Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A classic game of strategy and wit. And bubbles!

I am trying to think of ways to get a few more girls to come along to the Chess Club at school. While googling the problem I came across this, from Saturday Night Live. Hmm. I guess if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, we might need to involve some kind of craft activities.

Slimy opera

Michael has collected a lot of snails in his wagon. He calls it his snail farm. Walking to school yesterday he was telling me about the land where snails live, called Snailandoy.

A small flashback: prior to this we had been talking about the theatre. We all went to the school concert last week, which included a few skits and monologues. I told Michael about Grandad John's glorious career in amateur musicals, with acting and singing. Then I described opera, with a tiny bit of acting but non-stop singing.

At this point, the conversation veered suddenly towards snails. Apparently in Snailandoy they have something called the Slimy Opera House. "But its not really slimy".

Monday, October 26, 2009

Snib and Palp

I just need to blow my own trumpet here and say I have been knocking myself out over at my other, other blog, Snib and Palp. In honour of S&N's 2nd birthday I have added 17 new words to my compendium of four letter words you should know and use frequently.

Some call it the "wrist"

Elf bought the boys a new totem tennis set, as the old one had weathered down to a nub. Marcus is taking real tennis lessons on Monday mornings before school now, and he quite likes to give it a good thrash, as does Elf. I myself feel like maybe I got it out of my system in my youth, spending hours out there in my backyard, rallying for hours, forehand, backhand, forehand, backhand.

Michael was giving it a go yesterday, with a two handed approach that is hard to pull off with the heavy little plastic bats. This afternoon as Marcus and I played Mastermind in the sun, Michael was throwing the ball around the pole. He wasn't keeping an eye on it, and it nearly beaned him on the back of the head a few times. Finally it whacked him on the hand.

I said "See - I told you that would happen". He said "It got me on the ... er, if it was my foot it would be the ... I call it the hand ankle".

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Important list! #07

Some of the inventions of The Muppet Show's Dr Bunsen Honeydew. All tested with unpredictable but always painful results, by Honeydew's faithful assistant Beaker.
  • Edible paper clips
  • Gorilla detector
  • Hair-growing tonic
  • Banana sharpener
  • Robot politician
  • Electric nose warmer
  • A device that turned gold into cottage cheese

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Important List! #06 - More viruses

  • channel catfish virus
  • duck hepatitis B virus
  • friend virus
  • helper virus
  • human foamy virus
  • Johnson grass mosaic virus
  • mad itch virus
  • mouse minute virus
  • maize chlorotic dwarf virus
  • maize rough dwarf virus
  • nipple neck virus
  • sword bean distortion mosaic virus
  • strawberry crinkle virus
  • spring beauty latent virus
  • ukelelefish stunt virus
  • velvet tobacco mottle virus
  • watermelon curly mottle virus

After the supernova

Michael: When I was 4, I used to think that after a supernova, there's nothing, nothing else happens.
Me: What else happens - a black hole?
Michael: Nooooo! A pulsar, or a neutron star or a white dwarf.
Me: Not a black hole?
Michael: Yeah. Or a black hole.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Clicky clicky clicky - that's the sound of a chess tournament

Warning: this is an attempt at an objective report which veers off into hero worship and parental pride overdrive.

Today I attended my first chess tournament, accompanying Marcus and four schoolmates to the State Junior Championships in Launceston. Today was also the school swimming carnival, so many of the more experienced chess players were otherwise engaged with tumble-turns, negative splits and so on. Thus South Hobart fielded an inexperienced but keen team, with one Grade 6er, one Grade 3er and 3 Grade 2s.

We had to get on the road at 7am to make it by the 10.00 registration deadline. Liam from over the hill came with Marcus and I. We breezed in at 9.56 with the rest of our delegation already there and having kittens. (The venue was Launceston Church Grammar School, attended by my Dad in the fifties. I pictured him walking the hallowed halls with young knobbly knees and a straw boater).

