Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On this day

A lot happened on this day in history here are but a few of them: ether was used as an anesthetic for the first time (1846); Truman Capote was born (1924); James Dean was killed in a car crash (1955); Australian radio series Blue Hills ended after 33 years on air (1976); author Patrick White died (1990) and (in 1999) BHP's Newcastle steelworks ceased operations after 84 years. Wonder what today will bring?

Flight experience

I knew there was a flight simulator in Sydney for pilot training, but until I read about it in this morning's The Daily Telegraph, I had no idea there was a commercial-grade (modelled on the) 737 simulator available for use by the public. It's situated at Flight Experience at Darling Harbour and prices range from $175 for 30 minutes (take off and land) to $275 for an hour (city to city). No experience is required, but bookings may be (1800 737 800).

Work choices

Reading through the classified ads, specifically the Positions Vacant, in today’s paper, I chanced upon one for a DOG GROOMER. Essential requirements are: “Must be hard working and reliable”. Now, at this point, the “not-being-afraid-of-dogs” thing seemed like it could have been a reasonable inclusion - as would some "experience". But maybe that will be covered when you ring up to apply. The good news is that it's a fairly short day 8:30am - 4.30pm Tuesday - Saturday. Remuneration levels were not included.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Land line

If you're working or living on higher floors, you may want to interest the owners of your building in the Alongo "Happy Landing Zipline". The product is a combination of three parts - the Cable Machine that is anchored on the roof of the building, the Safety Belt, worn by the person fleeing the building, and a Slide Hook - which regulates the person's speed as they slide down the cable (which stretches between the Cable Machine on the roof and an anchor point on the ground). There's a video of the system in use here; or images on the Gizmodo site.

Old vs New

Where would the world be without the English Channel? Over the last few days there have been two aviation attempts to cross the Channel - one successful, the other, not. One attempt, flying from France to England, involved jet-powered wings and Yves Rossy. a commercial airline pilot by training, who, after a 13-minute flight, landed safely near Dover. Not faring so well was Stephane Rousson, amateur pilot, who took off from England in his pedal-propelled airship and didn't make it to the French coast - calling off the attempt four hours into the flight, and three quarters of the way there, following an unfavourable change in weather conditions.

Drive time

Engadget carried an article today on "gizmos to scar your USB port for life". The article contained links to a number of USB devices - at least one of which will never be coming into this house ... the thumb drive.

Xmas present

Is there a special someone in your life who is mad keen on StarWars that you haven't yet thought of the "perfect" Christmas present for. Well, from the States comes word of the Artoo-themed digital watch complete with mini detachable infra-red remote control R2D2. You can find the full details - and a photo - here.

Milk source

I was listening to a (Ricky Gervais?) podcast last week and it was talking about Room 102 - where you would put everything that you loathed. It would disappear from the planet. One of the items mentioned was people who make desserts from their breast milk and offered them to their friends, neighbours and acquaintances. Well, I'm not sure if this is a case of life imitating art, but there are apparently calls by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to have Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream made from the milk from nursing mothers - rather than milk from cows. Hmmmm. Of course, the idea may not be fresh. Storchen, a Swiss restaurant, earlier announced that it would be providing a menu with soups, stews and sauces based on human milk - thereby replacing 75% of its current daily dairy servings.
It is an intriguing idea - and one which raises lots of questions about collection, nutrition, quality control and sustainability.

Numbers up

Hmmm ... wouldn't have thought there would have been much competition for this - but a report on Yahoo this morning tells of a group of mathematicians at UCLA who have become eligible for a $100,000 prize by their discovery of a 13-million-digit prime number. Does make you wonder what other research is being undertaken in the quest for financial prizes - and who puts up the purses. Come to think of it, isn't there one being funded by Google - something to do with the moon?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Real world applications

Do experiments have an application in the real world? Take, for example, a recent study by Canadian researchers who claim people who experience social isolation are more likely to perceive that the air around them is cooler. This gives the "getting the cold shoulder treatment" (blame The Daily Telegraph for that) more credence - and leaves one wondering if this was the initiating spark for the study. And, the good news is that it doesn't have to be happening at that time - subjects in the study only had to recall an excluding experience to believe temperatures were cooler by 3C. So, next time you're feeling a little warm, and want to save the environment by not turning on that air conditioner - think about the last time you felt sad about not being "one of the gang". Of course, the other side of this is if you're in a situation when you do feel excluded, chances are you'll want something warm to eat or drink afterwards. I guess that would just about even out any energy saving in the first instance.

