Wednesday 31 October 2012

Glorious way to start the day

Enough said.

Monday photos

These photos are dedicated to some dedicated followers of fashion. For starters, the bloke above is riding in a nicely ironed business shirt. However, unless you're also wearing a tweed suit, I don't think this is a good look on a bike.

Next we have a ladies fashion house in Pyrmont holding an outdoor fashion parade. It was a nifty idea, except the best place for the photographers to stand in order to snap the models appeared to be the middle of the bike lane - not the most sensible place to stand when heaps of cyclists are in a hurry to get home at the end of the day. As I went past at the tail end of a gaggle of bikes, two photographers stepped backwards off the footpath (with their eyes glued to the view finder) and were pretty lucky to avoid being run over.

I didn't stop for long enough to check out the chi chi frou frou that was on offer.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Sod's law

I cleaned my bike this week. I really did.

Well, not all of it. I didn't actually bother washing it or anything silly like that - I just degunked the drive train and re-lubed it.

I have two types of lube in the tool kit (stow it, those of you with filthy minds) - a dry lube and a wet lube.

Why different types of lube?

The dry lube is designed for dry conditions - it's a lightweight product that provides excellent lubrication with the downside that it washes off easily in the wet.

The wet lube is much stickier, so you chain doesn't end up as a rusted blob after a few weeks of winter. The downside is that it attracts mud and grit like shit attracts flies. The drive train needs a very thorough scrubbing with degreaser to get rid of it and the caked on gunk after a bit of winter riding.

And although my ride home is on sealed roads, if it hasn't rained for a while (like a long drought), the roads are covered in a goodly amount of dirt, tyre and brake dust and oil. After the first rain, you have a tendency to look a bit like this.

So, what sort of lube did I select after my spring clean? The dry lube.

Meaning it rained for the next two days.

Toughest bridge in the world

Hat tip: Castle Argghhh!

Sunday morning parody

I haven't seen the original ad, but there's already a few funny parodies doing the rounds. Ain't social media amazing?

Did Obama just let them die?


You won't read about this in the mainstream media, so you might as well read about it here.

The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Specter gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours — enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators. Everyone is reporting this but they are missing a key point.  From the retired Delta operator: Having spent a good bit of time nursing a GLD (ground Laser Designator) in several garden spots around the world, something from the report jumped out at me. One of the former SEALs was actively painting the target.  That means that Specter WAS ON STATION!  Probably an AC130U.  A ground laser designator is not a briefing pointer laser.  You do not "paint" a target until the weapons system/designator is synched; which means that the AC130 was on station. Only two places could have called off the attack at that point; the WH situation command (based on POTUS direction) or AFRICOM commander based on information directly from the target area. If the AC130 never left Sigonella (as Penetta says) that means that the Predator that was filming the whole thing was armed. If that SEAL was actively "painting" a target; something was on station to engage!  And the decision to stand down goes directly to POTUS!
This is far bigger than Watergate.

Explaining American beer

Another excellent read - although rather long and full of financial stuff.

Thanks to Tim Worstall again.

I used to like Beck's. Unless they're importing the real stuff into Australia from Germany, I won't be drinking it anymore. This stuff is important.

Brian Rinfret likes imported beer from Germany. He sometimes buys Spaten. He enjoys an occasional Bitburger. When he was 25 years old, he discovered Beck’s, a pilsner brewed in the city of Bremen in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law of 1516. It said so right on the label. After that, Rinfret was hooked.
One Friday night in January, Rinfret, who is now 52, stopped on the way home from work at his local liquor store in Monroe, N.J., and purchased a 12-pack of Beck’s. When he got home, he opened a bottle. “I was like, what the hell?” he recalls. “It tasted light. It tasted weak. Just, you know, night and day. Bubbly, real fizzy. To me, it wasn’t German beer. It tasted like a Budweiser with flavoring.”
He examined the label. It said the beer was no longer brewed in Bremen. He looked more closely at the fine print: “Product of the USA.” This was profoundly unsettling for a guy who had been a Beck’s drinker for more than half his life. He was also miffed to have paid the full import price for the 12-pack.

Bike pumps and comedy gold

My eternal gratitude to Duncan, who did what I should have done - he looked up Yonel Watene and found that he started work in September as courier!

I'm glad that Yonel is working and making an honest living. And thanks Duncan, that is gold. From what I've seen and read, couriers deliberately ride the simplest, most indestructible bikes possible. Many go for single speed or fixed gear bikes because there are fewer parts to break - and when things on the bike break, you can't work. Which means no income.

However, it does put a slightly different perspective on his statement to the Daily Telegraph:

Cyclist Yonel Watene walked his bike to the pump from his home nearby to pump his flat tyres yesterday.
"I'm broke so I don't have a pump," he said.
"It could be the difference between someone getting to work on time or not.
"I guess they waste money on other things."

Unless Yonel had changed careers by the time he spoke to the Telegraph, he was still working as a bike courier - and what sort of worker goes to work without a proper set of tools? Does a plumber leave for work without a set of wrenches? Does a chippie go to work without a hammer, tape measure and circular saw? No. Not unless you're a right twat.

Cyclists tend to be a pretty social bunch in the main. If they see another cyclist in trouble - like on the side of the road with their bike upside down - they'll slow down or stop and ask if they need any  help. "Help" might involve letting the cyclist with a flat use their pump.

