30 April 2009

clichéd reporting about a storm in a tea cup - imitating Arnott's Iced Vo-Vo

Puns and clichés galore abound in Australian Associated Press' reporting about a legal stoush between Arnott's and Krispy Kreme (reported in The Australian)
THE stakes were high when Arnott's took on Krispy Kreme to protect its Iced Vo-Vo trademark - Arnotts was defending big bikkies and Krispy was looking at a lot of dough.

The battle was set to play out in the homes and offices of Australia at morning coffee and afternoon tea time, but the war of the clones ended today without a shot being fired.

Arnott's threatened legal action action over Krispy Kreme's Iced Dough-Vo doughnut, which is covered in pink icing and coconut flakes, just like the famous Iced Vo-Vo biscuit.

An Arnott's spokeswoman said Krispy Kreme Australia must have been coconuts to think it could take advantage of the 103-year old Vo-Vo trade mark.

Krispy Kreme Australia had argued that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery and Arnotts should be tickled pink at the homage to its iconic brand.

Now the doughnut maker has backed down and agreed to rename the Iced Dough-Vo from May 11, Arnott's and Krispy Kreme said in a joint statement.
I wonder if Arnott's and Krispy Kreme lawyers actually used those words.

29 April 2009

juvi geriatrics

From the (UK) Daily Telegraph
Cinema warns elderly customers over 'juvenile' behaviour

A cinema which screens classic films for pensioners has warned their elderly customers about their "unacceptable and juvenile" behaviour.

By Richard Savill
Last Updated: 10:46AM BST 25 Apr 2009

Pensioners at the Odeon, in Leicester, have been reprimanded for threatening, pushing, poking, bullying, harassing and intimidating staff, saving seats for friends and queue jumping.

Concerns were also raised about customers abusing the complimentary tea and biscuits arrangement.

The three-page, unsigned, letter was handed to customers at one of the Wednesday morning weekly showings at the cinema.

It said the behaviour was having a "negative, Draconian impact on what was once a happy occasion".

It urged customers "not to save spaces in the queue for acquaintances who have not yet arrived or who are sat in their car."

The letter added that if the behaviour did not stop, cinema management would look to take action, from "refusing to serve certain guests up to stopping Senior Screen altogether".

Senior Screen was started in 2000 to give older people the chance to watch classic and modern day films at a discounted rate during the daytime. The multi-Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire is currently on offer at a rate of pounds 3.45.

John Gough, 74, who regularly attends with his wife Shirley, 73, said he thought the warning was unnecessary.

"We are not naughty school children and we object to a three-page, A4 letter being handed out. The manager could have come in before one of the screenings and had a quiet word with us."

Mrs Gough said she had never seen any member of staff being intimidated but had seen seats being reserved. "What are people supposed to do if they do not want to sit on their own?" she said.

However, Christine Hewkin, 69, said: "This type of behaviour has been going on for a long time and it will continue to go on if the cinema does not make a stand.

"It is annoying when you have queued and waited to find all the good seats have been saved for people who have not even arrived yet."

Odeon Cinemas apologised "for any upset caused to its Senior Screen customers."

A spokesman said: "In response to a significant number of specific requests, a letter was issued by the cinema to its Senior Screen customers based on the feedback the cinema had received in relation to customer behaviour.

"Odeon Leicester would like to reassure guests the letter was only issued in an attempt to ensure everybody could continue to enjoy the same positive experience at Senior Screen performances."

I reckon the Odeon should screen Cocoon.

28 April 2009

the truth about Vegemite

Richard Cornish writing in The Age's food supplement Epicure revealed the secrets of Vegemite.

THE Vegemite plant smells of yeast, like a winery during vintage, only sweeter. It's basically a series of big rooms stacked with stainless steel tanks connected to other stainless steel tanks by stainless steel pipes. The world's annual production of 23 million jars of vegemite is made here; 95 per cent of those are consumed in Australia and New Zealand. The rest are sold mainly to expat Aussies and Kiwis. A few make it to Tokyo, where umami-mad locals wolf down tiny frozen cubes of Vegemite in modern sushi bars.

