Tuesday, 31 July 2007

In Memoriam

Christa Johnstone
16th May 1930 - 31st July 2007

Christa was my uncle's wife and lived in New South Wales.

I didn't see her often but I have a few memories of her.
One was a love of lady bird beetles.

Another was a story about Christa that goes to the heart of cross cultural marriages: Christa was German, Russell, her late husband, Australian. Christa had learned that Russell liked corned beef and set about buying and cooking some for him. She purchased some corned topside beef but was unsure how to cook it. Corned beef is salted and is cooked by boiling; to remove the salt. Not aware of this Christa set about cooking it the only way she knew: roasting. She inadvertently compounded the issue by doing a very German thing to the roasting meat: she put a layer of anchovies on it. I think they ate out that night.

The following photo is not a good one but is the only one I could find. I think I am about seven or eight, with Christa in front of my childhood house.

After my original post, Christa's daughter, Undine, sent me the following email:

Dear Lee,

Thank you for blogging my mother - she would be absolutely amazed at the technology and touched by your thoughts and the beautiful comments they inspired from others.

She was proud to have you as her nephew and took great interest in your studies and achievements and also of Margaret and the boys.

The only faultering of that was when you were staying with us during your work experience with ICI and she walked into her immaculately kept house only to find the kitchen floor covered in paint during your period of artistic enlightenment - but that's another story....

The fact that your parents made the long trip from Melbourne to Bowral for the funeral meant more to me than anyone but they will know. I love them both dearly. It was a bitterly cold day (it snowed the day after), but the service was beautiful and the wake was just perfect. She would have loved to have been there in person - at her favourite winery (Centennial Vineyards, Bowral), a roaring fire, delicious food, great wine and exceptional company.

I have attached my favourite photo of her. I took it on Mothers Day 2006. She was turning 76 the week after (born 16/5/1930). It's probably not how you remember her, but the sparkle in her eyes is the same as are the beautifully polished nails!

I laughed at your story of the corned beef with anchovies. Our favourite 'special' meal was a fillet of beef roasted with anchovies and red wine, served with sugar glazed baby onions, green beans and boiled cocktail potatoes. Obviously something got lost in translation.

I will send you the recipe.

I would have added this to your blog but at work we have too much security and I have too little knowledge....

Love to all.



Exploding the egg myth.

I was asked yesterday by Hann whether I had heard of the story going around the internet regarding using two mobile/cell phones to cook and egg.

As luck would have it, I head read about the issue only last Saturday. It gets written up and debunked here and started life as a satirical article here.

So, on behalf of the curate and his egg, I will give you a summary.

The essence is that if you place two mobile phone, facing each other, on either side of an egg and start a call between the two then nothing will happen for 15min, the egg will be warm after 25min, hot after 45 minutes and cooked after 65min. (I hope you have free call time).

The implicit and explicit question is, if it will do this to an egg, what will it do to your brain?

Well, that’s the story. Now for some facts.

1. Power.
A mobile phone puts out, on average, 0.002 - 0.25 watts. It will vary with distance from the phone tower.

If the two phones were broadcasting at maximum power and if all ( a big call) of this power was being absorbed by the egg, it would take 10 hours to cook an egg. In reality the egg would absorb much less than 10% of the power from the phone.

By comparison, a microwave oven normally emits 600 – 1000 watts.

2. Location, location, location.
Mobile or cell phones do not transmit to each other so putting the two phones on opposite sides of the egg serves no purpose. Mobile phones transmit to and from phone relay towers. To heat an egg you should put it between the phone and the tower, not sandwiched between two phones.

The British TV show, Brainiac, put 100 phones around an egg and got no heating at all.

There are reasons why mobile phones are a health problem (and many reasons why my brain may be poached, scrambled or coddled) but the microwave output is not one of them.


Sunday, 29 July 2007

A simple pleasure...

The other day at University I had bought a couple of Tokyo Rolls for lunch. As I was leaving the café, one of the other students saw me with a paper bag, smiled a superior sort of smile, and said 'potato cakes?'*. There was something in her voice that I took as disapproval.

She looked quite crestfallen when I showed her inside the bag.

I do so love the gentle hiss of a deflating stereotype!


* I don't know how well the term 'potato cakes' travels, internationally. They are slices of potato, dipped in batter and deep fried. Mother Nature's preferred way of getting all the natural goodness of fat and salt into your body.

I wonder how they travel internationally, knowing full well that people in New South Wales call them 'potato scallops'. No idea why.

Monday, 23 July 2007

A (retired) chemist's view of diets.

The sedentary life has not been kind to me; too little exercise and too much temptation. So the need to reverse the trend has been faced and things are moving along in the right direction.