It happened to me once - I was halfway home from the Blue Mountains when I got a flat - about 15 miles from home. I changed the tube, and when I tried the pump, I found it had filled with water over time and the seals were rotten and useless. A few minutes later, a cyclist happened by, saw I was in trouble and he lent me his pump. Problem solved. No need for government intervention and the expenditure of tax dollars from non-cycling tax payers.

If you're on a busy cycle route, there are cyclists buzzing past all the time - help is never far away.

On a final note, I have noticed that bike couriers like to gather at a particular spot in the city at the end of the day and drink beer out of king browns (that's a 750ml bottle for you foreigners). You can buy a cheap pump for the cost of 6 bottles of VB. So the question for Yonel and his ilk is this - if you are part of the after work beer drinking bike crowd, are you willing to forgo six bottles of VB in order to be self sufficient on your bike, and not a burden on the rest of us? Are you wasting money on other things, like beer, instead of buying things that are essential to your job?

Why every generation runs out of mineral reserves

Very interesting read, if you're interested in this sort of thing.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Free bike air costs $21,000

When I first heard about this story in the Daily Telegraph, I thought they must have been pulling our legs. $21,000 to install 5 bike pumps alongside a bike lane in the city? If they cost that much, my first thought was that they had installed pumps with a compressor, so you wouldn't have to do any actual pumping.

Then I read the story and saw the accompanying photos.

I can't believe it cost $4,300 to install that pump. Sure, it's a flash pump, constructed from stainless steel to avoid rusting, but it's not much different otherwise from the $100 upright pump that I have at home. All the Council had to do was buy these and then bolt them into the concrete. How on earth could that cost $21,000?

Why did they install them in the first place?

it was necessary because so many cyclists were getting flat tyres
Getting flat tyres is an unfortunate fact of life when you have pneumatic tyres. I get up to half a dozen per year on the bike, and average one every two years on the car. Since it is a fact of life, I have a spare tyre on the back of the car, plus a jack, wheel brace, gloves (because it's a filthy job), work clothes (because it is a filthy job) and a tarp (in case I have to change it in mud or snow). Whenever I go for a ride, I carry a spare tube, pump, tyre levers, disposable gloves (because it is a filthy job) and a nifty device for getting the tyre back over the rim. At home, I have a puncture repair kit and half a dozen spare tubes, because installing patches and replacing tubes is part and parcel of riding a bike.

A council spokesman said because many of the riders were new to cycling, they were being caught out without a bike pump - adding the CBD lacked service stations to pump up flat tyres.
Show me a bike shop that sells you a bike without accessories like a pump, and I'll show you a useless bike shop shortly to go out of business. The margins on accessories are pretty large - the markup between online shops and physical shops can be 100-200%. There's plenty of profit to be made from things like pumps, so a sensible salesperson will flog you one.

And what sort of idiot buys a bike without a pump? Do we buy cars without spare tyres and tyre changing kit? (Let's not get started on the debate about space-saver spares). My shirts come with a spare button. The Lego sets we buy the kids come with spare bits. There are some certainties in life apart from death and taxes, and these are that bikes will get flat tyres, Lego bits will get lost and shirts will lose buttons. We prepare for these eventualities if we're sensible and grown up.

Cyclist Yonel Watene walked his bike to the pump from his home nearby to pump his flat tyres yesterday.
"I'm broke so I don't have a pump," he said.
"It could be the difference between someone getting to work on time or not.
"I guess they waste money on other things."

Do us a favour Yonel - just fuck off. You are a twat. Grow a personal responsibility gland. It's not the job of  taxpayers like me to make up for your short comings. You can order a pump on line for less than $35. Get your spending priorities sorted out.

Riding a bike to work is cheap, but it isn't free. Bikes are a mechanical device - they wear out, and they require maintenance. I've been riding mine for over 8 years, and I do 6-8000km per year. That creates a fair bit of wear and tear. Hard wearing tyres might last 6000km - and they cost $50 a pop. Chains and group sets (the rear gears) wear out. Brake and gear cables wear out and snap. Brake pads need replacing ($25 a pair - and commuting is very hard on pads). Wheel rims and bearings wear out (just like the brake disks in your car wear down, the rims on bike wheels wear down every time you use the brakes. Eventually you run out of metal and have to replace them). Lights and computers eventually fill up with water (if you ride in the wet) and die. My first pump got full of water and the seals corroded and failed. Bits get damaged through crashes. Pedals and cleats wear out from clipping in and out.

You need to degrease and oil the drive chain on a regular basis - that requires degreaser, oil and a scrubbing brush. Degreaser for bikes is not cheap - and you never use the cheap stuff (made that mistake once).

Even your clothing takes a hammering. I'm on my third pair of shoes and my sixth set of gloves. I've gone through at least four pairs of knicks - they wear down through rubbing to the point where they become see-through (not a pretty sight from behind). You can wear your normal clothes if you trips are short, but cycling wears them out too.

All this costs money. Not as much money as running a car, and not as much as a $35 per week bus pass. But it still cost something - at least a thousand bucks per year on average for me (and that doesn't count the cost of buying the bike in the first place).

If you're not spending anything on keeping your bike running, either you have a magic-pudding bike, or you aren't actually using it seriously. Or you just steal another one every time your current bike breaks down.

As for the stupid bloody council staff that made this decision - it would have been cheaper to have rounded up every twat like Yonel and given them a free pump. You could have bought 1000 pumps in bulk at $20 each and given them away. That would have left $1000 over to print stickers for each pump stating, "I am a useless, free-loading twat with no sense of personal responsibility".

Friday 26 October 2012

You have to read this

Past lives and present misgivings.

