Thursday, April 30, 2009

Safety first

You know when safety has been inculcated in you when you are early into the parking lot, there are heaps of available spaces, and your first thought is driving into a space you can drive, not be forced to reverse, out of - rather than parking undercover because it looks like rain.

Changing the formula

It doesn't seem like 24 years ago - but it is - that Coca-Cola replaced its traditional secret receipt with "New Coke" - which fell flat and had the company revert to the original recipe after sales declined. To paraphrase another logo ... when you're on a good thing (business-wise) ... stick to it.

Hold the phone

When is a phone not a phone ... in terms of driving and "talking" on the mobile phone. Each year in Australia, more than 40,000 people are fined for talking on their mobile phone while driving. But what constitutes "talking" - is it having your mobile phone in your hand, in a stationery vehicle, while you transfer it to the handsfree set-up? Or is it using the organiser features of the phone while stationery? Does there have to be talking involved? And why are there only 40,000 people a year pulled up for this - on any day in the Sydney CBD I can clock up to 10 in 10 minutes - anyone doing the math can work out there should be heaps more because the message about not using your mobile while driving certainly hasn't gotten across to lots of folk. (Revenue each year from mobile phone-related fines - $9 million - and rising?)
But maybe using a mobile phone while driving is safer than what a Norwegian man and his girlfriend were doing - as well as 133km an hour in a 100km zone on Easter Sunday. The report I read said the man faces a "heavy fine and driving ban" after police caught him "having sex" while driving. No further details were provided.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


When you're planning to go to a movie - do you read the reviews before you go? And if you do, do you want to know the whole plot or just how many stars, the reviewer gave it, plus their general comments? I've been more than a little disappointed a few times because I've tried not to read/watch/listen to anything about an upcoming film - except perhaps the trailer - but even that can be misleading, or contain too much information (eg The Reader - "the secret" wasn't that hard to work out). I know other people just want to "know" - and I wonder if the desire to know what it's about before you settle into a darkened theatre (because surely it's a different experience and expectation if you've shelled out to see a film on the big screen) depends on whether you arte a child "of the screen" or "of the book". It seems that sometimes this is the big divide between folk - not necessarily which "generation" they belong to. And speaking of "generations", according to the TV ads we're currently being bombarded with, a new quiz show is about to hit our screens - pitting the generations - X, Y and Baby Boomers - against each other. This is slightly more appealing than a new reality show I've heard about - a direct result of the economic downturn perhaps - where workers at a company decides which of them should be "let go".

Friday, April 24, 2009

Angel over Marrickville

On Anzac Eve, the statue atop the First World War Memorial at Marrickville Town Hall has been removed for a long-awaited restoration. Pictures of the removal are here.

Fighting the Club

News yesterday emerged of a fight club - involving very young (4 years old?) boys. Footage showed two boys punching it out, using boxing gloves but without protective headgear. One boy is obviously outclassed and goes down, when hit, at least twice. In the background, at least one male voice encourages the other boy to keep hitting him. When the boy does the sensible thing, and runs away, he is brought back to continue the "fight" so the other boy can "finish him ... finish him". (Has violent behavior become more prevalent since mobile phones became capable of capturing/sending video footage - and since YouTube grew in popularity?) Investigations by the police and child welfare agencies are underway. I'm still deciding whether to watch a current affairs program this evening to see the person who thinks the fight club is a "good" idea.

Not true blue

On a current affairs television show last night there was talk of the increase in cheating at casinos as the economic downturn bites deeper. Of the various methods shown, the one that wasn't shown was the one that made front page news this morning "Casino Fake Chips Alert" - and they weren't talking about fries. Seems Melbourne's Crown Casino has found some near-perfect fake $1000 chips - and is checking the authenticity of all of its chips. They've also changed to a batch of dark blue-coloured chips rather than the "compromised" royal blue $1000's - 36 of which were found in their checks. There was no word about the cost of the loss to the casino - but it does raise an interesting question - does it know how many chips are in circulation in the casino at any time? (I don't really need an answer to that.)