A few thoughts on dieting from a chemist's perspective:

1. To a chemist a diet is a simple issue of a mass or energy balance. Your body needs a certain amount of food per day. If you eat more than that, the excess will be stored as fat. If you eat less than that, fat (or protein) reserves will be drawn on to make up the difference.

That's it really.

You can mess around with low carbohydrates, proteins and fruits, grapefruit or whatever but you cannot avoid the simple truth of an energy balance.

If you eat more than you need, you store the balance.

2. Some people say that they cannot lose weight. They have low metabolism. Really? If I locked them in a room with nothing but water would they waste away and die? Yes, of course they would. Therefore there must be a point, somewhere between zero and present intake that is the right amount for them.

No fat people came out of Auschwitz.

3. The local chemist had a sign up "Lose 10kg in a month". Tricky. For a male, the recommended daily maintenance diet is 10,600kJ (2,535Cal). One gram of fat is equivalent to 37kJ. Therefore 10,600kJ is equivalent to 286g of fat. So if you fasted for a 31 day month you could expect to lose 8.9kg of fat. But no-one is going to fast for that long. So the whole thing is a sham.

4. I remember once being told that hard-boiled eggs were best diet food because your use more energy to metabolise them than they actually contain. Also tricky. This means that if I locked you in a room with nothing but water and hard boiled eggs you would starve to death.

I don't think so.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Cognitive Dissonance

The Fox and the Grapes is a fable attributed to Aesop. The fox, upon failing to find a way to reach grapes hanging high up on a vine, retreated and said: "The grapes are sour anyway!" The moral is stated at the end of the fable as: It is easy to despise what you cannot get.

In psychology, this behaviour is known as rationalization or cognitive dissonance.

People experience cognitive dissonance in many ways every day and it relates to where people are trying to hold two conflicting thoughts at once.

For example:
1. I like smoking.
2. Smoking is bad for me.

To live with these two thoughts, the theory goes, one of them must change. Either I decide that I don’t like smoking and stop or I decide ‘well, the research isn’t really clear’ (Or ‘just one won’t hurt’, or ‘the damage has probably already been done’).

1. I am a nice person
2. I have just done something really mean to someone

To reconcile these people have to acknowledge that they are perhaps not so nice and show remorse (unlikely) or demonise the other person, to justify the mean behaviour by saying that ‘they are rotten and really deserved it’. (more likely).

Shakespeare was a dab hand at using cognitive dissonance. The following is from one of Shakespeare's more famous speeches, Julius Caesar Act III, Scene ii:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
(First thought : Caesar did evil)
The good is oft interred with their bones:
(Second thought : Caesar did good as well)
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
(Reinforce first thought)
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
(A challenge to the first thought : grievously? did the punishment fit the crime?)
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,--
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honorable men,--
(Return to first thought. Caesar did evil, Brutus was honorable)
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
(Reinforce second thought : Caesar had a good side)
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
(Reinforce first thought)
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
(Throw doubt on first thought)
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
(Building conflict between first and second thoughts)
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once,--not without cause:
(More conflict : you once believed the second thought)
What cause withholds you, then, to mourn for him?--
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason!--Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
(Pointing to the second thought as being the one to keep)

Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.

In the end, the citizens can't keep two conflicting thoughts. If Caesar was bad then his treatment by Brutus is acceptable, though the 'grievously' taints this treatment with some doubt. If Caesar was good then his treatment was wrong. Marc Antony carefully brings the crowd to focus on Caesar's good actions making it hard for the crowd to not decide that his treatment was unjust.


So, what prompted this post? I have been reading a book titled "Mistakes were made (but not by me)" by Tavris & Aronson. Well worth a read. It makes you (me!) look at all the self-justifications that can creep into your life.

On my 'politics' blog I will be looking at cognitive dissonance but in association with the recent events surrounding alleged terror suspect Dr Haneef.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Who knits their jumpers?

The rainbow lorikeets are getting tamer. And more demanding.

They sit in the birches tapping their feet impatiently in the mornings.

But they certainly add some colour to the garden, mid-winter.


It seems our reclusive poet, Mr Newbery, will be hand writing his poems from now on.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Drawing conclusions. (modified)

The above photo is of Dr Haneef, maybe a terrorist, maybe an innocent bystander. I can't tell but I have written more on my view of the politics of it all here if you are interested.

This post is not about the politics of Dr Haneef's detention but more looking at the psychology of manipulation that goes with the media.

The above photo is pretty well the only one available of the doctor and news services are reduced to courtroom sketches for variety.

The Age, a relatively liberal newspaper, draws him so:

He looks fairly innocuous; almost suburban and relaxed.

