Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Readers Digest

I noticed a magazine called "Waiting Room" in a doctor's surgery the other day but wasn't adventurous enough to check out how old they were. No such problem this evening in checking out the newly arrived Reader's Digest magazines that have appeared in the lounge at the hospital where we've been visiting a mate - the dates were, in order, July 1994, March 1999, April 2000 and October 2001.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Greatest gift

We had just arrived at my partner's brother's place after a 10-hour drive (and a 4.30am departure) when they suggested perhaps we would like a nap after our journey. We could have kissed them with gratitude - and for keeping the children "on hold" until we surfaced, fresh and ready to face the world, 90 minutes later. This is the nicest present we have received in a very long time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lost brothers

I was surprised the other day to find out that D, who I have known for many many years, had not realized that I have two brothers not one. Not quite sure how that could have happened because you'd think that would be something that came up in conversation from time to time. So imagine how I felt when talking with a friend of many many many years standing when she mentioned that both her brothers were coming to her for Christmas lunch. "Both?" I blurted - thereby signalling quite well that brother #2 had escaped my attention! Almost makes me want to do a random poll to see who else out there is hiding siblings.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shoes and socks

I admit it. I am one of the people who has visited a website where shoes are thrown at a facsimile of George Bush. I didn't know what it was until the site opened (the link was sent to me by a trusted friend) and I was surprised that once there, the visitor's role was not to throw the shoes but to move President Bush across the screen as the shoes are tossed at him. Each time a shoe hits Bush, you lose one of your four lives - and your efforts are timed. All sounds innocent enough but from the way the game is scored, and I realize I might have misunderstood the purpose of the game, it seems you get a higher ranking the faster you get him hit. This is really quite hard and counterintuitive as you would see if you visited the site. There is also a similar shoe-tossing site which has reportedly had almost 1.5 million visitors - where you do get to do the shoe-throwing - and which has the ranking of the Top 25 Bush-Shoeing countries. The top 3, when I was there a few minutes ago, are the US, France and ... Australia.

Ante up

Why can't real life be like television If it were, some maths whiz (or is that wiz - as in short for wizard) could do a "Numbers" and work out where the next ATM "bam raid" Is most likely to take place - and be in the running for the $100,000 reward. Or, given how little some of the raids have reportedly netted, it would make sense for one/some/all of the gang members to find themselves a patsy, set them up, point the police to the time and place, and claim the reward themselves. Of course that could blow up in their faces too but it would seem safer than pumping a volatile gas into a big metal box (aka ATM) and blowing it up.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Taking the fun out of Facebook

Carmela Rita Corbo and Gordon Kingsley Maxwell Poyser have reportedly revised their Facebook status - with one dropping their profile and the other updating their account to keep the public out according to The Daily Telegraph. This follows them being served legally-binding documents via their Facebook accounts as ordered by Australia's Supreme Court. This could signal the end of Facebook's fun run as a social networking site - and makes it 12th time lucky for those trying to serve the documents to the couple who have reportedly defaulted on a $154,000 loan.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Curtain call

German actor Daniel Haoevels may not have been from the "realism" school of acting previously, but he has now been "initiated". According to the University of Southern Queensland:
Realism was a style of theatre established before the turn of the 20th Century that attempted to put the theory of naturalism into practice. It looked at putting 'a slice of life' onstage and also creating verisimilitude, that is, an overall harmony among all elements of the production. Realism focuses upon method acting, which means the actors became the characters, and creating a piece of theatre that rings true of life itself, whereas Brechtian acting demands a distinct detachment between the actor and the character.
"Slice of life" is right - given that Daniel slumped to the stage after cutting his throat with a fake blade - but this wasn't exceptional acting - it was more because what he actually slit his throat with was a real knife. Investigations are continuing as to how this could have happened; was it foul play by another who wanted to "stab him in the back" so-to-speak - or an accident - that the props were switched? Daniel survived the attack.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Phone tag

Macquarie Bank has started laying off workers with the tap on the shoulder saying "you're out" coming via a phone call. Word around the bank is that people have stopped answering their phones.

Jesus saved

Not sure if it's the same one I blogged about last December 26 but in Florida recently a Baby Jesus stolen from a Nativity scene was recovered when local law enforcement officers tracked the GPS device mounted inside the statue. Last year's blog told of a New Baby Jesus being fitted with a GPS after the previous Baby Jess was stolen, despite having been bolted down. An 18 year old woman has been arrested for the latest theft. Probably not surprisingly, reports suggest that a slew of US churches and synagogues are now taking up a security firm's offer of a free GPS to keep their Saviours safe.

Keep your shirt on

Here in Australia we say "keep your shirt on" - usually in a slightly impatient tone - when people are trying to rush us for no apparently good reason - often in traffic. But perhaps this could be seen as more literal advice for some drivers in the US and Australia after last month (it's taken me this long to remember it and look up the details). Police attending an accident where a car had rolled at Hastings, Vic, found the driver and passenger were naked. It didn't say if they were wearing seatbelts. The names of the 18 year old female driver and her fatally injured, naked 19 year old male passenger were not released. There were reportedly no suspicious circumstances.
Meanwhile, in California a couple of days earlier police had apprehended a drink-driving suspect after his van hit a car. It was only after tasering him (can "taser" be a verb and is it safe to hit someone in control of a motor vehicle with driver with a Taser - and was the vehicle moving at the time - and if it wasn't, why did they have to Taser him?) that they discovered he was driving his car "completely" naked. Given these reports were truly within a couple of days of each other, does this mean some kind of global naked driving ritual has been uncovered? And if so, is it something that happens all the time - or just for special occasions?

Goodonya

In the midst of all the doom and gloom of the world financial meltdown/crisis comes some lighter, brighter news. There's a new website - www.goodonyaaustralia.com.au - which looks at spreading positive news about business and people to help counter the bad news stories currently overloading the media. If you join the site, as well as being able to make a positive contribution, word is you can also have access to some discount offers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Safety first

In a story reminiscent of the official who gallantly drank water from the Seine to prove it was safe and potable - and died a few days later from drinking the water - comes news of a police chief is southwestern Ohio who shot himself in the thigh after giving his daughter a lesson in gun safety. Names are missing for both victims - which is surprising given the amount of time I've just spent on the net looking for the Parisian event details - if you know, please pass it on.

People's Court

How much information from criminal cases should be made available to the general public - and at what point of the proceedings? A recent story from the US tells of details of a case in progress being posted to their Facebook account by one of the jurors - who was asking visitors to "vote" on whether they thought the accused was guilty or innocent because they were undecided. The court was alerted and the juror removed from the case.
Closer to home, here in Australia, supporters of Gordon Woods are planning to post details of his case on the Internet so people can make up their own minds as to whether Woods really is guilty - as found by the jury.

Snap shot

... or let he who is without sin cast the first (st)one. Golfer John "Wild Thing" Daly caused a bit of a ruckus today when he smashed a fan's camera against a tree during the Australian Open. The fan was understandably upset and contends he did nothing wrong - and that he did not provoke Daly by taking a quite close-up photograph of him, apparently with flash, as he left the course to retrieve a ball. Golf Australia, organizers if the tournament, are taking Daly's side, saying his "brain snap" because his eyes were stinging from the flash, would not have happened if the fan had followed the rules and obeyed the NO CAMERAS / PHONES edict. Hard to know where the fault lies really, isn't it?

Time after time

2008 has seemed like an interminably long year probably because it was a leap year (remember that?) - and it's not over yet. Official timekeepers are going to add yet more time - a leap second - onto 31 December to compensate for the Earth's rotation slowing - just a little, but enough to open the possibility of the "atomic clock" and other/real time falling out of kilter. It's just as well that the Boxing Day release of movie re-make "The Day The Earth Stood Still" is not based on a true story otherwise it would be hard to know where we stand.

Games people play

I am very much enjoying WordFreak Free from the Apple App Store where the player needs to deduce a five-letter word (all letters different). You get the starting letter and then try to work out which letter goes where by guessing five letter words: red means the letter is in the right place, yellow means the letter is in the word but currently in the wrong place. Hours of fun - as evidenced by the high scores on the game's website.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Same old song

... well- not really. Auckland City Council has introduced new rules for Buskers. They must have an annual licence but it's free as long as they adhere to the new Code of Conduct - a key feature of which is that their repertoire must have sufficient material for them to perform for at least an hour without repetition. Maybe they do it differently there - or maybe it's to protect people who live and work in close proximity to their "spots" - but the trick with busking seems to be to set up in high volume traffic areas - with (lots) of passing people traffic - preferably with small-ish change burning a hole in their pockets - and who are long gone before you're back to the start on your three-song-cycle (again).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tech wars

Following the recent militant attacks in Mumbai, and apparent surprise that the terrorists had used mobile phone technology - I think I read somewhere that they used Blackberrys - today's news from Wired that the US military are working on a missile that would "fry" electronic gadgets comes as little surprise. What will be very interesting is how they will take out only the devices of "non-friendlys" as they target gadgets used for "military, industrial, civil and asymmetrical" purposes.The differentiation is important, of course, because gadgets like mobile phones and Blackberrys allowed civilians caught up in the Mumbai attacks to get real-time information to help them stay out of harm's way.