Monday, April 20, 2009


To the casual observer (that would be me) it could seem like a strange pairing - an exhibition currently on display at The University of New Hampshire - of the Betty and Barney Hill* Collection: highlighting the couple's reported alien abduction as well as Barney's civil rights activism.
* Betty and Barney Hill rose to fame after they claimed to have been abducted by aliens in September 1961 - it is an amazing account. The exhibit features “Junior,” the leader of the aliens depicted in a sculpture and drawings, the dress Betty wore the night of the abduction, and documents about the abduction.

On the up and up?

Arriving at the local coffee shop this afternoon, I was surprised to see they were being visited by the police. Apparently someone had been in a little earlier and tried to fiddle with one of the sensors for the alarm system - turning it towards the wall so it would not register movement. Is crime going to become more prevalent/increase in severity as we move deeper into the economic downturn?

Whale of a story

Okay, it's actually about a shark. This quote from fisherman who, in February, caught a large shark in Sydney Harbour. "Ours was at least 300kg, it took five of us to get it in the car and take it home." Wonder how they fitted it in - what happened to it then.

(Not so) happy meal

After all that, did McDonalds go ahead and raise their prices in Sydney's Western Suburbs? There was a report in the press in late February that McDonalds was planning on putting prices up (more) in some suburbs because it was thought they would accept higher charges - now that the chain is reportedly relying on socio-economic factors rather than restaurant overheads as a key criteria in its new demand-based pricing. One "definite", and large, price rise is slated for May, when the cost of a children's Happy Meal will rise 70 cents, from $4.25 to $4.95.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Job threats

Are you one of the many people who have applied to recent job advertisements for Posties (to deliver mail by motorbike)? Wouldn't you have liked to know this before then? Australia Post said that last year there were 340 incidents in NSW and the ACT where posties were attacked by dogs (approx 170), injured by vehicles (55 reversing from driveways and about 100 on-road accidents), and because of unsafe letterboxes. Sounds like a justification for "danger money" if there was ever one.

English usage

Words and their use in common English can be confusing and raise more questions. Take for example this entry in today's On This Day (The Daily Telegraph): "2007 - Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui shoots 32 fellow students and then himself in the deadliest peacetime shooting in US history." Note the use of "peacetime" which wasn't carried in other On This Days I looked at on the net (at least one of which didn't include this event at all). Does leave it open to some thought - especially if you think of "shooting" in terms of one or two people doing the shooting. Were the others in wartime, as opposed to "peacetime" - and what were they?
Other confusing language use - the report, also in The Daily Telegraph, of riot police at a Sydney university after they were called in response to a "disturbing" letter. They were at the campus yesterday "following last week's discovery of a letter in the student administration centre". Hmmm ... "a" letter, as opposed to "the" letter. All (or both) very confusing language.


On 15 April 1788, early settlers in Australia found something they were not expecting and which, according to all common knowledge, could not possibly exist: yes, they found black swans which , says On This Day in The Daily Telegraph, were a "creature from ancient mythology". So rare were they that there was a belief that "all swans are white" and "black swan" had become a metaphor for something that could not exist. Now "black swan" has been adapted in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's theory to mean a large-impact, hard-to-predict, and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations - such as the rise of the internet, the personal computer and World War I. (Thanks Wikipedia.) While others have dealt with the notion of improbability as it relates to its role in human history, Taleb suggests that "almost all consequential events in history come from the unexpected" and it is only in hindsight that we convince ourselves that these events are explainable.
Another piece of information gleaned from reading about this, John Stuart Mill, who first used the Black Swan narrative to discuss falsification, was greatly influenced in his studies by his wife, and then daughter, who were instrumental in his work in human (and women's) rights. He and his wife, who was already married when the met, shared what Wikipedia described as a close but chaste friendship for 21 years - before her first husband died and she and Mill married.

Retail lust

It's not often these days that I get hit with a bad case of the "I wants", but I had it yesterday when I read that Air New Zealand was selling off one of its Boeing 747-400s, admittedly without seats, for the very reasonable price of $10 million. Not quite sure what I'd do with it, since I don't have a lock-up garage and I couldn't afford to insure it, but it seems like too good a bargain to let pass.

