Thursday, September 27, 2007

A tale of two muggings

Just when you least expect trouble it can come your way and make an otherwise memorable day memorable for other reasons. Case in point the French tourist visiting a wildlife sanctuary in Malaysia who was attacked by an orangutan who tried to make off with her backpack and left her bruised and scratched. (The incident has dispelled her previous belief of orangutans as "friendly, cuddly creatures".)
Or the couple in NY's Central Park who were robbed at gunpoint almost as soon as he proposed. Let's hope neither of them is superstitious/see it as a bad omen because it could leave one a little anxious about the big (wedding) day - she had just accepted when the (heartless) robber jumped out at them before making off with his watch and their (romantic) dinner money.

And on the subject of advertising ...

Ever looked out of a plane window and thought "gee, wouldn't it be good if someone put, say, an ad 20,000 square metres in size (that would be about the same as three football fields) down there so I can be persuaded to buy something?" UK-based Ad-Air is hoping that's the case with the new service it launched earlier this week in London. Its plan is to place large ads near the runways of the world's busiest airports - including London Heathrow, Paris, Geneva, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Abu Dhabi. The first advert will appear in Dubai next month and could develop to produce a moving image that starts each time a plane comes into sight and will be illuminated where local legislation allows.
Hey, I'd like to see that - which suggests that advertising just might work ... before I read this item on Reuters, I didn't even know that this was something I wanted!!

Conversation piece

Was it GMail that was going to put targetted advertising on emails by "reading" them for content and then serving relevant ads? Well, if that wasn't difficult enough, another company has come up with a way to link advertising to telephone calls made via the internet. It will have software "listen" to your call and then display ads relevant to your conversation. So, if you're talking about "dinner", a restaurant ad or review could pop up on the caller's computer screen. "Could" being the operative word since it seems that it's notoriously difficult for computers to recognise speech, for example someone writing about architect Harry Seidler, kept having Harry Spider come up on screen with the voice recognition software she was using. A test of Puddingmedia's beta software is reported on one news site as having had mixed success. Relevant ads appeared when the reporter talked about restaurants and computers, but the software was oddly insistent that he should seek a career as a social worker. But, as the chief executive of Puddingmedia advises, this could be seen as a feature rather than a bug ... "Sometimes crazy things pop up. It actually enriches the conversation, which is very cool."
Public trials of the software begin in the US soon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Around the world

Cricketer Shane Warne arrived in Australia yesterday - considerably later than photos of him leaving the overseas (London?) airport were published. It's amazing, isn't it ... how quickly information can be transmitted around the world these days? But try telling that to Australian television stations who are "rushing to air" programs soon after they are broadcast in the US. This haste has been billed by one station as "streamed direct from the US" - which is why it's odd that, given the almost instantaneous nature of "streaming" in technology terms, that it then takes them up to two weeks to actually broadcast the "streamed" content. The move to have a shorter gap between US and Australian broadcast is to counter the increasing (illegal) practice of people downloading shows when they are broadcast overseas, rather than waiting the (used to be) up to 6 months [sometimes never] for them to turn up on our screens.
Of course, my big lament is even missing shows when they are broadcast - because I didn't actually listen when someone said "Did you see they've got a new series of Night Stalker out" and by the time it actually registered (some weeks later) that this is something I did want to watch, I tuned in just in time for the final episode. Hmmm. Looks like a visit to for me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Word for the day

You never really know where new words are going to come from so I was pleased to find one in a cartoon this morning. The word? Atlatl. The meaning? A device for throwing a spear or dart that consists of a rod or board with a projection (as a hook) at the rear end to hold the weapon in place until released. (Thank you Slovoed.) The context? A caveman trial with guilt implied because the defendant's atlatl was found near the crime scene.

