Tuesday, 30 September 2008

I don't care what you say...

The climate change opponents out there (you know who you are) say that the variations in climate are either imagined or just the natural rhythms of life.

Two points:

1. This September in Melbourne was the driest since records started in 1855.

2. The average inflows to Melbourne's reservoirs during 1913 - 1996 was 615 GL/year. The average inflow for the last ten years was 385 GL/year. Reservoir levels are running at 34.5% full.

I don't care what you say, the climate is changing.

And from Melbourne's perspective, for the worse.

And is it man's fault? Almost certainly.

And are our politicians (yours too) too gutless and 're-election driven' to tackle the problem on their shift?

Almost certainly.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Forgiven, I think.

The trouble with travelling is you often have to get someone else to look after your pets.

Well, our only pets were two of our sons and they seem to have looked after themselves quite well. (OK, there was the small issue of putting out the rubbish but they got through our absence reasonably fed and washed.) Our other 'pets' were the birds who had got quite used to being fed in the mornings. How would they cope with us being away for the best part of seven months?

Quite well it seems.

Not only that, there seems to be no hard feelings as they return to their 'normal' routine.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Wanted: a sub-editor

I'm not sure that this item on the news.com.au site was worded exactly as they might have wanted. Was it the same gunshot wound, the head one and the fatal one?


Reminds me of the story of the man who died instantly when he was shot in the little finger.

He was scratching his nose at the time.


Yesterday was the football grand final in Melbourne. As much as possible I tried to avoid it.

While I a a strong supporter of Darwinism and evolution, it is team sports that make me lament that we have not progressed far beyond the great apes.

Am I unusual?


Fair's fair.

Apparently Russian is banning the Simpsons, Family Man and South Park because they are corrupting their youth.

I wish they would stop all the spam emails out of Russia that question my manhood.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Tulips from...?

When we arrived home there was a tulip flowering in our front garden. OK, nothing too special about that except we have been away and I have no idea who planted it or when.

True, it could have been me any number of years ago, it is a bulb after all. But I was of the impression that tulips need a cold winter to set the flower or some such. Melbourne does not get cold winters, not by tulip standards at least. You get flowers from tulip bulbs the first year you plant them and then never again.

So I went searching info and certainly the experts seem to agree that cold is needed for a tulip to flower. Some go so far as recommending that you store your bulbs in the fridge over winter. (An aside: once at work, in my incarnation as a food chemist, I was presented with a bag of 'onions' that hospitalised a guy who ate them. They were daffodil bulbs.)

As is often the case when you go looking for information, I found more than I had expected.

A quick association test (it's the psychologist in me):

Strawberries and ...
Abbott and ...
Heaven and ...
Tulips and ...

That's alright, I am not marking the papers.

The surprise to me is that tulips originate in Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan. The Dutch just have a good marketting system.

Just for good measure, the word tulip originates from a Turkish word meaning turban.

There you go.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Redirection correction

My finish to the last post (no, not that last post! God, there are so many verbal traps. I said to someone the other day "Now that I am back in the land of the living...". Ooops.) anyway, my finish to the last post was a little was a little ambiguous.

My problem: I wasn't due back in town until October 29th. By which time the Australian football season would have been over, sparing me the foolish antics of a lot of self-opinionated twats with no necks and lycra undershorts. Now, not to be. The US election would have been nearly over, sparing me the forest leveling commentaries while still getting to sit up and watch the result. (How on earth did they re-elect GWB?). But more importantly, and the reason for the "What now?" comment in the last post, I would also be getting back in need of figuring out what to do next year.

Option 1: Return to Chemistry. Chemistry is fun when you are involved with problem solving and, like all jobs, deadly dull when you are just doing 'production line' stuff. Testing 100 steels for manganese content was awful, telling a customer, who had returned a coil of steel to you because it was faulty, that a trace element analysis suggests that it originated from Japan and that they should return it there was lovely.

Option 2: Last year I finished honours in psychology, first class honours in fact. But what to do with it. I don't think I am PhD fodder. Should I try to add to the study with, say, a Masters of some sort? Full-time? Part-time? Should I look for work with what I have, working under supervision?

The problem with psychology is that the subject, the working of the mind, is really interesting but the work of a psychologist is not at all like that and centres around a lot of troubled people with some pretty distressing problems. I loved psychology itself but I am a little unsure whether I want to be a psychologist. Certainly there are positive areas in psychology but I feel I would lack credibility as, say, a sports psychologist. I gave up correspondence chess because of the pace.

Option 3. Any sort of gainful employment at all. (Coda: As long as it is interesting.)

Option 4. Retirement. I don't think so.

Hence my 'what now' question.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Life goes on, regardless.

It is nearly a week since Dad died; it seems like yesterday. Quite odd.

It seems wrong that the days are sunny, the trees are in blossum and the birds are singing. How can all these nice things be happening at such a rotten time?

Life goes on, that's why.

Now that I am back and the rest of the holiday is just a nice idea gone wrong, the question I must face is 'what now?'.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The End and the Beginning.

Dad's funeral was today. A simple affair, as he would have wanted.

Yes, I did get back before he died Although he was unconscious when I arrived, he had been conscious when I reached Sydney so he knew I was in the country. From when I got the message in Ecuador, it took 57 hours to get home. (My suitcase took 79 hrs.)

It was lung cancer that got him in the end; a most unpleasant way to go.

My thanks to the Cuban Embassy in Quito who released our passports (they were there for visas) out of hours, "just this once".

Once is enough.


We travelled to and fro all year, visiting all sorts of exotic places with all sorts of exotic carriers and fell to Qantas to loose my luggage between Sydney and Melbourne, when I am trying to get home in a hurry.