The kids had a tough agenda - nine matches each with half an hour off for lunch. The tournament was held in the large hall. Each player was limited to 15 minutes, timed by a special chess clock at each board. After each move a player had to click their side of the clock. The clicking frenzy at the start of each round was amazing, as less thinking time is required for the fairly standard opening moves.

There were 180 players, playing at 90 numbered boards. After each game winners would meet a tougher opponent, and losers an easier opponent. Parents were asked to sit around the fringes and not cruise up and down around the boards. This was made difficult by the sheer number of stackable chairs that had been left in the hall. It probably seats about 800; - 180 chairs were in use, leaving many, many piles of chairs around the perimeter. Some of us hovered awkwardly for the whole day, others took the hint and went to explore the cosmopolitan joys of the Mowbray area.

Marcus started strongly, with two wins and two draws from his first five games. A draw is worth half a point, a win worth one. He had his heart set on getting 5 points. Angus, our elder statesman, also had 3 points from 5 games. I think at that stage we were 12th out of 16 schools.

After lunch Marcus only picked up one point from his last 4 games, finishing with 4. Angus finished strongly with 3 wins from the last 4 games for a total of 6 points. Lachie, Oscar and Liam scored 3, 2·5 and 0·5. In the end we were 14th. Liam played nine games, without a win, but was never disheartened or gave less than his best - I was really proud of all the boys.

Marcus was initially disappointed to fall short of his last tournament score. I pointed out that he was playing today at a higher level, against the best in the state, from all primary grades. Beating three of them was a fantastic effort. All nine opponents are rated above him. By the end of the day Marcus' rating was up 24 points to 715, which puts him in the top 20 seven year olds in the national Chess Kids database. Er ... once I put him in the database that is.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crappy crime and lifelong nongs

1. The Mercury ran this story on Oct 6.
"Mr de Villiers said in the police tape that he was told three men called Josh lived in the house ... He said they were all let inside and the "biker dudes" asked the Joshes for their money back for the "dud pills"... Mr Chartrain has pleaded not guilty to a further count of assault by gesturing with a machete and Josef Steele has denied gesturing with a metal screw-like object."
2. Sentencing reported in this story on October 17.
...Bilac asked his friend Adam James Steele, 38, of Verona Sands, and his twin brother Hutchison-Steele to help organise a refund of the money ... Chartrain, of South Hobart ... carried a machete in case anything went wrong ... Josef Hutchison-Steele took on the role of negotiator "a bit more enthusiastically than anyone else"... The part-time musician wore his leather band outfit and he and his brother were mistaken for "biker dudes".
3. The penny finally drops that these dolts are the same guys who gave Elf a flyer 8 years ago, hoping we would hire them for our wedding. In part it says;
Sexy athletic pumped up Identical Twins Adam and Joey Steele are hitting the jackpot with an outstanding show for everybody ... Drums and Bass are pumped from the new Digital Mini Disk system providing ample backing for these physical sweat covered masters of sound. The STEELE TWINS are generously handsome and wear new age clothing as band uniform and always keep up with the ever changing rock scene.

Fish ladder

Any time you are feeling down, sad and blue - just think about fish ladders. There - better already? If you need further cheering up just consider that one type of fish ladder is the baffle fishway.

Dr Grubby

A new study has shown that only 40% of Australian doctors and 60% of nurses wash their hands after seeing each patient. I just heard the author of the study say on the radio, "now we need to understand the barriers and facilitators involved in doctors' hand hygieneing". Yes, that's a word now. Sorry if I have spelled it wrong.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Racy, manly, suggestive

Elf has been reading selections from Stories of Grit to the boys at night. Dating back to 1925, it contains chapters such as Edward Bok -The Dutch Boy who became a Great Editor, and Francis Parkman - A Sick Man who Never Gave Up.