Can't find where I found the link - wherever it came from, thanks!

Monday 22 October 2012

Melbourne weather - in Sydney

October weather can be pretty variable in Sydney, but this year, it's ridiculous.

I blame global warming of course.

It was pretty warm on Saturday - it hit 33 degrees during the afternoon. Sunday was overcast, and today was a pig's breakfast.

Riding home was ridiculous - I wasn't expecting rain today, so I had worn the bare minimum of cycling kit. That meant of course that the temperature plummeted just as I left the office and I ran into near-hail partway home. It wasn't solid ice coming down, but the drops were near freezing and bloody hard - they hurt when they hit exposed skin. The maddest part is that when I was riding through this semi-hail shower, I was looking directly into bright sunshine. The clouds hard parted ahead of me, making it insanely hard to see where I was going.

I emerged from the part-hail/part rain into warm sunshine, and then was back into another cloud burst a few minutes later. If I'd taken a spray jacket, I would have been alternating between comfortable and sweating; instead I alternated between very uncomfortable and frozen.

I know Melbourne gets 4 seasons in one day - I got two in the space of about 20 minutes.

Like I said - it's all the fault of global warming.

Sunday 21 October 2012

The amazingly unfindable report

The SMH carried a story today about the cash economy costing the government millions. The report is by the  left leaning Australia Institute.

The report makes lots of claims about how much money the state government is missing out on each year. I thought it would be interesting to read the report and look at how they reached their conclusions.

But I can't find it anywhere on the Australia Institute website. It's not listed as a publication or a report, and there's not even a sign of a press release. It is a phantom; a chimera.

Let me add my two cents worth - if it was easy and cost effective for the tax man to be cracking down on the cash economy and extracting some more tax, they'd already be doing it. It's really easy for a cloistered academic to say "the institute says a crackdown on the black economy and cash-in-hand work would be more effective." But it's bloody hard to actually do it.

Why the hate?

As someone who is part of the wider "cycling community" (whatever the hell that is), I occasionally mix with cyclists who have a visceral hatred of cars. I don't get it - the car is one of the greatest inventions ever. I like cars. I don't love them like some people do (you won't find me at car shows, buying car mags, joining a car club or polishing the pride and joy on a daily basis). If I was ever going to name any of my cars, I'd name them "Down", as in "Broken Down". Especially if I owned a Ford.

I've yet to meet someone who doesn't form a strong attachment to something at some point in their lives (that is not another human). People variously fall in love with boats, fishing, gardening, music, dogs, art, clothing, shoes, cooking, computer games, books, travel, flying, scuba diving, hunting, politics, scale modelling, parachuting, photography, mountain climbing, marathons, cats, "the environment", surfing, wind sailing, motorbikes and of course, cycling. A quick trip to any newsagent is a good guide to the main things people fall in love with - if people are willing to buy expensive magazines on a regular basis celebrating a particular activity, and there are a lot of magazines for that activity, then you can be pretty sure that plenty of people are in love with that activity. The market has spoken.

As an aside, whilst there is a good market for "competitive" cycling magazines of all types - road, mountain and triathlon - the magazine for the Greenie section of the market recently folded and ceased publication. (Haha - that is not meant to be a pun). You could infer from that event that whilst Greenie cyclists are vocal and annoying, they and either small in numbers or tight fisted - or both.

A common theme amongst the Greenie cyclist is a hatred of cars. And I mean a passionate, total hatred of cars. To them, the car is evil and the bicycle is a symbol of good. I don't think it's a rational hatred - in some cases it seems to smack of well hidden envy and jealousy. They can't stand that the bloke over there has worked hard and made enough money to afford a Merc, whilst they are stuck on an old bicycle stolen from outside the Marlborough Hotel in Newtown.

This hatred then extends to motorways - a great blessing for all city dwellers. Anyone who wants to go back to the bad old days of entering and leaving Sydney via Parramatta Road and the old Hume Highway needs their head read. But then again, none of the haters ever leave Sydney - especially the inner parts of Sydney - unless they are taking the train to Canberra for a protest against a coalition government.

The passionate love of cycling extends the other way, into total adoration of Clover Moore and all that she does. It's quite bonkers. The take the cyclist-motorist hatred to new levels.

And as I said, that's bonkers. Most adult cyclists have a driver's license and own a car or two. Or three. Many cyclists drive their bikes to a spot, cycle out and back to some point and then stick the bike back on the car and drive home. The haters mostly appear to be non-car owners; the types who don't have a family to cart around, live in the inner city and don't have a long distance to cover in order to get to work (assuming they have a job). or the shops. If they do have a job, it's not the sort of job that involves travelling as part of the job (such as going from site to site with a bunch of tools and plumbing supplies).

They might even be afforded the luxury of working from home in some inner city location where it's easy to walk to the local cafe and shops and stroll home with two light bags of groceries; and where there are so many delightful restaurants and cafes within walking distance that you never cook dinner at home. Or lunch. Or breakfast.

I survived for 10 years in Sydney without a car - and I didn't have a bike back then either. I was single, my friends all lived close by - an easy walk or a cheap taxi ride - and all our social events involved a lot of drinking, so you never drove even if you had a car. And you couldn't park where you wanted to go, as parking around places like Paddington is an utter nightmare. I can understand completely how people can get by without a car - live in the inner suburbs, don't have kids, have a job that can be reached and undertaken using convenient public transport and have a whole bunch of friends in the same circumstances.

