Thursday, 31 May 2007

Where does one by taragon?

I never knew that there were two main types of taragon until I lost my firt taragon plant. The main ones that are available are the French variety and the Russian variety. One tastes really good, and the other is almost inedible. I can't remember which is which, but I am fairly sure that the type that is usually on sale in the herb section of supermarkets is the tasty type.

I like making a Jamie Oliver salad which consists of about 50% taragon and the rest being made up of grapes and shallots (the shallots having been soaked in vinegar beforehand). It's a great salad, with the taragon providing a great deal of zing.

I did manage to find some pots of it in Bunnings last year, so I planted the seedlings and grew them to a size where I could start putting them into the salad.

I got the wrong bloody variety, didn't I. The salad was just awful, and I wasn't going to waste any time picking out bits of taragon, since there was so much of it in the salad. Complete waste of time and effort.

By that point, I had taragon growing in half a dozen pots around the garden, so the whole lot had to be pulled up and thrown out.

And of course since then, I have been unable to find either seeds nor seedlings anywhere.


Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Why are some people such a pain in the bum?

The owner of the place that we are renting is a real pain in the bum.

We've had a water leak for some months now - the street is usually coated in water, and it is completely obvious that it is coming from our place.

We told the agency about it, and they refered it the owner, and he drove past and had a look and said it was us over watering the lawn.

So we stopped watering the lawn, and the water kept coming. So he sent his own plumber, who took one look and said there was a big puddle of water underneath the lawn and it was draining out.

A week later, it was still leaking, so I ran the washing machine and went outside with my camera. I was able to video water starting to leak shortly after the washing machine went into the spin cycle. Finally - hard evidence that was difficult to contradict.

The owner then said he would come and have a look, but he never did. He then said he'd send his plumber, who never turned up. The agent finally organised their own plumber, who arrived today, took one look at it and put some thingy down the drain that pushed out a couple of litres of grease and goo. The verdict is that the drain was blocked just enough to allow most of the water through, but enough to cause a leak. The pipes were a right bastard to get to - the apprentice ended up with grease in his hair, and it was not a good look. Or smell. It stunk.

We now have grease splattered around the walls of the laundry, and grease over the washing machine, and the laundry stinks to high heaven, but the leak has stopped.

Now comes the challenge of getting all the other faults around the house repaired. If it took this long to fix this problem, and I think Sydney Water was threatening fines, then what hope do we have of getting the rest done?

On the road again

It's been over two weeks since I have been on the bike, thanks to the flu. I went out for a ride yesterday - just a short stroll up and around Balmain, but even an easy ride put a dose of fire into my lungs. I had to blow snot out of my nose a few times, which is something that I rarely have to do.

The worst of it was that I had to pick up the car in the afternoon, which meant going for another ride to get to the mechanic. When I went to get on the bike, the back tyre was flat - glass sliver.

When I changed the tube, I found that the spare was also punctured.

When I went to use the big pump, I found that it was stuffed and would pump no air.

It's a conspiracy I tell you.

Thankfully, the new tyre changing tool that I mail ordered worked a treat in refitting the tyre to the rim. At least one good thing came of it, but I was hoping to never have to use that tool.


Self raising pizza

Ever wondered how Pizza Hut and the like manage to make pizzas with a really big and puffy base?

I think I found out by accident tonight.

I used self raising flour in the dough by mistake. It fluffed up a lot more than usual, and bits of it looked just like a Pizza Hut pizza.

I hope it tastes ok.

Hicks up in the sky

Of course the government had to fly him back on a private charter.

Would you get on a Qantas flight if you knew he was on board?

I wouldn't.

The government had a choice between hiring a small plane and putting Hicks on board with 4 other people or essentially hiring a very big plane (like a 747) and putting Hicks and 4 others on board because Qantas would have to tell all the other passengers who they would be flying with.

Since most would change flights, the government would have to pay for all the empty seats.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Lego war toys

Further to my recent post about the stupid reaction of some people to lego characters with guns, I decided to build a tank out of Duplo.

Now Duplo is about the most inoffensive stuff that you can find. Here, I have made a tank using the base of a train engine, and put a mine roller on the front (a roller attachment from a farm set - this normally goes on the back of a tractor).

Fitting the main arnament was tricky, since the blocks aren't meant to go sideways.

I couldn't work out a way to make the turret traverse. There might be something in a lego set that would allow me to do that, but Duplo is just too basic.

See? Give a bloke some blocks meant for 12 month old kiddies and guns are soon created.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

700mb movies suck

I have watched the odd movie of late that has been compressed to fit onto a CD - they've been around the 600 to 700mb mark.

Movies that have been compressed that much blow chunks. One episode of a sitcom is ok, but a 90 minute movie? Waste of time.

Yes, bittorrent and company might be seen as a threat to the movie studios, but in the end, who wants to watch an action movie that looks like it has been shot on a hand held camera in a Malaysian cinema? Proper movies on DVD are worth paying for. Free movies uphold the old axiom of "you get what you pay for".

Shot to the pig

Interesting article in the SMH today about a child killing a giant pig in the US.

The thing that amazed me was that the kid was using a huge handgun:

He said he shot the huge animal eight times with a .50-calibre revolver and chased it for three hours through hilly woods before finishing it off with a point-blank shot.

Through it all, there was the fear that the animal would turn and charge them, as wild boars have a reputation for doing.

Hmm. The boar is shot with a .50 calibre handgun. I would have thought that one .50 cal slug would be enough to bring a boar down - and that it would not be running around after being shot 8 times. He might have shot at it 8 times and hit it once.

I also don't get how a kid has the wrist and forearm strength to handle a .50 cal handgun. I've used a .44 revolver, and a few 9mm pistols, and they kicked like crazy.

Shot to the foot

So the ABC is going to show the Great Global Warming Swindle in July?

Everyone should know about it by now, since certain idiots at the ABC decided to make a song and dance about it - particularly Robyn Williams. What an idiot. All he had to do was keep his trap shut, and it could have been shown at 1am without anyone being the wiser.

By the time the ABC get around to showing it, half the country will have downloaded it and had a look see.

There are times when the best way to protest is simply to keep mum about it. The ABC could not have asked for better publicity.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Bumper cameras

They're going to be the next big thing, and you read about it here first.

Cameras pointing out the rear are becoming more common, but what about cameras pointing out the side of the car up the front?

There are a few streets around here where in order to see if any traffic is coming, you have to pull halfway out into the street and crane your neck around and have a look. Why not stick a sideways pointing camera on the bumper? That way, you just poke the nose out a foot or so and have a squiz.

I am a genius.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

When will our anti-smoking campaign cease?

At present, we still have a lot of smokers standing around outside having a puff. In order to stamp that out, various governments throw gobfulls of money at anti-smoking campaigns. We have ads on the TV every day. We have Quit lines. We probably have Clockwork Orange type groups running around snatching smokers from alleys and brainwashing them into giving up.

When will it no longer be worth bothering with all this?

After all, there will come a point where the costs of throwing money at groups to stop people smoking will outweight the benefits of doing so.

As a proportion of the population, those that smoke are continuing to drop. Don't ask me what the numbers are today - go google it yourself and find out. But let's say that 50% smoked when we were kids, and it is now down to 30%. A big chunk of that drop was achieved through fairly costless means - banning the advertising of cigarettes, the odd ad in the paper and a huge increase in tobacco taxes.