The Australian, one of Rupert's attack papers and one who views Genghis Khan as a socialist, goes for the caricature:

Mouth off-set, eyes dark, sunken and squint. A mean piece of work.

Subtle manipulation of public fears.

Of course we are not allowed to see recent photos or, worse, for the doctor to be seen in public.

You wouldn't want him to be seen as human, would you?

Some further representations. This one from the ABC:

And this one from The Times of India.


Sunday, 15 July 2007

Man overboard.

I was doing some tidying up today and found the above badge - it dates from a conference I went to in New Zealand in 2004.

One Team, One Vision.

Not so; I jumped overboard about nine months later because there were serious divergences between their values and my values. (Historical background: I was one of three partners who owned a laboratory in Melbourne and who sold our company to a NZ company and then stayed on as managers. I jumped, one was pushed and one remains.)

Cognitive dissonance is the psychologist's phrase for it. I believed in treating clients one way, the company believed in treating clients a different way. Mental conflict. It can only be resolved by either adopting the company's philosophy or by bidding them adieu.

I bid them adieu. Two years ago today.

It has gone incredibly quickly and remarkably slowly. Quickly because it seems that I have reached here in no time at all, slowly because when I look at everything that I have done it seems like ages since I left the company.

Two years ago we went out and had some nice steak to celebrate.

Tonight I am cooking some nice steak to celebrate. And having a good red.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Some truths...


1) Raising teenagers is like nailing jelly to a tree.

2) One reason to smile is that every seven minutes of every day, someone in an aerobics class pulls a hamstring.

3) The best way to keep kids at home is to make a pleasant atmosphere and let the air out of their tires.

4) Families are like fudge . . . mostly sweet, with a few nuts.

5) Today's mighty oak is just yesterday's nut that held its ground.

6) My mind not only wanders; sometimes it leaves completely.

7) If you can remain calm, you just don't have all the facts.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Bill Gates, Paul McCartney and criminals.

Today, just for something different, I have taken four parts of a Psychology Today article and carried a common theme across all four of my blogs. And that theme is psychology, evolution and human behaviour.

And none of it is politically correct. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals

For nearly a quarter of a century, criminologists have known about the "age-crime curve." In every society at all historical times, the tendency to commit crimes and other risk-taking behavior rapidly increases in early adolescence, peaks in late adolescence and early adulthood, rapidly decreases throughout the 20s and 30s, and levels off in middle age.

This curve is not limited to crime. The same age profile characterizes every quantifiable human behaviour that is public (i.e., perceived by many potential mates) and costly (i.e., not affordable by all sexual competitors). The relationship between age and productivity among male jazz musicians, male painters, male writers, and male scientists—which might be called the "age-genius curve"—is essentially the same as the age-crime curve. Their productivity—the expressions of their genius—quickly peaks in early adulthood, and then equally quickly declines throughout adulthood. The age-genius curve among their female counterparts is much less pronounced; it does not peak or vary as much as a function of age.

Paul McCartney has not written a hit song in years, and now spends much of his time painting. Bill Gates is now a respectable businessman and philanthropist, and is no longer a computer whiz kid. J.D. Salinger now lives as a total recluse and has not published anything in more than three decades. Orson Welles was a mere 26 when he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane.

A single theory can explain the productivity of both creative geniuses and criminals over the life course: Both crime and genius are expressions of young men's competitive desires, whose ultimate function in the ancestral environment would have been to increase reproductive success.

In the physical competition for mates, those who are competitive may act violently toward their male rivals. Men who are less inclined toward crime and violence may express their competitiveness through their creative activities.

The cost of competition, however, rises dramatically when a man has children, when his energies and resources are put to better use protecting and investing in them. The birth of the first child usually occurs several years after puberty because men need some time to accumulate sufficient resources and attain sufficient status to attract their first mate. There is therefore a gap of several years between the rapid rise in the benefits of competition and similarly rapid rise in its costs. Productivity rapidly declines in late adulthood as the costs of competition rise and cancel its benefits.

These calculations have been performed by natural and sexual selection, so to speak, which then equips male brains with a psychological mechanism to incline them to be increasingly competitive immediately after puberty and make them less competitive right after the birth of their first child. Men simply do not feel like acting violently, stealing, or conducting additional scientific experiments, or they just want to settle down after the birth of their child but they do not know exactly why.

The similarity between Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, and criminals—in fact, among all men throughout evolutionary history—points to an important concept in evolutionary biology: female choice.

