Wednesday 30 August 2006

The meaning of goats piss

I have recently been inducted into that endemic fund raising thing known as "the school fete". The horror, the horror...

Apart from having to stay up half the night baking a cake, I then found out that our cake was probably inadmissable as:

  • It was not contained within a school approved cake box
  • The said non-existent cake box did not have the ingredients written on the side in big fat texta - can't have the one peanut alergy kid in the school dropping dead from anaphalactic shock on fete day.
  • It looked "too adult" for kiddies, which means that instead of being sold, it was probably scoffed by the ladies running the cake stall.
What the hell, we only gave them half a cake and we kept the other half at home and ate it. It had about $20 worth of chocolate and butter and stuff in it and they were probably planning to flog it for 50 cents. Since The Hof taught business at a pubic school, he can probably explain the twisted economics that underpin this transaction. I don't know why the school just doesn't charge $1,000 a year for each kid and we could be done with it. Instead, I end up spending about $500 this year to give the school $50.

So we front up at the fete, and I proceed to part with my money. There were lots of food stalls, so I availed myself of a hot dog (pretty ordinary), an "organic" chicken drumstick (smallest chook in the world, utterly tasteless), a souvlaki (best I have had this side of Greece) and a few other things that I have since forgotten about.

I then got suckered into spending money at the bottle stall. The deal is that a for weeks before the fete, kids are sent home to badger their parents to handover a bottle of something for the bottle stall. It doesn't matter what is in the bottle - vinegar, sauce, wine, your grandmothers false teeth. You just need to send in a bottle.

On fete day, every bottle has a raffle ticket stuck to it. You pay $5 for a ticket, and you get the bottle with the corresponding ticket.

The sod before me walked off with a very good looking bottle of wine, so I put in $10 figuring that I might get something decent.


I ended up with a bottle of Rose and a Hunter Valley 2002 Chardonnay from a winery that I have never heard of.

I put the chardonnay in the fridge last night and opened it tonight.

I have never, ever in my life tasted such an awful bottle of goats piss. It was so badly corked, most of my hair stood up on end. I'm not game to tip it down the sink in case it does something horrible to the pipes.

School fetes - a great way to move crap from one household to another whilst extracting money from people.

Sunday 27 August 2006

Hells bells, I can bake!

The mud cake finally came out of the oven at half past midnight, after just over double the recommended cooking time. I managed to screw it up by getting confused and thinking that a 12 inch baking tin was the same as a 20 cm baking tin. As a result, instead of a thin, flat cake, e ended up with a big tall fat cake, and it took a lot longer to cook through the middle.

I was pretty sceptical of it when I pulled it out of the oven in the wee hours of the morning. i figured that come morning, the middle would be the consistency of the sauce in chocolate self saucing pudding. Well, it seems to have firmed up overnight and it is just the most amazing mud cake. Plus the mamothly overpowering coffee taste has dispersed somewhat in the cooking, so it no longer tastes like a short black with chocolate sprinkled on top.

I reckon half of it is enough to feed 30 kids.

I hope that the parents of 30 kids are prepared for 30 totally hyper maniacs this morning.

Saturday 26 August 2006


"The Herd" have done a cover of the Redgum classic "I was only 19", and have recently put out a video clip to go with the song.

I was watching the clip the other night when I noticed a problem with this scene - the rear sight on the SLR is flipped halfway forward, making it totally useless.

Yes, you need to be a total SLR-pedant to notice wee things like that. It's been 15 years since I last carried one, and I still remember stupid troopers getting bawled out for not setting their rear sights properly.

It's funny how getting yelled at is good for making you remember things.

Let them eat cake

God, I must be getting old. Number one's school is running a fete on Sunday and all the kids have to take a cake - and it has to be something that they have baked.

Hell, public education is full of good ideas. Let's give all the kids really bad bowel problems by getting them to eat stuff that other 10 year olds have baked. At least private schools are moer honest about the whole rigmarole - they just tell the mums to go home and start baking.

So we spent a few nights poring through Donna Hay cooking magazines in order to try and find a cake recipe that was kid proof. There are some kids that can cook, and others that can't. Number one has trouble making toast. Let's just leave it at that.

I suggested something simple - something so simple that even I could make it, and I can't bake for nuts. The result is shown here on the left - a jam-ripple cake. Yes, it really was very easy to make, and I put most of that down to the Kitchen Aide mix-master thingy. I just poured stuff into the bowl and it pretty much made the cake for me. I haven't worked out how to stick grease-proof paper into a springform tin yet - I think that gives you a good indication of how up on cake baking I am.

This photo was taken 24 hours ago. There is now just a thin sliver of cake left, and I might demolish that before bedtime. This cake has been a big success. Thanks Donna.

Number One of course decided that this cake was not for him, so we had to make another cake. One that was about 40 orders of magnitude more complicated. It is a chocolate mud cake, and it is in the oven right now. It's got 15 minutes to go. Given my luck, I will have to get up at 6am to make a jam-ripple cake because the mud cake will be an unadulterated disaster. I'm not blaming the author (Nat), because if I do, he won't bake any more cakes for us on our birthdays and that would be very sad. But maybe I should blame the author. After all, Nay is a pastry chef at a very flash Sydney restaurant, and he probably turns out mud cakes the way Fosters make beer. What the hell was he thinking when he gave a complete novice like me a recipe that is normally only used by brain-surgeon equivalent cake bakers? If anything, I will be banging on his door at 6am demanding that he turn out a cake pronto.

I guess it doesn't matter if it turns out to be gloopy mess, as we'll just call it chocolate goop and be done with it. Chocolate muck cake instead of mud cake. Kids will eat it. It's also so full of coffee and sugar and chocolate, their little hearts will probably explode after a few bites, so that should take care of any classroom overcrowding issues.

I should mention that this recipe calls for something like 375 grams of butter and 375 grams of sugar. I have no idea how much that is, but it sounds like a pound in the old measures. A pound of butter. My goodness, how many cows does it take to produce a pound of butter? A herd? A dairy? A colostomy? (That sounds good - a colostomy of cows). You mix the two together with about two blocks of cooking chocolate (sorry, that should be two slabs) and a bucketfull of coffee and hot water and stir. And stir. And stir. You're supposed to put the whole thing in the fridge for two hours and pull it out every 15 minutes for another stir.

If you've had anything to do with 10 year old kids, you'll know that 15 minutes is a difficult unit of time for them to grasp. The best way I know how to describe it is "half an episode of The Simpsons". Distraction set in after a few turns of the bowl, and I ended up with the job of finishing the cake.

Just what the hell was wrong with my jam-ripple cake anyway?

Five minutes to go with the cake baking. The moment of truth is fast approaching.

Car stuff

I thought these things only existed in Shannon's car insurance advertisements until this one pulled up near me the other day. It was making horrible spluttering two-stoke engine sounds and the driver hopped out and crawled around under the dash for a minute before hopping back in, firing it up and departing in a torrent of horrible two-stroke noises. He was wearing overalls, so either he was a mechanic who was taking it for a test drive, or he was the owner and he was used to having to tinker with it every time he takes it for a spin.

On other things motoring, I was killing time in a waiting room recently and I was reading a car magazine (Motor Mag I think) and I took offence at one of the letters to the editor. In the previous edition, they had done a story about AAMI (an insurance company) and the top 10 cars that were involved in claims.

I think the top was a Lexus, and then a whole list of 9 other totally boring cars.

Some idiot then hopped onto his PC and bashed out a letter exclaiming that as there was not a single Holden SS Commodore or HSV Ute or Falcon XR8 or whatever in that list, then drivers of hotted-up V8's must be much safer drivers.

There's lies, lies and bloody idiots.

Consider for a moment that the list was published by AAMI, which must be one of the safest, dullest and most boring car insurance companies in Australia - if you discount the Pensioners Insurance mob. I doubt AAMI would write cover on a V8 Statesman, let alone an HSV anything or a Subaru WRX - especially one with aftermarket mods. AAMI make their living insurance Corollas and other white shopping trolleys with 4 wheels and a driver with a flat cap. Their model customer is someone aged 52 who has driven an unbroken string of Volvos since they got their L's.

Therefore, I doubt that any performance vehicles made it into the AAMI list of dinged up cars to repair a lot as there are not a lot of them on their books. I suspect that HSV owners usually find themselves talking to one or two specialised brokers who charge them two arms and a knee cap for comprehensive insurance. Especially for those under 25. Hell, if I was the broker, I'd be charging a premium of about 25% of the replacement value. Especially since I went to school with a bloke who managed to write off an amazing string of utes by driving them in a furious and negligent manner - including a hideously drunk and disorderly manner. I know what young blokes do to cars. It's not pretty.

Anyway, I am sure that if Mr Idiot Letter-Writer wrote to Shannon's Car Insurance and asked for their top 10 list of smashed up cars, he'd probably find it replete with fancy cars - and not a Lexus to be seen, as what sort of Lexus driver needs to insure their car with Shannon's?