Drawing the line

Some time ago on this blog I pondered whether a photo of two folk made from Lego and being "intimate" constituted pornography (and if I didn't, I meant to). According to news report today, a ruling on a similar but cartoon depiction has been made in the NSW Supreme Court where a man has been found guilty of child pornography after an animation depicting characters from the Simpsons was found on his computer. The reports suggest Bart, Lisa and Maggie were engaged in sexual acts but there was also reference to a mother (Marge?). Alan John McEwan was fined and entered into a two-year good behaviour bond - and told that, had the images portrayed "real" children, he would have bren jailed. MobileMetro reports McEwan had argued that cartoon characters were not people but was told by judge Justice Michael Adams that the law was in place to deter the production of cartoons that could "fuel demand for material that does involve the abuse of children".

Monday, December 08, 2008

Have hammer ...

If you have an hour or so to spare and want to experience what it was like in the "good old days" when radio ruled the earth, go online and secure a copy of Escape's Earth Abides - a dramatization of George R. Stewart's novel about post-apocalyptic Earth. The hero of the narrative is Isherwood, an ecologist, and he and others he joins with along the way forge a way to the future with Ish's hammer as their guide.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

D'oh to Bold move

In a move that has angered some, including mothers who think the timeslot inappropriate, a local Sydney television station has replaced its 6pm re-runs of "The Simpsons" with "The Bold and the Beautiful". I was quietly confident that this move would be met with stony silence and viewers staying away in droves - leading to a station re-think - but not to be. The bold Bold move has resulted in increased ratings for the soap - 20% higher than usual - due it seems to "working professionals" being able to watch in real time rather than having to timeshift by taping it for later viewing. So with figures like this, chances are those yellow people will not soon be moved back into the 6pm timeslot ... providing yet another reason to attach a DVD player to the television!

Original Gizmo

If you're a big fan of Gizmo - the animatronic puppet used in Gremlins - or of the Luke Skywalker light sabre - they're among the memorabilia you can take home - for a price - from the Profiles in History auction next week (11 December). Other goodies on offer: C-3PO's face, hands; the original Jor-El Tunic worn by Marlon Brandon in Superman The Movie; and Indiana Jones' hat and whip from the Temple of Doom. Me for mine - I want the 82-inch (7 ft; 2+m) flying saucer from Forbidden Planet.

Late note

Yahoo US News reports that if you're delayed on the New York City subway, you can get a "late note" for your boss or teacher if you're a student. It takes a while for the note to be sent - but at least it's some acknowledgement of the disruption to your life because of disrupted rail services. Chances are that a similar system will not be introduced here in NSW ... there are enough disruptions that the powers that be who run the rail system could go broke. Okay, that might be a little harsh but it really can be a problem - and that's not even touching on the overcrowding and general timetabling issues!

Question of colour

Whenever people tell me they've bought a new car, I ask them what colour. There has long been anecdotal evidence that lighter coloured cars are safer - and we can now all breathe easier because a study by NRMA Insurance here in Australia has confirmed this - with light or brightly coloured cars about 10% less likely to be involved in crashes at dusk, or dawn, or other times when visibility is low. The safest car colours are white, yellow, cream, beige and red. Not so good in low light situations - green, black, blue and silver. As reported in The Daily Telegraph, the study also found there was a correlation between car colour and the severity of accidents - with the average cost of repair for lighter coloured cars being less than for darker coloured cars. But alas, Adam Macbeth, NRMA spokesperson, is reported as saying that colour is not usually a factor considered when people purchase a vehicle - 9% of NSW buyers considered the colour and look of the car the most important feature.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Under the sun

The BBC News recently carried a story about Santa Coloma de Gramanet in Spain which is installing solar panels at its main cemetery in a move to generate power for homes. While the scheme, first proposed a few years ago, met with some opposition from families of local residents, it has proceeded with the panels installed, unobtrusively, atop masoleums in the cemetery. The panels currently cover about 5% of the cemetery's area, but there are plans to install more. The cemetery's solar park is currenlty the largest of the city's five solar parks, with the others mostly atop buildings.

Positions vacant (for a reason)

Next time you're thinking about possible job outlets, you could spare a thought for these two (now missed) opportunities - neither of which appeals to me:
* Taser (electric shock delivery) test subject
* First taster for for the NASA $US154 million water recycling system which is designed to convert sweat, moisture and urine into potable (drinkable) liquid. (Which reminds me of the slogan for the original Aliens movie: In space, no-one can hear you scream! - or something like that)

Black Friday

Here in Australia (and possibly other parts of the world) Black Friday is when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday. Imagine my confusion then when earlier this month I kept reading about the upcoming Black Friday in the US. Last I heard they were working on the same calendar as us, even if they are a day behind. A quick look on fount of (all) knowledge Wikipedia suggested Black Friday was actually the Friday after Thanksgiving, so called because it was seen as the start of the Xmas shopping season and the start of retailers profitable or "being in the black" period. Black Friday is also said to have been so named following the first recognition of the super sales day in Philidelphia where record numbers of vacationing bargain-hunters blocked roads and caused enormous gridlocks - "Black Friday". But regardless of the origin of the nomenclature, Black Friday lived up to its name this year with one 34-year-old Wal-Mart employee in New York trampled to death trying to hold back a horde of eager shoppers; and two men killed when they shot each other in a crowded Toys-R-Us store reportedly after their women folk started arguing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Definitely too much information

Maybe it's just my sometimes uncharitable view of the world and some of the people in it but it seems to me that if you open your door late at night to a stranger who appers to be at the wrong house - and then he pulls out a sharp object (screwdriver?) and cuts you on the face and you counter by smashing him with a baseball bat - it seems that this is not something you want appearing in the press - together with your photo and/or name and location. "Did she do the right thing [chasing him off with a bat]?" is a vote and debate topic in today's The Daily Telegraph. Maybe the question should be whether attack victims should have their details published making it easier for an attacker, or a grudge-holding person (who couldn't previously remember who had hit them maybe because they were drunk or high), to find them.

Too much information

We were warned about it when studying Psychology but I don't think it had a name then - the syndrome where first year university students develop all kind of "illnesses" through their exposure to information in text books about those illnesses. Well, now there is a name for it - or its counterpart on the web - cyberchrondia. Cyberchrondia is defined in a study by Ryen White and Eric Horvitz as "unfounded increases in health anxiety based on the review of web content". And there is no shortage of medical sites or content on the Internet - some of which is incredibly helpful for getting more information about a specific condition- including, in some instances, suggestions for questions to ask your doctor.

Dying wish

Andre Tchaikowsky's dying wish was to take part in "Hamlet" and finally, a quarter of a century after his death from cancer, he has made it from concert pianist to Yorick the court jester whose skull is held aloft after being unearthed by a gravedigger. David Tennant (aka Dr Who) did the "holding aloft" in 22 performances of the play in Stratford-upon-Avon - birthplace of playwright William Shakespeare and primary venue for the Royal Shakespeare Company. The stage appearance has been a long time coming, though, with Tchaikowsky's skull held in the costume store since it's handover to the Company. (The Daily Telegraph)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Life span

A Pal (thanks D) shared the following average life spans for cats with me today:
- Feral cat = 4 years
- House cat that goes outside = 6 years
- House cat who stays inside = 24 years.
We currently have two house cats - one who spends a bit of time outside (14 years) and one who spends the majority of her time inside (16 years). We're counting on both of them to skew the statistics - a lot!

