Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Friendly fire

If you're ever in a position of military command and you start hearing people talk about "fragging", it's time to watch your back. The term was coined during the Vietnam War when American troops were killing their own commanders so often, a verb was required. Of course, it could also have had something to do with the weapon of choice in these attacks - the hard-to-trace fragmentation grenade. Fragging can be the killing of any superior to the murder of a soldier's direct commander to avoid combat.
The good news is that times change - and fragging apparently hasn't been a common issue since the American's invaded Iraq and Afghanistan with only one soldier charged with killing his commanding officer. And the reason for this dramatic downturn? Officials suggest it's to do with that today's modern military is made up of volunteers rather than conscripts.
But fear not - fragging still lives ... It's used as a replacement term for "killing" in video games - suggesting that it's actually not killing at all - virtually.

I'll call you back

Imagine your phone rings and it's the people from the local Lotteries office with the news that you've won $1 million. Would be nice wouldn't it - and perhaps a little surprising when you tell them you'll have to ring them back because you're in a meeting. When I read this story in today's The Daily Telegraph - it happened to a Sydney father of three yesterday - I couldn't help but think of my brother who's often in business meetings, and hoping he would have the same luck one day. It would be nice to have a millionaire in the family.

Green dream

It's funny how the common vernacular can change from time to time. It used to be that a "green dream" was a way of sayiny a humane farewell to ailing pets - but now it's front page headlines - as in "Rudd's Green Dream" - an election-time vision for a future filled with renewable energy. It's certainly out there.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fun with pumpkins

I loved "Wired", if only for the wonderful surprises it gives us from time to time. Halloween is fast approaching and what would it be without pumpkins. Have a look at these from last year: Foxtales or Deathstar (it's well worth the clicks).

Bear facts

Sarah Wallmer, a wildlife volunteer, now has something concrete to show for her efforts - four puncture marks on her buttocks after being bitten by a bear. Sarah was running with dog at the time and even though she was making lots of noise - to "announce her presence" to neighbouring wildlife, it's believed that the prevailing wind may have obscured her voice - making her appearance to the bear and her cub somewhat unexpected. And they don't call them "wild" for nothing. When the bear charged her, she dropped the dog's leash and turned her back to it - hence the stabbing pain in her buttocks. The bear roared and left.

A matter of principle

Our enlightened HR Manager organises for us to go to Business Breakfasts run by Network Central. Today's guest was investigative journalist and (now) author Jana Wendt. She was wonderful and engaging - both while speaking to the group, and then personally as she autographed copies of her book - a complimentary copy for each attendee was included in the cost of the event.
She spoke briefly of her time as a television reporter and some memorable (not necessarily happily) moments - like receiving an invitation (which she refused) to be privately entertained by Libyan leader Gadafi, even when a female aide ("and this was difficult" she acknowledged) said she would lose her job if unable to convince Jana to comply. Or the sound of film being torn from a camera because PLO's Arafat did not like the content of an interview with him. But her message this morning was truly about the people who she had interviewed for "A Matter of Principle" - and how she had birthed the book in a darkened room "by the glow of the computer monitor" over a 10-month "gestation". The book is a collection of interviews including Charlotte Rampling, Shane Gould, Frank Gehry and David Malouf. As the author would no doubt invite you … please enjoy.

White light

Did you know that white lights contracts the pupils for half and hour, and makes it difficult to see anything in the dark. That's why white light is #1 unwelcome visitor at Deerlick, one of three astronomy villages in the US - places where amateur stargazers can go to escape the light skies of suburbia. Homes have dim red outdoor lights, and windows have to be lined with light-blocking materials to prevent light escaping; and even flash lights have red bulbs. Seem like something you'd be interested in? Well, you may already have missed your chance with Deerlick where star lovers have already bought up big. There were 17 plots on offer 2 years ago - but not any more. But the good news is that even if you can't buy into Deerlick, you can go to the 10-acre hilltop obsevation field adjoining the village to gaze at the stars. But as you drive in to town, it might be best if you remember to turn off your high beams, in fact turn your head lights off all together - go with your parking lights


I try not to but sometimes you just can't help but fall victim to that old evil - pen envy. The stationery store near the office (which I visit only occasionally - the office not the store) is having a sale of Lamy pens - my pen of choice. It's over 14 months since I lost my favourite 3-in-1 Lamy in the US and I'm fairly sure it's gone for good - so it's no wonder that I found myself tempted by similar, marked-down, models today. But I resisted. Okay then, the real reason I didn't walk out of the store with one is that I couldn't choose which of the four I wanted. Alas, I will be passing that way again tomorrow and I fear "opportunity + penvy = purchase".

