Thursday 28 June 2007

We have a new car stereo

That was easy. It took less than an hour to have a new Alpine head unit fitted with an iPod connector. The CD stacker is no longer connected, but that's a small price to pay for being able to play music from the iPod on long trips. We have a six hour drive ahead of us this weekend, so it will be nice to have plenty of music to choose from.

The unit is a mid-range Alpine system. It's not fancy. It doesn't have a multi-coloured screen. It doesn't integrate with GPS or a rear facing parking camera. It just plays music, which is all I want it to do.

I already have one pet hate though. The volume knob is on the left hand side of the face, which is fine if you have a left hand drive car, but a pain in Australia. The thing that I fiddle with the most on any car stereo is the volume, so ideally I want the knob close to me. As it is, I have to stretch a wee bit to get to it.

It would be fine if I had buttons on the steering wheel to control the volume, but I don't, and I am not replacing the steering wheel.

The other thing is that it is littered with tiny little buttons that perform essential functions. I hate that. I don't have big, fat farmer fingers, but they are fat enough, and some of the buttons are hard to press without hitting the button next to it.

Ah well, you gets what you paid for.

The biggest problem now is that we only have a 4GB iPod. I alone have 5.6GB of music in iTunes, and J has more on her computer. I'm not sure how we are going to be able to share a single 4GB iPod. Suddenly, an 80GB iPod is starting to look attractive.....

One thing I haven't done yet is to try to search through the iPod for songs, albums, artists or playlists. It's supposed to display a bit of text on the screen to show you what's playing. I don't really care if it does or not - I just want it to play my selected playlist and not much else.

No representation without taxation

An interesting little sidebar to the fuss erupting in the NT at the moment are calls for a new ATSIC to be setup.

I have no problem with that. However, it should be self funding, not funded out of general Federal govt revenue.

Here's how I see it working.

You can't vote in an ATSIC election unless you have paid your ATSIC tax. I'd throw it on as an extra levy, like the Medicare levy, that people can opt to pay at tax time by ticking a box. It's up to ATSIC to set the level of that levy, and it will depend on their funding needs. It could be 0.5% of income, 1%, 5% of 10% - it's up to the elected representatives of the first ATSIC government to set the tax rate.

Once they have their own revenue stream, they can spend it on whatever they like. Fast cars. Drugs. Extra police. Hospitals. Gulfstream jets. Whatever. If their taxpaying constituency doesn't like it, they can vote them out.

The problem with the old regime is that ATSIC got all its money from the government - ie, from all taxpayers. There was no need to spend it wisely as it was just more money from the white man. If it's money raised from the blackfella, they might take a bit more interest in spending it wisely.

This model is just like having a local council. Your council levies rates and other fees from the properties within its boundaries, and spends the money within its boundaries. ATSIC has different boundaries - ie, its voters can be anywhere, but they have to meet the main criteria of being willing to fund it. If no one wants to tick the box at tax time, there is no ATSIC mark II.

I don't mind 100% white people who feel the need to do good ticking that box as well, just so long as they understand they don't get a vote.

There is one other thing I'd do too. I'd go to the Aboriginal reserves, survey the land and parcel it out by ballot.

Let's say you've got 400 people in a community sitting on 4 million acres of land. You divide it into 10,000 acre blocks, number each block and get everyone to pull a number out of a hat. Once you have your number, you have freehold title to that block. It's yours. You can then do whatever you like with it.

But here's the rub. Once people have title, I'd levy land taxes on it, and that money could also go to ATSIC mark II. The taxes don't have to be high. I imagine most of the scrub is not worth much, so a levy of 10 cents an acre would only generate a tax bill of $1,000 a year. If you can't pay the bill, the same thing happens to you as happens to anyone else that can't pay their tax - the land is siezed and auctioned and you get any surplus after the tax has been paid.

Now some might decry this as unfair - how will poor people come up with the $1,000?

Easy - they can work for it. They can earn it. If they can't be buggered coughing up a measly $1,000 a year for their land, then they clearly don't care about it very much. If you really feel attached to your land, you'll move heaven and earth to earn the money to hang onto it. You'll move to the city to get a job if need be. If you care more about getting on the turps than you do about your land, then bugger you. People need to be told that - "bugger you". You stuff up, you bear the consequences.

I don't see why these communities need to continue to exist either. Let's say you get your 10,000 acres. You can then build a holiday house on it, move to the city and come back and visit when you feel like it. Think of it as a weekender, like a pad at Margaret River.

I doubt this will happen in my lifetime though.

Nice, warm road

The SMH and Police are confused as to why a woman lay down on a road last night and was run over by two trucks.

Easy. Roads are warmer than the surrounding land. If you are tired and drunk and need a short nap, the road is the nicest place to sleep.

It's also the stupidest place to sleep, but hey, if you've drunk 20 cans of beer, who's going to argue?

Anyone speak German?

This is a great three minute clip on a Chinese car undergoing crash testing.

It appears to fail miserably.

That's no surprise, given that the testing was done in Germany. I'd say Mercedes and BMW would be pretty happy with the results. A good car is more than just the sum of a bunch of bits pulled out of the parts bin. It's the result of lots of complex engineering. It looks like this car has been built down to a price, not up to a standard.

On another matter to do with things Chinese, a friend commented recently on the amount of chemicals prevalent in clothing sourced from China. I can't remember which one he was talking about, but it softens clothing, making it feel nicer. Apparently Australia has no standard governing the use of this chemical, so our new clothes are awash with it.

I used to just bring shirts home, pull them out of the bag and wear them. Not any more. They're going to be washed twice from now on before they touch my skin.

Wednesday 27 June 2007

A new car stereo

I am getting a new car stereo fitted tomorrow - something that will bring us into the 21st century. It's just an Alpine head unit with an iPod connector. The iPod goes in the glovebox and never comes out, and you select your songs or playlists by using the controls on the head unit. It also plays CD's and has a radio (golly gosh) and that's about it.

The interesting thing though is that I have been through the Alpine Australia web site, and I can't find the model that the car audio guy is going to fit. Either he has written down the wrong model number on his business card, or he has sold me something that is now end of life.

Who cares? So long as I get rid of the CD stacker, I am not bothered.

Trouble is, this exercise will involve spending 1-2 hours in Artarmon. There is nothing to do in Artarmon. Imagine being on a train that stopped at a small hut in the middle of nowhere, and you had to get off and wait for the next train.

That will be me.

Stupid Dell marketing

We bought a Dell PC a while back. We have had internet access for years.

Why then are Dell faxing us "specials" every week? About the only thing that comes off the fax machine these days is more marketing crap from Dell. I also get the same stuff as emails. I don't mind getting the emails - those are free. But I have to pay for the ink and paper that the faxes are consuming.

I should ask for a discount when I buy my next PC. Something to make up for all that ink and paper.

Digital TV

We finally have digital TV again. The landlord is too cheap to install a proper aerial, so I have been shopping around for an aerial that I can use indoors to pick up digital TV.

I bought one at an aerial shop for $30. No dice. It seemed to get about 90% of the required signal, but that was not enough. Digital reception is "all or nothing". If you have enough signal, you get a picture. If you are 1% short, you get a blank screen. It's called the 'digital cliff' for a good reason.

So I went to Dick Smith and bought a fancier aerial for $70. No dice with that either. I was starting to think that I had wasted $100 on two no good aerials.

Then we plugged both of them into the set top box, and voila! We got reception. Both aerials working together got enough reception between the two of them to give us a picture and sound.

Hooray. We can start recording ABC Kids again in the morning. Nothing like having 20 hours of Play School taped and stored for those rainy days.

I never would have thought that using two aerials would do the trick. I guess having been brought up with TV sets that only had one aerial input in the back, I just never thought that a set top box with two inputs could use two aerials.

Do we really need a desal plant?