Art imitating art

For reasons slightly beyond my control, I have recently finished reading S's bookclub's novel for this month - and hated it - and have no-one to blame but myself ... since I chose it - casting the deciding vote when the group was split. I had had the deciding vote once before (Water for Elephants) - sitting nearby but not participating I had suggested that if the vote was tied, I could cast the decider because I usually listened to their discussions. This time the deal was I could decide as long as I read the book. I agreed and chose the one I had heard about, knew was available in electronic book format, and that I had already been thinking about reading given the publicity it had received after being chosen as an Oprah book. Alas, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle did not live up to my expectations. (Oh no - it has just occurred to me that I have inflicted this read on the bookclub; it will be interesting to see if this is the last choice I get to make.). A mate of mine once said that if you copy someone else's work, it's stealing; if you copy from two works, that's research. In this case though, I don't feel like giving Edgar's author the leniency - not when this, his first novel with a ten-year gestation period, is being touted as the Great American Novel and as a great work of imagination ... a classic in the making. And it could have been all these things - and may be for some - if there didn't seem to be such a reliance on other people's work.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Behind closed doors

The campaign against violence against women is in the news at the moment - and high time too as research shows that half of all women will be victims of physical violence or sexual abuse during their lifetime. Interesting timing for another story - about a television identity who has been accused of abusing a former girlfriend. His female co-host has now come forward to defend him saying the alleged verbal and emotional abuse was completely out of character and - in her opinion - "just not true". Truth of the matter could be that we all have moments of doing things that are "out of character" - which we are not proud of - like name-calling (my pet hate) which IS abusive. I once stopped the car and invited the friend travelling with me to exit the vehicle for name-calling. While the old saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" comes to mind, it also stands to reason that if name-calling didn't have the capacity to affect people - this phrase would never have been coined. The other thing is that none of us knows what goes on "behind closed doors" and while reports of her new partner banning your sister's friend and primary support in past times from her house may have overtones of isolation - it could be a perfectly reasonable and well-meaning directive. Or, more's the pity, it may be that some women don't realize what abuse is, because the've become so used to it.

Dope

I skipped over the report about "Outcry over teen drug tips booklet" in today's paper and settled instead on one entitled "Expert tips for children on how to speed dangerously" - which I took to be an ironic piece. I was baffled by the in-article advice which urged readers to pay for their food, rent and bills first - and a couple of other tips that had nothing to do with cars - including "don't buy drugs on credit". The penny finally dropped that the article was about "speed" (the drug) rather than "speeding" - and then the article made a whole lot more sense. Funny how we can skew/influence content by bringing preconceptions to our reading.

Face painting

Happy faces have sprung up on a number of hay bales in northern NSW. The bales - no, not rectangular bales - you know the ones where they roll up the hay into big "logs" which are covered in plastic - had their ends painted with the smiley faces a week ago - some with eyes open, some with eyes closed. According to The Daily Telegraph, Landowner Tony Nell said it was artistic and a bit of a laugh, especially with the world in economic turmoil. In all, about 30 of the 200 bales on his property were targetted with the smiley faces.

Bacon bit

Not sure what to get that person who has just about everything? Well, if you're in the UK then you can forget about getting them a Vosges Mo' Bacon Bar because the only stockist there, Selfridges, has temporarily sold out of the world's first bacon chocolate bar. The earliest net reference I can find to this "tasty" morsel is from August last year so it's not "new" but itseems to have hit the news and blogosphere because the 3oz/£6/bars sold out within 48 hours of going on sale at Selfridge's four stores. An urgent order has been placed for more stock. So what makes The Mo' Bacon Bar have people coming back for mo'? It could be any of the main ingredients ... chunks of applewood smoken bacon, milk chocolate or smoked salt. Mmmm - way too many flavours for me - and too imaginative a combination - but obviously lots of people out there like them. Wonder if they have them here?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wanted: Pied Piper

Hamelin, as featured in the fairytale of the Pied Piper, has a rodent problem - again. According to a Courier Mail report, instead of coming in groups of 20 to 30 - usual rat pack size - the rats overrunning Hamelin are advancing in packs ten times that size. A makeshift rubbish dump on the outskirts of town is being blamed for the infestation - in numbers European media are reporting as matching those experienced during the Great Plague in 1284 - supposedly the basis for the Pied Piper "events". There was no mention of proposed payment methods for a new Piper if sought by the City but given current global economic conditions, if I was a Hamelin child I'd be cranking up the volume on the MP3 player to drown out the melodies of any disgruntled pipers who might be passing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Practice makes perfect

First Timothy McCormack was accused of faking credentials to work as a maintenance engineer on Qantas aircraft. Now he's accused of forging the character references he provided in support of his bid for a lesser sentence for forging. None of the referees had been approached by McCormack whose barrister has now won an adjournment to investigate if McCormack was a pathological liar. A news.com.au online report suggested the magistrate found the fakes easy to detect -they were all typed and formatted the same way and were signed by the same hand. Pathological liar or a slow learner? Hard to say but I am reminded of something I was once told: Only perfect practice makes perfect. Maybe that's something Mr McCormack may have time to ponder if he finds himself unable to engineer his way out of spending time in the "big house".

Room with a view

Today marks the 39th anniversary of the death of Australian artist and writer Norman Lindsay. While some of us remember him best for his children's classic "The Magic Pudding" others will have other memories: like visiting the Norman Lindsay gallery in the Blue Mointains on a close-to-first-date and only then discovering, when entering a room displaying them, that Mr Lindsay had also made a name for himself - and shocked the nation - with his erotic paintings.

Local currency

A quote from a story on the sad state of affairs in Mebourne in The Daily Telegraph: "After nine o'clock you can get anything you want for a packet of cigarettes". Does this mean it's very difficult find cigarettes so the seller can charge whatever they like - or that you can buy anything with a packet of cigarettes? Or both? I read the story in hopes of finding out what colulmnist Malcolm Farr meant, but I am still unclear.

Twilight (time) zones

You may have heard the song with the words "it's twilight time"; it may even be called that. But who knew that there are actually three twilight each day (counting only those that happen when the sun is setting) - Civil (the period between day and night when it is possible to conduct outdoor activities without artificial light); Nautical (the horizon is still visible allowing navigational readings to be done accurately) and Astronomical (stars and other point sources visible but not nebulae and galaxies).. The differentiation is based on how many degrees the sun is below the horizon - Civil - less that 6; Nautical 12-6; Astronomical 18-12. (With thanks to Wikipedia - which also notes the differentiation is important because the penalty for some crimes (presumably in the US) eg burglary is greater if they are conducted outside of daylight hours.)

Video driving

If video driving games breed irresponsible drivers - as has recently been suggested - why is it that some insurance companies are reportedly considering offering reduced premiums to drivers who play video games? There is, of course, a catch. The offer would be made to older gamers (not sure how old is old) because gaming is supposed to increase mental agility. There could be another reason: if you're gaming, you aren't on the roads (hopefully).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wide open spaces

On our recent trip to outback NSW we had to pull off the road at one stage to allow three trucks carrying massively wide loads to pass. It was amazing to see as the loads took up both sides of the highway. But that's nothing compared to what we might have seen if we were making the trip now. A report in today's The Daily Telegraph has a swarm of locusts 6km long and 170m wide in the Condobolin area. At this stage this swarm, and others around the state, are "low density" but to be on the safe side here in droughtstriken NSW, aircraft are on alert to poison the swarms if they get larger or thicker.

Getting a "hit"

New research from the University of Chicago suggests the area of the brain associated with rewards "lights up" when bullies see someone inflicting pain - they get a "hit" from the hit. The same response is not recorded in people wihout aggressive tendencies. The report I read in The Daily Telegraph did not list the participant demographics so it is difficult to know whether the results can be generalized to the population as a whole. But, according to Psychologist Dr Helen McGrath from the National Centre Against Bullying, if the study proved a link between "reward" and pain this showed bullying was a learned behaviour - and the Government should continue to fund early intervention. Tthere are apparently programs that start with four-year olds out there - which is just plain scary on so many levels.

Career opportunity

I'll have to hunt down the actual article but one of the items in the "what's news" quiz in one of the local Sydney papers was; How much will Wyong Councl pay for information leading to conviction of a graffiti vandal? A: $10,000. Not quite sure what they would need but it seems that a person with a camera and time on their hands in the right location might be able to tap into a new income stream here. The question though is: what is graffiti - and when Is graffiti not graffii but art, social expression or free speech? Hmmm. Seems there could be some questioning of societal norms here but possibly lots of people might agree that those people with paint cans who simply repeat/practice their tags in public spaces may not actually be making valid comment/contribution unless it's a visual metaphor for an ongoing search for identity. (Wyong is a little ways away; I wonder if the local council offers a similar bounty.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Old fashioned fun

Gizmoso reported last week on one of the latest entries in the [US] National Toy Hall of Fame - the stick. Other entrants this time included the Baby Doll and the skateboard. They join existing classics including Mr Potato Head, Crayola Crayons ... and the cardboard box (inducted 2005). The stick was chosen because it has been a staple of imaginative play for a long time - what did you use your stick for ... horse, gun, broom, balance pole ...? - and because everyone - man and beast and Mr Garrett from South Park - plays with one.