High price of globalisation

Contaminated milk products have caused illness, including death, to children in both China and Hong Kong. In the old days, prior to globalisation, that would be it - parents around the world could feel the pain of their Asian counterparts, but not fear the same threat to their own children. That's not the case today. At least one product here in Australia (White Rabbit Creamy Candies - usually found in Asian grocery stores) is being tested to see if they contain traces of the industrial chemical melamine.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review review

Lurleen Lumpkin returns to Australian screens in next Tuesday's episode of The Simpsons. Lurleen, country and western singer, briefly managed by Homer, stars in this episode which, according to the p/review in The Daily Telegraph "When it screened in the US, this episode was one of the lowest-rating in the show's 20-year history, something that might be explained by the presence of the outspoken Dixie Chicks". Odd that - given that the episode originally aired in April 2008, well after the American public had fallen out of love with the Dixie Chicks over their supposed non-support of the US invasion of Iraq. Other possible reasons for the low ratings for the episode, according to Wikipedia, which states it was the third-lowest rating ever received by a The Simpsons showing, was Lurleen's "starring" role (in what is usually a very ensemble offering) and the dream sequence near the top of the show where Homer suffocates his father. Also, and I'll judge this for myself on Tuesday night, there was the suggestion that the episode just wasn't that funny!


Some people are just collectors. A pal of ours talked about a recent visit to an old family friend who had collections of a range of things including toy cars. My Dad used to collect coins. In fact, if you think about it, you can probably name at least half a dozen people (is dozen an imperial measurement? And as a metric country should there be another measure we use that is based on decimals?) who collect something or other. My interest has been piqued by news of a skull found washed up on a Sydney beach last Friday. While there was some initial concern about the origin of the skull, and whether the owner had been the victim of foul play, Police are now suggesting that the circumstances which led to the skull being found are not suspicious. Several lines of inquiry are underway including that the skull has come from a museum, university or private collection. Yes, that was ... "private collection". There are apparently, according to The Daily Telegraph's report of a statement by Detective Inspector Dave Walton "known private collectors of skeletal remains" (and perhaps there are unknown ones as well, but we don't want to dwell on that). So, why would anyone collect, and keep, skeletal remains? Would the collection/s be of one person's remains or more? And where do the remains come from?
A quick internet search has provided no insight but even if it had - could it be believed? Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, is apparently calling for a new labelling system so people can tell "fact" from "fiction" on the net. Now, wouldn't that make an interesting job for someone?

Lost and found

Today's The Daily Telegraph carries a report of two men travelling in Central Western NSW who became bogged and used a mobile phone to call for help. They were in a State Forest - but proved quite easy to find - since they were able to provide their exact co-ordinates from the GPS unit they had with them. Seems that providing every vehicle/person with a GPS would solve two problems: firstly it could cut down on expensive search costs; and secondly it would mean we could leave ours in the car without fear of having it stolen! Of course, for the finding people thing to work as well as having them with the GPS, you could also track the GPS unit itself - so you could tell at a glance where anyone was. While this might sound very Big Brother-ish (that would be Big Brother of Orwell's "1984" rather than the television version where people are locked in a house and then voted out) it has very practical applications. Mobile phone satellite tracking is already popular in Australia where parents use it to track children, eg Telstra offers a "Where is Everyone" program. And there is a new service on the horizon which will allow you to create a virtual "electric fence" so you can track that special someone's movements. This could provide a very valuable community service as well - if you could, say, track the whereabouts of someone who was legally required to stay a certain distance from your premises. According to reports, under the system, to be provided in Australia by Affinity under the title "Go Track My People", if someone goes into a restricted area, or out of their "safe" area, with their mobile phone, it sends an alert to a third party. Of course, keeping the mobile phone on someone who knows they are being tracked by it might be difficult - oh wait, perhaps that's the answer ... You don't tell them. Hmmm, it will be interesting to see what privacy protections are available with the system.
That reminds me of a news report from a while ago - about a gentleman, confined to his premises and complete with "bracelet" to confirm his location - which duly announced his departure, but then provided no help in finding him. At the time, it did seem as though the system was based on trust rather than technology.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I have downloaded a Crosswords* program by Stand Alone, Inc. on the iPod Touch and it's very nice to use - but I miss handwriting the answers in - so I'm still purchasing my copy of The Daily Telegraph so I can do the crosswords. Doing the "Two Speed" this morning, I was stumped by the clue "Stretched" (quick) or "Half distance finished up all stretched out" (cryptic). The only word that seemed to fit was "dispersed" but that seemed not quite right - as I found myself muttering as I finished filling it in "it seems like a bit of a stretch" (hmmm seemed funnier at the time). I'll have to check tomorrow to see what the answer is.
* You can download the day's puzzles - which are drawn from a number of sources including The Sydney Morning Herald - over WiFi. Puzzles are filled in via the virtual keyboard on the device and for those who are impatient (or stumped) you can check the correctness of individual letters or clues, or the entire puzzle while you are off-line.
Update: As it turns out, the answer was "distended" - which I hope I would have finally arrived at if only I had been better with my tenses/letters - having botched the across clue and working with an "s" instead of "d".

