Sunday, August 30, 2009

A post from the coast

The mid-north coast that is. That's right, we are actually in New South Wales, at Smiths Lake, nearest large town Tuncurry. This area is generally called Pacific Palms, which sounds like a casino but is actually the name of a plant endemic here, the pacific palm. My nephew Malachy goes to Pacific Palms Public School. We dropped in for a look at it while touring the district today - across the road from the school is a pumping surf beach.

Its technically winter for one more day after today, but we have caught the end of a bona fide heatwave. It was warm enough to have a dip in Smiths Lake this morning, but only just. From there we drove around to Elizabeth Beach, pictured above. We went into a cafe this morning with furniture made out of surfboards - its that kind of place.

The tropicality of it all blows me away. Big palms and flowers and stuff fruiting all over the place - the only places I have been like this are the lowlands of Ecuador and a stopover once in Tahiti.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Travel scrabble

We are scrabbling to get stuff packed and organised as we are off in two days to the steamy subtropics - to visit my big sister and her family in New South Wales. Its five hours by train north of Sydney. To my stunted Tasmanian mind that would put it about in Queensland, but its only about a third of the way up to the border. NSW is big. After five days there we will entrain to Canberra for another five, then four in Melbourne before flying home.

I have been very busy ticking off Fogbugz cases at work. We use a job tracking system called Fogbugz, and no, this is not adequately zany or charming enough to make slogging through a list of jobs any easier.

I have also had a run of outs with QuickTime movie player and everything related to it. Apple send out software updates that you really need to install if you want to keep using QuickTime, but every now and then one of them will break everything else you need to use. If you Google the problem you will find dozens of helpful bits of advice about workarounds and hacks to solve the problem. This advice never comes from Apple, who prefer stony silence at such times.

So today I did a clean install on my work Mac. It is now (in theory) as pristine as when it came out of the crate. Yet the problem persists.

So the blog may have seemed quiet for a bit and will be quieter still over the next little while. If I can blog on the road I will, but no promises. It was 32° at Jacki's today, so we are going to be stunned mullets for the first day or two.

Envelopes of the veldt

Marcus is reading a series of books with titles like Dolphins at Daybreak, Tigers at Twilight and Buffaloes at Breakfast Time. We were all discussing these in the car the other day, and making up new silly ones. Narwhals at Noon, Egrets at Easter. Michael suggested Envelopes in the Evening, which I thought took things in new and edgy direction, into stationery. Then he said "No - what are those things called? ANTelopes, Antelopes in the Evening."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lunchtime on Mercury

Just watched a very good 100% CGI documentary on the Solar System, with Elf and the boys. The voice over was an Englishman with a very serious, almost metallic voice. We have a DVD about tigers that is also gravely narrated by this fellow. He had just spoken about the wild extremes of temperature on Mercury: −183 °C at night to 427 °C during the day, I believe. Marcus said "Hmm, it would be fairly nice at lunchtime".


Michael was reading something aloud, and he said a word with all the sounds correct, but the emphasis wrong. I can't remember the word, so let's pretend it was "remember". Marcus pounced (as he usually does when Michael makes a slight mistake).

Marcus: No, its not "REmember" its "reMEMber".

Me: That's OK, you got the word right but the emphasis was different. Emphasis is when you say one part of the word more strongly. With a lot of words you can say them more than one way. Like recess at school - you guys say "REcess" and I say "reCESS".

Michael: Oh yeah, and I say "lunch" but a lot of people say "looonch".

Me: Come on, no-one actually says "looonch"!

Marcus: Yeah, a few people do.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

English pessimism

England are totally on top in the final Test match. They have set Australia 546 to win, an impossible task. To survive for a draw Australia has to bat for two days, when in their last innings they lost all ten wickets in 2 and a half hours.

Yet Andrew Miller still felt able to write an article called "Is there cause for English pessimism?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Music Channel

I have just started a tumblr page, just for music videos. The videos don't even have to be all that great, its really about the music. Please pop across to Lost Cassettes and tell me what you think.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jonathan Coulton on having his first kid

Oh, wow, I get it. Now I'm a dad, my dad just became a grandfather and my grandfather is dead. I see where this is going.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Subzero rodent

The other night Elf was on the exercise bike, fighting the good fight, when she saw a rat stroll across to the top of the stairs and head down. By the time she had regained her composure and dismounted, it had vanished.

We got the men in with some bait stations, deployed inside and out. One afternoon we heard some shuffling and snuffling near the one in the "dishwasher hole" under the sink. We guessed that was him taking the bait.

