29 February 2008

if it costs more, is it any better?

There is a well known saying that "you get what you pay for". People expect something that costs more to be better than a cheaper version.

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that in the case of wine, this is not necessarily the case. It's just that people think the wine is better because it cost more.
Published online on January 14, 2008, 10.1073/pnas.0706929105
PNAS | January 22, 2008 | vol. 105 | no. 3 | 1050-1054

Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness

Hilke Plassmann*, John O'Doherty*, Baba Shiv{dagger}, and Antonio Rangel*,{ddagger}

*Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, MC 228-77, Pasadena, CA 91125; and {dagger}Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, 518 Memorial Way, Littlefield L383, Stanford, CA94305

Edited by Leslie G. Ungerleider, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, and approved December 3, 2007 (received for review July 24, 2007)

Despite the importance and pervasiveness of marketing, almost nothing is known about the neural mechanisms through which it affects decisions made by individuals. We propose that marketing actions, such as changes in the price of a product, can affect neural representations of experienced pleasantness. We tested this hypothesis by scanning human subjects using functional MRI while they tasted wines that, contrary to reality, they believed to be different and sold at different prices. Our results show that increasing the price of a wine increases subjective reports of flavor pleasantness as well as blood-oxygen-level-dependent activity in medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area that is widely thought to encode for experienced pleasantness during experiential tasks. The paper provides evidence for the ability of marketing actions to modulate neural correlates of experienced pleasantness and for the mechanisms through which the effect operates.

Author contributions: H.P., J.O., B.S., and A.R. designed research; H.P. performed research; H.P. analyzed data; and H.P., J.O., B.S., and A.R. wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

This article contains supporting information online at www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/0706929105/DC1.

{ddagger}To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: rangel@hss.caltech.edu

© 2008 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA
I think it shows that wine snobbery affects everyone.

See also the Caltech Press Release and reporting by The Boston Globe.

We had office drinks after work. In fact, I collected money from staff and did the shopping.

Emily came around tonight. We watched the Food Safari episode on Mauritian cuisine. I made Hainanese chicken for dinner.

28 February 2008

the green building

The Ann Demeulemeester shop in Seoul, (South) Korea is a remarkable building, designed by Korean company Mass Studies.

The site is located in an alley, at a block’s distance from Dosandae-ro – a busy thoroughfare in Seoul’s Gangnam district – in close proximity to Dosan Park. Primarily residential in the past, the neighborhood is undergoing a rapid transformation into an upscale commercial district full of shops and restaurants.

The building is comprised of one subterranean level and three floors above. The Ann Demeulemeester Shop is located on the first floor, with a restaurant above and a Multi-Shop in the basement.

This proposal is an attempt to incorporate as much nature as possible into the building within the constraints of a low-elevation, high-density urban environment of limited space (378㎡). The building defines its relationship between natural/artificial and interior/exterior as an amalgamation, rather than a confrontation.

Diverse interior spaces designated for its three main programs were made to be perceived and utilized as a part of the outdoors in a variety of ways. This building is not meant to be just another ‘object’ to be experienced externally, but rather as a synthetic organism of nature and artifice.

The parking lot/courtyard is at the center of the site, exposed to the street on the southern end. The entrance to the Ann Demeulemeester Shop is located on the western side of the courtyard, and stairs that lead to the other two programs are located on the eastern side. Landscaping of dense bamboo form a wall along each of the remaining three sides that border neighboring sites. Inside the first floor shop, undulating dark brown exposed concrete forms an organically shaped ceiling. Round columns on the edges of the space continue the ceiling surface while providing the necessary structural support. This structural system creates arched openings of varying sizes that are open and as exposed as possible to the outside road and the bamboo hedges. This organic formation is not only a dynamic space but a flexible rectangular one (11.2m x 14m). The additional wing on the eastern side contains support functions such as fitting rooms, storage, and a bathroom, efficiently divided and connected at the same time.

The restaurant’s main entrance is a staircase that runs alongside the entire eastern side of the building. The shape of the ceiling below influences the restaurant space above, comprised of a three-level skip-floor formation. The two open-air spaces inside, a hidden terrace toward the rear of the building that extends from the top level, and a rooftop space accessible by stairs form a restaurant with intimacy, varying in spatial characteristics. The stairs leading to the basement shop begins as a narrow, white, architectural space that gradually enlarges to become another organic shape—like a moss-covered subterranean cave—and serves as an entrance. This space is open to the outside, while at the same time is a composite garden buried 5.5m below ground.

The outside building material is primarily a geotextile planted with a herbaceous perennial to form a living façade, while the other three sides that face bamboo borders are clad in steel sheets are finished with propylene resin.

I wonder what the herbaceous perennials planted are - obviously not plants that would require constant pruning like mint. There must be some form of automated watering mechanism. Still, the plants should form an efficient insulation.

Wearing sunglasses at work is not an ideal situation. I can't see much with them on and I can't see much without them. I seem to be having a run of bad luck - not only did I lose my glasses, but my bottle of brandy ordered on 4 February never arrived (but the winery kindly sent a replacement which I received today), and all my Firefox bookmarks disappeared yesterday. Hopefully, the series of three misfortunes is it.

This evening, Margie and Liz came over (see Kane's Tails blog). After our walk with Kane, we went to the Dumpling Inn for dinner, which Liz treated (and she's the visitor). The food was great, as usual, and I've ended up with the doggy bag (for me, not Kane!).

It's cold tonight.

