Friday, 29 February 2008

Farewell, wish you could come to the dinner!

Tomorrow, we head off. Well, Sunday really but the flight time is 00:45hrs on Sunday morning. Really, I ask you!

Well, we have to be at the airport on Saturday so, tomorrow it is.

Things are packed, the car is up on jacks, last minute things are being dealt with, and the malaria tablets start tonight (I wonder if they taste any better than the last time I had them?).

So: one more sleep!

But tonight, we dine. The official farewell dinner.

I have decided to give those staying behind a taster of the trip:

Starter: Vietnamese fresh spring rolls.
Soup: Thai hot and sour prawn soup.
Main: Malaysian chicken satay skewers with rice.
Dessert: Coconut mousse with mango.

OK, I cheated on the dessert. It has no fixed abode that I know of but it does have a tropical slant.

Now, it's time to cook...

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The Milky Way

My way of telling when something is getting close is by the date on the milk.

When the milk will last longer than the time to the event, I know it's close.

We fly off on March 2nd.


The first trip will be

Chiang Mai
Khao Sok
Ko Samui
Ko Tao

Sabah, Borneo
Kuala Lumpur

Halong Bay
Hoi An
Ho Chi Minh City

Siem Reap

April 21st.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

It's not a hard grind.

Home made pasta for dinner last night. (Yes, that is some of my work above.)

Why make pasta when the shops are full of all sorts of packets, in all sorts of shapes?

Flavour. Texture. Satisfaction.

Served it with pesto sauce, made with some of the last basil in the vegetable garden.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Perhaps I can't be improved on?

For the last few weeks the folk at Jericho Spa Collection, Dead Sea Beauty Products, have had a stand at Chadstone, the local mega-shopping centre.

Terribly earnest young men and women pick people out from the passing crowd to sell them on the benefits of using the primeval ooze from the Dead Sea to give them eternal beauty.

I have walked past them at least six times now.

They never approach me.

Does this mean that my inherent, intrinsic beauty cannot be improved on?

Or do they automatically realise that I swam in the Dead Sea, albeit 27 years ago, and that I am as good as I am going to get?

Or do I just not fit the profile of a person who will fall for pseudo-scientific cosmetic quackery?

Yep. Probably the last one.


Some years ago, a similar, but different, crowd gave Margaret a trial tub of some eye rejuvenating goo, promising that it would do wonders for her eyes in a week. Margaret duly used it every day for a week and returned to the shop.

"Oh darrhling! You look soooo much younger!" oiled the attendant.

"Really?" asked Margaret.

"Oh darrhling, yes! You look aaabsolutely divine!"

"That's interesting" said the divine one, "you see I only used the gel on one eye. Can you tell me which eye I applied it to?"

".....(gurgling sound)..."

Thursday, 21 February 2008

The big D.

This is my 500th post.

That is including the sex, religion and politics blogs in with the sedate Curate's Egg.

It is the second time I have reached this milestone; the last time was just before the old Curate's Egg blog imploded and then relaunched. Perhaps the egg belongs to a Phoenix.

So it could have been the Big M. Without the girls, of course*.

Looking back over the posts, they are a real mixed bag, aptly grouped with the Curate and his egg.

Paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Finish each post and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.

*Obscure reference to an advertising campaign for Big M flavoured milks that were, for a while, advertised with the aid of some rather well endowed ladies.


From the gazebo to the world...

Sorry about the photo - especially if you haven't had breakfast yet. In response to yesterday's post, Mark wanted a photo of me in the gazebo with the new laptop. I took a photo using my camera on time release but then realised that I didn't have the connector to get the pic from the camera to the computer, so the above photo is taken with the computer's built-in camera. Be careful what you ask for.

I will add the camera shot later on.

Re naming the computer: consistent with Margaret's assertion that the computer is my mistress, I have opted for <a href=""target=_blank>Phryne</a>, a famous courtesan. (thinks: I wonder if blogging by email permits embedded links...)


A little later: it didn't seem to like the hyperlink. Oh well...