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What if

... you had booked return airfares to Christchurch (New Zealand) 5 months ago, were due to go in 5 days, and still hadn't done anything about booking accommodation, car etc. This reason for this inactivity was probably lack of inspiration rather than lack of time. Finally though, you get to talking with people and you decide that you'll spend first and last nights in Christchurch and the rest of the time based in Queenstown. But where to find accommodation easily? Well, the obvious answer is "the internet". But where to start? Which is why it's good to speak with as many people as you can until finally the magic words pop out ... wotif. Now I've heard of wotif and I know other people have used it effectively - but up until the time M mentioned it yesterday (and not just because she's a shareholder) I hadn't given it a thought. But yes, it does operate in New Zealand, and yes, we have now booked all our accommodation. It was an easy and excellent experience made much simpler by the advanced search capabilities on site (our main requirements: a kitchen and broadband access) and the ability to shortlist interesting properties for review and discussion. (Stay tuned for photographs of grey skies and rain - which is the current forecast for our visit.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Lights up

Is it just me or is Christmas coming earlier each year? It's still October but that hasn't stopped Gold Coast computer repair-person Wayne Turner and his wife from spending the last month hard at work putting up their 2.5m Santa, 12 reindeer, and a guitar-playing snowman. And they haven't finished yet - which is why it's a good thing that there's still more than 3 weeks to go before entries close for the area's Christmas Light-Up competition. The Turners will have to wait until 2 December to find out if they're amongst this year's prizewinners - and a little longer (bus tours of the Christmas lights start Dec 7) until they know how much money their display, and people's generosity, have raised for the Gold Coast Hospital's children's ward.

Here we go again

"Summer time madness back from tomorrow" proclaimed The Gold Coast Bulletin today, and I couldn't agree more. It's daylight savings time (DST) again and for the next 3 weeks I'll be struggling with DST jetlag as my bodyclock and conscious mind struggle to come to terms with a time zone where clocks are pushed forward an hour for a reason I am yet to fully embrace. In fact, I'd be happier to embrace it if they had the equivalent of DST all-year-round, but I don't think that's going to happen. (Note to self: remember to manipulate ALL time pieces in the house this time - and change the batteries in the smoke alarm.)

Friday, October 26, 2007


I was surprised to hear an ad on the radio today for pre-paid funeral services. That wasn't the surprising part - no, that was that it was an interview with a child - Toby I think his name was. He's the son of the funeral director and he's doing the ad because "by the time you need us you could be dealing with me''. The tag, of course, is that it's a family business. So we know what young Toby answers when he's asked what he's going to be when he grows up - and we can only guess the look on people's face when this youngster cheerily says "I'm going to be an undertaker". It seems a little odd saying that - but people have been expected to go into the family business for years!


I am visiting provincial Queensland at the moment and am amazed by some of the content in The Chronicle, the local newspaper. It relates to a common addition to a lot of papers now - the ability to send in short comments (previously "Letters to the Editor") via SMS - so folk are making their point in 160 characters or less. Leaving aside for the moment that the rules of grammar and spelling do not matter in this forum (although some of us find it part of the challenge to keep both of these as critical elements of ANY communication - even, or especially, short ones) the published messages are refreshingly articulate. Take the one about current electioneering (aka pork barrelling) and the observation that, as a farmer, the local sitting member should well known that you can't fatten a pig on market day!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Birds of a feather

It seems that lots of people we know have taken to raising chickens (although I am sorely tempted to write "chickins", not sure why). These are Jo's chickens - actually it's one of the chickens and a broom, the bottom bit of a piece of gym equipment, and some of the brick wall - but you get the idea. At one point during the morning, she discovered both chickens in the back shed, busy watching themselves in a mirror.
While I resisted picking them up and cuddling them when there were tiny - and certainly wouldn't do it now - I did have a little nurse of one of the guinea pigs that Jo's daughter received for her birthday recently. The condition of them entering the premises was that there be no babies, ever, so both the guinea pigs had to be female - which is why Jo couldn't really complain when one of them gave birth to two babies a couple of days coming to live with them. Unfortunately, neither of the babies survived.
In transit to visit my parents, I stayed overnight with an old school friend. And believe it or not, there was occasion, thanks to Julie Bishop, Federal Education Minister, to give a rousing rendition of our old school song ...From the bush and beach and town itself, we come to gather on the hill ... The news of the day had carried an item about Ms Bishop arriving at Southport State High School to announce a new $1.something million Home Economics (?) block, only to find the School and its principal were not expecting her. When she was told that no-one had told them she was coming she asked the principal "who didn't tell you I was coming?" ... d'oh, how would he know if no-one told him? But, back to my overnight stay. Younger daughter Rach may have had something to do with the choice of manchester. I was impressed with the bedspread, because it has a different duo of horses on either side. I was also sharing the room with the Barbies - or were they Bratz?