When I mention to our hosts from the marketing department the popular conception that Vegemite is made from "beer sludge", they shrug their shoulders. We are soon down at the receiving tanks into which tanker trucks pump their loads of spent yeast, collected from the nations' breweries. All the action takes place within the stainless steel pipes and vats. The first stage filters off any remaining malt and hops and removes residual alcohol. The remaining yeast is then treated with heat and enzymes to remove the outside of the cell wall and to leave the rest of the yeast cell: protein, amino acids and B vitamins. This is cooked with salt at low pressure for four hours and is now referred to as yeast extract. It has been reduced by 40 per cent to a viscous liquid that looks like hot caramel sauce.

Our host takes a sample of the liquid. Like Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory I can't help but taste this proto-spread. Compared with the finished product it is bitter, yeasty and aromatic with the flavours of the hops and barley still upfront; it's a long way from being Vegemite.

To finish the process, the contents of more than 30 of these drums are sucked up into a large stainless steel vat and further reduced.

Liquefied cooked onion and liquid celery seed, a small amount of caramel for further colour and flavour, and both sea salt and mineral salt are added. This goes into another cooker at more than 100 degrees for several hours, where further caramelisation takes place. What has become "black velvet" spread is extruded warm into jars and sealed.

FOUNDED: Vegemite was invented by chemists working at Fred Walker's eponymous cheese company, and was first sold commercially in 1923. The same company invented a beef extract called Bonox in 1918. In 1926, a company was formed with Chicago-based Kraft to make processed cheese in Australia. After Fred Walker's death in 1935, the Australian holdings of the company were absorbed by Kraft in Chicago.

DID YOU KNOW? Australians spread 1.2 billion serves of vegemite on toast and bread every year.

Vegemite-haters describe it as axle grease. Looks like there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. Not liking Vegemite is so 'unAustralian'. ;-)

27 April 2009

luxury pets?

From The Guardian
From fancy cars to foreign holidays, Britons have had to relinquish all sorts of luxuries as the credit crunch takes hold. To this list we can now add pets: 57% more animals were abandoned last year than in 2007, according to figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

The number of animals abandoned across England and Wales has soared by 57 per cent, and the problem seems to be getting even worse, latest RSPCA figures reveal.

We dealt with 11,586 dumped animals last year, a shocking average of more than 30 animals abandoned every day of the year, compared to 7,347 abandoned animals in 2007.

The number of abandoned cats rose by 50 per cent in 2008, while dogs increased by nearly a third.

And the trend seems set to continue as figures from the first two months of 2009 show a further 1,432 animals abandoned.

Typical examples of abandoned animals include:

  • a badly neglected dog dumped in a bin liner and left to die

  • two cats dumped in a drawstring bag and left to freeze to death

  • a litter of puppies found dead in a shoebox

  • a sick pony dumped on a common.
Commenting on the rise in animal abandonments, chief officer of the RSPCA inspectorate, Tim Wass, said: "It is an offence to abandon any animal and there is never any excuse for doing so.

"If people have pets they cannot care for, for any reason, then help and advice is always available from the RSPCA."

Caring for the latest victims of the credit crunch
The 2008 figures also show a 52 per cent increase in the number of calls we received from members of the public wanting to give up an animal.

The RSPCA is facing pressure on two fronts as we try to cope with the increase in workload caused in part by the recession, but also face our own financial pressures.

The fall in property prices is expected to reduce income from legacies, and the recession is also likely to reduce donations to the charity, so we are going to have to consider cutting jobs.
Shame on The Guardian for categorising pets as luxuries. Perhaps they should also feature stories about the elderly (old age pensioners) who for many years would rather go without heating and meals themselves so that they can continue to keep their feline companions. They would never consider their pets as luxuries.

