杭州龙凤 22/04/2019

Lunch with Mark Armstrong

It was while he was working on an automotive production line making car brakes that Mark Armstrong realised there was somewhere else he ought to be, other things he could be making. He was a young man – it was the 1970s – and he’d taken the factory job after withdrawing from a surveying degree at RMIT. ”I didn’t have the aptitude,” he says of that degree. ”I couldn’t ‘see’ it.”
Shanghai night field

He is grateful for his six months in the auto factory. ”That was a fantastic time. I saw how things got put together and started to question my whole agenda. Was this all there is? I couldn’t see any way out.” He returned to RMIT to look through various departments and, in the design faculty, he had an epiphany when he met a senior lecturer by chance.

”I had a chat to him and as soon as I looked around the studios and the sketches and models, I was gobsmacked. I was like a kid in a toy shop. Everything he said made perfect sense to me.” The lecturer invited him to join an evening drawing class without having to enrol, and the next year he started a degree in industrial design.

Here he is today talking about his latest project, the bionic eye. In concert with scientists, technicians, engineers and medicos, Armstrong’s part in the ambitious project is to oversee the design of the eyewear component, via his role as Practice Professor at Monash Art, Design and Architecture (MADA). There, with a small team, he is focusing on the end-user of a technology that incorporates the eyewear with a small camera, which connects to a coil under a skin flap at the back of the head. That coil transfers the camera imagery to a set of tiny ceramic tiles implanted in the visual cortex of the brain, the processor distilling what was live, full-colour imagery into a matrix of dots the blind recipient’s brain will ”see”. The initial test subjects will be people who have lost their sight; it is expected to later extend to those who are congenitally blind.

As he describes this inspirational design project and all the careful work that goes into it, it is fitting that Armstrong sits in one of Melbourne’s most beautifully designed restaurant makeovers: David’s, long known as a plush, dimly lit Shanghainese parlour tucked away in Cecil Place off Chapel Street, has been redesigned with spiffy whitewashed walls, cute school chairs and soft greenery. As we talk about design, I can’t help but admire the perfectly pitched interiors – and the amusing ”Chop!! Chop!!” cards we are presented with, in which we can tick off selections with wooden pencils.

Dumplings are a given – the place is renowned for them – so Armstrong chooses the chilli pork ones, along with a selection of bao offerings (shredded Peking duck, spicy lamb and chicken). All are small dishes, perfect introductions to something more substantial – Gong Bo chicken stir-fry with radishes, peanuts, cucumber, chilli and garlic. It is all meant to be reminiscent of old-country Shanghai – if anyone can truly recall such a place.

Armstrong has spent much time visiting China throughout the years, his industrial design work taking him to many places and exposing him to many gifted, interesting people. His view of globalism, technology and the internet is one that is enthusiastic about the opportunities for Australian design graduates with the nous to grasp a cultural shift that will celebrate designers and their ability to customise for the client.

In 1984 he was a founder of design consultancy Blue Sky – still his mainstay – and the range of design work he has done through it is extraordinary, from the Sydney Olympic torch and the Cochlear Nucleus 5 hearing implant, to the new trains on Sydney’s commuter rail network, and from incarnations of Ryobi drills to Qantas’ ”Next Generation Check-In”.

Now, with his ”other” job at Monash – he flies down from his Sydney home every fortnight – Armstrong is hoping to do even more to embed Australia, and particularly Monash University, as a global design leader. ”My aspirations are high,” he says. ”One of the things about design is that it synergises everything. The synthesis of great medical thinking, clever IT and engineering – and industrial design is the glue that pulls it all together into something that can be commercialised. That is why we [designers] are often at the focus point of community attention, because we bring new technology together and humanise it.”

These days, he says, community awareness of the importance of design is greater than ever, which is why work on the bionic eye – expected to be ready for human test subjects next year – is so satisfying.

”Most of the time I just get caught up in what I am doing; you stay focused on what your role is,” he says. ”But now and again I pinch myself and think what a privilege it is to work on a project like this. There are many other projects I have worked on in my career that are much less rewarding and take just as much time and equal amounts of energy. This has a great deal of potential to change people’s lives. That said, I do recognise that my role is small compared to the scientists who have developed the technology and pushed these boundaries as far as they have.”