27 February 2008

rise of the machines 2

Last Thursday, I wrote about AI. It was only the beginning. Another academic has now warned about 'robot weapons'.
27 February 2008
Killer military robots pose latest threat to humanity

A robotics expert at the University of Sheffield will today (27 February 2008) issue stark warnings over the threat posed to humanity by new robot weapons being developed by powers worldwide.

In a keynote address to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Professor Noel Sharkey, from the University´s Department of Computer Science, will express his concerns that we are beginning to see the first steps towards an international robot arms race. He will warn that it may not be long before robots become a standard terrorist weapon to replace the suicide bomber.

Many nations are now involved in developing the technology for robot weapons, with the US Department of Defence (DoD) being the most significant player. According to the Unmanned Systems Roadmap 2007-2013 (published in December 2007), the US propose to spend an estimated $4 billion by 2010 on unmanned systems technology. The total spending is expected to rise above $24 billion.

Over 4,000 robots are currently deployed on the ground in Iraq and by October 2006 unmanned aircraft had flown 400,000 flight hours. Currently there is always a human in the loop to decide on the use of lethal force. However, this is set to change with the US giving priority to autonomous weapons - robots that will decide on where, when and who to kill.

Others are now embarking on robot weapons programmes in Europe and other allied countries such as Canada, South Korea, South Africa, Singapore and Israel. China, Russia and India are also embarking on the development of unmanned aerial combat vehicle. The US DoD report is unsure about the activity in China but admits that they have strong infrastructure capability for parallel developments in robot weapons.

Professor Sharkey, who is famously known for his roles as chief judge on the TV series Robot Wars and as onscreen expert for the BBC´s TechnoGames, said: "The trouble is that we can´t really put the genie back in the bottle. Once the new weapons are out there, they will be fairly easy to copy. How long is it going to be before the terrorists get in on the act?"

"With the current prices of robot construction falling dramatically and the availability of ready-made components for the amateur market, it wouldn´t require a lot of skill to make autonomous robot weapons."

Professor Sharkey is reluctant to explain how such robots could be made but he points out that a small GPS guided drone with autopilot could be made for around £250.

The robotics expert is also concerned with a number of ethical issues that arise from the use of autonomous weapons. He added: "Current robots are dumb machines with very limited sensing capability. What this means is that it is not possible to guarantee discrimination between combatants and innocents or a proportional use of force as required by the current Laws of War.

"It seems clear that there is an urgent need for the international community to assess the risks of these new weapons now rather than after they have crept their way into common use."

Professor Sharkey´s talk will be at a one-day conference at RUSI in Whitehall on 27 February 2008.

Notes for Editors: Noel Sharkey is a Professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Professor of Public Engagement and EPSRC Senior Media Fellow at the University of Sheffield UK.

For further information please contact: Lindsey Bird, Media Relations Officer on 0114 2225338 or email l.bird@sheffield.ac.uk
One word - Terminator

I had to order new glasses this morning and had to wear prescription sunglasses inside the building most of the day. It may look cool, but I still had to explain myself.

Until my new pair is ready, I can't go anywhere at night time.

26 February 2008

when in China...

I found this story from Reuters quite interesting
British food is Olympian challenge for Chinese chefs
Mon Feb 25, 2008 1:19pm GMT

By Georgina Cooper

LONDON (Reuters) - Han Ming watched his teacher slice the fatty rind off a boiled ham and shook his head in amazement at the waste in British cooking.

The 43-year-old chef is one of the first of some 1,000 Chinese cooks coming to England to learn how to make bubble and squeak, bangers and mash and other English delicacies for athletes and tourists at the Olympics in China this summer.

"In China, what you call rubbish we cook into another delicious meal," he said.

Food Preparation Lecturer Jonathon Emson has knocked up a week-long crash course on Western cuisine for the 400 cooks who will come to his college in southeastern England as part of a worldwide programme designed to teach Chinese chefs how to make food from other countries in time for Beijing 2008.

Dressed in smart white uniforms complete with very tall chef's hats, one of the first groups crowded around Emson and watched intently as he demonstrated how to mash a swede, roast potatoes, boil a ham or fry up a full English breakfast.

With only five days to learn a variety of breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts, the chefs scribbled notes and videotaped the demonstrations.

"I think it is very necessary for China to offer the genuine Western food to foreigners. It is their need and it is our duty," said Zhao Yanbin, the Chinese official in charge of the visiting chefs.

Those entrusted to Emson at Hastings College will learn to cook traditional British fare using ingredients some have never seen before.

"I do get confused looks sometimes as they try and compare what is similar to their ingredients," Emson told Reuters.

The Chinese chefs were far too polite to say anything other than "Yes, I like it", through a translator when asked how English food compares to their own.

But they called Western cooking "hard work" and said it was much more labour intensive than Chinese cuisine.

"With British food we need to measure everything and we need to wait and we need to clean everything. But in Chinese cooking you can cook all the things together -- and it is delicious," said fellow chef Qing Hua Lin.

Each team of visiting chefs will learn different dishes, so that when they return home they can pass on their new-found skills and try to spread knowledge of Western cuisine across Olympic kitchens before the foreigners arrive.

"They are very attentive, taking notes all the time and just generally really interested to learn," he said. "They have a different work ethic than us over here."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)
Jokes aside about British food, which has an appalling reputation, it is amazing that Chinese chefs find basic British cooking to be a challenge. Mash potatoes, grilled sausages, fry steak until it resembles cardboard, boil green vegetables like broccoli until it disintegrates etc, I mean, how hard can it be?