All was quiet for a few days. Then we notice Marcus was wearing a pair of tracksuit pants that had been partly eaten. So rattus rattus has just been wandering the house chewing on stuff? Ee-ew.

Early Wednesday morning I heard some scratching in the hall. Cardinal Ratzinger was in a bad way, hunkered under the little bureau and obviously on his last legs. We closed all the doors and Elf blocked them with towels. I seized his tail with a plastic bag and flipped him into it, then into a strong shopping bag. 3am and we had a hissed debate about how to despatch him. I had prepared a shovel to whack him with but chickened out, thinking I would find it hard to get a first time clean shot when he was double-bagged. So I put him in the freezer. Where he remains, until bin night.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stories for your ears

One of the podcasts I am into is the New Yorker magazine Fiction Podcast. Each week an author reads one of their favourite short stories by another author, living or dead. It was here that I first heard the amazing story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson - a brilliant piece of writing. Apparently it has long been a standard in English Lit classes in the US but I had never heard of it.

I am prompted to mention it here by the latest story, Adams by George Saunders. I had never heard of him either, but I am now going to seek out what I can and read it.

After each reading, the reader and the fiction editor of the New Yorker chat about the story. My reaction is always "bloody hell - I didn't realise THAT was going on in there". Suffice to say Adams is a near-anagram of Saddam, and the narrator of the story ends up breaking into Adams' house and taking away all his pool chemicals.


The boys had their mid-year reports last week, both very good.

This is Marcus's 4th year at the school, and the staff are generally aware of his phenomenal appetite for mathematics. By now the novelty has worn off a little and his report is pretty matter-of-fact about what he can do and what he should do next - which is what you want.

His general comment starts "Marcus shows an excellent attitude towards school and learning. He has been able to set himself goals and shown pride in reaching them". The report picks up a couple of things that he can build on, and a couple of things that need work - eg "he is a reluctant writer and needs constant prompting to complete writing tasks". I know he has an amazing recall for all the details of a soccer match, so I am trying to use this as leverage to get him to write match reports for me.

I should note for fans of advanced educational administration theory that Marcus is at level P5 in Standard 2 at English, and level P7 in Standard 3 in Maths. (It all reminds me of when Homer bought an obscure Eastern Bloc car 2nd hand. As he bunny-hopped down the road in it the previous owner ran after him yelling "Put it in H!!".)

Michael's still a new kid on the block, and his report reflects that - the comments have an element of bemusement about them. In literacy "his skills are of an extremely high level" and "Michael displays incredible numeracy skills". Michael also finds writing sentences a chore. He "has the skills to create written pieces but he can become very distracted by the social aspect of the classroom".

We are delighted with how they are going, and the way their teachers seem to have a pretty good handle on them. We (and they) are very lucky to have everything going so swimmingly at school.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Restaurant reviews

Elf I and do not dine out very often. We have had a bit of a purple patch in the last week or so, with two dinners out on the town. I am also going to roll into this another dinner back in June because it was so ridiculous. But first;

Pasha's, Elizabeth Street, Hobart.
Each year we dine out for our pal Anna's birthday. In recent years we have gone to this Turkish restaurant and had a banquet in a room upstairs. The extremely steep stairs (with bit of pipe for handrail) are heritage listed, like most of inner Hobart. The room has a huge square table and everyone sits around it, at shouting distance from each other. The food is excellent. My only grizzle would be that as we have a banquet each year, which is a little-bit-of-everything deal, I don't get to gorge myself on great chunks of lamb which is my main preoccupation when I get out to dinner these days. Menu: sensible and comprehensible.

The Boathouse, Queens Walk, Cornelian Bay.
We had our wedding reception here in 2001. The location is terrific, right by the water with a nice river view. The building used to be a seaside toilet block, dating back to the days when people swam at the little beach. It's too silty and yuck these days, but still looks pretty, and the ducks like it. It is still run by the very nice lady who we dealt with back then, and she always remembers us - which is good business but gives you warm fuzzies all the same. It's not as though we are in and out all the time.

This time it was Sally's birthday. We had martinis at the new house up the road a little, then strolled down to the waters edge for dinner. I have never had a martini in my life, being more of a beer/wine guy, so that was something. Gin and an olive, basically, although the mystique around them does make you feel somehow sophisticated as you sip. Olives on little plastic swords.

But back to the restaurant. Besides us there were about a dozen of Sal's friends, many from the cutting edge contemporary art scene. They are all very nice people. I was expecting the talk to be all residencies and grants and curatorships and the thematic nexus between sex and death but there was none of that, in my earshot at least.

