Monday, July 31, 2006

Other bits and pieces

Thomas Merton cornerThomas Merton (Trappist monk, poet, social critic, and spiritual writer) spent some time in Kentucky - and there is a Thomas Merton Center here in Louisville. But little did I know that they have also placed a "statue" and plaque at the site of his revelation that led him to redefine his monastic activies to focus more on social justice issues.

It looks as though this poor penguin is getting ready to jump (how many movies have we seen with this image?) but he and a whole bunch of others are standing vigil on the new art gallery/museum 21C.

There are various statues throughout Louisville, including this one of a former mayor (Farnsley?). I liked this one - at first I didn't realise it was a statue - just someone having a quiet, comtemplative moment. Of course, later, when I did see someone doing this, I thought he was another statue!

That's one big bat - and it's outside the Louisville Slugger Factory/Museum - where you can go and watch the bats being made - and take home a miniature bat. I did hear a comment about the next Batman movie while I was on the Belle this afternoon. Some people were talking about someone in a recent movie having a secret - which seems to be about their identity not being revealed - but the hype was that perhaps it was that they were gay. No, someone's partner said, and then continued: But I hear that in the next Batman movie, Batgirl is going to be a lesbian. "All right" enthused his wife.


There are a few major bridges in Louisville - one going all the way over the mightly Ohio River to Indiana. They also have one that goes nowhere (now, but they are planning to turn it into a tourist precinct).

Muhammad Ali

One of Louisville's most famous is Muhammad Ali - and the Muhammad Ali Centre opened late last year here. But even if it hadn't it would be fairly easy to tell how forthright Louisville is of claiming him as their own - not the least of which is Muhammad Ali Street. The first shot is of the Muhammad Ali Centre - and the further you are away from it - the better is the effect. In the second pic, one of the other famous forebears of the town is also honored - Harland David Sanders - otherwise know as the Colonel of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.

Steam boat

The Belle of Louisville is about 100 years old - the only one of its kind left in the world - and for $14/adult you can take a trip up the river - to 6 Mile Island - and back.

Louisville KY

What an amazing place - or perhaps it's amazing through the eyes of someone who has not quite had enough sleep in the past 2 days. I'm not saying they're tired, but at one point today my eyes were so gritty I couldn't focus the camera. I decided to change glasses to see if that helped. It did, a little. But I think a proper sleep tonight will help even more. Yes, it was a photography day today and I took nearly 300 photos - many of the same thing but from slightly different angles or with slightly different framing. If you want to see ALL of them, ask me sometime and I'll loan you the back-up disk. Otherwise, I'll post a selection (and possibly some comments) here in the coming days.


I have finally had a decent cup of coffee on a plane. But it wasn't good enough that I felt impelled to have the second one. I thought about it and decided not to push my luck. This is of course partly due to the law of diminishing utility. The first one is the best - and each one thereafter loses something. I'm not sure if this also works the other way. Take two instances - one where you love ice cream and are about to have your first one in a very long time. The first will taste much better than the second one. But what if it were something not nice that you were going to have - does the second one become more palatable rather than less? Do you become used to it - although it would probably take more than one go to get used to grubs or something?

Indecent Proposal

A British study released this week suggests that it is acceptable behavior to propose marriage via text message or email. It doesn't say if it's etiquettically correct to do it as a group send! Heh heh - or to send it as a BCC to others! (If you hit reply on an email with BCCs, does it send it to the BCCs as well?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

On my way (almost)

Well, here I am at Sydney Airport, in the UA lounge, waiting for the boarding call for my flight to San Francisco, then Chicago, then Louisville. I should reach there ... oh in about 26 hours from now - and then, I tell you, it will be straight to bed for me (once I get to the hotel of course). Thank you to everyone who sent their well wishes for my travel - especially those who know what a nervous flyer I am (or is that flier?). The good news is that my flight goes to Chicago - but I'm not sure what happens once we reach San Francisco. Do I clear customs then? Hmm. I guess that's why the SB* gave us air and ground crew! Thanks again for the loan of the suitcase Lizzie. You'll be pleased to know I took a photograph of it so I know what to look for on the carousel at the other end! And yes, there's still room for trinkets!
*Supreme Being

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Controlling interist

Nope, it's not a spelling mistake -of course I'm not sure it's actually a word but I couldn't resist! There is news this morning of a woman's unsuccessful bid to have the conditions of her mother's will revoked. She would be denied the inheritance unless/until she divorced her husband. If she doesn't, the deceased's request is that the money be given to the Catholic Church instead. Mrs Galway's application was denied - and the money ($140,000) will be held in trust until she dies or she becomes a widow or divorcee. So why did Mary Knight impose such a condition? Was it really a case of the mother-in law reaching from beyond the grave* to punish her husband's daughter (as suggested in The Daily Telegraph) or a mother's attempt to help her daughter leave a relationship of which she may not have approved?
* When they say "beyond the grave" what exactly does it mean?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rat race

