybody had to deal with their head sinking down and mashing the keyboard from time to time. Now I find out I have to hang out next to James Van Der Beek just to look normal? It’s… oh. Wait, I see what’s happened here. Jonnie mistook that stick figure with my head on it for a full-length photo.

After I expressed a wish for a Rent-A-Friend in Throwaway dialogue as art form, just like in Newlyweds, Steve was quick to put his hand up:

I just wanted to officially state that I will be your “RENT-A-FRIEND” in Portland, OR. You call and I am there. I will cackle with joy at every phrase.

I tell you what, if this works out, I’m putting Steve on permanent retainer.

Several Canadians wrote to tell me they planned to take immediate action following my Snubbed by Canada post, in which I lamented the fact that my last royalty statement for Syrup showed a paltry six sales there. I am now looking forward to a big turnaround. Based on these letters alone, sales are set to almost double!

Finally, part of the Mysterious Packages puzzle has been solved, with Sharon confessing she sent me the Office Space DVD to repay me for posting her a book. I’m pretty sure Sharon already paid me plenty for postage, so I’m grateful for her generosity, or early-onset senility. The other part of the mystery, though—that strange “Jennifer Government #75” card—remains unsolved. Spooky.

Fri 07

My life as a sex god

Max I’m becoming more attractive. At first I merely suspected this, but now I’m sure of it: I am heaps better looking than I used to be. I must be, because more and more I get e-mails telling me that I’m pretty, and previously I never got any. I think you’ll agree there’s only one logical conclusion: my looks are increasing in a linear relationship with my age. By the time I reach 80 I will be an irresistible sex symbol and have to fight off young women with my walking frame.

Just today, for example, I received an e-mail from Toni who says:

Oh………. and you are absolutely the hottest thing since bluetooth

Whoa! For a web geek like me, that’s so hot I have to adjust my USB cable. Earlier this year on my American book tour, a girl asked me to sign her bra. Admittedly, she wasn’t wearing it at the time, which makes the incident less sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll than please-label-your-clothing-before-laundering, but still: that never happened before. It used to be that girls were very determined to keep me away from their bras.

I got a tip-off, though, that perhaps there was more to this than simply my being a chiseled example of desirable manhood when one e-mail said:

you’re relatively handsome for a writer

Ah, yes. Of course. I had forgotten: my competition is Salman Rushdie and Peter Carey. Everything is relative.

Wed 05


Max I was interviewed for Melbourne’s MX Magazine this afternoon (article to run on Monday), and they wanted to take some photos.

I said, “Smiling, looking serious, funny expressions, what?”

“Funny expressions,” said Nic, the photographer. “We like funny expressions.”

So, ignoring the fact that I was standing in a very public and busy part of Melbourne and passing businessmen were doing things I couldn’t see but were sure were inappropriate behind my back, I did what I could.

Nic sniggered. “What was that, your Magnum look?”

“Hey,” I said. “I thought you photographers were meant to build up my confidence. Lower my inhibitions. Develop a bond of trust between photographer and subject.”

“You don’t have a confidence problem,” she said.

Sun 02

A Chat with Max

Max I’ve never really gotten into instant messaging or IRC, mainly because I already have enough trouble keeping up with my e-mail. I don’t really need any new avenues of communication that I don’t have time to respond to. But I’ve just had my second ever IRC interview with NationStates players, and it was good fun. If you’re interested in what I had to say about beers, bookstores, and programming, there’s a transcript available.

Mon 12

Big Berry Crunch!

Max Max Berries pic People often call me Max Berry by mistake. At first I thought it was because of my Aussie accent, since whenever I visited the US I had encounters like this:

Max (checking into hotel): “The surname is Barry.”

Desk woman: “Berry?”

“No, Barry. With an A.”

“With an e?”

“A. A for apple.”

“E for epple?”

I swear, it really happened.

After that I tried laying on a thick American accent whenever I pronounced my surname, but I just got strange looks, especially outside the States.

I get called Berry in print too, though, so that can’t be it. I wouldn’t mind so much except I went to high school with a kid named Scott Berryman who moved in on a girl I was deeply in lust with, so he was my arch-nemesis for, you know, about three weeks around the end of 1987. Every time that damn Berry name comes up, I get flashbacks of Scott and Tracy sitting under a tree together, holding hands. Damn you, Berryman!

Still, even I can appreciate this pic, which a mysterious person called RaptorRed whipped up on the NationStates forum. Now that’s funny! I especially like the little heads floating in the bowl.

Mon 29

Lunch with the Generals

Max Once every few months, I have lunch with a bunch of ex-Hewlett-Packard employees. Unlike me, most of these guys have real jobs, so they’re still in that bizarre business world I’m no longer a part of. This makes the lunches a little like anthropological surveys for me; I get to peek in and see what’s happening. And what’s happening, apparently, is that everybody’s “adding value.”

I know this phrase is not new. But last time I checked, it was mostly in annual reports and speeches by incoming General Managers. Now it’s everywhere. A business failed because “it wasn’t adding value;” a woman’s job is to “add value to the channel;” one man offered to help me with my new novel by “adding value to your sales and marketing strategies.”