Women often say no to men. Men have had to conquer foreign lands, win battles and wars, compose symphonies, author books, write sonnets, paint cathedral ceilings, make scientific discoveries, play in rock bands, and write new computer software in order to impress women so that they will agree to have sex with them. Men have built (and destroyed) civilization in order to impress women, so that they might say yes.

A selection.

Hann tagged me with the following list of questions:

1. Where is your cell phone? On my desk. Somewhere.
2. Relationship? Married.
3. Your hair? All the wrong spots.
4. Work? Two years ago.
5. Your sister? Never had one.
6. Your favorite thing? Pick one...um...gardens.
7. Your dream last night? Don’t remember.
8. Your favorite drink? Depends on the time of day. Now? Coffee.
9. Your dream car? None.
10. The room you’re in? Study.
11. Your shoes? Size 13.
12. Your fears? Folk dancing.
13. What do you want to be in 10 years? Healthy.
14. Who did you hang out with this weekend? Family, Toastmasters, Lifeline telephone volunteers.
15. What are you not good at? Too numerous to list. Folk dancing, certainly.
16. Muffin? Warm, moist and spicey.
17. Wish list item? Struggling to think of something.
18. Where you grew up? Melbourne, Australia.
19. The last thing you did? Breakfast (Herb scone & cheese)
20. What are you wearing? Jeans, shirt, jumper, woolly socks, jocks, t-shirt, watch, ring.
21. What are you not wearing? Kilt, skis, tutu, latex jumpsuit.
22. Your pet? None but feed the birds.
23. Your computer? iMac.
24. Your life? Lucky.
25. Your mood? Contented
26. Missing? Very little
27. What are you thinking about? Repotting a fern
28. Your car? Toyota Echo.
29. Your kitchen? Lovely.
30. Your summer? Distant
31. Your favorite color? Blue.
32. Last time you laughed? Today
33. Last time you cried? Tuesday, at the movies.
34. School? Ongoing
35. Love? Yes.


Saturday, 7 July 2007

Pieces of eight.

Meggie, in a comment to one of my posts, said that she should have included me in the ‘8 random’ meme but that I could volunteer if I wished.

Why not?

But how do you decide on eight random things to tell people about yourself? It is hard not to be selective. So I wrote out eight lots of eight things in the following categories and let Excel’s random number generator choose eight from those eight eights. Pieces of eight.

Eight books I have still to read
Eight foods I love
Eight physical things
Eight things I do each day
Eight things I've done but don't want to do again
Eight things that are on my desk in front of me
Eight things that give me the irrits
Eight unusual or memorable things

And the eight (very) random things about me are:

1. Salesmen who keep calling me “Mr Kennedy” give me the irrits. You just know that they are reading off a script, Mr Kennedy, and do you know what, Mr Kennedy? I start counting how often they use my name. So, Mr Kennedy, why do sales people persist with this myth that people like you more if you use their name a lot? Once or twice I can understand, Mr Kennedy, but enough is enough. Don’t you agree, Mr Kennedy?

2. Hug my wife is a daily ‘must do’ and pleasure.

3. People who go to war also give me the irrits. Not to be confused with people who are forced to war by others attacking them. And also not to be confused with the soldiers that are sent to war, and bravely go where idiot politicians send them.

4. Vanilla ice-cream is a favourite food. Eaten slowly, with a small spoon.

5. I worked at a plastics factory in Libya for 18 mths. Never made any plastic while I was there. Learnt to make my own beer.

6. Bit the bullet and changed career from chemistry to psychology when 51. Still studying psychology.

7. As a young boy I used to make rockets. Exploits were curtailed when the neighbours asked my father if he was doing blasting in his back yard. Seldom found the rockets again but, as we lived in the country, they were landing safely somewhere out in a sheep paddock. One did take off horizontally into a dog kennel, much to the alarm of a resident bulldog at the time.

8. One of my jobs had me climbing on factory roofs testing stack gases, the gases going up their chimneys. A pretty precarious past-time at times. One factory, a sand-paper factory, draped a large roll of sandpaper over their building so that I had a non-slip surface for climbing up the roof.

That’s it.

Now, being as I wasn’t really tagged, I don’t feel obligated to tag anyone else.

6939 Days ago...

The above photo was taken very soon after Simon's birth, 19 years ago today.
Martin is in the check shirt, Richard is peeking through Margaret's arms.

Here's the three of them back in March this year:

Simon - Martin - Richard.

Friday, 6 July 2007

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Australia has a reputation of wanting to cut down its 'tall poppies', people who achieve above the rest, who 'rise above their station'. While it does seem to be changing, it is (sadly) true that we look askance at the high achievers. You can read more about it at Psychology Today.