I need access to a cartoonist. I want them to draw me this: two rats are taking a subway home -hanging off tiny straps - both are well dressed, and are carrying little (well, they are rats) briefcases. Around them are the feet of their much larger human travellers. One rat says to the other - "You know Maurice, I can't see why they [points upwards] complain about the rat race - the boss gave me three choices today - working with the scientists on stem cell, cancer or smoking/alcohol research. [Coughs] This job is going to be the death of me yet."
But thanks to the contributions of those countless rats in laboratories throughout the world, scientist have now announced that smoking a cigarette while drinking could reduce the 'effect' of alcohol. Of course they probably didn't mean that literally. If you drank and smoked at the same time - you'd get the cigarette wet, and ash in your drink. But back to the research findings. No doubt using very tiny cigarettes and very tiny glasses of alcohol, and having first trained the rats to sit on bar stools, the scientists observed lower alcohol levels in rats that consumed nicotine - meaning more alcohol was absorbed into their blood. (Hopefully the rats were offered lifts home - or at least had their car keys confiscated post-testing.)
The theory hasn't yet been tested on humans - well, not under controlled circumstances - and not knowingly - but if it holds true, it means the more you smoke, the more you need to drink to get the same buzz. Or, obversely, that if you don't want to be as deeply affected by the same amount of alcohol, take up smoking - or smoke more! Could be a marketing campaign in there somewhere if you were of a mind to boost consumption. *cough*

Monday, July 24, 2006

A good egg-sample?

How long before this trend comes to Australia? The CBS Network in the U.S. has started advertising their programs on eggs. It's not a bad idea - given how many people handle eggs. Mind you, I'm not one of them, and usually they're encased in cartons, but it probably has some merit. Do people buy eggs loose in the U.S.? (I'll let you know in a bit.)


It's going to get harder to spend a penny in the United States if a bill currently before Capitol is passed. Who would have thought that making money would cost the U.S. Mint money. The increasing cost of some metals now means each penny/cent costs 1.4 cents to produce. So the humble penny will probably be phased out (similar to the fate of Australia's 1¢ and 2¢ some years ago) - with all prices rounded to the nearest nickel. Let's hope the price of nickel stays within reasonable (profitable) levels otherwise before long prices will be rounded to the nearest dime, then quarter and then dollar.

Discussing the disappearance of coins with a colleague at work today, she lamented the change from $1 and $2 paper money to coins. Could it have anything to do with the gambling lobby? How easy to give a customer in a gaming establishment dollar coins in their change? And how much easier for that customer to plug those dollars into a machine and try their luck? (Now there's a small research project for a rainy day - why did we change from notes to coins for our $1 and $2 here in Australia?)

Just ducky

Life is strange. Why would you go to the trouble of releasing an x-ray of a duck with what appears to be the head of an alien in it and then NOT confirm what it was when you performed a necropsy on the duck when it died? This is a question only a Californian bird research centre can answer. (You know who you are!) The suggestion that the "alien image was most likely a lump of grain" is really not a satisfying result! Well, not for this little black duck anyways!

Happiness is …

not necessarily related to the number of tech toys a person has. According to the Happy Planet Index, by the London-based New Economics Foundation, the happiest people on the planet are from Vanuatu. Surprisingly, their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) rating puts them #207 (out of 233) - which suggests that happiness is not linked to consumption. And the ratings from the other end of the happiness scale seem to support this - as this is where the tech heavy countries were: Germany #81; Japan #95 and the US #150. Australia was not mentioned. (Of course, this is not to say that the judicious purchasing of individual tech toys doesn’t make people happy!)

G(r)ait way to solve a crime

As if fingerprints, palm prints, ear prints, dental patterns, DNA testing and handwriting weren't enough ways to identify someone - usually of the criminal persuasion - scientists have been working on the theory that everyone has a signature walk. In Britain £500,000 is being spent on "automatic gait recognition" research - so images captured on CCTV can be compared against the walk of a suspect. This has obvious advantages - given that most criminals take great pains to disguise their facial features when carrying out criminal acts. Will they now be forced to try to limp - to shoot themselves in the foot, or hit themselves with a sledgehammer so their walk is wonky? What if they put inserts in their shoes? Work is being done in various countries around the world - using radar guns which send out a pulse of energy and receives signals bounced off the subject. The system can recognise and capture the different patterns during natural walking movements - and these are replayed in the form of matchstick men. The research is still in its fledgling state and has a way to go before a national database of gaits is created - and proved to be an effective and safe evidence method.

Dancing on (thin) ice

Channel 9's offering of Torvill and Dean's Dancing on Ice - which I have yet to see - is now being billed thus: "It's live and it's dangerous". It certainly is - with several of the contestants sidelined with injuries of varying severity. The show itself isn't faring much better with lower-than-hoped for ratings in its first two outings. Ah well, maybe their advertising will help lift the numbers - if viewers aren't interested in the grace of ice skating, maybe the possibility of carnage will draw them in.