In the back is a long list of other improving books for young people. One of them, Look Straight Ahead, has six reviews, and half of them use the word "racy". Another book, Sensible Religion, claims to be "an attempt to explain some difficulties in religion and Life to Senior Students at School, and to show, by racy illustrations, that the highest things are in reality surprisingly interesting".

Maybe "racy" meant something slightly different in 1925, or perhaps these authors were just trying to mix it up a bit. One thing is for sure - it was the golden age of Muscular Christianity. Here are some of the other works listed in the back pages;
  • The Starved Top-Knot - "Straightforward, manly chats…"

  • Be A Sport - "…straight and admirable talks without being preachy…"

  • God's Gentlemen - Vigorous Sermons to Young Men - "…frank and manly book…"

  • Chats With Boys - "Brief, straight, manly messages".

  • The Gate of Pearl - "Direct manly teaching with bright illustrations"

  • Chats With My Chums - "…ornamental end papers and effective cover jacket…"

  • Homely Talks With Mothers "…even experienced workers will find much in its pages that is suggestive"

  • The Sparrows in the Organ - "Twenty-six talks with Boys and Girls".

  • The Date Boy of Baghdad - "With introduction by Sir Robert Stout, P.C., K.C.M.G., Chief Justice of New Zealand"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hippo eating a pumpkin

"I felt like a hippo eating a pumpkin" - sure, we've all used that old saying. But what does a hippo eating a pumpkin actually look like?

© Zoomar


Some time ago, my Mum and Dad did a bit of clean-out at home. Among other things, I received the family copy of Mastermind, the 1970s coloured-pegs guess-the-code game. Marcus and I have made quite a bit of use of it. He got me in three guesses last night - but it helped that Michael was standing behind me giving Marcus a running commentary on how he was doing. (We also got Perception, thought up by the same guy as Mastermind, but unfortunately a dud). On their last visit Mum and Dad gave us something they found at a garage sale - Grand Mastermind.

We have just got to grips with it - its more complicated but still a good game. I was taken aback by the cover, however. When I was a kid, I found the original cover mysteriously sexy - I was too young for Bond films but its got all that late Sean Connery stuff going on. I imagined with enough practice, I would be making unbreakable codes, and perhaps by the time I was sixty I too would have lured a beautiful asian woman with my Mastermind prowess. Now this guy has raised the stakes - he's only early thirties, and a bit of a Nigel to boot, but he's got some sort of castle and two beautiful asian women.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Marcus, Michael, Isabelle and Alistair

When in Melbourne recently we stayed with our friends Vincent and Andy, in their beautiful house in Carlton. They have 2-year-old twins, Isabelle and Alistair. Our boys got on well with them, and were as gentle as they could be. The twins were very taken with the boys' dogs, Dog and Aaron.

A late pademelon

He was still snudging around the backyard at breakfast time. Went for a casual hop across the deck then settled down beneath it for a while. Still there now as far as I know.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today our fence man Mark finished putting up the new front fence. A sliding gate will follow, then he's going to reinstate the missing part of the back fence. Then... we will be fully Dog Compliant. That's right, we are really looking at adding a Doggus doggus to the four humans and a cat that are part of the current display. Perhaps at Christmas when we will be around for a while to help him settle in.

A quiet afternoon in Canberra, 02.09.09

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Elf took the boys and I to the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on Thursday evening. They have a series of family concerts, where each adult ticket gets two kids in free. I haven't been to a classical concert since I was at school in Burnie, when the TSO toured. [I lie - I did once go to a TSO recording session where you got in free but had to sit on your hands the whole time]. One day I will go to a normal concert like a normal person, rather than a special "outreach" concert where the programme is specially designed to convert newbies to the cause.

It was raining and parking was tricky, so while Elf parked the car I took the boys in to get tickets. I had just paid for them with plastic when Elf jogged through the crowd, and gasped, Pheiddipides style, "I've got a free ticket - only buy one." She missed it by that much. Tickets for two adults were $76 - about twice what I was expecting. I guess that's standard for a one-hour classical concert?

