Heavy Plant

Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...



Away for Christmas and new year. Occasional mobile posts only!


Interesting times

I must be serious, I've spent money on it, well $10 anyway.

I have registered dataphage.com through google apps for your domain with registration, which also gives me email addresses, web hosting etc. For the time being there is a badly republished version of the content here on the site.

I'm not sure what I'll do with it and I'm waiting to see what other google services are tied in with it and whether I can migrate everything over. Ideas on a postcard to the usual address.


Zeitgeist - the new apathy

"Down with a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation has been purchased with the guarantee that we will die of boredom." - Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution Of Everyday Life
There is a not so new apathy spreading everywhere I go. A feeling of disinterest, dis-empowerment and despair that is evidencing itself as a kind of feckless self-absorption. Cynicism abounds, there is a dearth of originality and what talent there is seems intent on rehashing on commenting on events elsewhere, egocentric diarising or a kind of neo-nihilism that lacks enough sophistication even to call itself Dada . Reality is eating itself.

This isn't just a general feeling but an all-pervading malaise, a pernicious meme that has infiltrated and taken over. It's almost as if an alien invasion has begun:
Phase one: kill their spirit, make them chaotic and they will walk willingly to slavery just to regain a sense of order
I am not a shut-in with a tinfoil helmet and an assault rifle but someone who has realised that they are part of the problem. The hope of there being a solution is vanishing quickly as it rests almost entirely on a sense of personal involvement, ownership and action that is vanishing from people's agendas, mine particularly.

People have become their contextual value to organisations: a vote, a victim, a sale, a rented opinion. In all but a few areas there is no feeling of collective enterprise, community is the distant and fading memory of my parents. It has been reconstituted as a pale reflection of itself in the near consequence-free virtual environment. People isolate themselves with iPods and mobile phones. Ironically the very means of communication somehow shutting in the person rather than facilitating their outward expression.

If you've read this far then you have some sense of what I'm talking about but haven't yet given it a name or thought about a coherent resistance to it. It is the removal of people from reality, homogenisation of perspective, over communication with little or no content and what this does to the rest of the world. When cynicism is common sense, apathy an instinct and distinctiveness a dying hope something is clearly wrong.



There has been an absence of more verbose postings on here for a little while as more and more often I seem to be triggered into thinking about concepts that I bring up in the longer ones. For example after the post on Music and Thinking I started a piece on browsing that has taken on a life of its own and had me sat around looking pensive for some time (people thought I was constipated, I was just confused).

I keep returning to philosophical ideas that I covered at University to do with contemporary life, self and identity and trying to contextualise these with working life, the internet and the idea of personal happiness. It's producing some interesting thoughts. They all seem a little obvious at the moment but I'm going to keep following them and see if they produce anything insightful. I haven't had any time to write any more fiction and I might try and make some time to do this too as I've had some half decent ideas, however these are all tied up with the ideas so they may be a little pretentious, but that's never stopped me before!


Raising a few eyebrows

I had no idea this was a competitive area.


And so Christmas began

Oh dear there's another layer.
Life is like a box of chocolates; some bastard's got the one you want and you have to get your hands dirty looking for one you might like.



But what happens when your knees go?
Edit: you'll need to click on the photo to see why I even bothered with this.


More fibre




Music and thinking

powered by ODEO

furious pig - I don't like your face

Why is it that I no longer listen to or buy music? I think I used to enjoy it, certainly I spent a lot of money trying to enjoy it. I'm bored by listening to the things I own, after all I've heard them before. CD's seem too expensive, and you have to be careful how you download mp3s, it can get you sued.

powered by ODEO

Kimya Dawson - I like giants

I seem to be seeking out variety at the moment. I've abandoned what I might have considered a discerning ear in favour of constant change. I listen to to FBi radio here in Sydney which refreshes its playlist weekly and is stakcked with new msic, a lot of of which you can't hear anywhere else (the link is worth a look, you can listen over the internet). The DJs tend to be younger than me and some of them are a little bit unworldly but their chatter is somehow soothing.

powered by ODEO

Astronomy class - Heatseeker

Perhaps it's like Scott Adams says, music is like a drug. At least overdose isn't terminal in most cases, though you do worry how many car crashes are attributable to The Chemical Brothers. I think I've stopped listening to music because it stopped being ineresting. The music industry has become too much of an industry and is definitely suffering in the information age where broadcast is the same as presence and distribution is a casual, almost thought free exercise.

I don't blame the internet for the downfall of the music industry - the medium is not the message - but I do blame a commodity based approach to creative work by that industry. It seems contrary to the nature of creative people and the reason they create to turn their output into property that no longer belongs to them and over which they have little or no authority. Such is the nature of a capital economy.

powered by ODEO

The knife - Heartbeats

I have lost most of my interest in music because of a lack of access points to new material and because a lot of it seems stale. Maybe that says more about my outlook than it does about the music but I don't think so.

One of the reasons I don't put commercial radio on or buy the CD's that are peddled on it is because the world we now live in is governed by browsing. Browsing is an activity where concentration and attention span as well as a deeper qualitative appreciation are hostile to the activity itself. It also means that people are more sensitive to negative forces, browsing has both push and pull forces and the push is instant and final and the pull is creeping and fickle (more on browsing in another post, I seem to have quite a lot to say about it).

powered by ODEO

Scala girls choir - I touch myself

Music is now something we use to fill up transitory spaces in our lives and a background to a different activity; every commuter has an iPod, every bar, coffee shop or newsagent you go into has music playing (browsing again). Perhaps I don't want to overload senses with a sensory experience from outside the event or maybe I don't want to dilute the moment but I seem to feel that adding music detracts from the moment more than adding to it. This is probably becauase we do use music to enhance experiences that would otherwise seem dull and its presence therefore infers to me that what I'm doing is dull and needs livening up.

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Alvin Lucier - I am sitting in a room (1969)

Music also seems to inhibit thought. Hearing is not as highly processed by your brain as sight, which is thought to be one of the reasons mentally ill people have auditory hallucinations. Sound arrives in your consciousness half-processed giving it strange levels of access to your mind. Environments actually can be too loud to think and I quite like to think although it seems I do a little too much of it. Stuff it I'm going to put the radio on and watch the cricket.

On the margin

If the thoughts you have on the edge of a party are restricted to 'this is a bit shallow' then have another drink. I'll talk to you another time.



The nice people at Blogger/Google have sorted all the problems I was having posting to here from the mobile. In celebration here is a postcard shot just for them.

Edit: Link so the apropriate people see it.


Drink writing

Never ever drink and write, ever.


Fish and drinks

Dogfish resting

Last night the company Emily works for held their Christmas party at Sydney Aquarium. The aquarium is one of Sydney's top attractions, and deservedly so. It may cost $25 to get in but the sting of this wears off the instant you see the platypi (platypusses?) which are right inside the main entrance. I didn't have the presence of mind to take any video footage of them sadly, but I did take some from the oceanarium which you can see above.

The party itself was held in a room that you get to only at the end of walking round the aquarium and before the gift shop which sells a wide variety of high-quality tat. One whole wall of the room is glass looking into the largest and most fully stocked larder tank in the place. The overall effect is a bit like a ten foot tall screensaver. It has a bizarre hypnotic effect that transfixes normally hyperactive ritalin candidate children into awed silence. Why they don't have a webcam focussed on this I can't imagine. They do have 2 rather boring webcams focussed on the crocodile and the fairy penguins (stop that thought, the penguins are rugged Aussie types).

hypnotised by the tank

Quite a large number of the canapes served at the event seemed to be fish or fish based. I couldn't quite get the image of the waiters with a fishing net and waiting deep-fryer out of my mind.