Tuesday 22 August 2006

Bring back the SLR

I am 80% of the way through "18 hours", a book about a pretty fierce battle in Afghanistan that resulted in the author getting a gong. One thing that he mentions is the uselessness of their M-4 rifles, which sound like a modern, cut down version of the M-16. Whatever they are, they fire 5.56mm ammo. As the author points out, 5.56 ammo has a maximum effective range of 360 metres, and the Taleban where sitting up nice and high on their rocks just out of effective range dropping all manner of crap on them. He pined for a good old SLR, which fires 7.62mm ammo and has a range out to 600 metres. Things might have gone differently if they had actually been able to shoot the bastards up on the rocks instead of blatting away with pop guns.

I was reading the other day that the Israelis ditched the SLR after the Six Day War as they were too long for urban combat and jammed up too much in the fine dust of the Sinai. We ditched the SLR some years after fighting in Vietnam, where it was probably too long for creeping around the jungle getting snagged on things. Besides, who needs a rifle that will shoot for half a mile when you are getting into combat at ranges of 50 metres or so in a jungle?

Anyway, then we deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, where the range open outs again quite considerably and we find that once again, we have the wrong rifles for the battles that have to be fought. We go to jungles with long rifles and deserts with short ones. Interesting how we prepare to fight the last war!

I lugged around an SLR on and off for 4 or 5 years as a Chocko, and I always had a love/hate relationship with the thing. It was a big lump of a thing next to the M-16, the ammo weighed a tonne and it got stinking hot after firing off 60 rounds or so. It also kicked like a mule, and I hated the fact that the Army would only ever give you three magazines, where any sensible person would want to carry six. A day of firing it always produced a bruised and battered shoulder.

However, it was wonderfully accurate, tremendously reliable and had a marvelous heft to it. When you carried it, you really had the feeling that you were lugging around a proper gat. If all else failed, it came with a nasty little bayonet and the size and weight of the rifle made it a marvelous pig sticker.

The M-16 on the other hand always felt like it would be better suited to a game of cowboys and indians in the backyard - not a serious weapon at all.

I was a reasonable shot with the SLR - I qualified high enough up on one range day to end up being sent on some extra shoots, where we got to fire at 500 metres. Most range work for regular infantry was done out to 300 metres only. I amazed myself at 500 metres, managing to actually hit the targets without a bloody big telescopic sight.

Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me if we were told that some of the SAS are now running around Afghanistan with something that can reliably shoot a long, long way - the good old Lee Enfield.

Monday 21 August 2006


From the SMH today:

Slide … the price for this St Clair house fell 42 per cent.

Slide … the price for this St Clair house fell 42 per cent.

Jonathan Chancellor Property Editor
August 21, 2006

A THREE-BEDROOM brick-veneer house in St Clair sold for just $260,000 at the weekend - down about 42 per cent from its last sale at $450,000 in 2003 in a further sign of the depressed state of the Sydney property market.

Only one person bid on the house in the city's west. The mortgagee sale was forced after the owners could not meet the interest payments on the $405,000 they borrowed to buy the house at the peak of the market.

Auction clearance rates are hovering around 48 per cent since the recent interest rate rise, but plummeting property prices have meant many vendors are confronting negative equity, where they owe more on the property than it is worth.

The Herald checked 16 properties in south-western and western suburbs listed at the weekend and found 60 per cent had prices or had attracted offers at a discount to their last sale price.

At the St Clair auction the buyer was an investor who will spend about $40,000 on essential repairs before leasing it at about $270 a week, said its L.J. Hooker St Marys selling agent, Michael Beatty.

Increasing petrol prices appear to be compounding the impact of repeated interest rate rises on properties in Sydney's outlying suburbs by driving prices down.

Lethbridge Park, near Penrith, recorded the second highest fall, when a townhouse that sold for $257,000 in 2003 was resold by mortgagees for $156,500, reflecting a roughly 40 per cent fall.

At Heckenberg, a four-bedroom house that sold for $330,000 in 2003 resold at $255,000 in another mortgagee sale. Four of the seven registered buyers put in bids before the Adaminaby Street house sold at an approximate 22 per cent discount to the property-boom price.

"There are some people around Liverpool who think that prices have further to fall, but I couldn't imagine this type of house will fetch less in six months' time," said its selling agent, Ray Dimarco.

At Parramatta, mortagees accepted $541,500 for an unrenovated house that fetched $736,000 in 2003 when it was sold as a deceased estate. The bank lent $580,000 on its 2003 sale.

Even the inner-suburban areas are showing signs of depressed prices. In Lilyfield a four-bedroom house on 607 square metres last sold at $1,355,000 unrenovated in boom-time 2003.

It attracted a $1,179,000 top bid after its recent renovation by its owner-builder. Two registered bidders competed at the on-site auction but the property was passed in well short of the owner's expectations. The freestanding house now has a $1.35 million asking price.

Given it has been 16 years since the last recession, long-time estate agents fear the fate of a generation of owners who had not experienced having a loan when times were tough.

Mr Beatty said: "There was a wave of people punting on the expectation of constant price rises until well into 2004, even after the three interest rate rises of late 2003. There has been significant price deflation and many now have negative equity in their homes.

"There are some sad stories. But we have to show the sellers the comparable sales and say honestly this is where the market is realistically at."

Sunday 20 August 2006

They protesteth too much

I don't see how "The West" can complain about Hez shooting rockets into civilian areas in northern Israel. After all, the strategy of trying to break the will of the civilian population through aerial bombardment is something that Western military thinkers came up with before WWI, and the Germans tried to inflict damage on the British with Zepelins etc.

Then came WWII and the massive night time bombing campaign of Germany. The Germans called our airmen "terror fliers" with good reason - the idea was to inflict terror and destroy the economy. Unrestricted submarine warfare was pretty similar.

So bombarding Israel with rockets that really don't kill many people or blow much stuff up is a good idea if your aim is to dislocate the economy and society, which is what they have done.

However, it is a bit rich for progressive thinkers in "The West" to then say that it is jolly beastly of the Israelis to shoot back. It would be like say Switzerland complaining to Adolf in 1943 that it was very unsporting of him to order the Luftwaffe to shoot down Lancasters with night fighters and ack-ack etc. If you happened to live in a village down the road from an RAF Bomber Command airbase and the Jerries pulled a midnight stunt and a few eggs went short and you copped it, well that was just tough.

I've never read Sun Tzu, but I am sure that there is something in there along the lines of, "If you can subdue your enemy with minimum force, then well done old chap". Hez are not using a lot of force, but they have done a very good job of messing with their enemy. You don't have to nuke a town to clear the population out.

It doesn't take a lot of force to keep people in line. A few boucers can control a pub packed with drunks. A robber can hold up a bank with 30 people in it with a 6 shot revolver - or even a replica pistol. British Bobbies managed to fight crims for a long time with not much more than a truncheon and a few strong words.

What I am getting at is that we should not mistake a few small explosions here for a lack of force. A small amount of force can have a great deal of leverage, and can be more powerful than the most enormous bombs - the Mother Of All Bombs. If anything, Israel has used disproportionate force - they haven't used anything like what Hez has used - you could argue that they have used a lot less. Hezbollah managed to depopulate northern Israel with a few thousand piddling little rockets. Israel did not manage to depopulate southern Lebanon even after hundreds of aerial sorties and major artillery bombardments and a ground invasion. If they had managed to depopulate the place, not so many civilians would have been killed.

As any martial arts teached will tell you, it is not how much force you use, it is where you apply it. Hezbollah have managed to use a small amount of force to great effect. Israel has had to repond with a great deal of force to counter-act it. People who talk about "disproportionate" have no idea what they are talking about.

My nominee for Father of the Year

In the spirit of Mr Bozo in the ACT nominating the father of David Hicks for the award, I am going to nominate Bill Milat, father of Ivan Milat.

Bill thinks that Ivan was framed and is campaigning for a full inquiry into the conviction.

Good on you Bill. Someone needs to stick up for Ivan. After all, Ivan did us all a favour by ridding the roads of pesky hitch hikers.

If Hicks ever gets out, all we need to do is set him up with a van and a fuel card and tell him that all hitch hikers are Jews. That should motivate him to keep the verges clean of thumb wielding wierdos.

Is 50km/h sensible?

Another week, another freebie local newspaper arrives to clutter up the letterbox. The bit that caught my eye as it made its way from letterbox to recycling bin this week was a proposal by a councillor to lower the speed limit on the major roads through our suburb from 60km/h to 50km/h. That includes the main arterials.

Nice idea, except I wish he could start with getting people to obey the speed limit on the road outside our place. It's not a major road, but it gets a reasonable amount of traffic rat running from Five Dock through to the City West Link. The local bogans think that their purpose in life is to hoon along the several hundred-odd metre stretch outside our place as fast as their cars will take them, and that includes accelarating flat out as they pass our place. The odd idiot also decides to take the corner near our place way too quickly, as the rubber on the road attests.

On my next trip to Bunnings, I am going to spen $10 on a can of road marking spray paint. No, I am not about the join the legions of vandals - I am going to spray two lines one hundred metres apart on the road surface and then time cars that appear to be racing along the street.

A car doing 60km/h is doing 1km a minute, or 100 metres every 6 seconds. A car doing 90km/h will cover 100 metres in 4 seconds. Ok, I'm not going to be that accurate, but it will be interesting to see what kind of approximate speeds cars are reaching as they rip by - and I mean rip by. The fluffy dice brigade must wear shoes with soles made of lead.