Working it

Leaving the newsagency with the papers yesterday, I overheard an interchange that went:
"Don't work too hard."
"That's an oxymoron."
"Don't work too hard. You can only give what you have - so you can never work too hard."
Worked for him - and it makes sense too ... but those people who talk about giving 110% may wish to take issue with it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Luck runs out

According to recent reports, scientists contend that dinosaurs were able to rule the earth (for a while anyway) because their biggest - as in main - rivals were wiped out by a major event, perhaps climate change, perhaps a meterorite strike. The competition was a group of reptiles called crurotarsans, like today's crocodiles but bigger and, supposedly, resembling dinosaurs. Scientiests suggest the crurotarsans fared better than earlier dinosaurs because the dinosaurs walked on two legs - and could have been warm-blooded. Hmmm. Seems that what we know about dinosaurs keeps changing. And even what they looked like might have been different to common belief: I read somewhere that a man and his son had put together the bones from a chicken carcass, using all the bones, and the resulting frame looked nothing like a chicken. So what guarantee is there that people reassembling dinosaurs bones get it right?

Kitchen whiz

As a regular reader of David Pogue's column (NY Times), it's always fun to see what he finds. Latest fun bit was this site - a cooking segment with a bit of a difference.

Music to my ears

After reading of the death of David Foster Wallace, I went in search of an eVersion of his novel "Infinite Jest" - billed as his " best-known novel". I couldn't find it on my usual eBook supplier's website, so I tried Amazon instead. No-go - but I did find this there and it gladdened my heart ... Kindle is an eBook reader.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Privacy concerns

When Chrome, the new browser from Google, became available a short while ago, there was talk of a "privacy" feature. This would allow the user to do "secret" web surfing - say if someone was wanting to investigate a present they wanted to give to someone, or research a holiday for that special someone - and leave no trace of it on a communal computer. This "private browsing" mode is also known as "porn mode" because the browser erases all traces of the session - so it's as though the sites were never visited. I had thought this was a new feature but apparently it's been around in some browsers for a couple of years - and was pioneered by Apple, according to the report I read in Monkey_Bites. Privacy mode does have legitimate uses - say on public computers where you don't want your banking or email log-ins tracked. Hmmm, I wonder if the privacy mode also prevents key strokes from being logged - now that could be really useful.

Film delay

With the latest Harry Potter film delayed, you'd think Warner Bros would be happy that there was a replacement in the wings ... but, it seems not. There was some talk that "Twilight" would slip into the spot - but apparently there's a new contender: "Hari Puttar - A Comedy of Errors". The Bollywood film tells the story of a 10-year-old boy who moves to London and becomes involved in a plan to save the world. It is not related to the Harry Potter wizard movies, to which Warners Bros owns the rights - which could explain why Warners' filed a lawsuit against the makers of "Hari Puttar". According to the BBC item I read, the film's title was registered in 2005: Hari is a popular Indian name, and Puttar means 'son' in Hindi and Punjabi. "Hari Puttar's" release has been delayed, but at this stage it's unclear as to how long.


The breakfast menu offered "Flapjacks" which in this instance meant "pancakes". But where did the word "flapjack" come from? And why is it different in various countries - in the UK, for example, a flapjack can be a cookie or a muesli bar; in the US, as it is here, it can be a large pancake. In other instances, a flapjack is a wrestling move or it can be used as a derogatory term for a person from an indistinguishable country of origin (or so Wikipedia says) - hopefully neither of which will turn up on the breakfast menu.

Election time

It's local Government election time here in NSW, and because we were going to be out of the area on vote day, we were able to cast an early vote. Reasons for being able to vote prior to the election included being a "silent elector" - who knew there was such a thing? This is where someone is not on the public electoral roll because it is deemed dangerous for their identity and address to be known. But, when they do vote, I bet they also have to vote in pencil - the only implement available in the voting booth. I always take a pen with me - and sometimes wonder if my vote is disallowed because it isn't in pencil. Will be interesting to see if we go to pen or electronic voting first.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tool time

Some years ago, at a Christmas lunch, the trinket inside a BonBon was a toy spirit level. Not one to throw things away, I filed it away with the other keychains and was happy to dig it out tonight as I put some pics on the living room wall. I had already had three hooks in, but I needed to get in another column of three which were vaguely lined up with the others. Working with a ruler, pencil, spirit level and a great deal of luck, it doesn't appear to have turned out too badly. I am going to have to borrow a proper spirit level though, so I can make sure they really are straight!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