I can understand British visitors wanting to eat the same food as what they have at home, after all, there are lots of very fussy eaters who won't touch what they consider to be 'foreign muck'. Let them starve, I say.

Back at work today - with a new supervisor. I didn't get the job I was acting in since August. Always awkward, training your own replacement.

I went to Robert's place for dinner, along with his partner Helen, which was really nice. Hence I was late home. Unfortunately, I lost my glasses somewhere after work, so will have to arrange a replacement and hope the prescription is up to date.

25 February 2008


Oscar? Bah!

Someone should take a poll of everybody who actually watches the telecast of the awards to find out the percentage of people who do not even know who a more original Oscar is - Oscar Wilde.

I had a great weekend visiting Michelle and Christopher in Melbourne, staying with them, and catching up with the football.

On Friday afternoon, Christopher and I went to the NAB Challenge game between my team, Brisbane Lions versus North Melbourne, at Optus Oval/Princes Park, which is now called MC Labour Park. I caught up with another supporter there at the game. I didn't really focus on the game, instead trying to test out my new camera. After the game, I caught up with a few players I know.

On Saturday morning, I went to a family day for the Brisbane Lions team and supporters, meeting up with two other supporters. It was great catching up with the players I know and meeting other new players for the first time.

one of the new players I met, Brad Dalziell (Razzle Dazzle)

Afterwards, I went for a bit of shopping in the city and was beside myself when I discovered DVD movies of Tintin and the Blue Oranges, and Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece.

On Sunday, Michelle, Christopher and I went to the Moonee Valley Festival. Of course, Essendon Football Club also held their family day there as part of the festival. The festival was quite big and a lot of fun. I must have patted about six or seven dogs. The football club event was far too big to talk to any players - I've only met a few once and aren't on friendly terms with them. Still, the festival was good fun - a vet stall gave me a free dog ball and thrower.

I returned today, with more football merchandise from both clubs and the DVDs as well as other bargains.

football - preseason NAB Challenge game

North Melbourne 6.7, 9.6, 11.7, 13.7 (85)
Brisbane Lions 1.1, 1.4, 2.7, 7.11 (53)

North Melbourne:
Jones, Harvey, Simpson, Grant, Thompson
Brisbane Lions: Notting, Proud

North Melbourne:
Jones 4, Brown 2, Campbell 2, Thomas, Grant, Edwards, Urquhart, McMahon
Brisbane Lions: Notting 3, Henderson, Mills, Kiel, Corrie

I went to this game on Friday afternoon, though a little late (missed the first quarter). Actually, I didn't pay as much attention to it as I should have, instead trying to get some good photos (see below).

Joel Patfull trying to spoil

behind the interchange bench

players on interchange warming up, led by Lachie Henderson

21 February 2008

rise of the machines

At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting held recently in Boston, Dr Ray Kurzweil spoke on 'From Unlimited Clean Energy to Overcoming Disease: How Engineering Can Do It' within a session titled 'Grand Challenges and Opportunities for Engineering in the 21st Century'.
The paradigm shift rate is now doubling every decade, so the next half century will see 32 times more technical progress than the last half century. Computation, communication, biological technologies (for example, DNA sequencing), brain scanning, knowledge of the human brain, and human knowledge in general are all accelerating at an even faster pace, generally doubling price-performance, capacity, and bandwidth every year. The well-known Moore’s Law is only one example of many of the inherent acceleration underlying this “law of accelerating returns.” Three-dimensional molecular computing will provide the hardware for human-level “strong AI” by the 2020s. The more important software insights will be gained in part from the reverse-engineering of the human brain, a process well under way. Already, two dozen regions of the human brain have been modeled and simulated. We are rapidly learning the software programs called genes that underlie biology. We are understanding disease and aging processes as information processes, and are gaining the tools to reprogram them. RNA interference, for example, allows us to turn selected genes off, and new forms of gene therapy are enabling us to effectively add new genes. Within one to two decades, we will be in a position to stop and reverse the progression of disease and aging resulting in dramatic gains in health and longevity. We can aggressively apply today's knowledge (“bridge 1”) to be in good shape when “bridge 2” (the ability to reprogram biology away from disease and aging) comes into being. We only need to capture one part in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the Earth to meet 100 percent of our energy needs. This will become feasible with nanoengineered solar panels and nanoengineered fuel cells to store the energy in a highly decentralized manner. Once nonbiological intelligence matches the range and subtlety of human intelligence, it will necessarily soar past it because of the continuing acceleration of information-based technologies, as well as the ability of machines to instantly share their knowledge. Intelligent nanorobots will be deeply integrated in the environment, our bodies and our brains, providing vastly extended longevity, full-immersion virtual reality incorporating all of the senses, experience “beaming,” and enhanced human intelligence. The implication will be an intimate merger between the technology-creating species and the evolutionary process it spawned.
The media, specifically The Independent picked up on his views on artificial intelligence (AI).

Hmmm... Let's see: Terminator, The Matrix, and Battlestar Galactica are some ficitional accounts of how AI turns on its creator. Scary.

There is never a good time to take time off work given events that crop up, but I am off work Friday and Monday for a long weekend to visit Michelle in Melbourne and to attend a pre-season football game. There is something about planning one's absences in advance and the office having to work around it.

My flight leaves in the morning so I had better get organised.

20 February 2008

staircase library

I like this amazing staircase library which is a feature of a top floor apartment in London.

More photos of the apartment here. From Apartment Therapy.