26 April 2009

football - round 5

Geelong 5.4 13.8 15.11 18.18 (126)
Brisbane Lions 0.2 3.3 4.3 5.3 (33)

Hawkins 3, Mooney 3, Stokes 3, Ablett 2, Byrnes 2, Rooke 2, Bartel, S Johnson, Varcoe
Brisbane Lions: Brown 3, Rich, Sherman

Ablett, Mooney, Selwood, Hawkins, Mackie, Blake, Enright, Byrnes
Brisbane Lions: Black, Patfull, Brown, Adcock

Umpires: McBurney, Kamolins, Findlay.
Official crowd: 15,580 at Skilled Stadium

I totally missed watching this one, and there is little point in catching a replay.

Photos by Lachlan Cunningham (top 2) and Michael Wilson (bottom 2) from Slattery Media Group





17 April 2009

football - round 4

COLLINGWOOD 2.4 7.6 9.10 13.12 (90)
BRISBANE 6.2 9.4 10.8 10.13 (73)


Collingwood: P Medhurst 4 L Davis 3 T Lockyer 2 D Swan D Thomas J Anthony T Cloke.
Brisbane: B Dalziell 2 J Brown 2 T Selwood 2 J Adcock M Clark M Rischitelli T Notting.
Collingwood: P Medhurst S Pendlebury L Davis S Prestigiacomo M Clarke.
Brisbane: J Adcock L Power D Rich B Dalziell.
Injuries: Collingwood: Nil. Brisbane: J Adcock (ankle) J Charman (ankle).
Reports: Nil.
Umpires: Scott McLaren, Brett Rosebury, Stefan Grun.
Official Crowd: 34,912 at Gabba.

I didn't enjoy this game at all. It was a good experience sitting up higher behind goals and watching how the play advanced - I usually sit at ground level in the wing/middle. Unfortunately, it was not much fun watching our players take possession of the ball and then running straight into a tackle seconds later.

Photos by Mervyn Lowe for Slattery Media Group.

Bunzie Boo spoiling a kick - he had a great game

Shermo being tackled

Razzle Dazzle


16 April 2009

blog break

This blog will be on a break until 27 April.

living like a pig


Like a pig in...

Richard sleeps in the barn

Many of us eat bacon for breakfast without a thought for the animals that provide it, but what are pigs really like? Richard da Costa took time out from his life as a corporate communications consultant and actor to spend four days living with them. How did he cope?

The rest of the BBC report is worth a read.

15 April 2009

if it tastes horrible, it must be good for you

From AAP and reported by SBS News
Warty vegetable comes to the rescue

14 April 2009 | 16:39


Bitter melon (or gourd, Momordica charantia) has properties which offer protection against type 2 diabetes. (AAP)

Bitter Melon looks like a wart-covered zucchini and has an equally unappetising name, but could help fix malnutrition and prevent diabetes.

It looks like a wart-covered zucchini and has an equally unappetising name, but experts say it could help rescue the world's population from malnutrition and disease.

Bitter melon is rich in vitamins and offers protection against diabetes, says Dr Dyno Keatinge, which is just as well because it is unlikely to win fans on appearance or taste.

"It's not a sweet vegetable, and that's why I like it in salad and a whole range of things," said Dr Keatinge, head of a not-for-profit research institute which uses horticulture to fight poverty and malnutrition.

"You do eat it here in Australia and it's something that should be encouraged for people that are pre-diabetic.

"Bitter melon (or gourd, Momordica charantia) has properties which helps ameliorate type 2 diabetes."
I can attest that it does indeed taste bitter. Horrible too. I have no idea how to cook it. It seems that food, especially vegetables, that taste horrible tend to be good for you. Such a mean trick from nature.

Remote post test

I can post using email.