(Not so) Merry Xmas

The Grinch is alive and well - both here and overseas. The Croatian Prime Minister has, according to BBC Online, banned State-run firms from having Christmas parties and giving presents due to the credit crunch. Closer to home, The Daily Telegraph reports thieves have stolen $15,000 worth of Xmas decorations from the yard of a house on Queensland's Gold Coast. The decorations formed part of the Turner family's entry in the Gold Coast City Council Christmas Light Up competition which they won last year. The family spends $50,000 and three months annually working on their display - with proceeds donated to the Gold Coast Hospital. Be on the lookout for two larger-than-life fiberglass Santas, a sleigh and nine reindeer.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cyber-self

Amy Taylor and David Pollard are divorcing three years after they met, fell in love and married - all on the Internet. As well as their cyber-wedding on Second Life (a computer generated world where your cyberself aka avatar can interact with other avatars) the couple also had a real world registry office wedding. But their life has taken an unexpected turn - unexpected for everyone but them I suspect. Amy found out that David was cheating on her - having sex with a Second Life prostitute. Even though Amy hired a cyber PI to look into the matter, and despite her hurt, she and David, still insisting he had done no wrong, patched it up and all seemed well until she soon after discovered he had allowed his avatar to become intimately involved with another, female, avatar in Second Life. When confronted David confessed he had been talking with the player for a couple of weeks and that their marriage (that is David and Amy's) was over. The next day she went to a real world solicitor to file for divorce.
On reading this tale I found myself wondering about people living their "other" life in Second Life. Where do they find the time? What do they do there? And how do they decide on their avatars - and whether they are going to resemble their real life identity at all: case in point - David and Amy's avatars bore very little resemblance to them in real life. But maybe that's the point in a youth and beauty conscious world ... chances are that if you're unemployed, middle-aged, bald and not in peak physical condition, and you get a choice, that's not the image you're going to choose to project to a pretend world.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One, two, three ...

I was listening to Dr Karl Kruszelnicki's radio program the other day and mention was made of the number of hairs on a human head - 100,000. (I have to keep telling myself that Homer Simpson's three hairs don't count because he isn't real.). The question I have is how do they know what the average number of hairs is - did someone actually count them ... strand by strand, or make an estimation based on weight of a sample and coverage area. And if you wanted to question their figure how would you go it? Does the total vary between races? Genders? Ages? Depending on your diet? Oh wait - that would be to do with texture of your hair rather than how much hair you have - as in "eating your crusts will make your hair go curly" - and if they're wrong about that, could they not be wrong about the number if individual strands as well?

What's in a name

Mlckey Mouse officially turns 80 next week - but would he have enjoyed such success and longevity had Walt Disney named him "Mortimer" instead? We'll never know of course but somehow Mortimer Mouse isn't quite as catchy - and certainly doesn't scan well with the Mickey Mouse Club opening song. And to think that the world may never have had Mickey. According to today's The Daily Telegraph, Disney chose Mickey after he lost his biggest star - Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - in a trademark dispute. Disney had considered a horse, dog, cat, frog and cow before deciding on Mortimer Mouse - but Disney changed the character's name after his wife told him she "disliked" it. Happy birthday M. Mouse!

Special delivery mail man

German police are today searching for a prisoner who escaped by mailing himself out in a 120cm by 150cm carton. Described as "tall and broad-shouldered" the convicted drug dealer had been working with other inmates on stationery and when their shift ended he climbed into a cardboard box and was taken out of the prison by express courier. Shortly after the truck left the prison, he escaped by cutting a large hole in the tarpaulin of the lorry and jumping off. According to the BBC report I read, the driver, on noticing the tarp flapping in the wind investigated and alerted prison officials. The prison Warden, not surprisingly, said the incident showed that security needed to be beefed up urgently.

By the book

Doing some reading on the internet about "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" I discovered an interesting feature at an online bookstore (not Amazon but it also does have this feature although you have to be logged into their site to use it). At the Harper Collins site you can browse inside a book - i.e. you can "search" and even read some sections of the (available) book/s online - which means the book could be available electronically - for those of us who prefer to carry our books on a "device" rather than in paper form. While I am more of a device person myself I was forced to read an actual book recently and it seems that this format does have an advantage of sorts - it let's other people know you are reading rather than playing games or social networking. I've also commented on this blog previously that it could be good advertising for the author if there was some way to "show" what you were reading on a device - similar to the bookmark you can printout from one of the Edgar Sawtelle sites I visited yesterday. Hmmmm - I can see it now - tiny little dustjackets for your electronic handheld reading device - mine currently being my iPod Touch. Which reminds me - Apple here in Australia have recently started advertising the Touch on free-to-air TV as being "fun" and showing a whole slew of games - this fits in well with recent overseas news that Apple is going to push the Touch as a gaming device - although its use as a reading device should not be undervalued.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Dead Unlucky

A Brazilian woman on her way to her husband's funeral was killed when the hearse in which they were travelling was involved in a traffic accident. The coffin hurled forward and hit her in the back. Her son and the driver suffered only minor injuries.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Word play

Words are wonderful. Take "pauper" fo example - which tells you what it means: poor (pau) per(son). Porpoise doesn't work the same way though - meaning neither bad posture nor unfortunate kitty.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unarmed bandit

From today's The Daily Telegraph - but undoubtedly this story will be all over the "odd" news today:
Munich: Baffled police are hunting a handy thief who managed to steal a 60cm TV from a shop in broad daylight - despite having no arms. The limber bandit had two accomplices clamp the television set to his body before they strolled out of the shop in Munich, Germany. Staff had no clue until they noticed a TV was missing from its stand, then saw the heist on CCTV recordings. A police spokesman said: "It's hard to believe the sight of an armless man walking with a TV clamped to his body did not get anyone's attention."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Shiny guy

Reading about the Star Wars exhibit starting at Sydney's PowerHouse Museum this December, I remembered an article I thought I'd clipped in the last couple of days which referred to things noticed by children. Try as I might I am unable to locate it but the general gist was: in Star Wars the shiny guy worries a lot.

Fencing

It's not often that I find myself agreeing with the Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman but I found I was this morning. He wrote about Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's announcement that his Government would lead an international push to end capital punishment globally. The timing is interesting - coming only hours after the men convicted for their part in the 2002 Bali Bombing (in which nearly 90 Australians were killed) were executed by firing squad. Piers Akerman wrote: "the timing of this mission reeks of gutlessness, hypocrisy and political opportunism". While I would not have put it quite that strongly, I had wondered about the timing - especially as, understandably perhaps from a political standpoint, the Rudd Government did not seem to be campaigning against the death penalty for the Bali Bombers. This is not the forum for a debate on capital punishment but it does seem that it is a very personal issue which everyone needs to take some time to think about and reach their own conclusions rather than simply following the party line of the Government of the day.

Gun Number

Watching a television commercial for the Australian military the other day, I was surprised to see that there was no mention of the "enemy". In it, a young man talked of his role as a "gun number" where he and the others in his team could have their artillery gun in place and ready to fire within a couple of minutes. Sounded easy ... although they themselves were not under fire at the time - and there was no suggestion that those recruited via the ad (for that was its purpose) would have to perform in combat conditions - yes, yes, you'd think people would work it out but it just seems this isn't (whole) truth in advertising.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Google time

Ever since we went into early daylight saving time last month, I have been unsure of the time. I used to be able to confirm the exact time by ringing a number which gave the time -The Talking Clock - but I've decided there has to be another way - like the Internet. There was a site called timeanddate.com which gave time zones from around the world - but there's an easier way. It's Google. Just do a search on "time" and it will show your local time zone - not quite sure how it knows where you are though, probably it has something to do with your IP address or some such detail. It would be interesting to see if it worked when you are accessing the net through a corporate server to see if it could still correctly identify your time zone. (Orr - hi there - if you're still reading, this might be one for you.)

Weddings

One in three weddings end in divorce - so what makes the difference in the other two-thirds? And does it mean that the rest of marriages end with the death of one (or both) spouses? And what of de facto relationships -what is the "success" rate? Is there any credible research in this field - especially as the rate of marriage generally is supposed to be decreasing?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A lot of lolly

Today's The Daily Telegraph tells of the 50th anniversary of the Chupa Chup - which, although not the first lolly on a stick, has probably become the most recognisable - aided by its appearance in Telly Savalas' mouth when he played the famous Chupa-Chup-sucking detective, Kojak*, way back in 1975. (Hands up anyone else who feels old realising they watched the initial series run over 30 years ago!) What I hadn't known about Chupa Chups was that it was Salvador Dali, in 1969, who was commissioned to design the wrapper for the Chupa Chup, or that they were the first lollipops in space, sent to the Mir space station, when requested in 1995 To celebrate the 50th anniversary of this lolly-pop, Chupa Chups Lane will open in Oxford Street Market, Bondi Junction (NSW) today until 17 November. It will feature art works, light boxes and installations. There was no word in the report whether Chupa Chups will be on sale in situ or available gratis.
*The producers of Kojak had apparently come under fire because of the hero's smoking habits; they had him quit smoking and suck lollipops instead.