Talent quest

Hot on the heels of the latest round of reality shows comes the broadcast request for try-outs for "Australia's Got Talent". If you were inclined to apply, keen to secure your 15 minutes (or less) of fame - what would your talent be? Burping Pi to a thousand digits; reciting the alphabet backwards; or something which takes real talent like juggling chainsaws? And what is talent? Will the show look to humiliate or honour the contestants? Which would produce greater ratings? Hmmm.

Hit and ... miss

A news item in the press yesterday focused on hit and run accidents which seem to be on the increase in New South Wales. Bad enough that people don't stop to help someone they have just hit with their motor vehicle, but it's harder that the perpetrators of these crimes may never be found. As a spokesperson for the Crash Investigation Unit said: "Incidents become difficult to solve if the offender did not come forward within 48 hours." The item gave no indication of other attempts made to identify the offenders. Granted the fragments of glass left at the scene in US crime shows which lead to the successful incarceration of the offender are the stuff of fiction - but it seems that the indication of the existence of some investigation protocol (besides waiting for someone to turn themselves in) could be a useful deterrent.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Much has been made in the news of a cruise ship which suffered a major "tilt, "list" or "tip" near Port Canaveral the other day. Reports are unclear as to the degree of non-vertical the ship went - and it's also unclear as to the cause - human error, non-human error - autopilot problems have all been suggested but remain unconfirmed. The incident resulted in injuries to nearly 100 people - two critically and 20 seriously - of the 4,300 passengers and crew on board - although for some it was a matter of holding onto the ship's railing fear of being pitched overboard! The swimming pool was emptied - of people and water - during the event. Reports as to the amount of tiltage vary - 45 degrees, 68 degrees - but passengers did report looking out of their windows to the water below; or the sky above. Scary and serious stuff for the recently launched Crown Princess vessel (pictured right). Almost all the reports I read about the incident also made reference to the film to be shown that night on board - "The Titanic". Guess that may not have felt so comfortable in using this if the filmic offering had been "Poseidon".
Surprisingly, this is not the first time a large cruise ship has encountered tiltage. Earlier this year, The Grand Princess started "tipping and tipping" when it did an emergency turnaround. Not surprisingly, a spokesperson for the company was reported as saying:
The decision to abruptly turn a cruise ship around while traveling at a high
rate of speed was "clearly a mistake" .


Do spammers take holidays? It's not something I would normally think about because if there's anything constant about my email it's spam - although different accounts do attract different items (but that's a topic for another occasion). But over the last week, I stopped receiving spam in my hotmail account - it's okay, it's back now - but it was interesting in that it made me wonder about spammers - did they work alone, how automated are their activities, do they take holidays? Do they feel rejected that most people just delete their offerings? of course, what I didn't think until now was - well, perhaps hotmail's found a better way to filter them out! If this is the case, bad news, it's not working any more! But thanks for the break!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

One to get your teeth into

This item just in from - and there's a picture!:
A fish caught in Lubbock, Texas, with teeth that look like they belong to a human has baffled wildlife officials in the area, according to a report. Fisherman Scott Curry reeled in the 20-pound fish on Buffalo Springs Lake and immediately noticed the catch had human-like teeth. A game warden photographed the fish and is attempting to identify it. General Manager of Buffalo Springs Lake Greg Thornton told KLBK13-TV in Texas that he has never seen anything like the fish in the 36 years he has lived near the lake. A search for what the fish may be suggested that it may be a pacu, which is found in South America. Curry said he believes he saw another similar fish while on the lake. A Texas television station reported that lake officials will give $100 to anyone catching a similar fish.

Chipping away

The makers of Mister Bee potato chips in West Virginia thought they were doing the right thing when they moved to a low-fat recipe for its product - but the move was not welcomed by its customer base. Sales dropped 6 per cent and the company has received (and keeps receiving) numerous phone calls from angry customers. The new recipe, using cottonseed oil which is free of what was called "artery-clogging trans fat" in the item I read, produced a noticeable, and not pleasant, taste difference. Experimentation with other oils has not helped - and the company is going to revert to its original recipe - once stocks of the newer product are depleted (which could be a while!). Of course, the company's efforts should be applauded - sales only dropped 6% after all - so not everyone was of the opinion: "if we wanted healthy, we wouldn't be eating chips!".

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Great gift idea

For the person who has everything, why not get them something to avoid those fees imposed by video (rental) stores - a DVD Rewinder. It sells for $US16.49 on And if that's not enough, you can also buy DVD Rewinder T-Shirts - and it's no extra to download the DVD Rewinder sound. Now, obviously this seems to be like a put-on, but Colin (leader of the Innovation and Change training course I attended today) assured us it was a very real - and very successful - product!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Driven to crime

Some service stations in Sydney are employing security guards to prevent petrol theft. The problem has been steadily increasing with the cost of fuel - and last week it was reported that at least 30 people a day are failing to pay before driving away from the pump. And now that petrol is so expensive ($1.40 a litre or thereabouts) - the cost can add up. Surely there could be a pay at the pump system where the user had to insert their card (pre-paid or credit) to start the petrol flow? (You read it here first! ... or maybe not. Thanks Lizzie.)

What's in a name?