14 April 2009

faking £1

Reported in the (UK) Daily Telegraph, it seems there are a lot of counterfeit coins circulating in the UK.
One in 20 £1 coins is fake, claims expert
The number of fake £1 coins in circulation is higher than previously thought, an industry expert said today.
Stack of £1 coins: One in 20 £1 coins is fake
Royal Mint figures released in September last year suggested that 2 per cent of £1 coins - around 30 million in total - were fakes Photo: GETTY

Royal Mint figures released in September last year suggested that 2 per cent of the coins - around 30 million in total - were fakes, but in January that figure was increased to 2.5 per cent.

But Andy Brown, managing director at Willings, a company which tests coins collected at car parks and in vending machines, said the machines used by the Royal Mint to test for fakes were not accurate enough.

He believes the figure could be closer to 5 per cent, meaning one in 20 coins are fake.

"The Mint has started a process of finding the fraudulent coins but the machines they use only find 30 per cent to 40 per cent of the fakes," he said.

"They are using high-volume machines which are checking a lot of coins and they also do not want to reject real coins so they are potentially erring on the side of caution with their calculations.

"We carried out our own sample and withdrew £2,000 in pound coins from the bank and we found 3 per cent to 4 per cent were fakes."

One way of spotting if a coin is a fake is to look at the edge. The lettering on a counterfeit coin is often indistinct or in the wrong typeface.

Another method is to hold the coin so the Queen's head is upright. The pattern on the reverse side should also be upright.

Advice from the Royal Mint

Regular surveys are undertaken by the Royal Mint to establish the incidence of £1 counterfeit coins. The most recent survey indicated a counterfeit rate of around 2%.

Provisions for various offences connected with the counterfeiting of coins are included in the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981. Enforcement of these provisions is entirely a matter for law enforcements agencies, such as the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Any amount of counterfeiting must be a matter of concern, and the Royal Mint is liaising with the Banks and Post Office to identify and withdraw counterfeits at cash centres.

Another option available to the Treasury and the Royal Mint to reduce the level of counterfeiting is the introduction of a new £1 coin. At present, however, given the low incidence of counterfeits there is not a sufficiently strong value-for-money case for taking this course of action.

It may not always be easy to spot a counterfeit £1 coin without close inspection. Features of counterfeit coins to look out for are set out below.
  • The date and design on the reverse do not match (the reverse design is changed each year). A list of designs and dates is available on the Royal Mint website.
  • The lettering or inscription on the edge of the coin does not correspond to the right year.
  • The milled edge is poorly defined and the lettering is uneven in depth, spacing or is poorly formed.The obverse and reverse designs are not as sharp or well defined.
  • Where the coin should have been in circulation for some time, the colouring appears more shiny and golden and the coin shows no sign of age.
  • The colour of the coin does not match genuine coins.
  • The orientation of the obverse and reverse designs is not in line.
Surely such a small denomination is extremely inefficient and can only be 'laundered' on small items.

13 April 2009

historic cuisine

On tv tonight, Supersizer Go...


Restaurant critic Giles Coren and writer and comedian Sue Perkins grab their ration books for one week and chomp their way through the food of 1940s WWII Britain. During blackouts and air raids they eat spam and dried egg, have some GI's round for tea and see what Churchill was eating in his Cabinet War Rooms.

Fascinating stuff. A ration diet today would consist of much processed food with a long shelf life. Would high carbohydrate foods still be considered staples?

12 April 2009

the First Puppy... out of the bag

It seems that the arrival of the First Puppy has been the stuff of intrigue in Washington DC. Not even White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs could avoid media questions on Thursday.
Q And since this is the Easter weekend, instead of a bunny for the girls, are they going to get their Portuguese Water Dog? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Very good. That was pretty good. I have no --

Q Hey, I lost a bet. I thought we would get --

MR. GIBBS: Did you guys have a pool?

Q -- the dog question a lot sooner.

MR. GIBBS: Oh. (Laughter.)

Q See, it takes me to do that. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I have no update on when the dog is coming.
Scooped by Washington Post, and typically for Washington, full of political intrigue including leaks, denials and exclusives. Yes, the First Puppy is a six month old Portuguese water dog renamed Bo.