Anyway, Councillor Megna will be getting a letter with the results of my impromptu survey.

If I remember to go to Bunnings. Well, I have to go there anyway. The el-cheapo $29 Chinese made whipper-snipper has bitten the dust and relocated to the rubbish bin, so I need to lay my hands on another before Spring arrives with a vengeance and the backyard disappears under several feet of weeds.

If spraying the road and timing cars doesn't produce results, I guess I can do another trip to Bunnings and manufacture my own home made road spikes. I'd just curl them up on the other side of the road with a rope running back to our place. When I hear an approaching doof-doof, it's time to pull on the rope and extend the spikes across the road.

The trick would be to get the spikes into the house before the bogan managed to get out of his car and go looking for the culprit.

Photoshopping the news

If you want to understand what this is about, I'm afraid you will have to read this.

I am bemoaning the death of music with my photoshopped image.

Sunday 13 August 2006

Street festivals - worse than a pimple on my bum

We attended Ferragosto today, which is the local Italian street festival. By far, the best part of it was the council brochure that appeared in our mailbox last week to plug it. The brochure is a beauty - glossy, with a cover that screams "Tuscany" and "Venice".

I've been to Venice. Five Dock is nothing like Venice. Five Dock is more akin to Mogadishu than Venice.

As we were walking towards Five Dock, the first thing we heard was some bad singing, well amplified. It turned out to be Cosima De Vito. Who? Well, if that was your reaction, then obviously you have not been watching Idol either. The puff piece in the brochure says that she was a top 12 finalist in the 2003 series. You could have fooled me. She belted out a couple of well known songs, and the crowd just stood there and tried not to put their fingers in their ears. Thankfully, the sound engineer realised he was at a family event and not the Metro, so he didn't crank the volume up to 11. You could actually stand 30 metres from the stage and talk, which was good, as we talked about how awful the singing was.

She has a really bad stage presence. It's just tragic. She did the old hold-the-microphone-out-to-the-crowd trick in the hope that the crowd would sing along with her, but the crowd stood there like Michelangelo statues and refused to be moved. Well actually we moved along - as far away as possible.

The festival had all the usual suspects - jewellry stalls, food stands, a slippery slide thing, a bouncy castle, a few wine tasting stalls, organic plates made from some sort of palm frond and another tonne or two of rubbish. It was really just low grade trash. It was hopeless. I've been going to the Good Food markets at North Sydney and Pyrmont off and on over the years and those are really well run markets. They are clean, tidy and packed full of things that I want to buy.

Ferragosto was like a market with a few rides and slides and of course every cafe on the street had a table out selling hamburgers, coffee and steak sandwiches. Sorry, but I can't get past the idea of Italian cafes doing a sausage sizzle. Shouldn't they be making and serving something that is vaguely Italian?

We did sample a couple of Italian desserts. I tried the thing pictured here, which is a bit like a vanilla slice, except that it is yucky and expensive. I couldn't eat the top half - it was too sickly sweat. I just ate most of the bottom part and then binned the lot. Thankfully, her Ladyship had bought a tiramasu in a cup, and I washed ot my tongue with a bit of that. The tiramasu was complete garbage too - the cream was too sweat and the biscotti had been left to soak in coffee for about a minute rather than a few seconds. They were soggy and squishy. The coffee in them was good, but they ruined the tiramasu. Between the two of us, we managed to finish it though.

This is not a very good photo of what the street was like - completely packed. I normally spend about 20 minutes at these festivals - as long as it takes to walk from one end of the street to the other, maybe picking up a sausage in a bun on the way. We were at this one for about two hours, because it took that long to push the pram from one end of the street to the other through this throng. I should have spent my time photographing people. I saw one guy - about 45 - wearing a crushed gold velour polo necked top. I reckon he thought he was cooler than James Bond. He was a complete dick.

This is street scene number two. I took it because the orange sign is to me an authentic symbol of Five Dock - bad hair cuts for $15. It is not the kind of area to have nice salons where you can get a good haircut for say $20. It is full of awful wog shops that only know how to butcher your head.

Hate 'em.

Apart from that, I bought a steak sandwich from the butcher. The only reason I bought one was because he had a tray of raw steaks out for you to look at, and they looked good.

He might have known how to cut up cows, but he couldn't run a BBQ for nuts. The steak sandwiches were not good.

I also spent $10 on two tubs of gellato, from supposedly the best gellato shop on the street. Well, they might be the best in Five Dock, but they compare pretty poorly to our favourite shop in Balmain. I bought a dish of chocolate and vanilla, and both were awful. Couldn't eat mine. At $5 a dish, I'm expecting top class ice cream. That's not what I got. I can't describe what was wrong with it - it was just bad. The vanilla didn't taste like vanilla at all. I've had plenty of home made icecream made with a real vanilla bean, and it is good. Vanilla beans impart an amazing flavour of vanilla that is nothing like say Peters icecream. This tasted more like goats piss.

I was hoping to get the little monkey a balloon, but it turned out that the only people giving away balloons were the local MP and her challenger. A yellow balloon for Labor and a blue balloon for Liberal. When we got to their stands, both were unmanned and both appeared to be out of balloons. No floating monkey it turns out.

One good thing did come of it - we found a stall manned by the AustralAsian Specialty Coffee Association. They run a competition to find the best barista. We got there too late to see the competition that they held, so I have no idea who won. I had a look at their website and some related links and found this photo of the stupidest thing you can do to a coffee. It's a drink for goodness sake!

The AASCA bloke did correct one misconception that I had - there are in fact 3 different types of macciato - a regular, a piccolo and a something else. I had a look at their website to find out something about the different styles, and found nada.

Getting blown up cars right

I commented a while ago on the movie "Jarhead" and an annoying scene where they patrol through a valley of burnt out cars, trucks, buses etc. Supposedly they have been attacked by aircraft (presumably A-10 warthogs) and have been generally cluster bombed and strafed with 30mm cannon.

Cars that have been shot at and blown up generally have either big holes in them or chunks missing here, there and everywhere. They just don't burn - unless you are dropping napalm. The thing is, every car, bus, truck etc is intact, but black.

This came to mind when I was happened to find some pics of cars that have been attacked from the air - no, not by shitting seagulls or pigeons - by attack aircraft or helicopter gunships.

Now I might be wrong here, as it is a while since I watched Jarhead, but I seem to remember that a lot of the cars and buses had intact windows. I would have thought that the odd exploding bomb would push out enough of a blast wave to break every window in the vicinity.

The other thing is that the vehicles seemed to be remarkably undented.
At the very least, I'd expect some of them to be pretty banged up.

The really interesting thing though is why would every vehicle in that valley be burnt out? Look at the car on top - it has been hit by a missile, but it has not caught fire. Maybe it ran on diesel - who knows. Maybe once one vehicle goes up, there's enough heat and flame to set off the next one and so on and so on.

I just wish Hollywood would try harder to get it right. It's not like they are short of money, and digital special effects these days can do a lot of things.

Compulsory ski helmets?

When I read this article in the SMH, the first thing that went through my head is that this will be the first time I have not had a ski in about 15 years.

I wear a helmet. I do that because I have had some wonderful stacks over the years - some absolute rippers. Crashing in the snow at speed doesn't do any damage most of the time, since snow by definition is soft. Just an inch or two of soft stuff on the surface is enough to cushion most falls. Ok, you still end up sore, and occasionally bruises will come through, but injury can often be avoided.

I bought the helmet after crashing on ice. That hurt. A lot. Once I started wearing it, I found that it was warmer than a beanie, so I am now a committed helmet wearer. I have also been cleaned up occasionally by out of control snow boarders (snow lice is my preferred expression), and the helmet helps when my heads clashes with theirs. It won't save me from a busted knee or a broken wrist, and it might not help if I do a Sonny Bono into a tree, but it helps nonetheless.

When I went skiing last year, us helmet wearers were still in a minority, but one that was clearly growing fast. Whilst I would have felt like a complete dick wearing a helmet five years ago, now I feel part of an enlarging club.

Skiing is a risky sport. You need to know what you are doing, and you need to keep your eyes and ears open and be on the lookout for rocks, trees, obstacles, ice and idiots 110% of the time. It is not a carefree sport - it involves the utmost attention if you want to get down the hill quickly and cleanly. I find it immensely relaxing because when I am skiing, I am thinking so hard, I do not have enough brain capacity left over to think about work. It completely erases all other worries.

I don't think it should be compulsory to wear a helmet. It's your head - make up your own mind. If you think that you are competent enough to avoid having a bad crash, good luck to you. I know that I am not that competent - I usually ski well beyond my ability, so a helmet comes in handy.

Besides, we need more organ donors. Actually, we need more dead organ donors. So let's keep with the voluntary thing.

Cultural fit

I am not going to get into an argument about cultural relativism here. I am just going to write about how 'close' I feel to other cultures.

Maybe I can call it "The Index of Togetherness".

If I was feeling really technical, I'd create an index that was made up of several sub-components - religion, language, values, outlook, history etc etc, and give each a weighting. However, I can't be shagged. I am just going to pull numbers out of my arse.