Sex (?) in the News

Why do they call they "newspapers" when some of the material in them isn't news ... like yesterday's item on celebrity chef Jamie Olivier who, if you believe what you read, thinks he's a bit of (not necessarily even thinking) woman's crumpet, given how many women throw themselves at him, particularly when he's in Australia.
But it wouldn't do to remove non-news content from the pages of newspapers, because then we would miss out on gems about other "celebrities" like Jack's in The Daily Telegraph: He might be the Sheik of Tweak in the fantasy world of professional cricket, but in real life he's the Moron of Melbourne, the Bonehead of Blackrock, the Bogan of Brighton. Or Carol's, about the same in-the-news-again-because-of-sex-texts celebrity: I wonder what woman would find him attractive if he didn't have celebrity status. A fat, immature oaf with bogan hair and cornflake lips.

Fancy a career change ...

Seems NASA is on the hunt for people with the "right stuff" to become astronauts. Applications close July 1, 2008. Possible job destinations include the International Space Station, and even the Moon. And what is the "right stuff" - well, a bachelor's degree in engineering, science or mathematics and three years of relevant professional experience is the right start. Or if you're an experienced teacher (kindergarten through to 12th Grade) you'll also be considered to be off on the right foot.
Successful applicants for NASA's first intake since 2004 will be announced early 2009 - to give time for the six-month interview and evaluation process. If you're interested you can get more details online: or, if you're already in the US, or have a good international rate on your phone, call (281) 483-5907 for more information via NASA's Astronaut Selection Office.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

There's a bear (?!?) in there

It's not easy sometimes to distinguish what's happening in the real world - especially if you're a patient at the Predeal (Romania) psychiatric institution which was recently broken in to by a bear and her two cubs. The bears were hunting for food and found it because after being chased from the facility by hunters with tranquilliser guns, the adult bear padded off to the surrounding forest with her head still stuck in the canister.
It's good there were staff on duty at the time though … otherwise the patients may have had a hard time having people believe what was happening.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Two reports from today's The Daily Telegraph which shouldn't go unnoticed.
First, a New Zealand woman who died from cancer on Sunday placed her own death notice in the local paper. "If you are reading this you will have realised that I am no longer with you" wrote Lois Ngaire Causer, 76 ... "I ask you to celebrate my life. Although at times hard, on the whole I had a good innings". I'm not sure I could be composed enough to do it ... but it's one way of being prepared. The report was unclear as to whether publication of the notice came as a surprise to her family although it seems, it wouldn't really have surprised them given her eldest daughter's assurance that it was "quite characteristic for her to do things like that".
But in the other report, there was a fair degree of surprise for the family of a young boy who was recovering from emergency brain surgery on a subdural empema (abcess). Where he had had a strong Yorkshire accent previously, it seems to have been replaced by a "posh" accent, more reminiscent of Queen's English. He apparently is unable to hear the difference - and was quite surpirsed to see his family staring back at him trying to make sense of what they had heard.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

There is a difference!

Or so the "hand washing police" suggest based on recent research. In broad terms, males are much less diligent in washing their hands after using the bathroom - 33% (1 in 3) compared to 12% (1 in 8) of women don't. The study was based on observations of more than 6,000 people in four major US cities last month. This is important especially as, according to doctors, handwashing is the single best thing people can do to avoid getting sick. And while it may seem odd that there are people out there prepared to hang out in public restrooms checking hand washing (or not) behavior it's good they're prepared to because if we relied on self-reporting, we'd never know how bad the situation had become. In a recent survey 92 percent of Americans said they usually or always wash their hands after using the bathroom - as opposed to the 77 percent who researchers for the American Society for Microbiology found actually do.