Untrustworthy plant

A Polish man has plunged to his death from the cliffs of Devon in the UK while having his photograph taken. Usually it's the photographer who comes to grief in these situations, not taking notice as they take another step backward to "get the shot". In this instance, the man was posing for a photograph, holding on the cliff by a tuft of grass. Unfortunately, the grass gave way under his weight and he fell about 100m to his death. A couple of comments accompanying the report I read in the Daily Mail Online suggested that he could be a Darwin Award* candidate, and that the local council needs to employ an IPO (Idiot Prevention Officer). On a more serious note, this preventable tragedy has resulted in local authorities renewing their warnings that cliffs can be dangerous places, especially as a Russian tourist also fell to his death earlier the same day.
* "The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it." (Visit for past winners)

Age-old comment

It's funny that within a couple of days I've come across the same "thought" attributed to different authors. Of course, it's not a "new" thought, and is the basis of the "Up" series by Michael Apted, premised on the Jesuit motto: Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.
Charles Darwin: It is worthy of remark that a belief constantly inculcated during the early years of life, while the brian is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct; and the very essence of an instinct is that it is followed independently of reason. (The Descent of Man)
Vladimir Lenin: Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.
Seems there's absolutely nothing new in show business.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Happy Birthday

Gertrude Baines turned 115 this week and while some people attribute their longevity to specific things eg herring and orange juice (not in the same glass although you can find recipes for them together on the net) she credits "her religion and clean living". I prefer the more pragmatic answer my great-grandmother gave when being interviewed on her 100th birthday. When asked how she'd lived to be 100, she replied "because I haven't died yet". Alas, she died not long after, within the week I think, just after receiving a congratulatory message from The Queen - which is not to say they found her with the paper crumpled in her hand - but I'm fairly sure it was the next day.

Fair cop?

It's been a while coming but two police officers who accessed confidential records and told a prisoner that his girlfriend had previously been a male (resulting in her being bashed when the man was released from custody) have been sentenced . The constables have, according to a report, "showed no contrition". The sentence - perform 125 hours of community service. It would be interesting to know if an area for that service had been nominated by the sentencing judge. There was no mention if the pair had faced departmental discipline and/or counselling for their actions. Nor how the ongoing revelation that the woman was a man affects her each time the details, including her name, are published in media reports of the trial. (I'm still not quite sure on how the privacy laws work.)

A little cross

Actually, it's not a little cross that has caused a few people to get more than a little cross. It's a life-sized work entitled "Naked Woman on Cross" by sculptor Mitch Mitchell who says it is meant to portray the suffering of women around the world. In a report in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Mitchell says he has travelled to 35 countries and found downtrodded women in all of them. Alas, one church leader suggests that he's confused the imagery. Said Francis McNab, St Michael's Uniting Church chief minister "... it's a shame he chose to sexualise it by the use of a younger female. Older woman had to suffer longer and much more." However, it's doubtful that even the depiction of an older woman would have made the work more palatable to some. Perhaps it would have caused less of a stir if it hadn't gone on public display so close to Easter. It would be interesting to know if it would be more culturally acceptable in places like the Philippines, a country with a large Christian influence but which sees some young men physically crucifying themselves each Easter.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Abundantly clear

I followed a link from The Feminist Bookshop's Facebook entries yesterday and ended up at the "Mega site of Bible studies and information" because their link (now corrected) directed me to instead of - note the transposition of the letters in red. Funny that that should happen, thought I, and went on to investigate a little further this morning when my brain had kicked in. Seems that the domain points to and any Blogger blog you go to with a mistyped "blogpsot" will take you there instead. Now that's really using the net!

Photos online

News just in ... is online (admittedly in Beta but it's there) for your daily dose of sensational photographs from around the world. Or, if you prefer something closer to home - and really there's no contest - there's always my daily photo blog - because you have to start somewhere!

Song titles

Who knew? Award-winning songwriter/singer Janis Ian (Happy Birthday for today!) is also a science fiction writer. It gives a whole new meaning to her 1980 hit "The Other Side of the Sun".