Let's see, I am living in the inner west in Sydney, and I have lived in the eastern suburbs and the north shore. Being a complete WASP, I feel more at home in the latter two areas than where I am now, so I'll give the east and north a score of 100. I'll give wogville a score of 85. That is, I feel 85% bonded with this area. That score might be too high - who knows. I am just fiddling with numbers here.

85 is pretty comfortable, which is why I am in no hurry to move. It is not perfect, but it is good enough. It's not Beirut.

Funnily enough, I'd give Melbourne a score of 95. Tasmania is a wierd place - it gets a score of 80. I've been there, and I really don't understand them. Queensland is the same - that bunch of crackers gets a score 0f 80 as well. We speak the same language, but they are on another planet.

The far western suburbs of Sydney gets a score of 60. I have more in common with whackos from Brisbane than I do with westies.

Now let's go international.

I'll give the poms a score of 90 - the English that is. Same language, religion, history, values, cultural affinity and all that. The Welsh get a score of 50. I'll give the yanks a score of 75 - because I have actually spent a bit of time in the US and understand that although they speak English and are christians and a democracy and all that, they are definitely on another planet. Two peoples separated by a common language.

I'll give the kiwis 92. That means we should boot Tasmania out of the commonwealth and incorporate NZ.

I've been to most of Western Europe, so I'll rate them as follows:

France - 70
Germany - 60
Belgium - 60
Denmark - 65
Holland - 65
Norway - 55
Sweden - 55
Finland - 50
Austria - 55
Greece - 50
Italy - 50
Turkey - 40

The further east and north you go, the lower the scores. I can understand a bit of French and German - after all, they use the same script as us, and if was there for a few weeks, I could start to read the newspapers. I read about those countries every week. They might be Catholics, but I can put up with that. The French do well because the English and the French have a lot of shared history, and the French have some very attractive elements in their culture. I don't want to live there, but I can live with them.

The northern countries are all mad. Think long, cold nights and vodka. That's all I have to say.

I'm thinking that I should give Greece and Italy higher scores, since we know a lot about them and they are one of the cradles of western civilization. Plus a lot of them came out to Australia 50 years ago, so we've had lots of exposure to their cultures. However, as a phlegmatic WASP, I still find the hot headed Latin culture a bit hard to take. That's just my opinion. Nice places to visit, but I wouldn't want to live in either.

I didn't get a chance to drop into what was then Eastern Europe, but I will have a crack at a few countries on the wrong side of the old Berlin Wall:

Slovakia - 40
Rumania - 25
Hungary - 40
Croatia - 30
Ukraine - 25
Russia - 25

In other words, they are all a write-off. Funny languages. Ethnic hatreds. Orthodox Christians. Borscht. Slavic. Can't read the newspaper.

Now let's move closer to home and look at Asia:

Japan - 30
China - 15
South Korea - 20
North Korea - 1
Thailand - 30
Indonesia - 25
PNG - 10
Malaysia - 25
Hong Kong - 35
Singapore - 50
India - 25
Pakistan - 8

Japan does alright thanks to 50 years of trade and sushi. Toyota and Sony have been great ambassadors. However, they are still inscrutable little nipponese with a very different language, culture, customs, religion and all that. We know something about them, but we don't know them. Exposure to their culture, and 50 years of peace, has pushed Japan up the index.

South Korea is where Japan would have been 25 years ago. South Korea is moving slowly up the index - slipstreaming behind Japan I guess.

Singapore and Hong Kong rate well. Lots of them speak English. Singapore is kind of democratic. Clean. Well run. Respect for law and order. Nice place to visit. Beer is a bit expensive, but I could think about living there.

India - rates reasonably due to some shared history under the British Raj and Tandoori chicken. Democratic. Interesting place - probably viewed as fairly benign by most Australians. Mad as meataxes though.

Pakistan was interesting though. I gave it 1/3 the score of India. Also mad as meataxes, and part of the Raj, but who wants to go there? Perhaps the key difference is that after a generation, the Indians are starting to fit in to our society, but the Pakis seem to be keeping to themselves.

How about the middle east?

Iran - 4
Iraq - 5
Jordan - 8
Syria - 5
Saudi Arabia - 5
Bahrain - 15
Israel - 55
Gaza - 3
Lebanon - 10

In other words, these are just really foreign places. Apart from Israel. Most are not democratic, they are definitely not Christian, the rule of law seems a bit dodgy and the culture and customs are way differnt. The Israelis do fairly well as a lot of them seem to be nominally Jewish rather than full on - just as I am nominally Anglican, which means I might go to church for weddings and funerals. I don't even make it for Easter and Christmas. I can relate to people like that.

Plus, a lot of the Israelis came from Europe, so they brought some of those recognisable cultures with them. They drink beer. They sunbake in bikinis. The women not only drive, they serve in the military. They have an insane democratic system - perhaps it is too democratic. Quite a few of them speak English quite well, including those that emigrated from the US (ha ha). In short, it is my kind of country. I don't particularly like Israelis or dislike Joranians - I just feel a closer affinity with them. Don't want to live in either country though.

Lebanon - couldn't give a rats about most of it.


Sudan - 4
Congo - 3
South Africa - 65
Namibia - 50
Zimbabwe - 15

South Africa and Namibia play cricket and rugby, so that has to count for a lot. Zimbabwe gets a few points because it used to be Rhodesia, but it is shedding points like crazy.

Closer to home, I give aboriginals a rating of 10. Yes, we live in the same country and we've been exposed to aboriginal culture for years, but I feel closer to the Japanese than I do to aboriginal culture. Note that I am talking about culture here rather than individuals. You can feel very close to or very alienated from two people from the same culture - I am talking about overall perceptions here. Aboriginal languages, religion, history, customs, social mores etc are just completely different to my WASP background. Chalk and cheese.

So what does this tell us?

If the English decide to invade Wales again, I am backing the English. I don't care if they are right or wrong - I just feel culturally closer to them.

Everyone will have their own score, and it will be weighted according to their background. Japanese might give the Koreans a score of 80, although given how the Koreans feel about WWII, they might give the Japs a score of 20. The Egyptians would probably give the Palestinians a score of 70 and the Israelis a score of 5, which explains their reflexive support of the Palestinians. And Saddam Hussein. They probably gave Saddam a rating of 60 and George W a rating of 5. George is just too different for them to comprehend or understand.

I think the problem that a lot of lefties have is that they feel the need to love everyone else on the planet, regardless of whether they love you back or not. I love people that love me back. I respect people that respect me back. It's not a one way street. However, they'd easily misconstrue such an index as racist. I'm not saying I hate people that come from a culture with a score of say less than 30. I don't hate them. I just don't feel any afinity with them. We have too little in common. We don't relate because there is little common ground. It's not like or dislike - it's more disinterest.


I fed both mornings this weekend at a place in Balmain called "Stir". I'm not sure how long it has been there - it is one of those cafes that doesn't really stand out, and it is in a spot that I walk past and don't pay any attention to that side of the road - all the action is on the other side of the road. However, on Saturday I finally noticed it and decided to give it a go.

The attractions - it is on the perfect side of the street to get the winter sun in the morning. Sitting outside at a nice little table with the Fin Review was just marvelous. On top of that, no one else seemed to have noticed the place, so I pretty much had it to myself.

The menu also looked pretty good. I had the full-on-fat full breafast, and it was big and good. It had stuff on it that I am really over, like big big big plate sized mushrooms (it should be singular, as there was only one big mushroom), but they had homemade baked beans, and you have to give them points for that.

The downsides - the waiters were a confused bunch. I tried to do a headcount and I think that there were 4 or 5 people working there, and they shared duties between making coffee, manning the stove, serving, taking orders and driving the register. My order seems to have been mixed up as a result, and I had to ask for my coffee again after my meal had arrived. The coffee was good, and the staff were very friendly. There just didn't seemed to be any order or systematic approach to anything. That's ok - when it comes to just me and breakfast, I am happy to accept a happy confused person over an efficient Nazi.

Anyway, I liked it so much, I went back for a feed again this morning. Somehow, more people had noticed the place, and most of the tables in the sun were full. I thought given the confused state of the joint, I would never get my order taken, but a waiter arrived just as I sat down and I gave him my order straight away. I think he was trying to take an order from the table behind me, but I just pushed in and ambushed him and that was that. Nice guys finish hungry.

I ordered the bircher muesli, which took about two aeons to arrive. Ok, I know that you need to soak bircher for some period of time - normally overnight - but it started to appear that some confused person in the kitchen had forgotten to soak the muesli the night before and they were mashing up my muesli on the spot. It would have taken less time to kill a pig and smoke up some bacon that it did to produce my bircher.

Which was a worry because I had bought one of the Sunday papers to go with breakfast and I normally read them in 2 or 3 minutes. They are just trash. Saturday is ok because it takes me a lot longer to get through the AFR, but Sundays usually require 3 or 4 papers if breakfast is going for a long time, and there were no other papers in sight.

Horrors! I had to actually read the social pages and all the liftouts and other crud that comes in the Sunday package. Curses - should have bought the Sunday Age. I know that it is produced by a bunch of scheming socialists, but at least they produce something that is half readable.