The worst thing about parties where the drinks are free is that it always seems like a good idea to go somewhere afterwards to carry on. It never is, ever. The next thing I knew I was looking at my watch and wondering how it came to be 3am and how much crap I'd actually been talking. Judging by the feel of my head this morning I was talking quite a lot of crap. The Christmas party season has started, there will be at least another two to go to. I hope they don't end up finishing at 3am, but I know at least one of them will...


So Close!

The nice people at Google/Blogger have nearly got it all wrapped up. I am so close to being able to post on here with the mobile I can almost taste it. However for the moment you can find the new mobile posts here. I will eventually get everything appear on the one page as I’m not a big fan of having a too many web presences (yet somehow I have ended up with loads).

Now back to getting the maps thing sorted...


Best of the Linkdump

A quick list of the best bits from the linkdump for the previous week. The linkdump contains things that I find in newsfeeds or from random web browsing. It sits in the sidebar and is the bit of this blog I update the most frequently normally with at least one or two posts per day.

World's most dangerous road - From La Paz to the Yungas in Bolivia. An over-used cliff edge road commonly covered in fog.

A working Air Guitar - Another great Aussie invention! A "textile based interface", or a tee-shirt you can use as an air guitar.

Hurricane on Saturn - Two thirds the size of Earth.

Little People - Tiny street art installations. Just in case you haven't seen these. I think the entire world must have linked to this last week.


How is it that I never really had too much time for jazz before but now that I'm in Sydney I seem to encounter it everywhere. Loud and coarse, flowing fractured and smashed I seem to see it in every form except, thankfully Dixieland.

Fittingly I never seem to see Jazz whilst sober, as I am lead to believe, neither did some of its' greatest proponents. Not that I would advocate someone like Charlie Parker as a role model for anything other than musical proficiency but there is definitely and an intoxicant nature to jazz, even if it is buried deep under layers of post-ironic Hammond organ.

One of the more notable features seems to be that it makes any group of people almost completely unable to keep still. If you go out on a night with about five people in the presence of music and alcohol it is a statistical certainty that one of you will dance, a 20% likelihood for any one individual. When you go out to jazz event this seems to go up enormously to about four out of five, an 80% likelihood of dancing. This seems to be completely independant of the quality of the music and no fear of peer rebuke or criticism of technique will stop it. In fact it seems the presence of good dancers seems to discourage people. Half the fun is looking a bit silly.

Another feature of the Jazz I'm seeing is that it is played and enjoyed by an extraordinarily varied age range. The band I'm watching whilst scribbling this in my notebook are in their late twenties and early thirties. The audience is somewhat older and I am beginning to suspect that this might be a pickup joint for over forties singles, and they all seem to be casting glances in my direction. Thank God I didn't come here on my own.


Fresh as a daisy at 4am

There's nothing quite like waking up at four in the morning to give you a new perspective on life.

Personally I find it refreshing and invigorating when I snap awake slightly earlier than God. It normally signals the start of a productive and useful day in which I achieve many of my personal targets and reach new levels of fulfillment.



Didn't take the medication today...

I am troubled by a recurring dream, or rather a series of dreams with a recurring theme. In these dreams the universe gives has hidden and embedded a vital part of itself as a person. This person has a task to complete which releives them of this essential element of the universe. The task is never complex but it must be performed for time and space to continue. I suspect, but I can't be certain, that everyone has a task. Often I am the person with the task, but sometimes I am just involved with them in some way.

Each person is persued in their task by a thing which can hide itself as anything or anyone (it prefers people). The object of this creature, or whatever it is, is to stop the task being completed. The quickest and most effective way of doing this is to kill the person with the task. It does this by morphing its head out of whatever it is hiding as and smashing this into the head of the task holder once at unbeleivable speed, there is no chance of survivng its' attack. Its' head is a fire-axe shaped blade with a steep serrated convex edge made of a mother of pearl or white obsidian substance. It has been doing this forever and will continue to do so into infinity. The creature has a name that every task-holder is aware of but that I can never remember when I wake up. Every task-holder is aware of the creature and the task only for the duration of their task. They are equally aware that they will inevitably be killed by the creature should they encounter it.

Once the task-holder is dead time loops back around to the point at which they recieved the task, until either they complete it or it becomes apparent that they cannot complete it. If they can't complete the task then time loops back around to the very beginning of time and begins again almost exactly as before, but not quite. The person who couldn't complete the task is never born or is never given a task. I don't know how I know this as I would normally wake up either as this happens or from the raw shock of seeing a sudden and normally unexpected death - the creature kills using surprise and cunning but it will only ever kill the task holder.

When the task is completed someone new gets a task and the creature has to find them. Each time a task is completed anyone who was aware of the creature or the task continues in their life without being aware of either or having any memory of it. In fact they may reach a state where, despite the task remaining complete there is no record or trace of this contained in reality.

The dreams are extremely vivid and I wake up with a start and sometimes with a cry. I'm pretty sure I snapped awake one morning this week with a howl that shook the building. I'm not always sure that I'm having one of these dreams until the creature appears and it scares the hell out of me when it arrives. In fact it is so real that I half expect to walk round a corner and get nutted by a bizarre white axe thing.

What particularly troubles me is the varying degrees of information given to me by my subconscious. Why does it give me so much information that I couldn't possibly have derived from reason and so little about the specifics of the situation.

Now, I know that I'm not normal, but this isn't normal even for me. I might take it easy on the sauce for the next day or two and see if this helps. Exercise too, nice fresh air and healthy food. Otherwise it looks like it's time for a nice cosy rubber room and one of those jackets with the long sleeves that tie behind your back. Nurse, the screens...



Roo as it is found in the supermarket

Kangaroos occupy a strange place in the Australian psyche. Whilst the creature is their national symbol, thousands of them are culled each year and whilst there is thriving kangaroo leather industry that sells accessories to tourists, the majority of the meat goes into pet food. Aussies it seems are a little squeamish about eating skippy.

To try and and get people to change this ridiculous bit of anthropomorphic idiocy the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia ran a competition to rename the meat last year (and yes skippy did come up). Whilst the change was never intended to be actioned it was a good bit of PR which highlighted the fact that Australia is missing out.

Son, grab a beer & light the barbie

Kangaroo meat, as you can see from the picture at the top, is about the same colour as venison and is very similar in taste. However it is much more tender and much more easily cooked, it is also exceptionally lean there is almost no fat. The meat chars to an almost caramelised outer shell when cooked on a very high heat. In the picture below I've not done much more than sear it on each side on a griddle pan. It is best eaten as rare as you can take it and benefits from about 10 minutes resting time after cooking. It has a slightly gamey flavour that goes beautifully with mushrooms, garlic, thyme and other strong flavours. As befits its' nation of origin it barbeques beautifully!

Roo as it is found on my plate

Australia really needs to get over itself and take another look at Kangaroo. Oz has the world's second highest obesity problem per capita (after guess where). You would have thought that a low fat meat that barbeques better than any other that I've tried would be perfect.