Apart from the bionic eye project, Armstrong’s role at Monash means engaging the university with international research projects and companies. ”It is a very big challenge; it is not easy to draw US and European companies to Australia in the big league for design. They don’t think of Australia as the epicentre. But we have the view: why shouldn’t Monash be a design hot spot like MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] in the northern hemisphere?”

So Armstrong is launching three PhD-based projects in which the graduates engage with Electrolux, Cochlear and a big US organisation (yet to be announced) on research that aims to have significant repercussions for the industries involved. ”It is about a designed outcome, not a massive book that is going to collect dust on a professor’s shelf. Impactful design… that is about new knowledge. The costs are relatively low, but the gains are great.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州龙凤 22/04/2019

Liberals launch prime-time ad blitz to peg back Rudd

The Liberals have moved to peg back Kevin Rudd’s runaway lead over Tony Abbott as favoured prime minister, launching a new advertising blitz in print and television, beginning Sunday evening.
Shanghai night field

The ads highlight the Labor leader’s role in a series of high-profile program and policy failures – from the carbon and mining taxes to wastage in the school halls program, and Labor’s internal leadership tensions.

Liberal sources, who insist the move is not a panicked response to Mr Rudd’s success in catapulting Labor back into contention, described the advertising buy as “substantial”.

They said the prime-time offensive had been informed by focus group testing, which found voters were initially happy Mr Rudd had replaced Julia Gillard but that many harboured doubts about his capacity to deliver, and some regarded him as a “fake”.

While the mini-campaign will consist of both positive and negative political messaging, insiders said the real “bite” of the campaign would come from reminding voters of Labor’s record.

“You don’t win elections just on positive advertising, it’s a simple fact that tough negative advertising is more effective,” one senior Liberal said.

It is understood the lion’s share of the new advertising spend will go to television ads aimed at Mr Rudd’s tendency to make big announcements as prime minister up to mid-2010 when his colleagues replaced him with Ms Gillard.

Fairfax Media understands the first anti-Rudd television ad features a picture of the Prime Minister’s face with a positive expression, which then sours as the viewer is told of 46,000 irregular maritime arrivals under Labor, the fatal home insulation debacle, long-promised budget surpluses that became deficits, and an overall atmosphere of “chaos and dysfunction”.

It concludes with the tagline: “Kevin Rudd is all talk – imagine three more years of Labor failure.”

Signs of the opposition’s market testing are already evident in comments of frontbenchers from Mr Abbott down.

The morning after Mr Rudd made a generally well-received economic speech to the National Press Club, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey depicted Mr Rudd as a fake, declaring that anyone who knew him personally was aware he was “full of it”.

Previous attack ads featuring Mr Rudd’s former colleagues complaining about his management style were criticised by some advertising experts as “amateurish and juvenile” and do not appear to have dented Mr Rudd’s popularity. The most recent national polls suggest he enjoys a substantial and growing lead over Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister – a factor which has many Liberals worried, while others say it will evaporate once the election campaign begins.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州龙凤 22/04/2019

Tide turns on school reforms as Queensland softens stance

The federal government has been buoyed by ”positive” discussions with Victoria and Queensland over its school funding reforms on Friday as it extended its July 14 deadline for states and territories to sign up to a deal.
Shanghai night field

Talks with Victoria and the Catholic school sector have long been moving towards resolution but the surprise on Friday was the stance of Queensland, which had previously dismissed the reforms outright.

Now Queensland appears to be edging closer to a deal, with its conservative Premier, Campbell Newman, praising Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for listening to the state’s concerns at a meeting in Brisbane on Friday afternoon. Mr Newman said the change of approach from the federal government was ”refreshing” and Queensland would work to get the best deal for the state.

”It was a very productive discussion. It was a discussion that was not afforded to us by the previous prime minister [Julia Gillard] and the previous minister [Peter Garrett],” he said.

”It was very productive and we know now what we have to do to try to reach an agreement.”

Mr Newman went into the meeting with Education Minister Bill Shorten and Mr Rudd calling for the federal government to increase its offer by $650 million next financial year.

Mr Newman said the Prime Minister agreed to consider Queensland’s concerns, including the ”red tape and bureaucracy” that would be imposed on schools under the reforms, the potential for some schools to be left worse off, and the associated slashing of university funding and uncertainty over kindergarten funding.