I think a lot of the hate has to do with wanting to be part of an in-group. When I lived near Bondi and body surfed a lot (and occasionally tried and failed to stand on a surf board), the boogie boarders hated the body surfers. The surfers hated both groups even more - to the point of the occasional punch up occurring. And they really hated the surf life savers. Group membership was reinforced via hatred of others. I can understand wanting to be part of a surfing group - surfers are fit, tanned and athletic and they pull a lot of chicks and have great parties. But who would want to be part of a group of stinky, bearded (and that includes the women), sandal wearring cyclists who define themselves through hatred of cars and motorways?

A lot of these Greens never grow up and have a family, so they aren't forced to make a choice between their hedonistic, inner city life style and exile to the 'burbs with a clutch of kids. They can continue this irrational hatred well into middle age. It's quite sad really.

Friday 19 October 2012

Friday photos

Haven't done any of these for a while

A pair of fisherman under the Harbour Bridge - with several rods each.

I was wondering how to count these people - were they going clockwise or anti-clockwise?

One for Cav.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Coffee, Starbucks and a bit of history

Tim Worstall raised an issue about the profitability (or lack thereof) of Starbucks in the UK. I remembered that Starbucks closed a lot of stores in Australia some years back, so I did a bit of googling. Fascinating results.

Before I give you the professional opinions, here's mine. I did a bit of a road trip across parts of the US in the mid 1990s. On the whole, the standard of coffee from coast to coast was worse than abysmal - it was totally fucking atrocious. It was OK in central New York and large parts of Seattle - but in between those two locations lay a huge wasteland of drip filtered muck. We tried every style of road side diner you can imagine, searching for a drinkable coffee......and we failed. Totally failed.

In the end, we turned to Starbucks. Yes, the coffee cups were too big, they tried to sell ridiculous combinations of stuff and the staff were mainly hipster tossers (back before hipsters existed) - but if you ordered a small, plain latte, you got something that was actually quite drinkable. Not great, but good enough. Certainly better than the crap we'd been served up until that point.

Starbucks grew to dominate the US market (in my opinion) because there was no competition for them to deal with (outside Seattle). It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Different story in Australia by the time they arrived on our shores - the coffee revolution was well under way, and they entered a market that was more Seattle than say Bumfuck, Idaho.

As an aside, I sent some Compuserve emails from what was probably the first internet cafe anywhere when we were in Seattle. I had to use a green-screen terminal to do it. Hang on - how could it be an internet cafe when the internet had not been invented at that point? Once more, I confuse myself.

To the professionals:

What conclusions can we draw about the brand's tactics after Starbucks announced the closure of the vast majority of its Australian outlets? 
Now that the collective cheer of all coffee-loving Australians has died down, it's worth exploring just why Starbucks has failed to make an impression in the Australian marketplace. 
Everyone has their own opinion, but from where I sit (on a needlessly funky chair inside an advertising agency) Starbucks was doomed from the start for two key reasons.
Firstly, they didn't seem to pay much attention to product optimisation. In short, they just took what worked in the US, and tried it here. Unfortunately for Starbucks, what worked in the US was bitter, weak coffee augmented by huge quantities of milk and sweet flavoured syrups. Not so much coffee, as hot coffee-based smoothies.
For the Australian consumer, raised on a diet of real espresso, this was always going to be a tough sell. 
But aside from their product woes, Starbucks made a single, crucial tactical error: they failed to deliver to the Australian consumer an organic experience. 
Let me explain. In the US, Starbucks started in Seattle as a single store. And in a nation bereft of genuine café culture, that single store soon captured the imagination, and became a second store. Then a third. Before long, it had become a demand-driven phenomenon; everyone wanted a Starbucks in their local area. 
For those old enough to remember, McDonalds grew exactly the same way in Australia. They opened just one or two stores in each city - nowhere near enough to meet demand - thus creating an almost artificial scarcity, which built huge buzz around the brand experience. Krispy Kreme is doing exactly the same thing here too. 
But when Starbucks decided to put out their shingle down-under, what did they do? Why, they immediately tried to impose themselves, with multiple store openings in every city. And in one of the stupidest moves I've ever seen, they decided that one of their very first stores would be in Lygon Street, Carlton. 
Now, Lygon Street may have lost much of the lustre it once had, but it still holds a place in the collective consciousness of Melburnians. To a Melbourne coffee-drinker (which is pretty much every Melburnian with a mouth) coffee was born in Lygon Street, and this big Starbucks store with its big backlit corporate signage and its carefully arranged linger-all-morning sofas... well, it was an affront to the senses. A great big middle finger, raised imperiously in the general direction of your local café. 
So while Starbucks grew organically in America, in Australia it tried to impose itself upon us. It took key sites. It hung huge signs. It even tried to get us to order coffee in sizes, just like you do with popcorn at the multiplex. And with weird names (Decaf Mocha Grande anyone?) Basically, Starbucks said to us: "That's not how you drink coffee. This is how you drink coffee." 
For us, the Starbucks experience wasn't organic. It was implanted. We didn't discover it: it was dumped on our doorstep. The only surprise was it took head office so long to realise that this approach wouldn't work. 
This is not to say that Australians are somehow impervious to the chain-store café phenomenon. For better or worse, home-grown chains such as Hudsons and Gloria Jeans are doing quite well for themselves. But it's instructive to note that they're succeeding because they're offering a brand experience that is comfortable to Australians (no weird drink names, just two lattes and a cappuccino thanks). 
Perhaps the final, and most important, lesson from the Starbucks experience is this: as consumers, we ultimately have the power to kill bad products and bad brands. Don't give them your money, and eventually they'll go away.
and another opinion:

THERE's the financial argument -- that Starbucks simply expanded too fast, and took on too much debt, in its eight-year attempt to colonise Australia.