What do the UK and Australia currently have in common? Both are looking to introduce identity cards. The UK says the cards are needed to tackle terror and illegal immigration. Australia's smartcard aka access card is designed to prevent Medicare and social security fraud. My mistake, it's not proposed that the proposed national smartcard system become a national identity card. That's just the fear of some Australians. The $1 billion access card will be rolled out in 2008, replacing 17 existing health and welfare cards. The Howard Government says the card is not compulsory, but after 2010 people without it will not be able to receive government hospital treatment, Centrelink benefits or claim for Medicare.

The run down

Bad enough that a woman was hospitalized after being run over by a dog driving a pick-up truck, but it's unthinkable that it was actually a police dog behind the wheel. Ranger, a German Shepherd, had been left alone in the vehicle with the engine running so he would have air conditioning. As far as can be figured out, Ranger hit the shift on the steering column, causing the truck to roll forward hitting first Mrs Stone, and then a vehicle. The report from Utah, on Yahoo News, did not say whether Ranger would be charged.

In the attic

In scenes reminiscent of actress Pia Zadora's portrayal of Anne Frank where the cry went up "she's in the attic" when the Germans came knocking, a Kentucky man has been found hiding in his own attic after having disappeared 6 weeks ago. Is that too long, a sentence? As chance would have it, this appears to be what Christopher Benham was trying to avoid ... a sentence. Charges have been pending since before his disappearance: theft, terrorist threatening and assault. Benham's vehicle was found May 31 in a rural area of Adair County, Kentucky. Evidence suggested he was missing under suspicious circumstances, police said in a statement. But the only foul play was theirs ... Christopher and his wife Janie were found living in their attic - and were only found after a tip-off.

Vale Kane

l get a regular monthly email reminding me to go to the Antipodean Science Fiction site and get the latest flash fiction stories. This month's is just out and as I was reading them this afternoon I came across one which was very sad. Kane de Boe's story Red was published but his biography wasn't

Unfortunately, Kane de Boe did not get the chance to submit a bio for AntipodeanSF. His partner Tracie, wrote to me after "Red" was accepted for publication:

"I am sad to inform you that Kane de Boe was murdered on 31/05/2006 by his ex-wife’s father <,20797,19332868-952,00.html>. Kane was a good man who loved his children dearly. He leaves behind 7 children: Troy 16yrs, Cameron 10yrs, Kalen 9yrs, Michael 6yrs, Fynnegan 2yrs, and the youngest born 3 days after his death is Isabella."

Vale Kane...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Got me bushed

I found this photograph on the photogallery of a US news site today, and couldn't help wondering if these soldiers are trained/instructed to "shoot to kill". It would be incredibly fear-producing to look up and see that you were the target. Especially if they went "rogue".

Meet K-Rex

Fangeroos and demon ducks. Apparently these are creatures from Australia's "lost period" in history. Archaeologists working in Queensland have unearthed three deposits of fossilized remains which include the aforementioned fangeroos (aka killer kangaroos) which were similar to today's kangeroos except they didn't look anything like them, were flesh-eating and they galloped. I'm not sure how they distinguish them from the marsupial lions, tree-climbing crocodiles and "demon ducks of doom". (Today isn't April 1 is it?) Of course, the description of the fangeroo in the item I read sounded suspiciously like something else: "They were also far more muscly than the kangaroos we know, with sharp sabre-like incisors and powerful forelimbs to help rip and tear their prey." (OMG - Kangaroo ... T-Rex - the similarity is amazing. Why have we never seen this before!!!) Professor Mike Archer, Dean of Science at UNSW and leader of the expedition, hopes the discoveries will shed light on what happened in Australia up to and beyond 24 million years ago. And it's a good thing we weren't around then - how would anyone have coped with the "demon duck" - three metres tall, with a giant beak and a body mass of 400kg.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Judge and be judge(d)

US Congressman William Jefferson's lawyers are not surprised with the ruling of whether a raid on the Congressman's office in May was legal or not. First clue: the judge that gave the ruling was the same one who signed the warrant which authorized the search! In giving his "legal" ruling, Chief US District Judge Thomas Hogan reiterated that members of Congress are not above the law. The was nothing in the reports about possible conflicts of interests by judges. Not suprisingly, Jefferson's lawyers are planning to appeal the ruling - and to request a stay on examination of the material seized by the FBI as part of a bribery investigation against Jefferson (who denies wrongdoing).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Making-up is hard to do

"I think it's stupid. When people come to school in the morning they're going to look really scary." This is one student's reaction to the banning of make-up at her school in Devon, UK. The ban, affected about 400 young teens (11-13), and follows their forays into cosmetics which resulted in some of them being taunted with cries of "Oompa Loompa" from older students. An Oompa Loompa more correctly refers to the small orange characters in Roald Dahl's book Charlie and the Chocolate factory, rather than young girls who have applied too much foundation that looks like fake tan. The principal has ruled that 4-18 year olds may wear makeup if it is "correctly applied".