”We want to achieve a deal for Queensland; it’s got to be a deal that is right for Queensland … and Queensland kids,” he said. ”I’d say there’s been progress on all these issues because there’s been dialogue.”

Emerging from the Brisbane meeting, Mr Shorten said both sides should know whether they would be able to reach an agreement within the next week or two.

He said the meeting was constructive but had been unable to resolve all differences and federal Labor would leave no stone unturned to strike a deal. ”For me it’s not about the blame game; it’s a question of are we smart enough, state and federal, to secure better schools for our children,” Mr Shorten said.

NSW, the ACT, South Australia and Tasmania have signed up to the reforms but the federal government is yet to reach agreement with Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott reaffirmed his intention to unpick the reforms if the government fails to reach agreement with every single state and territory.

It came after his education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, repeated his own position that the system would be kept if the ”overwhelming majority” of jurisdictions signed up.

At a visit to a school in Brisbane on Friday, Mr Abbott insisted a national scheme required ”national agreement” and that meant ”all states and territories”. But he hardened his stance against the reforms by questioning what the reforms actually involved and denouncing ”secret” deals with different states and school sectors.

The federal government’s reforms, formerly known as ”Gonski” but now rebadged as the Better Schools Plan, involve setting an ideal base level of funding for each student, to be topped up with ”loadings” targeting disadvantage.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

杭州龙凤 22/04/2019


Among the abuse showered on Julia Gillard during her prime ministership many avoided the cheap shot that her electorate, Lalor, was home to Melbourne’s little boys’ and girls’ room, the Werribee Sewerage Farm. Now the ALP appears content to cover itself in effluent over Gillard’s successor in the seat.
Shanghai night field

Amid Kevin Rudd’s self-serving calls to reform the ALP comes a political wannabe who effortlessly personified all that has gone wrong with Labor.

Lisa Clutterham, 29, an Australian diplomat to Papua New Guinea, has emerged as a likely pretender in the increasingly crowded contest for Lalor. She has the backing of Victorian ALP powerbrokers to succeed Gillard. But in the context of the late Speaker of the US House Tip O’Neill’s maxim ”all politics is local”, Clutterham is the ultimate blow-in. She’s a South Australian. She joined the ALP only on June 20. She neither has any Melbourne connection nor a relationship with Lalor.

Scratch that: she told ABC radio host Jon Faine that her partner when he was a child ”visited Werribee on many Christmas holidays”.

Most Melburnians would not touch Werribee with a barge pole. The nearby sewerage farm makes the suburb so redolent that motorists driving past on their way to Geelong habitually negotiate the journey with closed windows.

But Clutterham seemed incapable of smelling a rat or anything else as she presented her credentials. ”I don’t have a connection with Melbourne and that’s not something I’m shying away from. I’m in the camp of a majority of Australians, 99 per cent of whom are not members of political parties,” she told Faine.

Such a gormless sense of entitlement has either outraged or bemused many in Melbourne. But will it be enough for her to join Mal Meninga in the lexicon of the world’s shortest political careers? More than his on-field achievements, the Queensland coach will be forever remembered for his 2001 decision to quit politics during a radio interview to announce his candidacy for the ACT Assembly.

Clutterham’s arrival on the political stage has made a nonsense of Rudd’s quixotic call to lessen the power of factions in preselection ballots. Lalor is already shaping up as a free-for-all. Apart from Clutterham’s late arrival, three other candidates have emerged to show that factionalism and nepotism is still alive and well in the ALP.

Joanne Ryan, a primary school principal, has the backing of Gillard and her predecessor in Lalor, former science minister Barry Jones; Kimberley Kitching, who runs the Health Services Union Victoria No.1 branch, has the support of Education and Employment and Workplace Minister Bill Shorten; Sandra Willis, general manager of Oz Opera and daughter of former federal treasurer Ralph Willis, is favoured by Lalor local and former Victorian premier Joan Kirner.

For that matter, behind Clutterham are the powerful Right players such as David Feeney who had Gillard’s backing and prevailed over a female candidate in the preselection for Batman. Clutterham entered the fray at the behest of Rudd acolyte Richard Marles, who was named the Trade Minister after the change of prime minister.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.