Then there's the elitist, gastronomically xenophobic argument -- that Australians are sophisticated drinkers who want a quality brew and are not prepared to stomach paying $3-plus for a weak "American" coffee.

The truth behind this week's decision by Starbucks to retreat to the east coast capital cities by closing 61 stores in Australia, for the loss of 685 jobs, is probably somewhere in the middle.

Starbucks Australia blames underperforming outlets for the move but its accounts reveal an overstretched company living on the goodwill of its Seattle-based parent, Starbucks Corporation.

Unlike other retail chains, such as rival Gloria Jean's, Starbucks doesn't use a franchise model, preferring to lease and fit-out its own outlets. This means more cash being spent upfront and, in Starbucks' case, more debt.

Financial statements filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission reveal the pace of its growth -- and a corresponding rise in losses and debt -- since its first store opened in Sydney's CBD in 2000.

In 2000-01 it opened 16 more stores. The following year came another 15. In 2002-03, it opened just seven more stores but these included its first "regional" outlets outside the capital cities and Queensland coastal strip -- in Newcastle and Erina in NSW.

By the end of the 2006-07 September year, Starbucks had 87 stores around the country, but it also had accumulated losses of $143 million, including a record $36 million loss that financial year. Loans from Starbucks in the US had hit $72.3 million and, by the company's own admission, it was able to consider itself a "going concern" only because of the parent's support.

The company's management this week pointed the finger at the economic slowdown but the group's performance in North America -- 600 stores have just closed in the US and Canada -- has been in decline for close to 12 months. In any event, some industry insiders say the coffee industry should be able to weather economic downturns, with the beverage seen by consumers as an affordable luxury.

Instead, they say the company simply underestimated how "coffee savvy" consumers were. That rival chains Bean Bar and Hudsons Coffee are eyeing soon-to-be-vacant Starbucks sites suggests others in the industry see a stronger future.

In a report issued this week, Swiss investment bank UBS said Starbucks might need a franchise model to get its business back on an even footing. "With a well-managed re-franchising program, Starbucks can give top-quality managers a chance to own a store -- and to keep the same employees in one place," it said.

Gloria Jean's has successfully localised an offshore brand, expanding to 440 outlets in Australia, something Starbucks failed to get right. And another home-grown chain, Brisbane's Coffee Club, is also having success with a franchise model.

Bean Bar master franchiser Ron Basset yesterday said Starbucks failed because Australians did not take to American-style coffee. "Their coffee is more like a milkshake, we probably have three times the coffee in ours than they do," Mr Basset said. "We don't offer vanilla shots or caramel shots because we believe our coffee is good as it is."

Australasian Specialty Coffee Association representative Brian Raslan, who is one of only two accredited world barista judges in Australia, said Starbucks excelled in making "gimmicky drinks", but failed to make "proper" coffee. "I think here in Australia we have quite a mature coffee culture and a lot of discerning taste and people understand here what coffee is about," Mr Raslan said. "Our coffee culture has been Europeanised for a number of years and in America some of the success is because they had all of the lounges and you could lounge around."

At Starbucks' closing Rundle Mall store in Adelaide -- a favourite with tourists -- Scottish student Emily Finnie drank a final vanilla latte. "I like the flavour of the coffee mostly, there's nothing quite like it," Ms Finnie said. "It's milky, quite sweet and not bitter."

Her friends Sara Husi and Giacinta Clark said they were happy to meet people at Starbucks but Ms Clark preferred supporting local companies, rather than multinationals.

Claudio Ferraro, part-owner of the Cibo chain, said there was still room for growth within the Australian coffee market. "I think people just appreciate good coffee and people (who) have that drive to find good coffee are still looking for it," Mr Ferraro said. "Is it saturated? Probably not."


Somewhere out west

Cruising above the mangroves.

Dominant left - more more more

I apologise for not including this explanation when I put up some stats recently:

“…This left twist effect seems to be generally apparent in animals. Circus horses enter traditionally the arena on the right and circle left wards. Foresters know that a wounded deer will always run away left wards, even if the closest forest is to its right. Even bees tend to circle leftwards when they spiral upwards to gain height in the air.

The basic driver behind this phenomenon seems to be the fact that all cells in nature are composed of amino acids which have a left spin. Chemists can manufacture amino acids with a right spin, yet we can’t use them. Apparently both types of amino acids existed in the primordial soup at the beginning of life hundreds of million years ago. Yet life developed only from those with a left spin. The favorite theory is that at that time – when the earth did not yet have the protective ozone shield – radioactive rays from the cosmos did more harm to the amino acids with a right spin. Yet why those with a left spin would be more protected – if at all – is still a mystery.”

People who are lost in the desert tend to walk in circles with a left spin, i.e. counter-clockwise.

Most or our supermarkets are organized the same way: entrance is on the right, the cashier on the left. Studies have shown that customers tend to feel slightly stressed – increased cardiac pulse, elevated blood pressure, slightly faster walking pace – and buy less when they have to walk in the opposite direction.

Same on the sports field: most track and field sports – from the 400 meter distance runner to the hurdle racer, they all run towards their left. Even the everyday jogger tends to run counter clockwise around the field or lake if he has free choice…”

Stats for today:

24:36 this morning opposing the theory

52:10 this evening supporting the theory

So whilst the stats sometimes go against the theory, when they do, the difference is nowhere near as great as those that support it.