Fire works

Come Christmas each year, I like to tie some tinsel to the car's aerial so I can find it in crowded car parks. But if you're not the tinsel kind, Gizmodo reports that there is an alternative. What could be a better way to find your vehicle than having a holographic fireworks display "go off" over it - the Fireworks Locator System? Of course, this will probably work better while you're the only one in your neighbourhood with one - otherwise it could be a multi-pyrotechnics display because, and you know it's true, if some folk had one of these they'd be setting it off all the time regardless of the distraction it might prove to passing pedestrians and drivers - which is exactly why I'll be sticking with tinsel.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Naming rites

Obama may have been named the US President Elect this week but it doesn't stop there. Word from the BBC is that babies throughout Kenya (birthplace of Obama's father) are now being named Obama in his honour. .

On time

A recent report on the BBC News online tells that the Vatican is reintroducing "clocking in" for its employees to improve time-keeping and efficiency. This brings to mind the old Curia story: when asked how many people worked on the Vatican, Pope John XXIII replied "about half".

Monday, November 03, 2008

Just the shot

Arriving at my local coffee shop this morning, I couldn't help but notice various signs declaring "Sam's Gone Mad" - and listing 3 specials. When I asked Sam about it, and whether it was because business was not booming he said it was for a number of reasons - but primarily to lift people's spirits. "Usually, this time of year, there's a buzz [in the lead-up to Christmas] but people's morale is down." He's also planning to introduce random spot specials eg $1 coffee. The Post Cafe is in Marrickville Rd, Marrickville, and was well worth a visit even before Sam went mad! But isn't it fantastic to see such a positive grassroots response to changing conditions!

Man on (a) high

In Adelaide yesterday, circus performer Roy Maloy took 11 tries to do what others would consider to be either the stuff of dreams - or nightmares - when he walked 5 steps on 17-metre stilts. Yes ... that was 17 metres - or 57 feet - making them higher than a four-storey building. His previous successful attempt was on 5m stilts. He will have to wait to see if this attempt secures him a world record but remains fairly grounded and down to earth in terms of his achievement - today's The Daily Telegraph reports Mr Maloy as saying: "I was more convinced that I was going to die than at any other point in my life, so I'm really thrilled." Over on the ABC site, they report Maloy was assisted in the death-defying record attempt by the city's fire brigade: "As we were up there, I was holding on to two guys and I turned to one of them and said, 'You know that you are all that's separating me from life and death right now', and he said, 'Look I don't need that pressure'."
I haven't yet been able to find a photo but am hoping footage of the feat will pop up on YouTube sometime soon. In the interim, YouTube does have Roy's video diary of preparations for the record attempt and only by watching that did I truly appreciate the heights this man had reached!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sculpture 08

Sculpture by the Sea 2008 finished today and we were lucky enough to get there on Friday. Pics are posted at 101-Journeys (and there's a link there to a slideshow of the images).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween treats

Some people will do anything to get something for nothing - so here's your chance if you're that way inclined. Krispy Kreme here in Australia is offering a free SPECIAL HALLOWEEN doughnut to people fronting their stores in Halloween costume on Friday (31/10). Just because we're not in the US doesn't mean we can't celebrate this particular festivity with our American friends. Trick or treat anyone?

Driving me crazy

I noticed this while we were driving north (and south) on holidays recently, and I had completely forgotten about it until I read this letter in the paper today:

[What irks me] People who drive 10km/h below the limit on a single-lane road but when it turns into two lanes they speed up to 10km/h over the limit, meaning you overtake them doing 130km/h just in time for the police to book you. Steve, Coffs Harbour. hottopic; The Daily Telegraph.

I don't know why it is ... but it certainly does happen - except we don't speed to overtake them. As long as it's not raining, I set the cruise control for the speed limit and will Lars (the car) to "take them". Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.

Lack of clarity

A report in today's The Daily Telegraph tells of a car accident in Victoria where, with a learner driver at the wheel, a two-door vehicle hit a pole but none of the eight people in the vehicle were killed. Rescue workers at the scene branded the act of cramming that many people into the vehicle "sheer stupidity", but the Victorian Police Commissioner is reported as saying "the six men and two women were not breaking the law as long as all the seat belts were being used". It may be that the laws differ between Australian States, but I thought that here in NSW each person in the vehicle had to be wear a seatbelt - therefore only as many people can be in the vehicle as there are operating seatbelts - as opposed to it's okay for some people in the vehicle not to be wearing seatbelts as long as all the available seatbelts are being used by someone. Having been involved in a couple of vehicle accidents (thankfully none serious), my preference is definitely for seatbelts - and certainly having anyone unrestrained in a vehicle in a crash becomes a hazard to everyone else, never mind what damage they might do to themselves. I have just finished reading "Rant" by Chuck Palahniuk and one of the key characters is in a vehicle accident with her mother and father. She is lying on the seat at the back at the time, not wearing a seatbelt, and it is her body, as it is thrown forward to hit her parents, that causes the injuries that lead to their deaths.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Life imitating …

In Taree, NSW, last Monday, as we sat having breakfast on a small balcony overlooking a park and then the river, I noticed a young man pushing his way - and his bicycle - through the shrubbery towards us. S was deep in newspaper so I pointed it out to her: "Look, there's a man in the bushes." Quick as a flash, the man said "Russell" (or Rustle) - and then proceeded to secure his bike to the balcony support. "That's not your real name" I said. "No" he smiled, and went on his way.

Space smells

According to a recent report, Space (as in Outer) smells like fried steak, hot metal and welding a motorbike. But how do they know - since chances are no astronaut is likely to whip off their helmet on a space walk and take a great big whiff? No non-human noseometer either probably. No - just the good ol' fashioned sniff test of the spacesuit once astronauts are back on board. I suppose it could be enough to make you scream - although would anyone hear you - if you were a vegetarian. But has the smell of space changed over the years as more stuff gets s(c)ent up there, and if there is no oxygen and/or wind do smells, once generated, stay in the same "spot" in geo-synchronous orbit with Earth? And were they male or female astronauts reporting the smell of space - and could gender affect the olfactory result? And will mere (as in not-cashed-up) mortals ever know? I ask because word from the latest space joyrider (? Charles Simonyi) is that people with the big bucks and the passion will still pay to go to space - whatever the price. If so - no doubt they will be able to smell for themselves!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Experimental findings

If you’re over 39 – and of the male persuasion - you might want to stop reading this now because what follows may be unsettling: new research from the University of California suggests that “at age 39 our brain reaches its peak speed, and it’s all downhill after that”. As reported on SlashDot: "The loss of a fatty skin that coats the nerve cells, called neurons, during middle age causes the slowdown, experts say. The coating acts as insulation, similar to the plastic covering on an electrical cable, and allows for fast bursts of signals around the body and brain. When the sheath deteriorates, signals passing along the neurons in the brain slow down. This means reaction times in the body are slower too." ‘The full findings are detailed in the online version of the journal Neurobiology of Aging – including the framework of the experiment: Scientists asked 72 men, ranging in age from 23 to 80, to tap their index fingers as fast as they could for 10 seconds. The researchers also did brain scans to measure in each subject the amount of myelin (the aforementioned fatty sheath). Both the tapping speed and the amount of myelin was found to decline "with an accelerating trajectory" after age 39. So this raises a few questions: Excluding morse operators, is there a section of the community that is more practiced in “tapping” eg perhaps because of work with calculators, texting, computers or computer gaming? Is there a similar difference in age performance in females - and why were females not included in the experiment? Is there a difference between males and females in “brain speed” … and development? Is there a cultural difference – or perhaps a cultural bias (as with IQ tests)? Is 72 really a large enough sample with which to aver that “brain speed declines at 39”? Study leader George Bartzokis, professor of psychiatry at UCLA, called the results "pretty striking" and said: "That may well be why, besides achy joints and arthritis, even the fittest athletes retire and all older people move slower than they did when they were younger." Others (including moi) might say: more work needed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kindle up some interest