Early morning call

Working on a global project brings me into contact with colleagues around the world - and we are often called upon to do group teleconferences that start quite early in the morning. A colleague had an early morning meeting scheduled the other day and then another longish meeting with me starting half an hour later. When we wrapped it up just over an hour after that, her mid-morning, I asked her what she was going to do next. "Get up" she told me. As the first meeting had been so early, she had taken it, and my meeting, from home. I'm still not sure whether she was serious or not but I certainly enjoyed the laugh with her. (And I'm certainly wondering about a similar strategy for my early meetings!)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Providing an education

One of the news feeds I read in the mornings (when I make time) is Yahoo US News. Here are two items from this morning:
Loopholes hide some misconduct records: More than 300 California educators had their teaching licences revoked or suspended because of sex-related offenses from 2001 through 2005.
And the other:
Sexual misconduct plagues US schools. The young teacher hung his head, avoiding eye contact. Yes, he had touched a fifth-grader's breast during recess. "I guess it was just lust of the flesh" he told his boss.
The next item may then come as little surprise - but there is no suggestion here of cause and effect, although the case could be made for finding out "why":
2nd-grader suspended for drawing of gun. A second-grader's drawing of a stick figure shooting a gun earned him a one-day school suspension.

"Lucky" Dube

South African Reggae star Lucky Dube turned out to be not so lucky when he was fatally shot in a suspected car-jacking in Johannesburg last week. In the past year, historian David Rattray, singer Taliep Peterrsen and opera singer Deon van der Walt have been killed in what have been called "similar attacks". Gratefully, I was unaware of this before/during my recent visit to South Africa but there were 19,000 murders there last year. I was aware that it was not safe to walk the streets - and certainly not to go into Cape Town's city centre after lunchtime on Saturday. When I jokingly asking a colleague where he kept his gun (following our use of an "air lock", one at a time, to enter the bank) he told me that he had handed it in a couple of years ago when new laws had been introduced. It would have made it too difficult to keep it, he told me. But it seems that no everyone reacted the same way. According to the Emergency Response doctor I sat next to on the plane on the way back to Australia, there are over 2,000 gun shot wounds in emergency departments in Johannesburg each year - and if you are preparing for a medical tour of duty in Iraq, you'll be sent either to Johannesburg or Washington DC because of the gun-trauma injuries you'll witness there. Washington DC? Yes, apparently there is a quite active gang scene there.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I have been lamenting the lack of time at work at my desk and that my "Inbox" is not empty. But that all changed this morning when I logged on to find I had reached 200 unread emails. There's something about a nice round figure that can put a person at ease (well, this one anyway).

FW: Tip

I subscribe to various newsletters about time management, for around the house, and in the office (although these two seem to have blurred a little since I started telecommuting).
I was reminded last week that a tip that works for one person may not necessarily work for another - or if it does, it's not for the same reason/s.
"Feeling rushed in the morning? Iron what you plan to wear tomorrow, the evening before. That will buy you at least 10 minutes extra time to get ready for your day."  Fair enough. But what they don't mention is that it will also save you multiple trips back home to check whether you've left the iron on in your rush to: decide what clothese you're going to iron, put the ironing board up, turn the iron on, wait for it to heat up, have your breakfast, iron the clothes, turn the iron off, let the iron cool down, put the iron away, make sure all the powerpoints are off, and lock the door after you ... oh, better check, was the iron cool enough to put away, is it near anything flammable, did I turn the power off ... then, did I turn the light off the last time I went back, did I lock the door properly (did I hear it snick) ... You get the idea.

What next?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the kitchen, German meat firm Toennies has released its new "toaster schnitzel". Two years in the making, it saves consumers the trouble of frying up their own schnitzel - instead they can place the frozen treat into their pop-up toaster and voila in three minutes its ready. Toennies assures us that the pork and breadcrumb creation will not ooze grease and burn in the toaster but they are keeping Mum on how they've achieved this as a patent is pending.