Premier Dillema was spouting on the news last night about the need for a desal plant, even if it is bucketing down. He made the point that it might stop raining shortly, and we could be short of water again this time next year.

Yes, that's right. However, instead of sinking $1.9 billion into a desal plant, why not spend that money on further reducing the consumption of our existing potable water?

I think that something like 25% of domestic water usage goes into flushing toilets. Another 25% or more goes into using the washing machine, and about the same on showers.

Now I like to have a shower in clean water, and I like to wash my clothes in clean water, but I don't see why I need to flush my toilet with clean water. We have these stupid dual flush toilets that hardly move a turd these days, yet if we flushed them with grey water, we could tip 25 litres into them each time, rather than 6 litres.

The same goes for industry. How many companies really need crystal clear water for their manufacturing processes? Does it matter that much if you use my shower water, once it has gone through a filter?

Wingnuts at the windows

There was a story in the paper yesterday about it taking 10 minutes at some train stations to buy a ticket on Monday.

Well boo-hoo. Of course Monday is going to be busy - because all the stupid wingnuts want to buy their weekly ticket on a Monday.

I used to buy a daily ticket on Monday, and another on Tuesday, and then start the cycle of buying my weekly tickets on Wednesday. There are never any queues then. A weekly ticket goes for 7 days, so you can buy it on Saturday if you like.

Trouble is, so many people don't think ahead, and they just queue up like lemmings on Monday. If 20% bought them on Tuesday, and 20% on Wednesday and 20% on Thursday etc, there would be no queues on Monday morning. As it stands however, 90% of the ticket buyers are all trying to get their ticket on Monday.

Losers. With a capital "L".

The other thing that people could do is buy a monthly ticket instead of a weekly, but it is amazing how averse people are to doing that. It's a big psychological hurdle for a lot of people to get over - buying esssentially 4 weekly tickets at the one time instead of queueing up every week.

The SMH and the usual media outlets and the unions queued up to demand that more ticket windows be opened etc, but instead of spending more money on people and infrastructure to meet a few hours of peak buying on one day of the week, why not get sensible and spread the peak out through the week? CityRail could even offer discounts for tickets bought on any day but Monday. That might encourage people to pick another day. Or they could randomly add a day or two days or three days to each weekly ticket for a while. That way, if you buy a ticket on Monday, it will last you to next Tuesday. That way, next week you are buying on Tuesday, and you are then in the Tuesday buying cycle until you do something silly like take a week off.

I hate how predictable people are when it comes to moaning about things like this. No one ever thinks of alternative solutions.

Maybe Leichhardt aren't so bad after all

I sent an email to Leichhardt council the other day about faded (or non-existant) line marking along the cycle path on Lilyfield Rd. J opined that it was a waste of time - she thinks that out of all the councils around us, Leichhardt are the most useless and least responsive of the lot.

Imagine my surprise when a day later, I got an email asking me to call one of the council officers to clarify where the line marking was required. I rang the council, and was told that they are also going to be putting down some green paint further up the road to properly mark the bike path at a troublesome intersection.

Since I am not riding at the moment, I don't know when this will get done, but their response time was pretty good. They have gone up in my estimation greatly.


Got the flu - again! That's twice in the last 6 weeks. This one might come with a nasty ear infection - the rest of the family has had it, so am off to the quack to get checked and issued with antibiotics if necessary.

The bike is starting to rust in the backyard. It needs to be used. It has been quite neglected of late. That is not good.

Friday 22 June 2007

Olive oil

Another amazing thing from The Spectator this week. An unopened bottle of olive oil is good for about 18 months. Once opened, it is good for about six weeks of freshness.

That doesn't bother the Italians, as they use a litre every few weeks. It doesn't bother me too much either, as we seem to chew through it pretty rapidly as well. I like to buy mine in wine bottles. I can then leave them out in the kitchen and they look good (unlike a normal supermarket bottle which looks like crap and should always be left in the cupboard).

After reading that, I am never going to buy a 4 litre tin of oil again. I just can't use it fast enough. We honk through it at a reasonable pace, since I am always roasting eggplant and capsicum and putting the left over capsicum in a jar and filling it with oil. I am also pretty heavy handed when it comes to making hummus and stuff like that. I don't use a few drops - I pour it in. Stuff tastes better then.


Went to the pub last weekend.

It took me about two beers to notice, but the place didn't smell.

The morning after, I didn't need to have a shower as soon as I got up to get the stale smoke smell out of my hair.

I did not need to drop my clothes straight into the washing machine.

I only noticed the lack of smell because when I went to the toilet, there was a bloke smoking in there. He was getting lots of dirty looks too. I'm surprised no one pushed him into the piss pan.

Great stuff

I copied this from The Spectator:

Anyone who believes British Muslim hostility to the war in Iraq is the big motivator of terrorism should read the fascinating cover piece by Shiv Malik in the latest edition of Prospect. Investigating the background of the 7 July London bombings for a television drama (which the BBC, of course, eventually rejected as ‘anti-Muslim’), Malik found how Wahhabist Islamism did its work. Ten years ago, it took hold of the young Mohammad Sidique Khan. It was he who eventually led the suicide plot. What emerges from Malik’s inquiry is that Islamism, far from being a ‘mediaeval’ doctrine, as it is often described in the West, can be seen by its adherents as enticingly modern. One of the great issues among Pakistani immigrants here is whom they may marry. Their families usually uphold marriages arranged in the interests of tribal kinship. Islamism told Sidique Khan, who wanted to marry an Indian Muslim from a different tradition for love, that it was Islamic to do so. It was on this issue, in 2001, that he broke irretrievably with his father, and spent the rest of his life almost solely in the company of fellow jihadists. And I gather from other sources that, just as we are all deploring imams who cannot speak English because they will be anti-British (probably a broadly true proposition in itself), the Islamists are generally the ones quickest to publish their material here in English, conscious that potential recruits may well have forgotten Urdu, or never learnt it. To young men trying to shake off traditional family restraints, but with little loyalty to their surrounding white culture, Islamism can seem like a sort of liberation theology. The problem runs too deep to be caused or cured by foreign policy.

That was a bit of an eye opener. To think that Islamism is a liberation theology that beats the hell out of following the stupid old tribal laws about marriage etc.

I love the bit about why the guy broke with his father - over love! If that doesn't take the cake.

I would have thought that if these clowns had migrated to the UK, one of the reasons for doing so would be to slough off all the old shiboleths of the old world. You move to a new place to make a new life. If you aren't interested in a new life, why move?

I am also completely non-surprised that the BBC didn't want to broadcast it.

More uselessness

I finally got a letter today from our local MP.

I don't know where she is recruiting her staff from, but they are not the top 20% of the population.

It took over a week for the letter to arrive, because it was sent to our old address. I checked the original letter that I sent, and then the follow up, and both have our new address on them. They must have decided to use the electoral roll, rather than the address actually listed on the letter.

The electoral roll of course was not updated with our new details until about a week after I sent the second letter, so if they were stupid enough to use it, then they got it wrong.

I mean, how bloody hard is it to look in the traditional location on a letter for the return address? What are they teaching in schools these days? Are people only able to respond to an email, because the address is there in the 'sender' field?

I am just shocked and horrified that these people are supposed to be taking care of our electoral matters.

To cap it off, the letter that I got had one of those awful scanned electronic signatures on it. Great. The Silly Cow MP can't even be bothered to read and check and sign her own mail. The least your MP can do is actually pretend to take an interest in the matters of their electorate.

Cleaning up

I went for another meander around the suburb today. I had no plan for where I was going - I just hopped in the saddle and went.

After about 100 metres, I worked out that I wanted to spend my ride in sunshine. It was utterly freezing in the shade. Thankfully there was no breeze, so it was not nasty. It was just cold.

I did the reverse of my normal long ride home, and saw a few things along the way worth mentioning.