But those measures only got rid of the low hanging fruit - those that found it easy to quit. More and more money now has to be thrown at actively making people give up, like setting up a QUIT phone line and staffing it 24x7. And the cost of advertising it.

Let's say it currently costs $1000 to entice a smoker to give up, and the benefit is $10,000 in savings in health costs etc.

What will happen when we are down to say 20% of the population smoking? I predict that the cost to make the next tranche quit will increase, and it will increase quite quickly. It might cost $2000 to make the next lot quit, and then when we get to 15% smokers, it might cost $5000 per smoker, and then it might hit $10,000 when we get to say 12%.

It could conceivably cost $50,000 per person to convert smokers when we hit the 10% level. Do we just call it quits at that point and say "enough is enough, the money can be better spent on prostate cancer or obesity or breast cancer". Or do we just carry on regardless, because a bureacracy has now been put in place that is totally dependent on QUIT funding to stay operational?

My guess is that the QUIT campaign will be with us for the rest of our lives, even if the proportion of those that smoke falls to 1% in the next 20 years. Killing Qangos is just too hard for most governments to contemplate, and imagine the outcry if any government axed an anti-smoking campaign. It would be like coming out and saying that you don't support motherhood. Political trauma.

Might be a good career to be had in a place like that. Sounds like a nice gravy train.

Lego weapons

I posted last week about a furore in the media about Lego introducing a character with a big gun. Well, here are some pictures of Lego characters that we have around the house. Most of them are armed in one way or another.

The guy on the far left appears to have a black medium machine gun of some sort perched on his shoulder (terrible way to carry a machine gun - I always cringe when I see photos from Vietnam of Yanks carrying the M-60 that way). The Storm Trooper next to him has some sort of big, grey pistol.
Here are our two fellows in close up.

I think these two escaped from Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boatride, but given the size of those pistols, I wouldn't mess with them.

These fellows appear to be carrying lengths of steel pipe, possibly in order to bash the two poofs seen above.

There's never a mad Prussian around when you need one. We also have another Stormtrooper, armed with a different pistola. I am not sure what the bloke next to him has - possibly a flame thrower?

This bloke appears to be carrying a double barrelled pistol. Quaint.

The bloke in the middle has two pistols.

I think that is enough of a demo. Give an 11 year old boy some toys, you can guarantee that most will soon be armed with something.

Lego weapons

I posted last week about a furore in the media about Lego introducing a character with a big gun. Well, here are some pictures of Lego characters that we have around the house. Most of them are armed in one way or another.

The guy on the far left appears to have a black medium machine gun of some sort perched on his shoulder (terrible way to carry a machine gun - I always cringe when I see photos from Vietnam of Yanks carrying the M-60 that way). The Storm Trooper next to him has some sort of big, grey pistol.
Here are our two fellows in close up.

I think these two escaped from Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boatride, but given the size of those pistols, I wouldn't mess with them.

These fellows appear to be carrying lengths of steel pipe, possibly in order to bash the two poofs seen above.

There's never a mad Prussian around when you need one. We also have another Stormtrooper, armed with a different pistola. I am not sure what the bloke next to him has - possibly a flame thrower?

This bloke appears to be carrying a double barrelled pistol. Quaint.

The bloke in the middle has two pistols.

I think that is enough of a demo. Give an 11 year old boy some toys, you can guarantee that most will soon be armed with something.

Colour me amazed

I got a reply from the Council yesterday about the dud BBQ in our local park. That's not a bad turnaround - I plugged the message into their website on the weekend, and they responded on Monday morning.

It took them until 4.30pm to get around to responding, but at least it was on the first working day after I sent them the message.

Now we just have to wait and see if anyone does anything about it. Must go to the butcher and buy another packet of snags, and return to the park for a final test.

I'm always shocked when local government turns out to be much more efficient than the state government - I have long thought that local government was the plankton at the bottom of the food chain as far as government goes, but this mob are pretty good.

In fact they make my lawyers look pretty useless. I have rung my ambulance chasers a few times, left messages and never had a response. I have also sent them faxes, and never heard back. They don't have an email address, so I presume that they only do something if a letter arrives with a stamp on it. I have to visit the post office now because I have run out of stamps, and I'll need some when next I need to deal with them.

For crying out loud....

NRMA also have an interesting tactic with their claims people. They don't appear to have voicemail. That way, if you ring and no one answers, they don't have to do anything with their claim. Since I have some IAG shares, I'll have to rock up to their next AGM and ask a question about this wonderful policy, and ask who should be praised for thinking it up.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Toggler mobile

I have spied this car around our neighbourhood a few times recently. The only reason I can think of parking it here is that there must be a mad firebomber that I don't know about that is willing to commit arson on such atrocities.

I will leave it to others to leave their thoughts in the comments section.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Harpoon them whalers

God, Rudd is an idiot.

He let the cat out of the bag today, telling the media that he wants to send the Navy down south to stop the Japs from zotting whales.

Fool. You never tell them in advance. You just send a Collins sub down there, torpedo a few boats and use the "Titanic defence". Gee, shucks, weren't us. Captain must have been drunk and run into an iceberg.

After a few sinkings, the crews will probably not want to risk another voyage, and that will be that.

Then the oceans will be over run with bloody whales in no time and no yachtie will be safe from plowing into one at night out in the open ocean.


I put the Council to the test again today. Five Dock park is a reasonably short walk from our place, and it was a lovely day, so we strolled over for a quick BBQ and a bit of kick the ball time.

Good thing the park has three BBQ's, as one was completely stuffed. They are the completely horrible electric type, where you press a button, wait 10 minutes for it to heat up, then press the button again because it has turned off automatically, then clean it, then press the button again, then put your snags on it, only to find that only one side is hot, then press the button again .... etc etc etc.

I am so used to these BBQs taking all morning to heat up that we stood around the dud one for a good 10 minutes thinking that it was just taking a while to warm up. Then we determined that the only reason the hot plate had any heat in it was because the sun was out, and it was radiating enough to heat the plate up somewhat. In summer, it would probably get hot enough to fry an egg, but on a cool May day, I could have put my tongue on the hotplate with no fear of singeing.

The big test for the council is to see whether they respond to the message that I have just sent them telling them that the BBQ is stuffed. I'll give them a week, then invite the deputy mayor to meet us there for a cookup, and I'll target that BBQ in particular. I'll give him the tongs, and then 10 minutes later, I'll give him a copy of my message. We'll see how long it takes him to pull out his mobile and reef someone in the maintenance department.


Penny came for a BBQ lunch yesterday, and she asked how I bake bread. Most people that have tried it want to know, as it generally tasted like real bread, rather than the white paste that we typically buy at the supermarket.

The usual conclusion that people make is that we have a bread maker squirelled away in the kitchen somewhere, but in reality, all we have is a mixer and an oven.

The recipe that I use most of the time is one that I got from my Mum, and she got it from my brother, and he clipped it from the Financial Times. It's very basic. Purists will stick their noses up at it and state that "it is not real bread". Whatever.

I don't make huge loaves, since I prefer to eat fresh bread every day. That means making something that is about half the size or less of your average supermarket paste loaf. Anything more is a waste, unless you want to slice it and freeze it (which is great for making toast the following morning).

If I want to make "real bread", as in something like the French make, then I turn to my book Dough, which has some marvelous recipes in it. If I ever get back to the UK, I'll have to go to the Bertinet Kitchen in Bath and do some lessons.