Life savers

A Melbourne cemetery has come up with a life saving idea - making sure its cemetery staff are trained in the use of defibrillators (and first aid). This move comes in response to the mourners who collapse at the grave side - not an uncommon occurrence. As Vicki Pridmore, chief executive of Melbourne's Cheltenham cemeteries is quoted "A lot of people who die are old, so the people who come to the services are frail and they are vulnerable anyway, and the additional stress of a funeral tips them over the edge." They call the ambulance four or five times a year and as well as being used to deliver an electric pulse to restore regular rhythm (something we are all clear on) the defibrillators can also help assess illness for arriving paramedics.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Book Club

My partner belongs to a bookclub and I go along for dinner before the meeting, and to give my partner a lift home. Of late, I have started to sit near the group when it meets and listen in. These are a few of the comments from last Tuesday’s meeting when they were discussing a book whose title and author are probably best kept out of this particular report (not that the bookclub would not not want this reported back to the author!) “He was so far up himself even I wanted to kill him . . . If it doesn’t stand alone then it’s no good as far as I’m concerned . . . I couldn’t get the image out of my head of Mr Burns and Smithers . . . It set the scene a little bit … there was no development of anything . . . I was really annoyed about the synopsis of it – on the front, “an extraordinary work”– this was all very misleading . . . How could you compare this man with Dickens and Hitchcock . . . Even though you don’t like him, there’s no reason why . . . The highlight of the whole book was finding a typo in the last seven pages . . . Very disappointing . . . I gave it a 3 . . . 3 . . . 4 . . . it was crap but I didn’t mind reading it . . . 5 . . . I kept hoping it would get better . . . It was like Spotless, but much worse.” And then, having talked about the book for this month, the club turned its attention to other books the members may have written. One mentioned was “Heart-Shaped Box”, by Stephen King’s son, writing under the name of Joe Hill. Unlike this month’s book, it came highly recommended.

Good Samaritan ...

When Australian woman Ksana Natalenko bid $320 to buy a pig that had turned up at a Sydney childcare centre, she thought she was giving it a good home. As she's quoted today in The Daily Telegraph "I imagined we would be watching television together" which makes me wonder how much Green Acres (with famous, almost human, pig Arnold) figured in her deliberations. TV watching is not what the 100kg pot-bellied pig, Bob, is focused on. He's "hot to trot" with only mating on his mind, as Ksana found out when she went to collect him, only to have him try to mount her. At that point, Ksana, who also has dogs at home, knew that the whole "take in a pig and save him from the abbatoir" scenario was not going to work. Let's forget for a moment that her neighbours, having heard about the scheme, have supposedly raised it as an issue with their local council. But back to Bob. Unable to keep him at home, Ksana has found alternate lodgings for him – for $20 a day. She is trying to find a more permanent solution – excluding an obvious one, especially as butchers have said that Bob is not suitable for eating, although word is that "there are certainly people out there who would slaughter him to make salami". (I am not going to think about that TOO much as I fear salami would become "off limits" for me.) Ksana has approached various agricultural schools and farms but has yet had no takers. An interesting dilemma.

Pushing the boundaries?

The Chaser's War on Everything, a fairly popular satirical program on one of Australia's national television broadcasters, has attracted some flak this week because of a"tasteless musical item" which "mocked dead celebrities" including Steve Irwin, Peter Brock, Princess Diana, Kerry Packer and (our) Don Bradman. In replying to the attacks, the song's author maintained he was "very comfortable" with it; but it seems that the approach is not so comfortable that everyone is fair game – some dead celebrities were excluded based, it seems, on whether they were seen to be in any way hypocritical ie the "innocent" (innocent in the eyes of the Chaser Team – and where would that distinction lie?"). But, it does make you wonder about the responsibility of people formulating anything for public consumption (pause to think about blogging as one such medium) and if one does need to "think about these sorts of things" eg whether the content might offend family/friends/loved ones – or the person themselves if they are still of this mortal coil.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Great Wit

Oscar Wilde (quoted as uttering, on his deathbed, "Either those curtains go or I do") has just been named in a British poll as that country's greatest wit, with 20% of the vote, thereby narrowly beating out in second position comedian Spike Milligan (who had "I told you I was ill" engraved on his tombstone). The poll, of 3,000 comedy fans, was held to mark the launch of a new TV channel called Dave - under the banner "The home of witty banter". But with a name like Dave, it could be hard to find on a TV dial (although they're probably a bit outdated now). While not making the top 10, the highest ranking woman in the poll, coming in at No. 12, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, is quoted as having once said: Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.