Airport tips

We went to Tasmania for a long weekend a few weeks ago. It is a land of beer, wine, peculiar wildlife and many cheeses, some so virulent that they set off the explosive detectors at the airport. At least that's my story, the reason that I got checked for explosives probably had more to do with my general demeanour.

I'm not comfortable with flying at the best of times but having raced to fill the rental car with petrol before returning it and finding that the chip in the widscreen was going to cost us the nearly as much as the rental again put me in a bit of a tiz. Then running to the terminal to be told that we had run to the wrong terminal didn't improve my mood hugely.

The most annoying thing about air travel at the moment is that if you don't maintain a kind of detatched calm throughout the entire process, no matter what logistical or bureaucratic obstacles are put in your way, then you are guaranteed to be stopped at some point and either searched or explosives checked.

Surely the odd ones out in this whole process, the ones that should be searched in intimate and probing ways are the people who can remain calm. That kind of inner peace isn't simply sickeningly smug it comes from something really very profound, like knowing you only have a few hours to live before your martyrdom transports you a paradise where a million lustful virgins are waiting to attend to every freakish whim...

When I had to fly to Canberra for a meeting this Monday at stupid O'clock in the morning I picked up a few tips on air travel that I thought I'd share with you. Of course the best tip is the most important and really is a golden rule for life so I have excluded from the list below. It is:
Never attempt anything without first having a good strong cup of coffee and a decent breakfast, ever.
Once you have this sorted the rest falls naturally into place and you won't need any of the tips below:
  1. An aluminium briefcase looks good and is very practical, it can also be used to store your screw-together rifle or home made semtex, get one tomorrow
  2. Walking through the metal detector carrying your aluminium briefcase is a good way to meet in uniform, if you're into that kind of thing
  3. When they tell you to take your shoes off tell them how many days you've been wearing the same pair of socks before saying "you really don't want me to do that mate" will save silly misunderstandings
  4. When the nice man asks you to "please step this way sir" giving him a distant "wot me?" look and taking 2 seconds to process the information makes him speak very slowly and clearly, it is only polite to respond in the same manner
  5. When being checked for explosives you may be asked, "have you ever seen this test before?" customs men really appreciate experience, so answer with a polite "all the bloody time". Whilst being explosives checked:
    1. don't try and peek at the monitor screen, it's impolite and if you do have some exotic substance on you, you will be given ample time to explain, your bagage is already on the plane they will wait for you, they know how much you need to be on the flight and they empathise
    2. don't try and take the swab thing from the nice man even to speed things up, it's his toy, let him play with it first
    3. try and remain calm, perhaps by imagining you are transported to a paradise where a million lustful virgins are waiting to attend to every freakish whim, maybe even whisper this to yourself under your breath
  6. If you are not used to seeing guns follow all of the tips above and whilst going through the security checks stare intently at the automatics in the hip-holsters of the policemen, you never know they might show you one more closely
Sadly the Tasmania trip was before the Canberra one and I didn't have the benefit of the insights above. On being explosives checked I fixed the customs officer with a cheeky grin and said "it's the bloody cheese isn't it?" in my best posh english accent. When he reached for the bag I inadvertently spluttered out "careful man, there's a culture in there, you don't want one of those here". Whilst I was definitely misunderstood I don't think this one me many friends. However I made plenty more new friends shortly afterwards when Emily left me behind, blithely waved both boarding passes at the ground crew and set off accross the asphalt, still holding both boarding passes. I made lots of new friends then.



I think I may have reached my boredom threshold. Having battled with my commitment and motivation level at work I am actually having to make the admission to myself that I am really very bored indeed.

Not the 'not busy' kind of bored but the kind of bored where you look at your life and think 'what the hell am I doing?' For example I woke up at 5:30am today , worried about the amount I have to do today and it's all easily acheivable but I just don't want to do it, not a moment of it. Things have been this way for some time and it is something I need to address.

I am now looking at ways to improve this in my current role before I start looking for anything else or changing direction. If you aren't going to try you shouldn't have got in to it in the first pace. I am going to start using some of the elements from a strategy meeting last week and some of my own thoughts on methods I might use to sort myself out.

I'm going to start looking at new products and where we might sell them and to whom. I'm going to be looking at how I can improve the general dynamism of the company and what we do about the way we spend money on chasing things that look good but we can't do. I've also got to try and get away from one of our projects as it is quite clearly a dog with fleas, big fleas (unfortunately it is also the MD's pet).

As with any sort of consulting/change program this needs to be done with a positive aspect on anything negative and I am going to have to take a little time to find from whence can be derived. Organisations move in the directions they ask questions about so I need to start asking the questions. People tend to move in the direction of their interests and skills, so I'd better make 'em interesting questions...

...more later, just what's on my mind this morning.


Brooker, Banksy and Barley

Charlie Brooker may have gone a bit overboard with this article about Banksy. If you aren’t familiar with Banksy his website will tell you most of what you need to know about him and Charlie Brooker’s article will fill in the rest. Banksy started out as a graffiti artist and has branched out into other areas embracing other forms quickly, efficiently and in a very striking manner, his work is very media friendly. He is a skilled self-publicist and has essentially made himself a brand rather than an artist.

As always I agree with much of what Brooker says but he’s bordering on irrelevant here. Banksy’s background is as a graffiti artist and whilst Situationist influenced graffito had conceptual and political depth the form itself is far more based on immediate visual impact and not on profound insight and developed thinking. Warhol beat Banksy to the brand strategy by a clear three decades and Damien Hirst is probably much better at it in a far more financially gainful way so why would Banksy be so objectionable? Brooker seems to be particularly bothered by the pseudo subversive leanings of Banksy but the trouble is that cultural norms have now expanded to recognise anything remotely alternative. The knock-on effect is that to be genuinely subversive you actually have to be a subversive, making you subject to anti-terror legislation which is a bit of a frightening prospect. Not that Brooker is expecting genuinely subversive behaviour but seems to think that Banksy is trying to infer that he knows some real criminals, which he might. He does live and work in the East end of London and has done for some time.

Banksy’s work is ContentLite and style heavy but it makes extensive use of irony, something Brooker ought to be well acquainted with as he makes his living with it. You only have to read through Brooker’s article twice to see that he has badly missed the point on at least one occasion. Brooker may not like Banksy’s popular leftist anti-globalisation leanings and his association of American capitalist icons with the political activities of that country but the point is that whilst these may be shallow and poorly constructed they do point at a resistance to a cultural invasion from a country whose actions are increasingly abhorrent to the general public. Banksy might not be the sharpest tool in the box but he is at least getting involved.

Whilst popular culture and the mediatisation of everything give everyone a chance to see creative work and to be creative almost none of us are but most of us have an opinion about what creativity is and how it should be done. The modern world has made everyone a consumer and a critic. Brooker himself is most successful as a TV critic and writer who can hand out the kind of vitriol and satire on contemporary existence that makes the rest of the media check themselves against his every scribbling to ensure that they haven’t slipped too far into being Nathan Barley.

Nathan Barley is Brooker’s creation, a kind of conceptual voodoo doll for him to stick pins in, a hate figure and all too common occurrence in everyday life. Nathan Barley is a patchwork archetype of loathsome traits who doesn’t do anything in particular with his life and is agonisingly self-involved and self-important but somehow still holds influence. If you’ve been to Hoxton of a Friday night at any time in the past six years or so you will have seen hundreds of Nathan Barleys out parading themselves around. Nathan Barley became a TV series in which Brooker and Chris Morris used heavy handed irony to build the character and assassinate it, possibly in despair that the kind of narcissist that Barley represents to them is exactly the kind now being given precedence by popular culture.

