Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cheese "facts"

From the 1978 World Book encyclopedia, C-Ch, p. 305. "Cheese" - paragraph 5.
Most cheese comes from cow's milk. People in Europe and Asia frequently make cheese from the milk of buffaloes, goats, and sheep. But cheese can be made from the milk of any animal. Herders in Lapland use reindeer milk in making cheese. In Tibet, yaks supply milk for cheese. Cheese is also made from the milk of camels, donkeys, horses and zebras.
Hang on. Zebras? How do you make cheese from a non-domesticated animal? Chase baby zebras and pump their stomachs? If you have ever heard of zebra cheese, please drop me a line. If you have milked a zebra, get in touch ASAP, as I think I can get a grant for a film about your life.

Overheard at work (2)

"Has anyone got any Panadol? I've got to go and film an archbishop".


We have entered the iPod age. Elf bought one for Marcus yesterday. We have been thinking for some time that a selection of calming music might help him relax. Elf was prompted to buy one yesterday after Marcus had a horror morning at the dentist.

His tooth had been hurting him at night and then his upper jaw started swelling. The dentist quickly diagnosed an infection under the tooth, luckily a baby tooth. They did not x-ray, and they did not give him enough pain relief. He had a couple of needles in the gum but then they launched on in there straight away, saying the infection stops the painkiller working anyway.

The dentists had said "if its hurting, just tell us to stop". Elf said Marcus was screaming "STOP! STOP!", but they didn't. The poor kid felt justifiably betrayed and angry afterwards.

So, now he has an iPod Nano. I have just loaded it up with stuff for him. They are amazing things - I have never even held one in my hand before. Its got a little glass screen and it plays movies! Amazing.

Stay tuned for news of how it all plays out. I am already thinking we will need some kind of flashing light alert on the wall in all rooms in the house so Marcus knows when we need him to come to the surface.

Kitchen chit chat

Me: "Instant" coffee actually takes quite a while. It gives "instant" a bad name doesn't it?
Ben: And coffee.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Physics explained

I have some old physics books that were Dad's. I actually found them useful when I did Physics in Grade 11, although they are pretty ancient. The diagrams are just marvellous. I have scanned about 40 of them, so if you have a hankering for a hot oil bath, a coulomb meter or a crab winch, have a look here.


Marcus has been pretty moody lately. Its like having a half-life-size teenager around. Now and then the old Marcus peeps through and we grab him and try and hold on to him for as long as we can before gloom sets in and then all we get is low grunting.

One morning the boys had watched a terrible cartoon version of Wolverine. (Nothing personal Wolverine - I just find practically everything terrible now. I am 41). Later Marcus said, as we were driving somewhere "wouldn't it be funny if there was a super character person like Wolverine who threw cucumbers at people?"

To try to hang onto the Marcus who thinks of cucumber-throwing heroes, I encouraged him to do a drawing of it as soon as possible. It took a few days but here it is. I must say so far this weekend he's been terrific, so here's hoping that phase might be over.

STOP PRESS. Marcus and I made a flash animation of Cucumberman. Here is a screen capture movie.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Nugget categories

Elf, pre 7am: "Its odd that there are only two kinds of nuggets; gold and chicken".

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Overheard at work

"Dave, we don't need to photograph Eleanor now for that Major Slut sequence, do we?"

Monday, June 22, 2009

Beverages in history

Cameron and Adrian next door were charging around their backyard. Cameron had a home-made bow and a short sword. Adrian speaks with a slight lisp but it's funnier if I render it with the full Elmer Fudd.

Its wine, not wum!
Cameron: I'm pretty sure its rum.
Adrian: NO, IT'S WINE.
Me: Hi guys. What's up?
Cameron: Do you like my bow? Mum won't let me make any arrows though. So I'm being a Roman archer! [brandishes sword]
Me: What's the wine business?
Cameron: Well I said that Roman soldiers drink rum, but he thinks they drink wine.
Me: Yep, I'm pretty sure they drank wine.
Adrian: Wum was someone else.
Me: Probably pirates.
Adrian: Yes, PIWATES! Piwates dwink wum.
Cameron: And convicts.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Footy cards taken seriously as photography

I still have my old football cards which date from about 1969-1985. Every now and then I look back over them and critique them as works of photography.