Food for thought

Following a recent trip to South Africa, I have been pondering on "who decides air journey meal times?" Who decides if the menu/meal choices you are working to are in sync with your departure or arrival destination - and how far apart meals should be served? And am I the only one who's plagued with these thoughts? Apparently not. Just before falling asleep with his book last night, I found a reference to just this question - meals on planes - in Daniel Mendelsohn's "The Lost" where he describes the ennui of a flight from New York to Sydney, broken only by the appearance of meals at regular intervals. Alas, though, no answers.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Word verification

.... anyone who's posted a comment on a blogger site knows about word verification ... well, I'm not sure that anyone could call it that given the "word" I had to enter this evening. yzpxkzqd [...rub your eyes and look again...] yzpxkzqd. Yep, ain't no word like I dun seed before!


While the inquest into Princess Diana's death continues, her wedding dress is currently on display at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum. The dress is displayed on a faceless manikin - which seems an interesting artistic choice. I can't help wonder what the considered options were - Diana lookalike, a headless mannequin, a faceless mannequin, no mannequin at all. I wonder if this presented greater ethical challenges than, say, the showing of the Star Wars costumes a couple of years ago?

Power outage

An item in the weekend news didn't come as much of a surprise -in some ways. On television one night while I was in South Africa a couple of weeks ago, a notice came up saying that the immediate power shortage had passed and it was okay to turn on more appliances. I hadn't seen the previous notification but can only assume it was advising a shortage was imminent, and please turn off some appliances. But it seems that calling on customer help to deal with infrastructure problems may not be a foolproof plan - which could be why a power shortage in South Africa recently caused a rather large spill of raw sewage into rivers and a popular dam.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

DNA to the rescue

What do you do when your mates keep having a go at you because you and your partner have dark hair and brown eyes, but your new baby has blonde hair and blue eyes? Well, you could go off and have a paternity test in secret - and then when you find out you are not the child's father, confront your partner about who the father really is. Then, if she's on the ball, she'll also have a DNA test - and be more than a little surprised when you find the baby isn't yours either. How so? An unintended switch at the local hospital 10 months previously with girls born 18 minutes apart. At the time, both mothers had commented that their baby's weights had changed "overnight" but they were assured by hospital staff that the weights had been "recorded incorrectly". Both sets of Czech couples have decided they will switch children - so they can have their "own" daughter. Before then though, they plan to spend more time together, before exchanging children in the lead-up to Christmas. But it does make one wonder what their lives would have been like if the girls had been raised in the wrong families. And how strong are "blood ties" - given the couples had raised the girls for 10 months and were still prepared to hand them over.

Driven to ...

Now this is resourceful ... a 6-year-old in Denver (US), feeling a bit more than peckish, took his grandmother's car keys, put his child seat in the driver's seat, climbed in, and tried to drive himself to a restaurant. However, it was not plain sailing - he couldn't get the vehicle out of reverse and 23 metres later he backed into an electricity transformer, taking out the power to surrounding homes. Luckily no-one was hurt and, being a responsible, if not competent, driver, he told his grandmother what had happened. (Seems like a good reason to keep some kind of nutritious snack on hand!)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'Trouble at' Mill'

But actually it's good news because it means there's another Wallace and Gromit half-hour television adventure on the way - due to make it to a small screen in your living room sometime in 2008 (or shortly thereafter). In this adventure, the first small-screen offering featuring the pair since the wonderful A Close Shave(1995). 'Trouble at' Mill' is a murder mystery and Wallace and Gromit have moved from pest removal to running a bakery from their house. And of course, no new show would be complete without a fresh love interest for the (so-far unlucky in love) Wallace - this time the aptly named Piella Bakewell. Can't wait.

Famous voices

You've probably heard it a few times, but may not know you've heard it ... the Wilhelm Scream. It's been in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Toy Story, and Lethal Weapon 4 to name a few. So what is the Wilhelm Scream? In the 1951 film Distant Drums, a voice actor overdubbed a shriek as an alligator "tore" a man's arm off when he wandered too close to a swamp ... and thus the Wilhelm Scream (more a screech) was born. It's been used over the years since by sound engineers and is so much part of a joke by them, it's now the punchline.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dom Pedro

Whenever I travel (yes, yes, I know ... the last time I was in San Francisco), I try to sample the local fare, well, as far as my sometimes squeamish stomach will allow (hence my "no kangaroo", "no crocodile" policy). I also try for the local drinks - which is how I found the Dom Pedro here in South Africa. I'm surprised we don't have it in Australia, especially since our shores are no strangers to people from South Africa. The Dom Pedro is like a thick milkshake but with a dash (perhaps more than a dash) of Kahlua or Whisky. Mmmm. Definitely worth the visit to South Africa to discover it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

South Africa

Blogging's been a bit too hard with limited internet access (and time) but I have managed to post a couple of photos (more to come - plus captions) on the site.