The Dough book is excellent, partly because it comes with a DVD that has a short movie on it explaining how to knead dough and what the consistency should look like. My dough never looks like that in the DVD, so don't expect baguettes if you come for lunch.

Here's what I do.

I throw some yeast and sugar into the mixing bowl, along with some warm water. I give that a stir and then leave it to sit until it bubbles a bit. Bertinent poo-poo's this approach, saying one should rub "proper" yeast in the flour by hand, and never use sugar to help it rise. I've done that, and the bread still rises, but you end up with much smaller bubbles in the bread. I like my bread to have big bubbles in it - that's just my preference. If you want small bubbles, leave out the sugar and knead it after the first rising. Sometimes of course I end up with massive bubbles in the bread - bubbles that are more like caves. That would never do in a commercial bakery, but I don't give a bugger about them.

Note that I don't measure the amount of water either. Bertinet is most particular about weighing everything, and you need a set of digital scales to do it properly. I am too cheap to spend $80 on some digital scales, and besides, I went into the kitchen the other day and found a 15kg monkey sitting on my scales, which only go up to 3kg, so I get the feeling that mine are no longer that accurate, given that the spring has probably been stretched well beyond its design limits.

After the water and yeast has bubbled a bit, I throw in some olive oil (I use the Jamie Oliver method and just splash in a dollop). I guess you are supposed to add one table spoon. I can't be bothered with the extra washing up, so I just dollop it in.

I then toss in 2.5 to 3 cups of flour. I use a 50/50 mix of wholemeal and white flour. I find that makes a bread with a nice mouthfeel. If you go too hippy and add more wholemeal, or even make it 100% wholemeal, then you end up with a loaf that feels more like a granite kitchen top than bread. 100% white flour on the other hand makes a great loaf, but I feel that my innards need something to help push the poo through, so I go for 50% "metamucil".

I use a mixer with a dough hook to do the mixing, but for 20 years, Mum did it with a big plastic bowl and a wooden spoon. Because this mix is quite sloppy, you can easily mix it with a spoon. I am lazy, and I make a drier mix than Mum most of the time, so you need the mixer and hook to work it. Either that, or you need forearms like hams to do it by hand.

Once in the mixer, I chuck in just enough water to make it goopy. This is always a matter of trial and error. I have tried weighing the water etc, and it's made a good loaf, but the difference in quality at the end between a loaf where I have weighed everything and one where I have just chucked it together is not that great.

After all, how did bakers make bread before the invention of accurate scales? I presume they just chucked it together and did it by feel, adding more water or flour as required to get the right mix.

I made this mix quite goopy and wet - it is almost like the flour and water paste that we used as glue as kids. If I was doing it the Bertinet way, it would be much drier - it would even stick to the sides of the bowl.

I have this great plasticy mould thing that I use as my bread tin. I smear a bit of flour around the inside to help stop the dough from sticking, although it doesn't help much when the dough is this wet. If I make a fairly dry dough, the dusting of flour helps a lot.

At this point, I normally sprinkle sesame seeds on the top, or a bit of salt. Mum pours a bit of olive oil on hers. I have tried that too.

It's now time to put it somewhere warm and let it rise for an hour. As it is getting colder at the moment, I heat the oven up slightly, then turn it off and stick the bread in there for an hour. I have learnt to put it on a tray, because if it rises too far and boils over the edge, the tray will catch the drippings. It beats having bits of burnt dough stuck to the bottom of the oven.

Normally, at the end of the hour, you'd take the dough out and knead it slightly. The Dough book is well worth buying simply to watch the DVD and get Bertinet's thoughts on "knocking back" the dough, which is the last thing that you want to do with it. Bertinet folds it gently in order to fold more air into the dough, which is why baguettes are so light and fluffy on the inside. If you knock all the air out of it, you end up with a slab of concrete.

I don't bother. I just turn the temperature of the oven up and let the bread cook.

I have tried many ovens and many temperatures, and surprisingly, bread is very resilient. You can cook it at many different temperatures and for different lengths of time and still get something quite edible out of the oven. I have baked it at 180 for an hour, and at 250 for 20 minutes, and the only difference is generally in the crust.

The trick I learnt from Dough is to spray water into a really hot oven. The steam forms a really crusty crust. Again that is why baguettes have a beatiful, light fluffy crust. The French use steam ovens. The only way to replicate a steam oven at home is to get a squirty bottle and squirt a water spray onto the sides or floor of the oven.

If you don't cook your eyeballs in the process, it works pretty well.

Another thing that I do is take the bread out of the tin once the top has browned and plonk the bread down on the tray. That helps the bottom and sides to brown. If you leave it in the tin, the top will be nice and crisp, but the sides might be a bit pale and not so crusty.

Bertinet is very big on cooking bread at 250 degrees. That's like making pizza. The thing is though, he is making small, thin loaves generally, whilst I am making a short, fat loaf. If you put a fat loaf into a hot oven for a short time, the outside will be nice and crisp, but the inside might still be uncooked. One trick is to start it really hot to crisp up the outside, then turn it down so that it cooks all the way through.

When is it cooked? I judge it by the colour of the crust. When it looks nice, I reckon it is cooked. Sometimes, I have pulled it out to early, and the inside has still been a bit underdone. It's fine after being toasted, but you can't use it for sandwiches. At other times, it has gone a bit long and been almost stale to taste.

But hey, it's bread. If you bugger it up, you just make another loaf.

I buy 10kg bags of flour at the markets for $8, and I use about 300 - 400gms of flour per loaf. Looked at that way, I am using about 30 cents of flour per loaf. It's not a big problem to simply tip a dud loaf into the bin and try again.

Compared to what we are paying for white paste at the supermarket, I can afford to stuff up 8 loaves in a row and still be in front.

Here are a few links to the Chorleywood process. I have another good book on food that describes it in great detail, but these short descriptions will have to do.

BBC food page.

Bread matters. Read the very last paragraph at the bottom of the page. Ugh.

Technology in Australia. After reading this page, I discovered why so much Amercian bread is inedible - they use a different production process.

Food processing technology. The interesting thing that I discovered from this link was how some big bakeries put the dough into a semi-vacuum in order to speed the formation of bubbles within the dough.


Thursday, 17 May 2007

The Craptiva

Thanks to the backend of the Disco being a bit bent from a bingle, we have had a hire car for the last two weeks. The insurance company issued us with something 'similar' to the Disco, and it ended up being nothing like it.

A Craptiva might be roughly the same size, and give you a higher than usual driving position, but it is not a Disco.

On the good side, it has a pile of room inside - except for headroom when I am getting in and out. It has a wickedly sloped windscreen, probably copied from the design of the X5, and I found that I bashed my head on the A pillar everytime I got in and out. It hurt.

The back seats have acres of leg room. When you look at a car like this and a Commodore or a Falcon, it really is chalk and cheese as far as legroom in the back goes. The ads tell you that these things can seat 7, but that would be two adults and 5 midgets. Or three very skinny people in the backseat. Three rowers or three wrestlers would not fit across the back seat.

The boot had stacks of room as well, and the car had more pockets than a magicians waistcoat. If anything, it had too many places to stick stuff, like cans of drink, and not enough places to stick important things, like elbows. When I am driving, I like to rest one elbow on the window shelf and the other on the console thingy between the front seats in the Disco. Both are at the perfect height, and the window shelf is flat and broad enough for an elbow like mine.