Geoff Blethyn kicked 107 goals in a VFL season this year (1972), wearing glasses. And yet you never hear about him. The photographer has chosen the same dramatic angle for all the Essendon shots it seems. A kind of, well, up the shorts angle really.

What is going on here with Ross Brewer's arms? I'll bet he was a hoot when he did his Mr Tickle routine in the rooms after training.

I love a player who strikes the same pose year after year, especially a lairy one like "selling the dummy". Peter Bedford had all the skills and won the Brownlow Medal. Paul Callery is mostly remembered for being tiny and going on to be a stats man on ABC radio - I think he has a PhD now as the other fellas call him "Doctor".

Sometimes the ball gets a bit slippery. These pics all have a touch of "whoaaaah there" about them.

And finally: the Swans mostly-white jumper seems to have caused some over-exposure problems here. He would have been stumbling around blinded for a while after the flash went off.

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

Ned Kelly would be arguably the most famous figure in 221 years of white Australian history. Perhaps second to Kylie Minogue, but definitely more interesting. He polarises opinions. You will hear sane and balanced people swear that he was a cross between Garibaldi, Martin Luther King and Fabio. Other sane and balanced people swear he was a straight out criminal who shot police if he couldn't corrupt them.

This book, by one of my favourite authors, won the Booker Prize in 2001. It's taken me this long to get around to reading it, because I suppose I just thought I knew the story.

Carey has borrowed the style of Kelly's Jerilderie Letter, and told the story of his life in the first person. If you haven't read the letter (its long - about 8000 words) you can find it here. He has a very vivid way of writing and is very sparing with his full stops. My favourite bit is this description of the police:
...the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big, ugly, fat-necked, wombat-headed, big-bellied, magpie-legged, narrow-hipped, splay-footed sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as officers of Justice or Victorian Police, who some calls honest gentlemen.
He has done a brilliant job of inhabiting Kelly and bringing his story to life. It was a very hard time to live in the bush, and very hard time to be Irish - the action mostly happens through the 1870s. The grinding poverty of Ned's upbringing and his extended family's involvement in small-time crime leads him step-by-step into deeper and deeper trouble.

It is so similar to stories that are going on all around us all the time, undocumented. Its tragic that so early in life the options for some people narrow down to a) crime or b) rejection by their family. Any one of us in their shoes would probably choose crime.

One very engaging passage of the book describes how the gang were holed up in a shepherds' hut, wallpapered with old pages from the Illustrated Australian News According to this Kelly's famous armour was inspired by the armoured battleships of the US Civil War.
The previous incumbent must have been a Yankee every page he pasted were about their Civil War I were often disappointed to find the outcome of a battle eaten by a mouse. I read from the floor to 6 ft. of height then constructed a kind of hurdle to get up under the rafters I come across the badly damaged likeness of a ship called the Virginia the southerners had clad it all with iron there were another ship the Monitor its bridge were like a tower forged of steel 1/2 in. thick an ironclad monster with a pair of 11 in. guns like the nostrils on a face. O that a man could smith himself into a warship of that pattern he could sail it to the gates of Beechworth and Melbourne Gaols. No munition could injure him or tear his flesh he would be an engine like the Great Cuchulainn in his war chariot they say it bristled with points of iron & hooks & straps & loops & cords.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Marcus wins three day struggle for control of Switzerland

Elf's brother Chonk and his family live in Switzerland. Some years ago they gave us a copy of Swiss Monopoly for Christmas. Its a bilingual edition in French and German.

It sat around in its box for a quite a while as our command of these languages is less than fluent. After a while I think the kids got it out. Marcus challenged me to a game and I realised that the only language problem would be deciphering the Chance and Community Chest cards.