11 April 2009

football - round 3

BRISBANE LIONS 4.4 10.6 12.9 15.10 (100)
SYDNEY 1.2 4.5 7.10 9.13 (67)

GOALS: Brisbane Lions:
Brown 4, Bradshaw 4, Sherman 3, Notting, Adcock, Drummond, Rich. Sydney: Hall 3, Jolly 2, Meredith, Barlow, Moore, White.
BEST: Brisbane Lions: Adcock, Drummond, Brown, Sherman, Patfull, Bradshaw. Sydney: Jack, Richards, Jolly, J Bolton.
INJURIES: Brisbane Lions: Hooper (ankle) replaced in selected side by Notting, Leuenberger (knee), Sydney: Jared Crouch (hamstring)
UMPIRES: H Ryan, S Meredith, S McInerney.
CROWD:24,984 at the Gabba.

Finally, a win against Sydney Swans, there hasn't been one since 2004.

Photos by Mervyn Lowe (for Slattery Media Group)

Bam Bam





Bigotry in action

From Fox News.
Asian-Americans Blast Texas Congressman's Call for 'Easier to Deal With' Names
Asian-Americans are outraged following what they say were offensive comments made by a Texas lawmaker who suggested that voters of Asian descent adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with" at the polls.

By Joshua Rhett Miller
Thursday, April 09, 2009

Asian-Americans say they are outraged that a Texas lawmaker suggested in a hearing that Asian-American voters should adopt names that are "easier for Americans to deal with" at the polls.

Texas Rep. Betty Brown, a Republican, made the comments on Tuesday as Ramey Ko, an associate member of the Organization of Chinese Americans, testified before the Texas House Elections Committee on voter identification legislation.

Ko testified that people of Asian descent frequently have difficulties voting due to differences in their legal transliterated names and the English name shown on their driver's licenses.

Brown asked Ko: "Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese -- I understand it's a rather difficult language -- do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?"

Brown later said, "Can't you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that's easier for Americans to deal with?"

The Texas Democratic Party called on Brown to apologize on Wednesday.

The exchange, which has appeared on YouTube, has angered many Asian-Americans.

"It really goes to show you that no matter how much progress is made when it comes to race, ignorance still exists in America," said Brad Baldia, national president of the National Association of Asian American Professionals. "It's a slap in the face and it goes to show that there needs to be more education of our government in terms of diversity in America."

Baldia said the comments were particularly "insensitive" as Asian-Americans are becoming increasingly involved in the political process.

Karen Narasaki, president and executive of the Asian American Justice Center, said Brown's comments indicate a lack of understanding.

"I think Rep. Brown owes an apology to the entire Asian-American community," Narasaki said. "But more than that, she needs to show that she understands that that's an unacceptable solution. She probably thinks that President Obama should change his last name too."

Jordan Berry, a spokesman for Brown, defended the lawmaker and said her comments were not racially motivated.

"It had nothing to do with race," Berry told FOXNews.com. "What she was talking about was the Chinese name, just transposing it from Chinese to English."

Berry said Brown apologized to Ko shortly after the hearing.

"She reached out to him immediately," Berry said. "What more do you want?"

Sarah Smith, communications manager for the Organization of Chinese Americans, said the group was "disappointed" by Brown's comments. It was not immediately clear whether Ko and Brown had connected, she said. Ko could not be reached for comment.

"Representative Brown's comments made clear that she lacks an understanding of Asian American cultures and that she in fact undervalues other cultures," OCA Executive Director George Wu said in a statement issued late Thursday.

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie called on Brown to apologize and accused her Republican counterparts of trying to suppress votes with a partisan voter identification bill.

"It's shameful that Rep. Brown's immediate and initial reaction to hearing a legitimate problem with a Voter ID bill was to ask a fellow American to sacrifice his good family name and tradition for the convenience of her partisan agenda," Richie said in a statement to FOXNews.com.