What I mean is that the stats might go 1.5:1 against, but 5:1 or 6:1 for the theory. The numbers are not balancing out - the dominant left so far is.......dominant.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Dress like an idiot day

Today was Ride to Work day. Or to put it in its modern parlance, it was "Ride2Work". Dunno why they didn't fiddle with it further to make it Ride2WerkX", or something stupid like that.

Days like today bring out the gumbies by the score. There are those of us who hop on our bikes and plod to and from work everyday with little fanfare and no fuss, and then there are those that ride one day of the year and expect the sort of accolades that are normally reserved for winning Le Tour.

The people I really hate are those that dress up for the occasion. Yes, OK, I dress up in lycra everyday, which is about the stupidest, most ridiculous thing a middle aged bloke can wear - but I was beaten hands down today by a bloke wearing purple fairy wings.

At least I think it was a bloke. (Is it sexist to say "it"?)

FFS, why do these clowns have to show up and turn things like this into a fucking circus? Can we please have one day of the year that is tool-free?

I was so disgusted, I left Hyde Park without collecting a free feed. And believe me, that is a major event. Me turning down food (free or otherwise) is like Craig Thomson knocking back a hooker.

Dopey pedestrian

The Pyrmont Bridge is infested with flag poles. They're not a problem if you watch where you're going.

Which is a problem for some dopes.

I was waiting at the lights tonight when two blokes came walking towards me. One was rabbiting on and gesticulating wildly. He walked smack bang into a flag pole - fast first. His mate didn't even notice.

Dopey then started telling his friend in a very agitated fashion how he had just walked into a stupid flag pole - when he walked straight into a second pole.

Don't ask me how he managed to do that twice without breaking something in his face.

Spring swings

Friday last week - just about froze to death because I didn't wear a jacket outside the office at lunch time.

Tuesday - 36 degrees on the way home.

Today - got the chills in the canyons of the CBD at 4pm.

What is it with this weather? It's like living in Melbourne......

My disturbingly competitive nature

The first few minutes of any ride are always taken relatively slowly as the muscles are given time to warm up. On most rides, the warmup takes place in suburban back streets where one rarely sees another cyclist. However, I did a longer ride recently where I was out on the main road within 2 minutes, and that road sees a lot of cycle traffic.

About a minute later, this bloke overtook me. He's a bit like me - a definite MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) who is a bit wide across the beam. I hate it when I get overtaken - the lizard part of the brain kicks in and immediately starts screaming, "KILL THE INTERLOPER". I had to let him go though - I'd done no more than three minutes cycling by that point, so I wasn't going to put the hammer down to catch up. Over the next few minutes, I watched him creep away of me until he was perhaps 250 metres ahead - and as my speed slowly increased as the legs fired up, his gains became smaller and smaller.

Then he stopped pulling away.

And then I started gaining on him.

I took this photo when I finally caught up to him. About a minute later, we parted ways, so I never got to overtake him. I'm sure I'll go to my grave regretting that I never got in front.

More dominant left stats

I remembered to count three times in the last week.

42:21 anti-clockwise to clockwise

20:21  anti-clockwise to clockwise

52:10  anti-clockwise to clockwise

So far, the results have varied from 1:1 to 6:1, with the bulk of the stats supporting the proposition that people prefer to walk/cycle anti-clockwise around a loop.

I'll keep at it for a few more weeks.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Why Henry Ford paid higher wages

Interesting snippet of economic history from Tim Worstall:

Ford wanted to reduce turnover among his workers: he was getting through 50,000 a year in order to have a permanent establishment of 13,500. By paying double the wages of everyone else he reduced his training and recruitment bills. Higher wages actually led to a lower total wage bill.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Thought for the day

Regarding the offensive joke told at a CFMEU dinner about Tony Abbott's chief of staff:

Environment Minister Tony Burke’s office said he expressed outrage to other people on his table and left “shortly after”.

The dinner was in Canberra. Unless Burke has his own car in Canberra, he would have left in a taxi or ComCar (Commonwealth Car).

When you use either of those means of travel, you have to sign a docket. Perhaps the Minister could release his docket for his departure from the dinner, which would show the time he actually left? That way, we could determine what "shortly after" actually means.

Gillard, divorce and hiding assets from soon to be ex-wives

The Bunyip asks some interesting questions. Go read the whole thing.

"Prime Minister, at the time you were handed Ralph Blewitt's pre-signed power of attorney, your lover Wilson was a married man with children and in the process of leaving his family in order to take up residence in Melbourne, where for several years he shared his life with you. Would it be fair to say that one obvious advantage of listing Blewitt as Kerr Street's buyer of record was that it shielded Wilson's wealth from his soon-to-be ex-wife and her divorce lawyers?"

Barrel tasting?

I was invited to a regional barrel tasting recently (couldn't attend). We're talking wine barrels here.

Thankfully, it was not an Adelaide barrel tasting. I wonder if anyone will ever be brave enough to organise one of them?

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Bollocks all round

The Telegraph and the Herald both managed to over-sensationalise a pretty simple story this week when an Army Unimog rolled at Holsworthy Barracks.