We now have a council graffiti removal service. I've seen their truck wandering around the suburbs when I have been out and about, but until today, I had never seen them in action. I thought that they'd use high pressure hoses and cleaning agents to remove the graffiti, but most of the space in the truck seemed to be consumed by tins of paint. As I went past, one bloke was pouring paint into a roller tray and getting ready to paint over something.

I noticed afterwards that they had painted a section of the building in the right of the photo - I noticed it because they had painted it a different colour.

I have included this rather boring looking house because for years, it has been a burnt out shell. I have no idea when it burnt down, but it looks like the rebuild has only just been completed. I always wanted to go for a wander through it when it was just charcoal'd beams and ash. Bugger.

What gets me though is it must have been 2-3 years at least since the fire. If it takes that long to process an insurance claim and get a place rebuilt, make sure your policy covers you renting somewhere else for a few years!

Yes, the sun was shining and the sky was blue and it was a wonderful day (although brisk), and I had to put up (as usual) with this stupid path.

If there is one thing you quickly learn when you start cycling, it's that all the cycling routes are full of 'missing links'. The biggest impediment to me taking the eldest out on a road ride is these missing links. You get a nice stretch of safe cycling, and then you are dumped onto a 10 lane freeway with trucks doing 150 km/h.

OK, I exagerate slightly. But I reckon more families would be out pedalling if they had a safe route from end to end.

I don't expect to drive to say Canberra and find that the highway in sections is a one lane, gravel goat track. Or that bridges are missing and that one has to ford rivers the old way. Or that a road just finishes at the side of a paddock and starts up again 300 metres away on the other side of the field. Roads are complete from end to end. Why aren't our bike routes?

I like the scenic aspect of taking this path, but it shits me to take it as it is a crap path for riding. It is old, lumpy, winding and most of all, too narrow for bikes. It is great for walking the dog, but horrid on a bike.

I have to take it though as it is the only safe route for me if I am coming from the Gladesville Bridge, which is in the left of the photo. There is no other way, apart from taking Lyons Road, and that is a death trap. If you resurfaced the old, lumpen concrete road that destroys spokes with smoothe asphalt, and took away the speeding buses, and removed all the idiot wogs in tooled up rice burners and bad haircuts with a mobile phone glued to their ear and doof-doof booming out and evaporated all the mums in Landcruisers picking up Angella-Maiy from school, I would still think twice about taking Lyons Road.

This pathway is still too bloody narrow. I can live with that on days like today, when no one else is stupid enough to go out into the freezing air, but in summer, I am constantly ringing my bell at pedestrians that meander all over it without a thought to anyone else who might want to use it.

It just needs another foot or two of concrete on the side, and it would be great. Why is it so hard to do things properly? It's been done in a half-arsed way, so it is rooted.

Your taxes at work.

Thursday 21 June 2007


I was reminded that today is the equinox.


It's too bloody cold and dark in the mornings to make riding enjoyable. At least I now know that the worst is past. It can only get better from here on in.

We had lunch today at Birkenhead Point. For those of you not familiar with Sydney, it is a "seconds" shopping centre. It's where you go to buy a cheap Country Road shirt with wonky stitching or colours that have run or stuff that just didn't sell last season.

It is a cornucopia of cheap stuff. I was going to say crap, but then thought better of it. It's not crap. It's just stuff that no one else wants, or wanted at the original price.

A lot of the food is crap though. We went through the food court, and I despaired. I have eaten at some pretty flash shopping centres lately, and the food has been of a good standard. Not great, but good.

Birkenhead unfortunately plumbed new depths. I walked around the food court and looked at what was on offer and thought, "uh uh - no way". I won't go into the awful, horrible details of each shop in case someone sues, but let met put it this way - walking down the side of the Hume Highway and inspecting dead roo carcases would be more enjoyable.

I settled on a laksa. It was awful. Terrible. I had half of it and gave up. It was made with rather watery coconut milk, the stock had no flavour and it was totally lacking in "juice". The chicken was just icky - it tasted like all the fatty bits of the chicken had been partly boiled up and then thrown in.

I ate two small bits of chicken, most of the noodles and a few bits of bok choy and that was it.

I have never not finished a laksa before. I have never not enjoyed a laksa before. I was truly shocked. Even I, the incompetent cook that I am, can go to the local supermarket, purchase a tin of laksa paste and some coconut milk and make a passable laksa. Not a great laksa, but one that I can actually eat.

Since I was still starving, I tried a Turkish thing. I can't pronounce them or spell them, but I had a beef version of it.

It was marvelous. It was great. It was every bit as glorious as the laksa was tragic. It was hot (as in straight off the griller) spicy (but not too spicy) and tasty and just delicious from end to end.

Unfortunately, by the time I had scoffed that on top of 40% of a laksa, I was stuffed. So no ride today, even if it was the shortest day of the year.

Wednesday 20 June 2007

More meanderings

I went for a slightly longer ride yesterday, thus lifting my weekly distance so far to a humungous 42km.

I used to do that in a day - easily. Clearly, having a month off has not done me any good.

The recent rains have also not done much for the walking paths around the Bay. Drainage doesn't seem to have been on the agenda of the people that built the paths. Whenever we get more than a few millimetres of rain, the walking paths turn into canals. This of course means that even more pedestrians than usual take to the bike paths.

I took my usual route into the city, which goes down Lillyfield Rd, and I spotted this bonehead - again. He always parks his stupid wanky Subaru with spoiler so as to block half of the bike path - the car has a towbar, and the towbar is always hanging out into the path.

The Council of course nevers books him for obstructing the road.

Rather than going into the city, I turned off just before the ANZAC Bridge and headed for Glebe. I drive down that way quite often, and had spotted a bit of a bike lane along the road to Glebe, so I thought I'd try it out.

Part of the way has to be done on the footpath, as it's just too mental to be out on the road. The authorities, in their wisdom, have planted numerous features along the path so as to turn it into an obstacle course. Signs abound in the middle of the path, as does this bus shelter. Note that you can't see past the shelter, so if you approached in incautiously, you could easily collide with someone coming the other way.

This sort of thing would never be tolerated on the road, but Councils and the RTA seem to have the opinion that bikes are different, and bike paths don't need the same level of design and care that roads require.

That really shits me.

Tuesday 19 June 2007

The stuff I have to put up with

This is a "pinch point" on a main road near home. It is on one of the main cycling routes from the inner west into the city.

The problem with this pinch point is that it pinches out not only the road, but the cycle lane. I was going through this point today when I was almost wiped out by a garbage truck speeding up behind me. There just wasn't enough room on the road for both of us, and he had no intention of slowing down to let me get through, then overtake.

ugly house

As I was stooging around the suburbs today, I spied this house being built. It was of interest because a few years ago, we looked at renting at this address.

We didn't take it any further as it was the ugliest looking house that I have seen in a long time.

The thing is, the replacement is not much better.

Stupid street treatment

I went into the wild wet yonder today in order to get rid of this bout of cabin fever. If I don't ride, I get cold at night. I just don't get my core temperature up enough to get me through the winter cold. Since I had nowhere to ride to, and no purpose, I just stooged around Concord for the better part of an hour. I could have gone for longer, but I was starting to lose feeling in my ears. Must get a head wrap of some sort to go under the helmet.

All I did was randomly turn into streets and so meandered this way and that. Apart from being cold and slightly drizzly, it was quite pleasant.

Until I turned into this street. The end of the street has bee cobbled with what felt like a boulder field. I hit the cobbles and just went wobble-wobble-wobble until I reached the other side.

Fair enough, put some cobbles in, but put some grout between the bloody cobbles! It might be deliberate of course to slow drivers down, but in that case, put a bike diversion up the side.


Monday 18 June 2007

BMW vs Audi

According to the SMH, Audi and BMW are at war with each other over discounting.

BMW seems to be ticked off because its sales are growing at 4% a year, as opposed to 40% growth for Audi.