Metre made

213 years ago today, in 1795, the French introduced the metric system of weights and measurements. The metre was 1/10,000,000th the distance between the equator and the North Pole. (Small pause while calculator is hunted out - and just as well - make that 214 years!) However the word was around a little before that when Italian scientist Tito Livio Burattini used it in 1675 to rename the Universal - a (decimal) measure proposed in 1668 by Englishman John Wilkins in "An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language". Hmmm - the net is a wonderful thing. In a very quick, but very interesting search, it variously reports the launch of the metric system as 1791, 1795 and 1797 - and I'm not even thinking about the actual date any more.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Plain sailing

Looking forward to going on the Maiden Voyage of the new Cunard line "Queen Elizabeth" in May next year? Well, unless you were one of the lucky ones who bought their tickets within 29 minutes of the tickets going on sale, you're out of luck. Previous record: 36 minutes - for the final voyage of the QE2.

Misguided help

Nadya Suleman received a baby's car seat during the week - unfortunately it was thrown through the rear window of her vehicle. Ms Suleman is famous for being the mother of 14 children - including eight at once earlier this year, earning her the title of "Octo mum". Her nannies found the seat lodged in the shattered window when they arrived at the house for work. It's unfortunate because while Ms Suleman needs all the help she can get, it would probably have been cheaper for her to buy another baby car seat herself rather than having to replace the car window. Or maybe this was another of those instances where someone is showing their scorn for Ms Suleman's maternal instincts and actions? There's apparently been a bit of that.

'Armless joke

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time ... April 1, an observer on deep sea fishing vessel, and news of a severed human arm in the net. It was a report that was taken seriously and the police were on the verge of a major search and rescue operation - to find the rest of the person belonging to the arm - before the observer admitted it was an April Fool's Day prank - which will now be the subject of a departmental, and possibly a police, investigation. April Food's Day jokes aren't what they used to be .... ahhh, the spaghetti trees.

No honour (among thieves)

Who knew that American outlaw Jesse James was shot in the back after a reward was posted for his capture - presumably "Dead or Alive"? The shooter was one of Jesse's own gang - one of two brothers Jesse had moved in to help protect him. Jesse might still be alive today (well, not really) if it had not been a hot day, if he'd not taken off his coat, then taken off his guns so he wouldn't look suspicious (in the robberies planned for that day), and if he hadn't noticed a dusty picture on the wall - and then stood on a chair to clean it. It was then that Robert Ford shot James in the back of the head. They say that "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" and in this case, perhaps it was.
Also something I didn't know, rather than just being an "outlaw" there are suggestions that Jesse and his brother, Frank, were Confederate
guerrillas in the American Civil War - before going on to be what Wikipedia calls a "regional insurgent" post-War.

Tea stainer

There's research findings ... and then there are research findings. Latest news from some American dentists is that white wine stains your teeth. Well, actually, their tests were carried out on cow teeth because the surface of cow teeth closely match those of humans. They immersed the teeth for an hour in white wine - to simulate drinking wine with a meal - or water. Then they immersed the teeth in black tea for an hour. The teeth soaked in the wine turned darker than the teeth soaked in the water. So it's probably more accurate to say that exposure to white wine allows chemicals from other food and beverages to penetrate the teeth. Whether it's a fair test to immerse the teeth for an hour in each substance and suggest this replicates drinking substances, and using cow teeth rather than human teeth, to reach their conclusions is open to conjecture.

Hold the phone

On 3 April 1973, it's claimed, the first non-car mobile phone was made by Motorola executive Martin Cooper. It was on the streets of New York - and he was talking on a ... shoe-shaped handset! The shoe phone was, of course, made famous in 1965 by Control secret agent #86 Maxwell Smart, who was anything but. Luckily he was assisted by Agent #99 who was billed as the "clever one" - and, it seems, she was. Back in 1955, she won $64,000 in the television quiz show "$64,000 Question". Her special subject? William Shakespeare.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Paying for it

It kind of takes away the whole attraction of social networking on the net if you're expected to pay for it. Apparently there's a plan afoot to make Facebook users pay a fee - I'm not sure how that would work - would you pay on a per view basis, per device, per message or notification? And how will the marketing work given the application started out as and is currently free? Would it offer a "premium" service similar to the one offered by Hotmail (not sure if it still is) so you could have your Hotmail automatically forwarded to another account? Interesting times - especially as many ponder if Facebook would be worth paying for. Hmm - what do I use it for?
I've also heard about something else like this, is paying for a service that was previously free, but I seem to have blocked it out completely.