At work, we have interstate colleagues in town for week long training. I went to lunch with two of our Adelaide colleagues. We went to a cheap Indian place. Unfortunately, one of them doesn't like spicey food. I was shocked.

Emily came around this evening. We watched the Food Safari episode on Korean cuisine. I want to try Bibimbap one day. I don't mind kimchi and have some in the fridge, but would not want to eat it for every meal every day.

In spite of my desire for Bulgogi, we had sirloin/porterhouse steak for dinner with blanched button squash, asparagus and broccoli. The vegetables were from Saturday's farmers market.

19 February 2008

goldfish do remember

Australian Associated Press (AAP) has reported that goldfish actually do have memories and can learn. From The Age
Schoolboy explodes goldfish memory myth
February 18, 2008 - 10:15AM

A 15-year-old South Australian school student has busted the myth that goldfish have a three second memory.

Rory Stokes, from the Australian Science and Mathematics School in Adelaide, conducted an experiment to test the commonly held theory that goldfish have short memory spans.

He was also keen to open people's minds to the cruelty of keeping fish in small tanks.

"We are told that a goldfish has a memory span of less than three seconds and that no matter how small its tank is, it will always discover new places and objects," Rory said.

"I wanted to challenge this theory as I believe it is a myth intended to make us feel less guilty about keeping fish in small tanks."

Rory's experiment involved teaching a small group of fish to swim to a beacon by establishing a memory connection between the beacon and food.

Over a period of three weeks, he placed a beacon in the water at feeding time each day, waited 30 seconds and then sprinkled fish food around the beacon.

The time taken for the fish to swim to the beacon reduced dramatically, from more than one minute for the first few feeds to less than five seconds by the end of the three weeks.

Following the initial three-week period, Rory removed the beacon from the feeding process.

Six days later, he once again placed the beacon in the water and despite not seeing it for almost a week, the fish swam to the beacon in 4.4 seconds, showing they had remembered the association between food and the beacon for at least six days.

"My results strongly showed that goldfish can retain knowledge for at least six days," Rory said.

"They can retain that knowledge indefinitely if they use it regularly."

Rory also conducted a number of sub-experiments which showed that goldfish were capable of negotiating a simple maze, having them move onto a second beacon if they found no food at the previous one.

"My experiments showed that goldfish have the mental capabilities to learn and remember fairly complex concepts and they can retain that knowledge for at least a number of days," he said.

Australian Science and Mathematics School principal Jim Davies said the series of experiments were an excellent example of science investigation made fun.

The beacon was a red Lego brick, as reported by ABC. Impressive original research from a 15-year old. I look forward to reading the proper scientific paper in Nature. The title would be something like 'Memory processing in Carassius auratus'

I've finally found a solution to keeping flies and insects out when the door is left open (for a cross breeze and so that Kane can come in and out as he wishes).

very Irish flag!

And it only cost $5.10 from the hardware store. Before screen doors, these were very common in Australia. Every grandparents' house had one. Today, most houses have sliding doors with a screen sliding outer door. French doors on the other hand, are much more attractive.

18 February 2008

just ignorant, or dumb?

On 1 December 2007, I wrote about ignorant people who also vote and posted a clip from Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader.

There was a great article in the New York Times, which suggested that dumbing down reflects attitudes today, rather than genuine lack of knowledge.
February 14, 2008
Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?

A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”

Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”

Such, uh, lack of global awareness is the kind of thing that drives Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” up a wall. Ms. Jacoby is one of a number of writers with new books that bemoan the state of American culture.

Joining the circle of curmudgeons this season is Eric G. Wilson, whose “Against Happiness” warns that the “American obsession with happiness” could “well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation.”

Then there is Lee Siegel’s “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization. Mr. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog (“you couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces”) and to praise himself (“brave, brilliant”).

Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.

Ms. Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history. And liberal and conservative writers, from Richard Hofstadter to Allan Bloom, have regularly analyzed the phenomenon and offered advice.

T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, “The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history,” adding that in periods “when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues.”

But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.

Ms. Jacoby, dressed in a bright red turtleneck with lipstick to match, was sitting, appropriately, in that temple of knowledge, the New York Public Library’s majestic Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue. The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t expect to revolutionize the nation’s educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off “American Idol” and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, “the empire of infotainment doesn’t stop at the American border,” she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.

In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said.

Ms. Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t leave liberals out of her analysis, mentioning the New Left’s attacks on universities in the 1960s, the decision to consign African-American and women’s studies to an “academic ghetto” instead of integrating them into the core curriculum, ponderous musings on rock music and pop culture courses on everything from sitcoms to fat that trivialize college-level learning.

Avoiding the liberal or conservative label in this particular argument, she prefers to call herself a “cultural conservationist.”

For all her scholarly interests, though, Ms. Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. “I was stunned at how difficult it was for me,” she said.

The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.
- Amazon.com listing for Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason

Having an idiot for a president certainly doesn't help. If knowledge is power, then a nation of morons makes them easier to control. How hard is it to remember a few simple facts anyway? It wouldn't be surprising that people know more about celebrities than the real world.

Kane now has his own blog - kanetails.blogspot.com to make it easier to read all about his adventures (linked in my right hand menu).