The Captiva has a black hole between the seats which is supposed to take two cans of drink, but it is deep enough to take a small keg of beer. I kept on falling sideways as my elbow was sucked into that black hole. I tried leaning the other way, but the window shelf is narrow and slopes downwards. You'd need superglue to keep your elbow on the shelf. I was reduced to hanging onto the Jesus strap when in the passenger seat thanks to the lack of elbow facilities.

The motor has no shortage of get up and go, but that meant that it went through about 50% more fuel in two weeks than we are used to, and we really didn't go anywhere during that time except to school and back twice a day. It is about as fuel efficient as a T-34.

I am also used to the sedate way the Disco takes off. It's like driving the Titanic - when you want to leave the quay, the captain says "forward half" to the first officer, he repeats the order to someone near the helmsman, that guy moves the telegraph lever to half forward, that signal is repeated in the boiler room where an engineer tells the stokers to start shovelling in the coal.

About five minutes later, there is a rumble, a puff of black smoke and the screw starts to turn. Advancing in the Disco is like finding a cure for AIDS. It's a long wait.

The Craptiva on the other hand had a throttle that was as sensitive as a hooker after a night with a football team. Touch it lightly, and it was about 3 seconds to an expensive speeding ticket. That is one aspect that I hate about modern cars - the marketers all think that performance is the key attribute that buyers are looking for, so they put racey engines with featherweight throttles into Mack trucks. What I want is comfort, with a bit of performance if I ram the pedal to the floor. When you're stuck in a 10 mile tailback with the traffic advancing in fits and starts, the last thing you want is a power pedal that threatens to hurl your front bumper into the tailshaft of the car in front, and brakes that will lead to early onset whiplash during a short drive to the shops.

I didn't take it out on the open road, but I wasn't tempted after crashing it through a few of the local pot holes. By the time I extracted my hips from the base of my skull, I was of the opinion that I didn't want to be bashing it over the corrugations of the Pacific Highway at 110 any time soon.

The Disco came back today. Minus a few feet of exhaust, which is being put back on tomorrow, and with some extra masking tape that wasn't there when I dropped it off. One phone call later, I found out that the tape was holding the back window in whilst the glue dried.

Slack, slack, slack

It's been 15 days since I had a whinge to our local MP, and the dozy cow still hasn't responded or done anything about my problem.

All she has to do (or someone in her office more likely) is pick up the phone to the local plod, announce who they are and state the problem. Most plod will stand to attention, salute, and order the youngest pube (probationary constable) outside to clean up immediately.

Problem solved.

The lazy dingbats in her office though haven't lifted a finger yet. It's not like they're equipped with rotary phones that might chip the varnish on their fingernails - they just need to punch in the numbers and bark some orders.

Christ, they could even walk out the door, turn left, stroll 100 metres and talk to the plod face to face. That's how close the office is.

How on earth did we manage to re-elect this Labor government?

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Lady birds

J likes lady birds.

J likes seeing them when out in the garden or a park.

She particularly likes red ones, but also likes the orange, yellow and green ones.

She always appreciates it when someone gives her a card or picture which has a lady bird on it.

J has a wooden craft lady bird stuck on her pc screen.

There are also lady birds in our bathroom. They keep the lizards company.

This lady bird is tattooed next to the flower on J's back.

I like J.


I like cows.

I like going on road trips and seeing cows.

I particularly like the black cows that look like they are wearing a white tuck-in-tummy belt.

I always appreciate it when J, junior and the monkey draw my attention to them on road trips by calling out "look - COWS". Ok, the monkey can't say cow yet but I can't wait until he does. I am trying to teach him to moo.

I have a couple of wooden craft cows stuck on my pc screen. These little wooden cows also have a friend which lives in the Disco. That way I can see a cow when I'm driving around town if it's been too long between road trips.

This cow is next to my speakers. I like to think this cow is reading my blog out into her microphone for all her bovine friends to hear.

Cows appreciate me.

They want me to eat them.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Lego insanity

I never watch daytime television if I can help it. The moronity level is just too great for my brain to handle. But for some reason, I watched a bit of it over the weekend. God knows why. I won't be making that mistake again.

Well, maybe I do watch a bit of daytime TV. I watch the ABC kids stuff on ABC2, which is excellent. But apart from that, I avoid the soaps, news and talk shows.

A talk show is what I hit on the weekend. I think I was channel surfing looking for Rage when I hit this segment that was all about a furor over some LEGO Star Wars figure that had a big gun. Most of the panel of idiots was offended by this. One sole panel member had the brains and the balls to tell the rest that they were idiots.

To start with, one stated that it was terrible to allow 3 year olds to be exposed to LEGO guns. Well, I don't know if any of them have kids, or if they have time to play with their kids during their busy TV careers, but I thought that kids of that age played with DUPLO, which is big fat LEGO for youngsters. LEGO is more for 5 year olds.

Apart from that, our house contains a good sampling of LEGO action figures, including quite a few from Star Wars. Most of them are armed with light sabres, since it's pretty hard to do a Star Wars anything without including a light sabre. Junior has of course managed to fiddle with the light sabres and other bits and peices to produce some horrendously large guns to go with the figurines. LEGO might not sell guns, but kids will quickly manufacture them from whatever is to hand.

If I can, I might sneak into his room tomorrow whilst he is at school and photograph a few examples. The LEGO knockers are maniacs.

Blame anyone but the Iranians

I was watching the 7.30 report on the ABC a week or so after the ASLAV got shot up and burnt out in Iraq.

The poor reporter was having a nasty time. The ASLAV had clearly been hit by a sophisticated anti-armour charge that had chopped right through the armour and set the fuel lines on fire, and the only people that have that technology in the neighbourhood are the Iranians. He knew that the Iranians were behind it, but did everything he could to avoid blaming them.

I can't see why he had such a big problem with calling a spade a spade. If they did it, finger the bastards.

I also don't get the fuss and bother about the ASLAV catching fire. Armoured vehicles are after all stuffed full of fuel and ammunition and they burn beautifully when penetrated in the right spot. The march to Baghdad after all was conducted past a cavalcade of burning Iraqi armoured vehicles. Do the western media think that only enemy armoured vehicles burn, and that somehow ours are invulnerable?


Sunday, 13 May 2007

Holey bread

I tried baking bread again over the weekend. I've got the rising bit down pat now - when I stick the goo in the pan, it about half fills it. I put it in the oven when the goo has just started to puff out of the top, and as you can see from this photo, it continues to rise further once in the oven.

I've now had two batches though that have turned out with an enormous hole in the middle. It's like a magic sausage bread, where the hole is big enough to fit a frankfurter that has somehow evaporated.

More practice required clearly.

The good thing about it is that when I make breakfast, you have a ready made hole for pouring in baked beans.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Deckchairs overboard?

OK, it's not exactly a deckchair, but it's the closest thing that I could think of.

How exactly this chair ended up on the footpath on the ANZAC bridge is beyond me.

Fell off the back of a truck perhaps?

The two ladies pictured walking past were quite amused that I was taking a photo of this seat. All that I had to say was, "Don't see this everyday do you?" to crack them up.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Driver training

Also from the archives - June 2004

For those of you overseas, some of the less gentle folk of the press ran some stories a while ago on the fact that Mark Latham has man boobs.

Today, I had a chance to visit his electorate, which is around the Campbelltown area. I was on my way to a driver training course at Oran Park, and had to stop off along the way for coffee and something to eat.