I find Nathan Barley problematic because at some point just about everyone steps across the line into Barley-dom and the charge of hypocrisy is all too easy to level at Brooker himself. If you look at the unctuous Barley’s claim of being a ‘self facilitating media node’ it is far too easy to apply that definition to Brooker who writes for newspapers, publishes a website writes for and appears on TV, producing mostly parody, pastiche and criticism safely free of the need for originality.

Brooker and Morris have become unspoken media-appointed guardians of integrity – if they get to you you’ve done something wrong - but something about their output bugs me. For example Nathan Barley isn’t parody or humour, it was close enough to the nature of real life that I could barely watch it. In fact I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was watching Brooker & Morris’s self-loathing made flesh. I also had an uneasy feeling that if they didn’t continue producing this kind of material they might easily have become this kind of person, or worse still are in danger of becoming the real life Dan Ashcroft of the Nathan Barley series whose identification of the ‘New Idiots’ and articulation of their horrors sanctifies and reinforces them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that both writers have fallen into with their wallets open. It also irks me that when people like Brooker, who go out of their way to be a bit different, do something creative you end up with Nathan Barley which is more of the same but dramatised rather than flatly stated as in his other writing. Boring, barely relevant and cringingly difficult to watch.

Banksy might be a bit of a nob but show me an artist that isn’t and I guarantee you they don’t make any money from their artistic work, they probably have to write for newspapers, television and websites. When I lived and worked in London my walk to work from Old Street station took me past at least 5 of Banksy’s pieces and I was constantly noticing new ones. Let’s not mistake quantity for quality, Banksy’s work definitely isn’t of a deep and meaningful nature but it has a huge presence in contemporary culture just as Brooker does. The chief difference is that Banksy isn’t shooting his mouth off about how crap other people’s output is whilst actually failing to engage with the material he’s criticising, however pretentious and showy.

By the way I am aware of the additional layer of irony created by posting this piece of consumer criticism on a website with little or no original work, just in case you got a sudden urge to point this out to me.


Today's word is 'Dusty'

Oh, it's empty. Must be bedtime

'Dusty' is Australian for hung over. I'm so dusty that people are scrawling 'clean me' in the dust on my back. I'm so dusty when I brush past people in the office they start sneezing. Quite, quite dusty.

Yep, definitely empty

We went to the Feastibility food & wine festival yesterday at a performing arts school in Newtown and I indulged in too much of one and not enough of the other.

Besides my self-inflicted woes I am also battling the kind of apathy that, if it gets any worse, may prevent me from breathing. I think I might need a holiday, a good thing I am going to Tasmania for a few days later this week.

I have also been trying to get various technical things on here working so that I can post things on here whilst away and put maps on the main page. It isn't working and it's annoying me, a LOT. I have put most of the time I would normally spend writing on trying to fix bugs so I'm apologies if people have been checking to see what I've been doing. I have been cursing at the computer. I have figured out how to post here one way but the other ended up here, which is no use to anyone. It's going to take the nice people at blogger a while to sort it out so I shall begin ranting writing again instead.



Put it down

You may have noticed that Steve Irwin died last week. You haven’t? What are you, a troglodyte? Have you been living on the moon for the last fortnight (and can I borrow your spaceship, I tire of this planet?)? This has provided Australia with (another) Diana MomentTM; a spontaneous outpouring of grief marked by the national spending on inappropriate cut flowers tripling over night.

I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t sad, the man was only 44, a father of two and one of the world’s most committed conservationists, this is ground that has been well covered elsewhere. The thing is that Irwin was a lot more…er…’hands on’ than most others in his field and had been riding his luck for years. My cynical and immediate response to the news of his death was: “well something was going to get him sooner or later”. A friend put it a little better: “there’s hundreds of crocs out there thinking, ‘dammit, that bastard was mine!’”.

The first I ever saw of Irwin was a typically gung-ho piece of television. Irwin was going to hunt out the world’s top 10 most venomous snakes and kiss them. Finding them at least should be relatively easy for an Aussie as 8 of the top ten live within driving distance of me. The idea behind this was to show that with the correct knowledge the mythology of ‘dangerous’ wildlife could be dispelled and people would feel more affectionate and conservationally minded towards creatures that don’t have enough “aaaaaaahhh” factor. As is evident from observing the world around us the road to hell is paved with good intentions and through a combination of his own enormous enthusiasm, planet sized personality and what appeared to the casual observer to be foolhardy disregard for his own personal safety Irwin quickly invalidated this enterprise.

Scrabbling amongst the dust and rocks in a remote area dressed in shorts and a short sleeved shirt Irwin picked up a snake in each hand, described its preferred habitat, how aggressive it wasn’t until you try you pick it up, the effects of its venom and what you should do if you were stupid enough to try and pick it up and got bitten by it. He then handed the snakes to his heavily pregnant wife and charged off into a small dark cave in search of more, his wife’s cautions following him into the cave. If he were going to deliver a demonstration of how not to behave in the presence of a venomous creature that just wants to be left alone he could not have provided a better example.

I said put it down!

The next segment of the show saw Irwin in woodlands, again scrabbling about under rocks until he found a specimen that suited his needs. Again he squatted down picked up the timid creature and described its’ lifecycle in intimate detail. Halfway through his spiel he halted, his eyes bulging out of his head, he looked straight at the camera: “Oh crikey!” He stood quickly and moved away, he put down the snake and moved aside the rock he was squatting over. Concealed in the hollow underneath and not three inches from where his testicles had been only moments before was an entire nest of poisonous snakes. “Oh man, that could have been nasty”, quoth the khaki clad clot, “They go for the warm bits…” It was a moment of unintentional comic genius that whilst certainly added to the appeal of the man also exposed the fact that was he was attempting was not just the act of a showboating show-off but to anyone less knowledgeable and skilled than himself would certainly have been a terminal experience.

The Ahhhhhh factor in action

Irwin was a reflection of the creatures he loved and worked with: a rare breed that is instantly intriguing and dangerous if not handled carefully. His unbelievable joie de vivre and enthusiasm played as entertainment on screen went over fantastically in America and in Australia but left me wondering whether he was making entertainment with animals as props rather than his stated objective of conservation and education. Naming his show “The Crocodile Hunter” also jarred with that for me. I also couldn’t help feeling that the personality that made him a global celebrity would have me attempting to tear his throat out after half an hour in his presence – I empathised too easily with the animals trying to kill him. I loathed Irwin’s public persona but I found his TV presence hypnotic simply because I could not believe that he made it through half an hour of such adventures, never mind a lifetime of them, without being stung, bitten, dismembered or eaten by the extraordinary array of creatures he felt the need to lay hands on. At the end of his programs I was left in a state of catharsis that quite rid me of any fear of anything but left me too exhausted to step outside the house.

It is this ambivalence towards him that characterises my reaction to his death. I am sorry to see the end of a great conservationist and an iconic Australian but I can’t help the feeling that natural selection finally called time on him. His sensationalist TV shows and frequent work at his own Australia Zoo in front of crowds mean that I can’t help feeling that it is quite fortunate that his death wasn’t far more public than was actually the case. Videos of it would have hit the internet in minutes had it happened anywhere he was being filmed by tourists. No one is indestructible and whilst Irwin was one of those people that are a reassuring presence and point of reference, the point of reference was always as a remarkable example of how many risks could be taken without falling foul of them. Irwin may well become a cautionary tale for parents and children round the globe.