Although the SMH provided those numbers, it seems to have difficulty understanding that BMW sells 3 times more cars in Australia than Audi (and the SMH also published those figures in the article).

Audi sold 4450 cars last year. BMW sold 13000.

OK, let's say Audi 40% growth in 2007. That will lift is sales to 6230 in 2007. If it grows by another 40% in 2008, they will sell 8722 cars. If they get another 40% in 2009, they will sell 12210. Continuing at that rate, they will sell 17000 in 2010 - way more than BMW, assuming BMW is stuck with 4% growth....

But who is to say that Audi can continue to achieve 40% year on year? They only managed a 30% cumulative growth from 2003 to 2006, which is how they got to selling 4450 cars last year.

So what is the article about? I really don't see a point to it, except that luxury car buyers really don't care about the price that much.

Is this news?

Interesting travel stuff

I clipped this from a NSW Parliament research paper.

However, work by Marchetti in 1992 demonstrated that the time people are prepared to spend travelling to and from work has remained remarkably unvaried throughout settlement history. Now known as the Marchetti constant, it is an essentially constant travel time budget of, on average, 30 minutes commuting either way between residence and workplace.

Hence the size of the city has been influenced by the distance which can be travelled within that time budget. An increase in travel speed has been provided by new technology, and this has facilitated an increase in urban scale, with transition from walking city to transit city to automobile city to (in the future) telematic city.

The Marchetti constant means that when a city grows beyond its one-hour wide functionality it becomes dysfunctional. That depends on the average speed and density. The lower the density, the closer you will get to that limit, the sooner you will get to that limit. I see around the world that dependent cities are hitting those limits.

Road rage, anti-sprawl movements, market based re-urbanisation, [is the result].

Outside the one-hour city - and certainly Sydney is beyond that - you either say that we must build a new city centre or that growth needs to be redirected. You don't have any other choice. You have got to be serious about a new centre or you say that that growth can go anywhere - Adelaide, Perth, wherever.

Transport planners still seem to think that people will adapt and just increase their travel times. They do not. They will adapt and move, but the city as a whole on average will stick to this one hour per person per day.

This Marchetti constant helps us to understand a lot of things about cities, but it does explain why the inner ring has very high public transport, because within that one hour travel time budget you can use public transport very effectively. It is in fact quicker within that ring than by car for many journeys - but not in the outer suburbs.

So this is a very different city to the outer suburbs.

Automobile dependence can be explained in these terms. It is where a city can only remain functional within that Marchetti constant travel time budget, if it uses automobiles as its major means of transport. If to keep within that one-hour budget the only way you can do it is by car you will do it. You will not somehow switch to using public transport because it is more comfortable or something. It will only compete if it can get you there quicker and as a way of keeping within that budget. So we need alternative options in infrastructure and land use that keep within the one-hour travel budget.

According to Newman, the Marchetti constant leads to two critical policies. The first is to ensure that public transport is faster than cars in all main corridors. Cities that have effectively overcome automobile dependence have faster transit than traffic systems. In Europe, 39 km/h is the average speed of the public transport system, 34 km/h for traffic. In Sydney 37 km/h is the average speed of the traffic and 32 km/h for the transit system.

Buses average around 19 km/h, trains 42 km/h. Newman noted that it is important to have
train systems that can in every corridor enable a faster speed than bus travel.

The second critical policy is to create local centres and town centres that are viable, in an effort to minimise travel and enable priority for walk/bike/bus in those local areas. ‘Viable’ is defined in terms of both residential and jobs / people density. Newman’s work suggests that a density of 35 people per hectare is required to make non-car forms of transport viable. Which means for a centre about one kilometre in diameter, 10,000 people (ie, including both residents and employees) within walking distance of the centre are required to make non-car transport viable.

Larger town centres like Parramatta, which are an alternative to the central business district, require around 100,000 people (residents and jobs) within that catchment area, which Newman defines as approximately a ten kilometre diameter. If these densities are not met, Newman states that the car will remain the dominant form of transport.

TravelSmart household research showed that:
• For 40% of trips people had no option but to use the car as either a driver or passenger;
• For 15% of trips people had no option but to walk, cycle or catch public transport;
• The market share that has a choice of travel mode is therefore 45% of all trips.

Currently people choose the car for 35% and walking, cycling and public transport
for the other 10%.

Fat unfit sods

I presume every suburb has them. A gaggle of fat, unfit teenage blobs that hang around outside the local fast food shop, smoking and carrying on and trying to be cool.

We have a few groups of wallys like that around here, and their hangout is outside Subway. The dress code appears to be a hoodie, tracksuit pants and preferably clothing made by a company devoted to fitness, like Champion.

What amazes me is that they love to dress in clothing that was initially developed for exercise, and yet they appear to little or any of it. Oh, the irony of it all.

I guess it would be no more appropriate for them to dress in a suit, as none of them look like they are capable of working.

Sunday 17 June 2007


I try to watch 'Numbers' each week. I don't know why, but I find it to be a completely fascinating show. I must be turning into a maths nerd in my old age.

The episode last week featured a bunch of well armed bible bashing nut jobs having a shoot out with the feds. One of the nutters was armed with an M-16, and you saw him blazing away with it a few times.

There are a few things about these types of scenes that always annoy the hell out of me.

To start with, you never see any brass going anywhere. Shooting an M-16 on full auto inside a house is going to result in hot brass spraying all over the place. Shells should be all over the floor.

Shooting any automatic weapon on full auto inside a house is a very noisy experience, particularly without ear protection. Yet the actors always seem to be able to carry on a conversation without having to yell, and none of them are suffering from any temporary deafness.

The nutjobs were holed up inside a trailer home, which has walls made out of stuff that is barely thicker than cardboard. The feds were shooting back, yet no holes were appearing in the house. The nutjobs were standing at windows shooting out through broken panes - surely the feds could have shot through the walls with a pea shooter and taken them out?

Then there was the all time clanger. In one scene you see a nutjob at a window with an M-16. The scene cuts away, then cuts back to him - and his weapon has no magazine, yet he is still poking it out the window looking like he is ready to fire. It cuts back and forth a few times and he is still without magazine, until the final scene where one appears.

Shows a typically low level of experience with weapons.

I doubt he was changing magazines, since that is something that seems to happen pretty rarely as well.

Apart from that, I enjoyed the show.


I have a lovely Thule (pronounced 'tool' I understand) bike rack on the back of the car. It attaches to the spare wheel, flips out to hold two bikes and only cost two arms and a leg. It is so incredibly awkward to remove that I have never taken it off, although I will have to one day if I get a flat. I dread that day.

I got it because it was the only rack that will go on the back of the car. I initially bought one that was supposed to clip onto the tow ball, but it wouldn't fit unless I had the towbar extended.

Anyway, it's a pain in the bum, but it works. It beats having to take the front wheel off and then stuff the bike into the back of the car. It allows us to go on holidays with luggage and two bikes. It also allows me to go under things - the Disco is nearly 1.95m metres tall, so if I put a bike on the roof in one of those standy-uppy things, I would be too paranoid to drive under bridges, trees etc.

It has one major flaw though. It has two big nuts that you slacken to allow the bike carrier thing to flip out, then you tighten them up again. These nuts have a bad habit of coming loose and vibrating off entirely. I lost both a few years ago, and Thule were nice enough to post me two replacements for free. I had the car in for some panel beating recently, and I think they played with the nuts and didn't know to tighten them afterwards, and I have lost another one.

I am so paranoid about them, I tighten them every time I refuel the car, which is every 3 weeks or so. They can easily come loose that quickly.

Clearly, Thule needs to do a bit of redesign, or simply ship them with a proper washer.

Great product, stuffed up by a 30 cent part.

Is this all the news?

This story appeared in the SMH today:

One person has been killed and 15 injured when a 4WD collided with a road train near Daly River, some 200km south west of Darwin.

Police say the driver of the Toyota Troop Carrier was the only occupant wearing a seatbelt, while a further 16 adults and children were travelling in the vehicle.