So my muesli finally arrives, and it is really fucking horrible. I mean it is right up there with the top 5 worst mueslis that I have ever had, and I do not eat a lot of muesli. Maybe I don't eat a lot of muesli as most of the time it is just yuk. It was stodgy. It was dull. It was like eating wet cardboard. Which is a shame, as I have purchased Whisk & Pin bircher muesli before and made it up and it is quite good. Clearly, they are using cheap muck, and it shows.

It was lightly covered in some sort of berry compote, and there were also four slices of apple. And that was it. I ate about half of it and had to leave the rest behind - I really couldn't face it. After years of listening to mum go on and on about starving children in Africa, and then starving through boarding school, I never leave food on the plate. If it was polite to lick a plate, that's what I would do after each meal. If I left food behind, it must have been really bad.

It was. I don't want to think about it.

What really pains me is that years ago, there was a restaurant in Melbourne - in Malvern I think - that used to serve the most wonderful Bircher. It was a very flash place, and I was always amazed to find it open for breakfast. It had starched tablecloths, waiters in black tie and lots of serious silverware. It did a very good breakfast, and the bircher was outstanding. I used to go there just for the bircher.

Of course it closed years back, and I have never had muesli like it since. But whenever I have muesli, I think of that place, and wish that they could pass on the secret of a good muesli to other eating establishments - because God knows, they need it.

After all that, I will give Stir another go. One of the staff recognised me from Saturday and welcomed me back, so with service like that, they can't go wrong. I will just avoid the mush in a bowl and go for go for pork and cluckers next time.

Saturday 12 August 2006

Hollywood dribble

What was that Owen Wilson movie that came out a few years ago - was it "Behind Enemy Lines"? I'm not sure. Anyway, there is this scene where he has been shotdown and is trying to escape and evade and I forget why, but he is running through this busted up factory complex when he runs into a minefield of bouncing betty mines. He runs through the minefield flat out, hitting all the trip wires and setting the mines off behind him. It's a great scene, with lots of explosions going off and stuff.

Yeah, like you can really outrun shrapnel, and bouncing betties have a really focused blast whereby all the shrapnel goes behind you instead of being spread out all over the place. Either that, or mines and bombs and artillery shells only kill you if they land right on top of you, because all that they consist of is a bit of flame and smoke.

Ha ha.

It has been a long time since I got to fiddle with dummy claymore mines, but I always wanted to know what the shrubbery would look like after hitting the clacker a few times.

I think this powerpoint presentation provides a good answer. Don't mess with the ball bearings!

Damn this ham

I have just finished making (and eating) a ham and pineapple pizza. Or two. Well, maybe 1.5 pizzas. I have also just figured out another reason why I don't like the ham I purchased from the Big Wog Deli.

The buggers don't peel it before they slice it.

I can see you don't understand what I mean.

When you have a big, fat ham (aka Michael Moore), you generally find that it is sold with the skin still on it. Before putting it on top of the finger slicing machine, the staff at the Small Wog Deli get out a knife and cut off the skin around the top end of the ham before slicing it into paper thin slivers of ham. At the Big Wog Deli, they just stick it on the finger slicer (plus they slice it slightly thicker).

I don't know about you, but I prefer my ham with no skin. Yes, it's a personal preference, but it's my preference. Thank goodness for a competitive market. If you like ham with skin, shop at the Big Wog Deli. The small one is going to get my business instead.

I discovered the difference whilst assembling my pizza. Normally, I pick up a paper thin slice of ham and the thing practically falls apart in my hands, which is great as I want to cover the pizza in shreds of ham, not a big monolithic bloc of stuff. If the ham slice has skin on it, it doesn't fall apart evenly - the skin acts as a kind of wrapper and you end up with a mess of ham on top of the pizza.

Yes, I am a real pedant when it comes to pizza toppings. But one must pay attention to all the finer details in order to create the perfect outcome.

I am still having problems with achieving a crunchy crust. This week, I went 50/50 with plain flour and wholemeal, and saw some improvement. The addition of wholemeal also produces a "fluffier" dough for some reason. I left out semolina - it might be the semolina that is creating the biscuit-like crunch that I am aiming for.

Ah well, next week it will be a 50/50 dough mix with a good handful of semolina thrown in.

The Big Wog Deli does have something going for it as far as bocconcini is concerned. I bought a tub of little balls and as an experiment, I pulled one apart tonight instead of cutting it. The internal texture was like a ball of wool - it's hard to explain, and you'd really need to do it for yourself with top quality cheese to see the effect. The cheese from the Small Wog Deli doesn't do this.

Does it make any difference?

Buggered if I know. I just thought it was interesting, and I have read cheese articles that rave about this sort of texture.

Stupid middle east journalists

Just about every night on the news, one sees pictures of self-propelled artillery blasting away at bits of Lebanon. The idea behind using these images seems to be to demonstrate that Israel is indiscriminately bombarding civilians and causing unnecessary casualties. That's the way I read it. Maybe I am just being paranoid, but if one shows footage of 155mm cannons going "BOOM" and then shows footage of civilians being dragged out of rubble, then you are creating a subtle linkage between the two. Michael Moore is the master of linking totally unrelated things this way.

But has any reporter wandered up to a battery commander (I don't mean someone that is in charge of Duracel batteries - I mean an artillery battery, or group of guns) and asked them what they are shooting at and how they are being given the co-ordinates to shoot at? After all, when one has a big cannon that will shoot, I don't know, say 20 kilometers, you don't peer over open sites ala "Master and Commander" and shoot at something that you can see across the way. You are relying on someone else feeding you a precise set of co-ordinates. In the old days, this was done by either a forward observer (FO) on the ground with a radio, or an FO in a light plane. I am not up on how the drop-shorts do it these days, but I presume it also involves remotely piloted drones and that sort of thing, along with desperate young platoon commanders yelling into handsets for supporting fires.

The other artillery usually does is counter-battery fire. In the days of Wellington and Napoleon, this involved one side parking their artillery on one hill and the other lot parking on another hill and the two blasting away at each other with the aim of knocking off enough artillery pieces or men in order to dominate the battle. If you can subdue the other guys artillery, you can then pound his infantry to bits.

By the time Vietnam came around, we had a fun bit of kit called the Mortar Locating Radar. As the name suggests, it could detect incoming mortar rounds and compute where they were coming from. Artillery could then be directed to return fire to that spot. If VC mortarmen wanted to live for long, they became masters at the art of "shoot and scoot". That is, pop off a few rounds, pick up the tube and baseplate and run for your lives.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I would have thought that if Hezbollah are shooting off rockets from Lebanon, then the Israelis would be using their mortar locating radar to plot where the rockets are being fired from, and then getting the artillery to blast that spot into dust. Which is why it is really, really dumb for Lebanese civilians to hang around watching Hezbollah firing rockets from their backyards. If I saw a rocket salvo go off nearby, I would run in the opposite direction as fast as possible, and not stop running for at least 10 minutes. In the old days, that would take me at least 2km away. That would allow for the odd artillery salvo going a bit long, and 155mm shrapnel has a nasty habit of going a really long way. Artillery is probably better for this type of mission than aircraft - artillery can react faster than air support. Which I guess is why we see a lot of footage of big guns going "BOOM" on the news each night.

The only problem with using mortar locating radar and artillery is that it really produces very un-sexy footage. For all we know, the Israelis might also be using stacks of towed artillery, but big tank-looking things look much more impressive than wimpy little 105mm pack howitzers. Another problem with artillery is that you don't get the gun-camera or bombsight footage that you get from aircraft. You don't get to see a laser designator resting on a house rooftop and then a big cloud of dust going everywhere. There are no cameras in the nose cones of high explosive rounds.

Maybe someone could come up with that? It'd be dead frightening to be watching footage from a 155mm nose cone as it heads towards its target. Eeek.

Anyway, it shits me that you see footage of say a village being bombarded, but we aren't told why it is being bombarded. Is it because someone just popped up and fired an anti-tank missile from a house? Is it because a platoon of Hezbollah is dug in like ticks and they won't surrender or flee, so the result is something like Monte Cassino? Is it because a salvo of rockets left there a few minutes beforehand, so they are trying to hit those that fired them?

I get the feeling though that the journalists that we have in the middle east are so un-militarily minded that they think that the self propelled artillery are in fact tanks - which they are not. The idea of adding armour is to allow the cannons to get the hell out of Dodge once they have completed a fire mission - assuming that the other guy is going to be shooting back with big guns as well. They're really overkill when used against Hezbollah, but they'd be really useful for fighting the Syrians, as the Syrians would have a lot of artillery to use for counter-battery fire. Using self-propelled artillery as a "tank" is about the stupidest idea you could think of. The armour isn't that thick, and it's not reactive or CHOBHAM or any of that fun stuff that you find on say Challenger or Abrahms tanks. The cannons are also big fat things that are designed to hurl a lot of rounds in an "up and over" style, whereas tanks use a high velocity gun that shoots very flat. Self propelled artillery would last as long on the battlefield if facing tanks as say guys in semi-traillers would last - about 2 minutes.

But I think I am digressing. I understand the difference between a tank and self propelled artillery - and APC's for that matter. I understand what counter battery fire means. I know that mortar locating radars have been around for 30 years, and what they are used for. But most of the population wouldn't. I reckon most journalists wouldn't have a clue either.

Which means the "news" and "analysis" that we are getting is just so much frog shit.