Of course, people's colouring has caused concern for some for a while - why it was such a relief when, earlier this year, Crayola launched a new line of washable multicultural skin-coloured markers. "From a pink-toned beige for the palest of skin tones to mahogany, tawny and terra-cotta for every shade in between, Crayola promises kids’ drawings will be much more realistic" reported the Calgary Sun. Ten-year-old elementary school student Julia Moseley appreciates the new colours. “I think that they would be helpful,” the fifth grader says, “instead of doing the same old colour and making someone look like an orange Oompa Loompa.” Let's hope she's kept some of the pumpkin-coloured crayons, just in case she finds herself in Devon!

Live in Chinese World

Are you one of the more than 30 million people learning Chinese as a foreign language? At more than 2,500 universities in 100 countries? No? But still interested in learning Chinese? A new web site offering free Chinese lessons and teaching aids has been launched. I had a quick look at the Linese site and was disappointed to see that the Home Page wasn't working, but clicking on the navigation on the left-hand side of the page did yield results. I'll have to sign up to learn more about Yu Lan, The Olympics, Idioms and Pinyin. (And if you're already fluent in Chinese, scroll down the page for the the Mandarin links!)

Flag Fall

And more on safety hazards and Italian flags - or possibily excitement that comes from having your team in the final! A 77-year-old Italian man fell off a ladder and died as he tried to put up a flag on his property near Viterbo before Sunday's World Cup Final. "Rodolfo Profili … apparently lost his balance and fell eight metres into a precipice" ANSA (Italian news agency) reported. Local police say he died instantly, still clutching the flag.

Recognition Skills

Today marks the start of Channel Nine's new show "Torvill & Dean's Dancing On Ice": Ten celebrities paired with the world's best professional skaters. Well, I don't know whether it's me or where they pulled the celebrities from but I don't recognise one of them! "Celebrities slated to perform in the show include Lara Bingle, Michael Slater, Giaan Rooney and Jules Lund." Hmmm ... Celebrities.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Friendly competition

I love a good headline: Coke Zeros, now on ice
The story (thanks to the LA Times):
An administrative assistant at Coca-Cola Co. and two accomplices smuggle out a secret formula — not the secret formula, but close — and try to sell it to PepsiCo Inc. Pepsi rats them out to Coke. Coke rats them out to the feds. The FBI launches a six-week sting operation.
Coke might be the real thing, but the conspirators turn out to be anything but. According to federal prosecutors, security cameras recorded the administrative assistant stuffing files and a mysterious container of liquid, later identified as a product sample, into her handbag. One accomplice used his home address to open a bank account to receive Pepsi payoffs. Another, posing as a high-level Coke employee named "Dirk," accepted $30,000 in $50 and $100 bills, stuffed in a yellow Girl Scout cookie box, from an undercover agent.


I have signed up for "Gullible Info" on my Google personalised home page - and I keep falling for it.
• Microwaves run most efficiently when they are warmed up. Running a microwave empty for three seconds before heating food will reduce overall wattage and cooking time by up to 43 percent.
• 1.83 percent of Germans can "recall" seeing a unicorn in a zoo at some point in their life.
• There's a one in nine chance that a bike stolen in Los Angeles has been stolen at least once before.
You can also have info emailed to you, or visit their website.

Flag this

Italy has won the FIFA World Cup 2006 - but is it really worth having an accident over? Looking out the bus window this morning, there were two very large flags - one held out of the sunroof of a car, the other affixed to the back of a motorbike. They were travelling in tandem. And it looked quite impressive while they were moving - less so when the car stopped at traffic lights and the flag which had been flying above the car fell forward and dropped over the windscreen! Two pairs of hands came out the sunroom and worked feverishly to gather the cloth and put it on the roof behind them, so it would once again stream behind the car as it took off. Well, it's one way to spend a morning - but you've got to think there has to be a safer way to celebrate!


The man at the table next to me at the cafe this morning ordered "Turkish Raisin (toast) and English Breakfast (tea)." Does this qualify as a continental breakfast?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Agog at Google

I've been marvelling at the recent gaggle of Google gadgets - and realise now that not everyone is as happy with Google's goings-ons.

The innovation:

Google recently unveiled its much anticipated online payment processing system designed to offer shoppers with a Google account a quick way to pay for things.

eBay Statement 1:

November 3, 2003: Google's not a threat. Meg Whitman, chief executive of the online auctioneer, downplays speculation that the popular search engine is poised to become its biggest rival.

eBay Statement 2:

July 7, 2006: eBay bans Google Checkout. Online auction site eBay has banned its buyers and sellers from using Google's recently launched online payments service, Google Checkout, in a move that seems designed to protect its own PayPal operation.

Nope, no threat at all.

Hold the phone!

Russell and Danielle Crowe have had another son - Tennyson. Congratulations to them! But also congratulations to the Vietnamese man who, 19 years and some ribbing later, has finally agreed to change his son's name from Mai Phat Sau Nghin Ruoi (Fined Six Thousand and Five Hundred - the penalty he had to pay for ignoring that country's two-child policy) to Mai Hoang Long (Golden Dragon).