I recalled Trevor telling me about legislation that the Liberal government introduced in WA some years ago that banned people from riding in the back of utes. The govt was concerned at the number of people that were being thrown from the back of utes and killed.

What no one said is that most of those that were killed were black, and that the deaths were all happening out in the middle of nowhere - Warburton Mission and places like that. The media however made it sound like it was white farmers from Northam that were being killed instead.

Trevor completely rubbished the legislation because it was totally stupid.

If you're in an Aboriginal community a thousand miles from anywhere, and you've got one running vehicle and you want to go visit Aunt May at the next community 100km away, it's not like you can call for a taxi or take the train or wait for a bus. You just go in whatever you have available. And it's not like the kids can ride their bikes that far. Everyone crams in and off you go.

We did this at Uni - I had a station wagon that could fit 10 people, providing 5 or so lay down in the bit at the back. It's what you door when your transport options are piss poor. Or 9 out of 10 of you are too drunk to drive, so you just leave the other cars at the party and squish in for the ride home. Going over speed bumps was always a challenge.

The other stupid thing about the legislation is that there are no cops out in the boonies to enforce it. And what are they going to do if they pull over a ute with 15 blackfellas in it if they are 100kms from the nearest town, and without water or shelter? Tell them to get out and walk? Don't be stupid. The cops aren't going to issue a ticket - at most, they might turf a few out and give them a lift in the back of the paddy wagon.

So, are we getting the full story on this horror smash? Is the media too chicken to say, "The vehicle was overloaded with blackfellas?"

I drove Landcruiser troop carriers when I was in the Reserves. We stripped them down to the bare minimum - no doors, roof, windscreen etc - totally open, so you could jump out the sides or over the back or wherever. The most we could ever fit into one was 12 troops - two up front (me and the co-driver) and 10 in the back, and even that was a squeeze. 10 was more comfortable. Landcruisers might be sizeable, but they are not that big.

Quiz night questions

If a school was going to hold a quiz night, what sort of questions do you think they'd ask?

I ask this thinking that if a group of teachers are compiling the questions, then the questions would probably reflect what they are teaching, or want to teach.

The quiz night last night had six rounds, and about 80 questions were asked (some were multi-part questions). One of the rounds was a "famous faces" round, where we were given a sheet with fifteen faces on it and had to name them all. The other five rounds were the usual type where someone stands at a microphone and reads them out.

We were in the back row of tables, and they had an overhead projector on all the time, but no one ever thinks to put the questions up on the projector. I have pretty good hearing, and I only just heard many of the questions over the 30 odd tables in front of us that were gossiping away at drunken decibels.

I only recall two questions that were of the "english lit" variety. One had to do with the play "Richard III" by Shakespeare, and the other had to do with Jane Austen. One question had to do with Tom Clancy, and even though I have read all his books about six times each, I would not classify him as 'literature'.

That's pretty sad.

There were only two geography questions, and both of them was part of a fun interval activity and not part of the quiz.

I recall only 2 or 3 history questions. One of them was 'in what year did a Japanese midget sub enter Sydney Harbour, and what was the vessel that it torpedoed?"

There was one science question - what elements have the symbols Au and Ag?

Most of the questions were related to music, TV, movie stars and sport.

I wish they'd said at the start, "All the questions are taken from what we are teaching your kids this year. Let's see if you know more than your children." That would have made it more interesting.

The whole night just gives me this horrible feeling that all that our kids are doing is watching TV all day at school.

We really needed Damien to help with the music section. The teacher that put the questions together is a sad music fan like Damien, and he asked plenty of obscure things that only another sad loony would know.


It's nice that the dams are filling up, but I am getting cabin fever. Whenever I look out the window, it's just too cold and miserable to go for a ride. We've had some dry periods most days this week, but just when I build up the enthusiasm to get on the bike, it starts bucketing down again.

I was forced to go out today - we left the car parked up in Drummoyne to avoid DUI, and I had to go and collect it. What a miserable bloody ride. I didn't bother with the leg warmers, which was a mistake, because as soon as I got out from the protection of the shopping precinct and into the wind, it was just nasty. I usually like to take 10 minutes or so to warm up with some easy riding, but that was not possible today - I just had to get moving in order to warm up as rapidly as possible - as in warming up to avoid hypothermia.

I did pass a few intrepid walkers and runners around the Bay - most of them were rugged up like North Sea fishermen in head to toe oilskins. None of them looked that happy.

There's a big difference between having to ride, as in commuting to work, and not having to ride, as in just going out for a spin to get the blood moving. If I have to get to work, it doesn't matter how miserable the conditions are - you just go - preferably departing during a spell between showers. If that compulsion is not there, it's just too easy to veg.

Teachers can't add up

Just got home from a school quiz night. Can hardly type straight. Taxi had spew down the door.

One team ended up with lots of points because the teachers doing the addition double counted.

Just remember that next time junior comes home with a good mark.

Saturday 16 June 2007

Bugger bugger bugger

My 'new' mobile phone arrived this week. I bought the same phone that I already have - a Nokia 6210 (I think). I wanted the same phone that I have had for 3 or more years as I have a car kit, and I don't want to change kits.

I also like that model of phone a lot. I do two things with my phone - talk to people on it, and send the occasional text. I don't want email, or a calender or games or an MP3 player or internet access or any of that shit. I don't even want a camera. I just want to be able to talk on it. The 6210 fits the bill admirably. It even has a keypad that fits my clumsy thumbs. I've tried dinky little phones, and had to use a pen to dial the numbers.

Just one problem - I now have to transfer the phone book from one phone to the other, and that involves finding my old Nokia cable and downloading the appropriate software from Nokia and hoping that it works on Vista and then finding that half the bloody numbers don't migrate across properly.

I'm thinking that I will do it all manually. I've got hundreds of numbers in the old phone, but I hardly ring 90% of them. I might just bring them across as I want them. I still have the old phone, which is falling apart, so I can still get into it to get the numbers that I need.

It would be nice if we got SIM cards that had enough memory to hold your entire address book. Then you could just pull the card out and transfer it to the new phone and that would be it.

My SIM card must be 6 or 7 years old. Maybe older. I got it with my first digital phone, and I can't remember when that was. When did the analogue network get closed down? 1999? 2000? Earlier? Whatever. It's an antique SIM card by now.

Watching TV

I did an online survey last night. It was looking at viewing habits. It took me about 10 minutes to complete.

It consisted of long lists of TV shows, and you had to mark whether you had watched that show in the last 4 weeks or not. If you answered yes, you then had to rate how closely you watched the show. For instance, I would put Rage down as a 1, which means it was just on in the background, whereas if it was House, it would get 4 - watched intensly and enjoyed.

I was gobsmacked at the number of shows on TV. I hadn't even heard of half of them - and I am talking about free to air, not cable. I went through whole reams of shows and marked them as "no".

Phew. For a while there, I was getting worried about how much idiot box watching I have been doing. Clearly, I am at the lower end of the scale when it comes to getting square eyes.

There are some whackos out there

I had a quick look at the BBC "your say" site this morning. They were discussing Gaza. One fruit loop had this to say:

Muslims killing muslims, Arabs killing Arabs, doing just as the right-wing Zionists would wish. It is madness.

The Palestinians should follow the Irish Republican model: In a generation Ireland will be united & at peace, totally free of British imperialism.

The Palestinians must cease fratricide, stop petty rocket launches that incite Israeli retaliation against the innocent, and stop suicide bombings. Build a Palestinian state in peace, then act from a position of strength in the future.

What a lovely sentiment. I agree.

But just how the fuck do you get them to do that? I know, let's have a solidarity march down George St with papier-mache heads and banners with slogans. That should help.



I missed a nifty photo opportunity this morning. As I was getting ready to go to the markets, I spied my camera on my desk and decided not to take it. What's the point? There's not really mich of interest out there to photograph.