It seems worth repeating the tragic irony of his death that he was killed by a creature that is normally placid - if not lugubriously unconcerned - trying to demonstrate that it was in no way as dangerous as its name or reputation suggested. He wasn’t even trying to touch it, kiss it, feel its goolies or otherwise interfere with it. There was almost no risk in the situation. Other naturalists and fishermen who have spent time around stingrays have said that at best guess the fish was just not in the mood to be watched. So remember kids, when they say leave it alone on the wildlife documentaries it doesn’t matter how knowledgeable or able you are, if it is having a bad day it will still kill you – leave it alone.


70's glow

Sunshine & Big Specs

This is another shot from Sunday. It has strange glow to it and looks like it was in a 70's magazine despite the fact that it was shot with a camera phone.

I am trying out different photo hosting services at the moment and whilst flickr seems to be the best and most popular one it has its' problems. Not the least of which is that I have to remember yet another set of login details. Picasa, where this one is hosted is Google's answer and means I can login with all the same details (flickr is owned by Yahoo). Unfortunately it doesn't have quite the same depth of feature. I'm sure more are on their way but in the meantime I shall keep experimenting.


Sunset over Sydney

in: Rose Bay NSW, Australia
Rose Bay Sunset
Sydney City & Harbour
There's a whole continent to the West of in Sydney so you get the most fantastic sunsets. This is taken from the living room balcony of a friend of ours.

There are more details on the photo including map links on flickr - just click the photo.


Today in pictures


My running shoes died after three years of faithful service/abuse. I shouldn't really have been playing tennis in them.

Lizard posing

Seen out on the reserve at Magic Point. There are thousands of them, but this one was willing to sit still and have his picture taken.

Wasabi peas - more addictive than crack

This is a snack from Japan (we think). Big fat peas covered in wasabi batter and roasted. If you aren't familiar with it wasabi is japanese horseradish which is often strong enough to bring tears to your eyes. I don't know if it's the endorphine hit you get from the wasabi or the strange nutty flavour that they have, but once a tin of these is open it gets finished.


Having destroyed the only shoes I have to play tennis in I needed some new ones. Yes, I know they're blue and shiny, I don't care what you think, I like them.


The Great Ginger Beer Experiment: Drinking

Hubble bubble beery trouble

You might be wondering what happened to the Ginger Beer. Before I interupted myself with Holidays and expensive toys I opened the cupboard it was brewing in to see how it was going. To my surprise there was no broken glass and sticky residue all up the walls but 13 well behaved bottles of nicely cleared liquid. Could it be that I have finally after all these years succeeded in making drinkable Ginger beer? To the Fridge!

Putting on a blast jacket and carefully handling one of the bottles in case the pressure inside had reached explosive levels I chilled one of the bottles over night. With the beer I ordinarily brew this can often mess the flavour up a bit and make the beer go cloudy but with Ginger beer this doesn't matter.

24 Hours later I put the helmet and blast jacket back on and gently remove the bottle from the fridge. With a feeling of some trepidation I undid the lid and found myself slightly disappointed that instead of a sharp explosion and a fountain of Ginger beer, I have the proper hiss of a well carbonated drink. Pouring it into the specially bought jug the first thing that I noticed was the fantastic smell. All the lemon, ginger and vanilla aromas has been preserved and it still has the cough-syrup smell. The colour is about right and it is cloudy – because I put some of the funk from the bottom of the barrel in each bottle there are little tiny pieces of ginger floating in the beer. This puts a certain person off the drink itself but it is actually not much worse than traditionally made lemonade and is perfectly tolerable.

The taste is unbelievably gingery, and slightly acidic from the lemons which also feature in the taste. The vanilla isn’t hugely noticeable but has definitely made the drink a lot smoother. It isn’t very sweet, it’s not quite sharp but it certainly isn’t super sweet. I can’t taste the alcohol but it’s in there somewhere as the sugar that made it really sticky when the mixture was put in the fermenter is totally gone. It’s actually a very palatable drink and would be fantastic on a hot afternoon. I just have to wait a month or so until we start getting those again!

I have now satisfied myself that it is actually possible to make decent Ginger Beer though there are a few things I would do differently. Perhaps next time I will put the ginger in a muslin bag before I start boiling the mixture – that would keep the bits out. I also think I used one lemon too many and would definitely consider putting a bit more vanilla in too. It remains to be seen whether I can abstain from guzzling the whole lot before the hot weather returns, especially as I now need the bottles to make real beer!


At blinkin' last!

There are going to be some changes on here. Finally Google/blogger have put some of the changes I've wanted into action. There will be some small changes on here whilst the bigger bits are figured out.

Basically any of the more "advanced" features on here that I have had to code myself will stop working and the page will look a bit squashed up for a while as I work out how to reinstate them - this may take some time and you might have a little oddness in the comments as Google make you get an account etc. etc. but it is hugely worth it for me not to have to arse about with so much code so regularly.

Benefits include better archiving, labels/categories on posts that I don't have to code myself and lots of other bits still to come.


Blue Mountains - photos


Bad splice but a great landscape

We spent the weekend in a studio apartment in Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains aren't so much a range of mountains as a heavily eroded plateau which gives rise to some spectacular scenery.


River Gorge

One of the highlights was walking down this river gorge not far from Blaxland on Sunday where the path just disappears and you are left to scramble over boulders and find your own way between the trees. You could have been in the middle of nowhere but in fact were only a little over 50km from Sydney.

The drive home took only about an hour from where this photo was taken. There is national parkland even closer to us to the South. The scenery isn't quite as spectacular but because the terrain is a bit flatter you can see further and it looks a lot more remote.


Don't know what these are called - there were loads of them


Thursday night out

Last night we went to Cherijam to watch our friend Ephrem perform. The video clip you can see here is of his second song of the night. The man has a great voice and a terrific stage presence – bastard.

Now lean in and grin like a drunken fool...perfect!
Ephrem was one of a selection of performers on that night all of whom were pretty good. The night itself was organised by Sally who I did take a picture of which was hastily deleted at the subject’s request – she will not be appearing in this post. I also have a fantastic one of Emily which will not be published here without her permission.

The best seat in the house was claimed early on

Cherijam is a great venue with two extremely well decked out bars above what looks to be a great restaurant. We ate in the bar upstairs – good pizza, nice wine - I feel a bit the worse for wear today, again.



Anyone got any ideas what I do with this? I mean it's great and my inner geek is simply delighted but I just dunno what I might do with this.
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Friday office booze

Friday office booze
Originally uploaded by dataphage.
A random stranger has just walked into my office and handed me a glass of wine. Shame he couldn't find a glass of red.


And so it begins in earnest!

Just another day in hell...
Maroubra beach this morning
I now have a camera phone, a 3.2 megapixel camera with a phone on the back. It's also got a radio, a music player etc. etc.

My new toy arrived on Friday afternoon and I have so many things I can do with it that I don't quite know where to begin. However let's start with the camera - the image quality is so good that you can actually see the dirt on the windows in the picture (click on pic for big)!

I am so impressed with the little thing that I had to try it out, unfortunately it's got so many technical features that its taking me a little while to get all the details working. For example there is a way that I can post to this page direct from the phone but for some reason I can't figure out how. I can now capture video and audio from my daily life and post it up here. In short, nothing is safe!