Still don't know how to tell Blogger I want the picture in the centre either.

There may be some of you who remember that I referred to Phryne in a past blog.


Wednesday, 20 February 2008

A laptop for my travels...

The 1984 Mac commercial.

Mark asked me what my new Mac (the Macbook Air) is like.

Well, it is all very lovely - sleek, silver, thin and (relatively) lightweight.

It will fit inside an envelope, as seen in their ads, albeit a B4 envelope. I will be keeping it in an envelope when travelling. It has thin tapered edges and so when it is in the envelope it does not look bulky, or square, at all and hopefully it will just be one more defence.

After 25 years of using a mouse and a number pad to the right of the keyboard, it is taking a little while to adjust to the touch pad. But it works well and is fascinating how it gives different responses to one, two or three finger caresses. The pinching and rotating movements are easy to use on the touch pad as well. Others will no doubt be familiar with this sort of thing but it is all new to me.

The programs are ones I am familiar with, so nothing new there. It is just a matter of customising them for the road.

Finally, it is a child of the wireless generation (although I am taking an ethernet connector as a fall-back position!). There was something surreal yesterday to be sitting in a comfortable armchair, at a large shopping centre, wirelessly connected to the internet. I just need to figure out easy ways of finding out where wi-fi connection points are without having to start the computer and 'look' for networks.

Earlier yesterday morning our Scottish relatives called (via Skype) so I took the laptop into the bedroom and we both sat in bed doing a video call. Cute. Presumably I could take it to the gazebo and use it there. (I say presumably because it is raining at present. So many good things happening at once!)

So, I have 10 days to learn the ways of the machine. Haven't even named it yet. All my other Mac have had ladies names, largely due to Margaret declaring that they are my mistresses.

Next Monday I will cross over to using it for all my computing, blogging, email etc so that I am quite at home with it before I actually leave home.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Cat amongst the pigeons...

Here we are, twelve days out from a eight month holiday, a cat has been thrown in amongst the pigeons!

No, no more wobbles from Richard.

This time it is Martin.

He and his girlfriend, Roni, announced their engagement yesterday.

We are, of course, enormously happy for them. But it has, also of course, started all sorts of maternal juices flowing in Margaret. Can we organise an engagement party before we leave? No. Will their be two weddings, one here, one in Malaysia? Who knows? When will they get married? About this time next year, we are told.

So many questions. So much 'flutter'.

Going overseas for eight months seems a perfectly sensible thing to do under the circumstances.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

You never know who is at the door...

Allan Sanders and Lee Kennedy (Photo courtesy of J Cosmo Newbery).

The trouble with providing a letter drop-point for some of the more scurrilous ne'er-do-wells of the world is that sometimes I find myself on the receiving end of their guest lists. This usually involves bailiffs, sheriffs and bounty hunters.

This afternoon the door bell rang and I was greeted with "J Cosmo Newbery!".

Of course, this puts me on a spot. Do I proceed with the charade? Do I feign ignorance? Do I say that Mr Newbery is off having his knees checked for mines and could I take a message?

I did the only polite thing I could and invited the gentleman in. He had, after all, come all the way from France along with his lovely wife and young son. His name, I found out, was Allan Sanders.

As the story panned out it seems that Allan, writing as Dyson Kardz, and Mr Newbery, writing as Sir Wilberforce Harrington-Smythe, had run a joint counter scam with some Nigerian conmen a few years back. (It is a fear that one day some gentlemen from Lagos will turn up looking for Mr Newbery. They will probably not be invited in.) You can read the account here but I strongly suggest you arm yourself with a coffee, or better, before venturing into their long and quite remarkable tale.

Friday, 15 February 2008

A follow-up on the Moving Forward post.

The Aboriginal Flag

A few people have asked for a bit of background to my post of a couple of days ago where I reproduced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's address to the nation from Federal Parliament apologising to the Aborigines for past wrongs.

1. Have the Aborigines accepted the apology?
By and large, yes. They have been asking that an apology be given for some years now and were consulted over the wording of the apology. As is the case with any group of humans, there is a diversity of views with some saying that it was enough and others wanting more. But for the majority it appears to have been accepted.