17 February 2008

pinot grigio/gris is a dumb blonde

According to Tim Atkin writing in The Observer magazine, Pinot Grigio (also called Pinot Gris) is palate-numbing
Dumb blonde

For two years, Tim Atkin has been campaigning against Pinot Grigio. Here he reveals his alternatives to the ubiquitous white

Tim Atkin
Sunday February 17, 2008

Have you ever felt like Sisyphus, pushing a metaphorical boulder up a slope only to watch it roll back past you, narrowly missing your toes in the process? For Sisyphus and that boulder, read me and Pinot Grigio. I've been conducting a none-too-subtle, one-man campaign against this innocuous but generally palate-numbing Italian white for more than two years now. And guess what? Pinot Grigio sales have gone through the ceiling. There is even talk of a shortage...

The problem with Pinot Grigio's success is that it stops people trying other, infinitely superior varieties. Leaving aside Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, which are just as popular as Pinot Grigio and much more diverse, my by no means exhaustive list would include, in alphabetical order: Albariño, Chenin Blanc, Fiano, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul, Riesling, Roussanne, Scheurebe, Verdejo, Vermentino and Viognier.
I totally agree. My friend Margaret used to rave about Pinot Gris but I thought it was tasteless and with no redeemable features. Amazingly, she dislikes the Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blends, which I consider a suitable match with most food. Thankfully Margaret is into Viognier now. Tim Atkins of The Observer seems to be really into the Marsanne (click on link above).

Personally, I still prefer Reisling for a white for its complexity and a good Pinot Noir for a red.

I didn't do much today, aside from giving the floor a quick clean and clearing the backyard.

I watched last night's football game (always critically and analytically which requires concentration) and the latest Smallville.

Clark is actually inside Lex's memory, observing the meeting with Lois

Kara (cousin of Kal El) has finally been found

I definitely watch too much television. Thankfully, I'm still reading books at the same time.

And the rest of Sunday night viewing include the BBC's Robin Hood, and the American Brothers and Sisters. Both quite quirky and make me laugh.

football - preseason NAB cup round 1

It has been such a long wait for the football to start again, even if it is only the preseason. Last night's game was delayed telecast after midnight, so I've only managed to catch the game today. It was actually a hard game to watch as I support both teams, though Brisbane Lions ahead of Essendon Bombers.

ESSENDON 1.4.2 2.9.2 2.10.10 2.11.16 (100)
BRISBANE LIONS 1.2.2 1.5.4 2.5.6 2.8.7 (73)
Essendon: Nine-point goals: Reimers, Lovett-Murray. Goals: Hille 3, Peverill 2, Lovett-Murray, Lonergan, Monfries, Ryder, Johns, J Johnson.
Brisbane: Nine-point goals: Brennan 2. Goals: Henderson 3, Notting, Kiel 2, Brennan.

So my (main) team is now out of NAB cup contention.

Justin Sherman

Joel Patfull

Matthew Leuenberger

Jared Brennan

Haydn Kiel

Scott Harding getting tackled

16 February 2008

Kosovo on the brink of nationhood

Kosovo is poised to become a nation. From Daily Telegraph (UK)
Kosovo's Serbs face a bleak future
By Thomas Harding

In the Balkans, there are many dates in the calendar full of dread symbolism: the date the Ottomans defeated the Serbs; the date the Nazis invaded; the date of the Srebrenica massacre. Now in Kosovo two dates are set to resonate among its ethnic Albanian and minority Serb population.

This Sunday, February 17, is likely to be the day when the province under the titular control of Serbia forcibly becomes a state under UN supervision.

The centuries-held dream of self-governance will be realised with jubilation by Kosovo's two million Muslim Albanians, who form 90 per cent of the population. Meanwhile, the 100,000 Serbs left in Kosovo are going to have their noses rubbed in the flag of the world's newest country.

For the Serbs, March 17, 2004 is the date to remember. Violent unrest erupted between the Serbs and Albanians, and during the fortnight that followed, Albanians burnt Orthodox churches and 60,000 Serbs were driven from their homes in the small enclaves of Kosovo. At least 19 civilians were killed while the Kfor peacekeepers largely sat back and did very little.

Many Serbs have since retreated to the northern town of Mitrovica, where a spiked mountain capped by an old Serb castle acts as a redoubt to the dispossessed and fearful.

Mitrovica resonates like Belfast of old, with the River Ibar providing a barrier between ancient enmities. On one side, the Albanians appear energised, like Northern Ireland's Roman Catholic nationalists emerging from dark days; on the other, the Serbs are like east Belfast's working-class Protestants: neglected, largely ignored and with bleak prospects.

North of the Ibar, there is defiance. The shops are shabby and its thick-set people are apprehensive but stoic. The Serb sense of disfranchisement and victimisation is deepened by the bright new apartment blocks springing up on the southern side and the Albanians' thriving market.

The span of a UN-guarded bridge separates them - and, until now, has been enough to keep them apart. The rolls of barbed wire on the pavement wait to be thrown across the road - possibly on Sunday.

Independence is inevitable, the Serbs have accepted that. They no longer harbour any illusions that their brothers in Belgrade will ride to the rescue and Russia's pro-Slav talk of brotherhood is seen as rhetoric.

After decades of doing it to others, the 100,000 Serbs in Kosovo are now in line for ethnic cleansing. On the front line in Mitrovica stands the Dolce Vita café, a name that perhaps reflects the black humour of its patrons.

Inside, Serbs sip coffee, speaking quietly and looking over their shoulders aware that, two years ago, an Albanian threw a bomb into the building, injuring nine drinkers. The owner, Sasha Radosavljevic, is a strong-jawed Serbian with sharp blue eyes.

He speaks with little hope for the future, but also with defiance: "The Albanians will never manage to push us out. For the time being, it is impossible for us to live together, but we can live side by side. Let time heal the wounds. If I was not optimistic, I would not invest money here."