Being the geek I am I had to find a ringtone that wasn't completely hopeless and there are surprisingly few of these. I have an ongoing addiction to the TV series 24, which, I might add, is the only decent thing on TV out here. So what have I done but got the ringtone from the series and put it on the mobile. Not only that but you can click on the player below to hear what it sounds like, great! I can be a real sad act at times.

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The Great Ginger Beer Experiment - Bottling

15 brown bottles sitting on the sideboard

Looking at my ginger beer in its' bucket it looks as if the time has come to bottle it. Bubbles have stopped rising to the surface and it looks like fermentation has slowed almost to a stop. I'm slightly concerned that the mild disinfectant properties of the ginger haven't affected the brew too much. The reason I can't tell is that the sludge generated by the yeast coming out of suspension is almost identical in colour to the pureed ginger in the brew which has also sunk to the bottom of the fermenter.

Raw ginger beer

I disinfect my bottles and put the priming sugar in. Back in the UK I had a siphon with a tap, here all I have to get the beer from the fermenter to the bottles is a length of tubing which means I have to put my thumb over the end of it to stop the flow of liquid into the bottles. This results in a spray of sugary ginger beer all over the kitchen. Lovely, that's going to be sticky for weeks.

I managed to get most of the liquid into the bottles, eventually. As expected at the bottom of the fermenter is thick with a yeast and ginger suspension.

Funk at the bottom of the barrel

A small amount of this has gone into each bottle in the hope that I can keep the ginger flavour strong and that I might yet be able to make a more traditional cloudy ginger beer in place of a clear amber ginger ale. The next step is to see if I can squeeze the last two litres of ginger beer out of the funk at the bottom of the barrel. I don't have time or a filter good enough to deal with the quantity of yeast so I am going to have to seive the mixture and have a couple of bottles with more funk than I would actually like in.

Mmmmmm yes!

Seiving this causes a fantastic mess. By now the whole flat reeks of yeasty ginger and is covered in a thin film of syrupy ginger beer which is beginning to stick me to the floor. My shoes make a sucking noise and have to be released from the floor's grip with a sharp tug. Eventually I managed to squeeze an extra litre and a half from the ginger porridge at the bottom of the fermenter which I carefully poured into three extra bottles.

The funky three

There is so much solid matter in these three that they feel significantly heavier than the other bottles. If there is a candidate for bursting the bottle it will be one of these three.

I tried a little of the mixture that was going in to these three and in all honesty it wasn't bad. It's come out a little dryer than I would have liked but there isn't a hint of the dusty muddy flavour that has been the case with all previous attempts. I'm hoping that I've fermented the beer for long enough that there is no fermentable sugar other than the priming sugar left in the bottles otherwise the beer will cover the inside of the cupboard with broken glass and ginger beer. It's a bit hard to tell if this is actually the case as the lactose has sweetened the mixture so I can't tell by tasting it. It is now a matter of time. I have to wait probably another fortnight before I can open one of these bottles, presuming that they don't open themselves in the meantime.


The Great Ginger Beer Experiment

1.1kg ginger

I have been in Australia a year now and it is high time I began brewing again. Aussie beer isn’t that great and I’m missing a decent pint of bitter. Thankfully the Aussies are quite interested in home-brewing so 15 minutes with Google and I’d found a homebrew shop 5 minutes drive from where I work. $130 later and I have enough equipment and consumables to keep me happy for several months. Before I start to brew proper beer that tastes of something however I have unfinished business with Ginger Beer.

I have been trying to brew drinkable ginger beer since I was a child. The first abortive attempt was based on a recipe from the Food and Drink programme on BBC 2 in the 1980s. The presenters cooed and clucked over what was clearly a new idea to them. Egged on by their impressed pouting faces as they exclaimed how much better it was than the over-sweet and not gingery enough shop-bought ginger beer we boiled up our ingredients, bottled them with the right amount of yeast and left the bottles in the cellar to ferment until ready to drink. I religiously checked the bottles for a week to see if they were ready to drink always drawing a blank. Then one Sunday evening we were sat back in post-dinner post-muppet show reverie when we interrupted by a loud POP from the cellar. The bottles were either blowing off their lids or simply exploding. I was so surprised I nearly soiled my pyjamas.

The problem with ginger beer is that you need a great deal of sugar to keep it sweet. But the yeast you use to brew it consumes sugar and turns it into alcohol and CO2. If you give yeast a super-abundance of food it just keeps going until it runs out, or its’ own by-products kill it off. Yeast won’t tolerate alcohol much above 10% by volume but it is much less sensitive to CO2 and much more efficient in producing it. Thus ginger beer is much more difficult to brew than ordinary beer. In ordinary beer you don’t want any sugar left in the brewing process all the sugar turns to alcohol and you are left with the flavour of malt and hops. In bottle and cask conditioned traditional beer a small amount of priming sugar is added to the bottle or to the barrel to achieve the fizz. The mass produced beers that you buy in cans or bottles are actually brewed until flat, filtered, pasteurised and then artificially force carbonated in the same way that soft-drinks are. In Ginger beer you need sugar left in the mixture to keep a little sweetness or you end up with a very dry ginger ale.

This leaves the home ginger-beer brewer with a few problems. Pasteurisation to stop fermentation and force carbonation isn’t really an option because of the amount of kit needed. Teenage over-enthusiasm aside neither is producing a special-brew strength ginger beer, although from the research I’ve done the final strength of the original brew was around 11%. You just don’t need that much alcohol in it so a way to keep it fizzy but keep the alcohol levels down must be found. The way this seems to have been tackled in the late Victorian era was to maintain a steady fermentation in a jug, pouring off the product into a bottle to finish the fermentation/carbonation and serving the brew with the yeast still very much alive in it. This is how I approached a much later adulthood attempt at ginger beer.

Still using baker’s yeast to emphasize CO2 production and not alcohol I started a jug of warm water, sugar, ground ginger and yeast. You feed it a spoonful of sugar and a spoonful of ginger everyday for a week then pour off the fermenting mixture into a bottle, leave that for a few days then open and enjoy, or not, in fact decidedly not. The same sort of mixture results; very yeasty dusty and a bit gingery. Not pleasant at all. I did some research and discovered that there is actually a second microbe in the closest recipe you can get to the original and that this is normally available only from “yeast banks”. At this point I give up.

Ginger beer is very popular in Australia which has several different brands available in just about every corner store. Some of the breweries still produce ginger beers to original recipes. So why am I bothering to make my own? Because I’m a stubborn bastard and if you don’t learn to do something better when you fail at it you may as well not have tried in the first place. I want superior ginger beer with proper flavour and a bit of an alcoholic kick to it and I am not going to be discouraged by the thought that I can buy a bottle of ginger beer and add vodka to it. That seems just a little too easy.

A little problem solving needs to be used in constructing a recipe as not once have I succeeded in brewing anything gingery and drinkable whereas my ordinary beer results have been excellent. The main problems are flavour, alcohol, and pressure and they are all closely related.

There are two problems with the flavour; yeast and a dusty ginger taste. The dusty ginger taste seems to come from using ground ginger and in the case of the experiment using the jug to ferment the mixture, not cooking it. Fresh ginger is clearly the way forward. The older recipes also include a fair amount of lemon juice so that will be going in too. To make the taste a bit richer and smoother a vanilla pod will also go in and a tiny bit of cinnamon.