First to the Telegraph: Army Mog truck known for rollovers - that's despite a handful of fatal rollovers during 30 years of service. I drove a Mog in the Reserves for a few years after my back packed it in - they were exceptionally hard to roll. In fact, you could drive them across the most amazing slopes without any fear of them tipping. During our training, our instructors literally had to force us scared-stupid trainees to drive them across slopes that we were certain would lead to our early deaths. You had to wear a seatbelt to stop yourself from falling out of your seat sideways! They are the most awesome vehicles, and I totally loved driving them.

We had one local rollover that I know of - an artillery crew were towing a gun somewhere off road and the gun flipped, taking the Mog with it. That's not supposed to happen - they are fitted with towing gear that rotates - but it did happen.

Which brings me to the SMH: Due to their four-wheel-drive capacity they have a high wheel base and are more prone than other vehicles to tipping. 

That's total bollocks. Yes, they have a high wheel base, but the portal axles allow the drive train to be mounted relatively low, so the centre of gravity is low. Just because they look tall to a stupid, never-driven-one, never-sat-in-one journalist, doesn't mean that they are more prone to tipping. The most "prone to tipping" vehicle I have ever seen is the Toyota Hilux, and you could drive a Mog straight over the top of the average Hilux.

During my service, there were quite a few vehicle rollovers in the Army. However, most of them were suffered by the (as it was then) newly introduced Landrover Perentie - they were a lot speedier than the Series 2 and 3 Landrovers that they replaced, and quite a few unsuspecting drivers who had grown up in the old gutless petrol Landies rolled them when cornering. It got so bad, the Army was circulating special pamphlets on the danger of rolling the Landrovers - I think there were a few fatalities.

I managed to avoid rolling a Landrover - mainly because I flipped a Landcruiser, and that scared the crap out of me. We were issued a batch of Landcruisers as a stopgap measure, and they were even faster than the new Landrovers (the Army never got around to fitting a governor to the Landcruisers, so they flew). I went over the crest of a sandy hill at the Lancelin bombing range with a section in the back. The road totally fell away to one side just over the crest, so when the wheels on that side disappeared into a rut several feet deep, over it went, throwing me and 9 or 10 troops over the side. I'd almost rolled one a day earlier whilst speeding on the beach - I was so busy putting it into the incoming surf that I didn't realise I was about to run out of beach, and when I turned, it  went up on two wheels. That was pretty exciting, in an unpleasant way.

During my time in the Reserves, my friends and family managed to survive numerous civilian rollovers. We've had three in the family, and there were plenty of others when I was at Uni. At one B&S that I attended, I watched an old Renault roll several times during the morning-after circle work. Each time, a gang of drunken spectators would flip it back on its wheels, and off it would go again (unless a tyre went off the rim, and a tyre change was required). I won't say that any particular model of car was prone to rolling - the most prevalent feature was a drunken and/or tired driver. Idiot civilian drivers roll cars every day - a Mog rolls once every 10 years, and somehow Mogs are prone to tipping???

One last comment about the SMH story:

The trucks, known throughout the army simply as "Mogs", have been in service since 1982 and feature almost nothing in the way of safety measures for troops sitting on bench seats in the back.

Wrong. They don't "feature almost nothing in the way of safety measures". You can get rid of the "almost" - they have absolutely no safety measures. None. Nada. The troops in the back are totally reliant on a well trained driver up front keeping them safe and sound.

Sunday 7 October 2012

This is so much fun

Life of Brian is a treasure trove of excellent names.

Petition rigging

Yes, it really is that easy to sign these things with a totally bogus name. Thanks to the Bunyip for bringing this to our attention.

I wonder if I can sign up the entire cast today?

Friday 5 October 2012

The very dominant left

I blogged earlier in the week about the supposed human preference for travelling anti-clockwise rather than clockwise. My last traffic count of people going around The Bay was inconclusive.

I remembered to count twice this week.

The first was 106 to 17 - a ratio of over 6:1.

The second was 48 to 9 - still a killer ratio in favour of anti-clockwise.

Two surveys do not a theory make, so I'll try to remember to count a few more times next week.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Hey, where did the pain go?

As I mentioned earlier today, I had a short break from the bike recently. The first few days back in the saddle were ok, but by day 4, my legs were screaming at me. Not when I was riding, but when I was doing very little, such as sitting around the office or trying to lever myself off the couch. I was reduced to hobbling around the house almost in tears.

Things are much better this week. The legs have finally hardened up again. Or I have lost all feeling below the waist. Better go stub my toe on something and see if it hurts.

The pain might be gone, but so has the power. I barely crawled home over the Anzac bridge today - first hot day of spring (33 degrees) and a pretty brisk head wind - and my legs struggled to maintain any sort of pace at all. Perhaps I haven't hardened up at all - and I am really as soft as a very squishy marshmallow.


I'm torn between being obsessive about reaching a simple goal and relaxing and living life a little.

The goal? I'd love to have a flat stomach again. It's hard in lycra - it makes guys that weigh 64kg with 2% body fat look like they have a pot gut. For blokes like me, it's pertinent to ask how many days until the twins are due. But it would still be nice to totally get rid of the beer gut after lugging it around for 15 years.

I've slowly been chipping away at it - there's no dramatic secret. I simply ride at a reasonably quick pace for 70-90 minutes 5 days a week, and try and fit in a longer ride on one day of the weekend. Every now and then, I have to pull the belt in another notch, and I know I am getting somewhere. Even the love handles are harder to grab hold of. The more miles I ride, the faster it disappears. Simple.

But it's easy to backslide. I had a few weeks off due to illness, and the guts suddenly reappeared. Getting rid of it is all about discipline - doing the miles is the main part. I find that if I am riding, I want to eat well, avoid grog, fast food and soft drinks. It's a virtuous circle.