However he warns that Serb groups, some with access to weapons, would "provide help" if comrades were attacked in the southern enclaves. "March 17 broke the confidence of the Serb people in the police. We don't have faith that those Serbs living in enclaves will be safe."

A short walk up the street, which is lined with posters of Serbs' Right-wing nationalist leaders, Stashic Cica had little to commend independence. "The insecurity here is very stressful," she said.

"The international community wants to achieve independence at the cost of our human rights. We are very much afraid, because we don't trust the Albanian leadership. The people running the country are all former terrorists from the KLA [Kosovo Liberation Army]."

There is some paranoia, too, and not just among the Serbs, about a nascent Islamic extremist movement that is being closely monitored by the Americans.

New and refurbished mosques are appearing, mainly through Saudi funding. While Kosovo Muslims are secular, there are reports of women being paid 250 euros a month to wear the hijab. Moderate Albanians mutter of young men appearing in mosques with extremist views, but their powerbase is small.

Much of the "cream" of the Serbian middle class has already deserted Kosovo, leaving behind those who might be less thoughtful in response to provocation. With the UN, the international media and even their fellow countrymen unable or unwilling to help, there is despair at what the future may hold.

The UN peacekeepers, which could soon include an extra battalion of British infantry drafted in at 24 hours' notice, are braced for the violence that will announce Kosovo's arrival.
More analysis from the Daily Telegraph
Russia overshadows Kosovo independence bid
By Harry de Quetteville in Pristina

Kosovo is poised to declare its independence from Serbia tomorrow, despite threats that Russia may encourage separatist movements elsewhere in response.

With the United States entrenched as Kosovo's most powerful friend, Russia said yesterday that the new state's split from Serbia would force it to reconsider its own position on territorial disputes.

As a first step, Russia's foreign ministry announced it would review its relations with two breakaway regions of neighbouring Western-backed Georgia.

"The recognition of the independence of Kosovo will be taken into account as far as the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is concerned," it said.

It underlined that Kosovo's independence "presupposes a revision of commonly accepted norms and principles of international law" that govern separatist movements from Moldova to Indonesia.

The superpower stand-off over Kosovo is unlikely to dim celebrations in the province's capital Pristina however, where huge crowds of ethnic Albanians are expected to gather tomorrow for a concert, firework display and street party.

Everything from hotel rooms to a series of stamps are being especially tailored to commemorate the occasion.

During a press conference yesterday Hashim Thaci, the prime minister, announced the creation of a new government office to liaise with Kosovo's Serb minority and address their concerns.

But his announcement did not have the intended soothing effect in the Serbian population of Kosovo's ethnically divided town of Mitrovica. A political association there announced it would form a Serb-only parliament to take part in Serbia's local elections due in May. In the Serbian capital Belgrade, Boris Tadic, the recently re-elected pro-Western president, was sworn in to office vowing "never to give up the fight for our Kosovo".

Graphic: Kosovo map

On the streets of Pristina however, a palpable sense of anticipation indicated that Mr Tadic's struggle would fail in a matter of hours.

Around the buildings housing Kosovo's fledgling administration, crowds milled about as if expecting a party to start. Walls were covered with posters thanking Britain, the US and the EU for their support.

Kosovo has been administered by a UN mission since 1999, after Nato bombed Belgrade to end a bloody crack-down by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic on ethnic Albanian separatists.

The timing of the new state's independence is still a secret, though a Sunday afternoon announcement is likely. It should be accompanied by the unveiling of Kosovo's new flag, designed to be as inoffensive as possible. There will be no trace of Albania's double headed eagle, and red and black will be replaced by the blue and yellow of the European Union.

This is actually a turning point. Self-determination seems to be supported by the international community. Newer members of the United Nations were Eritrea (1993) from Ethiopia, Timor-Leste (2002) from Indonesia, and Montenegro (2006) from Serbia.

Then there are trouble spots around the world where people are also seeking 'self-determination', such as Chechnya, which seeks independence from Russia; Tamil nationalists seeking a separate state in Sri Lanka; the Uyghurs who seek independence for the Chinese province of Xinjiang as East Turkestan; ETA, which seeks a Basque homeland from Spain; amongst many.

Where does one draw the line between supporting 'democracy' and peoples' right to self-governance and 'meddling' in the internal affairs of sovereign states? Who decides whether 'separatist movements' are freedom fighters or terrorists?

Should supporters of Tibet also support the other movements?

I had to wake early today as Sue D and I went to the farmers market at 7.30am. Stone fruits are still in season and apples and pears are just coming in now. It was good to catch up with Sue.

Today has been a do nothing day, which is thoroughly understandable and deserving after the past week at work. I finally finished watching all the Angel episodes. I'm not going start on re-watching Buffy for awhile.

15 February 2008

window washing at my building

The building in which I work is on six levels, ground floor to fifth floor. I work on the fourth floor.

Every now and again, the windows need cleaning on the outside. It is always a fun distraction in the office.

I don't take a camera to work, but the camera feature on my mobile (cell) phone is pretty good.

So glad for Friday and the weekend. Work has been crazy.

Tonight, Mary came over with Momo during their walk, so we had a beer. He's still a silly puppy.

13 February 2008

Sorry... apologising to the Stolen Generations

Following on from yesterday's historic opening of the Australian Parliament, another equally momentous and historic event happened today.

The Australian Prime Minister apologised to the stolen generation on behalf of the Australian Parliament and the Australian Government.
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.