I took the Campbelltown exit off the M5 and thus began a fruitless search for something to eat and a cup of caffeine. Not that I would need caffeine, as I would find out later, but it is my morning habit to have some, so I was looking for it.

The centre of most urban areas is pretty easy to find – you just look for a main street lined with shops and things and chances are you’ll find a watering hole of some sort.

Not Campbelltown. The main drag has very little on it, but it is surrounded by what I might term “blobs” of fast food restaurants. I use “blobs” in the loosest possible way. The blob that I found had all 5 food groups – pizza, chicken, burgers, tacos and booze, all within an easy to wallow distance of each other.

No wonder the guy has man boobs.

I had a simple choice – go to Macca’s or keep searching and be late to my training course. Macca’s it was, and no coffee was to be found. (On a side note, I was rejoicing recently when I discovered that a McCafe is being opened at the McDonalds on the way to Goulburn. Drinkable coffee will be available south of Sydney).

The last time I was at Oran Park was many years ago when Hofman enticed me onto an anthropological expedition to the GAFA to study Truck Racing. Very little had changed in the intervening years – Oran Park is still a long way from anywhere, and visitors are advised to wind up the windows and turn up the stereo and to blast through the surrounding suburbs without stopping. It is truly the land of Ugg Boots and VN Commodores with stickers on the back proclaiming things like, “I’m bad”.

There were 22 of us on the course – me and 3 of my staff and a wide cross section of private and corporate types. There were two sales reps from Tip Top bakeries, a P-Plater in an old BMW that was clearly being paid for by a concerned Dad, two early 20’s sisters in two very beaten up cars also being paid for by Dad and a then a swag of company vehicles – Peugeots, Commodores and three Falcon wagons, plus a Jeep, a Land Cruiser and my Disco.

One thing became apparent very quickly – the 5 or so Asians on the course were bloody hopeless drivers. No matter what exercise we were put through, they were the worst. The driver of the biggest tank, the Land Cruiser, turned out to be a tiny Asian woman who had a bad habit of tail gating other people (like me) and pranging cars (thankfully that didn’t happen today). No wonder she was in a Cruiser – if you could buy Abrahms tanks, she’d be driving one. She was nervous and fretful and clearly got her licence out of a Weeties packet.

We went through the standard exercises – hooning down a straight and then braking at a set of cones and seeing how long it took to stop in the dry. Everyone was amazed when the Disco pulled up in the top half off the pack and only took six inches longer to stop than an MX-5. I simply shrugged my shoulders and muttered “ABS”. The main reason was that I am not afraid to jam on the brakes. If you have ABS, my philosophy is that you might as well use it. It’s not much good if it doesn’t kick in. Everyone else was doing “Gucci” braking, where they gently massaged the pedal and were afraid of a few skid marks and a bit of tyre smoke.

The best of the pack was a little road rocket of a Peugeot. No matter what we did, that thing stuck to the ground like a very sticky skateboard. The worst were the cars driven by the sisters – they were an old Mercedes and an old Subaru. Both had rooted shocks and worse drivers and they tended to skate off the road regardless of the conditions. It showed up really clearly what you get when you buy a good new European car – braking and handling performance. It was no surprise that a fairly new Hyundai sedan was a pile of poo. It had the suspension dynamics of a drunken hippo. The driver was terrified of taking it over 60 km/h, which was a bit silly as we were there to fling the cars around to see what they would do. I guess he had come unstuck in it previously and wasn’t keen to make a fragile tin can go that fast.

After the dry, straight braking, we did straight wet braking. The idea was to come down the straight at 60 km/h hit the cones and brake, then 70km/h, then 80km/h etc all the way up to 100 km/h if you reckoned your car could pull up before sliding off the skid pan and into the bush. We didn’t have a radar gun, but it was crystal clear that there were plenty of pussies on our course. My blokes from work took their Falcon wagons out and fanged them mercilessly – I can now see why I have to sign insurance claims every month. However, they took the wagons out to the edge and over and then back again. Amazingly, the old Falcoon was one of the best handling vehicles on the day. They were pushed very hard and they hung on really well. Never again will I knock the Falcoon.

After the straight, wet braking, we went on to braking and turning in the wet. If you’ve done a driver training course, you’ve probably been through the setup where you go down a lane of cones and then have to swerve either left or right around an obstacle and brake at the same time and stay on the road. The cars without ABS tended to lock up and skid and go sideways through the cones, but I managed to get through the day without squashing any of them. I found that exercise a complete buzz – it was such a rush. You’re hooning at this line of cones at up to 100km/h (if you have the nerve) and a bloke is standing behind the obstacle with a flag. When you hit the line of cones, you slam on the anchors and he drops the flag left or right, and that is the direction that you swerve in. It was bloody terrifying! I can’t explain why – you’d have to do it. Everyone finished that exercise with a bad case of the shakes. The gutless ones would toodle down the track at about 70km/h and brake before the cones – the instructor had a lot of fun yelling at them to go faster and to stop being such morons. They pulled up early and rarely took out any cones, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to experience what the car does when it loses it, and to learn how to control it.

I gave the watching students many demonstrations of the “Disco waddle”, which is what happens when you push the brake all the way to the floor and the ABS kicks in and two tonnes of metal, with a high centre of gravity, then starts to work out how to slow down on a wet and variable road surface. Each wheel was braking at its own speed, and the Disco therefore had a tendency to try to jump in four directions at once. It looked ungainly, but I zipped around those cones with no problems and pulled up pretty easily. It was clearly more worrying for other drivers – the Land Cruiser driver was in tears after each run through that exercise. You could see the fear very clearly on the faces of the drivers as they roared up to the cones. Most wimped out and braked early. For those of you that have skied with Jane, let me say no more.

The last exercise was taking a long, sweeping left hander in the wet and having to brake at the end to avoid a fallen “tree”. Unlike normal driving, we’d roar into the corner as fast as possible, the instructor would blow a whistle when we were halfway round, and we’d have to brake and avoid the “tree” at the end of the corner. The Peugeot went around like it was on rails. The Subaru, Mercedes and old BMW all ended up facing backwards. The Disco made it around at 80km/h, but the instructors told me that if I had gone just a bit faster, I probably would have rolled. They had told all the sedan drivers to push it up past 75km/h, but neglected to tell me to keep it at about 75km/h. They stood there open mouthed as I barreled around the corner with the car lurching this way and that and the passenger side wheels about to leave the ground. I think it has been a long time since a student rolled a vehicle, and they were a bit concerned about how close I’d come. It was normal to see the sedans going around with the rear passenger wheel completely off the ground, but they just tended to spin. Disco’s have a bad habit of flipping when doing that kind of thing.

I guess they had spent the whole day trying to gee these wimps into pushing it a bit harder, and they forgot that they didn’t have to tell all of us to speed up. Yes, it was the equivalent of me doing the Dead Cow on the slopes.

My advice – if your company won’t send you, invest $246 of your own money and go.

From the archives

I have been trawling through my old emails lately (from the pre-blogging days) and have come across some rippers.

I am going to publish some of them from time to time. Just for old times sake.

From March 2004:

Julia, the new squeeze, like many chicks, is a vego. She doesn’t frown on me eating meat, which is a good thing, since I would have to dump her if she did. The only saving grace is that she is a good cook when it comes to cooking veggie food. I do not live on a diet of lentils and soy lumps when I am at her place.

On Thursday night, she had a few people over for dinner and whipped up a three course feast. It was missing the pork roast with crackling, but I wasn’t complaining.