The concert was programmed on the theme of "fire", so there was a bit of Stravinsky's Firebird, some Handel composed for the royal fireworks, and a couple of contemporary pieces by Australian composers. I really enjoyed the music, and watching 46 dedicated professionals working so tightly together is pretty fascinating. At times there was a beautiful seamless drone, and I could not put my finger on where it was coming from - maybe strings and oboe together.

The musicians tend to slenderness. I imagine them picking listlessly at their food in short breaks from practising, mind elsewhere, going over and over that tricky run of demisemiquavers in that requiem by Bach, or something. I couldn't picture any of them with a burger. All dressed in black, but in getups of their own choosing, ranging from very formal to fairly laid back.

The mood onstage though was uniformly intense. The conductor was a youngish chap called Matthew Wood. The power relationship and etiquette is quite interesting - he obviously runs the show, comes out last, orchestra stands for him and waits to be invited to sit etc. He, however is a visitor, and does a lot of showy shaking hands with the principal violinist, who is the captain of the home team so to speak. He left his podium to shake her hand three or four times.

At the conclusion there was a lot of bowing and responding to bows (a lot like an Easter service we went to at the very "high" Anglican church where we were married), more handshakes, then flowers were brought out to the conductor. He brandished them, bowed some more, then presented them to the principal violinist. Handshakes and a kiss. More bowing. All of this after a one hour performance.

The presenter of the concert, that Christopher Lawrence off of the radio, had asked the audience to go wild at the end, cheer and stamp a bit to get an encore. He came out waving his hands wildly to say "come on, give it up, I want some wolf whistles". This was predicated on the idea that playing an extra piece is a reward for the audience. Although I enjoyed it very much, and all the kids in my earshot did also, a better reward would possibly have been to let us go 5 minutes earlier.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


From Encyclopaedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Returning From Journey. We are back from France. I am here, yes, but there has not yet lost its hold on me. Baguettes and beaded ankle bracelets and light blue shutters don't yet feel six time zones and an ocean away. It would seem that the world should have changed in some way, as if to say, out of courtesy, We understand your journey was illuminating and significant, and because it affected you so, the universe, too, is making a slight but noticeable shift: Chairs will now have five legs, people will walk sideways, and rainbows will be seven percent larger and pinkish in colour. Alas, no welcome-home motorcades, no new shades of rain. But then again, is it not enough that I had the experience, and that the neighbour's dog has learned to fly?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

14 days of plucky British food

I am prone to belittle the British, without ever having visited their isles. Perhaps I let their hapless sports teams, boy bands and the fall of Singapore colour my judgement. Perhaps its time I gave them a fair go.

So join me in celebrating the recently completed British Food Fortnight! I never thought I would see the words "British" and "Mozzarella" together in a sentence.

Next, stand by for German Comedy Week.

Spam prose

"I prefer not to divulge my full identity so as not to risk being debarred. The English Bar considers it a breach of the oath of the English Bar Council. I need not emphasize to you that the sensitivity of this issue need not be toyed with by neglecting its confidentiality."
Lovely English isn't it? Unfortunately the phrase "I need not emphasize to you that the sensitivity" gets 627 Google hits, on sites such as www.consumerfraudreporting.org and www.scamdex.com. Hats off to whoever wrote the original though.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Mowing the mushrooms

The rain god gave us a bit of respite on the weekend. On Saturday I was actually able to mow the back lawn. After I mowed it, I was feeling so mow-tivated (heh) I dragged the mower up to the little public paddock behind and mowed that too (extremely long damp grass and rampant fungi). Then to celebrate, Marcus and I had a game of 2 on 2 soccer with Cam and Adrian from next door. Adrian and I triumphed with some awesome pinpoint passing, sharp finishing in front of goals and just a small number of well-timed shoves on my part.