You can read Prime Minister Rudd's additional statement here, in which he explains the reason for the official apology.

The apology follows on from the 1997 Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. It has taken a long time for the apology, as Prime Minister Rudd mentioned
from the nation’s parliament there has been a stony and stubborn and deafening silence for more than a decade; a view that somehow we, the parliament, should suspend our most basic instincts of what is right and what is wrong; a view that, instead, we should look for any pretext to push this great wrong to one side, to leave it languishing with the historians, the academics and the cultural warriors, as if the stolen generations are little more than an interesting sociological phenomenon. But the stolen generations are not intellectual curiosities. They are human beings; human beings who have been damaged deeply by the decisions of parliaments and governments. But, as of today, the time for denial, the time for delay, has at last come to an end.

The nation is demanding of its political leadership to take us forward. Decency, human decency, universal human decency, demands that the nation now step forward to right an historical wrong. That is what we are doing in this place today.
Every single television set was turned on at my workplace (and in many others) so that staff could watch the speech. Elsewhere, Australians gathered to watch on big screens.

Thousands gather at Melbourne's Federation Square to watch Prime Minister Kevin Rudd make an apology to indigenous Australians. Picture: Stuart McEvoy

Media reporting from
- ABC News
- Sydney Morning Herald
- The Australian

I think I've done five days worth of work in three days this week. Two more days to go before the weekend.

I went to the markets after work to buy some vegetables. It felt a bit strange not shopping for beef bones and chicken wings for Kane2. As heavy as they were to carry home (some four to five kilos, in addition to other things), I really looked forward to the routine and to giving Kane2 his fresh food.

Emily came around this evening. I prepared ingredients and she cooked Hokkien noodles with Chinese roast duck, bok choy, baby corn and puff tofu. We also watched tonight's Food Safari, which was Brazilian cuisine, as well as the previous fortnight's - Hungarian (which I've already seen) and Sri Lankan.

(reminder to self - Emily has borrowed Battlestar Galactica season 2 and Line of Beauty DVDs)

our smarties are dumb

Further to my post the other day about Smarties in the UK being without artificial ingredients, I received a reply from Nestlé Australia

Hi Daniel

We would like to advise that Nestle Australia does currently use artificial colours in SMARTIES.

We appreciate the concerns you have raised about the use of colouring in our SMARTIES. Australia has amongst the most stringent food standards regulations in the world. There are very clear requirements and rules around any form of ingredients, including food colourings and additives, intended for human consumption and the authorities conduct extremely strict testing prior to allowing any ingredient to enter the food chain. The SMARTIES colourings are approved under the Food Standards Code.

We have no plans to phase out the colourings we are using at present, however take note of your view on the use of the colouring in our SMARTIES.


N. Gaudiosi
Food Advisor

How hard is it? I sent them the BBC News story.

12 February 2008

welcome to country

Something momentous and historic happened in Australia today, ahead of another equally momentous and historic event tomorrow. From our ABC (12 February 2008)
MPs 'welcomed to country'

A traditional welcome to country by Indigenous elders has been held in federal Parliament for the first time, ahead of tomorrow's formal apology to the Stolen Generations.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been handed a message stick to commemorate the occasion.

Ngambri elder Matilda House Williams says the 'Welcome to Country' acknowledges her people and their ancestors.

"It's a good, honest and decent and very human act to reach out to make sure everyone has a place and is welcome," she said.

Ms Williams says it is a significant time for her people.

"The best time in the history of the Australian Parliament," she said.

"A Prime Minister has honoured us, the first people of this land, the Ngambri people by seeking a welcome to country.

"In doing this, the Prime Minister shows what we call proper respect."

Mr Rudd says the welcome to country is a historic occasion.

"Despite the fact that parliaments have been meeting here for the better part of a century, today is the first time that as we open the Parliament of the nation that we are officially welcomed to country by the first Australians of this nation," he said.

Representatives of Indigenous communities from around the country have been involved in the ceremony in the Members Hall of Parliament.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson pose with Aboriginal performers after an Aboriginal welcoming ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra.

Indigenous Australians perform a welcome ceremony at Parliament House

An equally important gesture of respect and reconciliation (between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians) is 'acknowledgement of country'. This is when the chairperson of a meeting or the host of an event begins by acknowledging that the meeting or event is taking place in the country of the traditional owners.
I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place, or

I would like to respectfully acknowledge the ____________* people who are the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which we stand.
* Ngambri, in the case of above. Larrakia people (in Darwin), Cadigal people (in Sydney), etc

Prime Minister Rudd's acknowledgment of country speech is worth quoting in full.

I begin by honouring the traditional owners of the land on which this parliament now sits.

I begin also by honouring the traditional owners of all the lands across this continent, Australia.

And I thank the traditional owners here for their welcome to country, the warmth of that welcome, the beautiful traditional message stick, with which I have been presented.

Exactly 100 years ago the land on which we stand was chosen as the site as the nation’s first capital. Eighty years ago, we build an old Parliament House and 20 years ago, we built this new great house of the Australian democracy.

Yet the human history of this land stretches back thousands of years through the dreamtime.

The histories of the Ngunnawal and Walgalu – and to the west, the Wiradjuri; to the east, on the coast, the Yuin; to the north, the Gundungurra; and to the south, the Ngarigo - a thousand generations or more.

And we who have come to this land more recently, perhaps for five, maybe six, even seven.