We have played a few games now and I am starting to get the hang of it. I find the French more useful but sometimes if I am struggling there will be a German word that is just familiar enough to clarify matters. Marcus now glances at the card, then gives it to me and says "Get or give?" Our games have usually defied the Monopoly norm: someone gets an advantage early and bankrupts the other one within an hour or so. Compared to a full four hands of mah jongg its a snap.

On Sunday after we had arrived home from Lake Pedder, Marcus asked for a game. We went through until bedtime with a break for dinner. At bedtime the game was evenly poised - we would have to keep going tomorrow until someone had gone crazy or broke and the other was Master of Switzerland.

The next morning before school we continued. I had an early hold on the big ticket properties in Zurich Paradeplatz and Lausanne Place St-François, but I was struggling to afford the houses. Marcus had taken an opposite tack and gone low-rent. He had the cheapies like Neuenburg Place Pury and Aarau Rathausplatz, and was spraying them with green plastic houses and hitting me for cash every time I went through. Everything was mortgaged and I was selling houses back to the bank.

On Monday afternoon I got the upper hand. I had houses all the way from Start to the pointing policeman, and the money was flowing my way. We had both totally given up on acquiring new property, and were just trying to house-up what we had to the max. On average I was paying out Fr 15,000 every time I went around. I could only afford this because now and then Marcus had to pay me Fr 50,000. Again we broke for dinner. By bedtime Marcus was back in charge. I got the "Lasse alle deine hauser renovieren. Zahle an die bank" card twice - and we all know what that means. Ouch.

On Tuesday morning my luck deserted me. Time and again Marcus landed on the Impôt Supplementaire right between my juicy dark blue properties. Time and again I landed on his first hotel, then followed up with a 2 or a 3 and had to pay out all over again. By going-to-school time it was all over. My empire had turned to dust, and my son, a mere boy, was lord of a mountainous chocolate-producing republic.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Toothaches One and Two

I've had this dreadful cold, or acute viral rhinopharyngitis as I like to call it. After about four days of it I was starting to get pain in my top left molar. [I had some work done on that tooth in September and they told me then that more was required.] Of course I started thinking I had an abcess. It didn't ever hurt to bite on, but whenever I jolted my head, such as walking down the steep stairs out the front of the house, it was quite painful. When I went swimming it throbbed like crazy when I swam along the bottom of the pool. I was hoping it was to do with my cold, but I had a sneaking feeling I was going to lose the tooth as punishment for not going back to the dentist for nine months.

Then one morning, my toothache spread to the right side as well. Hurrah! Double toothache = cold-related-sinus-thingy! Hurrah! But I have made an appointment at the dentist. Phew.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Elf is reading the Diaries of Ethel Turner. She wrote kids' book called Seven Little Australians in about 1893. "24 June 1893. I fainted this morning for a bit of excitment but I didn't like it much."

Tonight on that reality TV show The Zoo (which is actually about several zoos and the animals therein) someone said "At 12 or 13 weeks of age Harry will go the crêche to learn to be a bat".

Types of snow

Wikipedia list the following "types of snow on the ground". If you really must you can look up what they all mean here. I made up one of them. In fact, bearing in mind that it's Wikipedia, maybe all of them are made up.

Artificial snow
Blowing snow
Chopped powder
Depth hoar
Finger Drift
Heavy crud
Packed Powder
Packing snow
Pillow Drift
Snirt (not to be confused with snert)
Surface Hoar
Watermelon snow
Wind slab

Flummoxed by followers

I have six new followers! I have to say the term "followers" puts me in mind of Rev Jim Jones and the Guyana jungle, however, its great to have you along (via Wendy's world I assume). I was going to launch into a portentuous "welcome to my blog and here is what I am all about" rave but the whole point of reading someone's blog is to find that out for yourself so I'll skip it.

However, I insist on embracing and even enhancing the inevitable creepy aspect of following by personally divining your lucky charms - mark them well and they will bring you good fortune at the laundromat, on the golf course and even in traffic court.

Julie: your lucky towel is the jumbo beach and your lucky vegetable is the squash.