Careful of the Crocs

Just when you thought it was safe to go back ... on the escalator, there's news of various reports from around the world of a new hazard ... Crocs! Not the living, breathing, chase you up the beach kind but the other variety - the plastic, soft-soled clogs that have taken the world by storm (and which are sometimes referred to as "farm shoes", especially if they're yellow, and intended to be a Christmas present <sniff> but don't get me started on that now ...). According to a report on Yahoo US News, numerous reports are being received from rail stations and shopping malls about people, especially young ones, getting their toes caught in escalators ... and the element they have in common appears to be Crocs (or other non-original versions of them). According to one woman's report, her son's Croc was "sucked up by the sidewall of the escalator and his Croc was mangled". Luckily he escaped injury, toes intact. Crocs have begun putting a warning tag on their shoes.

Day in Focus

... is back, but I'm not sure for how long. Follow the link on the left to get there.

Margaret remembered

The second of my aunts on my father's side died yesterday morning at 12:50am. This follows Margaret's long and brave battle with complications from diabetes. During this struggle over many months, she was resuscitated at least twice and at the end had developed gangrene in one of her legs and while amputation was being considered, the family and medicos didn't get to make a final decision as Margaret's kidneys started to fail and then ... she was gone.
It's hard to imagine that someone so full of life over the years of my childhood (and beyond) is no longer with us, except in spirit. She was willing - and able - to grab the world with both hands even though sometimes it had seemed as if she had been dealt one of life's not quite so impressive hands.
Among her many achievements, but one that hold a special place for our family, she was the one who, as my mother's friend more than 50 years ago, introduced her to her brother John - and thus our immediate family became possible.
On a lighter note, I will always treasure the memory of us doing the rounds of the Christmas lights in Toowoomba a few years back, with Margaret belting out carol after carol.
Vale Margaret.

Monday, September 17, 2007


This morning as my sour dough toast - with butter and jam on the side -arrlved, I realised that the "butter" was probably margarine. It often is at sandwich shops and I find it quite bemusing when they ask "Butter?" (on your sandwich) when they have no butter, just margarine. I was pondering if this was worthy of blogging - and came up with "no" … until later this morning, at a hospital cafeteria, when a gentleman, awaiting his order was asked "Margarine?" Finally ... truth in sandwich-making. Which is why it was then nice to watch the same cafeteria worker opening a fresh packet of coffee beans and pouring the contents into the grinder attached to the cappaccino machine. She took a deep breath, savouring every last trace, and said how much she loved the smell. Definitely "a perk of the job" some wit in the coffee line remarked (okay, it was me).
Also notable at the same cafeteria was the sign displaying this wording: Today's near miss could be tomorrow's accident. Please report all near misses.

Just desserts

If you were a dessert what would you be? In Japan, a couple of politicians including the recently stepped-down Prime Minister have "tribute desserts" in their honor. The ex-PM's is a bun with red bean filling, while the Foreign Minister's is a butter sponge. The report I saw gave no clear indication of how the particular desserts were matched to their namesakes - whether it was something they liked (in which case mine would probably be Lemon Meringue Pie) or what they resembled (put me down for a big cream puff). So, given the choice ... what dessert tribute would bear your name?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In for a penny …

According to an ad in today's The Daily Telegraph, Australia's 1930 Penny is worth big bucks. There are belived to be only 1,500 left and those have risen in price from $350 in 1966 to $45,000 today. So wouldn't anyone jump at the chance to have one - or more correctly to have their "very own tribute 1930 Penny" for a mere $19.95. This limited offer (50,000 issued world-wide) comes with a 30 day money-back guarantee and is available from And the good news is that if you ever want to spend the 'penny" - it's legal tender in the Cook Islands!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Early adopters miss out

The cost of the (is it 8GB?) iPhone has dropped dramatically - by $US200 - within a couple of months of release, leaving early adopters out of sorts and out of pocket. But it appears that Steve Jobs is coming to the party - with a $100 store credit on offer for those who paid full price for their iPhone. Which raises the question - is early adoption of any technology worth $100 (the difference) for two months. Well, the only answer is YES ... unless it's a couple of Palm products I've had which didn't quite live up to my expectations. And speaking of Palm products, their Foleo - a laptop of sorts which would be totally compatible and synchronisable with Palm applications - has been pulled from the product line-up before it started shipping. Ah well, at least it saves me having to decide whether to get one (early or otherwise).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Googling for Fossett