Despite this antiquity among us, and despite the fact that parliaments have been meeting here for the better part of a century, today is the first time in our history that as we open the parliament of the nation, that we are officially welcomed to country by the first Australians of this nation.

And Matilda, I thank you for the welcome.

For that welcome, we are all here, Senators and Members, truly honoured.

In 1927, when we opened the old parliament, no Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander people were invited. There was no welcome to country, they were not welcome at all. No place at the national table as we began the national parliament in this place for the first time.

But one man, Jimmy Clements, came, and stood alone, referred to by the Canberra Times in 1927 as, and I quote, “a lone representative of a fast vanishing race”, unquote.

I celebrate the fact that indigenous Australia is alive, well, and with us for the future.

Today we begin with one small step, to set right the wrongs of the past. And in this ceremonial way, it is a significant and symbolic step.

And let us resolve here, as Members and Senators and Members of this great Parliament of the Commonwealth, that whoever forms future Governments of the nation, let this become a permanent part of our ceremonial celebration of the Australian democracy.

Incorporating the ceremonial of the dreaming from antiquity into the ceremonial of this great democracy.

It’s taken 41 parliaments to get here. We can be a bit slow sometimes. But we got here. And, when it comes to the parliaments of the future, this will become part and parcel of the fabric of our celebration of Australia in all of its unity and all of its diversity.

Our challenge this week, then is to write a new page in the country’s history, and this is one small step. But for that page to be truly written, it must be written between ourselves and indigenous Australia, and within this parliament between those who are Government and those who are Opposition. And it is in that spirit that I invite the Leader of the Opposition to support my remarks.

It will still take some time before Indigenous culture is a permanent feature of our national consciousness. After all, a generation ago racism was acceptable.

What a day at work. Just as well I don't really use an 'in tray' as everything was coming at me from all directions.

Another new tv show tonight - Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles. I reserve my judgment before being hooked on another show.

Sarah and John Connor on the run (always) - in between T2 and T3

11 February 2008

blue smarties are back (in the UK)

From BBC News (11 February 2008)
Seaweed allows Smarties comeback

Blue Smarties are to make a comeback, after being dropped nearly two years ago, and will now be made with a new colouring extracted from seaweed.

The blue sweets were first introduced in 1989 - and discontinued in 2006 as part of a drive to remove artificial ingredients in children's food.

Makers Nestlé say the new colouring comes from a seaweed called spirulina.

The firm says the other seven colours in the packs also have no artificial colours and flavourings.

Hmmm... no artificial ingredients. I'm checking with the Australian manufacturer, also Nestlé, whether our local product is also all natural. Now I should check M&M's.

Perhaps I should just buy some, of both, and check the packaging.

What a start to the working week. It must herald another really hectic one.

Every other good show is back on TV. Desperate Housewives returns, and Skins now clashes with Supernatural and a new show, Dirty Sexy Money. Choices, choices...

10 February 2008


There is always a price for extreme vanity. From the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

FDA News

February 8, 2008

Media Inquiries:
Sandy Walsh, 301-827-3418
Consumer Inquiries:

FDA Notifies Public of Adverse Reactions Linked to Botox Use
Ongoing safety review of Botox, Botox Cosmetic and Myobloc taking place

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today notified the public that Botox and Botox Cosmetic (Botulinum toxin Type A) and Myobloc (Botulinum toxin Type B) have been linked in some cases to adverse reactions, including respiratory failure and death, following treatment of a variety of conditions using a wide range of doses.

In an early communication based on the FDA's ongoing safety review, the agency said the reactions may be related to overdosing. There is no evidence that these reactions are related to any defect in the products.

The adverse effects were found in FDA-approved and nonapproved usages. The most severe adverse effects were found in children treated for spasticity in their limbs associated with cerebral palsy. Treatment of spasticity is not an FDA-approved use of botulism toxins in children or adults.

The adverse reactions appear to be related to the spread of the toxin to areas distant from the site of injection, and mimic symptoms of botulism, which may include difficulty swallowing, weakness and breathing problems.

The FDA is not advising health care professionals to discontinue prescribing these products.

The agency is currently reviewing safety data from clinical studies submitted by the drugs' manufacturers, as well as post-marketing adverse event reports and medical literature. After completing a review of the data, the FDA will communicate to the public its conclusions, resulting recommendations, and any regulatory actions.

The notification is in keeping with the FDA's commitment to inform the public about its ongoing safety reviews of drugs. The early communication, which includes background information and advice for health care professionals, can be viewed at: http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/early_comm/botulinium_toxins.htm

The risk is almost as tragic as what happened with Dorian Gray.

I did some more shrub pruning today in between watching season 4 of Angel.

09 February 2008

another useless invention 3

From designboom's dining in 2015 competition. One of their winners.

name of design : din-ink
design by : andrea cingoli + paolo emilio bellisario + cristian cellini + francesca fontana from italy

designer's own words:
Turn your favourite office tool from your desk in a common cutlery...this is din-ink. A set of pen caps, including a fork-cap, a knife-cap and a spoon-cap, that replaces the normal pen cap during lunch time! All caps are made by annually renewable resources, like natural starch and fibres, to be 100% biodegradable and atoxic, warranting the best alimentary use. Dispensing each set in a compostable packaging the whole set is designed to respect the environment. Now give your office ballpoint pen a good excuse to be gnawed by your teeth: use them for din-ink.
Do people still use those Bic pens? If not, they would need to keep three spare Bic pens in order to use din-ink. Why not just keep cutlery at work? I do.

I watched more episodes of Angel, and the last three most recent episodes of Smallville from here.