Flamin' Dell

"We have captured the notebook and have begun investigating the event," a spokesman from Dell is reported as saying following a laptop manufactured by the company exploding and catching on fire at a conference in Osaka, Japan. It's not really something I've ever thought about when I use my (non-Dell) laptop. I'm not sure how well I'd cope if it burst into flames while I was using it. The report of the event doesn't mention if anyone was using the computer at the time. There were no reports of injuries.
(Thanks for the lead Feather-Starfish.)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Do you know ... ?

What do Muhammad Ali, Tom Cruise and Patty and Mildred Hill have in common? And who were Patty and Mildred Hill? They are all from the same town. Louisville (pronounced Lou-ah-vul or Lou-ee-ville but never with the "s" - because if you include the "s", the locals will know you're from out of town) Kentucky. And who are the Hills? Sisters, andkKindergarten teachers, who also happened to co-write the tune to the song Good Morning to All - which is probably more recognisable as Happy Birthday.

And there are others - rating their own entry in Wikipedia.

Customer Dis-Service

I try to be a regular visitor to and customer of the OfficeWorks chain - and was planning to visit our local store at Camperdown today to buy an office-type chair (part of Sooz's birthday present) but when we drove into the carpark we found that they've introduced paid parking. No matter how much I write that, I can't get it to sound nearly indignant enough … PAID PARKING! They expect you to pay to park at their store to buy stuff from them! Needless to say, we kept driving straight through the parking lot and out the other end. Hmmmph. [note to self - write and tell them why they missed out on the sale!]

Friday, July 07, 2006

Scaring myself

Following a blog a while ago about cremations now being legally allowed in Greece, Sooz told me that because of the acute shortage of burial space, bodies are un-interred a year after burial in a ritual ceremony which includes cleaning the bones - and is part of the grieving process. That's about as much as I know. Except that when looking on the net for more information, I chanced across Vrykolakas - one of several non-human beings which inhabit the lives of Greek peasants and Â? bring them fear! I can identify with that. I was sufficiently interested to copy a couple of articles from the net to read them later - and I started to, but I absolutely scared myself and decided it would be best not to. (I had enough experiences of lying awake at night unable to sleep because I kept seeing vampire faces when I made the mistake of watching Buffy, The Vampire Slayer too close to bedtime ie not in daylight hours.) What I was interested in finding out was whether the Vrykolakas were similar to vampires, and whether there were a majority of cultures which believe in the undead (in whatever form they might be). [Stopping now.]

Fear Campaign

Is it true that you can scare people into "healthy" behavior? There are two ads doing the rounds at the moment which try to Scare people into either not smoking or not using their mobile phone while driving. The anti-smoking ad shows a man's gangrening leg about to be removed - and has now turned up on buses as well as on television. I am now making it my mission to talk with individual smokers to complain - if they all gave up, then I wouldn't have to be assailed by the image of a cigarette that morphs into aforementioned gangrening leg. The mobile phone one has a woman driver reaching over to the back seat to get a ringing mobile phone and when it appears in frame it is a gun that she goes to point at her temple. The ad has the super "Dead Ringer". It would be interesting to see the numbers on how well the ads had worked, and how would you collect short-term and long-term metrics for this?

Casting votes

After looking at the poll on the other day, I was intrigued about other polls held on site. Today's question was: Do you feel safe from a terrorist attack? I would have liked to have voted, but I couldn't decide. YES, I don't think a terrorist attack is likely in Sydney - but you never NO. I suppose a very different picture of the world has been painted by Governments post-9/11 - and because there are attacks that do happen, on too often a basis, it would be foolish to think anywhere is absolutely safe from terrorist attack. (I know that with a trip to the US coming up in the next few weeks, I have thought very hard about being on US-owned planes over US air space.)

The BBC News reports that one in three people in the UK regularly suffers paranoid or suspicious fears, clinical psychologists have found. Other findings:

* Over 40% of people regularly worry that negative comments are being made about them

* 27% think that people deliberately try to irritate them

* 20% worry about being observed or followed

* 10% think that someone has it in for them

* 5% worry that there is a conspiracy to harm them

But help is at hand: A new website - - is being launched to provide information on paranoid thoughts, advice on seeking help, and opportunities for people to share their experiences.

Conspiracy theory

There are some who believe that Kenneth L. Lay's death is way too convenient. Lay, 64, a former Enron executive, was found guilty in May (along with Jeffrey K. Skilling) of fraud and conspiracy. Both were on bail pending sentencing.

When I heard, I thought, well, that's not all that surprising. There might actually be some people who would prefer to be dead rather than spending a possible 46 years in prison. (There was afterall the story earlier this week of the 30-year-old Italian man who escaped from house arrest and begged police to put him in jail because he couldn't bear living with his grandfather.) Of course, the other possibility is that his death was staged - and the whole thing is a conspiracy to save him from incarceration. The other reason could be that with his "death" would void the guilty verdict, and spare his survivors financial ruin. Such was the belief in this conspiracy theory by one of the people interviewed (still suffering post-Enron's collapse) that she said she would need to see his body before she believed it.