The food is all pretty innovative, with plenty of jus and coulis and the like on the menu. You always want the serves to be bigger. Mains are around $30 and entrees $15-$20. You can order oysters one at a time, so I had 4 oysters as a cheapish entree. For main I had a little lamb fillet the size of my two thumbs, accompanied by a hockey puck of shredded lamb brisket. The lamb with lamb approach was new to me. It came with a wodge of mashed potato, which most of the other blokes eyed hungrily. I had panna cotta for dessert, three little units about thumbnail size, with a cone of creamy something.

In summary it is a lovely experience dining at The Boathouse, but you might want to grab a curry on your way home. The menu is quite fluid, and I always learn something new. This time I was taken aback by the Mushi of Tasmanian Scallops. I asked, and a mushi is basically a savoury custard.

Das Zimmer Wine Bar, Salamanca Square, Hobart

After Anna's exhibition opening in June, we went upstairs above the Bar Celona to this place. Anna had booked it for dinner, and we went in on the assumption that dinner would be available. The menu was hilarious - I wish I had been able to take notes. Unfortunately the only term I can recall is "microherbs". Those of us who didn't just give up ordered the ravioli. It arrived as five tiny discs on a large stark white plate. The wine list was very very long, and I don't remember seeing a single Tasmanian wine on it. The beers available were exotic and priced accordingly. The doof doof from downstairs kept conversation to a minimum. We mostly just pointed to our ravioli and the prices in the wine list and laughed and laughed.

Bus ticket wisdom

For some reason, Hobart buses have started using tickets from the Adelaide metro system. They advise you to call an Adelaide number for timetable information, which is probably not to going to do you much good here. Apart from that the main difference from the old green tickets is the nuggets of wisdom now printed on them. I imagine thoughtful commuters pondering "Fear is the parent of cruelty" all the way into town.

Here is some real-world advice I would like to see.

Always back the topweight
Never run on a misfield
Never tip Fremantle
Blutak - get some
The bolivian stumpy duck migrates by train
Stay upwind of billygoats

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Michael: I'm trying to make a slug out of magnets.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Marcus: Your mum is a sock and your dad is a pickle.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Soccer roundup

On Friday night my indoor team continued our good form from last week, with a fighting 7-4 win over the talented but lazy Deviants. Our passing was fluent and our finishing was tidy. Last week we had a 7-7 draw with a young and fit team who should have cleaned us up, so we are quite pleased with the way we're going.

Marcus's under 7s went three down very quickly yesterday, and he started to get a bit tearful. He and his team recovered well and got on top, finally winning 6-4. He played terrifically well, doing a lot of hard work in defence as well as kicking two goals from long range. It was a good hard game and everyone went home happy.

Last week we had one officious and neurotic parent on the other team who spoiled the occasion for the rest of the adults - I don't think the kids were bothered at all. The rest of her team's supporters were embarrassed and I suspect they are long-suffering. She stepped onto the field while our coach Robert was refereeing, and started disputing his decisions. He handled it perfectly, refusing to get ruffled, and insisting on his right to be the sole arbiter. Her son is an excellent player and hopefully will not have his enjoyment of soccer sullied by his mum getting into slanging matches.


On Saturday morning Elf's debut as Soccer Barbecue Coordinator finally arrived, after weeks of postponements as home games were shifted elsewehere on account of mud.

The previous holder of the post decided this season not to continue, after several years of early frosty starts and late pack-ups and not enough help. After a month or so the peasants were revolting over the lack of burgers and coffee which had become part of the landscape. Elf and another mum named Gina put their hands up, and now are the proud custodians of the ceremonial tongs.

Elf was nervous about keys, alarms, lighting the ancient gas barbecue etc etc, but it all went off very well. They decided to keep it very simple and only offer sausages in bread, tea and coffee. If you want more excitement there is tomato sauce. Other offerings might be gradually re-introduced.

I have recently taken on a coordinating role of my own, doing the Chess Club at school at lunchtime on Fridays. I set up the boards and trestle tables then prowl around helping when asked and occasionally venturing some advice when a game is going in circles. I didn't have many customers at my first meetings, and I started packing up early so i could get away back to work promptly when the bell went. Cue about a dozen grade 2s and 3s to arrive and mill about, eager for board-based combat.

I am actually a chess player of no great ability, and several of the kids (including Marcus) are easily better players than I provided they concentrate. The chess sets they have at school come with three queens of each colour, to allow for promoted pawns. (Usually with a basic set one takes back a captured rook and stands it upside down to be a queen). I would be interested to know what is the largest number of queens charging about on the board at one time in a serious chess game.

Choose one

[Note - this is an artist's impression of a real questionnaire. You can't really click on the buttons.]