"Texans are proud of our family names, and for one of our lawmakers to suggest even once that a fellow Texan should sacrifice his name is an insult to our most precious values."

Berry said Democrats were "looking for an issue" and took Brown's comments out of context.

Russell Leong, an adjunct professor of Asian American studies at UCLA, said the incident highlights "anti-immigrant xenophobia" in the United States.

"Beyond partisan politics of Democratic and Republican, the bottom line issue is the anti-immigrant xenophobia that has developing after 9/11 -- against all groups including but not limited to Asians, Arabs, Middle Easterners, and Mexicans and Latinos," Leong told FOXNews.com in a statement.

"How far is America willing to go to be inclusive of its non-white and non-European immigrants? Did America have problems with its Russian, Polish, and Eastern European immigrants or refugees who passed through Ellis Island? Were not their names also difficult to pronounce or spell? Asian names are no more difficult, in my view."

Officials from the Asian American Institute said Brown's comments were "outrageous, offensive and hurtful."

"Her comments send the message that diversity is not welcome in Texas, and that Asian Americans are foreigners who are unwelcome in the United States," AAI Executive Director Tuyet Le said in a statement to FOXNews.com.

Even Rachel Farris was outraged in Huffington Post.

Outrageous. It is hard to believe that in this day and age certain people still have this attitude. Perhaps Betty Brown would like to return to the days of racial segregation. Next she'll want to make it illegal for Americans of Latino background to speak Spanish.

09 April 2009

Dubai truths

Most people are under the impression that Dubai is a great place to earn good money. The Independent had a great article on The dark side of Dubai
There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. There are the expats; there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city, and are trapped here. They are hidden in plain view. You see them everywhere, in dirt-caked blue uniforms, being shouted at by their superiors, like a chain gang – but you are trained not to look. It is like a mantra: the Sheikh built the city. The Sheikh built the city. Workers? What workers?
Seems slavery still exists.

08 April 2009

when farting can get you into trouble

Reported in The Guardian
Footballer given yellow card 'for breaking wind' during penalty shot

Referee books Chorlton Villa player for distracting rival with 'ungentlemanly conduct' at key moment in match

Matthew Taylor
Sunday 5 April 2009 18.58 BST

The drive to bring good manners back to football has reached new heights after a referee issued a yellow card to a player for "breaking wind" as a penalty was being taken.

The official deemed the act "ungentlemanly conduct" and booked the player responsible. However Chorlton Villa, who conceded a goal on the second take, went on to win the match 6-4 against local rivals International Manchester FC at Turn Moss in Stretford, Manchester, last Sunday.

Ian Treadwell, manager of Chorlton Villa for the past eight years, said his team had learnt lessons from the game in which three players were dismissed and two were booked.

"The other player had the penalty saved because it was a bad penalty it was nothing to do with any noise. Not one of their team remonstrated with the referee when the first penalty was taken.

"They were as shocked as we were as to why. We are waiting for the Football Association to contact us after they have received the report."

Treadwell added that his players' behaviour was "normally exemplary".

"We are not a dirty team and we like to play football. While I won't condone the actions of the players it is an emotive game and some of the players were sent off for entering into conversation with the referee.

"This has come at a bad time in the season as we don't have sponsor and we are looking for a new sponsor for next season."

Pauline Riley, secretary and treasurer of International Manchester FC, said: "Both teams are very friendly. There's no animosity. It was just hilarious."

Hilarious? Ridiculous more like.

Since when was farting a crime? People should really get over their hang ups about bodily functions such as farting or burping under the guise of 'good manners'.

And shame on The Guardian for not being able to use the f word.

07 April 2009

no news

... that is of any interest at all...

Hence lack of new blog entries.