At 6am on Friday, I was up and heading for Bondi for a swim. I have a little routine at Bondi, which includes parking in a side street at the northern end of the beach (because it has no parking meters) and then walking past a newsagent that opens at 6am to purchase the Financial Review. Thus armed, I walk down to the beach with flippers and goggles and bash some waves for a while. I then retire to a café at the northern end of the beach and sit down to breakfast and a coffee with the paper. I can be in the car and heading into work at 7.30am before the traffic starts to build up. All in all, a good start to the working day.

Except for Friday morning. I am walking down the hill when a little snapping turtle starts to make its presence felt in the colon. I reckon I can fit in 45 minutes of body surfing and breakfast before I need to do anything about it.

How wrong I was. About 10 metres further down the hill, the snapping turtle suddenly gets a lot larger and a lot more insistent about wanting to go for a swim in the porcelain swimming pool. When it started knocking at the back door, it was not the polite “tap tap tap” that you get when the Mormons turn up at your door. It was more the pounding on the door that your mother makes when you are 16 years old and she knows that you have a girl in your room and you are up to no good. I was in serious trouble. I could see the red brick dunny block at the northern end of the beach next to the surf club – it was less than 100 yards away – but I was starting to think that it was beyond my reach. The sun was only just peeking over the horizon, so it wasn’t very light, and I was walking past some bushes on the side of the footpath, and I gave very serious consideration to just dumping there and then Damien style.

After all, I had a newspaper, and I could have just ripped out the latest stock market pricing section and used that.

Thankfully, I made the dunny block with a few seconds to spare. The northern end dunny block is possibly the most horrible toilet east of India. It has half height doors to stop people shooting up in the stalls, and there is never any soap, and you don’t want to look at what is lurking on the floor too closely. The only way you would ever get Dave in there is if you encased him in one of those full body plastic suits that scientists use for dissecting the Ebola virus.

Thankfully, I am not that squeamish. I could have squatted in the bushes and waved nonchalantly at a bus load of Japanese tourists as they cruised by with cameras clicking and flashed flashing.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was sure that the snapping turtle was about the size of a Bilson Bomb. It certainly felt like it was as big as several 440gm cans of baked beans laid end to end. I was pretty keen on inspecting the damage, but just as I stood up, the lights switched off automatically and left me in the gentle light of dawn filtering in through the breeze blocks. I could barely see the bowl, let alone what was lurking inside.

My options were to flush the evidence away, or to leave it there and see if the Wentworth Courier had a story the following week about “Bondi cleaners discover new Guiness World Record blind mullet”.

That aside, there are obvious perils to not eating meat. For years, I have listened to veggies prattle on about how being a veggie makes you regular and that meat is really bad for you – how it sits in your guts and ferments and doesn’t come out for weeks or even months.

Good. That’s the way I like it. I am going on a pure steak diet. I like my snapping turtles to be kept on a very tight leash.

Hello?! Anyone there?

Last Friday night, I sent a fax to our MPs office asking that she goes around to tell Plod to clean up their front yard.

So far, no response.

Hmm, not looking good.

I spent half a year writing "cockroach letters", and our golden rule was that you either replied to the complainant the same day, or you punched out an acknowledgement letter and sent it out same day. Something along the lines of, "Dear Loonie, thank you for your pile of dribble. When we stop laughing, we'll think about replying, then tracking you by satellite and having you committed to a secret CIA prison in Kazakhstan".

Yours truly,
etc etc

Assuming that some slack and lazy toads opened the office on Monday and bothered to check the fax before leaving, they should have been able to send a reply by now. Bugger it, they could have walked around and stuck a reply under our front door. If I went out into the street with a nine iron and a golf ball, I could hit the ball over the Plod station and hit our MPs office, which is in the next street. I wonder why I bothered faxing it. It would have been less effort to walk it around and stuff it under her door.

My letter has obviously had no impact yet, as Plod's front yard is still covered in crap.

I should be careful though. As I rode past the station this morning, Plod pulled out behind me and followed me down to the lights. If they had known that their nemesis was right in front of them on a pushbike, they probably would have nudged my off the road into the back of a bus and called it a "high speed pursuit" accident.


Reconciliation Australia launched a new ad campaign today. I knew that because my sister told me so.

I thought that was all very nice, until I saw who was in the ads. Michael bloody Caton. I think he is a turd. I would not make him a mouthpiece for anything. Except maybe genital herpes. As in spruiking the benefits of the disease, rather than a cure.

The last I saw of him (in the flesh) he was at Bondi encouraging people to protest against the proposed train line because it would encourage the rif-raf to visit Bondi and the rif-raf would wreck the lifestyle of the arty and famous (like him).

By rif-raf, I presume he meant blackfellas and Lebs. Not many of them living around Bondi. There are probably more eskimos living at Bondi than blackfellas.

Like I said, he wouldn't have been my first pick for this gig. Sorry sis.

Snow ahoy!

Since the ski season is slowly approaching, I thought it best to post a couple of photos from a trip to Hotham in 2004 (back when the snow was good and people weren't blathering on about how global warming was going to destroy the ski industry blah blah blah).

This is not me by the way - only maggots ride snowboards.

The pretty picture is a sunrise from our balconey. A nice thing about Hotham is that the village is at the top of the hill, so the views far surpass those at Thredbo and Perisher.

What was I doing up before sunrise?

Cooking breakfast for all the drunken, farting, snoring sods that were crashed out from one end of the apartment to the other. Someone must have farted particularly loudly and woken me up, and I couldn't get back to sleep.

Another good thing about Hotham is that you don't have to wait for the lifts to open to start skiing, which is why it is a good idea to get up at dawn - to get first tracks. Being at the top of the mountain, you can ski down the runs as soon as it is light enough to see, then just wait at the bottom for the lifties to get things running (if the ski patrol guys don't catch you that is).

Coming soon to a screen near you

I was heading home tonight when I almost ran into this crowd on the on-ramp to the ANZAC Bridge. I was about to charge up the path when I heard this woman yell out, "bike, bike!", looked up and saw a camera crew was spread out all across the path.

All dressed in very modish black of course. They kindly got out of the way, but I was intrigued, so I stopped just around the corner and took this photo of them.

I have no idea what they were filming, and didn't think it would be polite to ask. My first impression is that it was a film school bunch, as the street was not totally over run with catering trucks. Quite a bit of filming is done in Balmain, and some streets are often almost impassable thanks to all the food trucks that are required to keep the crew fed and happy.

One minute later, I am halfway over the bridge when I look to my right and see another bit of stuff being shot on the road below. A lovely three car pile-up had been lovingly recreated with several smashed cars, numerous ambulances, a police car and yes, a horde of catering trucks.

I stopped and watched for a minute or two, but nothing interesting happened (like a car blowing up). I spent a day on a shoot once as an extra for a film school project, and I know just how little happens on your average day. A 10 hour day might produce a minute of usable footage. I always think about that when splicing my home movies.
I tried to zoom in a bit on the car crash. There is one car with its bum sitting on the bonnet of another car, and a green car on its side.

The car that has ridden partly over the top of the other car had flames painted down the side, making it look a bit like a poor Mad Max remake.

Just another day on the bike.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Tractor heads

Farmers don't need more powerful tractors - they need faster tractors.

Clearly, this farmer has run some of his stock onto the line to derail a rocket powered very fast steam train, and has nicked off with the JATO unit and attached it to his tractor.

It didn't take him long to plow this back yard!