Deedee: your lucky consonant is "H" and your lucky province is Manitoba.

S.B.: your lucky commodity is rubber, your lucky headwear is visor.

Sign Lady: your lucky physicist is Nils Bohr and your lucky sport is curling.

Crystal: your lucky piece of horse tack is the running martingale and your lucky country is Chad.

SRA: your lucky type of snow is snirt* and your lucky cheese is gruyere.

Charles: your lucky cricket fielding position is deep third man and your lucky university is Yale.

Matt: your lucky woodwind is the oboe and your lucky fabric is chintz.

Sally: your lucky hexadecimal colour is #ffb400 and your lucky primate is the bobono.

and finally Wendy: your lucky organ is the spleen and your lucky syrup is maple.

*Ooh, I can feel a list coming on here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lake Pedder - day 3

This morning we actually saw the sun for a while, and I was able to take a few pictures featuring it. These were taken at Ted's Beach.

We got on the road and headed back east. There is something called the Creepy Crawly Walk marked on maps. We looked for it and failed to find it. A man (who Elf calls "the Twinkly Man") in Maydena later told us that a) it's awful and b) it's closed. We did go on another dirt road adventure to try to see the Big Tree Reserve in the Florentine Valley. Elf painstakingly crawled about 10km in on soft and slippy logging roads (it was raining by now) before giving up and retreating to the highway. We did see plenty of huge straight mountain ash trees, but the very very large ones have been preserved in a particular spot that was beyond us in this weather. It was worth it to see this amazing mixed bushland that's being logged. I can't tell if what we were looking at was old growth of regrowth, but if it was regrowth the variety was very impressive.

When we got into Maydena we loaded up at the Twinkly Man's with coffee and hot pastry-in-plastic. Then we went off for one last off-road adventure, to find Junee Cave. The drive there was not far but it was incredible. We drove over a little bridge and somehow back forty years into the 1930s. (That was a little joke because the rest of Maydena is stuck in about 1975. Well, anyway the Twinkly Man's TV was playing a footy match that I'm pretty sure was the 2007 Geelong/Collingwood semi-final. Explain that!)

So - here we are on the 1930 side of the river.

Just by here a man was fishing with his kids. A little ginger wiry guy, he was in the water with his rod. He had a little one in a stroller about a foot back from the riverbank, and three or maybe four others all under 8, prancing about, some with their own rods. His Commodore was about ten feet from the riverbank. It was wild. The road was about as wide as the car and Elf once again showed why she is the only one who should drive our car when the going gets tough.

The Junee River comes roaring out of the cave of the same name, after travelling underground for miles from the west. The water starts out stained brown with tannin from the bracken fern (like all western Tasmanian rivers) but it is filtered by the limestone of the cave system, and comes out clear or sometimes slightly blue-green. It was only a short walk from the road and really beautiful.

I insisted on a drive around Maydena before we got seriously on the road home. It's got some things in common with Queenstown - a very inventive vernacular style of building, with anything at all used as materials. And the rain obviously. Saw one house with vertical board lower storey and horizontal upper - nice.

We had lunch at Westerway. Its an interesting small town with the river, road and railway all running parallel through it. This is the west end of the hop-growing country of the Derwent Valley. Hop fields look a little as though they are set up for some strange complicated ballgame, with regular rows of high poles joined by ropes. Hop headquarters is a town called Bushy Park, and I finally got a photo of a building there that I love, the Masonic Hall.

And that was it. I would love to be able to throw in a good anecdote about the kids saying or doing something hilarious, but none spring to mind. They behaved pretty well but not without a fairly constant effort by Elf and I to threaten/bribe. School goes back tomorrow. In place of a genuine travelling story, I will give you this: while Elf read the bedtime story tonight Michael (who never listens) interrupted at one stage to say "my testicles have got smaller!"