Bargain of the week

Seen in the AFR today:

2004 Maybach 6.2 . Travelled 90km since new. New price of $1,280,000. On sale at $695,000.

Try living with the depreciation on that new car!

Tuesday 8 August 2006

Is Turnbull out of touch?

I curse the day that I moved out of Malcolm Turnbull's electorate. It would be fun to have a totally loaded guy as your MP (I got a bit dyslexic when I typed that and actually typed "PM" to start with).

The SMH attacked him today with an article accusing him of being out of touch regarding petrol price increases. After reading it, my first thought was that the journalist who wrote it does not live in the east, and has possibly never visited the eastern suburbs. They probably live is some sinkhole the wrong side of Parramatta and a Labor apparachik as their member.

I thought Turnbull was spot on - after all, all he said was "soaring petrol prices were not a talking point with his constituents". My guess is that he is right on the button with his electorate.

Consider the following thoughts:

Bondi Junction is about 5 kms from the Sydney CBD. Many of his constituents probably work in the CBD, and many probably catch the excellent train into work. Buying petrol to commute is not something they do. They are not commuting 50km in each direction from outer woop-woop to greater smogville each day. Even if they do, they are only using 1/10th of the petrol that an outer suburban fringe dweller will be using.

The eastern suburbs is one of the wealthiest parts of Australia. It is the home of the 5 series BMW and the bg fuck-off Mercedes and the Range Rover. In that part of the world, poor people drive the 3 series BMW and downmarket Land Rovers. If I have just spent $170,000 on a car, the last thing I am going to be worried about is the price of petrol, even if it only does 15 litres per 100 km in country cycle.

Think about the depreciation on a $170,000 car. What is it worth after 3 years? Maybe $70,000? So you are burning at least $30,000 per year in depreciation, or $600 per week. Given that the average fuel bill for Sydney families is $235 a week, are you really going to care if your fuel bill goes from $235 a week to $300 when you are blowing double that in depreciation?
Nah, I think not.

You've got to remember that a lot of people in his electorate probably spend on flowers for the house each week what we spend on topping up the tank.

Would you really care about petrol if you are spending $1,000 a week on rent, as opposed to say $200 at Blacktown?


Like he said, petrol costs are not a big talking point. The only time his constituents would use a lot of juice is when they are driving down to their chalet at the snow.

As usual, it would be nice if the SMH bothered to actually just report the news instead of trying to comment on it all the time.

Lateline needs a dictionary

Don't ask me why, but I watched a bit of lateline last night and saw Tony Jones having a go at Amanda Vanstone. It was liking watching a baby penguin gumming a blue whale. (Given that penguins have beaks, is "beaking" a word? How do you describe little squishing beaks though?)

There was an exchange that went something like this:

Jones: "This document contains many disturbing facts, Minister".

Vanstone: "They are allegations, not facts, and they have not been proven".

Jones: "Well the allegations contain facts and they may or may not be true".

Sorry Tony, but a fact by definition is "true". A "true fact" is a tautology. An "untrue fact" is something that does not exist. I think it is called a "falsehoold". You can't say that a fact may or may not be true.

I watched about 10 minutes of this gumming and went to bed.

Got up this morning to find that the SMH had run a story on it. They condensed the whole interview down to: Asked if she would investigate the cases of the two named people said to have died, she told the ABC's Lateline: "I'll have a think about that."

Well, actually she said a lot more than that, and although I am no fan of Vanstone, I think she did a decent job of kicking Tony Jones in the balls. I thought she demolished his case pretty well. Then again, I am not a political junkie, so there might be some finely nuanced things that I missed that meant that Jones won the debate on points. To me, it looked like he went down in flames.

Anyway, trust the SMH to come out with a line that makes Vanstone look like a totally heartless cow. It failed to mention that the Immigration Dept had asked the mob who had done the report claiming people who had been killed to provide evidence on a number of occasions going back to May, and none had been forthcoming. I don't blame her for saying "I'll think about it". If some bunch of sods ran around making allegations, and then didn't provide any details that would allow them to be checked, and ran off to milksops like the ABC who will parrot their stories no questions asked, then I'd tell them to sod off. I thought Vanstone was very polite.

The totally diminished value of computer equipment

Got a flyer in the letter box today - it is for a liquidation auction being held locally later this week. When I first read it, I thought "great - they are clearing 50 monitors that are 17" or 20" - I could do with a couple at home".

Then I looked on line at their actual catalogue.

All the monitors are CRT screens, not flat screens. Who on earth wants a 20" monitor that was manufactured in 1999? (Yes, they included the manufacturing month and year in the catalogue). For starters, a monitor that big from that period is the size of a small fridge and weighs about half a Mini. When you turn them on, they start with an enormous "bung" sound, and the electro-magnetic disturbance that they put out is enough to stun a small pidgeon at 50 yards.

If the things could stun seagulls, I'd run down to the auction, buy a dozen and line them up in the backyard facing the park. Whenever seagulls landed, I'd plug in the powerboard connected to all of them and watch seagulls fall over sideways. I guess I could also try canting them upwards at 15 degrees and see if I could knock down flying seagulls. I'd have to arrange them like an old pom-pom gun to give a good spread of electromagnetic discharge.

Trouble is, I can also picture all the wiring in the house melting down.

Better avoid the auction after all.

I'd kill for a good ham sandwich

Well, there are some people in the world that would probably want to kill me for eating a ham sandwich, but the nice thing about living in wogarama is the quality of the smallgoods - most of the time.

There are two uber-wog delis around the corner. Around the corner being maybe a kilometer and a bit. My favourite one is very small and pokey - if there are more than 3 customers in the shop, you are rubbing shoulders with all of them. I have not been into the other one in years, but I was forced to go there today because it is the only deli that will fit our pram. In the good old days, I could have just parked it and monkey out the front and left them there whilst I went shopping. These days, that is a good way to end up in front of a judge. Hell, it is probably a one-way ticket onto Today Tonight as the Villainous Parent of the Week.

So monkey had to come with me, which meant going to the deli with the wider aisles.

I discovered a few things.

Service is much faster in the big deli - probably because the staff are not climbing over the top of one another behind the counter.

The big deli has very attractive lighting - I looked at the food under the serving counter and wanted to buy it all. The only thing that saved me was the small boot on the pram, and the unliklihood of monkey being able to crawl all the way home. Otherwise, I would have kicked him out of the pram and filled the pram with stuffed olives and roasted capsicum and all that sort of stuff.

But those advantages count for nought if the food is actually not up to scratch. I bought some bread and ham and when I got home, made a ham sandwich for lunch.

My jaw now aches from trying to crunch through the bread roll that I bought. When I bake bread, I usually curse myself for turning out a tray covered in rock cakes. Well, I am not the only person turning out bread that is brick-like. It was good bread, but bugger me, was it tough.
The ham was not up to speed either. I think the squeezy deli must buy in a better product, and they shave it really fine when they put it on the big finger slicing machine. The more spacious deli sliced it the way I slice bread - into big fat chunks. OK, it was not that chunky, but compared to the paper thin slices that I am used to, the ham was the thickness of a T-bone steak.

It just didn't do it for me.

The local muslim terrorists can feel free to blow up the capacious wogarama, but I will be really put out if they proclaim jihad against the squishy deli. Not that the midget deli sells the worlds softest bread either - it's fine on the day it was baked, but a day later, it has generally dried out like biltong and is only fit for smearing with olive oil and turning into bruscetta.

Which I guess is where bruscetta comes from - it is a way to use up stale bread. That's the difference between top notch wog crusts and your average Tip Top "bread". I won't deign to call it bread - it's really just white sawdust in a plastic bag.

Tip Top bread is still all soft and squishy a week after it was purchased. It retains its essential mushiness long after a normal loaf has gone hard and mouldy. It's good for making sandwiches for days - it takes about a week before it gets to the point where the only way to make it edible is to toast it. I hate it. Except if I am making peanut butter and ham sandwiches - it is the only bread for that.

Anyway, the wog bread has a shelf life of about 12 hours. After that, it's like chewing on a fence post. At that point, it can only be resurrected by moisturising it with olive oil, toasting it and perhaps topping it with chopped tomato and stuff. Can you imagine getting out your pastry brush and brushing olive oil onto Tip Top bread and toasting it? Get off the grass! That is such a bizarre thought, it makes my head spin. All it shows is that Tip Top have managed to develop a process to turn wheat flour into crap. Me - I'm with the wogs.

Caves House

Monday 7 August 2006

The frustrations of technology

When it comes to technology, we are still a long way short of the foolproof stage. I have had the living daylights annoyed out of me over the last few weeks.

To start with, I bought a you-beaut Netgear network attached storage device - we now have about 300GB sitting on the network at home that we can all share. It's good. I can recommend it. It set me back about $360, which isn't bad at a bit over $1 per GB. It was fairly easy to setup, and I have now moved all my music onto it. My PC isn't that new anymore, and my ripped collection of CD's had taken up just a wee bit too much room.

Trouble is, the blasted external power supply has a dodgy connection and the power cable seems to work its way out of the socket from time to time and the flipping thing disappears off the network. The best way to tell if it is alive is simply to have i-tunes playing some music and if the music stops, the poor little blighter has lost power. I am thinking I will have to gaffer tape the plug into the socket to prevent it from coming loose.