(With apologies to Chris).

High speed train

We haven't heard much talk of a high speed train between Sydney and Canberra for a while.

I think it is time to rethink the project with a new design for the train.

A rocket assisted steam train should do the trick.

The only problem as usual will be keeping animals off the line - in particular livestock. Hitting cows is always a good way to provoke a nasty derailment. You may not that this model is not fitted with a cowcatcher.

Stupid photo manipulation rubbish

Aaaarggh! Just hit the first snag with the new PC. I have taken a lot of photos with digital cameras over the years - I copied my 2006 and 2007 photos to the PC today, and there were over 4000 of them. I have them going back to 2002, which really was the dark ages for digital photography. No, I lie. I checked and I have some going back to March 1999. I have stuck them into this page - they are from a ballooning festival in Canberra.

I am a nice person when it comes to emailing photos to other people - I always compress them before sending them. The current camera averages about 1.3mb per photo, so I always compress them.

Interestingly, looking back at the 1999 photos, the are all about 58kb straight out of the camera. I think I was using some sort of Kodak beastie back then. They still look pretty good today.

So I always try to get the photos down to say 250kb before I send them out. I hate getting an email and it taking 5 minutes to open because I have been sent 4 x 2mb photos. It's alright for those on superbroadband, but we are still slumming it on 512kb at home.

We went out for a BBQ in a local park today, as the sun was shining and the seagulls were looking hungry and underfed and it has just been too long since I last wielded the BBQ tongs. Photos were taken, and tonight I wanted to zap them to the usual suspects.

Trouble is, this stupid Vista crap only comes with Paint, and Paint is no good for compressing JPG's. I really like the photo viewer that comes with Vista, but the bloody thing has everything but a compression option. It is smart enough to compress a file if you want to attach it to an email, but that means setting up and using Windows Mail (used to be Outlook Express) and I am stuffed if I want to use that instead of gmail. I have become used to the idea of using a web client for my email, so the last thing I want to do is have to fart around and configure a fat client on my PC. There are times when Microsoft is really smart, and there are times when it is really stupid.

So there I am, trying to work out how to use the viewer thingy to compress some photos without first having to email them to someone. You can't. Well, maybe you can, but you'll need a rocket science degree to work out how to do it. It is the dumbest bit of smart software that I have seen in a long time.

The solution? Download and install I hate It should be called I only want to do two things with it, but it gives me 57 options in 98 flavours and a bunch of colours to boot - I just want to compact the photo and send it! Give me a break.

I now have to use two programs to do what I want to do. Use the photo viewer thing to browse the photos, then select the ones I want to send, then open and compact them, then open gmail and send them off.

Is this computers making life easier? Ha! Sounds like beauracracy run mad!

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Vista the slug

The new PC has been taken out of the box and setup. Have a 20 inch widescreen is very nice, but I am already thinking that 22 inches might have been better.

Only a few problems so far.

I can't connect to my NetGear storage device, which is a network attached storage thingy. That's a pain, as it holds all my photos, movies, music and documents. I wonder how long it is going to take NetGear to come out with a fix for that?

I have also been trying (in vain) to download a PDF reader from Adobe. Stupid IE7 keeps coming up with "errors on page". I think the next thing that I download will be Firefox. I have played with IE for about an hour now, and I don't think I will be wanting to use it tomorrow.

Apart from that, Vista seems pretty smoothe. I haven't loaded and played with any serious apps yet, so I can't say whether this new PC and OS are any good or not. One thing though - this monitor is seriously bright - almost blinding. If I could access the network device, I'd play a movie and see how it looks.

The interweb thingy has become ridiculously slow though. Pages that normally load quite rapidly seem to take forever. It could be IE, it could be the network cable I am using, or it could be all the stupid security settings that this thing seems to be dragging around with it.

One thing worth mentioning though - gadgets. Mac heads will probably go "so what, had them for years", but I am impressed. Now if I can only find some useful ones, like a surf report and a proper weather report for cycling...

Friday, 4 May 2007

A more readable article about death

The idiots at this magazine are unable to send me my subscription every month, but they do occasionally publish a good article.

Unfortunately, the bike mob that I am a member of have outsourced the production of their members magazine to some group in Melbourne, and all they are interested in is publishing articles about travelling with a bike most of the time. If I wanted a travel magazine zeroed in on cycling, I would subscribe to a magazine called "Tour by bike", but I don't want to do that - I want to ski on my holidays - so I am stuck with this silly thing.

Safety and the military

The Army got fined two hundred grand today for allowing a soldier to die of heat stroke whilst on an exercise up north. Not enough safety regulations in place to stop it from happening.

When civilian safety standards start getting applied to the military, you know we are fucked. As we used to say, the more sweat on the training field, the less blood on the battlefield. Training has to be tough, nasty and hard - so hard that when battle is joined, the troops are conditioned enough to stand up to the awful stresses of combat. You don't want half your troops going to water when they "see the elephant" for the first time.

I got heat exhaustion once during an exercise. It was summer, we were at Northam (I think) and it was a typical WA hot day - really hot and really dry. I think it was over 40. I had the M60 as usual and we were doing attacks up a bare and stony hill in the midday heat. Although I was guzzling water like a fish, I couldn't sweat enough to keep my temperature down, and after about 5 attacks, I went down like a log. Splat.

It was an awful day. As I found out halfway through one attack, the hill was covered in patches of broken glass. I discovered that when I found that I was lying in one patch and blasting away, and the glass cut my elbows to shreds. None of the shards were large enough to make a big hole in oneself - it was more like ground up glass than broken glass, but it was nasty to lie on it with a big, vibrating machine gun thumping away into the shoulder. There was also very little soil, so when one did an "up, run, down, crawl" manouvere, it involved landing on rock and then crawling on rock.

Not pretty.

The medics were prepared though - they simply plopped me into an old bath tub that they had found at the tip and filled with ice. Within a short period, my core temp had dropped enough for them to haul me out, and I then had to flop in a comfy chair for a while and drink isotronic drinks. (Gatorade was not on the market at that time).

So I can appreciate what it is like to go down with heat exhaustion on exercise. It's nasty. Dying of it is even worse.

But it would be even worse again to have to put in a proper attack against a live enemy on a hill like that in some foreign country, and not to be prepared and conditioned for the assault.

The Army has guns. Why don't they shoot some of these safety nazi's and be done with it.

Better yet, shoot the lot.

Being annoying

I sent off a letter to our local MP the other night. I'm still waiting for a response. Part of my complaint is that the local cops never respond if you send them a letter. I wonder if her office is afflicted by the same disease - an allergic reaction to dealing with the public. We'll see.

I'm not sure our local member is that bright, so I had to spell out my concerns in a format that even a 10 year old would understand. I think my message will get through.

I had a whinge about the rubbish around the local cop shop, which drives me nuts. A dirty cop shop looks like a force that is not in control of its surroundings - one that is not respected (or feared) by the locals. If the locals think they can drop litter at the front door of the cops, then they think they can get away with anything, and I don't like that. I want some certainty that my car will not be stolen from out the front of our house, or that we won't be broken into, or that I won't be mugged on my way to the shops.

Image counts for a lot, and the cop shop has a bad image when it is surrounded by litter.

I guess I'll know if I've had an impact if the litter down the side that has been there for a month magically disappears one day.

Stupid paragraph

From the SMH today:

An Australian soldier has been wounded by a suicide bomb in Afganistan.