04 April 2009

football - round 2

CARLTON 3.2 11.5 13.8 18.11 (119)
BRISBANE LIONS 3.3 4.6 10.8 15.10 (100)

GOALS: Carlton: Fevola 5, Murphy 3, Betts 3, Gibbs 2, Cloke 2, Judd, Hadley, Houlihan. Brisbane Lions: Bradshaw 6, Brown 3, Sherman 2, Hooper 2, Johnstone, McGrath.
BEST: Carlton: Gibbs, Judd, Fevola, Murphy, Waite, Hadley, Houlihan. Brisbane Lions: Power, Black, Bradshaw, Drummond, Rich, Adcock.
INJURIES: Carlton: Jamison (shoulder). Brisbane Lions: McGrath (corked thigh), Clark (thigh), Hooper (ankle), Selwood (head).
REPORTS: Jonathan Brown (BL), for rough conduct against Marc Murphy (Carl) in the fourth quarter.
UMPIRES: Brett Rosebury, Ray Chamberlain, Todd Keating.
CROWD: 42,496 at Etihad Stadium.

Good effort from the boys coming from a large deficit after the second quarter.

Lukey (photo by Lachlan Cunningham GSP Images)

Drummo (photo by Lachlan Cunningham GSP Images)

Bunno (photo by Lachlan Cunningham GSP Images)

better than public transport

From Sydney Morning Herald, a great article about 'public' bicycles

Power to the pedal

Life cycles ... Paris's Velib scheme has been a huge success.

Life cycles ... Paris's Velib scheme has been a huge success. Photo: AP

April 4, 2009

The rise of public cycling schemes is a boon for travellers, writes Brigid Delaney.

From Barcelona to Paris, European cities are becoming greener with the expansion of low-cost bicycle schemes.

Paris's Velib program, with its 20,000 bicycles, has proved wildly popular with tourists and locals.

The scheme, launched in July 2007, provides racks of heavy-framed bicycles around the city and all you need to access them is a credit card with a chip.

A EUR150 (A$297) deposit is held in case you lose or damage the bike. It is free for the first half-hour and costs EUR1 for an additional 30 minutes, EUR2 for another 30 minutes and EUR4 every 30 minutes after, making them cheaper than the Metro and more efficient than crossing the city on foot. When you reach your destination, the bike can be returned to one of about 750 Velib stands around the city.

So popular is the scheme, the bikes were rented out 24 million times in the year to June last year. Nearly 130,000 people use them a day.

Other cities have launched their own low-cost bike schemes, including Lyon and Rennes in France, Pamplona in Spain and Dusseldorf in Germany. Cities previously considered unfriendly to cyclists - with their narrow streets and aggressive drivers - such as Rome, have successfully trialled schemes.

The initiative started in cycle-friendly cities such as Copenhagen, where old bikes were scattered around, before moving to coin-operated bikes and now to smart technology, which is often sponsored by companies in return for advertising on the bicycle.

In Germany and Austria, members receive a text message with a code to unlock the bikes, with a fee debited from the riders' bank accounts. In Barcelona, users buy a yearly membership for about EUR24. The first 30 minutes are free, with a charge of 30 cents for each subsequent half-hour.

Such is the success of the program there, bikes in popular places (such as near stations) are often unavailable in peak hour, while some users have had trouble parking their bikes as all the central docks are being used.

Paris cyclists reported similar problems, with many riding down hills and using public transport to climb them, resulting in a surplus of bikes at the bottom of places such as Montmartre. The French Velibs do not come with helmets, so bring your own if you have safety concerns.

Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne have a scheme known as Call A Bike, where you register online (callabike.de). You are given a number and charged EUR5. You then call the number to receive a code to release a bike from its dock and phone the centre when you have finished to say where you have left it.

Some of the schemes exclude tourists who haven't set up accounts or registered. But those in Paris and Lyon admit anyone with a credit card.

Not all free or low-cost bike schemes have worked. Cambridge in England started one in the 1960s and revived it in 1993 - only to find that all 300 bikes were stolen on the first day.

A free scheme for London is being considered by bike-riding Mayor Boris Johnson.

A superb idea for travelling within city limits. It would work very well in Melbourne and with a bit more work, probably Sydney.