Lake Pedder - day 2

In the morning after breakfast we went straight down to the Gordon Dam. FUN FACT: It holds back as much water as 25 Sydney Harbours. Lake Gordon abuts (word of the day) Lake Pedder and is connected by a sort of channel/spillway thing. Its a spectacular Hoover Dam style construction, unlike the others we saw later that day which were a bit dull to look at. The boys and I went down about 20 flights of metal stairs to walk along the top, while Elf watched and took photos from above.

It curves side-to-side and also top-to-bottom. It felt really amazing to stand on top of it. I can't deny that it's an incredible feat of engineering, but it's hard not to look down at the dry side of the wall and then imagine a similar ecosystem drowned under squillilitres of water on the other side. One or two species are thought to have gone extinct in the process. Worm species, but still, eh?

Climbing back up (in a relatively light shower) was pretty hard work. I was onto day 7 of a heavy head cold, and also I am very, very old. Our plan for the rest of the day was to drive around the lake to look at Scotts Peak Dam and Lake Edgar Dam. This involved heading back towards Hobart for about 45 minutes and then something like another 45 on a potholed dirt road. It's not true to say I went into every pothole, I certainly missed some. The dams? Average. Quite a view from this lookout but probably not a must see. As we left we "Goodbye Scotts Peak Dam - goodbye for ever".

From there the main excitement was to see if we could get back to the Chalet before they finished serving lunch as it was the only hot buffet available in the entire south-western quarter of Tasmania. We made it. The boys were understandably getting fractious with all the time in the car and no rain-free exercise, but they were generally pretty good. This range is called The Sentinels.

After lunch there want much else to do but try out the recreation centre (with heated pool). We splooped around in that for a while, then we filled half an hour in the empty games room. Elf and Marcus explored variations on badminton while Michael and I tried a new combination of cricket and indoor lawn bowls, that has no chance whatever of catching on. By this stage the rain had almost stopped and we walked to dinner unhurriedly. The wallabies were out and also the smaller ones which we have decided to call pademelons though they may be bettongs.

I can't talk about the rest of the evening as it involved a Richmond game on TV.

Lake Pedder - day 1

Elf heard that the Lake Pedder Chalet was closing its doors to visitors. It is owned by the Hydro-Electric Commission, and from now on its a staff-only deal. It's the only accommodation in that whole area, so it seemed like we would have to grab the chance now if we wanted to go there. So this weekend we did.

Elf and the boys picked me up from work at 3 on Friday afternoon, and we were west of Maydena by the time it got dark. It took us about three hours driving, as the road is winding and narrow and it was raining pretty solidly. There was much wildlife about, including a possum on the road who did not notice us until Elf slowed down to walking pace, rolled up to him and honked.

Lake Pedder gets 3 metres of rain a year. We have had buckets of rain over the last 3 weeks down in Hobart, so we were well acclimatised. Its the kind of place where fenceposts have grass growing out of the top of them. The Chalet is in the virtual ghost town of Strathgordon - the end of the road, from civilisation into the South West wilderness. Most of the population, along with their demountable houses, shops, school, church and supermarket, moved on to the next dam project once this one was built.

What we now call Lake Pedder is a man-made lake that was formed in 1974 when the Huon and Serpentine rivers were dammed. A huge area was flooded, including a beautiful small lake with an amazing white beach. This was the original Lake Pedder - what is there now bears no resemblance, and really should have been given some other name I think. I have just checked Wikipedia and some people are keen to call it the "Huon-Serpentine impoundment" - but I can tell you I have never heard anyone call it that. The dam controversy is fascinating but I will actually stick to describing our trip.

We arrived just in time for dinner. Our unit was newish, very nicely set up with everything you could want, (including tumbledryer in the laundry) but with one thing we did not want - a horrid smell of damp. I got used to it (Elf didn't) but each time I came in from outside it got me again. When Elf asked if we could move into one of the other vacant units the manager admitted that they all smell just as bad, due to some stuff-up when they were built. There was a queen size in the bedroom, and a couple of single mattresses to plonk on the living room floor.