After adventurer Steve Fossett disappeared last week while flying over the Nevada desert, news reports told of Virgin founder Richard Branson scouring satellite images of the area looking for signs ofhis missing friend. Now you too can join the search via Google Earth via Google's Mechanical Turk scheme. Anyone taking part downloads updated satellite images and an associated program that allows them to flag possible crash sites.
The creators of the search scheme said Mr Fossett's plane would appear as an object about "21 pixels long and 30 pixels in wingspan". While local search authorities suggest it's unlikely that Google Earth images will show more than military satellite images, they shouldn't underestimate the rigour of Earthers. You only need to subscribe to "Strange Things on Google Maps" on the Google home page to know the lengths people go to in searching images - a blimp, a sculpture of an iron molecule, the Hollywood sign - and it's updated often.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Horse sense

As we are still in the grip of equine flu in Australia it's not that much of a surprise that we there are signs on national roads warning that there be "No Horse Movements". Of course, this could be taken a couple of ways - one which is probably not exactly as the officials want - but it does highlight a problem with the flu and bodily functions. Once you have horses confined to a single space, and no products that touch them able to be moved into the wider community least it be infectious, what do you do with all the manure? This is apparently one of the (small) logistical problems they had to contend with with the lock-down of stables at Centennial Park (scene of a sizeable EI outbreak). And late last week, when a truck carrying manure crashed in outer-suburban Sydney, there was a major clean-up of property and people in the area to make sure any risk of infection spreading was contained.
Additional Note: One of the race courses here is called Flemington. In a television comedy program (The Chaser's War on Everything) they had images of the new Phlemington!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Writer's (cell) block

I'm never quite sure where story ideas come from for me - sometimes they're triggered by a news story, or something I see, or something someone says .. but there's at least one Polish writer today who will be serving some cell time because of his "best seller". He has been jailed over the murder of a businessman, four years after writing a novel detailing a similar earlier crime which occurred a couple of years earlier. Yes, yes, it's all been done before ... but in this case, the book contained details about the crime which were apparently known to only the killer and the police. Krystian Bala insisted the detail in "Amok" about the brutal murder of a Polish businessman were taken from press reports of the crime or made up. Of course, the fact that the real-life murder victim was Bala's ex-wife's lover might have skewed people's thinking. However, because of a lack of evidence, Bala was not convicted for the murder - but received the 8 to 25 years prison sentence for his involvement/directing the killing - which means that the statement "known to only the killer and the police" is slightly misleading and really needs to be extended in this instance to include "and perhaps the person who instructed and continues to protect the identity of the killer". But it does give pause for thought for writers, doesn't it?

Virgin's Outlook

When making some flight bookings online yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised (read "stunned") when the on-screen confirmation offered an option I had never noticed before ... click on a link to save the flight details as an Outlook appointment. What a fantastic idea! And it schedules it an hour before the flight so there's an even better chance of being at the airport in time. Nice one Virgin Blue.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hot iPhone

There has been an avalanche of sales of Apple's iPhone since it was introduced in the US some weeks back. Of course, not everyone has been happy with the fact that if you want an iPhone, you have to use Apple's chosen carrier, AT&T (who apparently pay Apple for every new connection and ongoing charges). That's where the hackers come in - trying to find a way around the block and it seems that they've done it. Some of the "hacks" require opening the iPhone case - which probably voids the warranty, but worse - can lead to other trouble - like the would-be hacker Wired reports had a "wayward screwdriver puncture the battery, causing it to explode". Yes, best to go the software route if you're so inclined and according to This Week in Technology, software hacks have been "hacked" and should be available soon. And they could be popular - according to one site over 200,000 users have signed up to indicate they are interested in "knowing more".
It will be interesting to see if the iPhone can be used on any network when finally it reaches Australian shores sometime later next year ...