Goebbels Trivia

When we played a game of trivia the other week, one of the answer to one of the questions (Who was the Nazi Propaganda Minister) was "Goebbels". Within a couple of days, I saw the name again, in an article talking about the carpark that had been built over the site of the bunker in which Hitler had killed himself. The article, on a Herr Misch, one of Hitler's aides, also mentioned that the Goebbels children had been prepared for their death in the bunker. Misch had faced "fierce criticism in calling for a plaque to commemorate the children - Helga, Hilde, Helmut, Hedda, Holde and Heide"*. It's a tragic story, of an advancing army and nowhere left to run, and parents wanting to save a family from … it's not clear what else they feared, but it was enough for the children (once Poster children for the Third Reich) to be poisoned, allegedly by their parents, to avoid capture.
* A Wikipedia article on the Goebbels children records their names as: Helga, Hildegard, Helmut, Hedwig, Holdine and Heidrun. Their mother also had another son from a previous marriage, Harald.

Topsy Turvy

I listen to Radio Station Triple J's (how do you write that? JJJ?) podcast with Dr Karl which answers various science-type questions. An item a couple of weeks ago (before Dr K went off to, I think it was, Norway, to get married) was on why Australia is portrayed as "down under". Which turns out to be because the people who set out in ships to discover other parts of the world got to draw the maps and they put themselves up the top. So think for a moment of the trouble that goes into making sure that we all see the world "the right way up". All those images we see in space have the Earth with the northern hemisphere at the north, but in space there is no up (which is why it's just as well that in space, no-one can hear you scream, because it would be fairly disturbing!). Heh heh - just looking for a photo of the world to turn upside down to put in here and have had to google Earth. And then I had the thought - but if there is no "up" in space - what if the middle/equator were the top. Aaaarrrghh. [head explodes] But I did find this cool site, Earth from Space, which lets you zoom in on your little place on earth, as well as search for geographic features. [makes note to investigate further]

Media monitoring

A piece in the Stay in Touch column in today's Sydney Morning Herald tells of the $5 million spent annually in NSW on media monitoring for the government. I remember media monitoring in the good old days when the service would go through all the press/radio/etc for mentions of a person or a product, and then send copies of the clippings through. That probably still happens - but it's gone a bit high tech - it seems the politicians rating mentions are now sent an SMS - which apparently can be fairly annoying for those who are hanging around with the "media-popular". And possibly a little disheartening for those who aren't - which is why it was so nice of SIT to conclude the piece with:

And a big hello to Local Government Minister Kerry Hickey and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Milton Orkopoulos - only fair that lesser-know frontbenchers get some SMS action from Media Monitors.

Right motivation?

It's strange how disparate pieces of information come together. The news of a former US soldier who is being charged with the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and her family was disturbing. Now add that to the fact that the alleged perpetrator had already been discharged from the army for behaviour issues. Then add to it that the charges have been laid because another soldier has come forward with evidence. Then add to that that this soldier has only come forward following the abduction and killing of two US soldiers in Iraq recently. His motive: reports suggest he was concerned that the deaths of the US soldiers were revenge killings. I'm not sure if he was part of the same unit, but it would certainly give you pause for thought. Especially as the liberating US (and other friendly nation) forces on the ground in Iraq are immune from prosecution under local law. This is currently being reviewed.

Up in alms

I read something in the paper the other day: Jesus saves, Moses invests, and Buddha pays dividends. Which may be just as well because it seems the World Cup is taking its toll. A Reuters report from Thailand suggest the Buddhist monks there are so tired from watching the games late into the night that they are sleeping in and not available for receiving early morning alms - "a mandatory religious ritual in the predominately Buddhist country". While watching the Cup has not been banned there, even though "inappropriate behaviour" has been reported at 7 temples, responsibility has been referred to the abbot of each temple to ensure the Cup does not interfere with the monks' religious activities. But at least they're not under threat of de-frocking if they get too excited over the soccer - as is the case in neighbouring Cambodia.


It's bad enough that we have to contend with snails in the mailbox when it's raining but for a moment there it looked like we'd have to contend with spiders as well! Australia Post has just scrapped plans to introduce a red-back spider stamp because the image was too realistic, and there were fears it would scare people. The "Dangerous Australians" series, due out in October, features wildlife such as the great write Shark, eastern brown snake and saltwater crocodile - which won't pose as much as a possible mailbox hazard because they're not usually as small as a spider. There are other examples, of pictures being fairly realistic. Take the ad for pen/cil/s on the Sydney Morning Herald puzzle page. It shows a full-size pencil resting on the page between the Target and the crossword. Reports suggest more than one person has tried to pick it up.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Space …

I don't want to be labelled a cynic, but isn’t it a marvellous coincidence for NASA that the Shuttle Discovery managed to launch (safely) on the 4th of July? Originally scheduled for a 1 July liftoff, the Shuttle's departure was delayed by bad weather and safety concerns. No doubt, many will see the day as a fitting one for America's "return to space". Here's hoping the crack found in the Shuttle's insulating foam, but deemed safe, doesn't preclude a safe return for the crew.