I used to have a lot more than 4GB of music. However, that was before I bought Her Ladyship and iPod and decided that I would like to use it too.

You see, I originally ripped my hundreds of CD's with Realplayer, and it stores music in a WMV format. itunes can't read WMV, so I either had to rip the whole lot again with itunes, or find something that would do a batch conversion job on the whole lot to MP3 format.

So I did a bit of googling and found some shareware that would do the job. I duly downloaded it and started to convert my music in batches of about 5 CD's at a time. It would take about a minute per song to convert, so doing the whole lot would easily take all night. I got fed up with having to stuff more songs into it every hour, so I simply rammed my whole collection into it and went to bed.

The next morning, I got up, fired up itunes and pointed it at my collection. It managed to find about 1,000 songs. I was wondering whether the other 7000 were. When I finally got around to actually looking in the folders, I found that the only thing they contained was the album art. The stupid shareware had misfired after a few hundred tracks and had decided to convert the rest, but rename them all with the same name. I had 7000 copies of "reflections of remoh" by The Bloodhound Gang.

Three choices:
  • Listen to each song, rename it and stuff it into the right folder
  • Delete them all and re-rip the lot
  • Just play all the songs and to hell with what they are called
Well, I tried number 1 and soon got sick of it. I also tried number 3 and also got sick of it - especially after a few requests from Her Ladyship along the lines of "Can you find all the Queen songs?".


Option 2 is the only was to go. If this rain keeps up, I know what I will be doing. Feeding CD after CD into my PC. God, the last time was boring enough. This is going to be hell.

However, what I am looking for is a good iPod connector for the car. I have looked at a few online, but I don't want a stupid FM transmitter. I want one that replaces the 6 CD stacker. I'm currently waiting for the prices to come down to something reasonable.

Anyway, that was tech-wreck number 1.

Number 2 appeared when I updated ZoneAlarm. For some years, I have depended on ZoneAlarm to firewall off all the nasties from my PC, and it has done a pretty good job.

However, when I did the last update, something went seriously wrong. Suddenly, I did not have enough admin priviledges to even shut the PC down. Applications failed to run. And to cap it all off, ZoneAlarm would not install - no matter what. I was starting to wonder whether a complete PC rebuild was on the cards.

Solution - re-install SP2 and then attempt to remove ZoneAlarm. It appeared to uninstall, but the PC would not shutdown gracefully afterwards. I had to yank the power cable to turn it off. Now, after a few reboots, it seems to be behaving itself.

Except that FTP no longer works with Firefox. Something really strange is going on here. It will work with IE, but not Firefox. I can only surmise that ZoneAlarm has overwritten and really screwed some files. I guess I will have to now remove and re-install Firefox. Damn and blast.

The third tech wreck came when I bought an 80GB Topfield digital video recorder. It's a great little beast, and it is supposed to be able to record about 40 hours of TV at a high standard. I will talk more about it later.

Just one problem with it - the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is a waste of space because none of the commercial stations are able to keep to their program. If I tell it to record say CSI, it will start recording at 8.30pm and finish an hour later. Problem is, most stations run a bit late, so I always miss the last 10 minutes. Channel 10 is a disaster - I just tell it to start recording at say 8.30pm and to record for 2 hours. That way, even if some complete pile of crap like Big Brother runs and hour late, I will still get my show.

This creates a big problem - suddenly, I am recording twice the amount of material that I want to. Before I bought it, I was tossing up between the 80GB model, the 160GB model and the 250GB model. I figured that 80GB would be more than we would ever need. It would be, if I only had to use 1 hours worth of storage to record a 1 hour show. I am now starting to think about buying a 300GB hard drive for it. It's cut out a few times now part way through recording something because it has run out of space.


And to cap it off, when I try to Bittorrent the truncated show in question, I find that no one is seeding it, so I can't download it. Blasted worms.

The final tech wreck was sorted out at last today. We were very kindly given an old laser printer a few weeks ago - it's so old, it's probably belongs in a museum. It has a 10BaseT port in the back, not 100MB. When did everything start moving from 10MB to 100MB? Sometime in the mid 1990's perhaps? It's that old.

Because it has an ethernet card, I thought I'd be smart and try and network it at home. After all, that's the point of the networking card. My first assumption was that when I plugged it in, it would just pick up a DHCP address. Or even BOOTP.

Ha ha ha.


So I tried to find out the network configuration through the LCD screen.

Menu item doesn't exist.

So I then thought I'd print out the configuration pages to see what IP address it was using.

But just how do you print that out? Took about half an hour to work it out. Although a sticker on the side said it was set to, it was in fact set to The first address would be fine, but I couldn't find out how to change or release or reset the address that it had. I might try unscrewing the card at some point and see if there is a reset button on it.

Anyway, I dicked around with it all morning, trying to make my PC talk to it on No dice. A friend came over and he tried as well.

No dice.

I was then reduced to rooting around in the garage looking for a parallel cable. Remember them? I don't. I had honestly forgotten what they looked like. And of course my PC doesn't even have a parallel port. Had to connect it to the other PC in the office and network it via that.

It's free, so I won't call it a pile of crap. Free crap is not to be sneezed at.

Heck, I had forgotten one last technical disaster. I synch'd my mobile with my address book not long ago. Then I discovered that most of the contacts in my mobile had disappeared, or a contact would be there but no number - but maybe an address or an email address. As far as people at work were concerned, I now had their internal PABX numbers in my mobile, rather than their external numbers. Gee, that's useful.

That meant I had to do a cleanout on the phone, which was not small task and it contained hundreds and hundreds of contacts. The big problem came when I went to ring some people - I found out that the phone now contained obsolete numbers that they had not used in years.

Crap. Double crap. I am lost without this thing.

Sunday 6 August 2006

Saturday 5 August 2006

Finding good coffee in Perth is very hard

I was trying to think up a witty heading for this article, but frankly the witty parts of the brain are just not firing at the moment. I thought of things like "finding good coffee in Perth is like finding a wog with a sensible car", or "finding good coffee in Perth is like looking for a bogan without a mullet". They really didn't grab me. Let's just say that it is hard. Difficult. A bit of a quest.

On our last day in town, we breakfasted at a cafe in Mount Street - just next to the CBD. I cannot recall the name. I know exactly where it is, as it used to be owned and run by a person that I will call "Hygiene Boy". I'm not sure if I have spelt Hygiene correctly - the spell checker is on the blink, so you'll just have to put up with my dodgy typing.

Anyway, the cafe is not as it once was. Hygiene Boy is gone, and the place has had a bit of a makeover. Not much, but it has new owners. That much was made clear by the gushing article from some local rag that they had cut out, framed and left on the counter for all to read. The gushing article mentioned two owners, and neither of them looked like Hygiene Boy.

The gushing article was written by someone who obviously had an enormous hard-on for the cafe. God knows what did it for them - I couldn't see it. I read the article twice, and I was hard pressed to recognise it as the place that I was standing in.

OK, where do I start?

Well, for starters I ordered egg benedict with smoked salmon. I noticed that they had salmon in the cabinet next to the till, so I knew they could serve it - it just wasn't on the menu. Now the standard fare on the menu came with ham, and I kind of assumed that the cook would have had enough experience of eating out that eggs benedict come with salmon OR ham.

Uh uh.

The meal came out and there were the muffins on the bottom, covered with some slices of ham, which were covered in sliced of smoked salmon, which then had the eggs on top and the whole lot was smothered with hollandaise.

Fuck, I was furious. However, I was monkey minding when the plate was plonked down, so by the time I actually had a look and noticed the disaster on my plate, the waitress had shot through like a Bondi tram. She hadn't shot through very far, but the staff were the type that had the ability to stand 12 feet away and not noticed you. You know the type.

I was mad enough to pull out the bits of ham and throw them onto a side plate. I don't know why I was so polite - I should have dumped them on the table top instead. Maybe making a proper mess would have sent the appropriate message.

God some people are thick. Or they don't get out very much.

Apart from that little disaster, the other meals were not too bad. I was quite impressed with the pancake stack that the little monster had, but he declared partway through that "the pancakes in Dunsborough were much better", and after trying them, I had to agree. It was all front and no substance. And frankly, mascarpone does not go well with pancakes. Pancakes are more your King Island Double Cream kind of number. I love mascarpone in Tiramasu, where the sourness balances the sweetness of the biscuits etc, but it is just a dud on pancakes. Maybe my tastebuds are just too attuned to having lemon and sugar on pancakes. Whatever.

The place does have one interesting gimmick, and that is to write the names of their regulars on the wall along with their coffee order. Or should I say paint their names. The wall is half covered in a wierd script that only I could decipher at first - like "Sandy - SB, Jamie - TMAC, Suzie - SBDEC" which of course are a short black, a tall macchiato and a short black decaf.

Another thing - why is Perth the only city on the planet that can offer a macchiato in three different styles - short, regular and long? I have never heard of these things outside of Perth. I reckon that when the coffee craze started, some itinerant barrista landed a gig in Perth making coffee at some flash establishment. He got thoroughly stoned one night and decided to play a joke on the citizens of Perth by inventing two non-existent types of coffee - the long macchiato and the regular macchiato. (A long macchiato I have discovered is something like a latte, only taller). The dopey coffee makers of Perth, not knowing any better, copied this prankster until every cafe in the city (nay, the state) was offering these abominations. I bet there is a barrista somewhere laughing himself silly.