I tell you, this is music to my ears ... the news that Oprah (as in Winfrey) has announced her latest "new favorite thing "is the Amazon Kindle - wich is an ebook reader (as well as having some other features). So why am I excited even though I'm not going to take advantage of the code which would give me a $US50 discount on the device (although perhaps I should be given today's deep dive of the Australian dollar)? It's a small matter of content. If Oprah's endorsement of the Kindle works as well as her BookClub endorsements - and it seems that there is a perfect companionship here - there will be a burgeoning market for electronic books - and if there's a market there's also the very real possibility that more books will find their way into digital as well as conventional print - and then the rest of us who are already reading our Kindles, iPod Touches, Palms and Pocket PCs will have an even greater choice of material. Yes, yes, I know it's too much to ask to have a price drop on digital works as well - but you can't blame me for dreaming (and doing the happy dance)!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Library news

It's been a while since I went to the Library - at least 4 years because when we moved here I meant to join the Library but never did get around to it - but I was forced there earlier this month when a book M recommended could not be purchased in eBook format. And it sounded just quirky enough that I did want to read it (Men who stare at goats by Jon Ronson), so after an online check to confirm the local book repository had it, I fronted there the next day to join and take out said tome. My, how borrowing a book has changed over the years. It's now all done electronically - scan your membership card and then (s)wipe your item (book, CD or DVD) over the reader mat - then a piece of paper prints out with the name of the item/s and the due date. If the due date rolls around and you want to extend, you can do that online without having to visit the library. And you can have 30 items out at a time! But the innovation doesn't stop there. Used to be back in the olden days, all manner of non-Library rubbish including syringes and other nasties, would find their way into return chutes. Now, the chutes are locked - and you gain access by scanning the barcode on your library card or the item - which is a much safer option. Yes, it's good at the local Library and with this penchant for innovation, I'm hopeful they have an eBook program somewhere on their horizon!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fire wall or stone walling

I'm not sure how much of what is on the internet is true ... but I read a piece recently which would be very disturbing if it were true. I came across it on the Gizmodo site, which referred to an item on the Boing Boing site, which suggested the Australian Government is putting a web censorship program in place which is designed to restrict teenagers access to p0rn sites but could have wider ramifications. The system is an "opt-out"one - so everyone's usage will automatically be censored. According to the Boing Boing item, if you do opt out, you will be placed on an alternative blacklist which instead of blocking "content innappropriate for children", will block any material deemed to be illegal. But what is illegal content - and who decides? Would it be social, cultural. other eg euthanasia, drugs or political dissent? The interesting part of this is that I picked the story up off an off-shore site but haven't seen anything about it in the local (Australian) press. Might be time to do some digging and, as the Boing Boing item suggested, have a word with the local MP to voice some opposition against this. (And to think we had believed we were free of Big Brother - when the news was released earlier this year that the series was not planned to return to Australian shores. Seems the other Big Brother could be infinitely worse.)

Gadget guy

The writers at Gizmodo are often very tongue-in-cheek - sometimes more so than others. In a recent story they told about a young man, Scott Boe, who broke into a house to charge his cell/mobile phone suggesting a "serious dependency" on gadgets. Of course, it could be that Mr Boe was just breaking into the house - as might have been evidenced by the backpack pokice found at the scene with him which included several knives, a large pry tool and other suspicious devices. Gizmodo suggested the excuse that may have been offered by Mr Boe ... "that stuff isn't mine" might have been as lame an excuse as the urgent need for charging his phone. (Hmmm, I wonder how many people - besides me - actually carry their phone charger with them? Yes, yes, I know ... "serious dependency".)

Water into wine

We've all heard stories about water being turned into wine - those with a Christian upbringing anyway - but it recently happened (again?) in Italy where wine gushed through taps into homes during a grape festival. Alas, it wasn't a miracle, but a plumbing error. An integral part of the Marino's wine festival is where sparkling white wine flows from the fountains from the main square. This year, a technical error meant the wine was directed not to the fountain but to domestic plumbing - and in the couple of minutes before the error was discovered and rectified, where there was water was now ... wine. According to the BBC report I read, the grape festival, Sagra dell'Uva, is one of the oldest in Italy, and commemorates the return of Admiral Marcantonio Colonna to his home in Marino after his victory over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in October 1571. The town sent more than 250 sailors to the battle. The sagra is celebrated on the first Sunday of October to give thanks for their safe return. No doubt the local householders who received the unexpected wine, together with a bar on the town square, gave thanks as well.

There's no snow ...

I remember hearing that Eskimos have 32 different words for snow. You can go to this BBC News report for more on those words but here are a couple to help pique your curiosity, as the BBC said:'Kannevvluk' is no problem but avoid 'mingqutnguaq'.

Calibration or something more sinister?

Anyone with a touchscreen device - and there are more of us all the time - know that they are not infallible and that sometimes where you touch the screen isn't always properly recorded by the device. So, it may not be the world's smartest idea to have touchscreen voting machines in situ for the US election - especially as, according to a report in Gizmodo, early voters in West Virginia have complained that when they have tried to vote for Barack Obama, the touchscreen voting machine has recorded their vote as one for John McCain. Hopefully, this is no more sinister than a case of bad calibration - easily fixed if you know how - because we would expect only fair play from the nation which goes out of its way to protect the idea and ideals of democracy. Still, if any of our US friends do find themselvces on a touchscreen voting device, it's probably best to check how your vote was recorded before you leave the booth. (Will we Australians, in our lifetime, be able to vote electronically - either at a defined voting station or over the web - or, perhaps, if not electronically, by using pens - rather than pencils - on our ballot papers?)

Friday, October 24, 2008

TXT your love

You can get many services via mobile/cell phone these days - even relationship help. I recently saw an TV ad for a service where you can assess how strong your relationship is and whether you and your partner should stay together by sending a TXT. I can't recall whether you needed to provide any personal details to help the service "decide". I guess if you were in a relationship with someone who wanted to check how the relationship was progressing by doing this, if they came back with a "break up" it could be doing you a GR8 big favour.

Horror story

Four years ago and just after midnight - Maureen Wyer was harassed by undertaker Adam Lee as he followed her through two suburbs - in his hearse. He was sounding his horn, "ranting and raving", driving into her path, forcing her on to the median strip and banging on her car door. She was fearful for her life and he only stopped when she flagged down two police officers. Now, that time frame again - four years ago ... December 2004. In court yesterday, Mr Lee was placed on an 18-month good behavior bond and ordered to seek treatment for the depression which allegedly contributed to the incident, as, supposedly did alcohol. The woman was unknown to the man - which was partly accountable for the light sentence according to a TV news reports I saw. Understandably she wants to put the episode behind her - and now, four years later, and with justice "done", she may be able to do so. But why does it take four years for a case like this to make the courts, and how much more severe would the sentence have been if he was doing it to a known person rather than just some random person. And is it possible that the court-ordered treatment for his condition could have benefited him, and the community, way back when the harassment happened? Hmmm.
Update: Ms Wyer has branded the sentence "an insult" according to today's The Daily Telegraph. It also added that the incident had left her so traumatised she had been unable to drive for six weeks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Flight risk

A report on SlashDot tells of a US TSA employee who has been discovered selling goods worth approximately US$200K on the internet. For those who haven't travelled by air in the US, the TSA is part of Homeland Security, and is responsible for doing security checks on goods/luggage travelling by plane. The options when securing your luggage for air travel there are to: not lock your bags; lock your bags with a TSA-approved lock which TSA personnel can open; or lock your bags with a non-TSA-approved lock which the TSA will bust to check your luggage. That's the official checks anyway - which it appears were not how the TSA employee ended up with the goods found when his home was searched, which included: 66 cameras, 31 laptop computers, 20 cell phones, 17 sets of electronic games, 13 pieces of jewelry, 12 GPS devices, 11 MP3 players, eight camera lenses, six video cameras and two DVD players.
The report did not mention the total value of goods purloined by the employee nor what the most amazing piece of stolen luggage was, nor how long the scam had been going on, nor what safeguards would be put in place to prevent a recurrence.

The stuff of dreams

A recent study out of Scotland's Dundee University looks at whether the way we dream - in colour or in black and white - is affected by the television we watched in our younger years. Unfortunately the study only used a small sample size, so this may need to be re-visited but it seems that people (now over 55s) born before television, dream in colour; those who were children (now under 55s) when black and white television was most common, dream in black and white; and children (now under 25s) born when colour televisions were commonplace, dream in colour. What an interesting concept - especially if there is an st/age where children are more malleable than others: eg is there a golden teaching period?
And on the subject of dreams, the BBC reports on a study from the University of the West of England which suggests that women are 'more prone to nightmares'. The 170 subjects in the study recorded their dreams - and 19% of men and 30% of women reported a. nightmare. There was reportedly no difference in the number of dreams recorded by members of each sex - although there was some evidence that women had more "emotional" dreams.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Whale watch

The whales continue to make their way along the coast and when we're in the unit, we keep an eye out - way out. The two whales shown here - one fin, one part of indeterminate origin - are captured with a 12x optical zoom - so they are a long way away. It is still a huge thrill to see the splash and then watch for them to surface again. So why do whales breach? Is it courtship behaviour, play activity or barnacle removal? Experts seem divided on the reasons, but it's good that whales do breach otherwise it would be nigh impossible to spot them.