Ah, but there was on the trip there.

I drive around a corner, and lying right across the street is a big old gum tree. It was a good sized tree - it blocked a two lane road from side to side, and I reckon that I probably wouldn't have been able to wrap my arms around it near the base. It had come down in the storm last night.

There were two guys there in fluro jackets directing traffic around the tree (we were able to drive into a carpark to detour around it), so it was pretty safe.

Except for the wingnut behind me. Picture this. It's been bucketing down all night. The streets are wet. There are deep puddles here and there - deep enough for some cars to detour round (but I just plowed through them and was rewarded with water going over the top of the Disco). It's windy. The streets are slippery.

And right behind me I have a wingnut in a Falcon, tailgating me, talking on her mobile phone and trying like hell to overtake on a double white line. She came zooming up behind me, so she was also well over the speed limit.

Justice was not served though. Because she was tailgating so closely, she couldn't see around me, so she had no idea that there was this dirty great big tree across the road just in front of us. I slowed down and indicated to turn into the car park, and she got even closer, and then pulled out to overtake.

I reckon she must have crapped herself when she suddenly found herself overtaking into a tree.

Unfortunately, it was a late model Falcon and must have had ABS, as she managed to stop.


We get through the carpark and back onto the road and she just plants it and flys past me. The last I saw of her was the Falcon running a light that was quite red.

By the time I came back an hour later, the tree had been chainsawed into nice fireplace sized chunks.

I wonder if that Falcon is wedged under the back of a semi-trailer by now?

Weapon safety?

Look at this peanut on the left. I clipped this from the SMH this morning.

He's got the barrel of his rifle resting on his thigh, and his hand on the trigger guard.

This is a great way to put a bullet through your femur.

Idiot. How did these guys ever roll Fatah?

Friday 15 June 2007

More onion jam

Now that we have a cupboard full of onion jam, I have to find ways to eat it. It's not like I want to smear it on toast like vegemite and have it for breakfast - it's a bit too over the top tastewise for that.

A winner of a meal is good old bangers and mash, served with onion gravy. I found a good recipe for onion gravy, and tried it out this week.

If you don't have 5 kilos of onion jam lying around like I do, you fry up some onions until they have caremalised, the take them out of the pan and leave them to one side. Throw in some butter and flour and cook the flour like you are making a white sauce (for say cauliflour cheese). After the flour has been cooking for a few minutes, add stock, tomato paste and (I love this) - beer. I will leave the quantities up to you. It is a taste thing.

Once that sauce or gravy has thickened up a bit, put the onions back in and continue cooking until the gravy is the way you like it.

I didn't have any tomato paste, so I just chopped up a big tomato and threw it in. I also forgot to add stock, but I did add beer, and it turned out really well.

I am going to have to eat 8, 396 sausages over the next few months in order to get through all the onion jam that I have made. If you see me outside a Bunnings running a sausage sizzle, it's me trying to dispose of the excess.

The trouble with bubbles

Here's something for those interested in physics.

I dumped half a packed of frozen peas and another half a packed of frozen corn into a saucepan and boiled them. The instructions say to cook for 3-4 minutes.

The corn all gravitated to the middle of the saucepan and the peas stayed around the edge.

What's going on here?

Oven from hell

Our oven has finally been declared dead.

It's a fancy oven with a digital interface and lots of buttons to press on the front. Digital things and buttons means computerised control, and the control board has blown. Apparently that is fairly normal for this particular model, and Trevor and Angela used to sell them.

Replacement boards are not available, but you can buy a manual conversion kit - ie, you replace the digital thing and the buttons with good old fashioned manual knobs.

Here's the kicker - the conversion kit is $800, plus the cost of fitting it.

You can buy a complete oven and stove top at Harvey Normal for less than that!

Wednesday 13 June 2007


The storm that did so much damage to the Hunter Valley hardly touched our area. Yes, we got an awful lot of rain, and it was unpleasant to go outside for a few days because it was so wet all the time, but we had no high winds and we certainly didn't get 10 inches of rain in a few days.

The worst that we seemed to have got was that part of this fence fell over. It probably fell over because of poor maintenance rather than the weather - the house is occupied by an old gentleman and he seems to have trouble putting his bins out, so taking care of a rotting fence is probably well beyond him.

The fence just fell straight over the footpath and slightly onto the road, so the SES have come along and put a bit of tape around it, but nothing more.


Here we have the very un-spectacular entrance to my favourite wog deli - Rizzo's Deli. It is not very wide, it's on a crummy street and it's almost too cramped to take a pram in.

However, they do very nice ham. Double smoked. Sliced very thinly - so thinly, it actually is "shaved". Shaved is such an over used term these days. I could "shave" a ham more thinly with a blunt block splitter than most supermarket delis could slice it with their slicing machine.

The other bonus is that they skin the ham before slicing it, so you don't get that horrid ham rind when you eat it. There is a slightly flasher deli about 50 yards down the road, and I gave up on them after finding that they neither skin nor shave their ham.

I bought some ham from Rizzo's the other day and held it up to the light. Yes, you could almost see through it.

It's worth putting up with the queues, the smelly wog customers (and that's the women), the crowding and the staff that don't speak much English in order to get your hands on their ham.


How I wish for some good Indian take away. I don't think I have had a really good Indian meal for about five years - since I last visited O Calcutta in Kings Cross.

I have eaten Indian on the North Shore, in the Eastern Suburbs and now in the Inner West, and most of it is just boring, brown muck.

Our local Indian is about average, except that they do a great peshwari naan. I am an absolute sucker for a good peshwari, and they don't disappoint. Unfortunately, not many Indian places do peshwari, so it is wonderful that our local place has it on the menu.

I just wish the rest of their food was as interesting as their naan.

Friday 8 June 2007

More Kerang crash

It now turns out that train drivers have reported 5 near misses at this level crossing in the last year. An inquiry is probably going to focus on this and nail someone, asking the question "why was this crossing not upgraded if there were this many near misses?"

5 near misses seems like a lot, but it would be interesting to compare that level crossing with all other level crossings across the state. My guess is that a lot of other crossings have had that many near misses, if not more. It's a sad fact that there are a lot of bloody idiot drivers out there that race trains and try and beat them across level crossings. There are other idiots that think, "there can't be any trains around - I am not going to stop and bother to look".

I've been out in the sticks and have driven up to a level crossing controlled by a Stop sign. I've stopped, as you are supposed to do, and had a look. The guy behind me has not bothered - he pulled out, overtook and barelled across the crossing at about 100km/h.

He broke about half a dozen road rules. To start with, there was a 60 sign leading up to the intersection, and he was going way over the speed limit. He failed to stop. He crossed a double white line to overtake.

He was just a dickhead in so many ways. Fortunately, most of them are hit by trains, so they get taken out by the front carriage or engine and they are the only people that die. Unless the train derails and falls over, which is pretty rare.

It's unfortunate for the passengers in this case that the truck hit the train in the side, rather than the more usual case of the train hitting the truck. If the train had hit the truck, chances are we would have one dead truck driver, some shaken passengers with broken limbs, and not much else.

I have spent quite a bit of time in Newcastle, and have seen some atrocious driver behaviour up there. Because the train line runs into the city, and all the crossing points are level crossings, you can get stuck in some "traffic jams" when the trains are running frequently. Well, they are really bad jams as far as the Novocastrians are concerned. I have been sitting there at the boom gates and seen drivers drive around the boom gates from both directions - ie, coming up from behind me and going around me and around the booms, and also dodging from the other direction.

Death wish.

Lots of boom gates also get snapped off by drivers that just drive straight through them. They all have snap-off points built into them these days so that a shear bolt snaps, which is easy to replace, rather than smashing the boom gate arm into a million bits.