And now for the chews …

One of the most persistent news items of the day is the story of now six-time winner of the annual Independence Day hot-dog-eating competition on Coney Island, US. Japan's Takeru Kobayashi managed to down 53 3/4 frankfurters in 12 minutes to take the title - nearly two more than second place getter, billed as the "new hope" before the event, Joey Chestnut. For more on the event, check out the Guardian Unlimited article, Horsemen of the oesophagus.

Big Brother watching

... or News from the Antipodes

In my reading of news around the world, there are not that many mentions of Australia. But we made it to the BBC News this week with the story:

Australian PM demands Brother axe

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard says Big Brother should be taken off air after allegations of sexual assault.

There has been much publicity about the incident, and I'm not going to go into it here, except to say that public opinion about whether or not the incident was sexual assault is divided. A report on quotes Pru Goward, Australia's chief sexual discrimination officer, as saying:

"The community, I'm very impressed, has overwhelmingly responded in the right way which is 'we don't want it'."

Now it depends on whether you believe in internet poll results, but that doesn't seem to be what the results suggest. A poll on the same site: Do you think the Big Brother incident was sexual harassment? showed the following votes at just after 5am this morning: YES 49054; NO 67833. (Which suggests, if nothing else, that at least 110,000 votes have been cast. By whom, and how many times and why - are questions to which we may never know the answers. I'm not sure if anyone's running SMS or phone polling a la Big Brother evictions - and if they were, where would the resultant funds best be directed?)

More fruit

There's no such thing as a new idea, so it came as no surprise when a recent podcast (The Body Odd) in an item about the Adam's Apple, mentioned that there had been some recent press about whether the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was actually an apple. The suggestions are that it might have been a pomegranate or a banana, and while I still have to run the search to see if these are mentioned by name in the Bible, I somehow think the more generic term "fruit" might still be the go.

Monday, July 03, 2006

More Dead Centre

And further to Dead Centre, I found out about Colma through a story in Yahoo News. A pet cemetery (resting place to over 1,000 animals) is being "emptied" to make way for human graves. The pets were buried on leased land at Pet's Rest, and the owner, a local real estate firm, now wants to reclaim some of the land for use with human clients. There was no indication in the report if they were planning to offer "relocation or cremation" to any of the other 12,000 animals buried on site.

Family matters

We were lucky enough to have Tyler to stay with us overnight a couple of weeks ago. Tyler, 12, is from Tasmania and was in town for the birth of new sister, Scarlett Ella. He is great fun - and very much into WarHammer (I'm not sure that's what it really is, but he hangs out at The WarHammer Shop when he's in town). WarHammer, as I understand it, is war games with miniature pieces - recreating battles from various fictional works. Not sure if recreations of real-life battles are de rigeur. Tyler was kind enough to line up his armies so I could take some photos - ironically taken in our miniature Zen Garden.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Lucky miss

I'm not sure where I read it, but I'm sure there was a piece last week on the work that was being done to make sure an asteroid, headed kind of in our direction, and due in about 23 years, would be diverted or blown up before it reached our neighbourhood. 23 years is a fair way away - and the asteroid must be a considerable distance from us at this point - so there's plenty of time to make a plan and carry it out. Hopefully the plan will not result in various parts of said asteroid falling down on Planet Earth because of the intervention. Would they shoot it from space; shoot it in space; land on it and plant explosives? Any number of movie scenanios come to mind.
Of course, if you wanted to be worried about asteroids falling on us, and were after a more immediate threat, there's always this coming week, when an asteroid is supposed to miss us by a mere 430,000 kilometres. 2004 XP14 (discovered in ... 2004) does not pose a threat - nor, it seems, do the other at least 113 asteroids and 20 comets discovered in a search to confirm that XP14 was not a threat. Phew!

Time Out

It's not often that you score 1.5 hours of "free time", but that's what happened this morning when I arrived at the airport (unfashionably early as always) to find that my 6.30am flight to Brisbane had been cancelled. They were able to get me on the 8am flight - so I'm glad I was early (how do you get a plane load of people onto the next already booked plane?). But it gave me a chance to have some unstructured time with the laptop, my wireless connection, the daily newspaper, and some breakfast. Gotta love it.
But the other thing it gave me was the opportunity to see how some writers might have some ideas. I have long been a fan of Stephen King's work and as I looked out the window, watching the night turn to day, with the planes at the gates turning from dull to bright as the sun rose, it occured to me that this might have given Mr King part of the idea for the Langoliers - where people are inadvertently cast back to the past and somehow have to get back to now. The new day (and things from it) are bright and shiny with a "glow" to them; yesterday, by comparison, is a little stale.
I was thinking of the Langoliers only recently following a call for help in The Daily Telegraph. A gentleman couldn't remember the name of the movie (mini-series) and as soon as I read it all I could think was "The Langoliers are coming ... the Langoliers are coming". I think I am going to have to rewatch now to see who the Langoliers are - and why they are feared. The cameo appearance of Stephen King is an added bonus (is there any other kind?).