Off-hand

How do we remember things? And how is it possible that 30-something years later, key shorthand (Pitman) strokes are still "in there" - and able to pulled out enough to be able to take down shorthand at slow talking speed. We were commenting on this as it was happening - and S commented that this - writing shorthand - was another skill I could include on my resume - "but" I protested "I can't read it back" - "doesn't matter" she replied "you're only saying you can write it". Hmmm.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

T

At Burleigh Heads Beach on the Gold Coast, at Monday mornings at 8:30am, the Council provides free Tai Chi lessons. The only thing better would be if they then provided Chai Tea.

The times they are a-changing

... apologies to Bob Dylan. After being immortalised in an episode of "The Simpsons" the legendary letter-returning skills of former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr are coming to an end. Although it took many many years for Marge Simpson to receive a reply from Ringo , current-day (real) fans may never receive one following the release of an online message from Mr Starr saying he is too busy to sign or read fan mail. Would be interesting to know if fan mail has increased or decreased with the general uptake of the internet.

Sydney Ferris

Whisper on the street is that a temporary Ferris wheel may soon be erected near Sydney's Circular Quay. If the proposal gets the go-ahead from the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, the wheel could be (a)round from later this year to January next year. The (generic) Ferris wheel is named after American engineer George Washington Gale Ferris who "designed such a wheel for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893." The SlovoEd dictionary for Palm goes on to say that a Ferris wheel is "an amusement device consisting of a large power-driven wheel made in two parallel sections having seats suspended between the sections; the seats maintaining a horizontal position while the wheel rotates in a vertical plane".
The Sydney version is planned to be 45 metres tall, and have 36 six-seat air-conditioned gondolas.

Placement

Checking the news online this morning, I clicked on one of the ten most popular stories links at smh.com.au and saw a story about Coke and the Australian Dental Association's concern about a full page ad the (among other things) drink company is using. The advertisement on the same "page" as the story was for Colgate (see screen grab); it will be interesting to see if the same juxtaposition happens in the hard-copy newspaper.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Whale of a time

I have spent some time this afternoon (after a post-lunch siesta) looking far out to sea looking for some sign of whales as they migrate north to their breeding grounds. Container ships ... check. Helicopters ... check. Small planes ... check. White caps aka white horses ... check. Whales ... nada. Until about 4pm when I noticed a largish splash a distance out. Then nothing. Half an hour later - another one. But by the time the binoculars were out and focused on roughly the right patch of ocean, no sign. S jokingly accused me of perpetrating some odd form of torture, as I called her each time to witness the whales. And then, there it was - two splashes at the same time that we both saw. I was lucky enough to see whales and fins ... And found myself wishing for stronger binoculars, better eyes, and perhaps an industrial-strength telescope - or even a boat. The whales were incredibly difficult to track across the ocean but from time to time I'd see the splash again - or a large puff of spray from a blowhole. Heaven. (At this point I will mention that the actual whale sighting came AFTER I had employed a trick from "Finding Nemo", one I had tried often but unsuccessfully as I sat on my balcony overlooking the Atlantic Ocean when I was in Cape Town last November. It is, of course, "speaking in whale". Thanks Dory. It works.)

Getting a grip

Why is an octopus called an octopus if it has ten-tacles? Yes, now I know that it has to do with "tentacles" - as derived from the Latin tentaculum which means to feel/probe. But what is the difference between a tentacle and an arm ... especially if octopuses, squid and cuttlefish all have 8 - but cuttlefish and squid have 2 extra but different "tentacles". According to Dr James Wood: tentacles are longer then arms and they usually only have suckers at their tips.

Lights in the sky

From our 16th floor holiday unit on the Gold Coast, we are able to watch the planes swing around to line up to land at the Coolangatta airport. Last night, as I lay in bed, watching yet another set of lights in the starry night, I realised that this one didn't seem to be moving. Sure enough, over the course of the next (more than) twenty minutes, it continued to "hover" there. I tried to have a look through binoculars but the best I could make out was three lights - red, green and white. I couldn't tell how far away, or what, it was but it may be that I will check the local paper to see if there were any reports of UFOs in the night sky. If not, then I'm going with that it was a helicopter - although I had heard that most helicopter pilots would avoid prolonged hovering because it is dangerous.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A question of ethics ...

or courting sympathy? Is it appropriate for children to be allowed in court? Reports of a NSW rugby player's appearance in court yesterday to try to regain access to the girlfriend he allegedly injured in a domestic violence incidence, was accompanied by a picture of the man (mid-20s) holding his (much) younger brother's hand. At first I thought it might have been a bid to show what a "good guy" he is, but reading of another source's reports that he was supported in court "by his mother, sister, uncle and two little brothers" suggests otherwise. But, and here is the question of ethics - or is it morals - is it appropriate to have young children in court? Would it be different if it were a violent crime or, say, possession of drugs? And, have there been any studies done on whether an accused supported by family including children, fares better in the justice system than those without (lawyers notwithstanding)?

On the street where you live ...

Teacher Julie McIlroy and electrician Allan Donnelly are planning to wed after they met on an internet dating site. Nothing too strange about that for the couple, who have both been based in the same street in Cardiff, Wales, for the last 17 years but had never met. Is this a case of them previously looking for love in all the wrong places? Or, when Julie began emailing Allan after seeing his photo on the net, did she do so because he seemed "familiar"? It is heartening though - to know that they do not have the "geographically-difficult" dimension that sometimes precludes internet daters from meeting although, as has been often showed, where there's a will, there's a way.

Get the message

Australian television station Channel 10 has been found guilty of using subliminal advertising during last year's ARIA awards. Despite the station's denials, the Australian Communications and Media Authority found that logos for KFC, Chuppa Chps, Bigpond and others were flashed on screen while the nominees for the awards were read out. Most people who "saw" the flashes would not have consciously registered or realised what they were seeing - such is the shortness of the "flash". So, is this a common practice amongst television stations here and abroad? Possibly not ... especially as the ad breaks just seem to be getting longer and filled with more ads. But it does make you wonder about the products that would be best advertising (or not) via subliminal advertising. Is it just the ARIA demographic or do major ticket items eg cars, international travel not translate effectively to subliminal advertising? Or did some companies, if indeed they were offered the opportunity, not agree to have their products so advertised? And what other uses could sublimal messaging serve? Wikipedia's entry on subliminal messages includes: In 1978, Wichita, Kansas TV station KAKE-TV received special permission from the police to place a subliminal message in a report on the BTK Killer (Bind, Torture, Kill) in an effort to get him to turn himself in. The subliminal message included the text "Now call the chief," as well as a pair of glasses. The glasses were thought to be of significance to the killer because when BTK murdered Nancy Fox, there was a pair of glasses lying upside down on her dresser. So, police felt that the glasses would stir up some remorse emotion and included them in the subliminal message. The attempt was unsuccessful, and police reported no increased volume of calls afterward.

Safety feature

As if the possibility of making a (possibly) life-changing phone call while under the influence of alcohol wasn't bad enough, with the increasing availability of email on people's phones, there's now the chance that a more enduring and no less embarrassing message may be released into the wild. But fear not, Google is on top of it. It's just released a new setting for its Gmail accounts (yes, they probably need to be set before drinking commences) where the user will need to correctly answer some simple mathematics questions before they can send email. Sounds reasonable. Now if only there was something like that for mobile phones!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Similarities

What do the Vatican and the US Army have in common? Both are making efforts to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels. Wired reports that the Army is planning to build what could be the world's most powerful solar power plant. Elsewhere, Gizmodo reports that the Vatican has just installed the first panels of its intended 2,400-strong solar panel roof project. If all goes to plan, this could see the Vatican as the first carbon-neutral body in the world - and striking a very real blow against what they have called "the sin" of poilution.