There is usually also some hoo-ha in the media about whether the "warning lights and bells were working". I don't care if they are working or not - crossings should be approached with caution and that is that. If an normal intersection is controlled by a Stop sign, and the sign facing you is slightly bent, you don't say, "the sign is out of action - I'll just drive straight through". The sign is there for your protection. You stop no matter what - even if the sign has been flattened by a truck and is lying face down on the grass.

Trains should have nose mounted cannons fitted - like a Beaufighter. Brassing up cars bolting across level crossings in front of them should deter others from trying the same stunt.

Thursday 7 June 2007

Appendix of interesting bike stuff


Broken Windows

Interesting link. I've heard a lot about the broken windows theory of crime, but never actually read any of the source papers.

I always thought that a "defensible space" involved going into allround defence, placing the machine guns to cover the obvious approaches and putting out the claymores.

I also extracted this info on the theory from another site:

Unsociable behaviour is a community-wide concern and is not restricted to public paths and other public spaces. It is important that all public spaces be presented as ‘cared for spaces’. That way the community perceives them as wanted and looked after areas and not waste zones. The maintenance of public spaces is an important issue world wide.

James Q. Wilson and George Kelling developed the `broken windows' thesis to explain the signalling function of neighbourhood characteristics. This thesis suggests that the following sequence of events can be expected in deteriorating neighbourhoods. Evidence of decay (accumulated rubbish, broken windows, deteriorated building exteriors) remains in the neighbourhood for a reasonably long period of time. People who live and work in the area feel more vulnerable and begin to withdraw. They become less willing to intervene to maintain public order (for example, to attempt to break up groups of rowdy teens loitering on street corners) or to address physical signs of deterioration.

Sensing this, teens and other possible offenders become bolder and intensify their harassment and vandalism. Residents become yet more fearful and withdraw further from community involvement and upkeep. This atmosphere then attracts offenders from outside the area, who sense that it has become a vulnerable and less risky site for crime.

The "broken window" theory suggests that neighbourhood order strategies such as those listed below help to deter and reduce crime.

  • Quick replacement of broken windows
  • Prompt removal of abandoned vehicles
  • Fast clean up of illegally dumped items, litter and spilled garbage
  • Quick paint out of graffiti
  • Finding (or building) better places for teens to gather than street corners or ‘waste land or creating spaces for physical, creative and productive activities
  • Fresh paint on buildings
  • Clean footpaths and gutters

This explanation of the "broken window" theory was written by Henry G. Cisneros when he was US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. It was published in a series of essays titled "Defensible Space: Deterring Crime and Building Community" - January 1995.

In suburban areas such as those bordering the easements, another action would be regular maintenance of public and private gardens, including

Wednesday 6 June 2007

More tube repairs

I don't know where all these bike tubes have been coming from, but I have found half a dozen scattered around the house. Most had a hole in them, so I have been repairing them when I can find the time.

When I tackled the first one, I thought my pump had blown up. It simply refused to blow air into the tube in question. Bugger. I tried unscrewing the pump and playing with the nozzle, but it would not inflate the tube.

I then fell back on my second pump, and that was no better. I figured the tube valve must have gone, so I moved onto another tube.

I finally got back to the first tube yesterday. I tried pumping it up again, and nothing was happening. I then had a close look at the tube, and found a hole in it that I could poke my little finger into. No wonder it was not inflating. The air was going out just as fast as it was going in.

I was about to smear glue onto the tube to apply a patch when I thought, "You idiot - this tube has about 10 patches on it already, and you have 5 spares. It's not worth it."

So that one ended up in the bin.

Kerang train crash

I was flicking through the SMH photos of the crash site when I found this overhead shot of how the road intersects with the rail line. The SMH obviously grabbed it from google - I found the same map here.

What strikes me about the intersection is the angle at which the highway crosses the rail line. I don't know which way the truck was approaching from, but it's possible he was travelling in such a way that the train was behind his shoulder. He wouldn't have a hope of seeing it, unless he slowed right down and stuck his head out the window at the crossing. That's the kind of thing I'd do.

Here's another link to an intersection outside Ilabo in NSW. I've been across the rail line here dozens of times during trips down to Wagga, and the thing you'll notice about is is that the road kinks as it approaches the rail line. It clearly used to cross straight over, but I guess after a prang or two, the local council bulldozed the old route and created a new one so that vehicles cross the rail line at a right angle.

It's a bugger of an intersection in some ways, as you are tonking along at 100, then have to slow right down to make the turn to cross the rail line. But I guess that is the point. If a truck was going to fast, instead of zooming across the rail line at speed, it would simply fail to make the corner and tip over before it hit the crossing.

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Good podcasts

I have never been big on listening to podcasts, mainly because I never seem to have the time to lug around an ipod. I refuse to wear one whilst riding - you need all your senses fully switched on in order to avoid becoming a grease spot under some grease monkeys spoiler. I don't catch public transport to work. I don't sit around doing stuff all.

I do however like to download and listen to the podcasts from Fly With Me. I don't know why, but this guy really hooks me.

I really think he can tell a good story. He's under no pressure to publish, so he only puts one out when he has something good to say.

I wish the ABC would adopt this ethos. They should cut back to broadcasting 8 to 12 hours a day, and just put up a test pattern the rest of the time. Think of how much better it would be if they weren't desperately casting around for content filler for our 24x7 world.

I did pay a visit to a car stereo shop today to enquire about getting an ipod adaptor fitted. A good adaptor - one that is NOT an FM transmitter, costs around $330. It will also charge the ipod, so you can drive all the way to Brisbane without it going flat, and if you have a reasonably modern stereo, you can control the ipod through the stereo.

My stereo, alas, is so 1999. The only option is to replace it with something a little more 2007.

My, my, how the price of car stereos has fallen since I last bought one (in about 1984). Either that, or I have about 100 times more income now than I did in 1984. I can get a mid-range Alpine stereo, with an ipod adaptor, for $450. That seems awfully cheap to me. Fitting it will cost another $90. The adaptor is threaded through to the glovebox, so you just plug the ipod in, close the glovebox and only take it out again when you want to take it inside to upload some more songs... or podcasts.

I now only have one thing to decide - what day to get it installed.

I just hope I then don't discover that my speakers are complete crap.

Rye is it so?

I finally tracked down a bag of rye flour today.

Why rye?

I have this recipe for walnut bread that requires 20% rye flour to 80% white flour. I have made the walnut bread twice so far, and it is superb with cheese. This stuff costs you about $6 a loaf in a specialty baker, so it is worth trying to make it at home. But the two loaves where made with no rye flour, and I figured that maybe they would be even better with a bit of rye in them.

I'm not a huge fan of rye bread. I always find that it is too dry, even when smothered in cream cheese and topped with gravalax and caviar and dill. I love that topping, but find that I can never stuff myself with as much of it as I want to if it is on rye. If its on blinis however, I could eat a wheelbarrow full.

Since this recipe is only 20% rye, I figured it would not be too heavy - it would just add some flavour. So I thought I'd try it.

I tried the supermarket. No rye.

I tried the local health food store. No rye.

I tried a Balmain supermarket and then a Balmain health food store. None.

Cripes, if you can't buy it in Balmain, where do you get it from? Do I have to go to bloody Scandinavia to get it?

Then today, I am in Slurry Hills. I stop at an organic store. Do they have it? One of the other main centres of greendom?


There is only one place left - Macro in Crows Nest.

I used to live down the road from Crows Nest, and was quite impressed when Macro opened. When you are thinking of health food stores, Macro is the equivalent in this market segment to Coles in the normal supermarket segment. The store is huge (for a greenie store). It stocks lots of interesting bread, and more importantly for me, really strong and stinky cheese. Rind washed cheese. French stinkers like Pont Le Veque, which usually retails for about $80 a kilo or more.

I always avoided their vegies and fruit - too blotchy and buggy and expensive for me. But the cheese - magnifique!

So I drove all the way to Crows Nest to visit Macro. I got no cheese, but I did get rye flour.