2. Does Kevin Rudd mean what he says?
He is giving every sign of believing and acting on this issue. He said during his election campaign that it would be one of the first things he did if elected. It was done on the second sitting day of parliament. There are many issues needing to be addressed to level the imbalance in the Australian community: life expectancy, health generally, education, housing. Successive governments have, to varying degrees, tried to move on these areas with limited success. Will Rudd succeed? I don't know but he gives every indication of wanting to tackle the issues with speed and compassion. As part of the supporting address he proposed a bipartisan parliamentary group, similar in its concept of unity and focus to a war cabinet, to work collaboratively towards some of his goals for improving the lot of Aboriginals, hopefully avoiding the point-scoring of party politics. The Opposition parties have agreed to this.

3. What of the Opposition party?
The opposition Liberal Party (= Republican, Conservative) flatly refused to apologise to the Aboriginies when it was in power. The fractures in the party were clearly seen in their leader, Brendan Nelson's, reply address to the apology. It was as if every faction in the Liberal Party had said that the price that they wanted for an apparent show of party unity on the issue was to have their pet peeve mentioned in Nelson's address. Consequently, as a speech, it was all over the place and lacked clarity, direction and grace. Many people stood and turned their backs to him when he spoke; some, I suspect, more for his past comments than for the content of the present speech.

4. Does an apology leave the Government open to compensation claims?
I don't believe so. If the Government is open to compensation claims then it would have been open to them whether they apologised or not. If you have done something wrong, refusing to acknowledge that wrong does not make you save from prosecution. This has been a myth in Australian political circles for far too long.

5. Is the apology the pathway to peace, love and happiness?
No, there is a lot of work to be done and there are many hurdles to cross when you are trying to both mix and save two cultures. But it has removed a barrier from the communication process that has loomed too large for too long. And that can't be a bad thing.


Thursday, 14 February 2008

The half-year mark.

It wasn't intentional but Valentine's Day marks the half way point of our wedding year (our wedding anniversary is August 14th) so, naturally, we went out for dinner.

Yes, romance lives.

So as to not over do it too much, and to balance out the day, we spent the rest of the day sitting in the Supreme Court of Victoria. In the visitor's gallery, I hasten to add. It was our fourth day there and we will be there again tomorrow. More about that tomorrow.

A happy Valentine's Day to all the lovers out there.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Moving forward...

The following is the full text of the apology from Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, to the country's Aborigines:

Today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.


The Seven Percent Story.

Someone, somehow, worked out that our communications consist of 7% words, 38% voice or tone and 55% non-verbal or body language.

I am not sure how they did this to such accuracy but I will go with their figures for the moment.

What prompted this post was a post by about a group called Befrienders in Malaysia. From the way she describes them they are similar to LifeLine in Australia or the Samaritans in Britain. I was surprised when she said that you could email them if you had a problem.

The above figures would suggest that you only get 7% of their message in an email. (The blue wedge, above.)

No tone of voice, no body language.

Phone counselling is tricky enough at times, working with 45% of the content but 7% is not much to get any idea as to what is going on in the person's mind. Are they suicidal? Are they calm? Are they crying? Are they panicky? Is there mood improving? How do you engage with someone with email? You are getting 7% of their message and then they, distressed and anxious, are getting 7% of your reply. The scope for misunderstanding and confusion is enormous.

(Having said that we did have a teletype option available until recently, but I have never taken a call on it and we only had a few regulars that used it to contact us.)

Part of the reason for the appearance of smileys in emails (and SMS messages) is to try to convey some of the emotions of the writer that are not conveyed by the hard reality of the words alone.

I guess my message is that if your issue is important, ring. If it is really important, visit.

If you want to run the risk of being misunderstood, email. Or SMS.

Or blog.


Tuesday, 12 February 2008

And in addition...

After my call for stronger, less hypochondriac, rats Phil asked if I am in favour of additives or not.

There is not an easy answer to that.