The yeast is down to a couple of things, firstly I have mostly been using baker’s yeast which has very different properties to brewing yeast and secondly the huge quantity of sugar in the mixture keeps almost all the yeast alive and in suspension in the final product. This time I will use brewing yeast but I will have to find a way of sweetening the mixture. Lactose is the answer. Lactose is the sugar in milk and because it is derived from an animal source the yeast I’m using can’t ferment it, I have my sweetener but I won’t be inviting any vegans to try my ginger beer (not that I would anyway, scrounging bloody hippies!).

I still want some alcohol in my final ginger beer but I don’t want knockout drops. This can be quite a big risk with home brewed beer as you can’t “feel” the alcohol like you can in commercial beer. You can keep additives to homebrew to an absolute minimum and you are fermenting the beer at almost optimum temperature so the alcohol is of only a single type and is extremely clean. This makes it tempting to bung in loads of sugar and make extremely strong beer. However if you add too much sugar you can corrupt the flavour and start producing different alcohol and nasty acids. I am also using brewing yeast which responds differently to different sugars.

The brewing yeast I’m using has evolved to brew maltose. Maltose is a fairly simple disaccharide sugar which in brewing is traditionally derived from roasting germinated grain. It is easily broken into two glucose molecules by yeast, glucose is an almost universal metabolic sugar and can be thought of as the most basic carbohydrate. Maltose added in the form of malt also carries additional flavour. Disaccharides like maltose provide a slower, steady and stable fermentation with no tainting from by-products of breaking more complex sugars like sucrose down into metabolic sugars. Because I also want the fermentation to get off to a vigorous start I’ll need a metabolic sugar to get things going, dextrose or glucose are the normal brewers’ choices. I’ve found a “beer improver” sugar pack which contains spraymalt, dextrose and glucose – perfect.

The bursting bottles incident shows that yeast is quite capable of producing enough pressure to cause problems. For every molecule of glucose broken down, two CO2 molecules are produced. Meaning that for every molecule of maltose there will be four CO2 molecules. CO2 has some fairly alarming properties not the least of which is that its’ solid form is a quarter the size of its gaseous form (it also has no liquid phase which is a bit strange in itself). The net result of this is that the product of fermentation is a lot larger in volume than the starting ingredients. The reason that beer doesn’t blow up its’ bottles is that, even in the live brews that I make, the beer is fermented until it all but stops and when the yeast falls out of suspension the brew is syphoned into bottles and a very small amount of priming sugar added (approx 1 tsp. sugar per litre). As I don’t need to keep fermentable sugar in the mixture to make the brew sweet, this is how I shall approach my ginger beer too.

Now I need to do a bit of maths to work out my quantities for the recipe and I will need to do this on a litre volume so that I can multiply it back up to suit. I would normally use approx. 3kg of malt syrup to make 23l of beer. If I assume that all of that is fermentable sugar I need 43.5g of fermentable sugar per litre to get an alcoholic brew of about the same strength (4.5 – 5% a.b.v.).
How sweet do I want the final brew? Sweet enough to be pleasant, but not so sweet that it becomes sickly. Sweet soft drinks like Coca Cola have up to 17tsp sugar per can in them and they are far too sweet. A can of soda is 330ml and a tsp of sugar is 4 grams so a litre of soda would have about 200g of sugar in it – I probably want about half of this amount so I need maybe a little over 100g of lactose per litre.

How much ginger do I need? The sensible person would probably have looked at the back of a ginger beer bottle at this point, consulted a few recipe books and made a very educated guess. I went shopping and bought as much ginger as I thought looked right, 1.1kg of root ginger. Splendid.

Let’s multiply it all back up to get final amounts. I have 12 750ml bottles at hand so that’s 9 litres, ergo I need:

390-400g fermentable sugar
900g Lactose
This works out at 120g of root ginger per litre or a little over 91g per bottle. This is when it began to dawn on me that perhaps I had over bought on the ginger. Never mind, get it on the stove see how it tastes.

1.1kg ginger puree

I peeled the ginger and zapped it in a blender with the juice of 3 lemons, added my vanilla pod, about half a teaspoonful of cinnamon and a few litres of water and brought this mixture to a boil and simmer. This is to serve a couple of ends; the vanilla needs to be infused into the mixture, the ginger needs to be cooked through and I’ve got a lot of sugar to get into not very much water so it will have to be hot. In went the lactose, and the fermentable sugar. On tasting the mixture the first thing that jumped to mind was that I seemed to have made several litres of fantastic cough syrup, which looks like lumpy custard. I also realised that this is going to be very gingery ginger beer indeed. Over exuberance has got the better of me and I will have to increase the volume and not worry too much about the rest of the measurements. I’m also going to need a few more bottles.

In went the remaining 100g of Lactose and a fair bit more of the fermentable sugar. The final brew isn’t going to be very sweet but it will be very gingery and it will be fairly alcoholic. I put the heated mixture in the fermenter and added enough cold water to make it merely warm, about another 7litres bringing it to way over the target volume. I revived a bit of the yeast with some warm water and sugar in a jug which means it will start more quickly and won’t suffer “cold shock” when I put it in the mixture. The fermenter goes into the cupboard under the stairs and I have to wait until the mixture stops bubbling and the yeast begins to die back a little before bottling. Given the amount of fermentable sugar now in the brew that could take well over a fortnight.

What I’m going to end up with is a strong sweet-ish ginger ale that will probably be clear amber in colour rather than cloudy and pale. I’m not actually sure how much I’ve made, as I had to add ice to the mixture too, to bring the temperature down to tolerable for the yeast. Dead reckoning and experience suggests I’ve made about 11litres – given the amount of sediment that all the pureed ginger will leave I reckon I’m not too far off the mark. I tried to take a hydrometer reading but the hydrometer I bought didn’t come with a sample jar, so I can’t even tell you how strong the brew will be, curses.

A week on and the bubbling hasn’t stopped but the under-stairs cupboard smells fantastic!

Updates as they happen.



A proper interactive podcast, well kind of.

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  1. Part one

  2. Part two

  3. Part three

  4. Laura Imbruglia

A long, good Friday

At 7am local time the Soccaroos (euugh) made it through to the last 16 of the World Cup. The first time they have ever done so.

Australia has got right into the 'soccer'. I have a feeling not much work will be done in Australia this afternoon. I'm terrified of going to the pub tonight it'll be a mess.



Choices, choices...

Imagine for a moment that you have little or nothing to do this weekend. Then imagine that you have two conflicting invitations; the first is to a Samba night, the second to a Tupperware party. Which one do you pick?

Come on now, judge them on their merits. At the Samba night you will have the perfect excuse to drink many, many delicious Caipirinha. At the Tupperware party you will get the full retro experience. You might even be invited to a coffee morning, or a jumble sale, or a wife swapping party…

Without being rude to anyone that is involved in either of these events what kind of choice is that for a Saturday night, I mean bloody honestly? I know you social life dies down a touch as you get older but I’m only 28, how did it come to this?

Tupperware parties have been around so long that Ann Summers have pinched their business model and made it their own. And Samba/Salsa well I can’t dance before the eighth drink of the night but after that critical threshold I suddenly find my feet. Unfortunately reality reasserts itself at the eleventh drink and I realise that I hate dancing, everyone around me and life in general. After this point I generally fall over. There is a slim three drink window of opportunity in which I am unselfconscious enough to dance and still sober enough to put one foot in front of the other. This is a delicate balance that I have little experience of and not the slightest interest in maintaining. Ballroom dancing is a big competitive sport out here - mind you so is telling fishing lies and hyperbole in general – and I don’t fancy being shown up as badly as I would be (if you haven’t seen it you should watch Strictly Ballroom, it will give you some idea of how seriously the Aussies take just about anything competitive).