The odd flip side is that, while we are skeptical of academics, entrepreneurs and thinkers who dare to stick their head up, we are very prone to elevate sports men and women to 'hero' status. (A misnomer, as they are idols, not heroes. Heroes, by definition, should do something heroic and it just devalues their heroism if they have to share the title with some neck-less yobbo in lycra shorts who happens to be able to play football. Sorry, I digress.)

But elevate them we do.

Well, some of us. I am strongly non-tribal when it comes to sport and being Australian is no ticket to my uncritical support. I was happy this morning to learn that Lleyton Hewitt had lost overnight. Any Australian nationalistic support I may have, any admiration for the guy's talent I may have, all dissolves and fades into insignificance when I see his atrocious on-court behaviour.

This is not someone I want to be associated with, not someone I want touted around the world as representing my country.

In this paddock of poppies I am happy to set the mower blades to 'low'.

BTW Lleyton has justified his 'Mr Hand' action by saying that it is not directed at the opponent, that it is not a form of intimidation, that is is an internal 'self-motivation' action.

So...where are his eyes pointing in the above photo?

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Amateur Geniuses...

A contest was held for people to submit their theories on ANY subject.

Here are the winners:

4th RUNNER-UP (Subject: Probability Theory)--If an infinite number of yobboes riding in an infinite number of four wheel drives fire an infinite number of shotgun rounds at an infinite number of highway signs, they will eventually produce all the world's great literary works in Braille.

3rd RUNNER-UP (Subject: Bio- Mechanics)--Why Yawning Is Contagious: You yawn to equalize the pressure on your eardrums. This pressure change outside your eardrums unbalances other people's ear pressures, so they then yawn to even it out.

2nd RUNNER-UP (Subject: Symbolic Logic)-- Communist China is technologically underdeveloped because they have no alphabet and therefore cannot use acronyms to communicate technical ideas at a faster rate.

1st RUNNER-UP (Subject: Newtonian Mechanics)--The earth may spin faster on its axis due to deforestation. Just as a figure skater's rate of spin increases when the arms are brought in close to the body, the cutting of tall trees may cause our planet to spin dangerously fast.

HONORABLE MENTION (Subject: Linguistics)-- The quantity of consonants in the English language is constant. If omitted in one place, they turn up in another. When a Bostonian "pahks his cah," the lost R's migrate southwest, causing a Texan to "warsh" his car and invest in "erl" wells.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER (Subject: Perpetual Motion)--When a cat is dropped, it always lands on its feet, and when toast is dropped, it always lands buttered side down. It was proposed to strap giant slabs of hot buttered toast, butter-side-up, to the back of a hundred tethered cats; the two opposing forces will cause the cats to hover, spinning inches above the ground. Using the giant buttered toast/cat array, a high-speed monorail could easily link New York with Chicago.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Load up the camels...

Things are happening, trip-wise.

The Golden Journey link on the right will keep you up to date.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Wicked but nice.

We had a log fire on Saturday night.

In this whole climate change environment we probably shouldn't have but it was lovely. Wicked things often are.

We had had our dinner and sat in front of the fire, flipping through travel brochures and planning our adventures.

2008 is going to be very busy.

And then I found myself reading some psychology articles on travel. Big mistake.

The gist of the findings were:

1. We have an overly rosy view of our holidays before we go.
2. While on holidays our view is generally positive but tempered by all the minor annoyances that we didn’t include in our rosy anticipation. Such as weather, lost things, bugs, etc.
3. Looking back on a holiday we return to having a rosy view, comparable to the pre-trip view. We edit out the boring bits; sort of like the edited highlights of a cricket match.
4. The same rosy view applies to our view of our home as our return from holidays approaches.
5. The worst holidays make the best memories.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Crab apples

I used to pick crab apples on the way home from primary school, stuffing my pockets with these tart little fruit. They are quite sour and it was probably equivalent the bravado displayed by kids when they buy sour confectionery nowadays. But cheaper.

As a memory thing, I have a crab apple tree at the back of the vegetable garden; partly for the fruit, partly as a shield from the neighbours. There is not a lot that you can do with crab apples. The jelly is nice but there is only so much you can eat. I pickled some one year and served them as garnishes with meat, especially pork. One year I made some wine with them. Which received popular acclaim for both flavour and colour. (It had some elderberries in it too.)

The other day, in memory of my childhood nibblings, I had a bowl of crab apples while I was working at my desk. They were tart, sharp and my teeth went furry, but full of memories.

Of late the birds have found the remainder of the crop: large, black evil-eyed kurrawongs, tiny little silver-eye finches, the ever present blackbirds and, recently, a few rainbow lorikeets (seen here broadening their diet with the birch seed catkins).