However, I am cognisant of the fact too much riding can make Jack a dull boy. I've been invited to plenty of events in the CBD that occur after work (like seeing James Dellingpole when he was in town) and I have ignored them because it would mean catching the bus home - a day without riding (because I would have to bus in the following morning as the bike would be at work).

Resolving this dilemma isn't going to be easy - I'm not very good at balancing things.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Failing to use The Force

Did a lap of Homebush over the weekend. As I was approaching the park, I saw a bloke in the distance consulting a map. I went on a bit of a meander in another direction, and then met up with him about 10 minutes later. He looked lost, so I asked him if that was the case.

Yes, he had no idea where he was going. He wanted to see all the big stadiums. I told him that Olympic Park has a simple loop road around it - go in either direction, and you'll find what you are looking for. There was a constant trickle of cyclists going past in both directions, and most of them would be doing the loop. I told him to just jump on someone's wheel and he'd be right.

He looked at me very sceptically, but I could see him turning that idea over in his head as I pedalled off.

What fascinated me is that he was on a very flash bike that was covered in all sorts of electronics - yet he lacked a handlebar mounted GPS. His bike had just about every other gadget short of a bread maker and a coffee machine. It actually beeped at him as we were talking (perhaps the toast was done?)

I'm amazed that he didn't know enough to trust in The Force.

The ABC, child labour, and stupidity

I had a few free minutes on the weekend, so I flicked on the idiot box and did a bit of channel surfing. I settled on an ABC program called Renovations, because they got away from the old barn that was being renovated and visited a brick works that produces hand made bricks. That was much more interesting.

The brick works had been around since the 1840s (I think) and yes, they were making bricks mostly by hand. The clay was mixed by machine, but a bunch of blokes spent all day slapping a blob of clay into moulds by hand, turning out the moulds by hand, stacking the bricks in the kiln by hand and then stacking the fired bricks outside (to dry? None of this was explained). Most of the discussion centred on child labour, and how kids as young as 5-8 are working in brick factories and building sites in the third world today.

It looked like hard work, lugging all that wet clay and unfinished and finished bricks around, and the host and  some academic sounded appropriately horrified at the use of child labour.

At the very end of that segment, the host made a comment along the lines of, "The industrial revolution really was a horrible, shocking thing".

No, no, no, no, no - you idiots.

What they showed in this small brick works was how things were done prior to the industrial revolution. They showed how bricks have been made since the times of ancient Egypt - by hand, and using kids. There was no mechanisation and no factory system - it was a collection of individual brick makers renting space and equipment from a brick master. The individual brick makers brought their kids to work.

The industrial revolution swept all that away with the introduction of mechanised brick making equipment, which eliminated the need for child labour. A modern, mechanised brick works probably employs the same number of people, and produces 1000 times more bricks than the by-hand blokes.

By the way, I voluntarily started working on a building site at age 7, mixing cement, carting cement and carting bricks for the brickies who were putting up a commercial building next door. I did it because it was an interesting thing to do. I got to learn how foundations were laid, how to mix mud to the right consistency, how to use a string and plumb bob, how to slap mud on bricks, lay them and build in single and double brick. It was more fun than building things with Lego. And they let me use the compactor, which was excellent. It's not something I'd want to do for a living at that age, but I survived it, and the carting of bricks certainly improved my strength.

Monday 1 October 2012


We had a BBQ lunch today and invited a Queenslander.

Before we tucked into the prawns, I was very careful to explain that the bowl full of water in the middle of the table with a lemon floating in it was not lemon soup.

Racing in the wet

Cycling Tips has some great photos from a very wet race in Italy. I wish I could take photos like the ones at that blog.

I like riding in the rain, but I'm not sure I'd like it after six and a half hours. Have a look at the later photos, and how much filth is on the faces of the riders. It's amazing how much crap gets flicked up into your face from the tyres in front.

Thank goodness for the invention of cycling knicks and lycra - if it wasn't for that, you'd chafe like crazy every time it rained a bit.

Some of you old buggers might like the 2nd photo from the top. At 70, Gimondi still looks pretty fit and attractive to the ladies.

Violence against women - Afghan edition

Disturbing, weird and just downright nauseating.

In late 2009, U.S. and British forces ordered a study of Pashtun male sexuality. They were worried that homosexuality and pedophilia among Afghan security forces and tribes could create cultural misunderstanding with allied troops, according to a copy of the report obtained by The Washington Examiner.
Afghan women, emboldened by the presence of U.S. troops. have complained about beatings they've suffered at the hands of their husbands. The domestic violence reportedly stemmed from the inability of the women to become pregnant and produce sons, highly valued in Afghan society.
When U.S. civil affairs teams (and other special forces units) quietly investigated the problem, they quickly discovered a common denominator. Virtually all of the younger men who beat their wives (over their inability to become pregnant) had been former "apprentices" of older Afghan men, who used them for their sexual pleasure. Upon entering marriage, whatever the men knew of sex had been learned during their "apprenticeship," at the hands of the older man. To put it bluntly, some of the younger Afghans were unfamiliar with the desired (and required) mechanics for conception.
To remedy this situation, the Army called in its psychological operations teams, which developed information campaigns in Pashtun areas, explaining the basics of heterosexual relations and their benefits, in terms of producing male offspring. It may be the only time in the history of warfare that an army has been required to explain sex to the native population, to curb the abuse of women and young boys--and retain U.S. influence in key geographic areas.