Now, okay, value is important. You gotta have the value. But “add value” as a phrase has clearly reached the point where it’s no longer conveying any useful information. It’s adding no value. It’s so broad you can use it in any situation. Here, watch. My job as a writer is to “add value to letters.” My pajamas, which I’m wearing right now, are “adding value to my legs.” I married Jen because she “adds value to my daily living experience.” I saw Tomb Raider 2 on the plane, but it “added no value to excrement.”

The only way to rid the world of this expression is to overuse it so grossly that everyone gets sick of it. So if you’re at work today, really pack it in to your conversations. There’s no reason why every sentence coming out of your mouth can’t include “add value.” If people start to look at you funny, that just means it’s working. And if they nod their heads wisely and talk about strategic vision, it’s time to look for another job.

Thu 25

Resistance is futile

Max I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, Max’s web site is kind of neat and all, but I don’t want to have to keep checking it for updates. I have better things to do with my time, like browse for naked pictures of John Ashcroft. Can’t I just get Max’s posts in my e-mail?”

Yes! You can! After spending a few days slaving over a hot command prompt, I managed to add a membership list, so you can now join my site. It’s a bit like being in a cult, only you don’t have to shave your head, mail me checks, or commit ritual suicide. I think you’ll agree that’s a plus.

Thu 18

Happy Birthday to me

Max People kept telling me that turning 31 is harder than 30. From a psychological perspective, that is. Because physically, neither is exactly a struggle. You just keep doing what you’re doing and the birthdays organize themselves. But the thought of being 31 years old was, according to these people, more of a shock than the thought of turning 30.

Now I’m 31, I can say for sure: that’s a load of crap. Thirty-one has nothing on 30. When I turned 30, my body discovered age overnight. I swear, it was like while I was sleeping someone had broken into my body and taken it for a joyride. The vehicle was clearly no longer in showroom condition. There were scuff marks and discolorations. The radio was missing. My analogies had stopped making sense. And just to rub it in, everyone kept calling me up and saying, “Ho ho ho, the big three-oh!”

But 31, so far, has been fine. I’ve checked and everything seems to still be in working order. Nobody has tried to mock me with numbers. It’s a good day.

Wed 17

Autopreview plugin for Blosxom

Max Okay, this will be of zero interest to just about everybody, but I need to announce it somewhere. I wrote a plugin for Blosxom that allows a blogger to preview their posts before they become available to the world at large. The advantage over existing plugins is that if everything looks right, you don’t need to do anything.

If you want it for your site, download autopreview here.

Mon 15

Fun with web statistics

Max One of the cool things about having a web site is seeing what people typed into search engines to bring them here. “Jennifer Government,” is, as you might expect, the runaway winner here (43%). But there are also some truly bizarre phrases. My all-time favorite is “coke fuck shoes”. But this month’s winner is:

let me try on your lingerie and high heels

It’s hard to imagine exactly what this person was looking for. In fact, it’s probably better not to. But it really does match a page on my site*.

The other fun thing is seeing which sites link to mine. Because occasionally—just occasionally—there’s one that makes no apparent sense and has as its logo a guy blowing bubbles out of his pipe. Don’t tell me what it’s about. I like it better not knowing.

* [Update: Well, it used to. Google now seems to be rebuilding its index of my site. For the record, the match is this page.]

Thu 11

Mysterious Packages

Max People are mailing me strange things. A couple of weeks ago I got an envelope that had nothing inside but a small card with “THANK YOU” printed on the front and “Jennifer Government #75” hand-written on the back.

Now, it’s nice to be thanked. People should thank me more often. But—wha-huh? What’s it for? For writing the novel? Who’s it from? And what does the #75 mean? Did I miss the first 74 notes? Is it a series of clues? Is it someone who writes thank you notes to all the authors they like, and I’m the 75th?

Then a few days ago I checked my mail box and inside is a DVD of the movie Office Space. Everybody’s been telling me I have to see this film, but I’ve never gotten around to it. Now somebody anonymously mailed it to me. Who? God?

I’ve heard that the best thing about being famous is that you get a lot of free stuff. This I can believe. But I’m quasi-famous, at best. And not many people know my postal address.

Tue 09

Microsoft & me

Max Nothing inflames hatred of Microsoft quite like redesigning your web site. Except, I guess, having your innovative internet business crushed through monopolistic abuse of market power. Yeah, that’s probably worse. But designing your web site means having thoughts like this: “Okay, I can work around Internet Explorer 6’s float bug using absolute positioning, but that means I run into IE5’s positioning bug—which I guess I could fix by exploiting its CSS bug—” And so on.

I tell you, if everybody didn’t use Internet Explorer as their browser, nobody would use it.

When Doubleday asked me for an author photo for Jennifer Government, I e-mailed them a whole bunch of snaps. Most were of me looking like I thought authors were meant to look like: serious, thoughtful, smoking a pipe and rubbing my tweed elbow patches, that kind of thing. But one was this one I took of myself with my tongue poking out—which, of course Doubleday chose for the book jacket.

Now that’s okay—people get the impression that I like smashing up hotel rooms, but that’s actually kind of cool—but the problem is I’m sitting in front of a standard Windows desktop. I can protest that I dual-boot Linux all I like; it makes no difference. In the eyes of geeks around the world, I am forever shamed.