"It might be on the next flight...".

"Might not too. Find it. Deliver it. I have other things to do."

It arrived the next day.

They mean well but...

It's not really until you are feeling less than happy with the world that you realise how often the little tartlets at the various supermarket checkouts say "Have a nice day".

It doesn't half hurt.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Let my people go!

We have an 18hr wait at Santiago (Chile) airport.

Frustration plus.


Australian comedian, Barry Humphries, once joked that he loved Melbourne because it was so central - 24 hours and you could be anywhere. He obviously didn't do the South American run all that often.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Mission Control, we have a problem...

Bad news from home; my father is in intensive care with respiratory failure.

Have bought all the tickets home, now just have to wait....


Sunday, 14 September 2008

Another grumpy moment...

Travelling in high altitudes, in warm climates, we are regularly told to use sun block.

Fair enough.

But there gets to be a status thing happening over what strength sun block is best. It all gets a bit silly and I decided that it was time to explain what the SPF numbers really mean.

Sun blocks are tested by creating a 0.1mm thick film of the cream, shining UV light of one particular wavelength through this film and recording how much of this light passes through the film. The calculation is then 100 divided by the percent of light that passes through the film, giving you your SPF. *

Simple, no?

So, an SPF 25 cream permits 4% (100/4 = 25) to pass and blocks 96% of the UV light. Likewise, an SPF 50 cream blocks 98% of the light. If applied in a uniform 0.1mm thick film, of course.

So the doubling of the SP factor in this example equates to only a 2% increase in the amount of UV light blocked by the cream. It does not mean that it is twice as good.

Even if it is twice as expensive.


Next week I might pick on the current travel 'necessity', hand sanitiser gels.

* Yes, sometimes they test sun blocks in situ but it is rarely done and tricky to do with any sort of accuracy.

El Capilla del Hombre - The Chapel of Man.

This place was a pleasant surprise today. One of those placews that make you go 'oh wow' when you weren't expecting it. It is a chapel / art gallery created by Ecuadorian painter Oswald Guayasamin. Unbeknown to me, a portrait of Fidel Castro that I was admiring while waiting at the Cuban Embassy for a visa yesterday was also done by Guayasamin.

The quote above says something along the lines of "I cried because I had no shoes but then I met a boy with no feet."

Freaky shot of the eternal flame.

Some of Guayasamin's paintings.

Dancers at El Capilla del Hombre.

Saturday, 13 September 2008


Creativity is alive and well in the cafes of Quito.

La Basílica del Voto Nacional

A cathedrally sort of place in Quito.

The interior tend to agree with that.

But then you get bonus extras: you can get up and look at the rose window.

The gargoyles are birds, porcupines, turtles...

You can go across the roof space above the basilica's domed roof.

And there is a coffee shop at the top of the clock tower for weary climbers.

Mimicking life...

A concrete statue at one of Quito's museums.

Shoeshine Boys

Shoe shine boys seem to be a growth industry.

It's not limited to Ecuador: this photo was on our last day in Peru.

Don't drink the water...

I know tourists are told that the water is dodgy but this is taking it to extremes.

Quito, Ecuador

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Grumpy Old Man Moment

As I meet more and more tour guides, I am getting grumpier and grumpier. Not wanting to publicly tackle (and hence embarrass) them I am letting my frustrations out on you, my poor readers.

And the source of my grumplement? The extravagant claims made by guides for their particular area of interest.

Some years ago I did a tour to central Australia. Amongst other things I was told that wichetty grubs had more protein than a piece of steak (about as silly as saying that a cup holds more water than a bucket), that a particular sap was a stronger glue than anything white man had developed BUT the aborigines would soften it with heat and reuse it (so it is both hard and soft, it seems) and that a particular plant had antiseptic properties far stronger than anything we white folk use. To claims like the last one I like to apply the ‘if that then this’ test. If that was true then it seems odd that the pharmaceutical companies haven’t planted acres of the stuff. They haven’t, so what does that mean?

Why can’t the guides just say ‘Aborigines ate wichetty grubs”, “they used this sap as a glue”, “they used this herb to dress wounds”? All are true and perfectly reasonable. But, no, they have to reach for some sort of extra merit award.

So to Peru.

We have been told that the reeds in Lake Titicaca are a rich source of protein and carbohydrate. So why do they eat fish and potatoes? The reeds are very spongy and the people there do eat the soft bases of them but I suspect they only get dietary fibre from the things and, having tried them, I suspect they were only eaten after a poor days fishing.

We were told that the Inca calendar was so accurate that it only needed ‘tweaking’ every 13,000 years where as our miserable Gregorian thing needs a four yearly service with an extra tweak every other millennium or so. Can’t find any evidence to support this claim.

We were told that people drink a tea made from a particular jungle vine (probably true) and that this concoction was the reason for lower levels of pancreatic cancer among Peruvians (doubtful). As obesity is the major risk factor for pancreatic cancer, could it be that it is the general leanness of the Peruvian population that is responsible for the lower cancer levels and not the tea? I’m guessing, of course.

This is not just a trait of Peruvian guides, it seems to be a universal urge to show that your domain is somehow better than others.

Why do people have to gild the lily when the lily is lovely enough on its own?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Boats heading home from Taquille Island

Click on photo to enlarge.

Characters on Taquille Island in Lake Titicaca

The hat indicates that the men are married. Unmarried men have red and white hats.

Rowers on Lake Titicaca


The fine art of cooking on a highly flammable reed island.

Some faces at the floating village

Two Margarets

Margaret tried out some of the local clothes at the floating village. There seems to be a problem with leg length.

Floating villages on Lake Titicaca

Collecting reeds

Reed boat and part of a house.

Boat detail.