It's hard to know what's suspicious these days - especially with foreign entourages in town for APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation - yes, it does look like it needs another noun at the end doesn't it?). On the way in today I noticed a garbage bin that had been covered in black plastic and sealed shut with police tape. However, this seemed to be the only bin in the area that has been sealed so. The other bins - across the road, around the corner - are still open for business. So, the question I found myself asking: is this suspicious? Or the street furniture maintenance worker who had put traffic cones on the footpath around his van, where he was working on a utility cover, and a patch of footpath further along. Is this suspicious? And who decides? It's likely to be a long week - but at least there's a chance we'll get to see some helicopter and fighter-plane fly-overs - and hopefully it will just be a continuation of their practice runs.

Note to self: get out more

During a computer training session last week the Microsoft Wizard came up and before he could be deactivated he started reading the help text - in Stephen Hawkings voice. I was surprised - until I realised that Mr Hawkings voice is computer-generated also - and while I know I knew that, it still came as a shock to realise that others may use "his" voice. I guess we take having our own distinct voice for granted.
Also in the never-before-realised department - ginger beer can be alcoholic (and quite potent the way my brother brews it!). But does this mean sarsaparilla could be as well? And that it wasn't a "soft" drink in the good ol' Wild West?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Doing what they loved

I often wonder about the statement "they died doing what they loved" and how this is somehow supposed to make a person's death more meaningful or less sad in some way. So you have to wonder about the 18 year old who was recently killed at his workplace, in a car wash in Michigan. Ricardo Martinez was closing up for the day when a customer returned to have their vehicle re-washed (no reason as to why was given). For some reason, after the vehicle entered the wash, so did Martinez where he became entangled in the giant automatic brushes, and died. Police are reportedly not treating the death as suspicious even though the Yahoo News report suggests that it was not that customer who found Martinez's body but one coming later - which seems plausible if Martinez followed the vehicle into the car wash. Not a good way to go.

Mars Rovers

It doesn't seem like five years since the Mars Rovers touched down and started sending back photographs of the Red Planet. Not bad for devices that had an expected service life of a few months. But it's been touch and go for them recently with dust storms blanketing Mars and restricting the amount of sun light reaching the Rovers' solar panels. So touch and go that it seemed there would not be enough energy generated to keep minimum systems functioning. I first heard about this the day before yesterdady when listening to a month-old podcast of Dr Karl on JJJ. He seemed quite moved by the Rovers' plight which had already been a concern for some time. So, this morning when I read that the dust storm was over and the Rovers are okay (even if old and dirty), I breathed a sigh of relief on his (and their) behalf. At the same time, I couldn't help remembering a cartoon I'd seen of the tiny Rovers traversing the Martian landscape taking photos of the distant dust - which turned out to be a group of aliens holding up photographs of desolate landscapes in front of the very small Rovers - thereby preventing them from capturing images of the very lively, teeming metropolis behind them. Or the other enduring image from back then, of a desolate plain with a single feature way off in the distance ... gigantic yellow runes ... also know as the McDonalds golden arches!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Under durex*

You'd have to have a fairly low pain threshold to try this - or perhaps bald. A US robber has been dubbed the Duct Tape Bandit after robbing a store with the adhesive tape wrapped around his head. Alas, it was no match for the storekeeper who had his own duct tape - wrapped around the business end of a wooden bat. Ouch.
* Durex: generic (and brand) name for sticky tape in Australia in the 1960's; plus generic (and brand) name for condoms in the UK in the 1960's.

Two for one

While typing up my blog spot this morning, I was puzzled and surprised to find the same words appearing on my phone screen as my Palm. On reflection, it made sense - I use the wireless keyboard with both, and the phone was also picking up the signal. Who knew you didn't have to specifically activate it (must have something to do with the power settings), and that you don't need to point the infrared arm directly at the infrared port?