He probably did it to get back at someone that told him that he needed to put vegemite behind his ears to ward off the drop bears. To me, the tall macchiato can only be understood if you understand the prank behind vegemite and drop bears. It sounds a lot like revenge to me.

And it has been a very good revenge. Perth is populated by idiots who continue to order this non-existant beverage.

Anyway, after a crap breakfast, I front up at the till to pay the bill. The total came to over $50. I was gobsmacked. Partly because none of the menus mention prices, which is a good thing as I would not have eaten there if I had known that my eggs were going to cost about $18. And of course they did not give me a bill either - they just rang up random amounts on the till and gave me a bill. I think I was too stunned at the ham and fish thing to be able to respond to such highway robbery. I just paid up and walked out shaking my head.

My only hope is that when we are back in town at Xmas for a few weddings that the place has gone belly-up and someone else is having a go at running the cafe.

So long as it is not back in the hands of Hygeine Boy.

Just totally bloody hopeless

When in Perth recently, we ate at a place called Mediteraneo a few times. At least I think it was called that - I picked up a card from the front desk and when I got home, I found that the card was for Oceanus on the beach. Oceanus is on one side of the building and it is the flash restaurant, and Mediteraneo is on the other side and it is the "cheap" cafe. It's at City Beach.

I have eaten there on a previous trip, and the only reason we ate there is because it is the only eating place on the beach for a few kilometres in each direction. It's not like say Bondi where there are 30 cafes in intense competition and the weak are weeded our pretty quickly. Mediteraneo has a monopoly, and like all monopolists, they are lazy, expensive and useless. Thing Telecom before Optus came along. In fact, continue to think Telstra in this current day and age. A corporate blob.

So what went wrong?

Well for starters, the place seats a lot of people - maybe over 100. On the first visit, there were maybe a dozen diners, but only one bloke serving. For most waiters, that would not be a problem. However, he looked the type that spent more time in front of a mirror checking his hair than time on the floor looking after the paying public. He really should have been in a beauty salon. He was bloody hopeless in a cafe. As it is family owned, I can only presume that he was the idiot relative that had to be given a job of some sort. We ordered stuff that was never delivered. He disappeared into the kitchen for long periods of time to chat to the cook (it has an open kitchen, so we could see him in there yapping, but he didn't bother to look out at us - if he did, he would have seen us waving our arms at him).

We ordered burgers, and given that they cost about $15 each, you'd expect a pretty flash burger. Yes, it was big, and it had a lot in it, but they were not great burgers. They were actually pretty tasteless. The buns were boring and a bit soggy. The meat patty was dull and uninteresting. The salad bits were totally lifeless. There was no interesting and tasty or tangy sauce or chutney or mayonaisse to go with it. It was just a grey, lifeless burger.

The chips that accompanied each burger were large and undercooked. Crispiness is not in their nature. When I say "large", imagine taking a big spud and maybe cutting it into 8 segments. They were not wedges, but they were enormous chips. I love enormous chips if they are crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, but these were just mush all the way through.


Complete waste of time and money.

I have to do some monkey minding now, so the second episode will have to wait.


Getting catapulted off the bike has become a pain in the neck - literally. I woke up on Friday morning with the most excrutiating headache - the type where even your eyeballs hurt. It was all I could do to pop two strong pain killers and go back to sleep for a few hours to let them kick in. Just staggering to the medicine chest almost killed me.

After that, it was back to the quack. I was totally helpless - too zonked to drive thanks to the pain and the painkillers. Talk about out of it. I felt like I'd knocked off the better part of a bottle of vodka and just wanted nothing else but to pass out.

I couldn't make an appointment with the quack I wanted, so we just fronted up at the local clinic and went for the lucky dip. The receptionist offered me the same totally useless quack that spent no time at all on me on Wednesday. I told her "Any doctor but that one". Surprisingly, the receptionist got really upset about that and informed me that I'd have to wait considerably longer than half an hour for a consult.

"Fine", was my response, and we departed to a coffee and cake shop across the road.

I don't think she realised that I'd prefer to wait two hours to see someone that might actually treat me rather than half an hour for someone that will do no good whatsoever. What's the point of getting a useless diagnosis and no treatment and just going home no better than when you left?

The cake shop over the road is called something like The Strudel House - I forget. My head was swimming and I didn't grab a card on the way out. I have bought take-away vanilla slice from there before, but until Wednesday, had never sat in and had a coffee and nibbles.

It's a small place - seats maybe a dozen customers. Everytime I have dropped in for vanilla slice, most of the tables have been occupied. It seems to do a good trade, especially in take away cakes. As the name suggests, they do those sort of central European cake thingys - I would call it Austrian-inspired.

For some reason, their vanilla slice does not taste as good when eaten in as it does when eaten on the road. Normally, I'd pop in whilst walking home and scoff one as I walked. Walking seems to make them taste better. Wierd. I'll still pop in there for the odd vanilla slice from time to time, but the eat in experience has taken the edge off the place for me. It's gone from very good to merely good.

I think part of their problem is that they are too fussy with the custard. A vanilla slice needs custard that is rubbery - it needs crap custard in other words. Being Austrian types and very fussy, they make a proper custard - one that is quite gooey, and not rubbery at all. Trouble is, you need that awful packet custard to make a vanilla slice set properly. When you chomp down on the biscuit outer layers, it is ok if the custard squeezes out, but it should squeeze out as a blob and not fall off. Their custard squishes out and detaches. It is too good.

Therefore, the only way to eat one of their neatly is to take one home, turn the fridge temperature right down and leave it to set like concrete for a few hours.

I worked all this out whilst sampling a vanilla slice from a Vietnamese bakery recently. The Vietnamese version of the vanilla slice is generally inedible, and I swore after taking two bites of that one that I would never buy anything from a Vietnamese bakery again. The French might have introduced baguettes and things to Vietnam, but I don't think the Vietnamese ever really learnt anything about the passion of baking. Baking is not a mechanical thing - to do it properly, you can't just follow a recipe or a set of instructions - you need to understand the dough. With vanilla slice, you need to understand the custard, the icing and the pastry bits. You need to live the slice. You must have passion for the slice. The Vietnamese just don't have it - to them, it is just a shop where they can make a buck, not an establishment where they can make art.

If I am not getting through to you, think about how the wogs go on and on and on about coffee, pasta, Vespa scooters and those gay leather sandals that they wear. Oh, and soccer. You've got to hand it to the wogs - without their mad passion for these things, we'd be a sad lot. I just wish they'd lose some of their passion for stupid haircuts, idiotic cars, doof-doof and chunky jewellry. Boys - channel it into something useful, like pizza or chianti.

So we whiled away half an hour of so in the cake shop and I then returned for a once over by a much more competent Doc. This guy actually listened, and then gave me a once over with the rubber mallet. We've all seen quacks whacking guys on the knee cap with the rubber thing. Well, he did my ankles, knees, wrists and elbows. Never seen that done before. Apparently it is a good test for brain injury. I presume that it creates a feedback loop throught the brain, and if the brain is not responding, then your leg doesn't spasm.

My knees and ankles were fine, but the wrists seemed a bit dodgy - probably because I landed on them. My right wrist just goes floppy at certain angles. For instance, I have plenty of strength in my hands, but I went to pick up a chopping board this morning and couldn't grab it. At that angle, my wrist just failed to generate any traction. The same goes for when I wipe my bum - there is something about the angle that I just can't generate any pressure. Yee gads - I hope it gets better. Otherwise, I will have to invest in one of those horrible bidet things. It's just wierd, but as the physio later explained it, there are lots of muscles in the forearm etc, and one of them is just closing down because it is damaged. Hence when I go to pick up the monkey, I have to sit him on my forearm rather than holding him with my hand - otherwise my hand just goes all gay on me and I let go involuntarily.

After the knee poking thing, he did an eye exam and found that I have some light sensitivity on my right side. I could have told him that - my head was splitting on that side. He diagnosed whiplash and a possible concussion. Whiplash takes a few days to present, which is why I woke up in agony on Friday morning rather than Wednesday morning after the crash.

The quack told me to do a few things - keep on taking the anti-inflamatories, go to a physio for 6 treatments on the neck, and get a C/T scan of my head. The last one was in case I have any bleeding on the brain. Nasty. The chances are low, but I'd prefer to get it checked than to just go "she'll be right". So I had to trudge down to the local radiology mob to get my head read. Lying on the slab as the machine wound up, I felt like I was in an episode of "House". I'll find out on Tuesday whether there is any bleeding. Great. Nice to know that it takes four days to find out whether blood is pooling somewhere in my head.

If I get whacked again, I am simply going to call an ambulance and get carted in for a checkout. Simple as that.

The other screwy thing is that officialdom does have a really good form for recording crash data - it's just that the cops don't have it, the Motor Accident Authority has it. This form actually looks useful. I guess it is one of those cases of non-joined up government. Several government agencies need the same data, they all collect it but in different ways. None of them exchange data presumably. I can't see why the Plod can't use this form as well. Useless pubes.