On Sunday I went out to do my usual manual clipping of the steep front yard. Elf suggested I try mowing that too. I've always been too chicken, as it is not just steep but lumpy - there is a constant risk of stepping in a hole and letting the mower go, whence it would career across a busy road and then perhaps tumble into a front yard opposite, mowing all the while. Anyway, I did a light manual clip to reveal the basic contours of the land then went over it with the mower. Tidy! Our fence man is halfway through building our new front fence, so the whole area is generally looking a lot nicer and less student-share-housey all of a sudden.

By the time I had finished Marcus and the boys next door were baying for a rematch. This time Marcus and Cameron gave us a hiding 11-6.

POSTSCRIPT: This is quite a boring story so I feel the need to point out why mowing was so exciting. It has just been SO wet for four months (and apparently October is shaping up to continue this way) that a dry sunny weekend has been literally something to write home about. We usually average 212mm of rain from Jun-Sept, this year we had 416mm.

Are you concerned about Tin Whiskers?

The internet is really het up about it. Some things I Googled;

  • Many companies are haunted with worry about tin whiskers.

  • Tin whiskers arise from stresses in the plating.

  • Tin whiskers don't have to be airborne to damage equipment.

  • To address the threat of tin whiskers, a review of mitigation strategies is presented.

  • Tin whiskers have been identified or are highly suspected in the costly failure in a number of electronic systems.

  • CALCE Consortium has posted an alert, warning manufacturers of electronic hardware that tin whiskers represent a current failure risk, that must be addressed [TIN WHISKER ALERT, 2002]

  • In high-voltage, high-current circuits, any shorts caused by tin whiskers are quickly burnt out.

  • The phenomenon of tin whiskers is something you've likely heard discussed, maybe in scared whispered tones.

  • One group of theorists has estimated that tin whiskers have caused losses of billions of dollars to date.

  • This two day symposium will bring together international experts, in the field of tin whiskers.

  • In a perverse kind of way, tin whiskers are good for the consumer market.

I think the first thing you should do when you get home is just do a quick room-to-room check for any of those tin whiskers. I'll do the same. Then I'll call you. OK?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Can you spot the Marquess of Milford Haven?

“L-R: Lady Rachel Davidson (lady in waiting to the duchess of Kent); Nada, Marchioness of Milford Haven, Lady Zia Wernher, Georgina Wernher, the Marquess of Milford Haven, Prince Philip of Greece, duchess of Kent, Sir Harold Wernher, Myra Wernher, and unidentified woman.”
Thank you, thank you, Awkward Family Photos. Does Prince Philip look like young Prince Wills or what?


Delaware - by Dan Meth. "Its like three guys eating dinner". Warning - contains adult concepts, mild sex and drug references.

Delaware from Dan Meth on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Beware the Plate Detective

Just stumbled across a license plate collectors website - specifically his page of FAKES. Its quite a business, and man, does he take it seriously. Plate counterfeiting is a dark, murky sinister world. Just as well this guy is on the job.
EVIDENCE - An interesting QUOTE from the seller to long-time collector Dave Stratton at a Silver State Regional plate meet in Reno in the mid 1980's. I've included the exact text as I received it from Dave. Dave Stratton is ALPCA number 3445 , and at the time, I'm sure he was still a registered ALPCA member, although he's since dropped out to avoid becoming a SUSPENDED ALPCA member. Here's the text....

Original email from Dave S.
[...]it was at Little Joe Korosa's house coupled with the first Silver State Reno meet (1984---1986?) The conversation went like this:
Dave: "...the business of these bizarre countries you've been getting lately (North Korea....Afghanistan) is it true you use religion to get them out of there?"
Seller: "Sure [...] I don't get that many anyway, and if I run out, I make 'em up. I fulfill dreams..."
Dave: "Well, I wouldn't be attending any plate meets with that philosophy, because the word is already out on that subject."

With all the info I've been working on to prove that this guy was faking plates, I really would never have thought that he would just come out and admit that he's made up plates. Sometimes it just drops in your lap - Ed.
Here are a few of his collection of fake plates. I don't care what he says, I think they're pretty ace.