DVD viewing

Watching a DVD tonight I was struck by how unfair it is ... here I am buying a series on DVD and I have to sit through the "downloading is a crime" anti-privacy ads; while people who illegally download the same series don't have to (watch the anti-piracy ads). Just doesn't seem right somehow. Yes, I know I could leave the room rather than actually watching them but ...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


For those who aren't fond of Karaoke but still want to have a sing at parties, there's now SingStar - which works a little like Karaoke - words on a screen - but it's based on getting the tune and notes right as well. It's a Playstation 2 "game series" and the only thing that could be better is the Playstation 3 version, which apparently has microphones which are unwired and you can download any song you want from the internet for use with SingStar. That was the word at the Fancy Dress party we went to where the SingStar was a feature. Obviously we don't get out enough because it appears that this happens a lot at parties (ie group singing) these days. It's amazing isn't it, that we appear to have come full circle with entertainment ... instead of congregating around the piano for a sing-a-along now, people gather around the PlayStation? Idol may have something to do with this.

Going places

 Finally it's time to move to a GPS system.  I tried this one, but it didn't seem quite as effective as the next version, which sits on the dash of the car and tells me where to go!  It is truly amazing technology and, I admit, sometimes I just turn it on - not intending to drive anywhere - so I can see what satellites are within range ... and to switch between the English and Australian female voices (hmmmm - note to self ... check if there is a male voice ... can't seem to recall that there is one - which may not be surprising given that old saying about men not asking for directions - although that doesn't necessarily mean they don't know where to go.)

Driving Hazard #2

You never know what you are going to find when you're on a country road ... but we were pleasantly surprised to find this Emu and chicks.  You'll need to click on the image to view it at a larger size to be able to see that the chicks are striped!  We found them on the way back from the Sun (on our Virtual Solar System tour) aka Siding Spring Observatory, Coonabarabran. The sign showing the T intersection, shows the turn-off to the Observatory (and Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury). 

Driving hazard

If you're driving out on the open road and a pilot vehicle approaches from the other direction indicating there's an "Oversize" vehicle coming, it's best to think of your options - especially if a police car also approaches - driving on your side of the road. This happened to us on our way to Dubbo the other day - and luckily we had already pulled off the road when the police cars ahead of the OVERSIZE vehicles came through - three of them. We weren't sure what the vehicles were carrying - but it was BIG.

Do Not Call Register

After the fourth telemarketing call today, I found myself visiting the Australian Government's Do Not Call Register website.  As long as you meet certain conditions - being the account holder, having a valid email address if you're registering online, and using the number you're registering primarily for private or domestic purposes - you can register to have telemarketers not call you.  The site informs visitors that registration will not prevent all telemarketing calls, and it may take up to 30 days for telemarketers to stop calling after registration, and that if they don't stop calling (and not all will) you can complain.   In the interim, it's good to know that there's an industry standard which, among other things:
  • regulates the hours in which telemarketers and researchers can call
  • requires callers to give their contact information and divulge the reason for their call, and
  • requires the caller to terminate the call when asked to do so.


Sitting in a coffee shop this morning, the woman at the table opposite commented on my phone/keyboard set-up. Turns out she is a journalist and mediator (she has worked with the UN but regrets having turned down a gig in the Congo) who is between jobs but has just finished a film script, is working on poetry - and doing a reading this evening - and lamenting that she did not act on a gut feeling that there was going to be a change in the NSW Government leadership and subsequently did not get in "on the ground floor". Mid-conversation she leapt up and went over to talk with someone who had just walked in - a staffer for one of the recently-promoted politicians. Opportunity strikes. (Fingers crossed.)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Cars for cash

An item in today's The Daily Telegraph reports the owners of the Mercedes in which Princess Diana (and others) was mortally injured wants to retrieve the vehicle from where its been held in a police compound in South London since July 2005, and sell the car at auction. Expected return from the sale: $2.2 million. It could raise a question of ownership though - depending on whether Paris-based company Etoile Limousines ever lodged a successful insurance claim for the vehicle. While laws may be different there - here, once a claim is paid, the insurance company owns the vehicle. Of course, it's possible that Dodi Fayed's father may intercede to prevent the vehicle from going to public auction (although that could make it seem a little like emotional blackmail - or maybe that's just me). It reminds me of another macabre vehicle story - where author Stephen King's reportedly purchased the van which ran him over, causing him severe, almost fatal injuries (which may have been the inspiration for the main character in "Duma Key"). He reportedly wanted to make sure the van didn't become a souvenir for fans via eBay.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"Romancing the Phone"

Not sure what this says about the demographic of those using their iPod Touch or iPhone as an electronic reading device but I received an offer from my eBook supplier for free eBooks in celebration of the release of the latest version of their software. The offer was for three Harlequin Romance titles. Hmmmm.