Now I normally buy flour at the markets in 10 or 12 kg bags for $8 to $10 a bag. Put it this way - I normally pay less than $1 per kg of flour.

Bloody rye flour was $4 for 750gm! What's in this stuff? White truffles? Saffron threads? How can you pay that much money for bloody flour? So what if it's organic - it's just bloody ground up grain!

Well, at least I will get at least 7 loaves of bread out of this bag - assuming that the bread tastes any good with up to 100gms of rye flour in it. I made a loaf tonight (without the walnuts). We'll have to see what it is like in the morning. I'll try the old Damien favourite - boiled eggs with toast soldiers. Love 'em.

Slurry Hills

I had to go to Surrey Hills today. It's been a long time since I've been down Crown Street, and I had to actually think about how to get there. Luckily, there are street signs on Oxford St that point you in the general direction, except that one of them had been tampered with. The direction signs are green, and someone had stuck a big green bit of stuff over one of them with "Slurry" replacing "Surrey".

I didn't have time to take a photo, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I thought it was mildly amusing.

Whilst there, I stopped for a coffee at an "organic" cafe. Typical bloody inner-Sydney tripe. The coffee wasn't bad, except that at the bottom, there was mud. It reminded me of the lees that you get in an old bottle of red. You don't see that in coffee every day. Maybe it is authentic organic mud from the hillsides of Columbia? Or they just have crap filters and a poor grind.

I sat outside and enjoyed the bracing Autumn air. My vantage point gave me an interesting view of the street, and my car. For instance, I suddenly noticed that a big white scratch has appeared on the front bumper on the passenger side. I didn't put that there. Bugger.

It was only when I got home that it hit me - I didn't see a single pram, baby or pregnant woman during my entire drive through the area, and the subsequent coffee. There were a few people sitting inside the cafe gas bagging. None had kids. There were no prams being pushed up and down the street. There were no dads wandering around with baby in a sling attached to their chest. There were no mothers groups standing around having coffee.

I did find a "Hep C Awareness Centre". It was right next to "The Prostitutes and Streetworkers Alliance Headquarters", which was underneath the "HIV/AIDS Counseling Foundation".

Not the most family friendly area.

Someone forgot to wear a helmet

The local council came up with a marvelous idea not long ago. It built a skate park in one of the local parks. It manages to keep all the teenage punks occupied for most of the daylight hours, which is great as far as I am concerned.

I wish they could think up a way of getting all the 20-something wogs off our streets as well.

I drove past the skate park today, and parked out the front were two ambulances and a fire truck, all with the lights flashing. Bodies were being carted around on trolleys. I don't have a clue as to what happened, but given that there were two ambulances, I presume that two kids collided on the ramp, and if experience is any guide, neither were wearing helmets. The ambulances were required to take the cracked coconuts off to Emergency for a look-see.

We had lunch in the park not long ago, and when we wandered over to the skate park for a look, there were about 20 kids skating and biking around. I think only 2 had the full protective gear on - helmet, gloves and knee and elbow pads. The rest were in thongs and not much else.

Unfortunately, some people are just too dense to take a hint.

Monday 4 June 2007

Using the ipod

The ipod - what a great little invention it is. I am thinking of going shopping for a proper connector kit so that I can put ours in the car. It will replace the 6 CD stacker. Hooray - no more changing CD's halfway through a trip to Melbourne.

Just one problem - importing all the bloody CD's into the computer first. Yes, it only takes a few minutes per CD, but we have about a cubic metre of CD's. I have spent the last few days importing CD's, which means sticking one in, walking off to do something, wandering past a bit later, swapping it over etc etc.

Then at the end of the day, taking away the pile that has been imported and coming back with another stack. It will all be worth it in the end.

This is the second time I have done this.

With my old PC, I imported all my CD's using RealPlayer. RealPlayer however saves the tunes as WM3 or some wierd format, and iTunes doesn't recognise them. The only way to get my entire library into iTunes was to either re-import it, or use a converter to convert the lot fom WM3 to something that iTunes would recognise.

I found a neat bit of shareware that did it, but it managed to garble about half my library in the process. I put up with that - because of the way it garbled it, it would have meant re-importing the whole lot again anyway, as I would have had to sort through the libary album by album trying to work out what was garbled. Bloody nuisance. But half a library is better than none at all, and it beats rebuilding the entire thing again. Hell, I have about 6 days of music saved up - what does it matter if you chop that down to three?

When I got a new PC, I didn't bother transferring the library over. I just started again from scratch.

The horror, the horror.

This time though, I have been selective. There are some CD's that came out of storage, were given a quick glance and then put straight back in again. I should have just thrown them in the bin. I reckon I could cull at least 5% of my collection right now without thinking too hard about it.

We need the space. I should just do it.

Onion jam

Since I wrote about bread a little while ago, I might as well write about onion jam. Or onion relish, if you prefer to call it that.

I found a recipe in a Donna Hay magazine last year, and made up a small amount of it. The recipe calls for 2kg of sliced onions, but I found that I could only slice about half that before having to go outside and lie on the lawn. The relish was good, and it didn't last that long before it was all gone.

J has been at me for months to make some more, but I keep on forgetting to buy a reasonably sized bag of onions at the markets. I don't want to buy a 20 kilo bag, but a 2 kilo bag just ain't enough for both making relish and serving our normal weekly cooking needs.

Our problem was solved yesterday. A friend of ours regularly mans a BBQ at Bunnings in order to raise money for the school that his kids go to. After the BBQ, he had a leftover bag of sliced onions. The bag of onions had come from some sort of food supply company, and it must have weighed 20 kilos when full. I got the remaining 5 kilos.

We did make one small boo-boo with it - we left it in the kitchen overnight. It wasn't sealed that well. I had to get up at 4am and go to the kitchen, and by that point, the house stunk. The bag made a quick exit into the backyard at that point.

The recipe is pretty simple. You put 1/3 of a cup of olive oil in a big pot (I use a big Le Creusett pot) and heat it to medium/hot on the top of the stove. I have no idea what "medium/hot" means, so I just turn the dial to 6 (it goes up to 10).

When the oil has warmed up, add 2kg of onions, stir a bit and then put the lid on. You then cook them like that for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so. The idea is that they caramelise and go dark brown, but not burn.

I think this only works if you use lots of onions - like 2kg worth. If you dick around with just a few onions, like when you are cooking onions to go on a steak, its really hard to get them to caramelise properly.

After 40 minutes, you take the lid off and pour in one cup of brown sugar and one cup of red wine vinegar, stir, and wait for it to thicken (10 more minutes of cooking). You also add salt and pepper to taste. I wish the recipe would say how much salt - I added two teaspoons, and I am not sure if that was enough.

I had so many onions, I did two batches. The first batch went really watery after I added the vinegar (possibly the result of them being cut and then left in a bag overnight), so I had to cook them for a good half an hour further than you normally do. The second batch didn't need that.

The first batch though is deliciously gooey, whilst the second is still a bit tough and stringy. That could also be because the onions that I used where all big white onions, when I think you are supposed to use small to medium brown onions. I might cook the second batch for another half an hour and see how it goes.

We now have two big, bit pots of relish, and we need to find some more pots to hold the second batch.

Easy, quick and tasty.

Balsamic vinegar

Those sleazy wops have been ripping us off for years.

Next time you are in your pantry, have a look at the ingredients on your balsamic vinegar.

Unless you have bought an expensive bottle, the last ingredient will be 'caramel'.

What they do is put normal vinegar in a bottle and then add caramel and flavour to make it look and smell like balsamic vinegar.

The real stuff is aged like wine and doesn't need any of that caramel crap in it.

The things you find out from reading recipe books.

Sunday 3 June 2007

Beer cans

I watched Life on Mars again tonight, and two of the characters made a bet involving a can of Watneys Party Seven. I had no idea what this stuff was, so I googled it, and found something even more interesting about beer cans.