First a few ground rules. These are, naturally, from a chemist's perspective.

1. Don't whinge to me that your food is full of chemicals. My response is to ask you what part of your food is not made of chemicals? The term 'chemicals' has been stolen to be used for 'bad' chemicals - pesticides, preservatives etc. But it is misleading as everything is composed of chemicals. What else is there?

2. Similar for the term 'organic'. Excluding things like salt, all food is organic to a chemist. It is a term relating to compounds originating from plants and animals from long before pesticides came on the scene.

Now, to additives proper. These fall into two distinct categories.

1. New compounds that do not occur in nature.

For example, BHT and BHA are added to oils to prevent oxidation and delay rancidity. Are they harmful in small amounts? What are the health effects of the oxidised components of rancid oil? Which is worse?

Synthetic colours. Many are associated with hyperactivity in children but are invariably consumed in association with high sugar products. Which carries the baton for cause and effect? The colour? Or the sugar? Both? Neither?

Margarine is a totally synthetic compound; should it be permitted for human consumption?

2. Compounds that are present in nature.

But not all additives are synthetic. Vanilla, Ascorbic Acid and Benzoic acid all occur in nature but are mass produced cheaply by synthetic processes for addition to food as flavouring, antioxidant/vitamin (C) and preservative respectively. Should nature identical compounds be added to food? If they occur in nature anyway can they be bad? Note that cyanides, strychnine and cocaine are also naturally occurring compounds.

Sulphur dioxide is the most ubiquitous chemical added to our foods. Amongst many uses, it is the preservative present in sausages, dried fruits and wines. It is naturally present in volcanic gases and has been added to foods, by burning sulphur, since Roman times.

Many food additives are plant extracts - carrageenan, for example, is a seaweed extract often used to stabilize ice-cream.

My general view is that if the compounds are needed for the safety of the food, and if they are present at the minimum level for such safety, then they serve a useful function. They should not be present at excessive levels and should not be present if not serving a useful purpose. Sausages, for example, will not last 24hrs without sulphur dioxide.

While I am not convinced that colours at their normally used levels are a problem I do not generally see the need for them at all. Their addition is aesthetic, not functional.

Excessive levels of any compound (chemicals!) will kill you. Vitamin A is toxic. Salt will kill you. Excessive oxygen will kill you. Last year a lady died after drinking too much water. Apple pips contain cyanide. One apple core wont kill you but a guy died after eating a cup full of pips. Another man stir fried potato shoots. Dead.

Too much of anything is bad for you. Moderation is good.

But how much is too much? Good question.

So, my brief answer to the additive question is that in low amounts they are OK but be sensible about them. By and large they are there for a functional purpose.

If someone is complaining about excess 'chemicals' in their food, it is always interesting to ask them if they take vitamin or mineral supplements. It is bizarre how often people who fear small amounts of highly studied additives in their food will consume mega doses of some herbal, mineral or vitamin preparation and assume that it is safe.

On what evidence?

Monday, 11 February 2008

On top of the world!

So, a quiz.

What is going on in the photo above?

Margaret, walking with Simon, at Mt Dandenong.

And why are we at Mt Dandenong, north east of Melbourne?

Well, you see, we will be overseas when Margaret would officially graduate from her course and those horrible, horrible people at Holmesglen TAFE would not let her put off her graduation until next year.

So we hired a robe and headed to the hills. Took lots of photos and celebrated with coffee and cake.


Sunday, 10 February 2008

The Birthday Girl

Yesterday, as a belated birthday treat, we headed off on a river
cruise up the Yarra, the river running through Melbourne.

Three hour leisurely affair, complete with a five course dinner.


This post started life as an email post to Blogger, to prove that I could post photos by email in anticipation of life on the road.

I had two issues: 1. The photo, sent as an attachment, was left justified while I prefer them to be centred. And 2, lines left blank to space the document disappeared, running the two sentences into one block of text.

I logged in and tweaked the post to correct both these issues after posting.

Anyone out there know how to work around these issues more elegantly?