I have opted for the Tupperware party. I might bring the Ann Summers thing up every now and then, not often enough to get on their nerves but enough to make the point. Approximately once every ten minutes should do it. I wonder if Tupperware do any of the plastic moulding for them…


Maps & Satellite photo's

Last week Google released Google maps for Australia and New Zealand which means I can now link you to map pages and their satellite photographs of places I’ve been or am going to which means more Google enabled web fun. You might need to play around with the map, satellite and hybrid views and the zoom control to get the idea. At some point I will figure out how to “mashup” all this with the blog on the main page, which will be very good indeed but right now all I’ve got is links:

To kick us off, this weekend we will be going to Nelson Bay for to eat in restaurants, soak in a hot tub and drink wine.

Also the wharf in the middle of Sydney harbour that I used to get the ferry home from.

Maroubra Beach

Pearl Beach where we occasionally go for the weekend.

And last just Sydney Harbour. If you look at the satellite photo you can see how busy the harbour is.

I’m using Google for a vast amount of things at the moment including email, diary organising even web favourites and tracking the traffic on this site through Google Analytics which even though I’ve only had access to for a week has absolutely blown my mind. In case you didn’t know they also own blogger. More about Google in upcoming geek posts including the infamous "Web 2.0" meme.


Maroubra beach today

This is a bit of an experiment. I have just shot some video of a small section of the view from our balcony and uploaded it to Google video. This means you can actually see what it's like outside my window today.

Warning the file is nearly 11Mb and it's not very long, I just wanted to see if it worked.


Ketchup on a pie - it's just wrong

Right, I’m back. It appears that we consistently exceed our bandwidth allocation so at the end of every month we lose our internet connection. Whilst I’m not averse to posting small things from work sat at your desk for twenty minutes whining online about how many pies you’re eating is probably not going to be viewed particularly well by your employer.

Speaking of which, I am eating too many pies! My pie count for the week is 4. It was a slow week pie-wise.

Not unlike the UK Australia has been through the foodie revolution and the standard of food available is now twenty or thirty times what it was ten years ago. Vegetarians are no longer put on the barbeque, though sometimes it can be a little difficult for Em to explain that chicken is not a vegetable, and that actually neither is fish.

Also like the UK there are some hang-overs from the terrible food past. For example in London you can buy a substandard cornish pastie just about anywhere. In Sydney you can buy a substandard pie just about anywhere. Although if you've got half a brain you'll look for five minutes longer and find that there is a bakers round the corner and that will sell you a gourmet pie for $2 more. Yes that's right a gourmet pie, and they're not kidding the good ones are really good. I'd steer clear of the curry ones though. What seems like a brilliant fusion of two great institutions is in fact a violation of natures law.

The Sunbeam Pie Magic 4

Australia may be the only country on earth where you can buy a pie maker. Most people would settle for doing it the old fashioned way, with an oven, but not your pie chomping sheep shearer. A pie maker is not unlike a toasted sandwich maker. You line the tins with pastry put in your filling, put on the pie lids and close the top. A few short minutes later you have pies. There even seems to be a pie maker specifically targeted at children. Why you would invest in a pie maker, make or buy pastry and make or buy filling and the fiddle around making substandard pies when you could walk to the corner of the street and buy a gourmet pie is beyond me.

Harry's cafe de wheels

My own pie consumption has been driven up by the amount of nights I am not at home for dinner. On my way off the ferry I have to walk almost straight past a window kiosk on circular quay that sells some of the bestt pies and pastries in Sydney. The temptation can be too much. Often I've grabbed a coffee and a danish for breakfast there in the morning too.

If you listen to the tourist guides there is only one place to buy a pie in Sydney Harry's Cafe de Wheels.

A pie floater

At Harry's you can buy an Australian delicacy, being Australia there is nothing delicate about it, it is called a pie floater. A pie floater is more commonly found in the state of South Australia. To make a pie floater take a bowl of mushy peas, float a pie in it - you're done. Harry's also put mashed potato on the top and cover it with gravy. I will leave you to imagine what I think of that.


At the end of Rainbow Street

The Lord Nelson
Last night I almost felt mildly homesick for the first time. It was the coldest day for 8 months, raining hard, there were Australians behind the bar, only poms ordering drinks, I may as well have been in London. I stood at the fireplace sipping an excellent porter exchanging pleasantries with my fellow countrymen. The kind of night you only get at The Lord Nelson in winter. The fact that it is nearly June didn't really cross my mind...

As of Sunday I have been in Australia 1 year. I haven't really even thought about going home in a serious way. I haven't even really settled in properly yet. There have been a few recent events that have made home feel a very long way away. Not making it to Paul and Molly's Wedding was a real disappointment. I had the return leg of a ticket to Oz use but no way to get back here after I'd used it.

The death of a favourite pet is never a good thing either, although this remarkeable cat made it 20. Trodden on by the biggest horse in a 50 mile radius he endured a smashed pelvis well before he reached full size. A few years later he was run over by a car and lost a front leg. He also survived a trip to the Netherlands for a year and the subsequent quarantine on his return. For a while it looked like he might even have found a way to sleep through old age without being disturbed.

There are also other things I won't go into on here, but they aren't good either.

One for the road dear?
Doom and gloom aside I've had a pretty good year in Oz. However it seems long overdue that I take the piss out of Emily for events on the night of my arrival in Australia, even though her colleagues have made a decent effort in this direction.

After 5 months apart, after leaving behind my friends my family and my job I might have expected a warm welcome at Kingsford Sith airport. Not a bit of it. I was furnished with an address and told that: "Taxis leave from...er...well you'll find it."

Having come directly from London I had high expectations of taxi drivers. Lesson ther first: Sydney is not London. Taxi drivers don't have to know where they're going. They don't necessarily seem to have to speak too much English or be able to drive in a way that ensures their passenger's safety. Luckily mine could do all three, though he did need a little prompting and did so with a degree of reluctance.

My driver's most obvious shortcoming, apart from the fact that he refused to take Sterling, was one all too familiar to me; a total inability to read a map. He threw the road atlas to me with a blasé: "You know where you going, you find". My response, after a full day of aeroplane travel was a bit more than robust. If memory serves it went something along the lines of:
"You picked me up from international arrivals, I cleared customs and walked straight into the taxi queue. I have lived in this country for approximately twelve minutes and all I have is an address and that it is somewhere at the end of Rainbow street."

"We at end of Rainbow street, road stop here!"
Eventually we find the place that is to be my home for the next six months. The door is open and I'm not positive that I'm in the right place. I push open the door and am releived beyond belief to see Emily standing there.
"Hello. How are you? I've opened some crisps and some wine, but I'm afraid I was a bit nervous and got bored waiting so there's not much left...."
Okay, I see, that's to be the way of things is it?

Events above are mildly fictionalised and whilst broadly accurate they should not be taken as fact.

Emily was very excited to show me the fantastic falt she'd found and comlpletely forgot that I was turning up penniless, without a clue where I was going and that it would be dark when I arrived so I wouldn't be able to see the stunning sea view...