An Afghan national, who was believed to be the suicide bomber, was killed at the scene of the incident.

So the suicide bomber was killed at the scene? How amazing!

I wonder if "suicide bomb" is an expression that would be accepted by my junior school English teachers. Is it a bomb that commits suicide? Given that bombs are meant to explode (which you might view as a form of suicide, even if they are inanimate), does that mean that all bombs, even those dropped from aircraft, are "suicide bombs"? Or are "suicide bombs" only bombs that are being lugged around by homicidal maniacs? It doesn't make sense to me.

If the person carrying the bomb had not been killed in the blast (let's say it was a small bomb attached to their leg, and it just blew a leg off), would they still be called a "suicide bomber", or would they now be called a "disabled bomber".

Useless Dell couriers

Dell rang us last week to say that the new PC would be arriving between 4pm and 8pm on Tuesday. That was fine by me - I am usually home a bit after 5, and we knew that J would be home before 4. Taking delivery at that time would not be a problem.

For some reason, the courier rang the home number before deciding whether to turn up or not. J didn't get to the phone in time, but the courier didn't leave a message, let alone a return number. The courier then decided to call me on the mobile.

I was riding home at the time, so my phone rang - five times - on the journey. I didn't manage to pick up any of those calls, but no messages were left on any of them. And of course the courier was calling from a silent number, so I couldn't even ring back.

What a stupid bastard.

When I'm on the bike, there is no way in hell I am going to pull the phone out of my back pocket until I have found somewhere safe to stop. If the lights have just gone green and I am in the middle lane, it is lunacy to try and answer the phone. If I am belting along, it takes a few rings to find a place to stop, brake and pull over. Then I have to extract the phone from an elasticised pocket on my back, which is not that simple at the best of times. It is even harder in gloves with full fingers, as they don't have a lot of grip. I managed to get to the phone quite quickly on one call, but my fumbling fingers hit the "hang up" button as I was grabbing it. I'm not going to stand there on the side of the road for 10 minutes hoping the bloke will call again.

Of course we got no delivery that night. The courier is supposed to come anyway and leave a card if there is no one home, but he didn't even show.

I am looking forward to writing a rude letter to Dell about this one. I hate people that ring repeatedly, but won't leave a message.

Know your ABC

I am almost at the end of my Jack Welch book. He spends a bit of time describing the GE performance management system, and how staff were rewarded with options.

Everyone was graded each year into an A, B or C. The system was quite strict in that managers could only grade something like 20% as A, 70% as B and 10% as C, and the catch was that you had to grade 10% as C. There is no getting around it. That 10% are the group that you then have to fire.

As far as options go, everyone graded as an A gets options, and lots of them. If you are a B, you might get them, but you might not. The C's of course got none.

Having spent some years now in the land of pubes, this is of course a totally alien concept. Grading your staff and managers. Getting rid of the non-performers. Handsomely rewarding the outstanding staff. Working on the B's to try and make them into A's. Fascinating stuff.

Although we've had numerous performance management systems at work over the years, they've all fallen flat because they are missing these crucial ingredients. You have to grade people on a bell curve, and you must have fixed percentages of A, B and C. You must be able to reward the A's. You have to be able to get rid of the C's.

Until the public service adopts those rules, performance will always suffer.

At one point, I was managing a reasonable number of staff - up to 40 if you include contractors. Although I was never allowed to do it (because it would spark an uproar), I had a mental league table of all my staff, rating them in order of performance and value from 1 to 40. I could have told you in a moment who were my A, B and C's.

The interesting thing is that my breakdown was about 20% A, 70% B and 10% C. I always went to the A staff when I had an interesting or challenging bit of work to do, because I knew that they had the skills and the aptitude to get it done with minimal input from me. The A's have all ended up moving on to bigger and better things. I am proud of them.

The B's got some of the interesting work, but only those at the top of the scale. Some have moved onto more interesting work, but most of them are quite content to stick with what they are doing and not move up (Jack mentions that this was typical in GE too - not everyone wants to be a star).

The C's - well I just tried to ignore them and manage around them. I would have been content to have had an office in the middle of nowhere that I could have just dumped them in, and let them play scrabble all year. At times, the most important thing was to get them out of the way, as they just interfered with what everyone else was trying to do.

It's interesting though that when I looked at some of the business groups that I had dealings with, the proportion of C's was shockingly high. In some areas, it would have been close to 70 or 80%, with the remainder being what I would call "low B's", or a B minus. No A's of course. Those groups struggled to deliver anything, and I always had a hard time dealing with them (because I wanted to kill them all).

People can be fascinating.


I have a small stack of boxes sitting on the floor next to our desk. They contain our new PC and big flat screen. They have been sitting there for 3 days now, and won't be opened until the weekend.

I don't know where this level of self control comes from. Normally, boxes like these have to be ripped open at the earliest opportunity and stuff put together. Leaving it stacked up for days is not in my nature.

Then again, I have pulled hundreds of PC's, monitors, printers, switches, routers, servers and UPS's out of boxes in my time - perhaps thousands - so I am no hurry to do it for the 1001th time. You get over it after a while. Another day, another cardboard box with stuff in it. Ho hum. After all, it's just a bloody computer. So what?

How times have changed. So sad to think that there is no excitement in getting a new PC anymore. If anything, I am dreading the drudgery of setting it up.

On the other hand, a toilet roll holder arrived in the mail this week (a rather late birthday present) and I just had to rip that package open straight away and set it up in the bathroom. It was proudly holding toilet rolls a few minutes after it was opened. Now that was something that I was glad to see.

Ideal weight

I was watching some kind of health show last week and they had a segment where they measured people up and then worked out their ideal sport, based on their height and body type (ectomorph, mesomorph etc).

The ideal cyclist is 182cm tall and weighs 72 kilos (or thereabouts - it is a week since I saw the show).

I am only an inch or two below the ideal, but I am still 33% over the ideal weight (at least I was when I jumped on the scales a month ago).

Problem is, even if I get my body fat down to 5%, I will still be over the idea weight. My chest and shoulders are just too big for a good cyclist. It's interesting that it was cancer that made Lance so good as a cyclist. Before cancer, he had been doing triathlons, so he had the shoulders and arms of a swimmer, and all that muscle just slowed him down on the bike. He lost all that muscle when he had cancer, and when he rebuilt his body as a cyclist, he was much smaller.

No, I have no desire to get brain cancer. And bugger it, I am not giving up dessert either. I will just have to get used to dragging around an extra two cases of beer.

Is attacking big business good politics?

Not anymore, given that most of us are shareholders thanks to superannuation.

Plus a lot more of us are direct shareholders than when say Menzies was in power. Rudd and Gillard could find that attacks on business profitability backfire when the punters start to find that the value of their super funds is being eroded by stupid government.

As some people like to say, "It's all connected now".

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Death rides a bicycle

Sobering reading.

It's nice to know that not many 40 year old males get killed on bikes each year. It is mainly kids doing stupid things without helmets, although there are a good number of cyclists that get hit from behind because the driver didn't see them.

Hence my "canary" outfit. I'm not going to give any driver an excuse not to see me.

Quite a few cyclists also get cleaned up because they are not obeying the road rules - ie, zooming along the wrong side of the road (I see that a lot) or blasting through red lights and stop signs (I see too much of that) and presumably ducking and weaving through traffic (something I avoid like the plague).

Patience, reflective clothing and a helmet are three simple things that can go a long way to saving ones life.