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The Year of the (stronger) Rat

A rat story for the Year of the Rat.


It may surprise you that there are over 800 compounds present in coffee aroma.

Maybe not.

But it will surprise you that all of them are poisonous and probably carcinogens.

Before you switch to dandelion tea, let me put it to you that everything is a poison and a carcinogen.


Cancer is not a result of a chemical, it is a result of your genetic processes 'stumbling' under pressure, often (though not always) from a chemical load.

Consider the grain of sand. If a single grain of sand falls on your shoulder, it will most probably bounce off. If not, you can brush it off. No harm done.

But what if a truckload falls on you? Bluntly put, the system can't cope.

So it is with chemicals. Your liver is taking small amounts of chemicals from your system every day, without a problem. That is part of the liver's job. But overload the system, and what happens?

Two things happen. If it is a massive overload, you get poisoning. If it is a persistent lower level load, then the likelihood of the system operating correctly will suffer. Have you ever had the situation when you knew you could do something, play the piano for example, but up on stage, under pressure, you made mistakes?

Cancers are your body making mistakes under pressure.

This brings us to the laboratory rat.

The scientists test chemicals on rats, specially bred weak, milksop rats, rats with a pre-existing disposition to develop cancers. They then feed the rat a diet of 5% of the chemical being investigated. Apart from water and sugar, no single compound makes up 5% of your diet. The rat, not surprisingly, will develop cancers.

You see, they can't wait 75 years to see if there is a problem with normal consumption levels so they increase the level administered to try to speed up the process. This makes as much sense as putting your pizza in a blast furnace to cook it quickly and then complaining that the pizza is prone to burning during the cooking process.

The scientists then draw a long bow and say that, because a weedy rat consuming five percent of its diet as compound x every day for a year developed cancer of the gonads, it follows that a human consuming 0.1 parts per million occasionally will also develop this cancer.

What we really need are stronger rats.

And smarter scientists.


Note: I am not in favour with many of the various artificial compounds being introduced into our diet but, in this post at least, my issue is with the flawed testing regime; not the need, or otherwise, of the additive. That can be another post.

Have you ever seen that ad where the little girl asks her Mum:
"Mum? How do you make butter?" "Why, dear you take cream and churn it."
"And how do you make margarine?"
"I don't know dear, ask your father. He's the chemist."

Well, I'm that chemist. Look out!


Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Small critters!

"Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door" -anon.

I was fossickinig around for something else this morning and found a copy of my Grandfather's 1936 patent for "Improvement in spring¬actuated animal traps." Patent No 100,692.

My Grandfather invented the better mousetrap!

Sadly, it seems that someone must have invented the better mouse as the path to his door was very weedy indeed.

But it got me thinking about how superficially we deal with many other people in our lives. My grandfather died when I was four so I remember very little of him. However he must have had a big influence; my four earliest memories all involve him. It is easy to remember him as "my grandfather, the plumber" and yet there was obviously much more to him than that.

We stereotype people - salespeople, bank clerks, policemen, aunts, uncles, politicans, students, women in high heels and men in suits - all get pigeon-holed on the flimsiest of evidence. We tend to forget that all people have a story to tell, that in their own way they live rich and full lives, lives full of triumphs and disasters, loves, regrets and dramas.

And mousetraps.


My Grandfather and me, circa 1955.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Full gallop...

Haven't blogged much for the last few days.

What with Simon's return yesterday, a dinner with friends on Saturday, dinner with family tonight, Margaret's birthday tomorrow...

Feeble excuses, I know, but things have just been busy!


Part of the goings-on involved shifting Simon to another room. No big deal but it did mean that, on his first day back, still fresh (?) from an 18hr flight, he was crawling under the house relocating computer cables to the other room.


Sunday, 3 February 2008

Getting the band back together...

.Richard, Martin & Simon

We collected Simon from the airport this morning. A little weary around the edges but otherwise none the worse for wear.

His flight got in at 6:25am (ugh!) so we headed off to Rathdowne Street in Carlton to meet up with Martin for some breakfast.