02 April 2009

zombifying Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a classic. Not all readers would appreciate the witty 'dialogue', finding it rather boring. There is a solution. Rewrite the story and add in zombies. Seriously.

Personally, I think it might have worked better with vampires.

01 April 2009

April Fool classics

I scoured the newspapers this morning hoping to quickly identify the de rigueur fake articles for April Fool's Day. Meh!

I like (Oakland) Inside Bay Area's list of classics
April Fool's Hall Of Fame

1. Miffy, the Dyslexic Dog (2000): Theater critic Pat Craig's story about Miffy, the all-American pit bull who failed obedience school -- "They said, sit'," the dog said, during her faux interview with Craig, "I heard tis.' They thought I was stupid." -- drew more than 300 phone calls from readers, who were annoyed because they couldn't find the nonexistent second half of the story when it jumped to an inside page. (We can only imagine what readers would have done with Craig's tale of federal alphabet scientists who discovered a 27th letter nestled between M and N, pronounced, we believe, "num.")

2. BBC's Flying Penguins (2008): It was a parka-clad Terry Jones who announced the discovery of amazing, flying penguins who migrate from Antarctica to the sunny beaches of South America when the bitter cold gets to be too much. The startling, cleverly produced CGI footage is still popular on YouTube.

3. BBC's Spaghetti Harvest (1957): BBC's "Panorama" ran a 3-minute segment about spaghetti harvesters in Switzerland, where a mild winter and the "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil" had produced a bumper pasta crop. The BBC was inundated with hundreds of callers who wanted to grow spaghetti trees too. They were told, "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

4. The faux Gucci ad (2007): The full color, two-page Gucci ad in the Swiss magazine SonntagsZeitung was certainly eye-catching. Only problem was the ad was a fake, sent in by an audacious prankster who posed partially clad, next to a bottle of Gucci fragrance, and told the magazine to send the $50,000 bill for ad space to the Italian fashion house. Gucci was not amused.

5. Rookie pitcher Sidd Finch (1985): Sports Illustrated's story about the Mets' new pitcher, who learned to throw his insanely accurate, 168 mph fastball in a Tibetan monastery, had readers and Mets fans clamoring for more. Alas, that was all George Plimpton wrote.

6. Burger King's Left-Handed Whopper (1998): The full page USA Today ad had readers hankering for a Burger King sandwich expressly for lefties. The condiments, they were told, had been rotated 180 degrees. Thousands of patrons requested the burger -- and many more asked for right-handed versions -- before the fast-food giant confessed the prank.

7. The Metric Clock (1975): ABC News announced that Australia was converting to a new metric time system. Seconds would henceforth be broken into millidays, minutes would become centidays and hours decidays. Assisting with the gag, South Australia's deputy premier gave it a thumbs up and explained that Adelaide's Town Hall timepiece had been converted already. Phones rang off the hook at the TV station, and at least one department store manager said concerned customers wanted to know if their clocks would still work.

8. The Rogue Bras (1982): England's Daily Mail newspaper announced that 10,000 "rogue" brassieres were threatening public safety. Seems the manufacturer had used copper wiring intended for fire alarms and now, the underwiring was interfering with radio and television signals. The story goes that British Telecom's chief engineer of British Telecom immediately demanded that female staffers disclose their lingerie brand.

9. The Jovian-Plutonian Gravitational Effect (1976): BBC Radio announced that an unusual alignment of Jupiter and Pluto would reverse gravity for a moment at exactly 9:47 a.m. on April 1. Dozens of people later phoned the station to say they had experienced "a strange floating sensation," and one woman said her dinner table had floated right off the ground.

10. Google's Martian Colony (2008): Virgin Airlines and Google announced that they were launching a Martian colony and invited people to join as Virgle Pioneers. The Virgle web site offered a quiz to assess applicants' suitability via questions about their physical fitness, Guitar Hero prowess and fondness for algae as a food source.
There's one born every minute.