We strolled (in light rain) down to the Chalet itself for dinner. Its basically a mess hall with a civilised recreation room off one end and a lounge bar up the other end. Through the wall is the blokes bar - you would imagine things got pretty lively in there in the old days. The side of the building facing the lake is practically all glass, and the view is pretty amazing.

There is a menu, but most people seemed to have the buffet and we did too. The food was pretty good, considering how far we were from anything.

Back at the unit (quick stroll through medium drizzle) the boys watched the first quarter of the footy on TV with us then we put them in the big bed. We watched the the rest of it and read then zonked out. Wallabies hopped about outside.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

A new follower - champagne all round!

Welcome, Jamie! In your orientation pack you will find;

Your lucky potato: dutch cream
Your lucky tree: palmetto
Your lucky isthmus: Panama
and your lucky footwear is the sandal.

Stick with them and they'll never let you down!

Just back from the Vegetable Coast

We have just arrived home after three days at my Mum and Dad's at Turners Beach. Until this morning it had rained with very little pause for about six days. I spent a lot of the time at Turners Beach with my nose in a book of jazz biographies - I now know a lot more about Bix Beiderbecke than I really need to. Also - Thelonious Monk's middle name is Sphere. Let me know if you need to know anything else.

Thanks to the rain all of Tasmania that we saw is looking like Ireland - even the bits that usually look like Nebraska in the Depression. Its emerald green as far as the eye can see. The North West coast around Mum and Dad's is a very fertile area, and even in winter it is obviously just pumping out produce like crazy.

We went to a craft show at the Forth Hall yesterday. Afterwards there was a break in the weather so we took a constitutional a few times around the Forth Football Ground, which is the Home of the Harvest Moon Magpies. (HM is a bulk produce company). Just through a chain link fence the Forth River slid past very quick, very black and completely silent. Quite eerie.

Mum and Dad are both very well. Dad arrived home from lawn bowls just after we arrived looking like an admiral in the Siberian Navy. White pants, white waterproof parka thing and a jaunty fleece version of the fur hat.

On the way home today we went past (as usual) Smith and Others Road. At Campbell town two of the kids playing in the park were called away by their parents: "Come on Phoenix! Come on Saxon!" Then we bumped into Marcus's friend Liam and his dad Tree. Honest.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Right Instrument for Your Child by Atarah Ben-Tovim and Douglas Boyd

This is a terrific book. It is full of common sense, which often seems to be me to be a bit lacking in the field of music. Sample quote:
If you feel, after the Readiness Test, that your child is not quite ready to to start formal lessons, it is always better to wait. But this waiting period does not have to be an empty one, for there is a suitable interim activity between playing at music and starting to learn an instrument properly. You can teach your child basic recorder technique.

Before you say "Who, me? But I can't..." the answer is that you can. If children of six or eight are capable of learning to play simple tunes on the recorder, it stands to reason that any adult can teach him- or herself, in order to teach the child.
They authors say that for each child there are three kinds of suitability that have to be considered. Are they physically suited to the instrument? Are they mentally suited to the instrument? Are they emotionally suited to the instrument? The advice is blunt and opinionated. I love the idea that there are trombone people and violin people, and they are very different. Here are some more excellent quotes:
The keywork on a modern flute may look complicated, but the golden rule with instruments is: the more complicated they are as machines, the easier they are to play.

Clarinet children tend to have different hobbies or interests and flit from one to another. They are bright and alert, whereas a flute child may seem dreamy and forgetful.

If your child is vaguely thinking of taking up the oboe, or the school is trying to persuade her to take it up and play in the orchestra, there is only one word of advice: Don't!

Oboists tend not to mix well but have one or two close friends.

Many slightly overweight children who do not have a lot of spare energy are very happy on the tuba.

Drummers are often thin, wiry. They often have a huge appetite but never seem to put on weight. They often have more stamina than larger, apparently stronger children.

More people have been musically crippled by the piano than by all the other instruments put together.

The required rapid eye movements and changes of focus [while playing the piano] demand quite good eyesight. This requirement is rarely borne in mind.

I think at this stage Michael is looking at an inca nose-flute and Marcus the tenor triangle.