Right place

Luck, or was it fate, was on the side of a 6-year-old boy found drowning in a pool at a resort in northern NSW. Alerted by screams from his mother, other guests at the resort rushed to help including a paediatrician, an intensive care paramedic, a doctor and a paediatric nurse. The boy was being treated in hospital last night for water in his lungs.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Counting on this

On this day ... In 1571 "A Turkish fleet is destroyed by Christina forces commanded by Don John of Austria at the Battle of Lepanto. About 30,000 men die." So how long have people been counting for - and why did they start? According to Wikipedia, there is "archeological evidence suggesting that humans have been counting for at least 50,000 years ... and that it was used primarily to track economic data such as debts and capital". So, then, why did different types of counting groupings come about, take as an example Metric (10's) and Imperial (12's) - could this have been due to regional differences or the physical means used to track the counting of numbers eg fingers vs ... something else. And at what point were "bigger" numbers needed eg millions, billions, trillions ... and is there any time correlation between this and the need to break time into ever smaller increments - ie once upon a ... time, the smallest time measurement might have been a day - because there was no reliable way of measuring anythi ng smaller. Was there an economic imperative with the creation of time measurement as well - eg people needed to know how long a labour period was and how to measure it efectively? Strange then, too, that the traditional gift for long service with a company was (and still may be) a gold watch.

Experience the difference

When is a movie not a movie? When you're charged $3 extra for the ticket because it's "an experience" - or that's what I was told on Sunday afternoon when buying a ticket for "Journey To The Centre of The Earth 3D". I suspect the additonal $3 was to cover the extra costs associated with the 3D glasses. I've just checked an ad to see if the higher price was included - and it is covered thus: * SPECIAL EVENT CONDITIONS APPLY; and, in another ad: NO DISCOUNT TICKETS. 3D PRICES ONLY. That will teach me to check session times electronically rather than in the press - and to be ready for anything at the cinema. Especially the middle-aged gentlemen who lost his mobile phone and in an effort to find it, I rang his number so we could hear it ring - or at least light up if he had put it on silent. It worked ... and off he went muttering that his mother would have had "his g*ts for garters" if he'd lost it. Hmm - this could explain why, as we were leaving the complex, my phone rang and, as I was driving, S answered it. The person on the other end wanted to know why I had rung them. D'Oh.

Crocodile fears

Following the disappearance of a man beside a crocodile-infested river in Far North Queensland last week, local authorities have been trapping crocodiles in the area and will be testing them to check for human remains. So far three have been captured. At first I was concerned that the crocodiles were going to be killed so the tests could be conducted, but no, apparently they are to be x-rayed. The first crocodile to be tested has returned a negative result but will not be returned to the stretch of the river from which he was taken; instead, word is that Charlie will be put out to stud (at a crocodile farm). It is unclear what will happen if one of the crocs returns a positive result. Or how authorities will manage the co-existence of humans and crocodiles in the area in the future.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Birthplace oif an idea?

I have included a screenshot here of what I fancifully believe could have been the birthplace of the Palm PDA. It's from the final episode of Series 3 of The X Files dating back to 1995. Wouldn't it be amazing if this had been Jeff Hawkins's inspiration for a palm-sized personal computing device? There had long been non-electronic versions of palm-sized writing pads/cardholders available - especially the leather versions through quality stationers. But, to my mind anyway, the Palm was a huge leap forward. (It does make me wonder how ideas are born - and whether life us better for people who are more observant - or who have two right hands.)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Best case scenario

The origin of words and sayings can be interesting and thought-provoking. Take, as an example, "best case scenario". Did this have a meaning before the advent of "Deal or No Deal", the television program where a contestant has to choose a single case from many - each of which contains a $ amount from 50 cents to $200,000 (Australian version). They then have to open the other cases - and depending on which amounts are revealed, they are made an offer for their case. As an offer is made they have two options - "deal" or "no deal". The object of the game is to end up with a sizeable amount of money - either by making it to the end with your case being the one to contain big dollars, or to make the "deal" along the way - to sell your case, with whatever it has, for the offer. It was in yesterday's program that the presenter, outlining the possible options to the contestant with $2,000, $5,000 and $50,000 still in play, used the phrase "the best case scenario". So where does "best case scenario" come from? Did it ever refer to physical cases (aka ports, bags, suitcases) or does it relate to case as in "proceeding in a court of law" or "a problem requiring investigation" ... or something else entirely? According to the SlovoEd (Palm version) dictionary it's: being, relating to, or based on a projection of future events that assumes only the best possible circumstances [a best-case scenario]. Somewhat surprising, in a quick search on Google for "best case scenario" three of the first 10 results show (in bold print) "worst-case scenario".

How to lose an hour ...

... before Daylight Savings starts. It began with the observation that "Encyclopaedia" was the answer to one of the clues in today's Quick Crossword in The Sydney Morning Herald. I had remembered the "a" in the middle because of "The Mickey Mouse Club". S advised me that I was remembering it incorrectly - and we both sang our versions of the Jiminy Cricket song to compare them. Both scanned - so we decided to settle it over the internet. Out came the iPod Touch for a quick search for Jiminy Cricket on YouTube (hmmm - it was actually easier to spell "encyclopaedia" than "Jiminy" but that's another story). Well, of course S was right - even though I still insist that the version we saw in Toowoomba Qld DID have the "a" - and from there, after a couple of replays of the song, I went in search of my 1967 favourite "Adventure Island" (opening and closing sequences) .. which then led to "Gilligan's Island" because I thought the Island theme songs had similar feels ... and then onto another favourite yesteryear program "The Littlest Hobo" ... by this time S was begging me to leave so more reading of Einstein's biography could take place ... and a quick search on Einstein found some footage of the great man himself and ... Einstein the Parrot, who was very, very good and, as S said, made it "all worth it". Then, to round it off, I looked for footage of the Kangaroo that used to signal the overnight close of transmission for Channel 7 Sydney (I saw the last time the temporary close happened) in the days when stations did not broadcast 24 hours a day. As well as the Kangaroo, there was, and I had forgotten this, the song "My City of Sydney". Ahhh, those were the days ... and that's how to lose (at least) an hour on a Thursday evening. But it truly is amazing what is available on YouTube - and how easy it is to look it up if you're using a portable wireless device which turns on rather than "boots up".

Thursday, October 02, 2008

On Writing

I am in the middle of reading Stephen King's* "On Writing" - a "how to" manual which is proving to be quite different from what I had expected. (Take writing advice from Stephen King? You bet. You'd be doing well to be half as successful as he, and if your penchant is to write "literature" rather than "popular fiction" the same tools/rules apply.) Key learning thus far: if you are writing about the possessive, always use an 's even if the word ends in an s. Oh, and his other advice: if you want to be a writer, you have to also be a reader. I would also posit that you would do well to have a good editor. Also, if you want to be a writer: write ... regularly each day .. set yourself a limit and just do it.
Which reminds me - it's going to be November in a minute - and time again for NaNoWriMo otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. Some 100,000 people took part in the event last year where you simply undertake to write something each day in November - and have a 50,000 word novel completed at the end of the month. The NaNoWriMo.org site is currently having difficulties but you can check there in a few days to find out the details, or get more of a flavour for the "event" from the NaNoWriMo entry in Wikipedia (sorry, remote posting this means I can't insert a URL link).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Positioning statement

Way back when – not sure of the exact date, I commented on this blog about the way newspapers report on who you are. In today’s paper there is a reference to a woman being a “redundant marketing consultant”. This will be helpful in the period between now and when I start in my next position – until then, if asked, I am a redundant business analyst. Although, come to think about it, that could be just a little confusing – but possibly helpful - in these difficult economic times.

Target audience

Australian broadcaster ABC launched the local version of the car show Top Gear earlier this week. According to The Daily Telegraph “More than 1.3 million people tuned into the debut episode ...” This is the second time I’ve heard that kind of number mentioned in the last day. I can’t remember the exact number cited the other time, except that it was over a million: i.e. the number of users signed up to use the on-line dating service that was advertised on television just after midnight last night. Now, I’m not sure what the exact population of Australia is (quick Google search suggests over 20 million in 2006) but that does seem like an awful lot of people to be looking for love on-line. I wonder if there have been any statistics produced about success rates? Or, and this is probably recent viewing of an “X Files episode where the suspect was using on-line dating sites to target women so he could feast on their lipids rather than their lips” talking, has anyone produced reliable statistics about why it may not be such a good idea to use the internet for initiating on-line relationships – or a “how to” guide so people can do so safely? (Yes, I know ... time to turn off the television.) Is this something that could be included in the next Census – or the subject of someone’s doctoral thesis – although collecting data might be tough because of the sheer size of the population (random sampling might help) and because if someone had had a not-so-wonderful experience with on-line dating, they may not want to talk about it. Lots of food for thought there ... including whether there is a specific personality profile that would prefer on-line dating, and whether modern lifestyles means there is a preference for on-line dating over other ways of meeting people. (This ramble is probably another reason to turn off the television – especially when midnight rolls around. Seems to be a different target market in the wee smalls of the morning.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On this day

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

Flight experience

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

Work choices

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

Monday, September 29, 2008

Land line

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

Old vs New

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